Backstage at ‘The Late Show’ with Jon Batiste The musical director and former point guard on why it’s important to keep score

On a recent Wednesday afternoon, Jon Batiste reached over to the Crosley record player in his dressing room at the Ed Sullivan Theater. He lifted the needle so that Stevie Wonder’s In Square Circle could provide a little background music while he talked in the dim glow of what once was Carol Burnett’s dressing room. Old-fashioned showbiz lights still frame the vanity’s mirror, although the vanity itself is covered with books, hats, records and a speaker. A couple of paintings lean against the mirror.

The musical director of The Late Show with Stephen Colbert was quiet and relaxed, possibly the most subdued he’d been all day.

Batiste, 31, rarely stays still, which is the only way a person can hold down his Late Show gig while also acting as artistic director at the National Jazz Museum of Harlem, recording new music, promoting a Christmas album, reimagining “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” collaborating with Wynton Marsalis, writing op-eds for The New York Times and constructing a tribute to dancer Carmen de Lavallade for the 2017 Kennedy Center Honors. Batiste is arguably the country’s most visible preservationist and celebrator of jazz. He and Stay Human, The Late Show’s house band, reach roughly 3 million people each night through their televisions.

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Jon Batiste’s fingers glide across the keys of a Steinway & Sons piano in the Stay Human rehearsal space ahead of a live taping at The Ed Sullivan Theater in New York City.

Melissa Bunni Elian for The Undefeated

The Late Show has recently vaulted to the top of the late-night ratings on the wings of host Stephen Colbert. Monday through Friday he provides a wry yet sunny accounting of how the world is descending into a morass of fear, uncertainty and, lately, how it’s being pushed there by famous men who can’t keep their hands to themselves. Batiste sets off the monologues with a tinkle of piano keys, a laugh or a quip. He’s the amen corner for Colbert’s sharpest jabs.

On the gray, overcast day after a terrorist plowed into a bike path in New York, killing eight people, Batiste strode into his eighth-floor office. When he crossed the threshold to find a stranger waiting for him, he held out his hand and let out one of his trademark “Yeeeeeeeeeeeaaaaaahs.”

His buoyant, irrepressible happiness might seem inappropriate for the day after a tragedy, even for a man who comes from the land where people give you a parade when you die. (He grew up in Kenner, Louisiana, about 20 minutes from New Orleans, before moving to New York as a teen to attend The Juilliard School.) Nevertheless, he was humming, scatting and upbeat. Batiste considers transmitting that energy to be part of his job.

“It’s an interesting line to thread, to find a joyous sound that also matches the tone of the material in the show,” Batiste said. “That’s the real challenge every day, is finding out, OK, how do we find that thing that’s gonna push the energy that we want forward but not come across as insensitive or not come across as kitsch or out of taste? And that’s what I enjoy. I love these artistic challenges.”

He’d been listening to The Commodores on the way to work, and he sat down on the small gray couch in his office, barely able to contain his humming until I joined him in the chorus of “Lady (You Bring Me Up).”

Admittedly, it’s hard not to bop your head once you hear the lively strings and driving beat of “Lady.” The Commodores are part of a playlist that Batiste made for 2017. At the beginning of every year, he compiles a mix of songs, a sort of aural lookbook for the next 365 days. This year’s mishmash included contemporary Bob Dylan, 1920s and ’30s Louis Armstrong, Peggy Lee and Michael Jackson’s Dangerous album.

The yearly mix provides a thematic foundation for what Batiste wants to reference in the show. About a week after we spoke, Batiste and Stay Human played an arrangement of “Lady” during a Late Show commercial break. It’s evidence of the thoughtfulness that defines his tenure as Late Show bandleader.

“I like putting stuff into the machine and then seeing what comes out of the machine. The brain, that’s like our processing machine,” Batiste said. “So for me, I like to just make a list of all the stuff that I want to digest and assimilate and then I just live with it.”


Batiste has had years of experience putting music into his “processing machine.” He began playing with his father, Michael, in the family’s Batiste Brothers Band when he was about 6 or 7.

The Batistes are one of New Orleans’ most respected and legendary jazz clans, and they’ve often worked side by side with the Marsalis family. Both Batiste and his mentor, Wynton Marsalis, attended high school at New Orleans Center for Creative Arts. Wynton’s father, pianist Ellis Marsalis Jr., headed the jazz department there and was succeeded by clarinetist Alvin Batiste, a distant cousin of Jon’s.

“Him and Alvin and Clyde Kerr and Kidd Jordan, they were like the four village elders who taught everybody in New Orleans music from the last 40 years,” Batiste said. His upbringing in a family of jazz musicians and his experiences playing point guard, both in school (where he was part of a state championship-winning squad) and for an AAU team, gave Batiste his energy, his musical acumen and his constant all-American drive for self-improvement.

Jon Batiste is an avid dresser, usually opting for suits with bold colors or prints paired with custom made sneakers.

Melissa Bunni Elian for ESPN

“It’s a discipline to achieve whatever your desired end result is,” Batiste explained. “In sports, there’s a score. There’s statistics, and there’s a winner and a loser and a championship, and there is one team that gets it. It’s just very clear-cut.

“I think, in order to get better at being a musician and a bandleader and a composer and all these different things, you have to create things that are that clear-cut, because the competition that you’re up against is yourself. So it’s harder, if you’re not willing to look into the mirror, to define what the end result is. It’s very easy to get to a certain level and to just coast, and to not push yourself to be better, because nobody is really keeping score.”

That constant pushing isn’t just what Batiste expects of himself. He expects it of his bandmates in Stay Human too.

It’s important to get “the team to where’s there’s a built-in camaraderie and built-in sense of purpose, that you’re OK passing your guy the ball to take the shot when it counts in the fourth quarter,” Batiste said, again likening the job to running a basketball team. “It’s not always going to be you that gets to take that shot. You may have to trust your sixth man, or your 2 guard. You’re running point, and I played a lot of point. You’re going to have to trust … I’m not going to be able to take this shot. This is not a smart shot for me to take.”


Batiste comes to work after lunch — this time, he raved about the meatball sandwich at a spot on 53rd Street and Ninth Avenue — usually taking a car from his apartment in midtown Manhattan. His office is filled with sunlight, although the view is basically of a construction crane, thanks to New York’s never-ending real estate development. He’s got two keyboards, a Mac, an amp, a drum set, an electric bass and a Mason & Hamlin baby grand piano. An unopened bottle of Dom Pérignon still in the box, sits on his windowsill — he doesn’t drink.

He catches up on the news and tries to get an idea of what the show will address. Because Colbert riffs on the day’s news for his nightly monologue, things at The Late Show are often in flux right up until it’s time to tape the show. That means Batiste finds himself flipping through the musical library in his head on deadline and making last-minute changes at sound check.

“Picking music for TV is so specific,” Batiste said. “It has a mystery to it until you pick that right song, play that right beat, and then it’s like, ‘Oh, of course I should have been doing that.’ So it’s a mystery until then. You gotta crack the code.”

The code-cracking continues in the Stay Human rehearsal space, which is about the size of a McMansion bathroom.

Jon Batiste, left, reacts to the music while practicing new material with his band, Stay Human, a few hours ahead of a live taping at The Ed Sullivan Theater in New York City.

Melissa Bunni Elian for The Undefeated

The Late Show tapes four days a week. So Monday through Thursday, 10-plus people cram into the space with their instruments, including a tuba and a drum set, and jam.

Batiste’s assistant squeezes into a chair next to the upright Steinway and plays a song from her phone through the Marshall speaker that sits on the piano. Gradually, the band picks up the groove and joins in. There’s little to no sheet music.

Batiste and the band rehearse for roughly an hour, their choices guided by that night’s guests and notes from a morning production meeting that his assistant attends. Then he’s off to comedy rehearsal with Colbert, where the two go through Colbert’s proposed monologue. A small gathering of crew makes up the audience for the rehearsal, which was kept so off-limits that not only could I not watch, I couldn’t even be in the building while it was taking place.

All those little riffs and interjections that feel natural and spontaneous when you watch Colbert’s monologue? They’ve been rehearsed.

After comedy rehearsal, Colbert and his staff make script changes and Batiste refines his music selections. Then there’s a sound check on the stage with the whole band. This time, Batiste was working through a song with Jonathan Groff, who played King George in Hamilton and now stars on the Netflix series Mindhunter. The two fumbled around to find the right key for a jokey promotional duet for Mindhunter that Groff sang with Colbert.

While everyone ventured off to hair and makeup, Late Show staff members shepherded the night’s audience into their seats. They were treated to a bawdy warm-up act by comedian Paul Mecurio. Batiste and Stay Human played a 15-minute concert, and Colbert came out, introduced himself to the audience and took questions.

Finally, they make the television that shows up after the local news five nights a week.


Duke Ellington favored natty suits and a top hat. Cab Calloway rarely performed without his conductor’s baton, white waistcoat and tails.

While Colbert sticks to a uniform of sober suits and dress shoes, his bandleader favors blazers from Mr. Turk and fresh Jordans. Batiste is a consummate sneakerhead, and while he sat and talked on his sofa, he casually dribbled a basketball between his feet.

Now Batiste has access to an entire collection of covetous footwear, an actual binder full of sneakers, via The Late Show’s stylist. He’s an admirer of Russell Westbrook’s sartorial boundary-pushing, and though his loyalties are not wedded to one particular NBA team, he casually follows Oklahoma City.

Unlike Calloway, Batiste doesn’t come out in a zoot suit every night. But there’s a special element of showmanship involved in being a bandleader. It’s a skill, one that Batiste, who swears he used to be shy, had to learn. And his personal style, which he began to cultivate after moving to New York, is part of it. Presentation, he insists, is separate from being a skillful musician.

Jon Batiste is an avid dresser, usually opting for suits with bold colors or prints paired with custom made sneakers.

Melissa Bunni Elian for The Undefeated

“I think it really is important to think of them as different things,” Batiste said. “It requires a certain understanding of yourself and your comfort zone, and then stepping outside that and expanding your comfort zone. I actually didn’t see a connection with the two. Also, when I was growing up, it was more the older family members who took that role of presenting the band and everything like that. … That’s always a shock to people who I’ve known for a long time, to see how both those things have developed. It’s a surprise, almost, like a different person has emerged.”


Batiste interprets the world through the youthful ears of a wizened soul. His workspaces at The Late Show are a cornucopia of old and new. Crosley and Marshall are companies that specialize in making music equipment that draws on vintage aesthetics but benefits from modern technological innovation. It’s a theme that recurs throughout Batiste’s working life — he began playing for vocalist Cassandra Wilson, now 61, when he was just 22. He’s a jazz musician whose instrument of choice is the melodica, a contraption that looks like a small hand keyboard with a mouthpiece and sounds like a harmonica.

“A lot of people think that this instrument, you know, is like a child’s toy,” Batiste said, but he loves it. He recounted how he showed it to Stevie Wonder the first time they met, when Batiste was still a student at Juilliard.

“Man, you ever played one of these?” Batiste asked Wonder.

Wonder took the instrument, played it, then gave it back.

“Yeah, I used to play them, but I would get so much spit in them, I stopped,” Wonder told him.

“Oh, you got jokes!” was Batiste’s retort.

Unlike many of his earliest predecessors in jazz, Batiste boasts formal musical training besides everything he learned in his family’s band. He earned a master’s degree from Juilliard.

“I feel like it connects me to the ancestors more, the kind of founding fathers of the music,” Batiste said of his musical education. “Mothers and fathers, because women were a big part of it as well. There’s a lot of female artists that I think are still actually becoming recognized that we don’t even know about. The training just gives me another tool. Nothing can hurt you in pursuit of knowledge, the pursuit of your craft.

“You know, there were great musicians who were the most erudite, studied, and they knew everything there was to know even before there were all these schools. And there were also musicians who didn’t know all that stuff, but they knew it in their own way. So, in my mind, I don’t even think about it like I’m educated more so than a musician who didn’t go to a conservatory. It’s just I know the terminology. But the person who knows it is the one who experiences it. So, if somebody is playing it on their instrument, they know it. … Whether they call it a C scale or dominant seventh chord or they just know it by whatever they know in their mind, when they play, it’s there.”

