A veteran black officer teaches police how not to kill people

Sgt. Curtis Davenport The shooting instructor 27 years in uniform

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Change, get fired or quit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kevin D. Lilies for The Undefeated

Kevin D. Lilies for The Undefeated

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

Life after football

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

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

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

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

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

Then verses 3 and 4:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I asked whether that’s a positive development.

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

Is there a downside?

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

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

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

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

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

Ferguson and Sunday dinner

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Who became confrontational?” Davenport asked.

“Michael Brown.’’

“So he was the aggressor.”

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

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

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

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

A scandal in the department

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Engaging the threat

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then Davenport tried one.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The lesson of Jonah

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

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

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

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

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

“Jonah!” Smith shouted. “STAY WOKE!”

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

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

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

It’s almost Christmas: the 11 best black holiday films ever — and ranked From Queen Latifah to Ice Cube to Gabrielle Union and Fat Albert — it’s time to dig in

After Big Mama and Big Daddy clear the table of fried turkey, mac ’n’ cheese, collards, potato salad and more — and after the last football game ends — it’s time to head to the movies with a slice of pie. But instead of vegging out to watch marathons of delicious reality shows (you know you’ll do that on another day this holiday season!), fire up the On Demand, your fave streaming service or the Blu-ray and check out every one of these holiday favorites.

11. The Last Holiday (2006)

Not one of my favorite Queen Latifah film moments, but when this bad boy comes on cable, it’s hard to change the channel. The Queen is a sweet store assistant named Georgia who thinks she’s dying — so she cashes it all in to take a super grand vacation before she kicks the bucket. She may not be dying, though! And it turns out her super secret crush (played by LL Cool J) likes her back! #BlackLove

 

10. The Perfect Holiday (2007)

Some of your faves star in this little-seen (but it’s not too late!) holiday flick. Gabrielle Union, Morris Chestnut, Charlie Murphy and Terrence Howard all appear in this romantic comedy — and it’s narrated by Queen Latifah. Chestnut is an aspiring songwriter, and Union is a divorced woman with three kids and is in desperate need of a good word from a good man. In the end, will everything be beautiful? Surely. And what more could you want on Christmas?!

 

9. This Christmas (2007)

The official holiday track for black households everywhere is Donny Hathaway’s most excellent 1970 “This Christmas,” so it’s fitting that we get a holiday film about all of the obstacles that a typical family has to overcome. Also: The cast in this one is STACKED. Delroy Lindo, Idris Elba, Loretta Devine, singer Chris Brown, Columbus Short, Regina King, Sharon Leal, Lauren London and Mekhi Phifer all have roles.

 

8. Black Nativity (2013)

Kasi Lemmons (Eve’s Bayou) directs this feature film based on a Langston Hughes play. The big cast includes Oscar winners Jennifer Hudson and Forest Whitaker, Tyrese, Angela Bassett, Mary J. Blige, Jacob Latimore, Vondie Curtis-Hall and Nas. Yet the film didn’t perform well at the box office. Maybe it should get another look this holiday season?

 

7. Almost Christmas (2016)

Storyteller David E. Talbert gives us a story centered on a patriarch (Danny Glover) who is mourning the recent death of his wife and trying to keep the rest of his family together. Another star-studded cast helps bring this family holiday tale to life: Gabrielle Union, Kimberly Elise, Oscar winner Mo’Nique, Nicole Ari Parker, Keri Hilson, Jessie Usher, Omar Epps and Romany Malco.

 

6. The Kid Who Loved Christmas (1990)

This is Sammy Davis Jr.’s last screen performance — and he only appears briefly. But this is a sweet, poignant story about young Reggie (Trent Cameron), an orphan who is juuuuuuust about to be adopted by a jazz musician (Michael Warren) and his wife (Vanessa Williams). Tragically, right as the adoption is almost done, Williams dies in a car accident and a social worker (Esther Rolle) doesn’t approve of the adoption. Grab your Kleenex.

 

5. Fat Albert’s Christmas Special (1977)

All the ’70s kids, and those younger ones with cool parents, grew up watching this animated series that was created by He Who Shall Not Be Named. This was a half-hour, animated prime-time TV special that saw the kids staging a production of a Nativity pageant in their junkyard clubhouse.

 

4. A Diva’s Christmas Carol (2000)

VH1 isn’t only good for a soapy reality TV series; it’s also gifted us with a remake of the Dickens classic starring an ego-driven singer portrayed by Vanessa Williams (as Ebony Scrooge!) who needs the type of check you cannot cash at the bank. TLC’s Chili also appears.

 

3. the best Man Holiday (2013)

If you don’t break down in tears toward the end of this film, you are not human. And you have no soul. Morris Chestnut’s Lance Sullivan is on the precipice of retiring from the NFL while also battling grief due to his severely ill wife, Mia (Monica Calhoun). The reunion of college friends — Harper (Taye Diggs), Robyn (Sanaa Lathan), Jordan (Nia Long), Chestnut, Calhoun, Julian (Harold Perrineau), Candace (Regina Hall), Quentin (Terrence Howard) and Shelby (Melissa De Sousa) — assembles some of the most gifted young working black actors out there. And the “Can You Stand the Rain” scene is forever.

 

2. The Preacher’s Wife (1996)

Denzel Washington is an angel in this beautiful family comedy directed by Penny Marshall. It’s a remake of 1947’s Bishop’s Wife — and this time it’s set in a poor New York City neighborhood. A Baptist preacher (Courtney B. Vance) is trying to get his parish out of financial trouble. Whitney Houston and that voice shine in this story, which earned her and Loretta Devine NAACP Image Awards.

 

1. Friday After Next (2002)

Damn you, Ice Cube! For making us wait all these years for another Friday movie. In the interim, we have this gem, which gives us more cousin Day Day comedy from Mike Epps. This Friday, Santa Claus is the neighborhood’s biggest bully — Rickey Smiley — as he robs Craig (Cube) and Day Day on Christmas Eve, getting away with presents and the rent money. The film feels like what most of our holidays are like: trifling relatives, lots of love and laughter and, if we’re lucky, a pink limousine to save the day. Much foolishness ensues, especially from Katt Williams, who is ridiculous as Money Mike.

 

Without Charles Burnett and the L.A. Rebellion, there is no ‘Moonlight’ Why the motion picture academy is honoring the director of a film about slaughtering sheep

There’s no Moonlight without Charles Burnett.

Burnett, 73, is the director best known for his feature debut, Killer of Sheep. But beyond that, he’s the auteur behind To Sleep With Anger, arguably the best performance of Danny Glover’s career. His 1994 film The Glass Shield, which starred Ice Cube, was an exploration of corruption and racism within the Los Angeles Police Department. With 23 directorial credits to his name, Burnett has had a massive impact on independent filmmaking.

On Saturday, he will be honored at the Governors Awards ceremony, where the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences recognizes contributions to the film industry. Its honorees usually include individuals who might not have been acknowledged with Oscars awarded during the academy’s ritzy annual televised fete, and they often include artists who have used their platforms to advocate for social change. Harry Belafonte, for example, received the board’s Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award in 2014.

Nearly 40 years ago, Burnett was an upstart director at the forefront of a movement of students of color enrolled in UCLA’s film school. His thesis film, Killer of Sheep, made on a tiny budget, was beautifully poetic. It was about black people who didn’t have much money, and it starred first-time, untrained actors.

The film follows its main character, Stan (Henry G. Sanders), who works in a slaughterhouse killing — you guessed it — sheep. He hates it, but he needs the income to support his family.

Killer of Sheep is a meditation on blackness, broke-ness and social mobility. It’s a look at how doing something you hate for eight hours a day deadens your soul. And when that job involves taking life from another being, it becomes difficult to separate yourself from that killing and it can make you feel personally targeted by Murphy’s law. There’s a point in Killer of Sheep where Stan is planning to sell an engine to make a little extra cash. Alas, when he and his friend hoist it onto the back of a truck, it falls off almost as soon as they start driving. The engine block gets cracked, rendering it useless, and so they just leave it in the middle of the street, because really, what’s the point?

While he was able to work more than many of his UCLA classmates, Burnett didn’t engage in filmmaking as a way to get rich. Throughout his career, Burnett sought to highlight the humanity of black people and to stay true to his politics. When he wasn’t making his own films, he often served as a cinematographer on others.

The fact that the academy’s board of governors is bestowing an award upon Burnett the same year Moonlight won best picture makes for a lovely tribute and a fitting piece of symmetry. You see, the film that won best picture this year had the tiniest budget of any best picture. It was about black people who didn’t have much money. It starred first-time, untrained actors. It was the first film with an all-black cast to win best picture. It was lauded as a work of cinematic poetry. And Moonlight was helmed by a black director, Barry Jenkins, who, with both Medicine for Melancholy and Moonlight, seems to have carried forth Burnett’s legacy in black independent film.

Killer of Sheep is a meditation on blackness, broke-ness and social mobility.

“There were many movies that should have been recognized before — at least up for an Academy Award or nominated,” Burnett said. “But I hope that what Moonlight does, the effect it would have or should have is that maybe Hollywood would look around and start releasing films that previously they thought would never make it, you know that … no white audience would be interested in. This sort of proves them all wrong, again and again. You know, so I hope it has a big change that they can start recognizing the potential of people who are really interested in seeing human stories, not just the typical car chases and violence continually being represented over and over and over again.”

The L.A. Rebellion

Burnett was part of a movement of filmmakers now known as the L.A. Rebellion. It comprised about 50 filmmakers, including Burnett, Julie Dash (Daughters of the Dust) and Haile Gerima (Sankofa, Ashes and Embers), who attended UCLA film school between 1970 and 1992. Besides black students, it included Chicano and Asian students as well, all working to create a movement that rejected the confines that Hollywood had created for anyone who wasn’t white. The movement began when filmmaker and professor Elyseo J. Taylor began a program in the film department called Film and Social Change. Moonlight’s best picture win, in some ways, was a culmination of mainstream recognition of the principles for which the L.A. Rebellion had long been advocating.

The perspective of the L.A. Rebellion was originally informed by living through the Watts uprising of 1965, chafing at police violence and racism, housing segregation and discrimination. It’s filled with curiosity about black people’s African origins and their connections to their ancestors, and a love and commitment to seeing the beauty in themselves. Often, the works were more experimental than traditional Hollywood fare, rejecting three- or five-act structures with easily identifiable protagonists and antagonists. The work of the L.A. Rebellion was like a black American New Wave, influenced by Third World Film and Italian Neo-Realism because Hollywood was so centered on whiteness and white conceptions of blackness. L.A Rebellion filmmakers didn’t see a place for black authenticity, so they created one.

