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.

‘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.

 

‘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.

Why ‘Tell Them We Are Rising’ is a must-see The documentary tells the story of how black colleges brought our people out of slavery

I have watched Stanley Nelson’s documentary, Tell Them We Are Rising, three times now.

The first viewing was in 2017 at the Sundance Film Festival, where Nelson and his team received a standing ovation after the audience watched the film. The second was last summer at a private screening in New York, where Nelson discussed the film and filmmaking with five students from historically black colleges. The third time I joined an audience in the Oprah Winfrey Theater at the National Museum of African American History and Culture to view the film on Monday with Nelson in attendance.

Each viewing uncovers new nuggets of insight that underlined the tenacity and resilience of enslaved men and women so desperate for education that they risked death to learn to read.

Nelson said he was inspired to tackle Tell Them We Are Rising for multiple reasons.

His parents attended historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs). His mother, Alleluia Ransom, attended Talladega College in Alabama. His father, Dr. Stanley Nelson, attended Howard University. “That changed their lives, and it changed my life,” he said.

Nelson’s larger vision was to pay homage to a significant African-American institution. The subject was not particularly sexy, but it illuminated the quest for black freedom through the prism of higher education. “There have been just a few institutions that we’ve had as African-Americans that have sustained us,” Nelson said during a recent interview. “One of them is black colleges and universities. I thought that it was a story that nobody was lining up to tell.”

With several Emmys, a Peabody and MacArthur Fellowship, Nelson has become one of the country’s most accomplished documentarians. This film, Tell Them We Are Rising, may have been one of the most difficult he has attempted.

There were challenges and hurdles. The first was how to take a collection of great but individual HBCU stories and weave them into a narrative that described a powerful, overarching experience.

“So many times, people think of it as the Morgan State story or the Howard story or the Fisk story or the Spelman story,” Nelson said. “Nobody was looking at it as a united story.”

Unlike his powerful civil rights documentary Freedom Summer, based on Raymond Arsenault’s book Freedom Riders: 1961 and the Struggle for Racial Justice, there was no one classic text to draw from. In Tell Them We Are Rising, Nelson and his team had to piece together footage, articles, photographs, “everything we could” to tell a captivating story.

The other challenge was telling the story of an institution whose history continues to unfold.

His 2015 documentary, Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution, accounted for a period between 1966 to 1972 and chronicled certain watershed moments. By contrast, Tell Them We Are Rising covers the 150-year journey of black colleges in 90 minutes.

Some scenes were especially hard to watch, as the film explores historical events particularly personal to African-American viewers, such as the killings by law enforcement of Southern University students Denver Smith and Leonard Brown during 1972 protests, which remain unsolved.

Every black college graduate 65 or older lived through one of these moments, whether at a predominantly white institution petitioning for more black awareness or at an HBCU petitioning a conservative administration to take back its blackness.

But as president and CEO of the United Negro College Fund Michael Lomax said, the story of HBCUs is not simply a story of deprivation, need and want.

“The story of HBCUs as Stanley tells it is the story of powerful action,” Lomax said. “There are so many stories to choose from we had to figure out what stories would work and leave the audience with a sense of what black colleges have been and maybe where they are going.”

One of the most poignant moments of Tell Them We Are Rising takes place at Spelman College when Alversia Wade, an incoming freshman, explains why she chose the institution.

Wade spent her young academic career, from kindergarten through high school, as the single black student in her school. She describes the feeling of walking on campus and seeing a sea of fellow black students. “They all look like you,” she said, her voice cracking with emotion. “They all looked like you.”

Tell Them We are Rising, which airs Monday night on PBS, comes at a time when there is a hunger for positive, powerful images and good news within the far-flung black community.

On Friday, Marvel’s much-anticipated superhero film, Black Panther, will open in theaters across the country. Nelson was working on his Black Panther documentary when Marvel announced it was planning to release its superhero movie in 2018.

“When I first heard about it, I thought about Huey Newton, Eldridge Cleaver and the bunch,” Nelson said.

There was some confusion. “People would call up and say, ‘I hear you’re working on this Black Panther film, is it Marvel or is it DC?’ ” Nelson recalled. “I said it’s neither one of them. It’s real life.”

He looks forward to seeing the film. “It’s that it’s creating so much excitement. Like, it’s something African-Americans needed and didn’t know they needed.”

The HBCU student, in many ways, is like the hero of Black Panther — a mythical African superhero existing outside the suffocating institutionalized racism that defines virtually every minute, every hour, of life for black Americans. While their institutions are often under-resourced, black students who choose the HBCU experience enjoy the psychic respite and reinforcement of being in the majority.

At a time when 9 percent of black college students were enrolled at an HBCU in 2015, the often-asked question is do we still need HBCUs? The question overlooks the reality that 90 percent of black students are spread over thousands of predominantly white institutions, leaving those who attend a significant but often overwhelmed minority. The largest concentration of young black college students resides at the nation’s historically black colleges and universities. For many young students, that alone is worth the price of the ticket.