In Batiste’s office there’s a poster of Mavis Staples, one of his many heroes.

“She’s not just a musician now, she’s bigger than music,” Batiste said. “[Her involvement] in the civil rights movement and being a force for goodwill and a force of peace and a force for faith and a force in all kinds of ways. It’s amazing.”

Staples represents what he wants to achieve, Batiste said, “just what kind of energy I want to have as a performer and a celebrity. Somebody that’s authentic and is very real and also accomplished and all that, at the same time.”

In marrying youth with tradition, drawing a line from zoot suits to Jordans, Batiste has become a vehicle for advocating and communicating about jazz. He’s reverential, but not stuffy, and always repping New Orleans. (When it comes to gumbo, Batiste prefers filé to okra as a thickener for the city’s signature stew — that’s how his mama makes it.)

For decades, there’s been a panic that jazz, born in Louisiana and spread via the Great Migration, radio and vinyl, is dying. As once-booming jazz corridors in cities such as Washington, D.C., and Kansas City have shrunk or transformed, those changes are accompanied by understandable worries that no one’s interested in carrying on the genre’s traditions, that a uniquely American art form is going underappreciated outside of Lincoln Center, the Kennedy Center and rich people’s wedding receptions. Damien Chazelle won an Academy Award for directing a movie around that theme.

But there’s always a young, handsome, passionate and charismatic ambassador keeping the legacies of Bird and Miles and Satchmo alive. In the ’90s, it was Batiste’s mentor, Wynton Marsalis. Now Batiste has picked up the torch, along with the requisite fedora and porkpie hat — he’s got a stack of them in his dressing room and more in his office. As for the next generation? Well, Batiste turned 31 in November. He celebrated by traveling to see his 8-year-old nephew’s piano recital. The culture is in safe hands.

No matter if it’s a rehearsal or an actual performance, Batiste and his band member play full out, laughing and having fun with each note they play.

Melissa Bunni Elian for The Undefeated

“I don’t expect that jazz is always going to be on top like it was in the ’20s, for example,” said jazz pianist and bandleader Herbie Hancock. “The music is always evolving and constantly changing, and it’s very difficult for a lot of listeners to keep up with that.”

But he’s optimistic about Batiste’s work on The Late Show. “That experience is incredible because you’re challenged in a lot of new ways, doing that type of TV show,” Hancock said. “Because of the kind of talent he has and his experience in jazz, he’s able to more easily adapt and include new ways of dealing with the music for that kind of show than if he had not had it.”


As darkness began to settle over Manhattan, it was time for a show.

Batiste sprinted onstage to greet the show’s live audience. Joined by Stay Human, they pumped up the crowd with James Brown’s “Get Up, Get Into It, Get Involved” and an arrangement of Dave Brubeck’s “Take Five” modeled after Tito Puente’s salsa-fied version.

One of Colbert’s guests was writer and Aspen Institute president Walter Isaacson, who was there to promote his new biography of Leonardo da Vinci. To introduce Isaacson, the band played an up-tempo rendition of “Oh! Didn’t He Ramble,” a New Orleans ditty from 1902 later popularized by Jelly Roll Morton and Louis Armstrong.

“I grew up with his whole family,” Isaacson explained to Colbert. “The wonderful Batiste family of New Orleans.” Isaacson gestured toward Batiste. “He’s a great man.”

When the interview concluded, Isaacson walked over for a hug, thrilled that Batiste had chosen to pay musical homage to their shared roots.

Later, Colbert said goodbye and the band exited. While the audience made its way to the lobby, stopping for pictures with cardboard cutouts of Colbert, Batiste huddled with the host for a post-mortem of the night’s show.

The process of assembling and putting out a newspaper used to be known as the Daily Miracle. Making late-night television involves many of the same pressures related to accuracy, tone and intellect. On top of that, it’s got to be funny, and it’s done in front of a live audience.

No wonder The Late Show tapes smack in the middle of Broadway. With Colbert and Batiste at the helm, it’s clear that’s exactly where it belongs.

A veteran black officer teaches police how not to kill people

Sgt. Curtis Davenport The shooting instructor 27 years in uniform

“I was born black. I’m going to die black. I’m a black man before I’m anything else. The fact that I’m a police officer is a job that I do. It’s an oath that I took.”“I was born black. I’m going to die black. I’m a black man before I’m anything else. The fact that I’m a police officer is a job that I do. It’s an oath that I took.”

At the end of an unmarked driveway in a wooded area of southeast Atlanta, past the SWAT team barracks and armored vehicles, next to the firing range where bullets pierce paper heads and hearts, Sgt. Curtis Davenport teaches police how not to kill people.

As commander of the firearms training unit, Davenport’s basic responsibility is to make sure Atlanta’s 2,000 officers can hit those paper targets. But over the past five years, as police killings of unarmed African-Americans caused a national uproar, Davenport’s job evolved to include “de-escalation” training — encouraging police to avoid pulling the trigger at all.

One Wednesday this summer, 22 police officers filed into Davenport’s classroom inside a small, one-story building. He stood at a lectern wearing khaki pants and an olive drab polo shirt. The pop-pop-pop-pop-pop of gunfire was audible from the range 40 yards away. On the walls hung promotional photographs of Glock firearms, including one that showed a close-up of a pistol clenched in a white fist, ATLANTA POLICE printed along the barrel, the muzzle an ominous black tunnel. “Confidence,” the caption read. “It’s What You Carry.”

Surrounded by all this deadly force, Davenport began his mission of peace.

He had invited me to attend his two-hour class, shoot on the range and participate in a video simulation of dangerous police encounters, all to help counter today’s anti-police narrative. The backdrop was the city of Atlanta, cradle of the civil rights movement and the modern black mecca, where 54 percent of the population and 58 percent of the police are black. Atlanta is one of the few major American cities where the police force comes close to reflecting the diversity of the population — which has not deterred Black Lives Matter protests and activism within its city limits.

Davenport is 50 but looks 35. He still has the muscular physique of the college fullback who reached the last round of cuts at Atlanta Falcons training camp. He can talk with the spin of a politician — Davenport was the Atlanta Police Department spokesman for three years — or break fool like your country cousin. He can quote Scripture or Ice Cube. Relying on the laws of God and man, he walks the tightrope between black and blue with serenity and confidence.

“I was born black. I’m going to die black. I’m a black man before I’m anything else,” Davenport said. “The fact that I’m a police officer is a job that I do. It’s an oath that I took. I swore to uphold laws. I swore to protect your rights. I swore to protect you when you can’t protect yourself. So while that is a part of my responsibility, being a police officer does not make Curtis Davenport who he is.”

Yet, after 27 years in uniform, he sees the world through a blue lens and can’t help but feel the pressure.

“Police officers to a certain extent have been dehumanized,” he said. “We’re not people with feelings. It’s like they want us to be robots.”

“It’s hard to change public perception, it’s hard to change what people think and feel about you, it’s hard to change their interpretation of what you do. But what we can do is we can change ourselves.”“It’s hard to change public perception, it’s hard to change what people think and feel about you, it’s hard to change their interpretation of what you do. But what we can do is we can change ourselves.”

Change, get fired or quit

Inside Davenport’s classroom, 16 of the 22 officers were black, including two women. Everyone carried a gun except Davenport. He clicked his PowerPoint to life and began:

“The public demanded that police be reformed down to their training, and this is one of the results,” he said, citing former President Barack Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing. “So they came up with this course, and if I were to sum it all up in a phrase, it wants the police officers in America to get out of the warrior mentality. And they want you instead to adopt what’s called a guardian mentality.

“That may be kind of hard for some people, especially those who’ve been doing this a long time or those who don’t think that’s what they want to do.”

For the resistant cops, Davenport offered three options: You can change. You can keep acting the same and get fired, possibly indicted. Or you can quit.

“It’s hard to change public perception, it’s hard to change what people think and feel about you, it’s hard to change their interpretation of what you do. But what we can do is we can change ourselves.”

Next came the details. Davenport drilled down into exactly when and how the Constitution and the state of Georgia permit police to use force. He told the officers to look for alternatives — just because they can legally use force doesn’t mean they should. The ultimate goal is “voluntary compliance.”

“De-escalation is all about utilizing other options,” Davenport said. “It’s not about taking away use of deadly force. What it’s about is, do I have to use deadly force? Do I have another option present?”

He covered tactical details such as how distance determines appropriate force. He reviewed what every officer already knew: The law allows you to shoot unarmed suspects. Always shoot at center mass — not at a leg or shoulder. Shoot as many times as necessary to end the threat. But if you shoot one unnecessary bullet, it can cost you your job or your freedom.

Over and over, he advised officers to control their egos. Everybody who wears a badge has a big ego, he said. “That is our biggest hindrance.

“If you work an extra job and somebody gotta leave, you tell them to leave like, ‘You, out, get on out of here.’ They walking to the door, ‘Ah, you sorry m—–f—–, I’ll whoop your a– on the street.’ Guess what? He walking out. I don’t have to have ego. People looking at it, ‘Aw, you see that police, man, he a chump. He took all that stuff.’ End of the day, I got voluntary compliance. Make sense? That’s de-escalation in a nutshell.”

There was a caveat, though, that explains why many police who kill unarmed civilians are not prosecuted.

“De-escalation is only to be used when you’re dealing with nonviolent suspects,” Davenport told his class. “If you’re dealing with a violent suspect, do what you do.”

Kevin D. Lilies for The Undefeated

Kevin D. Lilies for The Undefeated

Sgt. Davenport works with officers in the classroom of the Atlanta Police Department Pistol Range on how to de-escalate situations and what indicators might lead to drawing one’s weapon. Officers work on their accuracy on the shooting range to ensure they do no more damage than is necessary to subdue an attacker.

Life after football

Davenport was born and raised in the city, with summers spent on his grandparents’ rural Georgia farms. After graduating from Lithonia High School east of Atlanta, he earned a computer science degree at Clark Atlanta University while playing football as a 5-foot-10, 260-pound battering ram of a fullback. In four college seasons, he had four carries for 4 yards and four touchdowns. The running back he blocked for got drafted. Despite stone hands and slow feet, Davenport almost made the Falcons from their 1989 training camp. He still feels like he has one more bone-crunching block in him.

After football, Davenport needed a job and the police department was hiring. His physicality served him well when he began patrolling Atlanta’s roughest neighborhoods in 1991 and became an undercover narcotics investigator in 2005. Arrests led to lots of fights — “You’re taking somebody someplace they don’t want to go.” He has a scar on his thigh from being bitten by a 300-pound woman who wanted no part of his handcuffs. He trained in taekwondo, kung fu and ground fighting. He learned how to head off physical battles just with the bulge of his arms and chest beneath his tailored uniform. He’s 230 pounds now, still works out ferociously, would like to be 215 but his wife bakes a mean batch of cookies.

Davenport was raised in the church and was saved in 2002. Giving his life to the Lord made him more patient and tolerant, and also unwilling to take shortcuts that some officers considered permissible.

He keeps a Bible in his office at the firing range. It’s as much a part of his job as the dozens of bullets all over his desk — inside ammunition boxes, encased in curved rifle magazines, loose in a plastic cup. After the class, explaining his belief that policing is based on biblical principles, he read from Romans 13:1:

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.

Then verses 3 and 4:

For he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.

The bullets on his desk looked more lethal now. Davenport closed his Bible.

“I ain’t asking you to agree with it,” he said. “I’m just telling you what it says.

“When I put my actions up for judgment, I didn’t put it up for your judgment,” Davenport said. “Sometimes, by pleasing him, I don’t please them.

“Sometimes,” he added, “ ‘them’ is other police officers.”

I thought about the off-the-books lawmaking “contempt of cop” punishable by a night in jail, and remembered Freddie Gray running from police, getting cuffed and then being carried out of the police van with a broken neck.

