What if the Muhammad Ali we knew had never existed? From his brief kinship with Malcolm X to the ‘Thrilla In Manila,’ five alternative universes for Ali — and the world

From Michelle Obama, Dwyane Wade and Betty White to Steve Harvey, Jan. 17 offers an embarrassment of riches for celebrity birthday followers. One name in particular, however, towers above the others: Muhammad Ali. The self-proclaimed and globally anointed “Greatest” would have been 76 today. To say Muhammad Ali is an inspiration for Team Undefeated is an understatement.

Loved and feared, Ali was captivating and personable. Flawed and fearless. An unparalleled showman and a ruthless instigator. There are few stones left to turn over on Ali, a man whose life has been under the microscope since he burst onto the scene at the 1960 Olympics — the Summer Games that also introduced Oscar Robertson and Wilma Rudolph to the world. How Ali’s life played out is American scripture. But what if there’s an alternative universe in which certain things panned out differently? In some ways, thankfully, we’ll never know. But in others? Follow along …

What if young Cassius Clay’s bike had never been stolen?

If anyone represented the embodiment of the phrase “When life hands you lemons, make lemonade,” it’s Ali. This story has been told a million times, but it’s always fascinating because of the butterfly effect. A 12-year-old Cassius Clay sat on the steps of the Columbia Auditorium in his hometown of Louisville, Kentucky. He was angry and sobbing. Joe Martin approached young Clay. “If I find the guy who took my bike,” Clay told Martin, “I’m gonna whup him.” Martin ran a boxing gym and told the adolescent if he was going to fight, he’d better learn how to fight. Until that point, Clay had never given a thought to boxing.

The rest, as they say, is history. If his bike is never stolen, who’s to say he doesn’t go through life as a normal kid who doesn’t even care about boxing outside of the occasional fight? And what if that same kid one day gets drafted into the Vietnam War — a battle Cassius Clay from Kentucky would have had to fight because he wasn’t a heavyweight champion of the world with religious beliefs that forbade it? It’s wild how life can change in the blink of an eye. We’ll just leave it with this: Theft is a crime and should be treated as such. But bless the soul of the person who decided to steal this kid’s bike. That’s one time when doing bad actually did a world of good.

What if Malcolm X and Ali never had their falling-out?

In order to survive, as a great man once said, we all have to live with regrets. One regret for Ali was his all-too-brief bond with Malcolm X, a fellow product of the Muslim teachings of Elijah Muhammad. X fell out of favor with the teacher, and Ali chose to follow Muhammad’s lead. At the time of X’s assassination in February 1965, the two were not on speaking terms. Never apologizing to Malcolm haunted Ali for the rest of his life. “Turning my back on Malcolm was one of the mistakes that I regret most in my life,” he wrote in his 2004 autobiography The Soul of a Butterfly: Reflections on Life’s Journey. “I wish I’d been able to tell Malcolm I was sorry, that he was right about so many things. … I might never be a Muslim if it hadn’t been for Malcolm. If I could go back and do it over again, I would never have turned my back on him.” For a fascinating and detailed breakdown of their life and times, check out Johnny Smith and Randy Roberts’ Blood Brothers: The Fatal Friendship Between Muhammad Ali and Malcolm X.

What if Ali didn’t sacrifice the prime of his career by protesting the Vietnam War?

The better question is, what if the U.S. never involved itself in Vietnam? Whatever the case, Ali’s exile turned him into a larger-than-life figure. At one point in American history, world heavyweight champion was the most coveted title in all of sports. Here was Ali: a young, handsome, outspoken black man who not only dismantled opponents in the ring but also took on America’s ugliest parts in a verbal fashion that has not been seen or heard from an athlete since. And he did all of this while looking the federal government square in the eye, essentially saying, “Come and get me.” Although legions of critics took a carousel-like approach to demeaning him, Ali’s popularity had skyrocketed by the end of 1967. His stated reason for objecting, “I ain’t got no quarrel with them Viet Cong,” is tattooed in the fabric of American race relations. Ali’s most controversial fight, for his beliefs and for our dignity, reverberated worldwide. It cost him the years of 1967-70, when he would’ve been between the ages of 25 and 28 — a fighter’s peak years. As transcendent as his career was, even four decades after his final fight, we’re left to wonder how great it could have been if Prime Ali hadn’t been entangled with the U.S. government at that same time. Which bleeds into the next alternative universe …

What if Ali called it quits after the third Frazier fight?

Maybe it was a subconscious thing, for Ali to make up for lost time in the ring as he continued to fight in his later years. Maybe it was financial. Maybe it was a combination of both. Whatever the reason, the cold reality is that his last iconic moment in the ring was 1975’s “Thrilla In Manila,” the end of the trilogy with Joe Frazier. The fights — Frazier handed Ali his first career loss shortly after he returned to boxing in 1971, and Ali won the 1974 rematch — define perhaps the greatest rivalry in sports history, with an extremely brutal and even more bitter feud spurred largely by Ali’s vicious and grossly disrespectful racial taunts toward Frazier. Their final clash proved a potluck of haymakers, blood and near-death premonitions. “It was next to death,” Ali said after the fight — a contest he actually won. “When a fight as hard as this one gets to the 14th round, you feel like dying. You feel like quitting. You want to throw up.” Frazier was never the same after that fight.

And it took decades for Ali and Frazier to quash their beef. By the time Ali called it quits in December 1981, Ali was a beaten and battered man and his Parkinson’s disease was imminent. Those closest to Ali’s former cornerman and doctor, Ferdie Pacheco ( who died in November 2017), say he lived with remorse for not having saved Ali from himself. He begged the boxer to quit after the third Frazier fight. Studies from Arizona State scientists discovered Ali’s speech slowed down 26 percent between the ages of 26 and 39 and he was visibly slurring his speech in 1978 — three years after the final battle with Frazier.

Would calling it a career after the Thrilla In Manila have saved Ali future medical concerns? Who knows. A trilogy with Ken Norton — one of the hardest punchers of all time, who broke Ali’s jaw in their first match and whom some feel Ali lost all three fights to — came with its own undeniable punishment. After his 1977 fight with power puncher Earnie Shavers, who landed a massive 266 punches, Ali’s speech reportedly slowed 16 percent from prefight calculations. “Ali did damage to himself, and he knew it and kept boxing too long,” says Jonathan Eig, author of last year’s Ali: Life, “but he didn’t have the information we now have about CTE [chronic traumatic encephalopathy].”

What if Parkinson’s had never robbed Ali of his most powerful punch — his voice?

America tried to emasculate the greats / Murder Malcolm, gave Cassius the shakes

— Jay-Z, “F.U.T.W.” (2013)

Ali’s decision to boycott the Vietnam War was supported by many black athletes and large pockets of the black community, but Ali was also media-blitzed from all corners. A May 2, 1967, New York Times editorial theorized that the support Ali was hoping to generate would never develop. The late political reporter and columnist Tom Wicker called Ali “… this strange, pathetic Negro boxer superbly gifted in body, painfully warped in spirit.” Less than a week later, the harsh attack on Ali’s character was rebuked by Boston University professor Theodore Brameld who said, “… because, with his warped spirit, he has the courage and integrity to refuse to participate in a war that millions of us with weaker courage and weaker integrity, and certainly far less to lose, continue to tolerate against our own consciences?”

Much like Martin Luther King, Ali’s legacy, in many ways, has been sanitized. Ali only became a truly lovable figure (to some) once he lost his ability to speak. When he no longer could use his actual voice to deliver knockouts, he was no longer a threat (again, to some) to the status quo. Ali’s political beliefs had always come under fire from both sides of the aisle. But the reality is that Americans 35 and under have no recollection of the charismatic ball of energy that earned him global acclaim and domestic scrutiny. Some prefer this image of the legendary boxer. Ali, the heavyweight champion who continued to vibrantly and verbally shake up the world into his latter decades on earth, is a bracing thought. Seeing Muhammad Ali minimized and marginalized by a handful of quotes and yearly tributes that fail to paint the full features of the man — that is beyond scary.

Behind the scenes of ‘Black Lightning’ reveals the intersection of race, social justice and culture Jefferson Pierce just might be DC Comics’ most complex character yet, and here’s why

The CW’s newest comic-book-turned-TV-series Black Lightning is the first African-American DC superhero to have his own stand-alone comic title and premieres Jan. 16 — the day after Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

The series follows Jefferson Pierce (played by Cress Williams), a retired superhero who is forced to return as Black Lightning after nine years when the rise of the local gang, The One Hundred, threatens his family and leads to increased crime and corruption in the community. The gang leader is Tobias Whale, played by Los Angeles rapper Marvin “Krondon” Jones III.

Jones best describes his villainous character as a mix between the former Detroit mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, who put the city through a corruption scandal so vast that it accelerated Detroit into bankruptcy, and Detroit drug kingpin Big Meech, who made an estimated $270 million in sales before his 30-year prison sentence.

Unlike other superhero shows, Black Lightning isn’t battling two-headed monsters and aliens, but the realistic and metaphorical villains who exist in the modern world — gangs, gun violence, drugs, sex trafficking, corrupt politicians, racism and racial profiling.

Black Lightning reopens the dialogue about the best approach to the fight for justice — mirroring King’s stance of nonviolent protest versus Malcolm X’s defense of justice achieved “by any means necessary.”

On one hand, Jefferson is a community hero as the principal of a charter high school that was a safe haven from violence and gangbangers. In the comic book, he is one of the athletes who raised a fist during the 1968 Olympics during the national anthem. But on the other hand, as Black Lighting, he is the vigilante whom the community rallies behind after they’ve lost faith in an ineffective law enforcement and justice system.

The Undefeated visited the set of Black Lightning in Atlanta and spoke with executive producer Salim Akil and several members of the main cast to talk about the show’s deeper meaning and impact they hope to spark in viewers.


Tracey Bonner as LaWanda and Cress Williams as Jefferson Pierce

Richard Ducree/The CW

Why is it important to have a black superhero on TV fighting real-life issues happening in today’s world?

Cress Williams (Black Lightning/Jefferson Pierce): It’s definitely and desperately important to have everyone represented because superheroes are also role models [and we as a whole] need to learn more about different cultures and races. In order for this genre of superheroes to thrive, it has to diversify and evolve by exploring how it would be if we lived in a world where superheroes existed. How would they help with real-life problems and what challenges they face? It’s a way to see what’s really going on in the world and generate discussions around it.

