‘Orange is the New Black’ star Dascha Polanco talks Michael Jordan and her journey as a single mom ‘We all have our own hardships that act as a piece of motivation for us to push forward’

The 35-year-old Orange is the New Black (OITNB) star Dascha Polanco grew up in Brooklyn, New York, and was an athlete in high school. But she hit the basketball court last week in the NBA All-Star Celebrity Game playing alongside teammates Jamie Foxx, Common, Quavo of Migos and WNBA player Stefanie Dolson.

“I love that there are two women, Katie [Nolan] and Rachel [Nichols], coaching the [NBA All-Star] Celebrity Game,” said the actress who was on Team Clippers, the winning team. “I was very competitive when I used to play softball in school, so I was excited when the opportunity to play [in the Celebrity Game] came up.”

Polanco is best known for her role as Dayanara “Daya” Diaz in the hit Emmy- and Screen Actors Guild Award-winning Netflix show OITNB. Her first taste of Hollywood was in the independent film, Gimme Shelter, starring opposite Vanessa Hudgens and Rosario Dawson. Her big- and small-screen credits include Joy, The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story, The Perfect Match and The Cobbler to name a few.

Born in the Dominican Republic, she emigrated to Brooklyn as a young girl with her parents and became a citizen in late 2013. Borrowing the words of Alicia Keys’ Empire State of Mind, “Ima make it by any means, I got a pocketful of dreams,” Polanco didn’t sit on her dreams just because she was a young single mom living with the help of government assistance. She didn’t let the stereotypes of a label define what she could or couldn’t do. She went back to school to become a nurse at New York City’s Hunter College, where she graduated with a bachelor’s degree in psychology. Then she began working as a hospital administrator at Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx.

While studying nursing, Polanco signed up for acting classes at BIH Studios, where she eventually got signed to a talent agency and later landed OITNB in 2012, which changed her world forever.

The fierce and bold mother of two spoke with The Undefeated about why Michael Jordan is the greatest of all time despite her New York team allegiances, how she defies labels and uses fear to tap into an even stronger hustle, what it means to be an Afro-Latina in America and how overcoming insecurities is an everyday job.


Growing up in Brooklyn, are you a die-hard Knicks fan or have you become a Nets fan since they’ve become the Brooklyn Nets (previously the New Jersey Nets)?

I root for all New York teams. I grew up a Knicks fan and have so many memories watching the games with my family. As long as the Nets are the Brooklyn Nets, I’ll cheer for them too.

Who is the GOAT athlete?

Michael Jordan, hands down. And yes, I know I’m a Knicks fan, but MJ all the way. When I worked in the healthcare field, I had Jordan quotes all over my office. He is the epitome of dedication, perseverance and beating the odds. In my son’s room, I even have the poster of MJ with his arms stretched out.

What is your favorite Michael Jordan quote?

“Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence wins championships.” You can relate that quote to any situation in life. When I used to work in the operating room, it took a team of surgeons and nurses to get the job done, [and now as an actress, it takes so many people with different roles to make everything come together].

Where did your motivation come from as a young single mom going back to school to become a nurse, and then later taking acting classes while still working in the health care field?

We all have our own hardships that act as a piece of motivation for us to push forward. I remember living in a shelter and using food stamps and getting treated like a piece of crap every time I went into the city for welfare. That treatment made me feel ashamed and embarrassed, but it also encouraged me to want to have my own and be independent. I could have chosen to do nothing [and accept the stereotypes associated with the labels that were given to me], but I chose to go back to school. No label can define me. I’m Dascha and I am a force.

What’s something you didn’t think you’d have to adjust to as a celebrity?

I never was able to buy things because I wanted to; it was always because I had to. Now I have the choice and can treat myself, but I even struggle with that because I’ve become conditioned to be fearful of losing [what I work for]. But I’ve gotten to the place where I’ve learned to embrace what I deserve.

When you were working at the hospital, why didn’t you tell anyone that you were also filming Orange Is The New Black?

Where I come from, we don’t say the things that we’re working on. [Sometimes] people don’t want to see you grow. When I’m working, I don’t speak about it. I just let it show for itself. All of my life, I’ve gotten negative feedback when I’ve said I wanted to be a singer, actress or a dancer. I’d hear, “Ahh, girl, that’s so hard … I don’t think you’re going to make it doing that.” So I don’t give them the opportunity to put that negative energy into the universe. I don’t have to tell everyone my goals, because at the end of the day, everyone wants to succeed but no one wants to see anyone else succeed. I stay quiet and keep my goals in my control and my protection.

How have you overcome insecurities?

It’s a process that you ideally try to overcome, but you’re always working on it. There are days that I feel ugly and fat, and I have to tell myself to cut it the hell out. I started acknowledging what I’m feeling and exploring why I’m feeling that way. I look back at my experiences growing up and it’s rooted from not feeling like I’m enough. [And in the present day] maybe it’s that I’m around a group of sophisticated people and I feel I don’t talk as proper as them or I’m at a table with models and I’m the only one eating bread. Those insecurities come about when I’m so focused on everything else and I’m not taking the time to be aware of myself. So now I stop, meditate, stop again and go.

Where does your courage come from?

It might be genetic because my mom [who died at 46 years old] was one courageous woman emigrating [from the Dominican Republic], and just her tenacity in every situation. My mom and dad are my heroes and have taught me to take advantage of the now in life.

I recently booked a film that I never thought that I would get. [I can’t say what it is yet.] It’s a small role, but it’s with someone that I’ve always wanted to work with. I was so nervous that even my armpits were sweating. But I took a moment before I went on set and reminded myself, I am here because I deserve to be. You were brought to America by your parents to do whatever your heart wants to pursue, so take this moment to have the power and courage to take advantage of this moment. Fear is just one layer before your breakthrough. Give me a little bit of fear so I can beat it up and come out even stronger.