Last June, the police chief asked Davenport for his expert opinion of a video that showed an officer punching a man in the face while trying to arrest him. Davenport referred back to his secular Bible — the Standard Operating Procedures of the Atlanta Police Department.

“Force must be reasonable, and it must be necessary,” he said. “Was what he did reasonable and necessary? The answer is no.”

The officer was suspended for 20 days without pay. That upset the rank and file, as the arrested man had a reputation for fighting back against police. Davenport said that a few years ago the officer would have received little to no punishment.

I asked whether that’s a positive development.

“Whether good or bad,” Davenport replied, “it lets you know that policing has changed. He did the old actions, and he got the new punishment.”

Is there a downside?

“We have a lot of police reform, but no community reform,” he said. Criminals “are still doing the same stuff, but I can’t do the same stuff to combat it.”

Davenport recognizes that mass incarceration has devastated the black community. He believes African-Americans are treated unfairly in the justice system. But he sees another part of the equation too.

“Let’s be honest. Was anybody protesting when Ray Ray shot Peanut?” he said. “Just two people who live in the ’hood. I think that’s a far bigger issue, black-on-black crime, than blue-on-black violence.”

It was time to shoot on the range, a manicured green quadrant with a steep hill of red dirt at one end. Davenport outfitted me with a holster and police-issue 9 mm pistol. He instructed me how to hold the weapon, sight down the barrel and ignore the “unnatural event” of setting off a tiny bomb in my hand. Pulling the trigger took as little effort as turning on my phone. A hole appeared in the paper person’s head, and I was filled with sadness at the thought of black boys carrying death in their pockets.

Black and Blue: A veteran black officer teaches police how not to kill people

Ferguson and Sunday dinner

The biggest complaint Davenport has with police work is the pay. In Atlanta, a sergeant’s salary tops out at $72,000 before overtime. Davenport brings in another 10 or 20 grand a year with extra jobs, primarily as security at the Tabernacle concert hall, so he can “enjoy some of the comforts of life.”

It was very comfortable riding in the black leather passenger seat of his new Ford F-150 King Ranch pickup. We pulled up to his five-bedroom brick home at the end of a cul-de-sac in the suburb of Decatur. Inside the garage was his beloved 2007 Harley-Davidson Street Glide, parked near a black leather jacket emblazoned with the name of his old motorcycle club, the Buffalo Soldiers. Davenport and his wife, Valerie, who works in the UPS finance department, bought the house out of foreclosure in 1996.

Curtis and Valerie, an amateur bodybuilder, cooked Sunday dinner together in their cozy kitchen. Their pit bull puppy, Bella, rescued from a shelter, scampered underfoot. Curtis dropped steaks and salmon on the grill. Valerie sautéed cabbage and prepared mac and cheese and cornbread. A box of takeout fried chicken sat open on the island counter. Crab legs boiled, sending enough “Slap Ya Mama” seasoning through the air to draw a cough. Nothing special, this spread. Just a regular Sunday.

Their sons arrived: 23-year-old Clayton, who attended Alabama A&M on a football scholarship and now works as a plumber, and 21-year-old Cameron, who went to work for CSX Railroad out of high school. Next came Davenport’s father, Jimmy, and his stepmother, Karen. Jimmy and Karen got married when Davenport was 16; he calls her Mom. Last to arrive was their daughter Sydney, 20, a sophomore at Albany State University.

A lawnmower buzzed outside, pushed by a former Atlanta police officer who went to prison in the aftermath of a scandal over falsified search warrants. Davenport could mow his own lawn, but the former officer needs the work.

Sitting in a paid-off house, bellies full, paychecks steady, driveway full of cars, the Davenport family’s biggest immediate concern was whether the Falcons could make it back to the Super Bowl. Curtis and Jimmy have season tickets. Nobody felt conflicted about police work or passionate about Black Lives Matter.

Valerie described her husband as a loyal, responsible, dedicated man who follows the rules. Clayton recalled his dad often bringing his poor teammates from youth football over for weekends. “We always were bringing in strays,” Valerie said. “He wants to do his part. He wants to help. Helping is part of his job. He really enjoys what he does now, because it’s a responsibility for him to make sure those police do what they’re supposed to when they have that gun in their hand.”

When the brownies and ice cream came out, I asked whether the family had argued over any of the recent high-profile police killings.

“Michael Brown,” Davenport said, referring to the unarmed 18-year-old killed by officer Darren Wilson in 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri. “They was all for that poor Michael Brown. The dirty police, they did him wrong. Y’all was ready to picket and tear up Atlanta for Michael Brown.”

Davenport told his family all along that Wilson would not be charged with a crime. There was no apparent distinction between “would not” and “should not” in Davenport’s mind. According to the Justice Department report released by former Attorney General Eric Holder, Brown punched Wilson in the face when confronted, grabbed his gun, was shot in the hand, ran away, then charged back at the officer. The law allowed Wilson to shoot Brown.

When the killing first hit the news, Davenport’s father, Jimmy, was angry. A retired post office supervisor, he was born in 1947 in Wedowee, Alabama, where segregation was the law, white people called him “boy” and there were no black cops. But once the facts of the case came out, Jimmy Davenport agreed with his son.

Jimmy’s wife, Karen, wouldn’t go that far.

“Curtis was talking about the law and what the policeman did. I was talking about the broader perspective of policing,” said Karen, a retired school principal and college administrator.

“If Michael Brown had been white, let’s just play it out,” she continued. “If he had been white and stole something from the store, the police would probably be like, boys will be boys, he didn’t mean to do it. It wouldn’t have escalated.”

Her sergeant son interrupted. “Wait a minute now,” Davenport said. “Did it escalate because of the police officer’s actions? Or did it escalate because of Michael Brown’s actions?”

“It escalated because of both actions,” his mother said. “I think it escalated also because he was a black guy, they said he stole something from the store, and then he became confrontational, and then it escalated.”

“Who became confrontational?” Davenport asked.

“Michael Brown.’’

“So he was the aggressor.”

“My point is, Curtis, if it was a different situation with a different complexion young man, I really wonder if it would have escalated to that extent.”

“If ands and buts were candy and nuts, oh, what a party we’d have,” Davenport said.

Everybody laughed. Love filled the room, not the vitriol that tore through America after Brown’s death sparked riots and turned Black Lives Matter from a hashtag into a movement. But the philosophical chasm remained. Karen Davenport saw Brown’s death in the context of policing as a tool of mass incarceration, in a society rife with racial bias. Sgt. Davenport focused on what he teaches in his course — when the law says an officer can pull the trigger.

De-escalation is only for nonviolent suspects. Otherwise, do what you do.

A scandal in the department

Atlanta buys its heroin in the Bluff, where addicts and dealers lurk in abandoned houses as children play nearby. Davenport worked these west Atlanta streets as an undercover narcotics investigator, making drug buys and serving warrants. Jumping out of an unmarked van, ready to deliver some justice, that was fun. If a suspect wanted to put up a fight, the crew stepped aside and Davenport took him down.

“It’s a different kind of trust we had, where you trust your partner with your life,” Davenport said. “Is there any greater trust than that? If you’re not in that circle, it’s hard to compare it.”

He would masquerade as a junkie, walking shirtless into a drug house or wearing a suit and tie like a downtown businessman. Once he was buying crack in a second-floor apartment when two men burst in, fired their guns in the air, and robbed the drug dealers. Davenport thought about pulling his hidden weapon but decided against blowing his cover. That was the closest he ever came to firing his weapon at someone.

In 2006, he was promoted to sergeant and left the squad. Six months later, Davenport’s former narcotics team, led by Officer Gregg Junnier, crept onto a porch in the Bluff, wearing plainclothes. They smashed through the door and burst inside. The homeowner, 92-year-old Kathryn Johnston, thought she was being burglarized and fired her revolver at the intruders. The officers fired back and killed her.

At first, authorities said police had bought drugs from Johnston’s house that same day. But Johnston’s neighbors knew she was innocent. Soon it was exposed that Junnier lied on the search warrant, lied on other warrants and was breaking other laws too. Junnier and two other officers went to prison.

It hurts Davenport to admit that Junnier, a man he would have taken a bullet for, was a crooked cop. He believes he should have seen it. He wonders how many warrants he served that Junnier falsified. Davenport was never accused of any wrongdoing connected to Junnier’s crimes. But Junnier’s crimes get Davenport accused of wrongdoing just for wearing his uniform.

Yet even after the Johnston scandal, which resulted in an overhaul of the Atlanta Police Department narcotics unit, Davenport doesn’t see systemic problems with policing.

“I would say 98 percent of police officers throughout the country do a fantastic job day in and day out,” he said. “But that never gets publicized, right? You don’t have the family members from somebody you helped on Good Morning America telling about that. But the 2 percent are the guys who make bad decisions and do bad things that gets 98 percent of the publicity.”

There’s a difference, though, between outliers on the police force and in other professions. Those 2 percent of bad cops can ruin lives, even take them.

Davenport accepts that higher level of responsibility and says police departments need to do a better job of identifying problem officers.

“You don’t go from being a good, honest cop to being someone who plants drugs or evidence, or might be a little bit quick to kill. There are other signs. They might take shortcuts prior to that. When we see that we have to report it, and we got to either get them retrained or get rid of them.”

“It’s a different kind of trust we had, where you trust your partner with your life. Is there any greater trust than that? If you’re not in that circle, it’s hard to compare it.”“It’s a different kind of trust we had, where you trust your partner with your life. Is there any greater trust than that? If you’re not in that circle, it’s hard to compare it.”

Engaging the threat

After shooting at the range, Davenport took me to the police academy, where pictures of 39 slain officers hung on a wall. Inside a darkened room was the Milo Range Theater 300, a $120,000 system featuring a circle of five huge video screens that create an immersive training experience.

Since 2015, Atlanta police have killed nine people, including seven African-Americans, two of whom were unarmed, according to The Washington Post’s national database of police killings. That’s about the same number of killings as the comparably sized cities of Kansas City, Missouri, and Long Beach, California.

A half-dozen officers watched as I strapped up with a video-game-type pistol. Davenport said to look for the threat and engage it. I asked what “engage” means.

“You can talk,” he said, “or handle it with your sidearm.”

A scene unfolded: A traffic stop of a pickup truck. I approached on the driver’s side and saw an old man behind the wheel. I asked him to put his hands on the wheel — he did not comply. I demanded that he put his hands out of the car window — nothing. The camera backed away. I was about five paces behind the truck. The man got out. I drew my weapon and yelled at him to lay down on the ground. He kept walking toward the tailgate. I yelled I would shoot if he did not lay down. My heart pounded. I felt frustrated and discombobulated by his refusal to obey. Was he sick? Stupid? The old man grabbed something from the truck bed and spun toward me. I blasted him. He fell down and dropped the gun in his hand. The screen went dark.

Davenport said I could have shot him sooner. But what if he didn’t intend to pull out a weapon?

“What do I care more about?” he said. “Going to jail, or going home alive?”

Another scene: A call about a “disturbance” at a park. Such sketchy information is often all police have to start with. Two young men were talking near a parked car. I questioned them, but they didn’t respond. I put my hand on my gun. They put their hands up and I saw one had a gun in his waistband. A woman suddenly got out of the vehicle and approached me with something in her hand. I almost shot her. She was filming with her phone. I yelled at everybody. She lay down in the road. I felt much more scared with three people than with one. I threatened to shoot the gunman if he didn’t lie down. He bolted toward the woods. I let him go. The screen went dark.

Davenport observed that it’s not against the law in Georgia to carry a gun in your waistband. Nobody had broken any laws in that scenario.

Then Davenport tried one.

Another traffic stop. A young woman got out of her car and put a gun to her head. Davenport went into de-escalation mode. He asked her to calm down. “Let’s talk, let’s just talk, you can put the gun down,” Davenport said. She didn’t listen. Davenport kept talking, his gun in hand but pointed at a 45-degree angle toward the ground.

Was this a nonviolent subject? Could he shoot? Should he?

The woman swung the gun toward Davenport and fired. Davenport let off eight shots. The screen went dark.

The technician played back a recording of the encounter. The woman shot first. Davenport’s first shot missed.