Christine Adams (Lynn Stewart, Pierce’s ex-wife): These are stories that need to be told from the black perspective. But that doesn’t mean it’s only for the black audience; it’s for everyone, because the issues we address are coming straight out of today’s newspapers. Many times when we read stories on gun violence and gangs, we only see them as bad people. No one is just a bad person. People are complex, and it’s a series of events that leads them to the things they do. We easily look at people from a distance and make a judgment before really learning what shaped them to who they are today.

Damon Gupton (Inspector Henderson): It’s been time. We’re such an important fabric of popular culture that it only makes sense that we have a black superhero. As a child, I was a fan of Superman and X-Men, but if I had seen a superhero that looked like an uncle and was commenting on something that I had seen down the block from me, I’d feel like I’d have a voice and be empowered.

We see different approaches to fighting for change on the show. From Martin Luther King, Malcolm X and other approaches. What are the reasons behind your characters’ approaches?

Salim Akil (executive producer): It’s a debate that keeps going on inside of me, especially now that I have younger boys. I understand extreme violence, what a gunshot or a dead person on the street looks like, from my own life and friends’, so I know what violence is. It never leaves anyone … but in a certain way it leads to freedom. Nobody ever fought for freedom without adapting.

Williams: When Jefferson was younger, he flirted with the idea of just taking the Malcolm X way until his wife gave him the ultimatum after she couldn’t take another night of him putting his life on the line. So he went the Martin Luther King route for nine years as a school principal, not using his powers until he realized that although the school was thriving, everything around it wasn’t [and eventually the school would become affected too].

Yes, education, positivity and nonviolence need to be paramount, but sometimes you just gotta mess some things up, and Jefferson begins to realize that it takes both.

Nafessa Williams (Anissa Pierce): Anissa fights the Malcolm X fight all the way even before she has powers and becomes Thunder. Malcolm X is one of her heroes, which creates an ongoing back-and-forth with she and her dad [who wants to protect her from the dangers of taking that route]. [As Black Lighting inspires hope to the community], she sparks strength and boldness, knowing what your purpose is and literally walking in it every day.

Gupton: Henderson has the unfortunate position of being a law enforcer at a time when people are looking for results at seeing things get better. He’s telling the community that he’s trying, but they don’t believe him, so they call him names like ‘Uncle Tom’ or ‘Oreo.’ It puts him in a rock and a hard place because he truly believes he can make a difference in the community.

It’s got to mean something to him that the community has a sense of pride in Black Lightning as the guy who can fix their problems. Maybe a little bit of him wants that, or just a thank you, from time to time.

How will viewers relate to Lynn Stewart in not wanting her family to put themselves in danger?

Adams: It’s a push and pull for Lynn, which will be a very relatable concept for viewers. It’s hard when your children aspire to do good in the world, like serve in the military, but ultimately it is endangering their own lives. I’m sure for Lynn, she was hoping her loved ones would have gone about it as teachers or social activists but not superheroes.

How do you personally relate to these characters?

Akil: I’m definitely using a lot of my own life experiences. Jefferson and Tobias are both a part of me and the people I grew up with in Richmond [California]. My mom went to prison a few times and I was on my own for a bit, but one of the things she would always tell me is: ‘If I ever see you out here selling drugs, I will kill you.’

Young African-American men and women are self-motivated, so since my father wasn’t around and all of the men I knew were hustlers, I’d watch Johnny Carson and The Honeymooners and try to figure out what that world was. Then I turned to Malcolm X and Muhammad Ali. I happened to pick those guys, but some of my friends picked gangsters.

Marvin Krondon Jones III (Tobias Whale): Life prepares us for every role, no matter what the character is calling for. If you are in tune with yourself and life, the work is there. While preparing for this role, it slowly revealed itself to me that Tobias was in me or I was in Tobias, so I had to do a lot of soul-searching.

As a gold medalist of the 1968 Olympics, Jefferson Pierce appears to be living a very modest life. Why didn’t he capitalize on fame like other athletes?

Akil: I asked [Black Lightning comic book creator] Tony Isabella and he told me how [he made] Jefferson one of the athletes who bowed his head and raised a black-gloved fist during the national anthem at the 1968 Summer Games in Mexico City, just as real-life African-American Olympic sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos did then. [If you remember what happened back then, many Americans were outraged from what Tommie and Carlos did. They received death threats and were suspended from the U.S. team, but neither apologized for it, nor ever felt the need to.] Like them, Jefferson got hit with that. We may explore that in the series later down the line.

Gun violence is a common theme in most comic-book-turned-TV-series. How is Black Lightning addressing this issue differently?

Akil: Young people are being shot, and people are going into churches, schools and movie theaters killing people. Gun violence in this country is real, and I didn’t want to make it feel good when viewers watched it on the show. I didn’t want shootings of just aliens or faceless folks but people that viewers would become familiar with and begin to care about. It’s one thing to read it [in the comic book], but it’s another to watch it because it affects you in a different way [for both the cast and viewers]. And that’s what I wanted.

Early in the series, Jefferson is pulled over by a white cop for essentially being a black man. Why was it important for you to have this scene in the series?

Akil: A lot of my black police officer friends get pulled over by the police. Before they can say that they are officers too, they have to be black first and hope that the person coming to the window is not affected with the disease of racism to the point that they pull the trigger before asking questions.

What’s your thought process in playing a black police officer in a time when law enforcement doesn’t have the best stigma?

Gupton: It’s the first time in my life where I had to think of what a black law enforcer has to be feeling and thinking when they are confronted with yet another scene of something atrocious that has happened. What is going on in their mind and heart knowing that they probably got into the force wanting to protect and serve the things that are now on fire, but still have to represent this beast. Are they protecting people who are corrupt, or are they corrupt themselves? Obviously, not my character, but what’s their psyche like as a black law enforcement officer at a time where law enforcement is intriguing, to say the least.

With a combination of music from Kendrick Lamar and your son [Yasin or Nasir], why is music such a strong component in Black Lightning?

Akil: You can’t separate us [black people] from music. It got us through slavery, Jim Crow laws, [racism and inequality]. Music has always been a part of who we are as people and as a culture and inherently gave America its most original music. People get upset when I say this, but we are the American dream. James Brown and Miles Davis aren’t black music. They’re so much bigger than that. It originated in America, so it’s American music. It’s about how you want to characterize it, and I characterize it as a gift to America. It’s the most American thing that we have, so we need to take ownership of that.

In the story of heroism, everyone doesn’t have superpowers but everyone plays a part. What is your advice to the average Jane and Joe who want to be part of the fight in making the world a better place?

China Anne McClain (daughter Jennifer Pierce): There’s always something that you in your own uniqueness can bring to the world. Find what that is and go for it. Don’t take no for an answer. Whatever is it that you want to tackle, do it because you can.

James Remar (Peter Gambi, Jefferson’s father figure, mentor and tailor): Stick by your truth and be guided by love. When we start to bend our personal truth and the truth out of mouths, that’s when we start to get into trouble.

Jones: Everyone has the power to fight for justice and change, whether you are a single parent, student, police officer or even the bad guy. What we’re seeing in the series is that everyone has a bit of superhero in them. It’s a choice.

Gupton: People can vote, volunteer, teach and connect. I consider those superpowers. My mom is a lawyer, and I see that as her superpower. Hopefully, we have the power to bring together the theme of family, community and togetherness to connect with this series.

Adams: Heroism doesn’t always get the thanks that it should. We have teachers who are working at schools with not a lot of funding and using their own [low] wages to buy supplies. And even the people who ran into strangers’ homes to help them get out during the recent California fires. These are the unsung heroes.

Meet the cast of the CW’s Black Lightning

28 black-owned businesses’ gift ideas to get you through Black Friday Shopping black means furthering your commitment to diversity, and these black businesses have all your shopping needs covered

Black Friday deals start earlier and earlier each year and have begun to spill into Thanksgiving Day festivities. After a full meal, some football and time with family, millions of Americans will flood stores and the cyber world for Black Friday and Cyber Monday must-have deals.

However, off the megaretailer path — on hosted online stores such as Etsy, or on individual websites — there are a multitude of black-owned businesses offering unique gift ideas for your entire list. Not to mention, supporting a black-owned business shows a commitment to diversity and a diversification of gifts under the tree.

Black businesses have rapidly increased over the past 40 years, with a big boom in the last decade. According to Black Demographics, black-owned businesses in the United States increased 34.5 percent between 2007 and 2012. On any given day, small-business owners, with the goal of selling products and services, compete for their fair share of shoppers in an inundated marketplace, and the competition is even greater during the holidays, when Big Retail makes a final profits push.

Check out The Undefeated’s online gift buying guide, featuring items for your holiday shopping. We’ve updated our prior list and combed the webosphere for our best finds, and here are a few that caught our eye. Discover these black entrepreneurs who offer a variety of gift ideas.

Art

Leah Lynnette

MarcusKwame

Tiare Smith Designs

Bags and Mugs

Urban Heirlooms

The February Store

Men’s tidbits

EdCentrik

Mo’s Bows

Stationery and Expressions

African American Expressions

Women’s tidbits

Originally Young

JeannePaulCreations

Demestik

ThreeLittleBirdsTees

Electronics

I Am Plus

Jewelry

Talley and Twine Watch Company

Mombasa

Spring Break Watches

Brave Chick

apparel

The Official Malcolm X Store

Bodied Sports

HGC Apparel

Sweet Knowledge

Beautiful in Every Shade

Household and Beauty

Don’t Sleep Interiors

Angels and Tomboys

Jacq’s Organics

Armani’s Aromas

Pets

Rose and Pheebs Co.

Picture Perfect Pup

Happy Shopping!!

Black female gun owners speak about Russian Facebook ads ‘I don’t want to be used as propaganda’

Black women who own guns don’t necessarily fit the common conceptions of gun owners. They’re rarely the picture of recreational shooting or gun classes. And some fear that even if they procure the proper training and licensing, they’re not protected by laws designed to shield gun owners from prosecution.

The distance between perception and reality surfaced this week when The Washington Post reported that imagery of a black woman firing a rifle was used in the Facebook ads that Russians bought to influence the 2016 presidential election. The image, which has not been publicly released, might have been intended to encourage African-American militancy and also fan fears among whites, according to the Post report.

Without context, a picture of a black woman firing a rifle is not a neutral image, said Kaitanya Bush, a 42-year-old paralegal in Austin, Texas, who recently bought a 9 mm pistol to protect herself and her family.

Bush said she immediately thought of the cartoon of Michelle Obama on the cover of The New Yorker before the 2008 election. Obama was depicted as a rifle-wielding radical sporting a bandolier and giving her secret-Muslim husband a “terrorist fist jab.” The cover was meant to be satirical — pointing out the ridiculousness of the worst fears of Obama opponents, given that the Obamas were moderate, well-to-do liberals, not the second coming of Assata Shakur and Fred Hampton.