It was distinct from ’70s blaxploitation and more in the vein of the 1961 adaptation of playwright Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun, although — and this is hugely significant — unlike A Raisin in the Sun director Daniel Petrie, these directors were actually black. They had far more control over the images they were presenting than Hansberry did when she agreed to work on the film version of Raisin, one of the notable depictions of a regular black family in Chicago.

Blaxploitation, which became so popular and so profitable in the 1970s, “didn’t show us who we really are,” Burnett said. “It was basically things that were entertaining at the expense of who we are as people and how it would affect generations to come. It didn’t show us who we are; it didn’t have any empathy.”

Burnett recounted a time, after one of his films had been shown at a festival, when an audience member told him he didn’t realize black people had washing machines.

Washing. Machines.

“I remember … seeing Japanese represent themselves on-screen and I was so surprised and taken, and I started looking at people differently and you see the effect of this constant barrage of distorted images, what it can do to you,” he continued. “So you can sort of understand how people looking at your films, the films of color, you know how it sort of opens their eyes and it makes you aware of people as human beings. I think that’s what art does, it makes you aware of these subtle things that we all share.”

Of all of the L.A. Rebellion filmmakers, Burnett had the most prolific career. Killer of Sheep, now nearly 40 years old, is a breathtaking work, even more so when considering Burnett made it while still a student.

“I was in New York, just starting my music video career, when Charles Burnett’s film — ‘The Sheep Movie,’ as we call it — sort of rattled everybody. … Like, wow, this is a real director,” said Paris Barclay, who in 2013 became the first black and first openly gay person to be elected president of the Directors Guild of America. “He’s one of the reasons why I thought, ‘Hey, a black man can do a feature film like this and rip my heart out? Why can’t I do this?’ It’s one of the things that led me out of music videos into doing feature film and then later television.”

Even though Saturday’s award is going to Burnett, it feels like a win for other directors from the L.A. Rebellion, such as Dash and Gerima. After they spent years outside the Hollywood system, the academy finally invited Dash and Gerima to join its ranks in 2016.

‘Hey, a black man can do a feature film like this and rip my heart out? Why can’t I do this?’

University of California, San Diego professor Zeinabu irene Davis, one of the last filmmakers of the L.A. Rebellion, is largely responsible for curating and preserving its history, which she compiled in the documentary Spirits of Rebellion: Black Independent Cinema From Los Angeles. (She expects Spirits of Rebellion to be released on home video in the next year or so.)

“The legacy of Charles in American cinema is something that should be celebrated in a big way,” Davis said. “You know, too many times in the cinema history books, when you read about black cinema, most of the times it’s just a caption on the side. A still image from Killer of Sheep, and then just a caption underneath it. If you get really lucky, then it might be a paragraph. But I think that there should be more recognition of the contributions that the L.A. Rebellion film movement gave to American cinema, and especially American independent cinema in general. It should be honored, and it should be celebrated with more than just a brief mention.

“I wish there was more places where people could actually get to see his work, or more venues that would honor his work.”

This is what influence looks like

Burnett’s thematic, aesthetic and emotional markers are all over Moonlight, if you know what you’re looking for.

To the filmmakers of the L.A. Rebellion, it wasn’t just important to create works that captured black people as they were, it was also important to include their communities in the storytelling, training them to be crew members or casting them in their films. That was also partly out of financial necessity — it took a village to make a film.

That’s a tradition Jenkins continued with Moonlight, and in interviews he’s talked about the fact that residents of Miami’s Liberty City housing projects appreciated having the Moonlight film crew’s lights around at night. Their presence helped make the neighborhood safer because drug dealers would shoot out the streetlights.

Killer of Sheep does not follow a conventional plot structure because it’s about existing with its main character, going about a day the way Stan does, and understanding why Stan feels the way he does. It’s meant to be contemplative. Moonlight functions similarly with its main character, Chiron. The difference is that it’s divided into three acts, and Chiron is played by three different actors at distinct points in his life.

There’s something striking about Killer of Sheep’s depiction of the dangers of ordinary life, from a scene of children playing on train tracks that has you holding your breath until they’re all safe to Stan’s work in a slaughterhouse. It’s shot in black and white, and the emphasis of the film is on understanding how Stan’s work and financial struggles color his interactions with his family and the way he lives his life. The film boasts an extraordinary soundtrack, which features music such as Paul Robeson singing “The House I Live In.” A tender scene between Stan and his wife (played by Kaycee Moore) is punctuated with Dinah Washington’s “This Bitter Earth.” It’s completely wordless yet utterly effective, not unlike the beach scene between Chiron (Ashton Sanders) and Kevin (Jharrel Jerome).

The bathtub scene in Moonlight, which shows Little (Alex Hibbert) heating water on the stove of his apartment, then carrying it to the tub, feels directly tied to Burnett and his insistence on capturing the unglamorous, everyday life of poor black people and finding the beauty and profundity in it. So do the scenes in which Jenkins captures black children playing, similarly elevated by Nicholas Britell’s score.

“[Burnett’s] someone that’s been long overlooked but is a seminal figure for many of us, along with Spike [Lee] in the late ’80s,” Barclay said. “We were just thinking, who are our voices out there? Who are we emulating? He was one of those people.”

So why is Burnett still a cult figure while Lee is probably the best-known black independent filmmaker of our time?

1) Lee is enormously prolific. He’s like a shark that never stops moving. He’s constantly creating, producing and influencing, and as a result he’s made about three times as many films as Burnett — some of which, admittedly, have been clunkers.

2) Lee is unapologetically outspoken. His Driving Miss Daisy rant is the filmmaker version of Allen Iverson and “practice.”

3) He helped establish his identity by putting himself in his movies. He has, essentially, branded himself. We don’t just know Lee as a director, but as Mars Blackmon, as a man who goes hard for Brooklyn, shows up at AfroPunk and never stops supporting the Knicks. He’s a New York institution.

Burnett, on the other hand, like so many black American jazz artists and social critics, found that he was far more celebrated overseas than he was at home.

“I think that was a saving grace in many ways, going over there and being written about in all the major magazines and newspapers,” Burnett said. “If you know your history, you sort of understand that — not that you accept it — but it makes you aware that things repeat themselves. And also gives you a sense of connectedness in the sense that you can look back at people like [James] Baldwin, Chester Himes and all those folks … like W.E.B. Du Bois. How we’re doing the same thing, and you feel a much closer connection with those folks you know because you experience what they experience. Like Josephine Baker. It’s both a plus and a minus.”

Because we’re still starved for equitable representations of blackness in pop culture despite the explosion of it in the past few years, it can be easy to overlook the parents of such images, especially if you didn’t learn about them in film school. That’s not just because we have short collective memories but because their work is often hard to find. To Sleep With Anger, which won multiple Independent Spirit Awards, can be streamed on Amazon video, but Killer of Sheep is only available on DVD, as is the director’s cut of My Brother’s Wedding. Similarly, when Gerima made Sankofa, the 1993 film that shares its name with his Washington, D.C., bookstore, he couldn’t acquire distribution, so he toured the film himself. It’s still not available on DVD or through a streaming service.

I asked Burnett what needs to happen for the traditions of the L.A. Rebellion to continue, to be remembered, to travel farther than the confines of the art house.

“There needs to be more of an education of the audience that you have to realize that if you see a film that you can respond to, you have to go out and support it immediately,” Burnett said. “You can’t wait for it to come on DVD. You have to show the studios and the producers the fact that these films are appreciated and they can make money, because if you wait till they come on television or on DVD or whatever it is, it loses its importance and effectiveness and influence, and towards influencing studios and people with money to finance these films.”

For the culture: Dodgers and Astros should embrace their cities’ personalities in World Series If sports are a melting pot, why isn’t that reflected in all aspects of the stadium experience?

Alls my life I had to fight/Hard times like, “God!”/ Bad trips like, “Yeah!”/ … But if God got us, then we gon’ be alright!

— “Alright” by Kendrick Lamar


With Game 2 of the World Series between the Los Angeles Dodgers and Houston Astros tied 3-3 heading into the middle of the ninth inning, the Dodgers DJ finally picked a song representative of the situation and of the city where the game was being played.

After spending three days at Dodger Stadium for the pre-World Series media scrum, Game 1 and Game 2, I hadn’t heard much music that originated from the City of Angels.

I heard a lot of Top 40 music — don’t get me wrong, I like that mix — but that music can be played anywhere. In a region that produced the likes of Kendrick Lamar, Dom Kennedy, Dr. Dre, YG, Snoop Dogg, Ice Cube, Tupac Shakur and N.W.A. (artists representative of the city’s toughness, swagger and finesse), why did it take pitcher Kenley Jansen giving up a game-tying home run to the Astros’ Marwin Gonzalez on an 0-2 pitch to tap into that? Picking “Alright” by Lamar, who’s from Compton, California, after the team gave up its 3-1 lead was a smart and timely decision.

Outside of the home runs and scores the Dodgers put on the board, the loudest I heard the crowd in that stadium was when Jansen came out of the bullpen to Shakur’s “California Love” (or Kenleyfornia Love, as he calls it) and when the Dodgers fought back from a 5-3 deficit in the 10th inning and the DJ dropped Dr. Dre’s “Next Episode,” when Los Angeles tied it up, 5-5, going into the 11th. The Astros ended up winning 7-6.

Houston went with a heavy dose of country, rock and Top 40 hits to keep the crowd engaged in Games 3 and 4. Frankly, fans were the loudest when “God Bless America” was played — and the team followed with “Deep in the Heart of Texas.”

Otherwise, the music at Minute Maid Park was almost background noise. It didn’t excite often and certainly didn’t offend. It definitely didn’t get the people going, except for those two songs. Now, in an interesting plot twist, there was a section of fans near Torchy’s Tacos who absolutely loved DMX’s “Roughriders Anthem,” which George Springer had as his walk-up song. They loved it so much they went a cappella and sang it throughout Game 4.

If fans in Houston want to rap the lyrics from the region (New York) they just beat in the American League Championship Series, then go for it. I’m not going to lie and say I wasn’t disappointed that “Grillz,” featuring Paul Wall, couldn’t get some love, since Astros fan Wall offered to give the Astros customized grills (jewelry worn over teeth).