“This might have been my bad day,” he said.

A glimpse inside a high-tech police simulation at the Atlanta PD

The lesson of Jonah

Davenport, an ordained minister for 12 years, is an assistant pastor at Greater Travelers Rest House of Hope Atlanta, performing weddings and baptisms and leading Bible studies. I sat with him one Sunday in a front pew of the majestic 7,000-seat sanctuary, close enough to the concert-grade sound system to feel the stomp-stomp of the bass drum.

Black faces filled the ground-level pews and the two balconies. Stained-glass black faces gazed from the windows behind the choir. Cameras broadcast live on the internet. Aged mothers in white hats and dresses were honored. The band played “I’m Nothing Without You,” “Jesus Is My Help,” “The Lord Is Blessing Me Right Now.” Davenport worshipped calmly, tapping his gator-clad toe to the music, with no waving hands or extra amens.

Then Dr. E. Dewey Smith Jr. got to preaching about Jonah.

God told Jonah to go to Nineveh, but Jonah rebelled and boarded a ship for Tarshish. Smith described how God sent a storm to afflict Jonah’s ship. His honey-coated voice was calm, but we knew what was coming. Smith described how the terrified sailors started praying to their pagan gods and throwing things overboard.

The ship captain went below and saw Jonah sleeping. “What is this? Sleeping? Get up!” Smith barked, paraphrasing the Scripture. “Pray to your God! Maybe your God will see we are in trouble and rescue us.”

“Jonah!” Smith shouted. “STAY WOKE!”

The congregation bubbled. Davenport remained silent. Pastor Smith is his friend, but Davenport knew what was coming.

“Stay woke and see it’s OK for Alton Sterling and Philando Castile to get shot in Minnesota,” the pastor said. “It’s OK for police to shoot somebody live on camera with a baby in the back seat, who has gun ownership and a license to carry and see him get five bullets into him and the officer is acquitted and gets paid to leave with no repercussions! It’s OK for a 2-year-old baby to get shot in Minnesota, an 80-year-old woman to get shot in Minnesota, a 12-year-old — all unarmed — to get shot in Minnesota and nothing happens. But as soon as a woman is shot, whose skin is much, much lighter than yours and mine, then all of a sudden the police chief has to resign! All these other folk got shot and nothing ever happened! I gotta tell you, you better STAY WOKE!”

The congregation exploded in agreement, a bullet aimed at the heart of a servant who believes in the nobility of policing. Davenport’s face betrayed no emotion as he balanced between the black and the blue.

‘The Rumble in the Jungle’ — and the poster that sold it Remembering The Champ’s historic comeback

 

In the darkest night part of morning they came 60,000 strong — to watch undefeated world heavyweight champion George Foreman take on challenger Muhammad Ali. It was another time. The 20th of May Stadium in Kinshasa, Zaire, is now the Stade Tata Raphaël in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and The Rumble in the Jungle, as it was known, was scheduled to begin at 4 a.m. local time on Wednesday, Oct. 30, 1974. This was so the match originally titled From Slave Ship to Championship would air live on closed-circuit television in U.S. theaters at 10 p.m. EST.

From backstage, journalist Norman Mailer described the scene. Although his entourage was somber, Ali appeared relaxed as he addressed himself in a mellifluous tone: “I been up and I been down. You know, I been around. It must be dark when you get knocked out. Why, I’ve never been knocked out. I’ve been knocked down, but never out.”

Ali was about to prove, once again, why he was the greatest of all time. Ever since the boxing commission stripped the champ of his title and suspended his boxing license for refusing to serve in the U.S. armed forces during the Vietnam War, Ali had been on a mission to reclaim all that had been stolen from him. Ali fought the law — and won, taking his case all the way to the Supreme Court, where he was vindicated in June 1971.

“No one had heard the word ‘Zaire.’ ”

Boxing license back, Ali took on then-world champion Joe Frazier in The Fight of the Century in March 1971. It was the first time that two undefeated heavyweights had battled in a title fight. They went the full 15. Frazier won by unanimous decision, handing Ali his first loss.

By 1974, George Foreman held the title. Undefeated, Foreman had more than 35 knockouts under his belt, and at 25, seemed an unstoppable force, but Ali, seven years his senior, never lost heart.

On most fight posters, the location was not a visual part of the story. Whether held in Las Vegas, Chicago or Miami, the location was simply a matter of logistical information. But with The Rumble in the Jungle, Africa was a central character. “No one had heard the word ‘Zaire,’ ” recalled sports photographer Neil Leifer. “If you want to put your country on the map — what a way to do it. If you wanted the world to know who you were, get the most popular black man on earth to promote it. It was probably a good business move for Mobutu.” Dictator Mobutu Sese Seko, who was noted for his cruelty and for being a master of terror on a grand scale, died in exile in 1997.

Set against a blazing yellow background, black and white photographs of Foreman and Ali floated above the continent of Africa, silhouetted in verdant green, perfectly matching the colors of the flag of Zaire. The poster had gone through slight modifications after Foreman cut his right eye during training, pushing back the date of the match, and it ran in both English and French. The French version of the fight poster included the words Un cadeau du President Mobutu au peuple Zaïrois et un honneur pour l’homme noir: “A gift from President Mobutu to the people of Zaire and an honor for the black man.”


Leifer, a boy wonder who began his professional career in 1958 at the age of 16, produced arguably the most famous photograph of Ali on earth: the image of him standing above Sonny Liston after throwing “the phantom punch” that sent the challenger to the mat during the first round of the 1965 world heavyweight title fight.

A photographer, like a boxer, has to be fully prepared for the fight, to be in peak condition and determined to make history. With more than 200 magazine covers and 17 books to his name, Leifer’s most recent book, The Fight (Taschen) is a triumph of book publishing. Limited to just 1,974 copies, the book features photographs by Leifer and Howard L. Bingham, Ali’s best friend, who died in 2016.

Using abridged copy from Mailer’s 1975 The Fight as its departure point, the Taschen volume follows Ali’s path through Zaire, crafting a comeback that blew people away. The book comes inside a slipcase that is modeled after the fight poster, using the same colors and design concept. “An image has to stop you — otherwise you will walk right by it,” said Leifer. “A cover is a poster — and if you take a second look at it, you might want to look inside. That yellow just jumps out at you … you can see it from half a block away.” But it’s the image of Ali and Foreman floating over the continent that invoked the Pan-African sentiment that had resurfaced in the wake of the civil rights movement and the African independence movements.

It’s the image of Ali and Foreman floating over the continent that invoked the Pan-African sentiment that had resurfaced in the wake of the civil rights movement.

The story belongs to the champion. This is increasingly clear when paging through The Fight. The Rumble in the Jungle was Ali’s return to glory. Unlike Foreman, whose strengths did not translate outside the ring, Ali took advantage of every opportunity that came his way, never meeting a camera or a reporter he did not like.

As Mailer reported, after shaking hands, Ali told Foreman, “You have heard of me since you were young. You’ve been following me since you were a little boy. Now, you must meet me, your master!” Foreman blinked.

The bell rang, and 30 seconds into the fight, Foreman had Ali on the ropes. They sparred, landing blows. It was an intense round, but people feared Ali would not be able to sustain that level of aggression. They weren’t wrong. Somewhere in the second round, Ali switched it up: rope-a-dope.

Ali hung back against the ropes, inviting Foreman to charge, then ducked, bobbed, weaved and blocked the champ’s fists of fury. Everyone was stunned. “What Muhammad did was so unusual, I honestly didn’t know when he would win,” Leifer recalled. “Any sensible person said, ‘What is he, out of his mind? He’s letting himself get hit.’ Foreman was an incredible puncher. You had to assume that at some point he’s going to break through Ali’s defense … but it didn’t happen that way.”

By the eighth round, Foreman was spent and Ali was prepared, landing several hooks followed by a five-punch combination that sent the champ sputtering to the ground. Mailer reported, “Vertigo took George Foreman and revolved him. Still bowing from the waist in this uncomprehending position … he started to tumble and topple and fall even as he did not wish to go down. His mind was held with magnets as high as his championship and his body was seeking the ground. He went over like a six-foot sixty-year-old butler who has just heard tragic news … ”

Determined to rouse himself, Foreman made it back on his feet after a count of 10, but he was finished. With two seconds remaining in the round, referee Zack Clayton stopped the fight. Ali had won the title back. Then he fainted.

Soon after the fight, the sky broke open and the rains came pouring down. The rainy season had been two weeks late, and the torrents flooded the stadium, drenching the batteries until the generators gave out. Half of the Telex machines shut down, and pictures and words could no longer get out — but they didn’t need to. Ali lived up to the poster — and did what he came to do as the whole world watched.

David Robinson’s advice on effective social change: ‘Slow down’ ‘The Admiral’ says it took years to get his school and investment fund up and running

SAN ANTONIO — The students making their way through a first-floor corridor at Carver Academy and College Prep grew wide-eyed when they bumped into the school’s founder. A few gasped when the still-trim, 7-foot-1 Spurs legend David Robinson stopped to wave, and they beamed when he posed for a few selfies.

Most of these young people were not yet born when Robinson’s Hall of Fame NBA career ended in 2003. But, to them, the man nicknamed “the Admiral” is as much a star for what he has done off the court as for what he did on it.

Robinson launched what was then called Carver Academy 16 years ago with $10 million of his own money. It began as a small parochial school serving elementary students, but it is now a publicly funded charter school that enrolls more than 1,100 pupils. Most of the students are Hispanic or black, and most of them are from low-income families. Nearly all of them are on track for college, school officials say.

We’re in an age when athletes are embracing social activism in a way that rivals anything in the past. Following the lead of former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, scores of NFL players have stirred a national debate by taking a knee or sitting during the national anthem to call attention to police brutality and racial injustice. Others have worn T-shirts or hoodies to protest the deaths of Eric Garner or Trayvon Martin. Many athletes have started foundations or otherwise tried to leverage their wealth and fame to spur social change.

It is a level of consciousness that heartens the 52-year-old Robinson. And while Robinson is careful not to criticize any protesting players, he says it remains to be seen whether their strong words will be matched by meaningful deeds — or make the kind of difference that is happening at Carver.

“There is certainly more awareness now. Guys understand their influence and opportunity,” Robinson said. “I’ve talked to a lot of young athletes. They care. They want to do something significant. The question is, how? How do they do it?”

It is something Robinson knows firsthand. It took him years to turn his dream of a school into reality. He says the athletes eager to make change should be prepared for a similar struggle.

A line of students eagerly greet David Robinson as they walk to their next classroom at the IDEA Carver College Prep campus. “I’m a teacher at heart,” said Robinson. “I’m a lifelong student.”

Julysa Sosa for The Undefeated

“Guys in the NBA visit Carver all the time. Some of them say, ‘This is great. I want to start a school too,’ ” Robinson said. “My reaction is usually, ‘Wait. Slow down.’ You’ve got to be sure this is what you want to do. There is so much to learn. It is daunting. When a lot of guys come into the league, they are not prepared to write a check, much less run a school or build something.”

Robinson’s patient brand of activism led him to not only open a school but to also co-found Admiral Capital Group, a private equity firm that helps pay for his good deeds. Admiral controls more than $1 billion in office space, hotels and apartment developments. The company also has invested alongside several NBA and NFL team owners in an online platform that helps coaches at all levels break down game film as well as a separate online platform that automates management of youth athletic leagues. The firm sets aside 10 percent of its profits for donations aimed at making social change.

“The business is a sustainable way of making a long-term impact,” said Daniel Bassichis, a former Goldman Sachs banker and the firm’s co-founder, who once served on Carver’s board. “It has a constant income, which is key. Most [athletes’] foundations do not have this kind of income.”

Admiral has also helped guide investments by other professional athletes, including Spurs guard Tony Parker, former NFL defensive lineman Justin Tuck (who served an internship with the firm as an MBA student) and retired major league outfielder Torii Hunter. Not only are the investors immersed in the details of their investments, but they also receive advice on how to make lasting social change.