“You can see how that imagery [in the Russian ads] can evoke the same feelings that those had about Michelle Obama bringing this militant side out of the nice and gentle Barack,” Bush said. The New Yorker cover depicted Michelle Obama as “threatening, and fearful, and manipulative, that there is an ulterior motive to this. That we are the temptress.”

Bush said the fear of black women’s radicalism reminded her of the reaction to Colin Kaepernick’s girlfriend, Nessa Diab, after she tweeted an unflattering image comparing Baltimore Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti and Ray Lewis to characters from Django Unchained.

Lewis attributed the Ravens’ decision not to sign Kaepernick to the tweet, which he called a “racist gesture.”

Outside the context of law enforcement, military service, or criminality, images of black people with guns tend to be associated with political radicalism, whether it be the Black Panthers, the photo of Malcolm X holding a rifle and peering out of a window, which Nicki Minaj adopted for the album art of her 2014 single, “Lookin A– N—-,” or The New Yorker cover of the Obamas. Images of gun-wielding black people are metonyms for black militancy.

Black gun ownership is historically connected with defending oneself from state violence or lack of state protection, from Harriet Tubman to violent uprisings of enslaved people. And of course there’s a long history of black people who hunt, or shoot for sport, like the women in this 1937 image of the Howard University women’s rifle team. But such representations of black gun users aren’t as well-known.

Black women with guns don’t enjoy the same positive associations as someone such as Charlize Theron in Atomic Blonde or Angelina Jolie in Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, who made the empowered and unafraid gun-toting archetype a key part of their appeal as movie stars. That tide may shift slightly with the upcoming film Proud Mary, which stars Taraji P. Henson as a sexy, skilled hit woman. There’s also Lana Kane, the smart, sensible spy in Archer voiced by Aisha Tyler, whose biting comebacks and uniform of clingy sweater dresses set off by two TEC-9s made her a cult hero. But at the end of the day, Kane is a cartoon.

And so the limited context in which armed black women are seen may have provided an opportunity for Russia.

“It makes complete sense to me that they would do that just to incite some sort of rise out of people,” said Marchelle Tigner, a 25-year-old firearms instructor in Savannah, Georgia, who calls herself the “Trigger Happy Panda.” “When articles came out about me or videos came out about me, I would read the comments. And a lot of the comments were extremely negative, like, ‘Oh, black women have guns now. They’re gonna start shooting people. They’re angry and irrational, and the crime rate in black neighborhoods is gonna go up now.’ They were really hurtful, really mean, and really racist comments coming out, so it makes sense that if Russia wanted to get a rise out of people or incite some kind of hateful feelings in a lot of people, they would post pictures of black women with firearms.”

Tigner is an Army veteran who began carrying a gun as part of her job as a military intelligence officer. It made her uncomfortable, but after she was sexually assaulted at age 19, shooting at the gun range became cathartic instead of anxiety-producing. She now travels the country instructing black women in gun safety. When Tigner saw the news that Russia may have used an ad featuring an image of a black woman firing a rifle as a way to sow division and disrupt the election, she was not pleased.

“Although I might not agree with a lot of people’s beliefs, I would never want to be used as propaganda,” Tigner said. “I never want to be a gimmick. That’s why I carry myself professionally when I’m teaching because I never want my words or my images to be twisted and used against me, or against people for making that decision.”


Nobody’s expecting me, this 25-year-old black woman, to have a firearm and to be able to draw and defend myself, and I like that. I like that I’m underestimated.

Courtesy of Marchelle Tigner

Black women interviewed for this story believe they will not necessarily be afforded equal protection under the law as licensed gun owners because of their blackness. As a result, there’s a cost-benefit analysis that takes place. On the one hand, they feel unsafe in America because of their blackness, and that includes experiences as a gun owner. But they have decided that it’s still worth having the gun to protect themselves from, among other things, racially-motivated violence.

Even though North Carolina is an open carry state, Dione Davis, a 32-year-old cosmetologist and mother, said that she chooses to conceal carry her Glock with a permit. The reason is because she’s black, Davis said.

“I guess I feel like I’m covered but I’m not covered,” Davis said. “I would say … there is a double standard as to how we’re viewed, black gun owners versus white gun owners. Nobody’s looking at my husband or myself as … college-educated … law-abiding citizens when we have a gun. Nobody’s thinking about whether I have four kids at home when you look at me at with a gun. Nobody’s thinking about those things. … White America always has the positive view: They’ve got a family at home, they’re always viewed with life behind them. Black Americans, we’re viewed with no life behind us.”

Philando Castile had a permit for his gun, but died in 2016 after the Minnesota police officer who pulled him over shot and killed him, citing fear that Castile, who disclosed that he had a weapon, would kill him. Marissa Alexander, a black woman from Jacksonville, was imprisoned for firing a warning shot in self-defense at her abusive husband after a judge rejected her defense under the state’s “stand your ground” law.

In every class she holds, Tigner said, black women voice their worries about not having their rights respected or acknowledged. “I’ve even had women say that they didn’t want to be in the photo that we take at the end of the class because they didn’t even want anyone to know that they were in a firearms class,” Tigner said. “It’s kind of scary to think that you can’t learn how to defend yourself without being a target or being looked at as a threat. Even Tamir Rice, he was a kid and had a toy. Not even a real firearm, being a child, and was killed in less than two seconds after [police] arrived on the scene. Things like that are why a lot of parents don’t even want their children to learn about firearms or to take a class, because they don’t want them to be seen as a target, like my parents didn’t. We talk about that in the class a lot.”

For Tigner, the decision not to open carry is a tactical one. “If I was a bank robber and I walk into a bank and you’re open carrying, I’m definitely gonna make sure I take you out first. It just makes you an immediate target and an immediate threat. That’s how criminals think. They look for the harder target. Nobody’s expecting me, this 25-year-old black woman, to have a firearm and to be able to draw and defend myself, and I like that. I like that I’m underestimated.”


With regard to the Russian Facebook ads, Tiffany Ware, the 44-year-old Cincinnati-based founder of The Brown Girls Project and founder of the Brown Girls With Guns workshop, didn’t think it was possible for racial tensions to get worse than they already are.

“My only thought was how could they think that would create more of a divide than what already exists?” Ware said. “From where I live, my view, my perspective, there’s always been this huge divide between African-American people and others. Now there’s even more of a divide. I don’t see how they thought seeing that image would create a greater divide, because I come from a very strong and proud background and all I’ve ever received was pushback for being that way.”

She first became interested in guns after a team she managed was harassed while canvassing for Hillary Clinton. Her team members told her they’d been called “n—–s” and that their campaign signs had been destroyed. Ware said she’s lived in Cincinnati for most of her life and before last fall had been called “n—-” twice. Since December, she’s been called the N-word four times.

Witnessing her children’s anxiety after President Donald Trump won the election spurred Ware to action to protect herself and her family.

“It just made me think and I was like, gosh, what if somebody did — anybody, not just some crazy racist person — but what if somebody did run up in this house, what would I do?” Ware said. “Like, how do I handle that? I need to figure it out.”

When Ware began organizing gun training for black women at a Cincinnati gun range, she said, she and the women in her group would draw stares and the owners made it clear they were not welcome. “They told us we couldn’t continue to come because there were so many of us that we were knocking out their Sunday regulars,” Ware said. “We knew what it was.” So they found another range.

“From white supremacists who terrorized that young child’s birthday party to the little boy who took the trash out for his mother and his neighbor shot him down on the side of the street, you know these are realities for us,” Bush said. “And I as a lawful citizen of this country, if I am going to come up against someone who may have a weapon on them, I am not going to be in that position where I have to fear for my life, where I’m unable to protect my family.”

NBA glamour is all about courtside From Rihanna to Jay Z; Beyoncé to Drake, sitting on the wood is its own red carpet

Rihanna just walked in front of me,” Jeff Van Gundy yelled during the first quarter of Game 1 of the 2017 NBA Finals. He completely skipped over the vicious dunk LeBron James had just unleashed on JaVale McGee. “Are you kidding me?!”

Fellow commentators Mike Breen and Mark Jackson chided their longtime colleague, but Van Gundy’s brief moment of distraction was warranted — she’s one of the biggest pop stars and beautiful people in the world. But it wasn’t just Rihanna sitting courtside in the Oracle Arena in East Oakland, California. Maybe it’s the trilogy effect, but this may just be the most star-laden NBA Finals ever. Aside from Rihanna, Jay Z, Kevin Hart, Marshawn Lynch, Power’s Omari Hardwick and Bay Area legends Too $hort, Raphael Saadiq and E-40 were all in attendance — either courtside or a few rows back.

Yet, it was Rihanna, from her plush digs — on the announcers’ side just a few seats away from Jay Z — who made worldwide headlines by matching wits with Kevin Durant. The Grammy winner and 2014 NBA MVP locked eyes on more than one occasion as Rihanna used her multimillion-dollar voice to chastise Durant. Rihanna came up short, though. KD dropped 38 points in a Game 1 blowout victory.


Celebrities and sporting events, to quote the great Tracy “Hustle Man” Morgan, “go back like spinal cords and car seats.”

As Muhammad Ali’s fights were makeshift Met Galas for actors, actresses, musicians and hustlers, at 2015’s Floyd Mayweather/Manny Pacquiao bout, Jay Z, Beyoncé, Don Cheadle, Jake Gyllenhaal, Robert De Niro, Denzel Washington, Antoine Fuqua and more piled in to Las Vegas’ MGM Grand. But what makes the professional basketball courtside experience different is that the attendee is sitting right on top of the game. Courtside is more intimate than ringside: One’s feet are literally on the field of play. Jay Z refers to himself in 2009’s “Empire State of Mind”: Sitting courtside / Knicks and Nets give me high fives / N—-, I be Spiked out, I can trip a referee.

This is far from Shawn Carter’s first courtside homage. On Cam’ron’s 2002 anthem, “Welcome To New York City,” Jay boasts: I ain’t hard to find/ You can catch me front and center / At the Knick game, big chain in all my splendor/ Next to Spike if you pan left to right/ I own Madison Square / Catch me at the fight. It makes sense that both these lyrical moments nod at the world’s most famous Knicks fan — and courtside royalty — director Spike Lee. It’s Lee — Rihanna’s courtside prophyte in a sense — who stars in basketball’s most well-known courtside beef. He and Reggie Miller’s infamous back-and-forth during the 1994 Game 5 of the Knicks vs. Pacers Eastern Conference finals was defined by Miller’s 25-point fourth quarter and capped off with Miller’s choking gesture to Lee. The tense moment is immortal, iconic NBA playoff lore.