HBCUs are not for everyone, no more than single-gender schools are not for everyone. Still, black colleges and universities are needed more than ever.

During a post-film panel discussion Monday, former Spelman president Johnetta Cole said, “If historically black colleges and universities did not exist, we would have to invent them. … Since they do exist, we have an extraordinary responsibility to support them.”

“Until racism and racialism end in this country, there will be a need for HBCUs,” Nelson told me. “Until the education system is an even playing field — from elementary school to junior high school until college, until those things are equal — we still need HBCUs. Until we have an equal society, young African-American people need a safe intellectual space that HBCUs provide.”

Lomax, the United Negro College Fund president and CEO, said Tell Them We Are Rising was “an inspirational story. It is a call to action to our community, first and foremost to invest in them, to own them, to support them and to ensure that they remain durable in the future.”

That resonates.

Tell Them We Are Rising challenges those of us who attended HBCUs. A challenge to look in the mirror, to step up, to donate what Cole referred to as the three Ts: our time, our talent and our treasure.

This is the only way HBCUs will continue to rise.

“These institutions will not survive without our support,” she said. “It’s as simple as that.”


To share in the conversation about Tell them We Are Rising, join us on social media Monday, using the hashtags #HBCURising and #BHMxHBCU.

Wake up! It’s the 30th anniversary of Spike Lee’s ‘School Daze’ In this #BlackLivesMatter era, the ’80s film is still very relevant

It was late summer of 1986. Jasmine Guy was standing on the streets of New York City, fresh out of a dance class at the Alvin Ailey School, when she heard a word unfamiliar to her: Wannabe.

She’d just run into director and eventual cultural purveyor Spike Lee. She first met him back in 1979, when she was a high school senior and he was a senior at Morehouse College who was directing the coronation at the school where she danced. Back then, he was telling folks that he planned to go to film school and had aspirations of being a director — although, at the time, Guy wasn’t entirely sure what that meant.

Spike had some news for her. “I just finished my first movie, you’ve got to see it,” she remembers Lee telling her. He was talking about 1986’s She’s Gotta Have It, which is now of course a lauded Netflix series of the same name. She saw the movie and was mesmerized by the very contemporary piece that was in black and white and dealt with sex, relationships and intimacy. She’s never seen anything like it before. With black people. And she was impressed.

She ran into him again on those New York streets, and this was the time that he added a new word to her lexicon. “I’m doing another movie, and you’re going to be in it, so send me your headshot. You’re going to be a wannabe.” She was confused. “You know how you all are,” she remembers Lee saying. She had no idea what he was talking about. Wannabe.

But she soon learned. As did everyone else who would consume Lee’s epic portrayal of a fictional historically black college in School Daze, a movie that altered how we publicly talked about blackness and historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs). For the uninitiated, the idea of a “wannabe” was a caricature of (for the most part) a high-yellow, lighter-skinned woman with long hair whose physical attributes look more European than African. “Wannabe” was also an attitude: Wannabe better than me.

School Daze. It’s been three decades to the day since theaters were lit up with a historically black campus waking up — this was when Nelson Mandela was still locked up, and students called for divestment from South Africa. Three decades since Spike Lee brought us a story of conflict, of when students pledging fictional Greek fraternities were pitted against those who desired global and local social change. The Gamma dogs. The Gamma Rays. The Fellas. The Wannabes. The Jiggaboos — oh yes, the Jiggaboos. School Daze was about the tensions between light-skinned black folks and dark-skinned black folks.

Everything was right there on a 50-foot screen. No escaping it. We had to consume it. And address it. “It was like, Wow, this guy’s really going to go there,” says renowned director Kasi Lemmons, whose first film role was in School Daze. “He’s really going to explore these issues. It occurred to me, when I saw it, how important it was because it explored so many things that you just hadn’t seen.”


In so many ways, School Daze was an extension of what was happening on campuses. It tapped into activations that were happening in the mid-1980s, and after it was released, it inspired and engaged other students, amplifying the work that was already taking place.

Darryl Bell — who was one of the “big brothers” in School Daze, his first role — was quite active as a real-life student at Syracuse University. He attended rallies where black and Latino students were mobilizing, much in the same way that Laurence Fishburne’s Dap did on Lee’s fictional campus of Mission College. In real life, Bell pledged Alpha Phi Alpha.

“I wanted to know more about these Alpha fellas,” says Bell. He remembers seeing them at rallies. “The idea that Alpha men were involved in, and on the forefront of talking about, issues that mattered — the divesting of South Africa — it encouraged me to be part of student government. All of these things … my experience at Syracuse, you saw in the film. … We were engaged in voter registration. We put on a fashion show to raise money to give scholarships to high school students. … That was the life I was living. That’s why I was so desperate to be in the movie. … This is all about me and what I’m living everyday. It was an extraordinary example of art imitating life.”