“There is so much to learn. It is daunting. When a lot of guys come into the league, they are not prepared to write a check, much less run a school or build something.”

For instance, each year the firm hires 25 Houston-area high school students to work in a Hilton Garden Inn hotel it owns there. The idea is to expose young people to careers in the hospitality industry. If students take to the work, they are given scholarships to the University of Houston, which they attend as Admiral scholars.

Robinson’s vision for social activism came into focus three decades ago during a two-year military commitment after his graduation from the Naval Academy. During that time, Robinson visited a couple of dozen Washington, D.C.-area high schools to deliver a simple message: Just say no to drugs.

Most students seemed thrilled to have the basketball star in their midst. Still, Robinson’s words frequently fell flat, particularly with the students who most needed to hear them. He realized he had to do more than say something. He had to do something.

“I realized it was like trying to put a Band-Aid on a big wound,” Robinson recalled. “Some of the kids would say, ‘This ain’t reality to us.’ From what they knew, drug dealers were making money. Or education wouldn’t change their lives. I found myself wondering, what can I do to help these kids? How do I make change?”

Robinson, a devout Christian, prayed on it. The answer he got convinced him that he should one day open a school to help guide young people to make better choices, regardless of the difficult circumstances they may confront.

“You can talk until you are blue in the face, but you can’t change people,” he said. “But you can plant seeds, and education is a natural way to plant seeds.”

Robinson nurtured his dream for most of his NBA career, making donations and connections and learning what he could about educational policy. Finally, he made his move, opening Carver Academy in 2001, two years before he retired from basketball. As a parochial school, it had just 120 students. To expand its reach and relieve the constant fundraising pressure, Robinson agreed in 2012 to convert Carver into a publicly funded charter school by joining forces with IDEA, a nonprofit that operates 61 schools serving 36,000 students across Texas. Robinson is now a member of IDEA’s San Antonio regional board.

The school, renamed Carver Academy and College Prep, now has more than 1,100 students in kindergarten through 11th grade. (It will add 12th-grade classes next year.)

David Robinson originally founded George W. Carver Academy in 2001. Eleven years later, he partnered with IDEA Public Schools to expand his goal of accessible quality education for all children.

Julysa Sosa for The Undefeated

“When I started Carver, I did not know what I was doing,” Robinson said. “It is a huge undertaking: fundraising, curriculum, finding partners. It is a commitment, and it takes a long time to learn.”

Carver is located not far from the Spurs’ home arena. “We have students in homeless shelters, or who have lived in cars for periods of time. There are all kinds of life issues,” said Guadalupe Diaz, principal of Carver’s elementary program. “But there is an abiding belief that they can overcome. They can do it.”

One of Robinson’s core beliefs is that tough circumstances should not be seen as insurmountable obstacles to achievement. He named the school after George Washington Carver, who was born into slavery but nonetheless went on to become a widely respected botanist, inventor and teacher. He thought Carver’s life story contained a lesson for young people today.

“If you think you have a bad situation, that man grew up in a worse situation,” Robinson explained. “But Carver knew there was a reason he was here. That led him to do amazing things. We have to start where we are, use what we have and make something of it. And never be satisfied.”

Robinson says another one of his core strategies is to inspire young people to tap into their own gifts and leverage whatever opportunities they have.

“Every time you turn on the television, people see rap stars, athletes and actors. You don’t see the everyday people who are doing well. The culture points us to these unattainable roles. How many of us are going to be athletes? Practically nobody. Success is not being Jay-Z. There is only one Jay-Z. Who is telling kids that this long journey of being a father is crazy important? The idea is to get them excited for the life before them.”

Too often, Robinson said, schools that serve low-income students succumb to the instability and low expectations that often accompany poverty. It is a problem identified by many educators but one Carver has apparently found a way to conquer. Its elementary school students consistently score near the 70th percentile on standardized math and reading tests, an achievement that officials attribute to their individualized focus on the students. Parents have responded: This year the school could enroll just 120 new students out of 300 who applied through a lottery.

“Who is telling kids that this long journey of being a father is crazy important?”

“What I think Carver has figured out is how to help students grapple with community issues that might come up and not hold them against the kids,” said Brittany Hibbert, an assistant principal at Carver’s upper school. She said students and administrators do home visits, staff Saturday school and take calls from students at night. “We literally do whatever it takes.”

High expectations and individually tailored instruction help. But it is also helpful that one of San Antonio’s best-known celebrities is a regular presence at Carver. The first floor of the upper school has a small museum dedicated to Robinson, a two-time NBA champion, 10-time All Star and former league MVP. There are jerseys from the Naval Academy, the Spurs and the two U.S. Olympic teams he played for. There are also medals and trophies, and even a small section of basketball floor marked with the footprints of Robinson and some of his former teammates and coaches.

“His presence is significant,” said Chang Yu, principal of Carver’s upper school. “His name appeals, and it resonates quality, sportsmanship, education — all good things that people gravitate toward. He definitely is a factor in our success.”

Robinson says that is where many people who command the spotlight can be helpful. Robinson applauded stars such as LeBron James, Chris Paul and others who have backed up their calls for social justice by donating millions of dollars for things such as after-school programs and college scholarships. As he watches more athletes find their voice embracing the new civil rights movement, he said he will be dividing them into two categories: those who just say things, and those who back their words with action.

“I can say anything I want to say, but you can also go back and track what I’ve done over the last 20 years to see if what I’m saying matches up,” Robinson said. “Where is your money going? What have you given to? So you have the nerve to make a public statement. Now I am going to check and see how much you’ve done so I can determine whether your statement has any value.”

Can’t get into the Blacksonian? 25 black-centered museums near you Seattle to St. Croix, Memphis to Miami — these art spaces are as vibrant and important as ever

It’s the first anniversary of the opening of Washington, D.C.’s extremely popular National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC). While visiting the NMAAHC is a life-changing experience, getting in can feel like praying on Willy Wonka’s golden ticket. But while you wait, you can have an amazing museum experience closer to home. There will almost always be must-see exhibits at places such as New York’s Whitney Museum of American Art and Los Angeles’ The Getty Center, but there are a bevy of other museums and galleries around the country that are doing brilliant and important work. This list of museums and galleries — from Miami and Houston to Sao Paulo and Cincinnati — feature new and continuing exhibits around race and identity, saxophonist Sonny Rollins, hip-hop’s golden age, activist grandmothers, salsa as a social movement, black women in silent films, the age of Black Power, Oregon during the civil rights era, African-American umpires, design and technology in the time of slavery, and so much more.

SOUTHEAST

Memphis Brooks Museum of Art

Memphis, Tennessee

Memphis Brooks Museum of Art

Kevin Barre Photography

Tennessee’s oldest and largest art museum is home to a major collection that spans all eras and encompasses all mediums. It also serves as a cultural center, hosting a variety of programs, events and films. The vision: “Transforming lives through the power of art.”

New this winter: Black Resistance: Ernest C. Withers and the Civil Rights Movement. Withers (who has been accused of being an FBI informant) was a prolific photographer who documented everything from the Montgomery bus boycott to the Negro Leagues. It’s estimated that he took almost 2 million photographs over the course of his career. The exhibition focuses on the 50th anniversary of events that took place from March 27 through April 8, 1968, such as striking sanitation workers carrying “I AM A MAN” placards, Martin Luther King Jr. returning to Memphis and the march to Memphis City Hall. On view from Feb. 3 to Aug. 19, 2018.

Muhammad Ali Center

Louisville, Kentucky

The LeRoy Neiman Gallery at the Muhammad Ali Center

Courtesy The Muhammad Ali Center

The Muhammad Ali Center is a museum and education center in The Champ’s hometown of Louisville, Kentucky, and is rooted in his core principles of confidence, conviction, dedication, giving, respect and spirituality. The permanent exhibit tells Ali’s story via interactive exhibits, images and artifacts.

New this fall: Grandmother Power: A Global Phenomenon. The exhibit features photo essays about activist grandmothers from around the world who are working to create a better future for their grands. On view through Jan. 8, 2018.

The Birmingham Civil Rights Institute

Birmingham, Alabama

Courtesy Birmingham Civil Rights Institute

Birmingham, Alabama, was the site of some of the most horrific events of the civil rights era. The Civil Rights Institute is an educational and cultural center dedicated to preserving that bloody and inspiring history. Inside, there’s a Ku Klux Klan robe, as well as the bars of the cell in which Martin Luther King Jr. wrote his “Letter from a Birmingham jail.” The institute is across the street from the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, the site of the bombing that took the lives of four young girls 54 years ago this month.

New this fall: To create Blood Mirror, Jordan Eagles encapsulated the blood of 59 gay, bisexual and transgender men into a large resin block. The result is a luminous sculpture where viewers can see themselves reflected in the blood. The work is meant to raise awareness about the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s discriminatory blood donation policy. On view through Dec. 9.

The Harvey B. Gantt Center for African American Arts + Culture

Charlotte, North Carolina

The Harvey B. Gantt Center for African American Arts + Culture is an art and cultural center located in a neighborhood once known as Brooklyn, the epicenter of black life in Charlotte, North Carolina. Named for Harvey B. Gantt, who was the first black student at Clemson University and Charlotte’s first black mayor, the building’s interior is a nod to the biblical story of Jacob’s ladder, while its exterior evokes West African textile patterns and quilt designs from the Underground Railroad era. Aside from great art, the center hosts talks, films and plays.

New this fall: Shows from North Carolina natives Miya Bailey and Sloane Siobhan, and an exhibition curated from the private collection of John and Vivian Hewitt, including work from Jacob Lawrence and Charlotte’s own Romare Bearden. Also of note: the premiere of the Darryl Atwell Collection of African-American Art as Simple Passion, Complex Vision. Atwell’s collection was put together in collaboration with retired NBA player and avid art collector Elliot Perry, and it includes Theaster Gates’ provocative assemblage In the Event of Race Riot XIII. All shows run through Jan. 22, 2018.

The george & leah McKenna Museum of African American Art

New Orleans

Le Musée de f.p.c., the free people of color museum owned by the McKennas.

Courtesy The George & Leah McKenna Museum of African American Art

The George & Leah McKenna Museum of African American Art was born from the private art collection assembled over 30 years by Dwight McKenna and his wife, Beverly Stanton McKenna. The permanent collection includes works by Clementine Hunter, Kerry James Marshall, Jacob Lawrence and many more. The McKennas are also passionate about supporting new and emerging artists. Past exhibitions have included Contemporary Artists Respond to the New Orleans Baby Dolls, The Spirit of Haitian Culture and From Moussor to Tignon: The Evolution of the Head-Tie. Besides owning the art museum, the McKennas own Le Musee de f.p.c., which is dedicated to telling the story of free people of color. They also founded the New Orleans Tribune in 1985. On top of all of that, Dwight McKenna is poised to become the first black coroner of Orleans Parish.

New this winter: The New Orleans 2018 African American Tricentennial Art Exhibition: Painting Our Own Story, Singing Our Own Song. The exhibit will celebrate the city’s 300th birthday and is being put together with the New Orleans chapter of the National Conference of Artists. Artists from around the country were invited to submit work for the show. The show runs from Jan. 13 to Oct. 27, 2018.

Yeelen Gallery

Miami

Yeelen Gallery owner Karla Ferguson stands beside her favorite photograph in Mariette Pathy Allen’s exhibit.

Alessandra Pacheco/Miami Herald/TNS via Getty Images

The contemporary Yeelen art gallery is owned by Karla Ferguson. Originally opened in 2008 in Miami’s Wynwood Arts District, the museum was moved over to Little Haiti in 2013. A slew of galleries have since followed, making Little Haiti the hottest art district in the city. Yeelen doesn’t operate like a typical gallery. Instead of planning shows a year in advance, Ferguson stays open to responding to what’s happening in the moment. In the past, that has included such shows as Woke AF, Black Freedom and TransCuba. “A lot of my curatorial work is based in legal theory and social justice,” she has said. No surprise, given Ferguson’s educational background in law, political science and artist relations. Hurricane Irma knocked Yeelen’s power out for a week and causing water leaks, forcing Ferguson to postpone a planned photography show. She now has her sights set on Art Basel, which hits Miami in December, and she will be up and running for the October iteration of her monthly Afro Beats N Bites day party.