For the Los Angeles Lakers, courtside culture can be dated to the legendary actress Doris Day, better known as “the Neil Armstrong of Lakers’ celebrities.” Day, the biggest female box office star of the late ’50s and early ’60s, opened the courtside door at the Los Angeles Sports Arena. Fellow A-listers such as Dean Martin, Jack Lemmon, and Walter Matthau followed her in to watch future Hall of Famers Jerry West and Elgin Baylor lead the Lakers to multiple Finals appearances. The move from Minneapolis to Los Angeles made the Lakers the NBA’s first West Coast squad in 1960 — a move directly influenced by Lakers owner Bob Short noticing the financial gold mine the Dodgers found in L.A. following their move from Brooklyn, New York, two years earlier.

The appearance of celebrities courtside exploded in the era of the Magic Johnson-led “Showtime” Lakers. Johnson embodied 1980s Hollywood — the flashy play, the good looks and, of course, that 2,000-watt smile. Comedian Arsenio Hall was a regular at the Forum, as was singer Dionne Warwick, Michael J. Fox, Ted Danson, Jimmy Goldstein and, most famous of them all, Jack Nicholson. These were kings and queens of that era’s show business realm.

“If you’re an A-level person, and we know the fans are going to go bananas when your picture goes up on the scoreboard, then there’s a value having you there,” Barry Watkins has said. He’s the Madison Square Garden Co.’s executive vice president and chief communications officer. He’s the plug when it comes to courtside seats at the Garden. “It’s a big part of the brand. Win or lose, it’s one of the reasons people come to the games.” Entertainers want to be entertained, too. Plus, basketball and Hollywood were meant to be significant others off the rip: talent, egos, competition, drama, controversy, animosities and, all playing out under the bright, bright lights.

According to Shawn “Pecas” Costner, vice president of player relations at Roc Nation Sports, the continued charm of courtside seats has largely to do with the popularity and influence of hip-hop culture. “The flyest thing you can do at a basketball game — besides play in the game — is sit courtside,” he said from his New York City office.

And this is not solely due to the glamour and bravado associated with rap. Pecas believes that these days, the courtside thing is just as much about the hard-knock journeys associated with the music’s biggest stars. Pecas came to Roc Nation Sports in 2014, following 18 years in the music business, most notably as executive vice president at Def Jam Recordings. The Bronx, New York. native, who grew up with Big Pun, Lord Tariq and Jennifer Lopez, earned his stripes in several capacities at V2, Elektra and Arista Records before joining Def Jam in 2005. “When we were kids,” he said, “and used to go see the Knicks play the Bulls on Christmas Day, we were in the 300 section. You had to bring your binoculars to watch. You always wanted to see who was the one or two black guys sitting courtside because at that time, it was only one or two.”

While not quite a regular courtside fixture, Pecas has his share of memories. He and his longtime colleague Mike Kyser, president of black music at Atlantic Records, sat courtside for rookie game and dunk and 3-point contests at the 2012 All-Star Weekend in Orlando, Florida. Pecas would normally give his tickets away to artists in town for the big game on Sunday, but as destiny would have it, not as many came that year, and Pecas and Kyser received floor seat assignments for the actual All-Star contest. “You’re like, ‘Oh s—!’” he said, his voice getting higher as he takes a trip down memory lane. “ ‘Am I courtside for the NBA All-Star Game?’ You gotta make sure the outfit is right just in case. Make sure you wear the right sneakers.”

The game itself was one of the more entertaining All-Star Games in recent memory, the highlight being a LeBron James vs. Kevin Durant scoring barrage. Pecas and friends documented the memories on social media with the hashtags such as #OnTheWood, and #Woody Harrelson. In Pecas’ office hangs framed photo of himself in the New York Daily News. He looks on as Kevin Durant — now a Roc Nation client — flushes home a dunk with James, Kobe Bryant, Carmelo Anthony and Kevin Love looking on.

As for this year’s NBA Finals, Pecas said he can’t even begin to predict the number of celebrities who’ll be sitting courtside for however long the Warriors and Cavaliers do business. The possibilities are limitless because the NBA is more committed to its fans both domestically and abroad than any other American sports entity. While cries of superteams killing the product cause constant debates at social media and on sports talk shows, the NBA celebrated its third consecutive record-breaking year of fan attendance. And the NBA certainly loves the social status of having some of the world’s biggest celebrities taking in the game mere feet away from some of the world’s most popular athletes. The photos below showcase some of those personalities, from yesteryear to the present.

Pecas said it’s difficult to describe the feeling of sitting courtside, but he gives it a try: “Sitting courtside is like flying private for the first time,” he said. “You never wanna go back.”

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Jay Z and Kevin Hart share a laugh at Game 1 of the 2017 NBA Finals between the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers. Time heals all wounds, so one can only hope they’re sharing a laugh about the time the comedian once spilled an entire bottle of pineapple juice on Jay Z and his wife, Beyoncé, in a nightclub.

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That’s Rihanna at Game 1 of the 2017 NBA Finals probably yelling at Kevin Durant. Given her history with the Warriors these past few seasons, it’ll be interesting to see the reaction she gets the next time she has a concert in Oakland, California, or San Francisco. (Spoiler: She’ll still sell out the arena and be welcomed like a queen because her fan base really doesn’t care about her sports preferences.)

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Never, ever doubt Spike Lee’s loyalty to his New York Knicks. Here’s the famed director in January 2013 at London’s O2 Arena for a regular season game between the Knicks and Detroit Pistons. This won’t happen — but if the Knicks win an NBA title within the next 15-20 years, Lee needs to be the first person to hoist the trophy. That’s the least we can do after the powers that be robbed him (and Denzel Washington) of an Oscar for Malcolm X.

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While I did get to attend Dave Chappelle’s famous Juke Joint party this year in New Orleans, I’m greedy. This is the same reaction I have every time I think of the Chris Rock/Chappelle superset they did in The Big Easy in late March. In reality, it’s Rock gesturing at Will Smith at Game 5 of the 2012 Eastern Conference semifinals between the Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers.

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On the bright side, Mary J. Blige got a chance to see Kobe Bryant drop 50 points on Steve Nash and the Phoenix Suns in Game 6 of the 2006 opening round quarterfinals. On a not-so-bright side, it’s almost as if you can see the inevitable written on her face — the Los Angeles Lakers blowing a 3-1 series lead and Bryant having the most controversial game of his career in Game 7.

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Sean “Diddy” Combs and Snoop Dogg: Pictured at Game 6 of the 2010 Finals between the Celtics and Lakers, neither knew the series would shift that night when center Kendrick Perkins went down with a knee injury. There’s also no confirmation if the two spoke of their appearance on The Steve Harvey Show as they attempted to quell the simmering East Coast-West Coast tensions 13 years earlier.

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At this point, the New York Knicks need whatever residual prayers are left over from Whoopi Goldberg’s Sister Act series.

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LeBron James and Drake: There’s no rapper currently who enjoys the perks of sitting courtside more than Drake. Perhaps paying respects in The 6, that’s LeBron James taking a drink from Kevin Hart and giving it to the Toronto Raptors ambassador during the 2016 All-Star Game in Toronto.

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Everyone wanted hottest ticket in America in the fall of 2010 to see the Miami Heat’s new “big three” of Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade and LeBron James. Including the greatest of all time herself, Serena Jameka Williams.

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Jack Nicholson and Michael Jordan: The Joker and The Cold Blooded Killer post up at the Great Western Forum in Los Angeles on Feb. 28, 1999, for a game between the Los Angeles Lakers and Houston Rockets. The night featured six Hall of Famers (Scottie Pippen, Charles Barkley, Hakeem Olajuwon, Shaquille O’Neal, Dennis Rodman and MJ, himself, courtside). Seven including future Hall of Famer Kobe Bryant.

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Stuart Scott, Samuel L. Jackson and Allen Iverson — In one of the cooler sports pictures out there, we’ve got three legends. One in Samuel L. Jackson who, if he doesn’t by now, should have a trademark on the word “m—–f—–.” Two, we have Allen Ezail Iverson, 2016 Hall of Fame inductee and NBA living legend. And three, Stuart Scott doing what he always did best. R.I.Booyah, Stu. We still miss you.

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Murder Inc.’s two genius creative seen here in 2002 at a Houston Rockets/Golden State Warriors game. That year — ironically the one before 50 Cent became global sensation — was a good one for the label. Ja Rule and Ashanti’s “Always On Time” and “Down 4 U” both made Billboard’s year-end Hot 100 Singles.

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Here we have Diana Ross at a Knicks and Charlotte Hornets playoff game with her sons. Fun fact: Ross’ No. 1 smash single “Touch Me In The Morning” was released on the same day the New York Knicks beat the Los Angeles Lakers in Game 3 of the 1973 NBA Finals — a series that would give the storied franchise its last NBA title.

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Barry Obama’s love of hoops is one of the most relatable and endearing parts of his legacy. He even had a court put in at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. Here’s the 44th president sitting courtside at an October 2015 game between the Cleveland Cavaliers and Obama’s hometown Chicago Bulls.

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John Legend, Benny The Bull, and Chrissy Teigen — Life was all good for the Bulls in 2011. Derrick Rose was a superstar en route to an MVP season. They were the top seed in the East. And Benny The Bull had model Chrissy Teigen sit on his lap while future husband John Legend snaps a picture.

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YG and Nipsey Hussle: When they’re not making anti-President Donald Trump anthems, two of L.A.’s finest young guns can be found supporting the hometown squad. This was also the game that birthed one of the funnier basketball memes of the season, too.

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Supporting her husband, Dwyane Wade, Gabrielle Union takes in the festivities of Game 7 of the 2013 Eastern Conference finals. The Miami Heat would, of course, go on to win that game and repeat as NBA champions. But not without its share of drama.

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Jay Z and Beyoncé Sure, the Cleveland Cavaliers fell down 0-2 to the Warriors last year and won four of the last five. But that was last year before a 7-foot pterodactyl with range out of the gym joined the squad. If you’re Cleveland, it’s time to call in the secret weapon: Beyoncé. She look like she’s ready to give birth at any moment to the twins (if we’re lucky, they’re named Bad and Boujee Carter). But LeBron James always plays superhuman — and he’s going to have to play super, super, superhuman to beat the Seal Team 6 Warriors. That only happens if The Queen is courtside.