In baseball, much of the city’s musical culture is not about who shows up to represent but rather depends on the selections of its players, the composition of the fan base and the brilliance of the DJ in charge of the playlist. Cody Bellinger and Andrew Toles’ walk-up songs, for instance, are Lamar’s “Humble” and “DNA,” respectively.

The only time I heard music originating from Latin America from either DJ was when Latino players came up to bat. That’s pretty disappointing when you consider that Houston’s Latino population accounted for 35.3 percent of the city’s population in the 2010 census, just 4 percentage points less than white people (39.7), and Los Angeles County and California “have the largest Latino populations of any state or county in the nation,” according to a U.S. Census Bureau report released in 2015.

Just before the start of Game 2, Dodger Stadium played a public service announcement about being courteous to other fans, and the video included almost all Latino children. That was nice to see because in 2014, Latino people took over as California’s largest racial/ethnic group with 14.99 million people in the state. But it reinforced my questions about why I only heard music from the Latin genre when Yasiel Puig, Enrique Hernandez and Yasmani Grandal walked up instead of throughout the game.

No fewer than seven of the 13 position players on Houston’s World Series roster are of Latino heritage. You are bound to hear Latin music in the Astros’ clubhouse. Is it asking too much to blend in some of this music during a three-hour game?

Remember when PSY’s “Gangnam Style” took over Dodger Stadium in 2012? The Korean pop song didn’t just bring Korean people to their feet — fans of all types got in on the Dodger Stadium dance cam action. In that case, and when the Dodgers brought PSY to the stadium in 2013, it was an example of how easy it was to play music inclusive of a community or fan base.

One could argue that inside the ballpark the demographics are not nearly as representative of the overall cities themselves, and the music is being played for the crowd attending. Especially when you’re discussing who does and does not have the disposable income to attend a big four championship event and foot the $1,863 average ticket price.

Fans play a role in the music playlist, but the people playing, at least in the NBA and NFL, are the ones who set the tone with the listening selection. It may not seem like a big deal in the grand scheme of watching a game, but I’ve got to tell you, a good music set can keep fans hyped and locked in.

If both venues can take the time to create food inspired by cultural influences, a more time-consuming task, then is it too much to ask for the stadiums to play music that embodies these different communities on their rosters and in their fan bases? If sports are the melting pot they are billed to be, that should easily extend to music representative of the cities in which the teams play.

On the fifth anniversary of Kendrick Lamar’s ‘good kid, m.A.A.d city,’ California athletes reflect on the epic ‘Sing About Me’ DeMar DeRozan, Chiney Ogwumike and Arron Afflalo remain emotional about Lamar’s most powerful song

I used to be jealous of Arron Afflalo / He was the one to follow.

— Kendrick Lamar, from 2012’s “Black Boy Fly”

Now in his second stint with the Orlando Magic, shooting guard Arron Afflalo, recently of the Sacramento Kings, was one of the key pieces in a 2012 offseason blockbuster: then-superstar center Dwight Howard’s trade to the Los Angeles Lakers. Five years ago, Affalo’s name wasn’t only ringing off in the city internationally known as the home of Walt Disney World — it was also popping off in his hometown of Compton, California.

On Oct. 22, 2012, Afflalo’s fellow Compton native, Kendrick Lamar, had released his much-anticipated second album, good kid, m.A.A.d city (Top Dawg/Aftermath/Interscope). Among big hits songs like “B— Don’t Kill My Vibe,” and “Poetic Justice” (featuring Drake), “Black Boy Fly” was a bonus record — an homage to hometown heroes whose talents survived the streets of South Central Los Angeles: He was the only leader foreseeing brighter tomorrows / He would live in the gym / We was living in sorrow. Lamar rapped these lyrics, remembering the days when Afflalo was the star of their Centennial High School basketball squad: Total envy of him, he made his dream become a reality/ Actually making it possible to swim/ His way up outta Compton/ With further to accomplish.

Caption: Fan-made video of Kendrick Lamar’s “Black Boy Fly.”

Lamar and Afflalo knew of each other, even if they didn’t run in the same crews. Aside from being a star athlete, Afflalo was the school’s biggest supplier of music. “If you heard [50 Cent’s] ‘In Da Club’ coming from a car stereo in Compton in 2003,” he told The Players Tribune, “there’s a really good chance that CD was burned by Arron Afflalo.” Business was so booming that teachers and students alike flooded him with requests ranging from Marvin Gaye to The Hot Boys. One student in particular made an appeal for Jay-Z’s 1996 debut Reasonable Doubt. That classmate was Kendrick Lamar Duckworth, who would eventually become a seven-time Grammy winner with 22 nominations.

DeMar DeRozan #10 of the Toronto Raptors looks on during the game against the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game Four of the Eastern Conference Semifinals during the 2017 NBA Playoffs on May 7, 2017 at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

Good kid, m.A.A.d city, five years old this week, is of course a modern hip-hop classic, one of the true cultural linchpins of the 2010s. The project is a product of a teenage Lamar’s fascination with The Autobiography of Malcolm X as well as his own experiences on Los Angeles’ Rosecrans Avenue, the Louis Burgers where his Uncle Tony was murdered, Gonzales Park, and street corners where gang members served as gatekeepers. It’s a gospel of a Compton life — stories that don’t make it to CNN, and rarely ever leave the neighborhoods. The album reflects growing up in Compton “one thousand percent,” said Toronto Raptors All-Star guard and Compton native DeMar DeRozan. “It takes you back to exact moments of growing up in there. Everything was the norm. Growing up, that’s just what we knew.”

The album’s standout track is an epic bit of storytelling called “Sing About Me. I’m Dying of Thirst.” The song was produced in 2011 by the three-time Grammy-nominated Gabriel “Like” Stevenson of the Los Angeles-based hip-hop trio Pac Div while on Mac Miller’s Blue Slide Park tour. “He hit me back in a couple hours like, this is crazy,” Like recalled Kendrick’s text message after hearing his beat. “I’m writing to it right now in a room with lit candles. I’m like, word, that’s tight,” he said, laughing.

An appropriate setting given the haunting chorus: When the lights shut off and it’s my turn to settle down/ My main concern/ Promise that you will sing about me/ Promise that you will sing about me. The overall narrative of the song is all too familiar to Lamar, Afflalo and DeRozan. The three verses emerge from three different perspectives. The rage inflicted on black bodies unite them. The tales of gun violence, societal ignorance of women’s pain, and survivor’s remorse are common in the United States and around the world.

Arron Afflalo #4 of the Orlando Magic handles the ball during a preseason game against the Dallas Mavericks on October 9, 2017 at the American Airlines Center in Dallas, Texas.

Glenn James/NBAE via Getty Images

“[Kendrick and I] grew up in the same environment,” Afflalo says. “I didn’t really get a sense of nobody else seeing big things in their life the way I did. It’s fulfilling to know there was another young kid, at the same school, that had the same types of dreams. If not bigger.” Those dreams, though, were cultivated through nightmares.

Dumb n—-s like me never prosper/ Prognosis of a problem child, I’m proud and well-devoted/ This Piru s— been in me forever/ So forever I’ma push it wherever, whenever/ And I love you ’cause you love my brother like you did/ Just promise me you’ll tell this story when you make it big/ And if I die before your album drop, I hope… **gunshots**

— Kendrick Lamar, from 2012’s “Sing About Me”

“‘[Sing About Me]’ is the song version of an epic movie,” said Chiney Ogwumike, a rising ESPN broadcaster and forward on the WNBA’s Connecticut Sun. The 2014 No. 1 overall pick and Rookie of the Year is a native of suburban Houston. She was a star sophomore at Stanford University — 200 miles north of Compton — when good kid, m.A.A.d city dropped five Octobers ago.

And she’s right. In many ways, good kid, m.A.A.d city is a remix of Tre Styles’ (Cuba Gooding Jr.) viewpoint in 1991’s landmark Boyz N The Hood—a young black male who grew up in the ‘hood and witnessed its daily joys, pains and fears from the frontline. It’s a comparison Lamar embraced on the song’s second half “Dying of Thirst.” Whereas YG’s 2014’s seminal debut My Krazy Life pinpoints the revolving door of gangbanging and street life seen through Doughboy (Ice Cube).

“The whole purpose … is to describe that lost child that you don’t hear about,” said Ogwumike, focusing on the song’s first verse. Featuring a conversation between Lamar and “a friend” (voiced also by Lamar), following the murder of the friend’s brother, the moment recalls the legendary Either they don’t know Tre and Doughboy conversation following Ricky’s death in Boyz. Twenty years year, Lamar’s friend reasons in the song, America still didn’t know didn’t show or didn’t care what happened in his ‘hood and to his brother.

“It’s crazy, because you never notice it until you’re on the outside, when you’re able to look back at it,”said DeRozan. “I went to a Crip high school [Compton High]. I grew up in a Crip neighborhood. I talk just like him. I walk just like him. I do this just like him. It’s instilled in you, and you follow those rules in a sense of what comes with it. It’s crazy. A lot of people don’t make it out.”

“But now,” Ogwumike said, “you do hear about this child. Now … because of these protests.”

DeRozan said a lot of people should just sit down and dissect “Sing About Me.” “They should understand what he’s talking about. This is an everyday thing! It’s still going on all over the world. There’s all types of inner cities.”

Instagram Photo

The verse is deeper than rap. It’s what Keisha Ross of the Missouri Psychological Association describes as historical trauma. Life in the ghetto is traumatizing. I’m fortunate you believe in a dream, Kendrick raps from the perspective of his slain friend. This orphanage we call a ghetto is quite a routine. Anger, hatred and aggression, she said, are both self-inflicted and inflicted on members of one’s own group. “A lot of people know Kendrick Lamar for who I am today,” he said in 2013. “[But] for me to think the way I do, I had to come from a dark space.”

“I think of people I grew up with, that love basketball and love music in my community,” said Ogwumike. “It’s unfortunate because I feel like not a lot of people understand this day-to-day. A lot of hoopers come from certain situations where they are — or they know people that have been — affected by violence. It’s ingrained within sports culture. It’s a humbling reminder that you have to play every possession with a purpose. You gotta live your life with a purpose overall because you want people to sing about you when you’re gone.”