New this fall: A fresh exhibit (still to be determined) will most likely go up around mid-November. Afro Beats N Bites — which combines the culinary arts with visual arts, and a DJ — happens the second Saturday of every month.

NORTHEAST

The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture

New York

The “Black Power!” exhibit at the Schomburg Center.

Jonathan Blanc

The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture is an award-winning research library and National Historic Landmark. The center preserves, documents and promotes the study of black history and culture with its collection of more than 10 million items. The Schomburg also promotes lifelong learning through a calendar of events, talks and other programming.

New this fall: The unveiling of The Sonny Rollins Collection, which highlights the life and career of the saxophonist. The Black Power! exhibit is a collection of interviews, essays and images covering key areas of the movement, and Power In Print is a presentation of Black Power Movement posters. On view through March 30, 2018.

The Museum of the City of New York

New York

The Museum of the City of New York

Filip Wolak, courtesy of the Museum of the City of New York

The Museum of the City of New York contextualizes all things NYC. The museum also hosts a number of events and educational and public programs.

New this fall: Rhythm & Power: Salsa in New York explores the popular musical genre and its role as a social movement. On view through Nov. 26.

Carnegie Museum of Art

Pittsburgh

Installation view: 20/20: The Studio Museum in Harlem and Carnegie Museum of Art.

Bryan Conley

The steel baron Andrew Carnegie opened an art museum with a vision of collecting “the old masters of tomorrow.” Embodying that mission, the Carnegie Museum of Art makes a good case for being “the first museum of contemporary art in the U.S.” The museum is one of four institutions that make up the Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh.

Continuing this fall: Co-curated by the Studio Museum in Harlem and the Carnegie, 20/20 aims to prompt discussions about race and identity during this turbulent time. Called “the most important art show in America” by Vogue, the show is made up of works by 40 artists, including Glenn Ligon, Titus Kaphar, David Hammons, Kara Walker and Kerry James Marshall. “There was a point where I marched for Trayvon Martin and Mike Brown, and I just couldn’t be angry anymore,” co-curator Amanda Hunt told ArtNet. “I couldn’t figure out what I could do to start affecting change, either in a more immediate sense or in a collective community sense. So this show represents our power, our purview — this is what we know and have been trained to do, and have voice and ownership of, and a platform for. We’re curators at major institutions in America. And that’s powerful.” On view through Dec. 31.

Reginald F. Lewis Museum of African American History and Culture

Baltimore

Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History building.

Jeffrey Greenberg/UIG via Getty Images

The Reginald F. Lewis Museum of African American History and Culture is dedicated to documenting, preserving and exhibiting the lives of African-Americans in Maryland. Its permanent collection includes photos, artifacts and textiles, as well as expanded collections focused on jazz recordings and military history. And be sure to peep the gift shop, where ESPN Radio’s Freddie Coleman picked up a fly Frederick Douglass T-shirt.

New this fall: Maryland Collects: Jacob Lawrence. The exhibit features 50 prints from private collectors in and around Maryland. “This is an exhibit we put together ourselves,” says Lewis executive director Wanda Draper. “We wanted to bring this community a collection by an esteemed African-American artist that they can’t see anywhere else.” On view through Jan. 7, 2018.

Museum of African American History

Boston

The Nantucket campus of the Museum of African American History.

Courtesy The Museum of African American History

With two campuses, Boston and Nantucket, the Museum of African American History is the largest museum in New England dedicated to African-American history and culture. It includes four historic sites and two Black Heritage Trails.

Continuing this fall: Picturing Frederick Douglass. With a brisk understanding of visual language and its effects, Douglass used his photographic images as a tool to counteract the ways that imagery was often used to create stereotypes about African-Americans. This is the first major exhibition of Douglass photos, many unseen until now. On view in the Abiel Smith School on the museum’s Boston campus through December.

MIDWEST

The DuSable Museum of African American History

Chicago

The exterior of the DuSable Museum of African American History Thursday, Sept. 22, 2016, in Chicago.

AP Photo/Tae-Gyun Kim

You may know the DuSable Museum of African American History as the place where Chance the Rapper is donating his best rap album Grammy. But it’s also one of the oldest and most revered African-American museums in the country. The DuSable is also involved with the Hyde Park Jazz Festival and The Margaret Burroughs Centennial Film Series.

New this fall: Chicago: A Southern Exposure features the work of architectural photographer, critic and DuSable vice president Lee Bey. It’s the first major show dedicated to often overlooked South Side architecture and highlights black architects such as John Moutoussamy and Roger Margerum, alongside the likes of Frank Lloyd Wright and Mies van der Rohe. “The city’s best architecture, outside of downtown, is on the South Side of Chicago,” Bey told New City. “You can tell these things in other places and tell a fine story, but to have it here in a black institution, and to have the story told by black people and have those exhibitions in the context of other exhibitions for and by black people, gives a richer story.” On view through February 2018.

The Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History

Detroit

Self-Portrait, Allie McGhee, 2008, on display at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History.

Courtesy Charles H. Wright Museum of AfricanAmerican History

Charles H. Wright, a Detroit doctor who delivered 7,000-plus babies, got the inspiration for opening a museum after visiting a Denmark war memorial. Initially known as I AM (International Afro-American Museum), the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History opened in 1966 as a small physical location with a traveling mobile-home version. The Wright has grown through the years and is now a cornerstone of Detroit’s Midtown Cultural Center, along with the Detroit Institute of Arts and the Michigan Science Center.

Continuing this fall: Say it Loud; Art, History, and Rebellion. The exhibit is rooted in the Detroit rebellions and the ways in which art has responded to those rebellions and continued events. The exhibit begins outdoors with photos, quotes and a 24-foot sculpture by Charles McGee. Inside, there are works by 40 artists, including Faith Ringgold, Sanford Biggers and Jeff Donaldson. On view through Jan. 2, 2018. (A complementary exhibit, Art of Rebellion: Black Art of the Civil Rights Movement, is up at the nearby Detroit Institute of Arts until Oct. 22.)

 

National Underground Railroad Freedom Center

Cincinnati

Courtesy National Underground Railroad Freedom Center

The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center encourages visitors to remain active participants in the continued struggle for freedom of people everywhere and is involved in combating modern-day slavery and human trafficking. Earlier this year, the center launched the Open Your Mind learning lab, designed to teach visitors about implicit bias.

New this fall: The Kinsey African American Art & History Collection, an exhibit culled from the private collection of Bernard and Shirley Kinsey. It will feature archival material related to Malcolm X and Zora Neale Hurston besides artwork by luminaries such as Richard Mayhew. “Remembering, celebrating, examining and commemorating the black experience … is something we invite all to participate in,” Ashley Jordan, curator at the center, said in a statement. “African-American history is American history.” Opening Nov. 4.

Negro Leagues Baseball Museum

Kansas City, Missouri

Courtesy the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum

Dedicated to preserving the history and legacy of African-Americans in baseball, the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum weaves together black history and baseball history via multimedia displays, photographs and artifacts. “The premise is baseball, but the story is so much larger than the game of baseball,” said museum president Bob Kendrick. “It is America at her worst, but it’s also America at her triumphant best.”

New this fall: An exhibit celebrating African-American umpires from the Negro Leagues to the majors to little league. The exhibit is unnamed as yet but will be dedicated to Bob Motley. Barrier Breakers: From Jackie to Pumpsie will look at the complete integration of baseball, from Jackie Robinson and Larry Doby to Elijah Jerry “Pumpsie” Green. An expanded piece will feature the women of the Negro Leagues — Toni Stone, Mamie Johnson and Connie Morgan — who played with and against the men.

SOUTHWEST

California African American Museum

Los Angeles

Brian Forrest, Courtesy California African American Museum

The California African American Museum does a great job of using art to contextualize historical events; its rich history is reflected in the depth and breadth of its exhibitions. The state of California supported the museum early on, acknowledging the cultural and political impact of California’s African-American community.

Continuing this fall: On view through Oct. 8, Face to Face: Los Angeles Collects Portraiture is an exhibit of 50 works put together from L.A.-based collections. Artists from Titus Kaphar to Mickalene Thomas examine the changing ways in which artists are approaching portraiture. For Center Stage: African American Women in Silent Race Films, the museum screens multiple “race films.” “Directors often created these films in retaliation against disparaging portrayals of African-Americans, to challenge the larger narrative and to get across themes of upliftment, pride and self-sufficiency within the black community,” said co-curator Tyree Boyd-Pates. On view through Oct. 15. For Fade to Black, Gary Simmons combines his signature smudged erasure technique with the titles of “race films” to create an installation in the museum lobby. “Fade to Black provides a nuanced history of black representation in motion pictures from the early to mid-20th century,” Naima Keith, the museum’s deputy director and chief curator, told the Los Angeles Times. “History’s subjective bent is also a strong theme within Gary’s work, and the simple nature of chalk lends itself to his artistic concerns — especially in its suggestion of basic communication, the human hand, education systems and of easily erasable or altered information.” On view through July 21, 2018.

New for fall: We Wanted A Revolution: Black Radical Women 1965-1985 focuses on the intersection of art and activism and includes the work of more than 40 African-American female artists. It touches on every major social movement of the period, including the civil rights and Black Power movements, the women’s movement, the anti-war movement and the gay liberation movement, among others. “This exhibition feels especially relevant for our audiences because it includes women artists working in various parts of the country, not just on the East Coast,” Keith said in a statement. On view Oct. 13 through Jan. 14, 2018.

Museum of the African Diaspora

San Francisco

Courtesy Museum of the African Diaspora

The Museum of the African Diaspora uses contemporary art to help audiences engage with the African diaspora via exhibitions, public programs and events. The vibrant space focuses on cultural expression rooted in four themes: origin, movement, adaptation and transformation.

New for fall: En Mas: Carnival and Performance Art of the Caribbean explores the artistry behind carnival parading, masquerading and procession. The exhibition tracked nine artists — John Beadle, Christophe Chassol, Charles Campbell, Nicolás Dumit Estévez, Marlon Griffith, Hew Locke, Lorraine O’Grady, Ebony G. Patterson and Cauleen Smith — during the 2014 carnival season. On view Sept. 20 to March 4, 2018.

Houston Museum of African American Culture

Houston

The Houston Museum of African American Culture explores and shares the history and culture of African-Americans. Besides exhibits, the museum hosts talks, screenings and other public events.

New for fall: The Telling and the Told: The art of David McGee. Curated by artist Benito Huerta, The Telling and the Told is an exhibit of works on paper and continues McGee’s exploration of the intersection of imagery, politics, race, class and pop culture. On view Nov. 4 to Jan. 12, 2018.

Kansas African American Museum

Wichita, Kansas

The Kansas African American Museum provides a mix of art, history and special programming to engage audiences of all ages. Past exhibitions have included an homage to President Barack Obama’s Midwestern roots and Undefeated: The Triumph of the Black Kansas Athlete. The museum is also spearheading the creation of The Kansas African American History Trail.

New this fall: UNDEREXPOSED: Contemporary Black Women Photographers. These women have often been overlooked for their contributions and creativity. This exhibition looks to rectify that by shining a light on the work of Toni Parks-Parsons, Chandra McCormick, Pat Patterson, Shineta Horton, Labeebah Beruni and Keshia Ezerendu. On view through Dec. 30.

NORTHWEST

Northwest African American Museum

Seattle

The Northwest African American Museum is dedicated to preserving the culture and telling the stories of the African diaspora in the Pacific Northwest. This includes both historical contributions and those being made today by a continuing wave of new immigrants from places such as Somalia, Sudan and Ethiopia.

New this fall: Professor/writer/historian Daudi Abe gives a talk on Emerald Street: Race, Class, Culture, and the History of Hip Hop in the Northwest on Nov. 9.