What does it mean to be an Afro-Latina in America?

There’s these labels and terms that we’ve created so people could understand their roots, what they identify with and where they come from. Even though I’m considered Latina, I’m really a Caribbean woman because I have African roots too. I love being a combination of pure melanin and having exaggerations in my body and movement.

But sometimes these labels are just a way of grouping individuals and putting people against each other — where it becomes about exclusivity instead of bringing people together. Growing up, the black community embraced me but not as much as I embraced them. It was always, “You’re not black, you’re Spanish,” but culturally I connected with them. It’s always been that constant battle but a lot of people feel that way. Even without racial differences, not everyone feels like they’re American too.

Tell me about your work with the D.R.E.A.M (Dominican Republic Education and Mentoring) Project?

I always wanted to do something for the youth in my home country, so I fell in love the D.R.E.A.M Project. The organization is kind of like a YMCA where the kids get education and job training. A lot of the kids are orphans and are growing up through hard times.

Together we’ve launched a theater arts program for these children. The talent that comes through these kids out of hardship is just amazing. The kids play instruments and are so good at so young. I knew we had to create a space to feed their talent so it could be used as a way to express themselves [and heal]. D.R.E.A.M Project has created a school [that they’ve named after me] and now these kids get to write their own script and tell their own story through performance.

Taye Diggs is working with us now too. I encourage people to take a trip to the Dominican Republic and share moments with these kids. It’s truly a remarkable experience.

As she says goodbye to Olivia Pope, Kerry Washington opens up  The style icon is honored at the 20th Annual Costume Design Guild Awards

BEVERLY HILLS — The hooting and hollering from the photo bay picked up when Kerry Washington breezed onto the carpet at the Costume Design Guild Awards on Tuesday night. The star — in her last season of the game-changing Scandal — was the last to grace the carpet, and outside of the legendary Lily Tomlin, Star Wars’ Mark Hamill, and Eva Longoria, Washington was easily the most famous person in the event space at the Beverly Hills Hilton. The event is in its 20th year, and bestowed upon Washington the Spotlight Award, which was presented by Longoria.

This night is one of award season’s keystones, and by far one of the more chill events, as it honors the women and men who create the television and film looks we all fawn over. As the big show — the Academy Awards — draws closer, other such events will take place, and Washington is always a notable face. This year, her husband Nnamdi Asomugha — a former NFL star — is up for a prestigious best supporting actor Indie Spirit Award for his excellent turn in last year’s Crown Heights. So this night of award season celebrating certainly won’t be the last time we see Washington grace camera-filled carpets.

Washington took the stage in a body-hugging Dolce & Gabbana floor length sparkler, and was — perhaps — at her most candid. The notoriously private star rarely references her husband and children, preferring instead to talk about her work as an actor and activist. But this night, she chose relay some insight: about the season on Scandal in which she was pregnant with her first child—and the show’s attempts to hide it. And she talked about saying goodbye to Olivia Pope.

“It’s crazy for me to be saying goodbye to Olivia Pope because I’ve been Olivia Pope longer than I’ve been anybody’s wife or mother.”

“When I grow up, I want to be Kerry Washington,” Longoria said. “But there’s a big problem because she’s just too much. She’s lovely and warm and kind and thoughtful and genuine. She’s the one of the most genuine people you’ll find in this business. But she’s also at the same time one of the most kick-ass women that you will ever meet. All the while being a devoted wife and mother to two beautiful kids.”

Longoria talked about Washington’s seven-year reign as Olivia Pope— she called Washington a TV icon. Importantly, Longoria recalled about the headlines Washington grabbed as the first black woman to lead a network drama in over thirty years. “After all, why shouldn’t a black woman be the boss in politics or anywhere else?” Longoria said. “She owned it … she normalized it. Her success paved the way — not just for women of color — but for our society as a whole.”

The show’s costume designer Lyn Paolo cried as she called Washington “stunningly graceful…Your love of costume design and storytelling … all of that is self evident in your whole body of work,” she said. As Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell’s “You’re All I Need To Get By” played — a musical moment that felt directly plucked from Scandal — Washington made her way to the stage. She recalled a hilarious story about being a scholarship student at George Washington University and failing miserably at pressing a dress in the school’s costume shop.

“That is how much I knew about costumes…By the time I left college, I not only knew how to iron, but I was able to say to people that I don’t really know who a character is until I know what shoes she wears,” she said. “Because the shoes tell you how I walk. They tell me how I stand. They tell me who I am. I have relied on the wisdom and genius of costume designers every step along the way.” Washington also revealed how she took ownership of Olivia Pope. She wasn’t just the face of the series, she wanted to make sure she had a stake in the brand itself.

“When we heard that the network was going to create a clothing line inspired by Olivia Pope, Lyn and I said together, ‘not without us!’ Women wanted to dress like her not only because of what [series creator] Shonda [Rhimes] wrote … but it was because of those extra 15 minutes in a fitting,” she said. “We wanted to go past okay, into right. We wanted to go past okay into telling a story and informing the audience of a deeper truth because we know that a pair of shoes can do that!” Soon, Washington will hang up her white hat and Olivia Pope will go away. This is the show’s final season, and it’s been an emotional ride.

“It’s crazy for me to be saying goodbye to Olivia Pope because I’ve been Olivia Pope longer than I’ve been anybody’s wife or mother. Those things are new to me because of her,” Washington said. “When I told Shonda I was pregnant and Shonda told me that Olivia Pope was not going to be pregnant, I panicked. How in the world am I going to hide this bump? And I could do it because of Lyn. There were no maternity clothes out there. But she took those beautiful couture Armani pants, cut out the front and replaced it with with growing material that held my daughter. I waddled—but I waddled well dressed.”