This is the life of another girl damaged by the system / These foster homes, I run away and never do miss ’em / See, my hormones just run away and if I can get ’em / Back to where they used to be, then I’ll probably be in the denim / Or a family gene that show women how to be woman / Or better yet, a leader, you need her to learn something / Then you probably need to beat her.

— Kendrick Lamar, from 2012’s “Sing About Me”

If the first verse is an example of the suddenness of the loss of black life as it relates to men, the second leans into the harrowing experience of how black women are expunged from society. While it’s tempting to think of it as a 2017 version of Tupac Shakur’s 1991 “Brenda’s Got a Baby.” the verse is actually a continuation of the cautionary tale “Keisha’s Song (Her Pain)” found on Lamar’s “final warm-up,” 2011’s Section.80. In it, Keisha is a prostitute who is raped and murdered. In “Sing About Me,” her sister (voiced by Lamar) responds, furious that Lamar would use her life for gain. This, too, is based on real life.

“I met her … and she went at me about her sister, Keisha,” Lamar told MTV days after the album’s release, “basically saying she didn’t want her … business out there and if your album do come out, don’t mention me, don’t sing about me.” Keisha’s sister falls down the same path. How could you ever just put her on blast and s—?/ Judging her past and s—?, he raps, Well, it’s completely my future / Her n—a behind me right now asking for a– and s— / And I’ma need that $40 / Even if I gotta f—, suck and swallow.

She doesn’t die in a hail of gunfire. And with beings such as Shaniya Davis, Sandra Bland and the 276 schoolgirls abducted by Boko Haram as tragic contemporaries, Keisha’s sister, her voice, her pain and the resentment for the only society she knows just fades away. Almost as if she was never here.

Chiney Ogwumike #13 of the Connecticut Sun prepares to shoot a free throw against the Minnesota Lynx during a WNBA game on September 4, 2016 at Target Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Jordan Johnson/NBAE via Getty Images

“When you have a man who uses his platform to show how women are independent, but then also face even more adversity than their brothers — it’s everything,” Ogwumike said with a sigh. “That was superpowerful to me, about how she’s trying to make a way for herself in any way possible. But that way may end up being her demise. It needs to be told. It needs to be destigmatized.”

And you’re right, your brother was a brother to me / And your sister’s situation was the one that pulled me / In a direction to speak on something / That’s realer than the TV screen / By any means, wasn’t trying to offend or come between/ Her personal life, I was like ‘It need to be told’/ Cursing the life of 20 generations after her soul/ Exactly what would happen if I ain’t continue rappin’/ Or steady being distracted by money, drugs and four-fives …

Kendrick Lamar and DeMar DeRozan are friends. They’re both from Compton. Their high schools are separated by three miles. What links the two creatives isn’t recognizable off the rip — both suffer from survivor’s remorse.

For Lamar, stories of those who never escaped Compton are spirits tattooed on his soul as his career continues to ascend, as his all-time great portfolio has fans including former president Barack Obama, Beyoncé, Compton’s own Serena Williams, LeBron James, Russell Westbrook and Dave Chappelle. These tattooed spirits will never see the birth of the “new Compton” led by Mayor Aja Brown. Why did they have to die while I live? How could God let this happen Did they suffer?

For DeRozan, a three-time All-Star and 2016 Olympic gold medalist, success does little to erase the pain of the past. In many ways, it only intensifies. “It’s something I deal with,” he said. “I lost a lot of friends that was with me when I was younger, but I took a different route … Then you get a phone call hearing something happened. You start to say, ‘Damn, if I just would’ve took them with me, or if they would’ve stayed with me, this wouldn’t have happened.’ ”

good kid, m.A.A.d city, a half-decade later, is a form of counseling for DeRozan. It’s way deeper than words over beats. It’s his life on what has become the metaphorical wax. But perhaps more than any lyric from the song, its final lines resonate more than anything as he prepares to enter his ninth season in Toronto — 2,500 miles from the place he first called home: Compton.

Am I worth it, Kendrick ponders. Did I put enough work in?

“That’s everything,” DeMar said. “You get to a point where you start questioning yourself sometimes. People don’t feel my pain, and my passion that I’m putting into it. But in the midst of questioning yourself, you find a new inspiration to keep pushing, and be even greater to get that point across.”

He pauses for a second. “I take that approach in everything that I do.”

Forty years later, George Clinton’s Mothership is still landing A look back at the P-Funk — and a look ahead

George Clinton, the big-picture man behind the music juggernaut that came to be known as P-Funk, talked big trash on Parliament’s Chocolate City, tormenting white keepers of the status quo about the African-American majorities in the nation’s capital and other urban cities bogarting local political power. The large-scale power grab, Clinton fantasized on the album’s title song, was a prelude to electing the first black president of the United States — Muhammad Ali.

Provocative ideas for the time (early 1975), yes. But Clinton had larger targets in mind and knew where he had to go to hit them. He had to go astro. “We had put blacks in places where they had never been perceived to be,” Clinton said in an interview with The Undefeated. “So the next one was to have blacks in outer space, and I knew that a clones concept would get it too. It was thought of even before we did the Mothership Connection studio album.”

The “it” that Clinton speaks of was a funk attack of successive studio albums by Parliament, 1975’s Mothership Connection and 1976’s The Clones of Dr. Funkenstein, with tales of blacks as street-savvy “afronauts” returning to Earth to reclaim secrets hidden inside Egyptian pyramids, including “using science to cheat death.”

Those record projects begot the P-Funk Earth Tour in 1976 and ’77. The concert offered pimps as stage characters, lyrics that equated the band’s music style, uncut funk, with pure cocaine and a prop that the Smithsonian Institution describes as the most iconic stage prop ever: “A huge, multicolored-lights-flashing, smoke-spitting spaceship that landed onstage during a gospel-heavy call-and-response rendition of ‘Swing Down, Sweet Chariot’ ” that whipped audiences into spiritual frenzy.

“Only if P-Funk could sell their records to a mass pop audience, and thus encourage whites to attend their concerts in force, would whites feel safe.”

And off the spaceship came Dr. Funkenstein, one of Clinton’s lasting musical characters, in a floor-length fur coat striking a pimp pose with his index finger held straight beneath his nostrils.

Parliament’s label then, Casablanca Records, captured the hugely successful tour on record, releasing Parliament Live: P-Funk Earth Tour on May 5, 1977. Acknowledging the 40th anniversary of the double-album release, Clinton talked about how the tour came together and why the band’s music and philosophies, particularly from that double album, have endured for generations. Ever the salesman, Clinton also took the opportunity to hype “I’m Gonna Make You Sick,” which, when released this fall, will be the first Parliament song to be released since 1980.

Need convincing of the Live P-Funk Earth Tour’s impact? A replica of the original mothership anchors the Musical Crossroads exhibition at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C. Music from the album has been sampled by a who’s who of hip-hop: Common, 50 Cent, Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, Digable Planets, Public Enemy and Ice Cube. Listen closely to the opening drum rolls on Kendrick Lamar’s 2012 “The Heart Pt. 3 (Will You Let It Die)” and it’s clear the inspiration came from P-Funk drummer Jerome “Bigfoot” Brailey’s drum intro on the live version of “Do That Stuff.” The influence on Lamar can also be heard on To Pimp A Butterfly’s “King Kunta” (2015): A female vocalist repeats, “We want the funk” in a nod to the Earth Tour’s “Tear the Roof Off the Sucker.” Afrofuturism artists such as the Sa-Ra Creative Partners and Flying Lotus acknowledge that their baptism into the movement came from the P-Funk Earth Tour.

“It was a dream of myself and Neil Bogart of Casablanca Records,” Clinton said. “He did it for us, Kiss and Donna Summer at the same time. He was a promotion man. He got behind us and backed all of us. And then we had the music from Bernie Worrell, Bootsy Collins, Garry Shider, Glenn Goins, Fred Wesley and Maceo, Eddie Hazel. He knew, especially after Chocolate City, that we knew what we were doing.”

Rickey Vincent, a lecturer in African-American studies at the University of California, Berkeley, and author of the 1996 book Funk The Music, The People, And the Rhythm of The One, said the P-Funk Earth Tour was a logical culmination in the mid- to late 1970s toward larger shows and profits in the music business. But there was more to it. “George can say he was just clowning, but at the same time he understands the ethos of soul music,” Vincent said. “And that is to put black people in a better place. You don’t have to be an ethnomusicologist to understand a lot of underlying themes in black music into the ’70s was ‘We’re going to be free.’ You can’t get much freer than outer space and reclaiming the power that came with building pyramids in Africa.”

Clinton has never claimed to be a guru. He shuns such talk. To hear him tell it, he just wanted to be big. Actually, the biggest. “The Who, David Bowie, Rolling Stones. I’d seen them all do those big shows, big productions, and I wanted to do one with funk music,” Clinton said. “I wanted to have a prop that not only was deeper than anything that any black group had done but bigger than any white group had done.”

The Earth Tour was a massive undertaking. And costly. Clinton said Parliament’s record label set up a $1 million loan for him, and he turned to Jules Fisher, a Tony Award-winning lighting designer whose work included Jesus Christ Superstar and Chicago. Fisher designed the stage set and props for Earth Tour, according to Clinton.

The show demanded that the band, famous for its onstage looseness and improvisation that could stretch a four-minute studio song into a 20-minute live jam, play and move with discipline. The show was essentially scripted. So the band needed to rehearse, and it did for two or three weeks, Clinton said, at a onetime airplane hangar in Newburgh, New York. He put Maceo Parker, the saxophone player who had joined P-Funk after years with James Brown, in charge. “Anybody from the James Brown bands, I don’t care if it’s Bootsy, Maceo, Fred Wesley, you learn so much discipline,” Clinton said. “They can pretty much run s—. And Maceo and Fred are so diplomatic. They know the writing side, they know the musician side. They made it so much easier.

“With the [P-Funk Earth Tour], we had props moving around. You had to be in a certain spot at a certain time. If not, that spaceship might knock upside your head.”

The Earth Tour opened on Oct. 26, 1976, at the Municipal Auditorium in New Orleans. The band discovered right away that the show’s “script” was all wrong. “They had the mothership land first, at the opening of the show. That was the climax. As great as the band was, there was nothing we could do to top that spaceship landing,” Clinton said.

By the next show, the mothership landing came near the concert’s end. With that change, audience excitement and anticipation for seeing the mothership soared. And singer/guitarist Goins took full advantage. His vocal pleading with the audience to join him in calling for the mothership to land during a psychedelic, funky-church arrangement of “Swing Down, Sweet Chariot” elevated the live show to what many describe as a religious experience.