The film was more than entertainment; even before A Different World, it really illuminated HBCU campus life. It shed a light on colorism, one of the most uncomfortable and unspoken issues among black folks — something we’d been battling for generations and, in a lot of ways, still are.

“There was … division between the men and women,” says Joie Lee, who portrayed Lizzie Life in the film, “in terms of what constitutes beauty. I wasn’t ‘fine.’ I wasn’t considered that. I did not fit that standard of beauty, perhaps because I was brown-skinned. Perhaps because my hair was nappy, and natural. The women that are considered fine … were light-skinned or had ‘good hair’ — I’m using that term loosely. Those were some of the issues that [we were] grappling with.”

Thirty years later, the film still holds up. Replace School Daze’s international concerns with the Black Lives Matter movement and the activism, especially in this current political climate, most certainly feels familiar. “It does have a relevance to what’s going on today,” says Kirk Taylor, who portrayed one of the Gammas. “In terms of the look, in terms of the content, in terms of the final message about waking up … we need to wake up as much now as we did then — and stay awake. It’s easy to be lulled into a false sense of security, or false peace, and not be aware that things still need to be addressed. Things still need to be changed.”

Stay woke, indeed.

‘The Quad’ recap: Everyone has a price Noni Williams makes a deal with the devil, and did Eva Fletcher just have a heart attack?

Season 2, episode 3 — The Quad: My Bondage and My Freedom

The campus of Georgia A&M University has been transformed into a war zone. Well, at least in Eva Fletcher’s mind.

The battle is on to keep GAMU an independent school as debt continues to mount. In the first scene, which sets the tone for the episode, Fletcher is ready for war, geared up in camouflage. Her enemies? The system that would force a merger between GAMU and a predominantly white institution. Her weapons? Books.

The scene segues into a meeting between Fletcher and the student government association to discuss the possible sale of campus buildings. Her intentions were good, but students are still unhappy with the way things are being run at the university. Board members, especially Dean Carlton Pettiway, weren’t too happy when they found out Fletcher met with students. But they have to ask themselves whether their old approach has been working. Doesn’t hurt to try a new one.

In the dorms, Cedric Hobbs has been suspicious of his roommates. No, they don’t have the best relationship, but Bryce Richardson (Larry Rhem) is running around late at night with a bad attitude and bruises and welts covering his body. Hobbs confronts Richardson and is met with the typical mind-your-own-business defense mechanism. That wasn’t enough for Hobbs, who follows Richardson to a room and witnesses his roommate being paddled. Hobbs, who may be the last person to know what happens when pledging, is confronted by members of Sigma Mu Kappa for snooping.

Down the hall, Sydney Fletcher and Madison Kelly are still at odds. Kelly is hurt that Sydney Fletcher abandoned her during her time of need, and Sydney Fletcher’s overprotective nature since her sexual assault is causing an even larger rift between the best friends. After the two meet up at a party that night, it seems as if all has been forgiven — until Kelly stays behind at the party and doesn’t show up until the next morning. The best friendship has turned more into a mother-daughter rebellious phase.

Hanging out in the quad of rival university Southwestern Delta is Noni Williams, who always looks up to no good. And guess who strolls up to join her? Supersenior Danny Brown (Tallie L. Brinson) — back like he never left. After being set up by Williams and permanently booted from the Marching Mountain Cats band, this is the first time the two have come face to face since the incident. He knows she was behind the setup, but her bigger goal is helping Cecil Diamond to “make Clive Taylor pay” for his actions during the Battle of the Bands. Williams, being the smart and calculating woman she is, spent enough time with Taylor to lift personal information from his phone and deliver it to Diamond. Yet, Brown can see right through it all. Toward the end of the episode, he pays a visit to his old mentor and warns Diamond about Williams’ behavior. Whether Diamond will take heed remains unknown.

Back on campus, we have gangsters rolling up on coach Eugene Hardwick’s office. Who knew Hardwick was ’bout that life? GAMU can barely afford to stay open, so I guess it’s asking too much to have security patrolling after-hours. As always, money is the issue. Apparently, Hardwick owes the two burly men thousands of dollars that he doesn’t have. They threaten to pay a visit to his daughters, and that sets Hardwick off. He goes to see his ex-wife, who has weekend visitation, and picks up his kids. An argument ensues, which wasn’t smart for her in the first place. Her gambling problem is why big men are rolling up on Hardwick and threatening their children. Where is he going to find $20,000 in a month’s time?

Desperate times call for desperate measures, and no one knows that better than Eva Fletcher. The entire episode, Fletcher is trying to undo messes. And for the first time, it seems her focus is on GAMU and GAMU only. She enlists Hobbs, who sort of owes her a favor after acting a fool at her party last season. To buy time, Fletcher has been finding creative ways to work out a deal to save the land on campus. One is agreeing to role-play with a man who holds $5 million and the key to her salvation. Yes, we did witness a grown man in a onesie, holding a bottle and baby food and calling Fletcher “mama.” We’ll just leave you to process all of that.