‘Black Panther’ unlikely to change Hollywood’s lie that black movies can’t make money Hollywood’s biases have proven themselves stronger than its commitment to the bottom line

Any hopes that Black Panther’s box office conquest will spur Hollywood to greenlight heavily-financed movies featuring Pan-African stories and performed by predominantly black casts must be muted. Racial discrimination is not a product of logic, but rather its antithesis.

Marvel Studios’ latest movie, based on the comic company’s first black superhero, is generating earth-shattering sums of money, amassing $235 million over the first four days of its release in the U.S. and Canada alone. Directed by a black man, 31-year-old Ryan Coogler, with nearly an all-black cast and powered by a $200 million budget, the film is filling Disney’s corporate coffers and delighting its largely white executive decision makers. With films featuring black casts rarely enjoying big budgets, Black Panther will show the financial rewards that Hollywood can reap with black movies rooted in uniquely black experiences.

Many hope the economic triumph of Black Panther will persuade studios to bankroll similar movies with nine-figure budgets. This hope is buoyed by simple logic: Once scenario A proves itself, others, likewise seeking economic success, will copycat. Black Panther’s achievement, therefore, should coax others to understand the financial wisdom in backing black blockbusters. Proof of concept opens opportunity to others, so the theory goes.

An unavoidable truth, however, must temper this expectation: Hollywood’s ongoing discrimination against black movies isn’t supported by logic and evidence, so why believe illogical people will amend their behavior based on evidence that they were wrong all along?

Movie studios would insist that the leading reason for not investing big bucks in predominantly black films is that international markets won’t support them. Comedian Bill Maher, in that vein, said of Asian moviegoers, “They don’t want to see black people generally in their movies. The Hollywood executives are, like, ‘We’re not racist, we just have to pretend to be racists because we’re capitalists. We want to sell our movies in China [and] they don’t like Kevin Hart.’” With Hollywood increasingly reliant upon international dollars to turn profits, overseas perceptions matter greatly.

This is where the illogicalness of racial discrimination pierces through and why we mustn’t expect Black Panther’s success to lessen discrimination’s prevalence in Hollywood: The idea that “black films” don’t make coins internationally has long been proven demonstrably false.

Go back 30 years to Coming to America, a comedy starring Eddie Murphy, released in 1988, which made $160.6 million internationally. Or look at the two Bad Boys action movies, led by actors Will Smith and Martin Lawrence, the original released in 1995 and the sequel in 2003. Together the films earned $210.3 million in foreign countries. The black superhero movie Blade, with Wesley Snipes playing a vampire as the lead, made $61 million internationally 20 years ago. The Fast and Furious franchise practically prints money in China, starring mixed-race Vin Diesel and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and black actors Ludacris and Tyrese Gibson. And even the indie film Moonlight, with an all-black cast with no movie stars and a production budget of around $4 million, did $37 million internationally.

When a black movie rakes in the cash overseas, however, Hollywood insiders toss out an endless array of excuses as to why this or that black success story cannot be used to kill the assumption that black movies represent bad overseas investments.

Appealing movies with black casts can make money in foreign markets. The proof surrounds us. Just like movies featuring white leads, black movies need to be well-executed and appealing. If so, people across the globe will pay money to see them.

But why, then, does Hollywood swim against the current of evidence? Why do movie studios need proof of the concept when the concept has already been proven? The answers stare us in the face: These arguments about why black movies aren’t being greenlit are not being made in good faith; the strength of Hollywood’s biases against black movies are stronger than the commitment to the bottom line; sometimes logic is not enough to persuade people to behave in a racially fair way, particularly when discrimination pervades the entire industry.

Jeff Clanagan, president of Lionsgate’s Codeblack films, told the Los Angeles Times, “Every time there’s a success, it gets swept under the rug. … It’s almost like there’s an asterisk on it. They chalk it off as an anomaly.”

We should brace for something similar regarding Black Panther. Hollywood bigwigs will laud the movie as so unique that its appeal cannot be applied to the next black project in the pipeline waiting to be greenlit. Sure, we will get Black Panther sequels. But other movies rooted in blackness produced because of Black Panther’s success? History teaches us we should temper our expectations.

For now, a Hollywood that acknowledges the potential of black films is as fictional as Wakanda.

Though devastated by hurricanes, University of the Virgin Islands knows ‘UVI Will Rise’ The only HBCU outside of the continental U.S. finds the power in the words ‘Tell Them We Are Rising’

The title of Stanley Nelson’s most recent film, Tell Them We Are Rising: The Story of Black Colleges and Universities, immediately resonated with me as president of the University of the Virgin Islands (UVI). A couple of months before I previewed the film, UVI, the only historically black college and university (HBCU) outside of the mainland, was struck by two Category 5 hurricanes within a two-week period.

Winds of 185 mph swept through our campuses on St. Thomas and St. Croix, leaving trails of devastation and destruction in their wake. Our beautiful and scenic campuses looked like war zones. Ten buildings across both campuses were uninhabitable; faculty members lost their offices; students were deprived of classrooms and laboratories; and a treasured residence hall, and so many aspects of college life were no longer present. The estimated damage to our campuses ranges between $60 million to $80 million.

The theme we embraced in order to make sense out of catastrophe was “UVI Will Rise.” None of us had heard of the film, proof that this theme came from the depths of our collective consciousness. From our souls emerged the same spirit that had propelled HBCUs for generations — a spirit that defies the odds and faces challenges with resilience and creativity. We even created a “UVI Rise Relief Fund” to support the needs of our students and employees, and it has received support from over a hundred donors.

About 150 of our students on the St. Thomas campus were forced to live in a shelter residence hall that normally accommodates 70. They went 36 hours without power and running water. The morning after Hurricane Irma left, I visited the residence hall on our St. Thomas campus.