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Will Smith and Jada Pinkett — One of America’s longtime premier black power couples is no stranger to the courtside life. Here, the two TV stars turned movie stars share a smooch. The No. 1 all-time Will and Jada courtside story? Three days following the release of what became The Fresh Prince’s most commercially successful album in Big Willie Style and a month before their wedding, the couple attended the Sixers/Lakers game on Nov. 28, 1997. The matchup featured a pair of Hall of Famers dueling it out in Allen Iverson and Kobe Bryant, who came off the bench. But more importantly, the couple got up close and personal with Jerry Stackhouse and Eddie Jones, who crashed into them.

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Wanda Durant and Marshawn Lynch — In the past year, Oakland, California, has welcomed Kevin Durant — and by proxy his mother, Wanda Durant — and its favorite football son, Marshawn Lynch, back to The Town’s fold. Both pictured here at Game 1 of the 2017 NBA Finals. While it wouldn’t be surprising if the Golden State Warriors held on to win two more games, the more fascinating plot twist is if they let Lynch party with them during a potential championship parade. Mic Lynch and Draymond Green up and show it on pay-per-view.

Muhammad Ali knew how to play the villain, but dodging the draft turned him into a pariah An excerpt from Leigh Montville’s ‘Sting Like a Bee’

The famous quote did not come until a day later. The interviews on the lawn at 4610 NW 15th Street were long finished when Ali took a phone call in the morning from Tom Fitzpatrick, a 39-year-old sportswriter for the Chicago Daily News. The fight with Ernie Terrell was scheduled to take place in less than six weeks, March 29, 1966, at the International Amphitheatre near the Union Stock Yards in Chicago. Tickets had to be sold. There were reasons to talk to sportswriters from Chicago.

The Daily News was an afternoon paper, so Fitzpatrick was looking for a different angle, different words from what everyone would read over breakfast. He was not disappointed.

“I am a member of the Muslims and we don’t go to no wars unless they are declared by Allah himself,” Ali said into the phone. “I don’t have no personal quarrel with those Viet Congs.”

Bingo.

That second sentence, the one about the Viet Congs, would become the defining quote for all that followed for the heavyweight champion of the world. The initial rush of self-indulgent emotion recorded by Bob Halloran and the other reporters was enough to get America agitated about a man who talked too much, loved himself too much. The mention of the Viet Cong, first reported in the afternoon edition of the Daily News, then repeated on the wire services to newspapers across the country, brought a focus to that agitation, put all the anger into a convenient package.

“Those Viet Cong are not attacking me.”

Nothing against those Viet Congs? This was the hook. Was it dissent or was it treason? Common sense or sedition? No boldface or italics were needed. The words would jump off the page without help.

“We Muslims are taught to defend ourselves when we are attacked,” Ali further told Fitzpatrick. “Those Viet Cong are not attacking me.

“These Viet Congs are fighting a very nasty war over there,” he added. “There’s a lot of people getting killed. Why should we Muslims get involved?”

Variations of “I don’t have no personal quarrel with those Viet Congs” would be included in all future biographical stories about Ali. This would become his stand, his legacy: the ten words that changed his life. The quote would become part of American historical dialogue, stuff for schoolkids to remember. Who said “Give me liberty or give me death”? Patrick Henry. Who said “I don’t have no personal quarrel with those Viet Congs”?

An added quote would be assigned to him later: “No Viet Cong ever called me ‘n—–,’ ” but he did not say that. Not now, not for many, many years, if he ever did. The quote was said by other people — activist Stokely Carmichael, for one — but somehow was assigned to Ali in slippery history. His quote was, “I don’t have no personal quarrel with those Viet Congs.”

He would try later to give the words context. He would claim in his 1975 autobiography, The Greatest: My Own Story, that on his way back from the gym that day when he received the news, he had seen some kids throwing rocks at a little girl. He said he stopped and asked what was happening and the kids told him they were playing “army and Viet Cong” and the little girl was Viet Cong. The words made him flash to pictures he had seen in a magazine of a little girl walking among dead bodies outside Saigon. Troubled, he took this little neighborhood child in his arms and walked her home, away from the trouble. The incident was still in his head when he spoke later.

None of this happened. The autobiography would be filled with these little feel-good memories that were too good to be true, bedtime-story perfect, invented by the champ and ghostwriter Richard Durham. He never mentioned the little girl to any reporters on that day. He never even mentioned the Viet Cong until his late interview with Fitzpatrick. The quote that became remembered was another part of his daily torrent of words. Captain Sam Saxon, the man who first introduced Ali to the Nation of Islam in Miami, said he was with the champ at one point in the day and told him, “You got nothing against those Viet Cong,” and the champ agreed, yes, he had nothing against those Viet Cong. Ali perhaps remembered and repeated the phrase in the interview, nobody really conscious of the impact. There was no plan; the words came out with all the other words. The difference was that these words landed in the catch basin of the national mind.

Those Viet Cong were killing more than 18 American kids every day. The death total for 1965 had been 1,928 (double the casualties of any year in the Iraq War), and that would be tripled, to 6,350, in 1966 with the new escalation (more deaths in one year than in the entire Iraq War). In 1968, the height of the Vietnam War, 16,899 American kids would lose their lives. That would be 46 per day.

Not being upset with the Viet Cong seemed much worse than not submitting to the draft or not wanting to be involved in the war. Graphic pictures of these dying American boys had begun to appear on the nightly news. The enemy was supposed to be the enemy.

“I don’t want to scare anybody about it, but there are millions of Muslims around the world watching what is happening to me,” Ali said to Fitzpatrick. “I’m not making a threat [that they’ll get angry and do something]. I’m just saying maybe.”

This was heavy stuff.


Ali was familiar with the role of villain. He had chosen it in the early stages of his professional career, tried it on as if it were a black hat and a scowl discovered in the back of a family closet. He kept it when he found that it brought increased attention and larger paydays.

His marketing idea was that bad was much more interesting than good, an approach that newspapers, the television nightly news, and the gossipy woman next door had adopted long ago. People were more interested in paying money to see Sylvester the Cat than Tweety, Tom more than Jerry, Wile E. Coyote more than that beep-beep Road Runner.

This approach was adopted when Ali returned from the 1960 Olympics with his light-heavyweight gold medal and found himself back at the beginning in the professional side of the sport, no more than another low-watt attraction fighting unheralded opponents named Terry Hunsaker, Herb Siler, Tony Esperti, and Duke Sabedong. Where was the money, the instant payoff for those hundred-plus amateur fights? (His amateur record has been recorded in various places with various numbers, ranging from 99-8 to 137-7.) Where was that joy the country felt when he stood on that podium in Rome, the “Star-Spangled Banner” played for the world to hear? He was in a hurry. What would make people notice again? The answer appeared on his television screen.

“Soon after I turned pro, I discovered that even though I won the Olympic title, I wasn’t making any money,” Ali said to Alex Haley in Playboy. “I was the only champion who didn’t have no jack jangling in his jeans. . . . One night I was watching Gorgeous George on TV. He was jumping around making a lot of noise and threatening his opponents and I said to myself, ‘This guy’s on to something. I think I’ll put some of that into my act.’ ”

Gorgeous George, whose real name was George Raymond Wagner, was an eighth-grade dropout from Nebraska who had become one of television’s first stars in the Fifties, as notable as Lucille Ball or Milton Berle or Bishop Fulton J. Sheen. He strutted into the ring in sequined robes and high-heeled shoes and had bleached-blond hair that looked as if it came from the same bottle Marilyn Monroe used. His personal “valet” preceded him, squirting perfume into the air. George was a sissified, exaggerated stereotype of a homosexual, effeminate to the ultimate, totally in love with himself. He also was a sneaky, dirty wrestler once the matches began. The combination was irresistible. People howled from the moment he was introduced. A ringside spectator named Hatpin Mary sometimes would stick said hatpin into George’s grand backside somewhere during the proceedings, to everyone’s amusement.

Ali, as Cassius Clay at the time, adopted pieces of this act — the villain was known as the “heel” in wrestling, the hero known as the “babyface” — and added some of his own. The adopted parts involved the self-important bluster, the constant confidence, the repeated declarations about how pretty he was, the demonization of every opponent. He became a shouter, eyes bugged out of his head, one of those people who always seemed to be ticking, ready to explode. The predictions, the rhymes, the nonsense were part of his act.

American boxer Cassius Clay (Muhammad Ali) in the ring after his defeat of Sonny Liston in their world heavyweight title fight at Miami Beach, Florida.

Harry Benson/Express/Getty Images

He was especially insufferable and comic in the buildup to the first fight with Liston. He called Liston “The Bear,” and wore a light blue jacket that said “Bear Huntin” on the back. He went to Las Vegas, screamed outside the champ’s house, confronted him in a casino, made his life miserable. He asked if that big bear was as “rangy and fast and pretty as me.” Gorgeous George couldn’t have done any better.

Ali was familiar with the role of villain.

“[Clay] is light-hearted and breezy and has just enough twinkle in his eyes to take most of the obnoxiousness from the wild words he utters,” Arthur Daley of the New York Times said before the fight. “When they are imprisoned in print, however, the twinkle is never captured and Cassius just becomes nauseous.”

The twinkle made its last unadulterated appearance in the moments after Ali won the title. He was outrageous, comical, as he shouted in triumph from the ring at the sportswriters who picked Liston to win easily. He boasted about his looks, his ability, his battle plan for the odd fight that he had won when Liston refused to come out for the seventh round. No doubt about it, the night the young challenger captured the title he was a hoot. He made even his worst detractors admit they had been wrong about what would happen.

The change came the next day with his announcement that he was a member of the Nation of Islam. The comedy of the past was overwhelmed by the message of the present. The bigmouthed character became a Black Muslim. This was not what most of the paying public wanted to hear. The villain’s words now meant something. The jokes took second place to personal philosophy.

“I don’t have to be what you want me to be,” Ali said at his press conference. “I’m free to be who I want.

“I go to a Black Muslim meeting and what do I see?” he said. “I see there’s no smoking and no drinking and their women wear dresses down to the floor,” he said. “And then I come out on the street and you tell me I shouldn’t go in there. Well, there must be something in there if you don’t want me to go in there.

“In the jungle, lions are with lions and tigers with tigers and redbirds stay with redbirds and bluebirds with bluebirds,” he said. “That’s human nature, too, to be with your own kind. I don’t want to go where I’m not wanted.”

The softness here was in contrast to the national image of the NOI and the Honorable Elijah Muhammad. For the white folk who had paid attention, not a large group at the start, this was a cult more than a religion, a theology that talked about white devils and spaceships and a black scientist named Jakub, who had an enormous head and created the white devils 6,000 years ago to persecute the black man.