After the meeting with Fletcher, Hobbs is confronted by his angry roommate. He learns that, because of his actions, Richardson was kicked off line. In Richardson’s own words, becoming a member of the fraternity is something he’d waited for his whole life. If there was something to salvage from their friendship, this may have been the moment that permanently ruins it.

Even after all of Fletcher’s hard work, it doesn’t seem like the board agreed. In the last scene, Fletcher opens a certified letter that informs her that Ella Grace Caldwell and Pettiway have filed a petition to designate Edward W. Smith Hall as a historic landmark — the very building Fletcher has just worked out a deal on. The news is too much to handle, and Fletcher has either suffered a terrible panic attack or a heart attack.

A dramatic beginning, a dramatic ending. We just hope the drama continues.

‘The Quad’ recap, season 2, episode 2: Has Eva Fletcher finally cracked under pressure? Half of GAMU is sick; the school is in debt and Eva Fletcher can’t escape her past demons

Season 2, episode 2: The Quad — The Interruption of Everything

We find Noni Williams outside of Cecil Diamond’s home, begging for him to let her back in the band the best way she knows how — through music. Williams is playing her heart out to attract her former mentor’s attention, but Diamond brushes right past her, gets in his car and blasts a tune of his own: Back Stabbers by The O’Jays. Touché, Cecil Diamond. Touché.

Back on campus, there’s a serious board meeting discussing the future of Georgia A&M University. Financial woes seem to increase for Eva Fletcher each week. Besides not being able to support the school, there’s the ghost of Terrence Berry quite literally haunting her. Fletcher finds herself with recurring nightmares of Berry following her around and demanding his family be paid settlement money owed from his death. Money is tight, and board members suggest asking Berry’s family for an extension while they sort through financial issues. It sets Fletcher off, and it’s the first time the audience (and board members) catch a glimpse of how deeply the Berry incident is affecting Fletcher.

Academically, the school seems to be on track with professors who actually care about their students — so much so that tough love is not being spared. Football player Junior (Miles Stroter) has learned the hard way after being kicked off of the team by head coach Eugene Hardwick due to poor grades. Feeling as if football is all he has, Junior looks to dean Carlton Pettiway (E. Roger Mitchell) for guidance, which eventually leads him back to the classroom of Ella Grace Caldwell (Jasmine Guy). After being asked if he could retake his final, Caldwell, in her caring yet no-nonsense fashion, delivers some sage advice to Junior that we should all be reminded of from time to time: “Start expecting a chance … Get ready, and stay ready.”

As Fletcher battles her personal demons, her daughter Sydney seems to be pushing past her own problems. During class, Sydney tells best friend Madison Kelly that she’s looking forward to hanging with Myles, her latest love interest. Kelly is happy that Sydney has moved on, but questions whether it’s too soon. Before their conversation could continue, class begins. Upon hearing there’s a quiz, Kelly tries to make a quick escape to the restroom after falling ill. Caldwell doesn’t buy that excuse, but quickly wishes she had as Kelly hurls into a wastebasket and onto Caldwell’s pumps.

Sydney helps her friend, but also questions what appears to be morning sickness. Possible pregnancy? Couldn’t be. Or could it?

Before viewers could finish pondering whether Kelly’s ex-boyfriend left her with a little more than heartbreak, the next scene takes us to the campus clinic filled with sick students. They can’t all be pregnant. We discover that it’s a norovirus, a severe (and contagious) stomach flu that causes vomiting, diarrhea and stomach pain. The virus seemingly swept the campus overnight, transforming healthy students into walking zombies. Flushed, dehydrated faces line the campus clinic and dorm halls. Fletcher, who sees Sydney at the clinic, requests that she go home until the bug is taken care of. The campus would need to be quarantined.

In the dorms, a familiar face is back! Ebonie Weaver (Erica Michelle) and best friend Cedric Hobbs are reunited and doing what they do best — rapping. Meanwhile, on the other side of campus, Fletcher is in over her head. The virus was possibly caused by malfunctioning freezers, which caused temperatures to drop and thaw the food. The old freezers would need to be replaced, but Fletcher knows the school can’t afford the $100,000 for new ones. The situation became so dire, a student was hospitalized after fainting. Not wanting to risk more bad publicity, Fletcher plans to ask Berry’s family for an extension.

And of course, that went about as great as, well, not great at all.

Berry’s mother still believes her son’s suicide is Sydney’s fault. Fletcher explodes and rips the bandages off of healing wounds by saying Berry raped Sydney. He should be the one apologizing from a jail cell. Fletcher’s emotions are raw, the nightmares continue, and it looks like she has finally reached her breaking point.

Off campus, Sydney is finally getting her groove back, and is excited about meeting up with love interest, Myles. As they Netflix and chilled, things began to heat up pretty quickly. But Sydney soon learns that she’s not as over her sexual assault as she previously thought. The closer Myles got, the more her suppressed memories of the assault began to resurface. She ended the night by asking Myles to take her home.