While I saw fear on the faces of some, I mostly saw a desire to rise above this tragedy.

Through the creativity, resilience and dedication of our faculty, staff and administrators, we were able to resume classes within a month after the first hurricane arrived. This was done in the midst of the stark reality that neither campus had permanent power, islandwide curfews were in existence, and all night classes had to be canceled due to the lack of lighting on campus.

This tragedy created a laboratory for us to demonstrate our “academic resiliency.” Faculty members transformed some traditional classes to an online format, while others recorded their lectures and classes so that students who missed class would still be able to obtain the information.

The principle of “hold harmless” guided our perspective on how students should be treated in the midst of this major uncertainty. Students were given the right to withdraw without penalties, and faculty members were asked to be flexible and creative in how they conducted their classes and engaged our students. They would not lower their standards, but raised their patience and increased their passion. Faculty members and staff were being asked to embrace this academic resiliency spirit at a time when many of them had either lost their homes, electricity, transportation and precious belongings.

Approximately 350 of our 2,300 students withdrew during the fall 2017 semester, but the vast majority remained and completed the semester.

The experience was not perfect, but we rose above this horrendous challenge with dignity and pride. We were even asked to save the semester for another Caribbean educational institution — the University of St. Marten, and we responded to the call.

Recovery from two Category 5 hurricanes is not a straight line forward. It involves circular movements of frustration and disappointments. It is a dance of one step forward and two steps back at times.

The HBCU spirit of “rising” has no end because there are constant challenges, obstacles and forces formed against these institutions. Yet rising has a spiritual beauty that reminds us that if we remain faithful to our calling, we will always reach another plateau, even if it is just for a temporary moment.

I am very excited about the national debut of Tell Them We Are Rising because we want the world to know that HBCUs continue to rise, and that the University of the Virgin Islands is still rising from one of the most ferocious hurricanes ever recorded in the Atlantic Ocean.

UVI wants the world to know that the spirit embodied in this powerful and moving documentary is not isolated to struggles against social injustice, but includes struggles in the face of natural disasters, financial setbacks and national doubters.

Martin Luther King, a graduate of an HBCU, stated that “the ultimate measure of a man (or woman) is not where he (she) stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he (she) stands in times of challenge and controversy.”

Tell Them We Are Rising is UVI’s marching anthem for the future. It is our continuing resolution to never cease from overcoming whatever the world or nature sends our way. This is the precious history and mission of HBCUs. We rose not because of the size of our endowments or the gifts of our philanthropic partners; we rose and continue to rise because of the spirit that resides within these institutions, and the precious individuals who choose to be associated with our special mission.

David Hall is the president of the University of the Virgin Islands, the only historically black college and university outside of mainland USA.

Finally, Donald Glover’s ‘Atlanta’ is back The FX show’s L.A. premiere brought out the entire cast and celebrity fans

After making fans wait a wee bit longer for a new season of one of the hottest new shows, Donald Glover’s excellent Atlanta finally returns next month — and sports will play a major role.

The creator and star of FX’s hot show about a Princeton-educated dropout trying to boost his cousin’s would-be local rap career had to postpone the series’ return because Glover is also starring in the soon-coming hotly-anticipated Han Solo Star Wars prequel. But finally, he and his cast and crew were celebrated Monday night at the show’s Los Angeles’ premiere at the Ace Theater downtown.

And the latest installment of the Golden Globe-winning series — according to the robust applause and cheers from the celebrity-filled premiere — was for sure worth the wait.

“We kind of looked at it like a mixtape,” Donald Glover told The Undefeated before the event began. “You come up with a first good mixtape and people say you have your whole life to write a good album, and then the second one you got eight months! But you can’t think about it in those terms.”

Indie film star Lakeith Stanfield — who also as the comic-relief truth-teller Darius, was one of show’s biggest breakout characters last season — flew in directly from Germany, where he’s filming a new movie. Because he was wearing a black ski mask and a bedazzled black jacket, initially no one knew it was him as he walked the blue carpet.

“There were a lot of new challenges,” Stansfeld said, mask still on. “I think we were less concerned about the eyeballs watching and more with the material that was departing from what we had done before it was stepping into new terrain. It was a lot scary, a little bit.”

The event was peppered with famous folks such as Oscar-nominated director John Singleton, Emmy and Golden Globe winner Sterling K. Brown and Emmy winner Lena Waithe. They were part of a stream of celebrity and accomplished faces giving the cast kudos after seeing the first two episodes of the new season.

This new season is a bit of a sharp turn from the show’s inaugural season so far, vastly different from what the first season gave us.

“A lot more exploration of darker themes,” said co-star Zazie Beetz, who portrays Glover’s ex-girlfriend Van. “We explore death and major transitions within all of the characters — each character sort of has a bent. Within that, there’s still humor and comedy, but I think this season in general has a much more somber feel.”

The show’s break gave her the chance to come back to the table with a bit more confidence to help take Van to new terrain.

“I felt so happy to go back and at ease. The first season I was kind of a wreck. I was such a bundle of nerves and I felt so much pressure. For me at the time, it was the biggest thing I had done and I just wanted to do a good job and I was very, very nervous. And coming back, because we had established our characters, I felt much more room to play and improvise. I was like, ‘I’m going to have a good time.‘ And I did.”

The time off — in some ways — is reflected in the new season. This new season is called Robbin’ Season, and we’ll see that theme explored throughout this new offering.