The Muslims had demands. What was it that Malcolm X always said? “Nobody can give you freedom. Nobody can give you equality or justice or anything. If you’re a man, you take it.” Most national stories about the faith mentioned the large number of convicted criminals who now were members.

At first, there was the thought that Ali’s conversion was a phase, a mistake by a 22-year-old guy — 22 years, 39 days at that — who had landed in a new situation with new levels of fame and economics. He had been brainwashed by some slick salesmen, sold this bill of curious religious goods. He would grow out of it soon enough. A Black Muslim? He would realize a heavyweight champ could have a much easier life.

“He’s always been such a good boy,” said his mother, Odessa Clay. “He’s been taken in by these Muslim people. We pray he’ll see the light — and we think he will.”

Muhammad Ali at the Howard university with the Muslim journal ‘Muhammad Speaks’ produced by an African American organization (Nation of Islam).

Henning Christoph/ullstein bild via Getty Images

“That Muslim stuff is a phony religion,” said his father, Cassius Clay Sr. “They brag that they don’t drink, smoke or fool around with women. That is only one commandment. There are Ten Commandments.”

The depth of Ali’s belief soon became established. If this was a brainwash, it was a very good one. Standing at the side of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad after Malcolm X’s death, the heavyweight champion of the world became a potential target for revenge. He never blinked.

As city after city rejected the idea that it should be the host for his rematch with Liston because of worries of Black Muslim violence, because of the potential for his assassination, his commitment never changed. As the fight finally landed in a hockey rink in Lewiston, Maine, and he trained in Chicopee, Massachusetts, trailed by five policemen every day as he went from his motel room to the converted banquet hall where he sparred, he laughed about the threat. As he was guarded by more than 200 policemen on the night of the fight, with hourly reports of Malcolm X Muslims coming north from New York to kill him, he laughed some more. He then dropped Liston in one round with one “anchor punch,” supposedly taught to him by old-time actor Stepin Fetchit, and as all of America wondered what the hell was going on, he exulted.

“Nobody wants to kill me,” he said. “If they shoot, the gun will explode in their hands, the bullets will turn, Allah will protect me.”

Booed during the introductions, booed during the lopsided fight, booed at the end, Ali converted the night into a morality play.

The Lewiston win was followed six months later with the 12th-round TKO embarrassment of Floyd Patterson. Poor Floyd, 31 years old, was a gentle man, a practicing Catholic, a two-time heavyweight champ who had been knocked out twice by Liston in the first round, causing him to disguise himself in shame when he walked the streets after the fights. He was cast here as a classic babyface by Ali, drawn for the fight as “The Rabbit,” as the white man’s version of a good black man, yessir, nosir, Uncle Tom. Ali cast himself, of course, as the heel. He was the belligerent black man the white man feared in the night.

Booed during the introductions, booed during the lopsided fight, booed at the end, Ali converted the night into a morality play. True Black Man pummels Fake Black Man. He would use this plotline often during his boxing career, no one ever sure if he was kidding to hype the crowd or was as serious as could be. The answer was left to the observer to decide. Ali simply laid out the story.

His domination of Patterson was obvious. The challenger, who claimed he hurt his back in the fourth, didn’t win a single round. Ali played with him, taunted him, called him “the white man’s black man,” said, “Come on, black man, fight for America.” He seemingly could have knocked him out in any round, finally dropped him in the sixth, then finished him in the 12th. Ali would claim that he was waiting for the referee to stop the fight all night, that he tried not to hurt Patterson, but the ringside view mostly was that he punished the challenger for insisting on calling him “Clay,” not his Muslim name, in the prefight publicity whirl. Fake or real, the villain was in charge all the way.

“He’s mean,” legendary retired champion Joe Louis said. “He worked that poor Floyd over good. He handled him like a baby and he gave him more than he had to give him. I think he could have knocked him out from the first round if he wanted to, but he didn’t want to. I think he just let him have it for fun.”

“While we were fighting, Clay said maybe once or twice in the earlier rounds, maybe like in the third or fourth, ‘What’s my name?’ and I said ‘Cassius,’ ” Patterson said years later. “And finally, in the latter part of the fight, I’d say in the ninth, tenth or eleventh round, and I was really taking a really bad beating, suffering, he said ‘Now what’s my name?’ I believe I said the same thing, ‘Cassius Clay and that’s what it’s always going to be, regardless of the results of this fight. Cassius Clay.’ ”

“Round one, I said, ‘What’s my name?’ ” Ali said, some number of years later. “He didn’t say nothing. So round two, round three, I hit him with my right hand. ‘What’s my name?’ He said, ‘Muhammad Ali, Muhammad Ali.’ ”

Either way, the fight was a showcase for Ali. This was how well he could box. The two bouts against Liston had been characterized by their strange conclusions. This fight was characterized by Ali’s abilities. He had dazzle, flash, incredible speed. There never had been a heavyweight champ like this young guy. He danced and moved like a middleweight, but had the size and power of a heavyweight. He had told everyone before the fight that Joe Louis would have been too slow to beat him. Rocky Marciano would have been too short. Jack Johnson would have been too ugly. Jack Dempsey would have been too light and couldn’t punch. That left him at the top. The Greatest. He looked the part against poor Patterson.

He said he didn’t need love. He had talent.

“I’m not worried about those boos,” he said. “Those were white people. I got all the black people, some white people, too, and the people of Africa and Asia.”

That theory would be tested with his remarks about the draft and the Viet Cong. The volume became louder. Starting now.

The fight for reparations can be a useful decoy in solving America’s racial wealth gap ‘Baby bonds’ is a more politically viable answer to the disparity in black and white wealth

Reparations can help close the racial wealth gap — just not the way you might think.

America’s racial wealth gap should leave us all gloomy. For every dollar owned by the median black household, the median white household owned $13. And for every dollar owned by the median Latino household, the median white household owned $10. Those numbers are from a recent study, The Asset Value of Whiteness, produced by researchers at the think tank Demos and Brandeis University, based on data from 2013.

Our path to this inequity began centuries ago: Slavery. Segregation. Redlining. We don’t appreciate how much programs like the GI Bill disproportionately helped white World War II veterans attend college and buy homes with guaranteed mortgages. This and other federal policies intentionally bolstered a largely white American middle class while crippling that of people of color.

A country in which wealth is so unevenly distributed along racial lines reproduces racial stratification generation after generation. As the study notes, if “a substantial racial wealth gap persists, white households will continue to enjoy greater advantages than their black and Latino neighbors in meeting the financial challenges of everyday life and will be able to make greater investments in their children, passing economic advantages on.”

Crucially, the report refutes theories that a lack of personal responsibility explains the gap. Minorities should just attend college more. Raise their children in two-parent households. Get full-time jobs. Spend less money. None of these appreciably closes the racial wealth gap, though.

How can we ameliorate this situation? I see two ways forward.

One way is to champion universal policies that help all racial groups but disproportionately help people of color because they disproportionately lack wealth. An idea called “baby bonds” is the best version of such a policy.

The other way is to push for race-conscious policies such as reparations. The former provides a more viable route, given political realities, but reparations can be a strategic decoy that eases the acceptance of baby bonds. We must walk both paths if the racial wealth gap is to ever be closed.


William “Sandy” Darity Jr., a Duke economics professor, and Darrick Hamilton, an economics professor at The New School in New York, came up with the idea for baby bonds.

Each newborn child would be granted a bond, a federally funded trust fund of sorts. The poorest child would get, say, $60,000, with the amount dwindling to nothing for the children of the richest families. The money would be put in an interest-bearing account that becomes accessible upon adulthood and could only be used for wealth-building activities, such as going to college or putting a down payment on a home. They figure the program would cost about $60 billion per year, which, Darity and Hamilton wrote in an academic paper, is “less than 10% of the non-war spending budget for the Department of Defense.”

Some might contend that baby bonds, by focusing on wealth rather than race, unsatisfactorily address a racial problem. But, Darity and Hamilton argue in their paper, “Since the distributions of white and non-white wealth are so disparate — 85% of black families have wealth holdings below the median white family — wealth can be an effective non-race-based instrument to eliminate racial inequality.” Darity told me he thinks baby bonds “could go a long way toward closing the racial wealth gap.”

The universality of baby bonds also gives it the potential to attract support from an interracial coalition of working-class people pursuing their own economic self-interest. Such a coalition could form a base that a political majority can rest upon. A poor white person in West Virginia would have as much reason to support this program as a poor black person in rural Alabama. Baby bonds might get people to appreciate their commonality with others who, because of race, rarely think of themselves as having the same interests.

Given our political climate, many will be pessimistic about the likelihood of forming such an interracial coalition. Although that sentiment is understandable, we have reason for optimism.

The current era in American politics can be compared to Southern Redemption, the period when white supremacist politicians regained power after Reconstruction. In the wake of Redemption, however, Southern populist movements in the late 1800s gained traction, getting poor white folk to ally with poor black folk by explicitly arguing that powerful white elites kept them both in poverty. These populist politicians carried a consistent and truthful message: White elites used racism to separate white and black folk who were mired in destitution yet could be lifted together through responsive lawmaking.

These times call for a similar movement, which will admittedly require a gargantuan effort. But the fact that politicians in the 1880s, two decades after the end of slavery, were able to join working people of different races should give us hope. Baby bonds — particularly because they focus on what people are most concerned with, the future of their children — can be a policy that drives this movement.


Reparations are the most prominent race-conscious means to address the racial wealth gap. But when can we conclude that a seed will never germinate? Black folk have been working the reparations land for more than two centuries with little to show for it.

During the Revolutionary War, Peter, a free black man behind British lines, was enslaved by William Steel, an American officer. Peter was freed after six months, but years later he sued Steel for back wages, one of the first claims for reparations for the atrocities visited upon black people. The court held that he articulated a viable claim but awarded him no money.

Toward the end of the Civil War, when black folk who freed themselves cried out for land of their own, Gen. William T. Sherman’s Special Field Order No. 15 provided them a loaned mule and 40-acre plots on the Southern coastline. President Andrew Johnson later revoked it, however, returning the land to its original white owners.

In 1894, a bill was introduced in the U.S. Senate that would have paid a lump sum of at most $500 and monthly pensions ranging from $4 to $15 to formerly enslaved people and their children. This and comparable bills never received floor votes in either house of Congress, and the “pension movement” fizzled once World War I started. Reparations arguments bubbled up again during the 1960s. And in every congressional session since 1987, Rep. John Conyers has introduced a bill that would form a commission to study the effects of slavery and American apartheid and “recommend appropriate remedies.” This bill has gone nowhere. The struggle continues, but the goal is still far away in the distance.