As the episode neared its close, Williams is back at Diamond’s house with the same approach, but a different tune. This time, Diamond opens his door to address the former band member. Williams explains why she turned the original music over to rival band director Clive Taylor, and — once again — apologizes for her actions. Stern, yet a bit more forgiving, Diamond informs Williams that he’ll think about letting her back in. After all, Diamond just found out that his cancer is in remission. If he can get a second chance at life, then maybe he can give Williams a second chance in the band.

A good guess is that Diamond may use Williams to turn the tables on Taylor. Something tells me this won’t be the last we see of this dangerous yet dynamic duo.

Season 2 premiere of ‘The Quad’ welcomes viewers back to GAMU As much as things change, some remain the same on the struggling campus

Season 2, episode 1: The QuadIn Love and Trouble

School is back in session, and fans of BET’s original show The Quad can’t wait to see what twists, turns and drama unfold on the campus of Georgia A&M University this season.

The sun is shining, and Greeks are strolling. Rapper CyHi the Prynce is on stage delivering a conscious message to the crowd through his song, “Nu Africa,” and Cedric Hobbs (Peyton “Alex” Smith) is serving as his hype man. Although there seems to be no such thing as “normal” on the campus of GAMU, the opening scene on the yard is probably the closest we’ll get.

That is, until Noni Williams (Zoe Renee) arrives.

The attention turns away from the stage and to the sound of the band, where members are slowly walking down the sidewalk and playing a melancholic tune. Toward the back of the line, students carry a coffin draped in the GAMU school flag. It was a jazz funeral, Williams explains, to signify the death of the 156-year-old university if a merger between GAMU and a predominantly white institution were to happen.

As a protest brews on the yard, GAMU higher-ups, including president Eva Fletcher (Anika Noni Rose) and head football coach Eugene Hardwick (Sean Blakemore) are in the boardroom with the parents of a deceased football player in a rather awkward meeting. Fletcher is clearly distracted by the wrong things — like her former lover Jason King (Redaric Williams), whom she sees while peering out the window and at the yard — as the group scrambles to bring closure to the family of Terrence Berry (Kevin Savage), the football team’s star quarterback who committed suicide last season. In one final request before wrapping up the meeting, the family wants Fletcher to publicly apologize for Berry’s death.

The school’s president apologizing to the family of the man who allegedly sexually assaulted her daughter? Good luck with that one.

Meanwhile, Sydney Fletcher (Jazz Raycole) has returned to campus bolder than ever. She makes it clear that she is no longer a victim. Being sexually assaulted by Berry is now in the past, and she’s working to make sure it doesn’t ever happen again. She even persuades her mother to make the public apology so they can free themselves from the Berry scandal. Self-defense classes and therapy have helped so much, she’s no longer convinced she needs the latter. And she has reunited with her best friend Madison Kelly (Michelle DeFraites) just in time to finally meet Kelly’s boyfriend, who has only made one appearance.

That excitement is short-lived. The next day, Sydney Fletcher enters the room to find a distraught Kelly yelling into her phone because her boyfriend only came to hook up one last time before breaking up with her during his short trip. Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, and the best way to seemingly get over your ex is to, well, bust the windows out of his car. Shout-out to Sydney Fletcher for the idea. And shout-out to Jazmine Sullivan for the inspiration.

Yet, the young criminals aren’t the smoothest. Not speaking from experience, but if you’re going to bust the windows out of your ex’s car, wear gloves and be smart enough to take the evidence with you before sashaying into the darkness. At least they’ll look cute for their mug shots, if the plotline permits.

As Sydney Fletcher pushes forward, her mother is hell-bent on doing the exact opposite. Eva Fletcher has mastered the art of taking two steps forward and five steps back in both her career and love life. With GAMU still needing financial assistance, Eva Fletcher entertains the idea of a merger that would keep GAMU open, but cost the school its historically black legacy.

At the same restaurant as Eva Fletcher’s meeting — seriously, is there only one decent restaurant in town? — GAMU band director Cecil Diamond sits down to have dinner with his sister. Things immediately turn sour when he looks up and sees rival band director Clive Taylor (RonReaco Lee), aka Mr. Steal Your Music. Words are exchanged, and a fight ensues. Taylor delivers the final verbal blow, letting Diamond know that Williams was the one who shared Diamond’s original piece with him.

Back on campus, Diamond gives Williams a chance to come clean. She sticks with her version of the truth, which was ultimately a lie that cost her a spot in the band. After being kicked out, Williams picks up her belongings and runs.

After Eva Fletcher attempts to put out one small fire, she hopes to rekindle another with ex-lover King, only to be met with a cold shoulder. King informs her that he’ll be moving back to Connecticut. Eva Fletcher, feigning happiness, continues to try to make small talk, but leaves after King makes it clear that he’s completely over it. He does, however, keep a close eye on Sydney Fletcher this episode. Could a revenge date with Sydney be next?