“I think us having that time off was really important. We got to watch the world change and shift underneath us without our permission most times. I think it was great to go back at the time we went back because I feel like this year all of us feel like we’ve been robbed,” said show’s co-star Brian Tyree Henry, who portrays local rapper Alfred “Paper Boi” Miles. “Things have lost value that we thought was valuable. Having that time off coming back when we did was absolutely what we needed. Sometimes you need a moment to really take it in. [The show is] very different. Our lives are in the same area, but it’s not in the same area. It’s become a dangerous place to have these relationships and be in the area we are. There’s an exposure that’s happened. There was a nervousness about ‘Where is Alfred? Will I know who Alfred is anymore?’ But that’s life. We don’t know who we are on a given day either. It was nice to figure that out with them. But it was good to do that together. Nobody was out there left astray on their own.”

The real trepidation comes from how the show’s loyal audience will take to the shift in direction (“My brother was like, we’re the ones who are our worst critics. We shouldn’t be sitting here trying to outdo the audience,” Glover said of his brother Stephen, the show’s head story editor and a writer on the series. “We should be trying to outdo ourselves. It’s really up to us. We put the boundaries on us. We tell ourselves what’s good and what we think is cool will translate. And if it didn’t, we did what we were supposed to do.”)

One thing that will develop in this new season is a sports theme — but how it comes about is shrouded in secrecy. It’d give too much away to talk about it, both Glover brothers insist. (Though Donald Glover hints that Serena Williams is referenced somehow in this new season.)

“Atlanta rappers and ballplayers — they call it Black Hollywood. Just being in the South in general, sports is a big part of black culture and Southern culture and identity,” Stephen Glover said. “You can’t really tell the story of Atlanta without talking a little bit about the ballplayers.”

And as for the time off? It’s only made the show that much better, Stephen Glover added.

“It was good that we had some extra time. I think there’s always the thing of topping yourself for next time. There was definitely the thought of we gotta come back and do better. People liked this first season, let’s try to top that,” he said. “But at the same time, we didn’t want to chase anything and try to get the easy win. We just approached it one day at a time and luckily we had some time on our side to help with that.”

‘Tell Them We Are Rising’: Q&A with filmmaker Stanley Nelson The documentary highlighting and celebrating the importance of HBCUs airs Monday night on PBS

Filmmaker Stanley Nelson was on a mission.

After more than 20 years of experience directing and producing, Nelson believed it was time to pay homage to historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) that have done so much to contribute to the world in which we live today. The 100-plus HBCUs still in existence were the first to extend a warm welcome to black students who sought higher education, and many of the black doctors, lawyers, inventors and civic figures heralded for their work to better mankind were the very students who were first turned away from predominantly white institutions.

Thinking of those who came before him, including his father, who graduated from Howard University, Nelson was prepared to celebrate the successes of HBCUs with compelling storytelling through the eyes of those who have experienced the power of education at black colleges and universities.

Tell Them We Are Rising: The Story of Black Colleges and Universities begins with the enslavement of black people, when education was forbidden, and explores the arduous journey individuals took to fight for what others had. The documentary ties these connections to modern-day education and transforms into an explanation of why HBCUs still remain so important to our society. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the number of students enrolled at HBCUs rose by 32 percent between 1976 and 2015. Total enrollment in degree-granting institutions increased by 81 percent, from 11 million to 20 million, during that period.

Tell Them We Are Rising debuts Monday on PBS’ Independent Lens at 9 p.m. ET. Follow the conversation on social media through the hashtag #HBCURising.

The documentary airs tonight. How are you feeling about the nationwide debut of Tell Them We Are Rising?

I’m feeling great. It’s been a year since we premiered at Sundance, so it’s been a year of gearing up to get it seen by a wider audience on TV. It feels great.

How long had the documentary been in the making?

We were probably about three years in production, but probably about five years before that in terms of writing proposals, honing down the idea, and then raising money. And it’s been done for a year. So probably about nine years since the first time I said, hey, let’s do a film about HBCUs, until today. It’s been percolating for a long time.

How were the stories selected?

It was kind of a complicated process. One of the things about this film is that there’s hundreds of great stories of HBCUs, so there’s hundreds of different ways to go. We wanted to tell stories that were dramatic, that were entertaining, that gave an idea of the progression of HBCU history. And there are a couple of stories and ideas that we knew going in that we wanted to cover. So I knew, going in, that I wanted the film to start at the time of enslavement, when education was denied to African-Americans and to set up the idea of the importance of education as something that was denied to African-Americans that became much more important to have that thing that was denied. So there were certain stories like that we knew we wanted to cover. The Howard law school story, the amazing story of it bringing the Brown v. Board of Education suit to fruition. It was a matter of looking for other stories that would help us to tell this long, incredible story of black colleges and universities.

Were there any stories told in the documentary that you wish you could’ve spent more time on?

I think that it all worked out for us. We wanted to tell stories. We didn’t want this to just be a list of a bunch of schools. We went in knowing that what we were telling were short stories. We’re not telling the stories of the killings at Southern in an hourlong documentary. We’re not telling the DuBois-Booker T. story in an hourlong documentary. In some ways, going in, it was freeing to know that I could tell these as short stories.

Were there any stories that didn’t make the cut, but resonated with you?

One thing that happens for me, to be perfectly honest, is that when I finish the film, I kind of don’t think too much about what I didn’t use or couldn’t use or something that I wish I could use. I think, for me, it would just drive me insane to see the film and think about what I wish I could’ve done. So I kind of look at it as a whole. For however my mind works, it’s really good at that. Because I forget. I know stories that we cut, but I don’t feel bad that we cut them. If we had another five hours, we could give you another five hours of stories. I don’t think that you’d want to sit there and watch them, but we could give you those stories.

There are emotions that surface while watching certain scenes. As a producer, director, writer, how do you sort of control your own emotions when piecing these scenes together?