Oregon Historical Society

Portland, Oregon

Bob Setterberg

The Oregon Historical Society documents the history and culture of the state and presents it via physical and digital exhibits, talks and events. OHS’ commitment to inclusion is evident in its partnerships and programming, which address themes from Native American history, the struggles faced by the Japanese-American immigrant community, and broaching the subject of “Peace in the Middle East” with an assemblage of religious leaders. On view online: Black Athletes Disrupting White Supremacy in Oregon.

Continuing this fall: Racing to Change: Oregon’s Civil Rights Years. The exhibit is presented by the Oregon Black Pioneers and tells the story of the civil rights battles fought by African-Americans in Oregon, particularly sparked by discrimination in housing and employment practices. “No matter what you do in Oregon, you’ll find the footprint of a black person that was there. And that’s all over the state. Black folks weren’t congregated in Portland; 32 of Oregon’s 36 counties had African-Americans in them,” Willie Richardson, board president of the Pioneers, told Portland Architecture blog. “They provided services. They owned land. They did all the things that Oregon laws said they couldn’t have.” On view through June 24, 2018.

INTERNATIONAL

Caribbean Museum Center for the Arts

Frederiksted, St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands

Denise Bennerson

The Caribbean Museum Center for the Arts focuses on promoting Caribbean arts and culture through exhibits, events, classes and other programming.

New this fall: Pride Through Art. The exhibit showcases the work of LGBTQ artists and allies, addressing themes of gender identity, society and inclusion. On view Sept. 28 to Nov. 13.

Tate Modern

London

A woman looks at the ‘Did the bear sit under a tree’ painting by Benny Andrews at the exhibition Soul Of A Nation, exploring the art made by African American artists between 1963 and 1983, in London, Tuesday, July 11, 2017. The exhibition started on July 12, 2017 and ends on Oct.22, 2017.

AP Photo/Frank Augstein

If you’re looking for very cool modern art in London, head to the Tate Modern. As part of the Tate group (which also includes the Britain, Liverpool and St. Ives), the Tate’s collection comprises international modern and contemporary art from 1900 through today.

Continuing this fall: Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power. The exhibit showcases the ways in which artists responded to events of the day, from the civil rights movement to Black Power, and addresses issues of revolution, pride and solidarity. Artists include Barkley L. Hendricks and Emory Douglas. “The show provides a whole array of American artists who should be part of the art curriculum,” Zoe Whitley, curator of international art at the Tate, told The New York Times. “It shows that black artistic culture at that time was as varied as any other culture. It’s not ‘black’ art, it’s a range of practices.” On view through Oct. 22.

Musee D’art Contemporain

Marseille, France

People look at pictures by US photographer Henry Chalfant “Third Avenue, the Bronx 1084” as they visit the exhibit ‘Hip Hop , un age d’or’ (Hip Hop, a golden age) at the Contemporary Art Museum in Marseille, on May 12, 2017.

Boris Horvat/AFP/Getty Images

Marseille, France, is the hub of hip-hop in southern France — so it’s no wonder that the Musee D’Art Contemporain would host an exhibit around the culture’s origins. You can also get your Jean-Michel Basquiat fix there. Although small, the museum is known to have an impressive collection of modern and contemporary art.

Continuing this fall: HIP HOP: a golden age 1970-1995. The exhibit features many elements of hip-hop culture: graffiti murals, sketchbook pages, racks of spray paint cans, Kangols, shell toes, nameplate belt buckles, a Zulu Nation medallion and even a Wild Style diorama. On view through Jan. 14, 2018.

Museu Afro Brasil

Sao Paulo

The Museu Afro Brasil, a major repository of Afro-Brazilian art, looks at Brazilian art and heritage through the lens of the African diaspora with a focus on (among others) Africa’s diversity and persistence, work and slavery, and Afro-Brazilian religions.

New this fall: Exhibits featuring Baroque masters, geometric forms, and design and technology in the time of slavery.

Bree Newsome’s social justice fight continues two years after taking down the Confederate flag in South Carolina ‘Staying quiet is also like its own form of death’

It has been more than two years since Bree Newsome became a household name for climbing a 30-foot flagpole on the grounds of the South Carolina statehouse and removing the Confederate flag. She knew jail would follow. However, Newsome, now 32, knew it was a task she had to do.

The mood in South Carolina at the time was bleak following the evening of June 17, 2015, when Dylann Roof gunned down nine black members of the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina. The flag that Newsome removed was originally raised in 1961 as a statement of opposition to the civil rights movement. Many individuals have always hated what the flag represents.

In many communities, Newsome became a hero and her actions caused a domino effect. In August, two years after Newsome’s act, 22-year-old Takiya Thompson was arrested after helping to take down a Confederate statue in Durham, North Carolina. Thompson was charged with disorderly conduct by injury to a statue, damage to real property, participation in a riot with property damage in excess of $1,500 — and inciting others to riot where there is property damage in excess of $1,500, according to the Durham County Sheriff’s Office. This was following a white supremacist march in Charlottesville, Virginia, that turned deadly and prompted a call to action by many people for the removal of Confederate statues.

“I just see this shifting in the consciousness, and people just kind of reaching a point where we just can’t be quiet anymore, because I think there has been, in some ways, this belief that we keep ourselves quiet in order to survive,” Newsome said. “But staying quiet is also like its own form of death. I think people are just tired of living that form of death.”

Newsome is now a local organizer in Charlotte, North Carolina, and focusing on housing.

“We have a real affordable housing crisis going on in our city, as many cities around the country are,” Newsome said. “We have communities that were redlined in the late Sixties, that’s kind of when the cities drew, basically, lines around areas that were predominantly black that had been segregated. So, these are areas that were basically divested from, by the city and now they are prime real estate. So we have a lot of developers wanting to develop in this land, but the folks who have lived here for decades are not benefiting from it. So, housing remains an ongoing justice issue.”

Newsome says housing is a human right.

“A lot of times people say, well, it’s just a byproduct of development. But, it’s really important, again, to understand why,” Newsome said. “That’s obviously one of the basic things that we need in order to live. Then, it’s a justice issue, because we’re still very segregated. Segregation is not forced upon us anymore, it’s not part of the law, but we are still largely racially and economically segregated. How are we addressing any of these issues with wealth and with race if folks are being pushed out of their homes?”

Newsome’s father, Clarence G. Newsome, served as the dean of the Howard University School of Divinity and was the president of both Shaw University and the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center. Her mother spent her career as an educator addressing the achievement gap. Newsome studied film at the New York University Tisch School of the Arts.

She spoke to The Undefeated about social justice, today’s battle for equality and her plans.


How do you feel about today’s racial climate?

What we are seeing today is kind of part of a pattern, I would say, in history. On one hand, I was born in ’85; in my lifetime it is maybe one of the most tense periods, racially, that I have experienced. But, when I look back over the history of America, it’s kind of part of a pattern where racial tensions kind of ebb and flow.

We’re integrating certain institutions. We obviously had the election of the nation’s first black president. Now what we’re seeing is, again, this period of racist backlash to that. But there is, kind of, this pattern of like, we make this progress forward and then there is this racist backlash. No, it’s not as bad, and I think if you talk to most folks, like my grandmother, my grandmother is 91 years old. When she saw on TV the police in Ferguson tear-gassing folks in their yard, she said, ‘It reminds me of the Ku Klux Klan.’ So, on one hand, yes, we’ve gone far, but clearly we haven’t gone far enough at all.

When I look at what is going on today, the main thing it says to me is that we cannot rest on our laurels. And that’s part of what spurred me toward becoming an activist in the first place, it was after the Trayvon Martin case.

What do you think about the protests for Colin Kaepernick?

I think that’s amazing. I support that. Two histories in America that I find really fascinating is the treatment of black veterans and the treatment of black athletes. … Even at the college level, there’s a real justice issue around the treatment of black athletes. They are clearly the majority, especially when you are talking about a sport like football. The majority of athletes are black men. They generate billions of dollars for this industry, not just in pro football, but also in college football. In many ways they are exploited. They are exploited physically. We see the kind of damage that is done physically to their bodies.

Part of what I think is really awesome about what is happening right now is there’s greater solidarity. In some ways, it’s bigger than the NFL. It’s about protesting for Colin Kaepernick to have a fair shot, but it’s also kind of bigger than that because it’s like, he has a right, as a human being, to speak. Especially to speak about a system that is killing us. When he’s out of uniform, and he’s off the field and he’s just driving down the street, he has just as much a chance of getting killed by the police as anybody else. I think that that is sometimes what people forget. They think just because a black man puts on a uniform and goes in to play football that he is supposed to disconnect from all the other realities of the nation in which he lives.

Do you recall the first thing you did as an activist?

I don’t know if you remember the Moral Monday movement that was happening here in North Carolina. That was organized by Reverend Barber and the North Carolina state chapter of NAACP. This was back in 2013. This was the same summer that George Zimmerman was acquitted. This is the same summer that the U.S. Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act. North Carolina just went H.A.M. on the voting issue. They hadn’t yet passed it, but they brought up this legislation, House Bill 589, and at first it was this five-page bill that focused on student voter ID. It said the students could no longer use their IDs to vote.

I go up to this Moral Monday protest about voting rights. At that time, I wasn’t considering myself an activist. I was very much aware of things that were going on. Literally overnight, between that Monday and the Tuesday, they sent the bill from the House to the Senate and they added almost 50 more pages to the bill. It was clear that they were targeting black people. They had things like ending Sunday voting.

That was the wake-up moment for me. I had always been socially and politically conscious, but I wasn’t the person out on the street protesting.

Why did you make the decision to fight for justice in North Carolina?

When I was about 2, my family moved up to Maryland. I grew up in Columbia, Maryland. I would spend all of my summers in Charlotte, North Carolina, where I live now. That’s where my grandmother is.

My grandmother would come stay with us during the school year and then I would come stay with her during the summer. Then my dad’s family is from eastern North Carolina, so the Carolinas have always been kind of like home. In a way, it’s kind of like my family home. It really wasn’t until I got back in the Raleigh-Durham area and Moral Monday was going on and I kind of connected with the folks there and I was like, ‘Yeah, I can’t go back to work now, this is too crazy.’

What has been the hardest part of your journey?

I think it’s always finding the balance. I would say, you know, in 2013 when I’m walking to the protest and I was like, ‘I can’t go back to anything, I’ve got to stay in the street.’ And I pretty much did, for like the next two years. Just protesting. I went up to Ohio when John Crawford was killed. I marched with the Ohio Student Association. I went down to Florida. We were just out protesting, just trying to raise this awareness around what was happening.

I was getting to a point where I’m exhausted. It’s traumatic. … When you ask me what has been the greatest challenge or struggle, I think it has been finding out how to sustain in this work. … How do we continue to support ourselves and do this important work? How do we balance life, and all these other things, because we’re out here fighting for our lives and there really is nothing that’s more important. But I know I reached a point where I was, like, you know, I have to live too.

Living is also resistance. If I’m out here killing myself, that’s not, at a certain point I’m no longer resisting. I have to thrive at the same time.

How would you describe your personal feelings after seeing what happened in Charlottesville?

The first word that’s coming to my mind is revelation. But I don’t know if that’s the right word. I’m trying to think of a word that is kind of revealing, because I feel like what happened with Charlottesville was, like, it was all there. All of that was there. But, it was kind of like Charlottesville was the moment that it could no longer be denied. … We’ve known for a while, we’ve known since 2008, at least. Because as soon as Obama was elected, you had a surge in white supremacist groups.

White supremacist groups have been out here organizing. They have been out here planning and connecting. And in a lot of ways folks are looking away.

So, when I think about Charlottesville, to me it was kind of ‘blatant.’ It was like that’s when America could no longer look away from what had been going on, cause here you had all of these white supremacist groups from around the nation organizing and converging on this city over this monument. And, the same way people kept saying, ‘Well, you know, does the monument really represent this, does the Confederate flag really represent that?’ People were really trying to still be kind of wishy-washy about it and it was like Charlottesville was the moment that they could no longer deny what had already been there. It’s not that Charlottesville was new. It’s that Charlottesville made plain what was already there.

How do you see your work in social justice?