The energy jumps off the record. Brailey’s thumping foot on the bass drum. (“We want it to feel like a heartbeat,” Clinton said on the recording.) Worrell’s keyboard and synthesizer strokes filling in around, behind and on top of the rhythms. The crowd in the Oakland Coliseum clapping in unison on The One and answering Goins’ call for the mothership, singing, “Swing down sweet chariot stop and let me ride.”

The mothership lands. Audience screams fill the venue. They explode louder still when Clinton as Dr. Funkenstein disembarks the spaceship.

“It was like I was going back to church,” said Vincent, who witnessed the Earth Tour as a teenager. “They were signifying, bringing back those dreams.”

Parliament Live P-Funk Earth Tour captured all that sound and emotion during shows in January 1977 at the Los Angeles Forum and the Oakland Coliseum. The album offered live versions of hit after hit: “P-Funk (Wants to Get Funked Up),” “Do That Stuff,” “Mothership Connection,” “Dr. Funkenstein,” “Tear the Roof off the Sucker,” “Undisco Kidd.” Eleven live songs in all, plus three new studio cuts.

The release stayed on the Billboard 200 album charts for 19 weeks, a May through September achievement even more impressive because the music was undeniably black and urban — as were most of the audiences at the Earth Tour shows. At that point, even with huge promotion from Parliament’s record label and free publicity generated by coverage of the never-before-seen spaceship landing in mainstream newspapers and newsweekly magazines, P-Funk Earth Tour had gained little crossover traction. Why? In early September 1977, John Rockwell, a writer for The New York Times, offered white fear as an explanation.

A replica of the original mothership anchors the Musical Crossroads exhibition at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture.

“P-Funk music isn’t a real mass success yet because whites have grown afraid of black concerts in general. … In the big urban centers it’s mostly a black crowd, and whether it’s realistic or not, whites seem to be scared: There are too many reports of black gangs terrorizing isolated whites at black concerts,” Rockwell wrote. “Only if P-Funk could sell their records to a mass pop audience, and thus encourage whites to attend their concerts in force, would whites feel safe. But since their dazzling stage show helps sell the records, they have a self-perpetuating problem.”

Still, the album achieved platinum status. That summer, Billboard 200 album charts listed live concert albums from Marvin Gaye, Al Jarreau, Lonnie Liston Smith, the Bee Gees and two from the Beatles. In early August 1977, 16 of Billboard’s Top 200 albums were live concert recordings. In the same time span this summer, not a single live album was on the Billboard 200 chart. Live concert audio releases are no longer a thing, and not just because of DVDs.

Vincent, the funk history author, believes that artists take some of the blame for the disappearance of live concert recordings. In the late 1980s, he said, standards for live performances were lowered and bad reviews followed. Demand for lackluster concert recordings nose-dived, Vincent said.

Dexter Story, a Los Angeles-based musician and producer who has been marketing director for record labels such as Priority, Bad Boy and Def Jam, thinks fans just turned to a different product to get what they used to get from live records.

“People like bonus material — remixes,” Story said. “Back then, in ’77, the live album was the bonus material. As a fan, getting live albums was a treat. The live interpretations of what the musicians had done in the studio were a treat as well.”

In late July, Story produced a show for the venerable Grand Performances summer concert series in Los Angeles. It was called Mothership Landing: Funk and The Afrofuturist Universe of ’77. Music from the P-Funk Earth Tour dominated the set. “They asked me what I wanted to do,” Story said. “I chose to focus on 1977 and Afrofuturism. It was a great opportunity for me to go back to my funk roots.”

Music from P-Funk — Parliament, Funkadelic, Bootsy’s Rubber Band, the Horny Horns and others — carried the show. “As I started to transcribe their music for the concert, I found out it was a lot more complicated and complex. There was a complexity to that music that I hadn’t fully appreciated.”

That music — much of it credited to Clinton, Worrell and Collins — is one reason P-Funk has endured, Story believes. “They were laying a foundational aspect of rhythm that was informed by James Brown and Sly Stone,” Story said. “On top of that, they added jazz-influenced horns … four- and five-part horn harmonies. The horn players were jazz musicians. Another level was the church sound in the voices, gospel-influenced vocals. And still another level was Bernie Worrell. He was speaking on keyboards to me. From piano to organ to Moog, he was speaking.

“Lastly, you’ve got the layer of George Clinton on top of all of that great sound. I just gave you the ingredients of a P-Funk sandwich,” Story said. “Now, go ahead. Take a bite.”

A number of the musicians and vocalists who performed on P-Funk Earth Tour record have died. They include Worrell, Garry “Diaperman” Shider, Goins, Richard “Kush” Griffith, Cordell “Boogie” Mosson and Ray Davis. Among the other players, only former Bootsy’s Rubber Band vocalist Gary “Mudbone” Cooper currently tours with Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic. Michael “Kidd Funkadelic” Hampton, Brailey, Fuzzy Haskins, Calvin Simon, Grady Thomas, Parker, Wesley, Rick Gardner, Lynn Mabry, Dawn Silva, Debbie Wright and Jeanette Washington have left the touring band. Some still show up on P-Funk-related studio projects, such as Funkadelic’s 33-song First, You Gotta Shake the Gate, released in 2014.

The massive change in touring personnel isn’t surprising, considering four decades have passed since the P-Funk Earth Tour. So much time has passed that Clinton’s Chocolate City is no longer majority black, and his fantasy of a black U.S. president actually happened. But Clinton tinkers with the band regularly. Adds new musicians. Brings back former ones. Introduces new sounds such as violin, mandolin and the didgeridoo.

“It’s hard to keep a band together over time. We get older and settled down, and want to do other things,” he said. “And there’s always a need for young legs and vibes. Younger players bring an energy. And you need that, especially the way I push the band. You have to have young legs to be out there.”

For his latest iteration of Parliament Funkadelic, Clinton leans heavily on family. There’s his son, Tracey Lewis Clinton, and three of Tracey’s children; Clinton’s stepdaughter; and another of his grandchildren, this one the daughter of Clinton’s daughter, Barbarella Bishop. The drummer, Benzel Cowan, is the son of longtime and current P-Funk trumpet player Bennie Cowan. And guitarist and vocalist Garrett Shider is the son of Shider, the band’s diaper-wearing musical director who served as Clinton’s No. 2 from the early ’80s until his death in 2010.

“Garrett was born into the band,” Clinton said. “He’d be backstage with his mother, Linda. We called him ‘Soundcheck.’ ” In keeping the strong family theme, Garrett Shider recently released his first solo CD, Hand Me Down Diapers. It includes contributions from George and Tracey Clinton and other P-Funk band members. The project is a heartfelt tribute to his father and sounds like Funkadelic during the Hardcore Jollies days.

“George was really good when my father passed, bringing me into the group,” said Garrett Shider, who joined Clinton on the road full time in 2011. “He knew I needed some help. It was his way of making sure he was looking out for his right-hand man’s son.”

Such strong family connections in the music business aren’t commonplace now, and if they exist, they aren’t factored into artists’ branding. That wasn’t always so. Black music groups often made family connections, real or contrived, part of their marketing strategy. The Jackson 5. The Five Stairsteps. Sly and the Family Stone. The Isley Brothers. The Sylvers, Pointer Sisters, The Brothers Johnson, DeBarge, and Earth, Wind & Fire. More recently, there’s Jodeci. And, of course, Wu-Tang Clan.

“There are not a lot of groups anymore, first of all,” Clinton said. “Hip-hop artists have different styles, and so many are focused on an individual. Plus, the record companies will try to separate you anyway. Wu-Tang has done it well.” For Clinton, bringing in family was relatively easy. “They all grew up together, basically. They knew each other,” he said.

“They were all doing different styles of music, and they were doing well. We were able to put them together. Younger musicians do things differently. They don’t mind sometimes playing live over recorded backing tracks. We just play on top of it. You get the best of both worlds.”

Clinton said he will release his first Parliament studio project since 1980’s Trombipulation by the end of 2017. It’s called Medicaid Fraud Dog. The first single from the album, “I’m Gonna Make You Sick,” should be released by the end of October.

“My son, Tracey, and my stepdaughter, Brandi, did a lot of work on the album,” Clinton said. “Lots of good sounds and grooves on it. Scarface is on the single. We’re doing three or four remixes. Junie Morrison [former member of P-Funk] was working on one of the remixes when he died.”

He plans for the single to be available just before he takes a short break from his current tour. Clinton still performs more than 200 live dates annually. “We still sell out all over the world,” Clinton said. “We work, ’cause it’s a job.”

Don’t join the rush to condemn ‘Game of Thrones’ team behind HBO’s ‘Confederate’ Whiteness does not prevent wokeness

There are as many reasons to worry about the next project from the Game of Thrones showrunners — an HBO series called Confederate, about an America where slavery still exists — as Queen Cersei has reasons to worry about her head staying attached to her neck.

But let’s give David Benioff and D.B. Weiss a chance. Whiteness does not prevent wokeness. And fiction can be more penetrating than fact, particularly in this era when too many people argue that the Civil War wasn’t about slavery.

On Wednesday, HBO announced the forthcoming drama, written and executive produced by Benioff and Weiss, who turned the Thrones fantasy novels into a global phenomenon. Confederate is set in an alternate reality where the South won the Civil War. “Slavery remains legal and has evolved into a modern institution,” HBO said in a statement. “The story follows a broad swath of characters on both sides of the Mason-Dixon Demilitarized Zone  —  freedom fighters, slave hunters, politicians, abolitionists, journalists, the executives of a slave-holding conglomerate and the families of people in their thrall.”

The biggest reason to worry about Confederate is Game of Thrones’ troublesome relationship with race.

Benioff and Weiss’ show is almost devoid of blackness. Only two minor characters had African features, and they’re both long gone. Two current minor characters appear biracial: Grey Worm, who has no testicles, and Missandei, an ex-slave doomed to love Grey Worm when she’s not busy as Daenerys’ servant. The brown-skinned Dothraki are a stereotypical savage horde, reveling in public sex and the consumption of raw animal organs — and they worshipped fair Daenerys, of course. Overall, Thrones is so Eurocentric, even a dude named Shagga is white.