If the writers have anticipated my questions, they’ll all be answered next week.

From Chicago to the Congo, Nate Fluellen is sharing his experiences in the Urban Movie Channel’s new travel series The travel vlogger and HBCU grad is living his wildest dreams

When Nathan Fluellen’s international economics professor at Tennessee State University (TSU) challenged him to travel to more places than him, he accepted. Professor Galen Hull had visited more than 80 places around the country, and that concept intrigued Fluellen.

The ideology was not new to him. He grew up in a household where his mother embarked upon mission trips abroad, and his cousins spent time working and living overseas.

“She had been in Brazil four or five times, South Africa, Italy and Egypt,” Fluellen said.

So he set out to travel the world, documenting his experiences and branding himself as World Wide Nate.

Now he has landed a 13-episode reality travel show on the Urban Movie Channel (UMC). In World Wide Nate: African Adventures, a crew follows the Chicago native as he hikes the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s mountains, cruises the world’s largest lava lake, rappels alongside a 600-foot-tall waterfall in Lesotho and treks through the Rwandan jungle alongside silverback gorillas and more.

“Me, a kid from the South Side of Chicago, was walking in the footsteps of my ancestors seeing the same majestic mountain ridges. I was speechless,” Fluellen says in the first episode, with more new shows to return in the spring.

Fluellen’s exploits include food, culture and fun, and he offers viewers the opportunity to experience Africa through his charm and adventures.

According to his website, in March 2016 he became one of the first sponsored U.S. tourists to visit Cuba in more than 50 years. His adventures have been sponsored by Chase Bank, Marriott, Time, Fortune, Travel + Leisure, Ford and Lincoln Motors, Essence.com, Ebony.com, Mensfitness.com, AOL.com and the South African Tourism Board. He is a three-time winner of LAWebfest’s most outstanding series and series host.

After graduating from historically black TSU in 2004 with a degree in economics, Fluellen decided to take his first trip, recalling the challenge from his professor. He set his sights on Barcelona, Spain.

“It’s the city that’s romanticized about, and just being a Michael Jordan fan growing up, and the Barcelona Olympics, it was exciting,” he said. “I’m an adventurous person. I’ve always been an explorer. Prior to me going, I had started taking Spanish classes at the Tennessee Foreign Language Institute. I met new people from all over the world, and other professional athletes. I’m meeting them and they’re just happy to see another black person. It was an eye-opening experience. I felt like I was finally living my dream of being an international man of leisure.”

Fluellen’s vision initially was to write a book capturing his travel experiences. He thought he would create a book that would include the push of a button to play a video — but then came the iPad, he explained.

So the 36-year-old opted for an online blog experience and started chronicling his journey on MySpace when the social media forum was most popular.

“I would just write, ‘Day One, this is what I did, from sunrise to sunset,’ and people would just read it and be like, ‘Oh, that was tight. That was dope.’ So I had bought a better camera, a digital camera, then I bought a camcorder, then bought a better camcorder, and I started recording my videos and taught myself how to edit on Final Cut Express.”

A friend from college who had a knack for editing videos reached out to Fluellen, and they founded his webisodes. Fluellen’s cousin introduced him to the digital director at Ebony, who hired him as a travel editor on a gig that took him to the Bahamas to cover the 2006 Miss Universe pageant. This is when his journey took off in the paid space.

“It was superfun, and that’s when I met other travel people and learned about press trips,” he said. “I was just really learning the game, as far as how people are making it into a career, and this is like my passion.”

Fluellen said the hardest part of his journey was lack of financing.

“It’s like when people ask you, ‘Pick something that you love so much that if you didn’t get paid, you’d do it every day,’ ” he said. “There’s been days I ain’t get paid, and I’m still doing it. There wasn’t always a lot of money in the industry. And then it was like the cat-and-mouse game, where they understood the value but then they kind of wanted to see how much experience you had, to see if they wanted to pay you your value or not. And then now, people understand the value of video content.”

The most interesting place Fluellen has visited is Rwanda.

“It was so clean, and the people were just so brown and chocolate. And the landscape was so green and lush. Rwanda was unique.”

Living in Los Angeles, he also has a passion for health and fitness. He trains six days a week and participates in boxing, body weight and core exercises.

“I’ve always played basketball growing up. I played a little football, did some track, some high jumps. I took weight training classes and always kept my ear to the fitness and the importance of diet [at TSU].

He does boxing training, yoga, surfing and rock climbing and includes eating a balanced meal as a core principle of fitness. His clean diet includes foods high in protein and low in carbs. He’s incorporated this lifestyle into his travels, sharing his Train Hard Thursday workouts and cheat day meals on Fried Chicken Friday with his social media followers.

“I have to have a cheat day,” Fluellen said. “I eat pretty healthy. I’ll usually cook some salmon, kale and some asparagus, avocado and tomato. I’ll eat that all during the week.”