One of the things that happens is you go into producer-director mode and if you know you’re getting something that’s emotional, where the former governor of Louisiana [Edwin Edwards] even today blames the students for getting killed. We know that that was a great piece of film that was really going to help the film. You’re kind of in that other space. I’m a filmmaker, and I realized I was getting something that was going to really serve the production and the film. Inside, I’m not angry. Part of me is just saying, ‘Yes! I’m getting something good here.’ At that point, it’s not about me. It’s about being able to tell this story in a very powerful way to a great number of people.

Later on in the documentary, you have the quote from Richard Robert Wright to Oliver Otis Howard about the plight of former slaves. “Tell them we are rising,” is what Wright said. What about that response spoke so deeply that you wanted to name the documentary after it?

One of the things that happens so many times when you make a film is that sometimes, you have a name going in. You know what you want to call the film before you have the film. Sometimes, you’re in the final stages of editing and you’re still trying to figure out what the name of it is. When we heard that story, we just thought that it embodied so much of the history of black colleges and universities. When the young man told them,”Tell them we are rising,” we thought that was a great title and really kind of had the feeling that we wanted the film to have. The feeling of rising, of positivity, of moving forward.

There’s one point in the documentary where HBCU grads spoke about the type of care and concern teachers showed. It was almost like extended family. Do you think that still exists at HBCUs today?

I think one of the things that HBCUs have done and still do is that they provide a very nurturing environment for their students and that’s been one of the hallmarks for HBCUs since the beginning. That’s something that they still do today. They not only educate, but tell students they can do it. There’s a huge number of students on Pell grants. There’s a huge number of students who are the first generation in their families to attend college. Students are going to need that nurturing, support, that love that they’ll get at HBCUs. It helps them to go forward. In my own family, my father and his brother were the first people to graduate high school. My father went on to Howard and was nurtured there. He was told over and over again that he could do it, that college was for him and he could make it. He went on to the [Howard University College of Dentistry], became a dentist, and is one of the reasons why I’m sitting here talking to you today.

In the 1970s, there were protests at Southern University stemming from financial problems and resources being distributed unevenly. Today, it seems like some of our schools continue that uphill battle. What will it take to preserve these legacies? How can HBCUs survive and thrive?

What I’ve realized today is that we can philosophize about what they need, but really the answer to that is what we can do to support HBCUs. That’s either to support your school or the school of your choice. You can support the Thurgood Marshall College Fund or the United Negro College Fund, which together financially represents the vast majority of HBCUs. Naturally, the question is what can I do to support these HBCUs. And I think it is to give financially. I’m going to do that. I’m going to start tithing my little bit of money per month to HBCUs, and I’ll be glad to do it. I will feel better knowing me and my family give every month to support HBCUs. I think that’s really the answer. We can talk about what HBCUs can do better, but that real question is what we can do as individuals — and collectively?

You’ve visited various HBCU campuses to promote Tell Them We Are Rising. What was that like?

It was crazy. It was great. People came in their school colors and we had standing ovations. What was interesting was that people came from the different cities and towns we were in and also in other school colors, because not everybody in that town went to the same school. People would cheer when their schools came on. The reaction was just wonderful.

These are the schools that I’ve gone to with the film: Howard, Dillard, Jackson State, Virginia State, Fisk, Claflin, Florida A&M, Tennessee State, Texas Southern, Southern, Shaw, Benedict, Morgan State, South Carolina State, Morehouse, Clark Atlanta, Spelman, North Carolina Central and Allen. Those are the schools that I went to. The film also went to many other schools that I didn’t visit myself. It’s been incredible to be on these campuses, to be with the students and faculty, and see the energy and the love the people have for their HBCUs.

I would be exhausted if I were you.

I am! But it’s been great and fun.

What’s next for you?

[Tell Them We Are Rising] is part of a trilogy we’re doing for PBS. The first film was The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution. The third is called The Slave Trade: Creating a New World, which is about the Atlantic slave trade and the business of slavery. We’ll be taking a new look at all the incredible new research that’s been done on the slave trade and try to look at it as this business that existed and set so many things that we know today.

How do you balance promotion of this film, and production on the next?

I don’t know how to answer that question. We have a great producer working on the slave trade project. The producer is researching and getting the project off the ground. We’re still raising money for that project and we’re going to go into full production mode pretty soon. We did the same thing with Tell Them We Are Rising. I was running around with the Black Panthers, and we had a great co-producer and co-director named Marco Williams who really worked to do research, get the project off the ground and do a lot of the interviews with this film. As a filmmaker who wants to eat and support a family, it’s not like I can make a film and then stop, wait another year and go on to the next film. I have to figure out how to keep working.

What do you hope the audience takes away from this documentary? Is there one thing you hope resonates more than others?

I hope that the audience is entertained. It’s one of the things we try to do while making these films. Sometimes, they can have a very important and lasting point, but it doesn’t do anything if you’re not entertained by the film. We want them to be entertained and be told something new and have them learn from these great stories that we tell. But the bottom line is that, hopefully at the end, they understand the importance and the pivotal role that black colleges have played not only in the lives of African-Americans, but in all Americans in the world. At certain changing points in our history, it’s been black colleges and black college students who have led the way.

 

Special Olympics athletes from around the world took on these NBA/WNBA players NBA Cares Special Olympics Unified Basketball Game was some fun-filled competition

For many athletes on the hardwood, clear and concise instructional basketball is key to the fundamentals of the game. And it’s no different for Special Olympic athletes who participate in unified sports.

On Saturday, 12 of these players from all over the world revealed their talents in front of fans at the NBA Cares Special Olympics Unified Basketball Game in Los Angeles. As part of the NBA’s All-Star community efforts, and joined by NBA and WNBA players and legends, the athletes were divided into two teams (orange and blue) made up of individuals with or without intellectual disabilities.