Reparations were once just about slavery. Its proponents have updated the claim to include harm from Jim Crow, 19th- and 20th-century white-over-black governing and 21st-century racial discrimination. The underlying claim is simple: A series of evils have been inflicted on black people, causing various lacerations requiring healing. That healing, under the most-discussed scenarios, would come in the form of taxpayer-funded payouts. And therein lies the issue — the belief that white folk would ever take billions out of their pockets to specifically remedy the harm perpetrated upon black folk.

The reparations movement has never managed to get around that impasse, as many white people are loath to do right by black people without also reaping a benefit.

To flesh out the point, let’s examine Sherman’s field order. He devised it not to champion black interests but to aid himself: He needed a way to discard, while also providing for, the freedmen who had followed his troops during their march from Atlanta to the Atlantic Ocean. And he desired to punish the Confederates who started the war. He achieved both with one move. If he thought the order would have helped the freedmen but undercut the Union’s interests, Sherman would never have championed it, and President Abraham Lincoln would never have endorsed it.

Besides doing nothing to close the racial wealth gap regarding Latinos, reparations provide little to black folk — because it’s a dream that will never come to life.


Despite my pessimism about reparations, the movement can act as a strategic decoy to help popularize a policy like baby bonds.

Think back to Martin Luther King Jr.’s civil rights movement triumphs. He was one voice among many petitioning for racial equality. Several of the others who registered nationally came from his political left. Malcolm X and black power advocates like Stokely Carmichael helped King because they made his militancy appear moderate. King’s desire for black folk to be equal partners in American democracy departed dramatically from the status quo, yet he looked judicious in a sea of more militant aesthetics.

Advocacy for reparations can have the same effect: It can be the radical idea that makes baby bonds seem like a moderate panacea to the racial wealth gap.

Even so, reparations should be sold differently to be a better strategic decoy. Al Brophy, a law professor at the University of North Carolina and the author of Reparations: Pro and Con, told me that, “one time I flippantly suggested we should [put forward a reparations bill] in Congress and call it the ‘White Supremacy Maintenance Act.’ Call it something that will be acceptable to the voters and put something else in it.” I concur with Brophy’s main thrust. The times perhaps call for a marketing shift that plays to many white folks’ self-interest.

That new rationale for reparations should focus on how centuries of racism has created a market inefficiency that harms everyone. American capitalism underperforms since black folk, 13 percent of the country’s population, are unable to contribute as much as they should because of a lack of wealth. The injustices that black folk have suffered hurt all participants in our economy, not just black folk. Perhaps an unemployed white man from Cincinnati, for instance, would have a job if a black woman had the money to start a small business. Reparations for black folk, in other words, would redound to everyone’s benefit.

According to a 2016 YouGov poll, two-thirds of Americans oppose reparations. I don’t expect this new rationale to drag reparations across the all-important “50 percent in favor” threshold. This is a smart tactical shift, nonetheless, for two reasons. First, it could make reparations more popular, coaxing its opponents to favor a less radical idea like baby bonds. Second, selling reparations like this teaches white people to cease thinking about wealth as a zero-sum game — more wealth for people of color doesn’t necessarily mean less wealth for them.

The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame honor Tupac Shakur knew he’d never live to see ‘I want when they see me, every day when I’m breathin’, it’s for us to go farther,’ said Shakur. ‘Every time I speak I want the truth to come out.’

Tupac was never supposed to be Bishop.

While waiting on a solo record deal in late 1990, the 2017 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductee decided to slide through a movie audition with fellow Digital Underground member Money-B. The call was for a movie titled Juice, and B’s audition was for the role of Bishop, the film’s live wire. With insecurities that predisposed him to psychotic outbursts and homicidal impulses, Bishop’s character jumped off the script. B’s attempt wasn’t enough to land him the part. So ’Pac asked for a try.

The film’s producer, Neal Moritz — who would later work on 1999’s Cruel Intentions and Blue Streak, multiple installments of the The Fast and the Furious series and 2012’s 21 Jump Street — had no clue who Tupac Amaru Shakur was. And he certainly had no clue about Shakur’s high school theater experience at the Baltimore School for the Arts. And frankly, Moritz had nothing to lose giving Money B’s friend a shot. “[Tupac] was dynamic, bold, powerful, magnetic — any word you want to use,” Moritz said in Cathy Scott’s 1997 The Killing of Tupac Shakur. “Tupac was it. We cast him right on the spot.”

’Pac not only executed the script, he became the paranoid and sadistic Bishop — a gift and curse that would haunt him for the remainder of his days. Many mistakenly thought Shakur wasn’t acting Bishop but merely portraying an extension of himself. And his intensity in the role may have come from an inner desperation: Aside from Shakur, no one quite understood that he was in a race against time. Filmed in Harlem with Spike Lee’s cinematographer Ernest Dickerson as director, Moritz couldn’t wait to congratulate the blessing he never saw coming.

“Ten years from now,” he told Shakur, “you’re going to be a star.” Moritz believed he’d witnessed the birth of Hollywood’s next transcendent thespian. It was as much a thrill for him as it had to have been for Shakur. But Moritz could’ve never predicted the response.

“Ten years from now,” ‘Pac said matter-of-factly, “I’m not going to be alive.”


Shakur was undoubtedly dramatic. This was the guy who spat (repeatedly) on reporters and gave them the finger. He flaunted his “THUG LIFE” tattoo. He fell in love with Janet Jackson during the filming of 1993’s Poetic Justice. He was also the guy who checked himself out of a hospital, fearing for his life, three days after being shot five times in midtown New York City and two days after having been convicted of sex abuse — a crime he went to his grave vehemently denying. What he told Moritz, though, wasn’t for the sake of drama. Death didn’t haunt Shakur as much as it became a fact of who Shakur was and, weirdly, a fate he sought to meet.

He lived life constantly preparing for death.

“Nah, I didn’t,” he told MTV’s Tabitha Soren in 1995 shortly after being bailed out of prison by Suge Knight and Death Row Records. She’d asked whether he thought he was going to die after the 1994 shooting. “I know how it’s gonna be when I die. It’s gonna be no noise. You won’t hear people screaming. I’ma fade out.”

Tupac Shakur leaves a New York City courtroom after a hearing in his sodomy case.

James Leynse/Corbis via Getty Images

Less than a year later, in an intensive care unit in Las Vegas’ University Medical Center, he did just that. His last words had happened at the scene of the crime. During his final moments of consciousness, he said “F– you,” to the police responders who found his bloody body at the corner of Koval and Flamingo minutes after the Sept. 7, 1996, shooting. At the hospital he was heavily sedated with a potluck of medicines. Machines performed the functions his body normally would.

’Pac died a week later. With the blessing of his mother, Afeni Shakur, under Jada Pinkett’s tears and the pain of fiancée Kidada Jones’ regret. No screams. No noise. Just how he’d prophesied. He faded away. A muted conclusion to his generation’s most defiant musical leader.

Embracing the blessings of life many receive wasn’t in Shakur’s destiny. He knew many misunderstood him and painted him as crazy. And he knew his truths would never be accepted while air still resided in his lungs. To the America who viewed him as an ill, he was just another “n—a with an attitude.”

He frequently alluded to the realization that he’d never live long enough to hear the adoration he commanded, like Allen Iverson’s nod to him (and others) at his Basketball Hall of Fame induction last year. Shakur knew he wouldn’t have an opportunity to say, “I do.” Or have kids, as he said on 1995’s “So Many Tears,” so he could see a part of me that wasn’t always shaded.

In the final weeks of his life, though, the concept of death began a tug of war with a future. A bright one, at that. A future involving marriage and children with Jones, daughter of Quincy. She was the one whom he promised every night “I’d take a bullet for you.”

Still, Shakur knew he wouldn’t live long enough to see moments like the one scheduled at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center this weekend. He is the first solo rapper to be inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, and this year’s inductees include Pearl Jam, Journey, Joan Baez and more. The meaning of ’Pac’s induction spans beyond music because his impact is felt beyond hit records, diamond-selling albums and rap beef. As right as he was wrong, as brilliant as he was problematic and as intellectually adventurous as he was set in his ways, there’s no one way to discuss the man without embracing the entirety of his revolutionary yet destructive spirit. He barely lived to see 25.

History taught him that the fight to speak for communities silenced by mainstream America wasn’t synonymous with a long life. He mentioned Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X throughout his life as icons whose work he and his generation could draw inspiration from, and whose struggles and sacrifices he saw in his own.

Rapper and actor Tupac Shakur attends the event.

Lawrence Schwartzwald/Sygma via Getty Images

“It’s time to be like [King and Malcolm X], as strong as them,” he said. “They were mortal men like us, and every one of us can be like them.” Premonitions of his own demise became warped iterations of King’s “Mountaintop” speech, or “1965,” the final erratic and emotional chapter in Malcolm X’s autobiography. Oftentimes when ’Pac spoke of life in the future, he was never there, but his spirit always was. Raised by revolutionaries and Panthers, he inherited the price tag of black rebellion. He lived life preparing for death.

“Ten years from now,” ’Pac said matter-of-factly, “I’m not going to be alive.”

“I don’t wanna be 50 years old at a BET We Shall Overcome Achievement Awards. Not me,” he said. “I want when they see me, every day when I’m breathin’, it’s for us to go farther. Every time I speak I want the truth to come out. Every time I speak I wanna shiver.”

It should be soothing to hear Snoop Dogg commemorate his fallen friend, former labelmate and, perhaps most fascinating, the man he credits with saving his marriage. In an ideal world, Jada Pinkett and Mike Tyson — two people who knew him, his fears and ambitions better than most, and who saw the shifts in outlook and personality throughout the various stages in his life — would be in attendance. And the parley about who should or should not have performed his music at his induction will rage for years.

Where Shakur ranks all-time in the history of music is up for debate. Whether he should be rap’s first solo inductee into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame is, too. What’s not debatable is the gravitational pull he has and will continue to have on society at large. As polarizing today as he was in the ’90s when he went eye to eye with Congress and police departments, he lived rap’s most emotional life story. Shakur exceeded his potential, yet — and this is what’s so painful — left even more on the table. His life was a Shakespearean tragedy, only with weed, guns and the unyielding desire to change the only reality he’d ever known.

“If I can’t live free, if I can’t live with the same respect as the next man, I don’t wanna be here. [Because] God has cursed me to see what life should be like,” he said in 1994. “If God wanted me to be this person and be happy here, He wouldn’t let me feel so oppressed. He wouldn’t let me feel so trampled on. He wouldn’t let me think the things I think. So I feel like I’m doing God’s work.”