Giving back is also at the top of Fluellen’s list of priorities. He joined RakLife, an organization that uses random acts of kindness as a mantra to help the less fortunate around the world on a recent trip to Paje, Zanzibar, where they helped feed 300 elderly citizens. He is also interested in starting a scholarship fund at his alma mater that will send students abroad to study in Colombia.

A look back at Latrell Sprewell’s very angry ‘Sports Illustrated’ cover The image was after the P.J. Carlesimo incident and at the tightest possible intersection of sports and race — not in a good way

What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the name Latrell Sprewell? His 35-point performance at Madison Square Garden with the New York Knicks facing elimination in the 1999 NBA Finals? Him dunking on Jaren Jackson in the third quarter of that game?

Maybe it was his return to the Garden for the first time in more than a decade, last year, as a “friend” of Knicks owner James Dolan, not a foe. Perhaps it’s this recent Priceline commercial, supposedly a display of Sprewell’s sense of humor — at his own expense.

Or is it a moment obscured from the public’s eyes: Sprewell choking then-Golden State Warriors head coach P.J. Carlesimo during a December 1997 practice, leaving the gym and returning, apparently to attack Carlesimo again?


Or is what you recall the aftermath, when the 24th pick in the 1992 NBA draft became a pariah? His name and likeness became synonymous with violence. The Warriors voided the then-three-time All-Star’s contract, and the NBA, a season removed from celebrating its 50th birthday, suspended him for a year after the episode escalated into an avalanche of bad press that the league did not need one month into the pivotal 1997-98 season. Several stars — Hakeem Olajuwon, Shaquille O’Neal and Scottie Pippen among them — were injured, Michael Jordan was all but certainly retiring, and a lockout was looming.

Then, in addition, the Milwaukee-born, Flint, Michigan-raised Sprewell, one of the NBA’s rising (albeit reluctant) stars, was labeled persona non grata. He’d admittedly committed an act of violence against his coach. It was an act that seemed to confirm every absurd fear about the rise of the overpaid, petulant, violent (and *gasp* black) athlete. It was the problem with sports, to let sportswriters and fans alike tell it. And although Sprewell acknowledged that his actions were inexcusable — “I don’t condone what I did,” he told The New York Times in 1998 — he took issue with how he was portrayed. This was epitomized by the cover of Sports Illustrated’s Dec. 15, 1997, issue.

“It’s always a picture of me looking mad or being aggressive,” he said during a news conference one week after the incident, for which he was initially suspended 10 games without pay. “I never saw pictures of myself where I had a smile on my face. It was always negative.”

The enigmatic Sprewell was easy to cast as the villain. The former University of Alabama and Three Rivers Community College standout was an aggressive slasher and defender. His appearance was menacing — to people who associated cornrows with criminal activity. And Spree had previously fought teammates. He absolutely considered himself a fighter, but only in self-defense.

“I don’t get upset unless somebody’s doing something to me or to my family, disrespecting me to where I just can’t tolerate it,” Sprewell told Time in 2000. That’s how he viewed the altercation with Carlesimo.

The choking itself, said to have happened in practice during an argument about Sprewell’s effort (“Put a little mustard on those passes,” Carlesimo reportedly told him), triggered revealing discourse, in the pre-social-media era, about the very often uncomfortable intersection of race and sports.


Sports Illustrated flew into the eye of the storm and made a valiant effort to unpack the situations. And while the story itself excellently contextualized the NBA’s head-on collision with race, the image — Sprewell, in mid-scream — chosen for the Dec. 15, 1997, issue’s cover was provocative for the wrong reasons. Sports Illustrated was the de facto bible of sports at the time, in an era before breaking news spread via Woj Bombs and trending topics. A time when writers discussed stories with editors via phone calls — not yet in Google Hangouts, or Slack.

Phil Taylor doesn’t remember exactly how he heard about what transpired between Sprewell and Carlesimo, but as a senior writer for Sports Illustrated at the time, he called his editors to discuss how they planned to cover it. “This was a huge story … right in my backyard, and as lead NBA writer, I knew I was going to be writing something lengthy,” said Taylor, now a contributing writer for The Athletic. “I’ve often thought that if it happened now, we would have obviously been able to put something out on Twitter and everyone would have just written stories immediately. But I remember thinking that [as a weekly publication] we were not going to be able to get an immediate story out there.”

“One of my first thoughts was, at least put P.J. on there looking angry too.”

The Sprewell-Carlesimo incident took place on a Monday — the worst-case scenario for the magazine, which was finalized for the mass printing on Sundays. Back then, hundreds of thousands of issues would be sent to subscribers and would be available on newsstands on the Wednesday/Thursday of the following week. Local outlets such as the San Francisco Chronicle were already on top of the story. That extra time, though, did allow Sports Illustrated to fine-tune its coverage, and Taylor ended up writing two of the three stories: a look at who Sprewell was and an essay about race and the NBA.