Showcasing the unifying power of sports since the first game held during the 2012 NBA All-Star Game, the NBA Cares Special Olympics Unified Basketball Game creates a diverse and inclusive environment. For more than 40 years, the NBA and Special Olympics have partnered to bring basketball to Special Olympics athletes and events across the globe.

NBA All-Star and Special Olympics Global Ambassador Andre Drummond, Los Angeles Lakers forward Kyle Kuzma, Boston Celtics forward Jayson Tatum, Lakers guard Larry Nance Jr., Sacramento Kings guard Buddy Hield, Washington Mystics forward Elena Delle Donne, Dallas Wings guard Skylar Diggins-Smith, Chicago Sky center Stefanie Dolson and legends Dikembe Mutombo and Felipe Lopez participated in a basketball clinic, which took place before the game, and some even played in the game.

Drummond recently shared his struggles in school with bullying and why his support of Special Olympics is so meaningful, in an NBA film.

More than 1.2 million people worldwide take part in Special Olympics Unified Sports competitions.

Team member George Wanjiku of Kenya finished the game with six points. The 6-foot-8 center played on Saturday’s Orange Team and was the highest scorer in the 25-point team finish. The final score was 33-25, won by the Blue Team. Wanjiku was disappointed by the loss but ecstatic, saying the day was one of the “best days of his life.”

George Wanjiku finished the game with six points at the NBA Cares Special Olympics Unified Basketball Game on Feb. 17 during NBA All-Star Weekend.

NBA Cares

Translated by his coach James Okwiri, Wanjiku said he saw other athletes coming to play basketball and he got interested in playing basketball because of his height and new opportunities outside of his other favorite sport.

Wanjiku is an only child who lost both of his parents at the age of 10. He was raised by his grandmother, and he saved enough money to build a home for her after working at a construction company. Playing with Special Olympics for only four years, Wanjiku enjoys watching movies, traveling and meeting new people. In 2015, he participated in the World Summer Games in Los Angeles and since then, he has gained a lot of respect and admiration in his community.

Okwiri is looking forward to coaching Wanjiku more this year.

About 1.4 million people worldwide take part in Unified Sports, breaking down stereotypes about people with intellectual disabilities in a really fun way. ESPN has served as the Global Presenting Sponsor of Special Olympics Unified Sports since 2013, supporting the growth and expansion of this program that empowers individuals with and without intellectual disabilities to engage through the power of sports.

Special Olympics athlete Jasmine Taylor finished with four points. The Florida native is a huge fan of Cleveland Cavaliers star LeBron James.

“It was good game,” she said. “I had fun playing.”

Jasmine Taylor (right) played in the 2018 NBA Cares Special Olympics Unified Basketball Game on Feb. 17 during the 2018 NBA All-Star Game.

NBA Cares

Phillipo Howery finished with four points and appreciated playing alongside one of his favorite players, Mutombo.

NBA Special Olympic athlete Phillipo Howery (left) spends time with his favorite NBA legend Dikembe Mutombo one day before playing alongside him at the NBA Cares Special Olympics Unified Basketball Game on Feb. 17.

“It was pretty hard and crazy, but it was fun,” Howery said.

Howery is from one of the most inclusive high schools in the Arizona, if not all of the U.S. He will compete in the upcoming 2018 Special Olympics USA Games in Seattle from July 1-6.

Special Olympics coach Annette Lynch said the athletes were prepared.

“We’re only volunteer coaches. We can only come and volunteer over the weekend. So he only trains once a week,” Okwiri said. “It’s a high-performance situation. In Special Olympics, not always do the high-performing athletes become selected. I could not be more proud of them …”

The players were selected based on an application process, which included video interview submissions that included personal game highlights.

Lynch joined the Special Olympics in 1989.

“I was the first full-time woman in the sports department,” she said. “My background is certainly teaching and coaching, from junior high all the way up through Division I athletics. And I also had a three-year stint as a player on the U.S. team back in the ’60s. I brought together the player aspect, the teacher aspect, and the coaching aspect, and looking to professionalize what these athletes would get and certainly deserve. They deserve the best in coaching.

“Our goal was to showcase their skills, so that people would see what our athletes are capable of. Because they don’t, they many times speculate or they think they know, but they don’t know. We have such a range of ability level, from the superhigh level.”

According to its website, the Special Olympics is dedicated to promoting social inclusion through shared sports training and competition experiences. Unified Sports joins people with and without intellectual disabilities on the same team. In Unified Sports, teams are made up of people of similar age and ability, allowing practices and games to diversify and become more fun than challenging.

Tristan Thompson: ‘Vince Carter was our Michael Jordan’ ‘The Carter Effect’ proves that without ‘Vinsanity’ there’s no Toronto basketball and no Drake

Many of us remember the high-flying, 6-foot-6 phenom who took the NBA by a storm that could only be known as “Vinsanity.” From his jaw-dropping dunks to his captivating energy, Vince Carter’s journey is one of epic proportions. And so much of it is captured in The Carter Effect.

The documentary, directed by Sean Menard and executive produced by LeBron James, catapults viewers back in time to explore how the eight-time NBA All-Star played a major role in solidifying the Toronto Raptors’ notoriety in the NBA and creating a basketball culture that put the city on the map.

Friday night, Uninterrupted teamed up with Beats by Dre for a screening of the film, followed by a panel discussion featuring Menard and executive producers Maverick Carter, Future The Prince and Tristan Thompson. Cleveland Cavaliers forward and Toronto native Thompson explained just how influential Carter was for both him and his city growing up.

“Vince was our Michael Jordan,” he said.

The film, which features Tracy McGrady, Thompson, Carter and Toronto native and rapper Drake (who is also one of the film’s executive producers), captures the intoxicating thrill Carter’s arrival brought to a hockey town whose basketball team was seen as a joke amid a league of popular teams in American cities.