Such whiteness is somewhat to be expected, given that George R.R. Martin, author of the A Song of Ice and Fire books that are the basis of Game of Thrones, says his world of Westeros is a fantasy analogue of the British Isles. “There weren’t many Asians in Yorkish England either,” Martin told a mournful fan in 2014. And Thrones delivers equal-opportunity barbarism, with white characters perpetrating an enormous variety of depraved and disturbing crimes.

But still. Dragons are born of a human mother in Game of Thrones. People return from the dead. Undead ice-fiends are marching south. But we can’t get a brother up in King’s Landing? C’mon, y’all.

Folks on Twitter predictably trashed the Confederate press release, questioning whether white writers could be trusted with such a deeply black story. In a more nuanced critique, David Perry, a writer and professor of history at Dominican University in suburban Chicago, expressed concern over Thrones’ treatment not only of race but of sexual violence as well.

“The showrunners have been defensive when engaged on these issues,” Perry, a Thrones fan, said by email. “Their decisions have been troubling here, and we’re only dealing with a medievalish fantasy world. … I am skeptical that they have the listening skills and humility to adeptly handle the even more tense subject matter of American slavery.

“You can’t do a show about American slavery without engaging the history of rape of enslaved women,” Perry continued. “Can we trust the people who decided to make the rape of Sansa about Theon’s emotions to portray that kind of trauma? I am always willing to be proved wrong. I always want to believe artists can develop and improve. But I’m deeply skeptical.”

But Cheo Hodari Coker, showrunner for the Netflix series Luke Cage, dismissed the critiques of “armchair Twitter cultural nationalists” and cautioned against judging a TV concept by its press release — or even by the creators’ previous work. Coker also expressed confidence that the involvement of black executive producer/writers Nichelle Tramble Spellman and Malcolm Spellman, who have worked on shows such as Empire and The Good Wife, will ensure that the explosive premise is handled with sensitivity.

“You can’t always apply someone’s previous creative track record to the work that hasn’t been done yet,” said Coker, who is friends with Benioff and Malcolm Spellman. “The Ice Cube of Straight Outta Compton is different from the Ice Cube that collaborated with the Bomb Squad, and different from the Ice Cube that made Are We There Yet? Just because there were elements of the Dothraki and some of these things that were problematic on Game of Thrones, does that mean this new concept will be equally problematic? No. You have to see it first.”

Responding to the criticism in an interview with Vulture, Weiss said, “It’s a science-fiction show. One of the strengths of science fiction is that it can show us how this history is still with us in a way no strictly realistic drama ever could, whether it were a historical drama or a contemporary drama.”

Despite America’s long history of white storytellers seizing and misrepresenting black life, white writers have inhabited many authentic and classic black characters. Langston Hughes called Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin a “moral battle cry for freedom.” Richard Price illuminated the world of corner crack hustlers in Clockers. David Simon created some of the greatest (quasi) fictional black characters in American history with The Wire (which could actually be the most realistic depiction of an America where slavery never died).

The recent best-selling novel Underground Airlines explores the same premise as Confederate — what if slavery never ended? — in powerful and thought-provoking ways. It was written by a white author, Ben E. Winters. His protagonist is a black escaped slave, trapped into tracking down other fugitives. Winters’ research included reading slave narratives, contemporary and classic African-American literature, histories of slavery and the generations after slavery, and just talking to regular black folks about their modern lives.

“As we all know, our country has a long literary history of white people telling black stories and writing in black voices, and a lot of it is pretty gross,” Winters told me last year. “It was my aim from the outset to not be one of those. To bring empathy and intelligence to a work of speculative fiction that was also engaged with the great social issue of our time.

“The novel rose out of my powerful and sad sense of all the ways the shadow of slavery hangs over our country,” Winter said. “All the institutions and attitudes that were shaped during those centuries are still with us.”

They will be with us again when Confederate hits HBO, undoubtedly under great scrutiny. Game of Thrones is one of the towering achievements of this golden television age, largely because of the immense talents of Benioff and Weiss. Let’s see how they apply those talents to the great social issue of our time. Let them make their art, and then let them win or die. There is no middle ground.

For Kenyon Martin, the next chapter includes finding peace in family and BIG3 league The 39-year-old knew finding himself outside of basketball wouldn’t be a problem

On a sunny, 83-degree day in Camden, New Jersey, more than 300 kids were gathered at the North Camden Community Center for a free basketball clinic sponsored in part by the BIG3 basketball league. Cheerleaders from the South Jersey Fire cheer squad pumped up the crowd before groups of children from first to eighth grades took center court, participating in basketball warm-up drills. The older groups, ninth grade and up, did the same on the outside courts.

In front of the community center, a black, unmarked sprinter van carrying former NBA forward/center Kenyon Martin and former NBA guard Andre Owens pulled up to the building. When the two entered, all activities temporarily ceased as a group of participants rushed to surround the ballers. From the looks on their faces, it was plain to see that some kids were unfamiliar with Martin and Owens, who were in their prime before some of them were conceived. On the other hand, there were looks of admiration from the older boys and girls who instantly recognized Martin — he was drafted No. 1 overall by the New Jersey Nets in 2000 and played four seasons for them — before they started toward him for pictures and autographs.

This is Martin’s life post-NBA retirement. Not as grueling as an NBA schedule, but just the right amount of activity to keep him busy. Outside of appearances, Martin finds himself making up for the family time he lost during his 15 hectic seasons in the NBA.

“I got five little ones, and for me, being at home, being able to take my youngest son — who’s into wrestling — to WrestleMania for his birthday means everything,” Martin said. “Going to my daughter’s ballet recitals. All that kind of stuff. That’s what outweighed the NBA for me. Not playing in the league and only [playing in the BIG3] one day a week, it’s an opportunity for me to be there and do things that I missed out on while I was playing and just growing and building as a family. I just want to be their dad, be their father. They didn’t ask to be here. I love them dearly, and I’m going to do my part.”

These days, Martin represents a league that is quickly becoming a favorite among fans of BIG3, the 3-on-3 basketball league created by Ice Cube. Martin serves as captain for team Trilogy, which includes players Al Harrington, Rashad McCants, James White, Dion Glover, Jannero Pargo and is coached by former Detroit Pistons Bad Boy Rick Mahorn.

Kenyon Martin #4 of Trilogy drives to the basket against Reggie Evans #30 of Killer 3s during week one of the BIG3 three on three basketball league at Barclays Center on June 25, 2017 in New York City.

Al Bello/Getty Images

According to Martin, Ice Cube contacted him directly to discuss his vision for the league and the mission behind it. It didn’t take long to persuade Martin to take up the offer to join other former players back on the court for competitive games. Before they hung up, Martin was sold.

“[Ice Cube] grew up a Lakers fan, of course, but a lot of us have been a part of people’s living rooms and barbershop talks for the last 20-plus years,” Martin said. “For you not to see those guys play anymore … Ice Cube was giving us the opportunity to continue our careers at a less strenuous pace: playing half-court, playing 3-on-3 and only one game per week.”

‘Basketball wasn’t my life’

Before retirement, Martin was confident in his abilities to continue playing basketball and knew he still had what it took to help a team win, but he decided to make his 15th season his last go-round in the professional realm after noticing how much interest from NBA teams had dwindled. In July 2015, Martin made it official.

“I loved basketball, I loved competing, I loved being out there, but I looked at it as I was going to work and I treated it as such,” Martin said. “But basketball wasn’t my life. Some people don’t know what to do without the game.”

“Teams didn’t have any interest in my services, and that’s a telltale sign,” Martin said. “… Once I got waived, that was my key for me to step away. I’m too prideful to be put in those kinds of situations. I know my abilities and I know what I was still capable of doing, but if can’t nobody else see it and these other teams can’t see it, then I can’t force them to see it. It was time for me to put the NBA in the past.”

Although the decision was easy for Martin, he hadn’t anticipated the rough transition from a professional basketball player to immediately finding a normalized lifestyle that worked for him. One thing Martin knew for sure was that defining himself outside of basketball wouldn’t be a problem. For Martin, basketball was the way he earned a living — it was never his identity.

“I loved basketball, I loved competing, I loved being out there, but I looked at it as I was going to work and I treated it as such,” Martin said. “But basketball wasn’t my life. Some people don’t know what to do without the game. They don’t know where to turn to. From what I grew up and came out of, making it out of high school was a big deal. If you do anything after that, it’s a plus. Where I’m from … no former athletes come back and talk. None of that. I had to learn on the fly. There was no, ‘You can be good at this if you do this.’ For me, it was just making sure I was a productive member of society and not being a burden to nobody. I played basketball, football and baseball growing up. I played all three of them up until high school. I was tall and athletic, so I just decided to stick with it.”

Kenyon Martin #4 of Trilogy and Rashard Lewis #9 of the 3 Headed Monsters walk off of the court together after their game during week two of the BIG3 three on three basketball league at Spectrum Center on July 2, 2017 in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Grant Halverson/Getty Images

Yet, catching a glimpse of basketball games still sparked feelings of frustration. The thought of not being able to walk onto an NBA court was emotionally taxing, but Martin prioritized his time by setting aside moments during his day to “soul search” and found ways to center himself through his family.

Out of his five kids — three girls and two boys, ages 16, 14, 12, 3 and 2 — Martin noticed the natural skills his son, Kenyon Martin Jr., possessed in the sport his father chose more than two decades ago. The high school sophomore and eldest of Martin’s kids is already on recruiters’ radar.

“He’s 16 now, and he’s more skillful than I was at his age,” Martin said. “He handles and dribbles the ball better, but I was always athletic and I always played hard. That separated me from a lot of people. And he’s getting there, but he’s just starting to turn a corner where he realizes he has to play harder than everybody all the time. I was successful at what he’s trying to do, which is be a professional basketball player, so all I can do is guide him. I know what it takes to get there. I’m just trying to help him achieve his goals in life. It’s my job and my obligation to give him all the tools and put him in the right situation so he can try to make that happen for himself.”

Giving the fans what they want

When he’s not juggling family and basketball, Martin is spending time finding his next venture.

“I’ve been doing the TV thing. Me and Michael Rapaport have an NBA show [Two Man Weave] we do,” Martin said. “There’s a new coconut water I’m part owner in called Life Recovery; it’s in 7-Eleven now. I have a car service in Los Angeles that we’re trying to expand, but I’m just trying to figure it out. I have a few other things that I’m interested in. Moving forward, I think I’m a hell of a cook — I can get on that grill. I’m a Texan, so I think my barbecue is immaculate. I might do some TV shows for cooking and a few other things. I’m just trying to see what’s gonna stick without being pigeonholed to one thing with basketball. I’m just trying to put some things in a few different hats and see what sticks for me.”