“We knew that by the time the story came out, the story might have advanced beyond what we knew at the time we were writing,” Taylor said. “So we wanted to come up with something to better put this into context, and that’s where we started talking about the issue of race in the NBA and what the Sprewell incident had to do with that.”

In a break from covers that featured full-bleed photography, a particularly incisive excerpt from Taylor’s essay was featured — white type on a black background:

“Latrell Sprewell has been publicly castigated and vilified, and any player who gets a similar urge to manually alter his coach’s windpipe will surely remember Sprewell’s experience before he acts on that impulse. Problem solved. But the Sprewell incident raises other issues that could pose threats to the NBA’s future, issues of power and money and — most dangerous of all — race … ”

Placing that much text on the cover of a magazine was rare for SI. “The editors liked what I wrote, and I think it was our managing editor Bill Colson … thought it was so strong that we should put those words on the cover.”

Part of Taylor’s satisfaction came from his belief that the cover would differ from what had quickly become a typical characterization of Sprewell as angry. Until he saw it, that is.

“My words … but they added that picture of Sprewell, and that was disappointing to me,” said Taylor, who didn’t see the cover until the issue came out. “One of my first thoughts was, at least put P.J. on there looking angry too. But maybe that would have been inflammatory as well, because then you would have had a black man screaming at a white man. That sort of anger could be interpreted as racial, but … would have at least been more fair.”

It was unfair to Sprewell because although what he did was undeniably wrong, Carlesimo was far from … docile. He was notoriously hard on his players, and notoriously unpopular for it. “We’ve been face-to-face on many occasions,” Rod Strickland, who played for Carlesimo while with the Portland Trail Blazers, told the Baltimore Sun.

“I’ve often thought, that if it happened now, we would have … put something out on Twitter, and everyone would have just written stories immediately.”

“I played under him, so it doesn’t surprise me,” Tracy Murray, who began his career with Portland, added.

After the Warriors hired Carlesimo in 1997, he was the focal point of their “No More Mr. Nice Guy” campaign, appearing on billboards with his coaching staff dressed like a team of FBI agents. Carlesimo was depicted as an enforcer; he was celebrated for an approach that alienated players and, more importantly, never translated into success in the NBA.

“P.J. was a guy who stirred it up, and was as bellicose and belligerent as Sprewell was,” Taylor said. But Carlesimo had a vastly different relationship with the media, Taylor added. He was very cooperative and affable and would ask about the reporters’ well-being. He’d remember their first names. That charm likely played a factor in Carlesimo receiving more favorable coverage than Sprewell, who was tight-lipped with the press.

Imagery is as important to a story’s narrative as reporting or analysis. A March 2002 issue of Sports Illustrated featured Charles Barkley in shackles. It drew criticism from Sports Illustrated staffers, readers and Barkley’s friend and colleague Kenny Smith alike. Golfweek’s infamous Tiger Woods “noose” cover, from January 2008, got its editor and vice president fired. LeBron James’ historic moment as the first black man to grace the cover of Vogue that spring was sullied by the black man-as-savage beast stereotype it projected. According to Taylor, the media routinely overlooks the reverberations of such editorial decisions.

“The media in general has always, and definitely at that time, underestimated the power of the images of black athletes,” said Taylor. “I don’t think the implications of putting an angry Sprewell out there occurred to them. I’m not even sure the implications of putting Barkley in chains occurred to them — until the backlash came.”

Taylor noted that no black editors were involved with the Sprewell story. “I might have been the only black writer or editor at that time,” he added. The magazine could have placed an expressionless Sprewell on the cover, and it would’ve been just as captivating. That’s how great the treatment is, and how powerful Taylor’s words are. But the cover — and all of the more incendiary examples that preceded it, and will surely continue to follow — represent a more hazardous issue: a failure on the part of many media professionals to grasp the complexity of stereotypes and the way they’re bound to black identity, and how all of that affects the way black people are viewed and treated.

Still, though, Taylor gives Sports Illustrated’s editors credit for deciding to explore the NBA’s racial undercurrent. After discussing the atmosphere with them, he said, Colson asked if the magazine should write about it. Taylor was stunned, as that was “edgy” for Sports Illustrated — and really for any mainstream sports publication of that era.

“They were willing to take on a controversial issue, although they kind of regressed on it … by choosing the picture they chose,” he said. “I wish they hadn’t done that.”

Sprewell survived his figurative public stoning and continued his career with the Knicks and then Minnesota Timberwolves. The clothing and footwear company AND1 even branded him “The American Dream” upon his return to the NBA in 1999 — the last time the Knicks made the Finals. The events of December 1997 never impeded Sprewell’s career, but it ended abruptly in 2005 after he claimed he couldn’t feed his family on the three-year, $21 million deal the Timberwolves offered him. That Priceline commercial, where he pokes fun at his mistakes, is poignant considering the headlines that have emerged since his retirement.

Despite Sprewell’s success after the incident, he remains symbolic of poor decisions and explosive anger. Regardless of Sports Illustrated’s intentions, that’s all their cover screams about him too.