Throughout the film, Carter discusses his arrival in Toronto, his legendary win in the 2000 slam dunk contest, his role in making the city a destination for athletes and celebrities and his heartbreaking departure. All of it is placed in the context of Toronto’s contributions to music, art and culture. The lesson: Carter is a large part of the reason that we take the city seriously today. Future The Prince truly drove that point home, telling the audience there might not be a Drake if Carter hadn’t come first.

“If you had told me 20 years ago that a half-white Jewish kid from Toronto who sings and raps would be as big as he is today,” he said. “I would say there’s no way.”

From the runway to Wakanda, black style reigns during New York Fashion Week

Photographer Melissa Bunni Elian went backstage at New York Fashion Week to capture several runway shows and pop-up events that showed off the creativity and ingenuity of black designers, models and attendees — including Marvel Comics’ Welcome to Wakanda event, just in time for the opening week of Black Panther, the Black Accessory Designers Alliance soiree, and the Matthew Adams Dolan, LaQuan Smith and Pyer Moss shows.

A model showcases a design inspired by the Marvel comic and upcoming film Black Panther during a Welcome to Wakanda event held during New York Fashion Week on Feb. 12.

Fashion blogger Joy Adaeze (center) with Black Panther’s wardrobe designer Walé Oyéjidé (right) and a model sporting his design during the Welcome to Wakanda event hosted by Marvel Comics during New York Fashion Week.


LaQuan Smith show.

Backstage at the Michael Adams Dolan show.

Backstage at the Michael Adams Dolan show.

The LaQuan Smith show.

Pyer Moss show.

Pyer Moss show.


Accessories designer N’tasha presents a pair of custom earrings from her collection, House.of.Kaluaah. The Black Accessory Designers Alliance hosts the event for both established and new designers such as N’tasha to expose them to the wide range of New York Fashion Week attendees.

A group of women network while wearing head wraps by Urban Turban for the Black Accessory Designers Alliance pop-up soiree held during New York Fashion Week.

LMCrush designer Lisa McFadden styles a hat on a potential customer for the Black Accessory Designers Alliance pop-up soiree held during New York Fashion Week. The organization presents diverse accessories created by designers of color from across the country and the world.

A model showcases a couture hat for the Black Accessory Designers Alliance pop-up soiree held during New York Fashion Week.

‘Tell Them We Are Rising’ doesn’t tell the whole story of HBCUs, but it’s a start Documentary on PBS is the equivalent of an introductory survey course

A new PBS documentary about the nation’s historically black colleges and universities might just provide the best argument for a multihour, Ken Burns-type epic exploration of the subject.

Tell Them We Are Rising: The Story of Black Colleges and Universities will air as part of PBS’s Independent Lens series on Feb. 19. Directed by Stanley Nelson (The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution), Tell Them We Are Rising goes broad but not particularly deep as it attempts to recount the history of black higher education from slavery to the present day in an hour and 25 minutes.

It’s a useful primer for those who might not be familiar with historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) or their purpose, but Tell Them leaves much on the table when it comes to specifics. The documentary arrives at a time when the future of many HBCUs is uncertain as schools face the compounding weight of decades of financial strain, growing competition for students and pressure to keep tuition costs down.

Tell Them is at its best when delving into the birth of the institutions, many of which were established with the help of government land grants after the Civil War. Nelson outlines the philosophical differences between W.E.B. Du Bois and Booker T. Washington and briefly touches on the fact that in their infancies, many HBCUs were run by white presidents. While Nelson outlines the story of Fayette McKenzie, the Fisk University president who tried to ban any sort of social interaction between the sexes in 1924, he neglects to follow the legacy of McKenzie’s thinking, which shows up in the visitation policies on many a modern HBCU campus.

There are so many valuable, urgent story lines worth mining, and Tell Them simply doesn’t have the time to do them justice. The tradition of activism on HBCU campuses, which resulted in the creation of African-American studies programs and the de-Anglicization of many HCBU liberal arts programs also resulted in a deadly crackdown at Southern University. There’s the role fraternities and sororities such as Delta Sigma Theta, Alpha Kappa Alpha and Omega Psi Phi played in creating influential networks of black professionals. The legacy of protest hasn’t evaporated from modern HBCU campuses, but Tell Them falters in connecting past narratives to the present, whether it’s Howard University students protesting the George W. Bush administration or students nationwide criticizing their administrators for meeting with President Donald Trump. So much is curiously absent from the film, such as an exploration of the role Morehouse College played in shaping Martin Luther King Jr. and his contemporaries in the civil rights movement. Mary McCleod Bethune, the founder of what’s now Bethune-Cookman University and one of the chief architects of black higher education, is an afterthought.

It’s a useful primer for those who might not be familiar with HBCUs or their purpose, but Tell Them leaves much on the table when it comes to specifics.

Tell Them functions as an outline for what ought to be a deep-dive serialized documentary. Such a format would offer more opportunity to address questions such as what to make of the controversial legacy of the nation’s first black president when it comes to federal treatment of HBCUs. What challenges do they face from a current presidential administration that so far only seemed interested in convening the presidents of those institutions at the White House to use them as props? What are the modern issues students are facing at HBCUs, whether it’s the fight for queer visibility or addressing a national dilemma of campus sexual assault that presents unique challenges for HBCUs and their students?

Still, it’s understandable why we haven’t seen a splurge on such a subject. It’s expensive and time-consuming, and there are only a couple of networks (TV One and BET come to mind) that might be interested in the sort of exhaustive research I’m suggesting, and even then it’s a stretch. Maybe Netflix, with its seemingly endless pool of programming funds, would be willing. Maaaaaaybe.

Tell Them We Are Rising introduces the idea that HBCUs are under threat, and it certainly seems to support the idea of their continued existence. But aside from a broad history lesson, it stops short of offering much else.