Martin hasn’t been on the court since Week 1 of the BIG3’s schedule because of a pulled hamstring, an injury he’d never suffered throughout his collegiate or professional career, but he will be ready to roll for Week 5 in Chicago. The following stop, July 30 in Dallas, will be a homecoming of sorts for Martin, who grew up in Oak Cliff, an area of South Dallas.

“Dallas is going to be fun,” Martin said. “It’s not my first time playing there, but this is something new to give friends and family the opportunity to play. It’s been a few years, so it gives them an opportunity to get to see me do my thing again on this level with these guys. My mom and my family are all excited.”

The show, the after-party, the hotel — live from The 2017 ESPYS Peyton Manning, LL Cool J, Ice Cube made all the memories

It’s one thing to watch an awards show on TV. It’s different to be there in person. And it’s totally different to actually have to work it. You see everything. You hear everything. And, most importantly, you feel everything. For example, it was impossible not to shed tears when Jarrius Robertson was handed the Jimmy V Perseverance Award. Goose bumps arrived when former first lady Michelle Obama graced the stage to honor Special Olympics founder Eunice Kennedy Shriver. But for those who require a more intimate view of what The ESPYS were like, I’m glad you’re here. Follow along.

The Red Carpet Hustle

This was my first red carpet experience. I didn’t know what to expect going in, but as the great songwriting philosopher Jay-Z once said, Fresh out the frying pan/ Into the fryer. Once it’s on, it’s on. Publicists coming up to you asking if you want to speak to their clients. Jumping on the carpet and chasing people down to speak to them. It looks glamorous on TV, but it’s a haze in real life. From Malcolm Jenkins, Draya Michele, Josh Norman, Dak Prescott, Derrick Johnson and more. Sweating in a suit and standing for three hours isn’t glamorous. But if you get a chance to do it, I recommend it.

Peyton Manning’s opening monologue

Manning didn’t say, “Omaha!” which remains a severe disappointment, but his opening monologue? Yeah, he did that. There wasn’t much doubt as to whether the two-time Super Bowl-winning signal-caller would do well at hosting. He’s one of the more personable athletes in sports, with a list of comedic moments to his name already — his Saturday Night Live appearances are some of the funniest spots in the show’s history. But believe me when I tell you this: His Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook joke had everyone in the building laughing while also saying, “Yikes.” K.D.’s and Westbrook’s reaction was all that needed to be said. Then he followed it up with a quip about the Atlanta Falcons blowing the biggest lead in Super Bowl history. For what it’s worth, Jamie Foxx is still the greatest of all time ESPYS host. Justin Timberlake and Drake were pretty good as well. But The Sheriff was on one last night.

LL Cool J’s catalog is certified

I’ll be the first to admit I was hesitant about attending a party that featured LL Cool J as headliner. He’s a hip-hop icon and should be the next rapper inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. But it’s 2017, LL’s a TV star, and music doesn’t necessarily feel like his main objective anymore (which is totally understandable), combined with the fact that Naughty By Nature had performed at ESPN The Magazine’s Body Party the night before with extremely limited success (for the record, Naughty was cool, but the trio really only has a handful of songs that cross over).

Needless to say, any concerns I had about LL walking into the Microsoft Theater in downtown Los Angeles were quickly alleviated. His catalog is deep. He came out to “Mama Said Knock You Out.” Then there was “I’m Bad.” “I Can’t Live Without My Radio,” too. By far, though, the highlight of LL’s set was the Total-assisted “Who Do You Love.” The entire venue instantly went back to 1996. Everyone danced with each other and sang the hook in unison, Who do you love?/ Are you for sure?

The ESPYS Post Party Presented by Coors Light.

Kohjiro Kinno / ESPN Images

The energy kicked up when LL brought out Ice Cube and WC to perform “Bow Down” and “Gangsta Nation.” Also, if you ever needed proof that Cube is a living legend, check and see how a room full of people react to his (and N.W.A.’s) “Straight Outta Compton.” There’s something about yelling, Straight Outta Compton, crazy m—-f—– named Ice Cube/ From a gang called N—-s With Attitude. All in all, LL won last night. The only complaint I had was he didn’t do “Paradise” with Amerie. Or “I Need Love.”

There’s always an after-party to the after-party

About 2 1/2 hours into the official after-party is when people begin planning their next move. It’s Los Angeles. There’s always another move. There was a Vanity Fair move. And an Uninterrupted one that was apparently full before it even began because everyone was texting everyone else to see who they knew who could get them in. The trick is, if you’re going out, you can’t overdo it at the open bar. Which, let me be perfectly clear, is much easier said than done. You’re always convincing yourself one more drink can’t hurt when it doesn’t hurt your bank account. And nights like that normally end with 3:30 a.m. trips to Subway. I should know.

The hotel

Just don’t be that guy, slightly inebriated at near 4 in the morning, standing on the elevator wondering why the JW Marriott has a dysfunctional elevator because it won’t take you to your floor. You’re pressing “7” to take you to your floor, but it’s not going anywhere. You’re standing with a delicious Subway sandwich in your hand, and all you want to do is eat and fall asleep, but you can’t because the elevator is broken. You seriously waste a good five minutes mad because the establishment won’t let you be great — or maybe it was doing you a favor, because did you really need Subway at near 4 in the morning? Of course you didn’t, you savage. Then you realize you have to scan your card, and you feel like an idiot. I should know.

Celebrating family: A few famous children and their famous parents Here are some you know, and others you might not

Many athletes, artists, actors and other superstars have followed in the footsteps of their parents. Some we see on the big screen, others we see on the field or basketball court. Others are behind the director’s chair making some of our favorite films. And we are all here for it.

In 2016 when the HBO hit series Ballers graced the scene, if you closed your eyes for about two seconds during scenes with break-out wide receiver Ricky, you’d think you were hearing actor Denzel Washington. That’s because the role is played by his son, John David Washington. Or when the role of director, actor and rapper Ice Cube in Straight Outta Compton was played by his son, O’Shea Jackson Jr., who had an uncanny resemblance to his father. Many superstars fit the bill of the famous parent/child combo. Here are just a few, as The Undefeated continues to celebrate families.


Maya Rudolph/Minnie Riperton

Though Maya Rudolph experienced the pain of losing her mother, singer-songwriter Minnie Riperton to breast cancer two weeks before her seventh birthday, their time together was enough for the two to bond through their love for music. “… My mom was music,” Rudolph told NPR in 2012. “Music poured out of my mother, and I’m sure I heard it before I even got here when I was in her belly. … [My parents] were on the road a lot. My brother and I would go with them, I think when we were very little, because my mom did not want to be away from us.” Through Rudolph’s own career, her Riperton lives on. Rudolph, who has established herself as an exceptional actress and cast member on NBC’s Saturday Night Live, sometimes sprinkles subtle tributes in her performances to honor her late mother.

Mario Van Peebles/Melvin Van Peebles

Actor Mario Van Peebles (left) and director Melvin Van Peebles attend the 2011 Eye On Black — A Salute To Directors at California African American Museum on Feb. 25, 2011, in Los Angeles, California.

Neilson Barnard/FilmMagic

Actor and director Mario Van Peebles has been on the screen since 1971. He has directed several episodes of shows such as 21 Jump Street but he made his feature film directorial debut in the drug-filled crime movie New Jack City, for which he is best known. This was followed by Posse in 1993, Panther in 1995 and Love Kills in 1998. He gets his art chops from his famous father Melvin Van Peebles, who is most known for the iconic film and action thriller Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song.

Rashida and kidada Jones/Quincy Jones

From left to right: Kidada Jones, Quincy Jones and Rashida Jones during Disney’s Alice in Wonderland Mad Tea Party at Private Residence in Los Angeles, California, United States. (Photo by Donato Sardella/WireImage for Disney Consumer Products)

Actress and director Rashida Jones has spent her life in the celebrity world but she grew into the breakout star in the series Parks and Recreation. The daughter of writer and composer Quincy Jones, Rashida Jones’ turn into the spotlight does not come without her acknowledging her father. Her sister, designer Kidada Jones, was the best friend to entertainer Aaliyah and was engaged to Tupac Shakur. Their father was the producer, with Michael Jackson, of Jackson’s albums Off the Wall (1979), Thriller (1982), and Bad. Rashida Jones’ new show Claws on FX has been catching waves. For Quincy Jones’ 80th birthday, Rashida Jones wrote a tribute to her father for Variety.com titled Billion-Dollar Maestro.

“Although we would like to reduce a lifetime of accomplishment to the 27 Grammy Awards, seven Oscar nominations and numerous lifetime achievement awards, we shouldn’t. No, the most important contribution my dad has given this world is the life he lives. My dad is an enormous beating heart. I am deeply honored to consider myself the daughter of the best role model on earth. Happy birthday, Daddy. I love you without end.”

Tracee Ellis Ross/Diana Ross

Recording artist Diana Ross (left) and daughter actress Tracee Ellis Ross attend the 42nd Annual American Music Awards at the Nokia Theatre L.A. Live on Nov. 23, 2014, in Los Angeles. (Photo by David Livingston/Getty Images)

Actress Tracee Ellis Ross and her mother, singer Diana Ross, have always been supportive of each other. And there’s nothing that expresses a mother’s love like taking out a full-page ad when your daughter receives an Emmy nod. For Ellis Ross, this is completely normal for their mother-daughter bond. And even when Diana Ross was in her prime, she found time to be the mother Ellis Ross hopes to be when she starts a family of her own. “My mom was very glamorous, but that was her work world,” Ellis Ross told the New York Times Magazine. “Our home was filled with beautiful things. My mom had beautiful clothes; my mom is elegant; my mom is glamorous. But my mom is also really real, and I grew up with a mother who had babies crawling on her head and spitting up on her when she was wearing gorgeous, expensive things, and it was never an issue.”