The way I look at the work is two ways. One, I think we have system-facing work. There’s work where we are trying to dismantle a racist system. We have a system of white supremacy, and that’s one of the main things I speak about all the time is trying to get people to understand. Racism is not just prejudice. It’s not just, ‘I don’t like somebody because of the color of their skin.’ It’s a system that was designed. It’s an economy. It’s a social caste system that is built based upon, not just the color of a person’s skin, but African ancestry. It is built on the subjugation of people who are descended from Africans. So, I think there is system-facing work and then there is community-facing work. And I try to get people to see both ends. Because I think sometimes we think it’s either-or. Either we’re out here fighting white supremacy or we are doing work in the community. We’re trying to come out of 500 years of slavery.

My family was enslaved in South Carolina and North Carolina. So, I know the personal story of my family trying to come out of slavery. But as a people … that’s the work that we’re trying to do. It’s about economic freedom, it’s about mental freedom. It’s about having agency over ourselves. It’s about how do we break free of oppressive dynamics that we have internalized from the people who have oppressed us. … Sometimes I’m speaking to the system and then sometimes I’m just talking to my people.

The Netherlands might be tolerant, but racism exists for people of color This group of archivists was in the U.S. to explain why

Santa Claus or Sinterklaas had an assistant, servant, sidekick or all of the such — “Black Pete.” Known to the Dutch as Zwarte Piet, the character and its origin have surfaced more and more in news segments around the world within the past decade, with claims of racism and insensitivity. It was 1850 when the character first appeared in a book by Amsterdam schoolteacher Jan Schenkman.

The problem with Black Pete, and the reason for the claims of racism, is that he is portrayed in blackface. Even in this day and age, the character, although frowned upon by many, is still celebrated in the Netherlands. And because it’s traditional, many Dutch citizens are part of a movement calling for the ban on Black Pete celebrations.

This is just one example of the hidden or closeted racism that, according to a delegate of archivists from the Netherlands, makes up part of the region’s black facts. These archivists have dedicated their time to form an organization that reveals and preserves the hidden history of Dutch slavery, black history, black literature and black culture in the Netherlands. The Amsterdam Black Archives is in the works, and along with the team members spreading the word about their culture and experiences, the website aims to shed light on the black radical movements in Amsterdam, Suriname and the Netherlands and uncover their history.

In August, Amsterdam Black Archives co-founders Jessica de Abreu and Mitchell Esajas and their colleagues Imara Limon and Samora Bergtop traveled from the Netherlands to Washington, D.C., where they presented their project and historical data in front of a room of more than 30 individuals at Sankofa bookstore in Northwest D.C.

The archive contains a unique collection of books and artifacts, which are the legacy of black writers and scientists from the Surinamese, Caribbean and African diaspora in the Netherlands. These cultures were connected to black liberation movements in the United States. While black radicals in Amsterdam were fighting for civil rights, they were in touch with U.S. thought-provokers such as W.E.B. DuBois, Langston Hughes and James Baldwin.

“The reason why I’m extremely passionate about this project is because so my mom is from Suriname, which is a colony of the Netherlands, and in the Netherlands we don’t speak about colonialism and the history of slavery and what the law was,” de Abreu said. “So for me to start the black archives is also educate our own communities and the larger society about the Dutch past and colonial past and why our realities look like this. For example, progression and discrimination. … It’s also about addressing the issues and community building and understand life in the Black Netherlands and what it looks like.”

According to the company’s website, “we aim to investigate, reveal and tell new stories so that we can contribute to a better understanding of the historical contributions of people of African origin to human civilization and to Dutch society in particular. These stories also provide insight and tools to combat contemporary social issues such as structural inequality, discrimination and racism of people of African origin and other populations.”

In the 1970s and ’80s there were already Surinamese emancipation movements in the Netherlands that committed themselves to the fight against racism and inequality. The Amsterdam Black Archives will detail the stories and histories.

The four archivists shared their goals with the crowd. They are in the process of digitizing the more than 4,000 special history books, documents, photographs, films and artifacts around black history in the Netherlands that have been collected and donated over the past few years. The nearly 100-year-old collection is housed in the premises of the Association of Suriname in eastside Amsterdam. In conjunction with the Amsterdam Museum, the Black Archives plans to create an exhibition to open on Nov. 25.

They also took time to explain that while the Netherlands is tolerant on issues such as prostitution, marijuana use in coffee shops and gay marriage, the country still has racial practices — some of which are the same as in the United States, including police brutality, wage gaps and educational inequality.

The team also offers workshops, lectures, consultancy and advice for these themes and more. The workshops also provide information on black and multicultural issues such as slavery, colonialism, black feminism, the civil rights movement, colonial imagery, social issues about equal opportunities in education, the labor market and diversity at the workplace.

The organization was founded after de Abreu and Esajas met in an anthropology class. Now a couple, the two co-founded the archives.

“The two of us coordinate it, and we work with a team of six to eight volunteers. We did digitize a few of the important projects. Not that many. About 100. So after we stop the crowdfunding campaign, we aim to structurally digitize all of the archives.”

Limon works at the Amsterdam Museum and met de Abreu and Esajas through her independent work and research.

They all said they enjoy addressing new crowds regarding their experiences of being black and Dutch.

When asked how blacks identify in the Netherlands, they all answered with opposing views; de Abreu said she identifies as a black Dutch woman.

“Not necessarily because I want to be Dutch, but to remember a history that you should not forget anymore,” de Abreu explained. “That’s particular localizing the races. Dealing with the question the same as to you, we were just speaking about it, and do we want to do a DNA heritage test? Because basically colonialism happened, so they took away our cultures, our religions, our whole identity. Our whole language. So I don’t even know where I’m from, so these are good questions. It’s a global conversation. How am I going to refer to myself? How are we going to refer to ourselves?”

“For me Caribbean Dutch, I’m Dutch and people better get used to what it looks like,” Limon replied. “What it can look like. How Dutchness is so connected to whiteness. There’s always this negotiation about what you are, but it’s a nationality in that sense. We should not be talking about why I am also Dutch, but why Dutchness is so connected to whiteness. It helps a lot for me to learn about it.”

For Bergtop, her identifying standards have changed over the years because she said she is “getting more consciousness.”

“If I’m doing an interview or something, I never call myself Dutch,” Bergtop said. “Even that I have a white Dutch mother and a Surinamese black father, he’s half maroon. Because people perceive me as how I look, and that’s not being seen as Dutch. The first question from Dutch white people would be, ‘Where are you coming from?’ or ‘Where are your parents coming from?’ They don’t consider me as Dutch, so I stopped calling myself in that way, Dutch, because it’s always a difficult conversation or an awkward conversation about it. That’s also part of denying that we have a migrant or colonial and slavery history. Even still, I’m a second generation. They don’t see me as Dutch, so I stopped that.”

On July 1, the team of archivists started a crowdfunding campaign to aid in archiving and expanding the collection, which is planned as a three-phase process.

“The hardest part is to get funded for something sustainable and contemporary social activities, but the most beautiful thing out of it is that we see that our own community can also raise money,” de Abreu said. “The worst thing about it is we don’t have financial support, but the beautiful thing is that the community can do it by itself.”

Walter Beach, who was at ’67 Cleveland Summit, says he was ‘never contaminated’ by white supremacy He says now is the time for black athletes to stand for ‘their dignity and their worth’

At age 34, Walter Beach III stood in the back of a stuffy room in sweltering Cleveland next to Bill Russell, Muhammad Ali, Jim Brown and Lew Alcindor. The year was 1967. Eleven athletes and attorney Carl Stokes stood before a host of microphones in support of Ali’s conscientious objection to the Vietnam War.

The summit demonstrated the power that black athletes possessed when unified against a specific cause. Beach, now 84, has seen the evolution of athletic protest in the 50 years since the summit.

“ ‘It’s what we have to do, what I’m doing,’ ” said Beach, referencing the summit. “That’s the way I did. It was nothing special, and [I had] no anticipation to what it would ultimately be in terms of a historical context.”


During the 1960s, the battle for civil rights had turned bloody. The bombing of 16th Street Baptist Church coupled with the murders of Medgar Evers, James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner between June 1963 and the summer of 1964 revealed just how resistant some were to racial equality. This was even more apparent at the John Lewis-led march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, in 1965 that would end up as “Bloody Sunday.

All these events highlighted the need for social equality within the United States. Other than the breaching of the color barrier, professional sports had remained independent of the battle for social equality. That changed in 1967.

The event, effectively named the Cleveland Summit, was the first of its kind. Black professional athletes had never banded together to use their platform to express their discontent about a specific issue. The summit was a catalyst that signaled the importance of unity and triggered a chain reaction of similar protests.

Beach was an integral part of the dawn of black athletic activism in 1967 that reached a significant milestone in 2016 when four future NBA Hall of Famers took center stage at The ESPYS. Before the summit, Beach played cornerback for the Boston Patriots from 1960 to 1963 and spent the next three seasons with the Cleveland Browns before retiring in 1966. Beach was cut by the Patriots in 1963 and labeled a “troublemaker” for organizing a protest among the black players against the segregated living conditions during the team’s road trip to New Orleans.

“I didn’t grow up in a community where we thought white people were more intelligent or better or brighter or beautiful more so than black people,” said Beach. “So I was never contaminated with that virus, and that’s the operative term: contamination.”

Shortly after Beach joined the Browns, he forged a friendship with running back Jim Brown that has lasted more than half a century. The Pontiac, Michigan, native went on to help lead the Cleveland team to a world championship in 1964 thanks to Brown’s willingness to stick up for his friend. When Beach received the call to support Ali, there was no question that he would return the favor.


The man responsible for assembling the group seen in the iconic photograph was John B. Wooten, a former teammate of Beach’s who happened to serve as the executive director for the Negro Industrial Economic Union’s (NIEU) Cleveland office. The organization, later renamed the Black Economic Union, was founded by Brown in 1966 with the purpose of creating “an economic base for the African-American community,” said Wooten. After being instructed by Brown to piece together a group that would hear out Ali before the news conference, Wooten’s mind went to socially conscious athletes who had supported the NIEU in some way.

“Everybody that I called was in that picture,” said Wooten, referring to the iconic image of the Cleveland Summit. “There was no one that I called that was not in that picture.”

The lack of resistance that Wooten received reveals a stark difference in many of today’s black athletes, according to Beach: Not too many players will be willing to “jeopardize their livelihood.” Russell, Alcindor, Bobby Mitchell, Sid Williams, Curtis McClinton, Willie Davis, Jim Shorter and even Wooten himself were all still playing professionally when they decided to offer their support. Even Brown, who had partnered with the company that promoted Ali’s fights, stood to lose a substantial chunk of change if The Champ followed through with his conscientious objection.

They all recognized that the issue was bigger than themselves and their careers.

Beach cited a variety of emotions, including shame, fear and anxiety, that ultimately prevent many black athletes from speaking out against racial injustice. Although the former cornerback had retired a year before the summit, football was never more important than his personal sovereignty.

“I didn’t have any fear,” said Beach. “It was never an issue with me whether I would play football or not play football when it came to personal violation.”

Beach recalled a story in which Art Modell, the former owner of the Browns, told him that he could not read Message to a Black Man by the Honorable Elijah Muhammad. Beach balked.

“You own this football team, but you don’t own me!”

Still, Beach maintained his optimism about the future. He spoke with fervor recently as he acknowledged the possibility of another summit in the future. He also praised Dwyane Wade’s Ebony cover, which paid homage to Trayvon Martin. From Wade’s cover to the 2016 ESPYS to Colin Kaepernick’s dissent, these acts of social activism resonate with Beach because of his undying love for black people.

In the 50 years since the summit, Beach attended Yale Law School, studied Surat Shabd Yoga in India, published his memoir and devoted his life to being a dissident to racial injustice in all of its forms. Nowadays, Beach serves as a lecturer who’s passionate about black young people, most of whom likely idolize athletes such as LeBron James, Cam Newton and Stephen Curry.

To them, he has one message:

“Everything they [black athletes] do in the public domain should be that which affirms their dignity and their worth,” Beach said.