Zoe Kravitz/Lenny Kravitz and Lisa Bonet

From left to right: Zoe Kravitz, Lenny Kravitz and Lisa Bonet arrive at the Saint Laurent at The Palladium at Hollywood Palladium on Feb. 10 in Los Angeles. (Photo by Steve Granitz/WireImage)

Growing up with a Grammy-winning rock star father and a sultry film star mother, actress, singer and model Zoe Kravitz was bound to take advantage of her creative genes and follow in the footsteps of both parents. Kravitz’s father, Lenny, and mother, Lisa Bonet — best known as Denise Huxtable on The Cosby Show — were in their 20s when they decided to elope in 1987. Yet, the pair, who divorced six years later, was sure to grant their daughter the opportunity to live as a regular kid. “[My mom] wanted to give me an opportunity to be a normal kid,” Kravitz told Complex magazine in a 2015 feature interview. “She wasn’t raised by nannies; she has a close relationship with her parents (whom she calls her “buddies”). I don’t think anyone knows how funny we are. It’s like this whole thing where people think we’re so cool and hippie and wear velvet, but we’re the nerdiest people.”

Lil’ Romeo/Master P

Master P (left) and Romeo Miller attend WE TV’s Growing Up Hip Hop premiere party at Haus on Dec. 10, 2015, in New York. (Photo by Mike Pont/WireImage)

Percy Romeo Miller III, better known as Lil’ Romeo, was always told he could do whatever he wanted to in life. And so, he tried. Lil’ Romeo captured the hearts of preteen girls across America when he entered the rap scene in 2001. From there, he went on to star in his own Nickelodeon show, and even gave his hoop dreams a chance at the University of Southern California. Now, Lil’ Romeo is spending his time following in the footsteps of his music mogul father Master P, who created his multimillion-dollar No Limit Records empire back in the early 1990s. The New Orleans native has never lost focus of what’s really important in life. Even early on in his career, Lil’ Romeo knew there was always one thing that would remain consistent: “My family,” Lil’ Romeo said during a 2003 interview with CBS. “Family always gonna be there. The material things, they come and go.” As far as Lil’ Romeo’s successful career at such a young age, Master P couldn’t believe it himself. “I never expected Romeo to grow up and be a big superstar entertainer,” Master P said. “I was just, like, ‘Man, this is my child. I want him to have better things than I had.’ ”

Jaden and Willow Smith/Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith

From left to right: Jaden Smith, Will Smith, Jada Pinkett Smith, and Willow Smith attend the UK film premiere of The Karate Kid at Odeon Leicester Square on July 15, 2010, in London. (Photo by Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images)

When actors Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith got married in 1997, no one knew two superfamous children would come of their union. Jaden and Willow Smith have both made a name for themselves. Jaden has become a young actor whose first movie debut was with his father in the 2006 film The Pursuit of Happyness and he later starred in 2010 remake of The Karate Kid. His younger sister Willow is triple-threat singer, actor and dancer who caught the world by storm in her when she launched her music career in 2010 with Whip My Hair. The two shared their first cover together for Interview magazine’s September 2016 issue.

Willow said: “Growing up, all I saw was my parents trying to be the best people they could be, and people coming to them for wisdom, coming to them for guidance, and them not putting themselves on a pedestal, but literally being face-to-face with these people and saying, ‘I’m no better than you, but the fact that you’re coming to me to reach some sort of enlightenment or to shine a light on something, that makes me feel love and gratitude for you.’

Said Jaden: “My parents are definitely my biggest role models. And that’s where me and Willow both pull all of our inspiration from to change the world. It all comes from a concept of affecting the world in a positive way and leaving it better than it was than when we came.”

Stephen Curry/Dell Curry

Stephen Curry (left) of the Golden State Warriors poses for a portrait with his father, Dell Curry, with the Larry O’Brien trophy after defeating the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 6 of the 2015 NBA Finals on June 16, 2015, at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland. (Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images)

Golden State Warrior star Stephen Curry grew up in the basketball world under the wings of his famous father, NBA guard Dell Curry. He learned not only the game of basketball from his father but the game of life. He uses his parents as an example of how to care for his young family. Curry’s 2015 MVP acceptance speech brought all the tears and tissue as he spoke about his father.

“I remember a lot of your career. And to be able to follow in your footsteps, it means a lot to me. This is special. I’m really proud of what you were able to do in your career, and I don’t take that for granted at all. A lot of people thought I had it easy with Pops playing in the NBA, but — I’ll get to that part at the end of the road — but it was an interesting journey, and just who you are, you made it OK for me to have family at my age when I started it, and to know that if you take care of your business, you’ll be all right. So thank you so much.”

John David Washington/Denzel Washington

From left to right: John David Washington, Pauletta Washington and Denzel Washington arrive at The Book Of Eli Los Angeles premiere at Grauman’s Chinese Theater on Jan. 11, 2010, in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Gregg DeGuire/FilmMagic)

John David Washington took it as a compliment when people didn’t know he was the son of arguably one of the best black actors in Hollywood, Denzel Washington. John David Washington feared having to prove himself to masses while creating his own lane, but after gaining a following during his role as Ricky Jerret on the HBO hit series, Ballers, the trepidation over not measuring up to his father’s legacy subsided. “If I try to act like him or make movie choices like him, I’m going to fail,” John David Washington told Men’s Journal. “I love him. He’s one of my favorite actors of all time, but I can’t do that. Nobody can do that.”

Laila Ali/Muhammad Ali

Laila Ali (left) and former boxing champion Muhammad Ali during the Liberty Medal ceremony at the National Constitution Center on Independence Mall on Sept. 13, 2012, in Philadelphia. (Photo by Bill McCay/WireImage)

When Laila Ali mourned the passing of her father, boxing legend Muhammad Ali, who died of septic shock last June, the world mourned along with her. After all, Laila Ali learned some of her best moves from her father’s cheat sheet although he wasn’t entirely the reason a career in boxing piqued her interest (she credits seeing women’s boxing for the first time on television as the main reason she became a fighter). Now, Laila Ali finds comfort in the small reminders that her father is still with her. “My son is a spitting image of my father when he was young and he has so many of his same similar characteristics and qualities,” Laila Ali told TODAY. “And he’s definitely going to live on through him. He’s learning more and more as he gets older how special papa actually was.”

Grant Hill/Calvin Hill

Grant Hill (left) and Calvin Hill attend the 29th Annual Great Sports Legends dinner at the Waldorf-Astoria on Sept. 29, 2014, in New York. (Photo by Manny Hernandez/WireImage)

Retired NBA standout and Duke-educated Grant Hill has sports in his blood. His famous Yale-educated father is retired NFL running back Calvin Hill, who spent 12 seasons in the league with the Dallas Cowboys, Washington Redskins and the Cleveland Browns. Grant Hill found his talents in basketball and played in the NBA for almost two decades. In an excerpt written by Grant Hill for the book Fatherhood: Rising to the Ultimate Challenge by Etan Thomas with Nick Chiles, he talked about his love for his father.

“When I think about my dad, Calvin Hill, unconditional love and support are the first things that come to my mind. He has so much personal integrity in the way that he’s lived his life; he’s always been the perfect role model. From a genetic standpoint, in my mannerisms and things of that nature, I obviously got a lot from him. But now that I’m an adult with my own children, I’m getting even more from him: how to interact with my children, how to deal with adversity, how to be a role model myself. I now realize how fortunate and blessed I have been over the years to have him there.”

Barry Bonds/Bobby Bonds

Barry Bonds (center) and Bobby Bonds (right) during a ceremony honoring Barry Bonds’ 500th stolen base. (Photo by Jon Soohoo/Getty Images)

The late Bobby Lee Bonds was a speedy and powerful right fielder who spent most of his career with the San Francisco Giants. He became the second player to hit 300 career home runs and steal 300 bases along Willie Mays. So his son Barry followed in his footsteps. The left fielder spent his career with the Pittsburgh Pirates and San Francisco Giants and received seven National League MVP awards and 14 All-Star selections. According to ESPN.com, in 2015 when Bonds was hired as the Miami Marlins’ hitting coach, he credited his father for the things he taught him.

“It was something I had no intention of doing,” Bonds said of taking the Marlins job. “And then I started thinking about my dad and everything he taught me … I need to try this. I’ll never know if I like it unless I try. Baseball, that’s my thing, that’s who I am. With everything I’ve done as a hitter, I’m the best at that … So I kind of want to honor my dad for what he did. Honor my godfather [Mays] for what he did.”

Ken Griffey Jr./Ken Griffey Sr.

Ken Griffey Sr. (left) and Ken Griffey Jr. during the Gillette Home Run Derby presented by Head & Shoulders at the Great American Ball Park on July 13, 2015, in Cincinnati.

On Aug. 31, 1990, Ken Griffey Sr. and his son Ken Griffey Jr. made history when they both played for the Seattle Mariners in a game against the Kansas City Royals. This father-son baseball combo was one of the toughest. At the time, Griffey Sr. was 40 years old. Griffey Sr. played right field on the Reds teams that won back-to-back World Series titles in 1975-76. He was a three-time All-Star, and was named All-Star Game MVP in 1980. Griffey Jr. was inducted into the MLB Hall of Fame in 2016, where he talked about his father during his acceptance speech.

“To my dad, who taught me how to play this game, but more importantly he taught me how to be a man. How to work hard, how to look at yourself in the mirror each and every day, and not to worry about what other people are doing. See, baseball didn’t come easy for him. He was the 29th round pick and had to choose between football and baseball. And where he’s from in Donora, Pennsylvania, football is king. But I was born five months after his senior year and he made a decision to play baseball to provide for his family, because that’s what men do. And I love you for that.”

Ice Cube/O’Shea Jackson Jr.

Actors Ice Cube and O’Shea Jackson Jr. attend the All Def Movie Awards at Lure Nightclub on Feb. 24, 2016, in Los Angeles. (Photo by Allen Berezovsky/WireImage)

If imitating your parent in front of millions seems stress-inducing, O’Shea Jackson Jr., son of rapper and actor Ice Cube, will tell you it’s every bit just as nerve-racking as it sounds. Luckily for Jackson Jr., who portrayed Ice Cube in the 2015 blockbuster Straight Outta Compton, his performance received rave reviews and struck up conversations about the similarities between the father and son. Although Jackson Jr.’s career is off the a great start, he said having his dad by his side and Ice Cube’s involvement in the movie made the process a lot smoother.

“Believe it or not, having my dad there on set calmed me down,” Jackson Jr. told NBC News. “It’s kind of like when you’re a kid and you’re doing the school plays and programs and you get that sense of relief when your parents walk in. There’s just this comfort in knowing that they’re there. My dad has been my coach my whole life, so it felt totally natural. When he’s there, I know I can’t get it wrong.”