The tragedy for all of us, and for musical and popular culture, is that it’s morbidly and depressingly fitting that Tupac isn’t here to see the heights of his immortality. And worse, he didn’t intend to be here.

The Rock: The biggest action star in the world had to get through the WWE first Dwayne Johnson has been wrestling for years with the politics of race, pro wrestling and Hollywood

The Rock is black.

I grew up in the late ’80s and ’90s watching wrestlers who looked like me play thugs and jive-talking ex-cons while losing most of their matches. So The Rock was the black superhero I needed. And as much as he’s relied on his Samoan heritage for a starting point most other black wrestlers haven’t had the benefit of, Dwayne Johnson should be celebrated for thriving and becoming a megastar in the face of, at best, microaggressions and, at worst, outright racism. He’s an All-American heroic movie star now, but bigotry has — all puns intended — colored how he was introduced when he debuted for World Wrestling Entertainment in 1997, and the way he was received when he returned in 2011.

Johnson’s televised WWE debut at New York City’s Madison Square Garden was as “Rocky Maivia.” He won a marquee match for a pay-per-view called Survivor Series. From the moment Johnson hit WWE television he was marked as wrestling’s Next Big Superstar. And why wouldn’t he be? Wrestling’s LeBron James before LeBron James, Johnson was a 6-foot-6, 250-pound University of Miami football national champion (defensive lineman) who was athletic enough to jump from the top rope and leapfrog his opponents in the middle of the ring. Wrestling hadn’t seen anyone with his mix of size and athleticism.

But, even as the first African-American wrestler WWE had ever been really chosen for superstardom, Rocky took a circuitous route to the top. The plan was for Rocky to be a happy-go-lucky “babyface,” or good guy, who would smile and high-five fans in an era when wrestlers such as Stone Cold Steve Austin cursed and raised middle fingers. Soon, crowds began chanting “Die, Rocky, Die.” The Rocky Maivia experiment was dead.

The Rock was wrestling’s LeBron James before LeBron James.

Johnson and the WWE started over by embracing the crowd’s jeers and turning Johnson’s character into a villain. And here’s why it’s difficult to defend any notion that Johnson wasn’t considered “black” during his WWE run: Vince McMahon turned Rocky Maivia into a villain by placing him with the now-defunct and villainous black power faction The Nation Of Domination. The group, consisting of wrestlers nicknamed Farooq and D’Lo Brown among others, was a “Black Panther”/“Nation of Islam” spoof that used pro-black racial slogans (ending many promos with “by any means necessary,” a direct nod to Malcolm X) and spoke on how WWE was holding black wrestlers down. The Rock, though, initially distanced himself from the group’s racial aspects when he joined: “This isn’t about the color of my skin,” he said during a promo on an August 1997 edition of Raw in front of rabidly booing fans. “This is about respect.” Still, his association with The Nation and what they represented infuriated white audiences. The Nation used to put a fist in air at the end of their matches to a chorus of boos.

The Rock In WWF Smackdown.

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Rock’s time with The Nation allowed him the freedom to be an amplified version of himself. He ditched the smile and terrible hair. “I’ve got f—ing chia pet on my head as a haircut,” he said in 2016 when looking back at his first match. And he switched from Rocky Maivia to The Rock: a mean-spirited, cocky, Rolex-wearing antagonist who called himself “The People’s Champ” and started ending his promos with the unforgettable “If you smell what the Rock is cooking.”

It was during this time that The Rock became a premier talker, one of the elite promo guys in wrestling history. Eventually, as much as he tried to remain a villain and make wrestling crowds hate him, his charisma was overpowering. By 1998, The Rock was one of the most popular stars in wrestling — although his ability to talk a crowd into a frenzy was a curse for his win/loss record. The Rock would lose matches at almost every major event, and then, on Monday Night Raw episodes, flash his catchphrases and make the crowd forget he ever lost. While this is a testament to his great mic work and his ability to transcend losses, it became infuriating to watch him get pinned so many times.

The Rock’s legendary career is littered with high-profile losses, namely WrestleMania 16 (aka WrestleMania 2000, because everything in the year 2000 had 2000 in its name), in which he was pinned in the main event by rival (on- and off-screen) Triple H. This marked the first time in which a good guy (The Rock) was pinned by a villain at the event. WrestleMania had been seen as WWE’s unofficial season finale in which the hero finally has his hand raised in triumph. All the great heroes had these moments; Hulk Hogan, Austin, Shawn Michaels and Randy Savage celebrated WrestleMania main event wins while confetti fell from the rafters.

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That wasn’t the case for Rocky in 2000 or in 2001 when he lost to a newly villainous Stone Cold Steve Austin. Of the 32 WrestleMania main events, bad guys have walked away the winner only four times. The Rock was the good guy who lost two of those matches. The 2001 loss is justifiable: The Rock was on his way to film Scorpion King, and it’s wrestling tradition to lose on the way out. The 2000 loss is harder to stomach. On one hand, the loss was a testament to the aforementioned belief that The Rock’s charisma can withstand any loss no matter how high-profile. It’s also evidence of The Rock being a team player willing to “put wrestlers over” or allow them to look good at his expense when other wrestlers in his position have politicked to make sure they won.

Whatever the case, The Rock was until 2012 the only megastar good guy to not have a WrestleMania main event win since the show’s inception. He returned that year and beat John Cena. To this day, The Rock is the only black wrestler, with except for the actor Mr. T and NFL legend Lawrence Taylor, to ever, in 32 years, have a main event match at WrestleMania. Not seeing The Rock win when he was in his prime feels similar to the Oscar snubs Denzel Washington was experiencing during the same era.

In 2004, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson quit wrestling to become a movie star. As we speak, The Fate of the Furious, the latest installment in one of the most successful and most diverse film franchises ever, is scheduled for an April 14 release. It’s on its eighth episode, and The Rock has starred in four of them. The seven years he spent as a wrestler prepared him to be Hollywood’s biggest action hero by placing in his path just the kind of obstacles and pitfalls he’d face before film cameras. In truth, for The Rock to make it to Hollywood, he had to fight his way through wrestling’s own showbiz universe.


Johnson’s slow exit occurred without announcement or fanfare. He’d actually started scaling back his WWE appearances in 2001. “I never ever wanted to utilize and leverage the WWE to help my movie career, which is why I had to step away,” he said in the 2012 documentary The Epic Journey Of The Rock.

The Rock, even as many fans clamored for his return, was portrayed by some of his former wrestling peers as someone who believed he was too good for wrestling. “Rock,” one anonymous WWE talent texted PWInsider in 2011, “is out for Rock.” Wrestling crowds are loyal, and the idea that someone wanted to move on to something else was an affront to their dedication. There’s a racial component as well: wrestling’s biggest star of color deciding to walk away from mostly white audiences across the country for bigger and better things? For many, it didn’t fly.

Dwayne ”The Rock” Johnson and John Cena in action during WrestleMania XXVIII at Sun Life Stadium on April 1, 2012 in Miami Gardens, Florida.

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In 2009, Cena, effectively WWE’s new version of The Rock, criticized The Rock. “For him to go on the front and say, ‘I love the business’ and then not be a part of it [is something I’d never do],” Cena told MTV, seemingly speaking for other wrestlers who believed that Johnson become too big for his spandex tights — with his patented “Brahma Bull” on the back. By then The Rock was a movie star (though not the megastar he would become), having appeared in movies such as The Scorpion King, Doom and Be Cool (the last with a cast including John Travolta, Christina Milian, Cedric The Entertainer and Harvey Keitel). Cena’s comments remain interesting — especially as he’s begun appearing in movies and on television more himself, acting alongside Amy Schumer in 2015’s Trainwreck and hosting Saturday Night Live last December.

The Rock was the only megastar good guy to not have a WrestleMania main event win since the show’s inception.

And the chatter that doesn’t go away has to do with Johnson’s complex relationship with race, as well as the public’s views on his interactions with the idea of race and “what” he is, or isn’t. Johnson is half-black and half-Samoan. He is the son of Canadian-born “Soul Man” Rocky Johnson, one half of the WWE’s first tag team champions. His mother is Ata Maivia-Johnson. His maternal grandfather was wrestling legend High Chief Peter Maivia. The Maivia family tree is wrestling royalty (current WWE superstars include Roman Reigns and Nia Jax), known for in-ring instincts and charisma.

The Rock’s Polynesian/Samoan roots have allowed him to escape the plight of so many black wrestlers. He’s never portrayed a pimp or a gangster or any overtly racist stereotype typical of the WWE. Also, Johnson is a master of code-switching. At times racially ambiguous on-screen — his two white daughters in San Andreas come to mind — The Rock also rhymes alongside Busta Rhymes in the ring or wears an Afro or daps up Rick Ross when the opportunity presents itself.

The easy response is to say that The Rock is multiracial so he’s merely speaking to all sides of his heritage. However, there’s a definite benefit for him. By not playing strictly black characters, he’s allowed access to more films — his role in Fast Five was originally written for Tommy Lee Jones, for instance — that don’t need to rework scripts or recast roles based on the star’s race.


In 2001, The Rock was splitting his time between wrestling and Hollywood, but he still managed to have a classic match with Hogan in Toronto for WrestleMania 18. It was a legendary moment before one of the most rabid crowds in wrestling history. At WrestleMania 19, he had a match with Austin. The Rock won both matches, giving him the opportunity to leave with his hand raised even if it wasn’t to close out either show. At WrestleMania 20 in 2004, The Rock participated in what was to be his last match for the WWE for eight years. As he told the Wrestling Observer in 2005: “The company and I are at an odd crossroad. It was an oddly quiet ending, without any interaction or communication from the front office or [Vince McMahon]. Surprising, to say the least, especially after eight years.” He was no longer The Rock. He was Dwayne Johnson.

And still, Johnson agreed to come back for a more engaged role with WWE in 2011, hosting WrestleMania 27 in Atlanta. The announcement was made when The Rock made a surprise return on the Feb. 15 edition of Raw. And he wasted no time firing shots at Cena.

The next two years would be spent building a scripted feud between The Rock and Cena revolving around their real-life animosity. They headlined WrestleMania for two straight years, with The Rock showing up in the months leading up to each WrestleMania but staying away from WWE the rest of the year. The buildup to WrestleMania 28, which took place in The Rock’s hometown of Miami, was a fascinating mix of planned altercations and true resentment. The most noteworthy moment came on Feb. 12, 2012: Cena went off script and called out The Rock for having notes written on his wrist for his in-ring promo, causing a stare-down that was so tense it felt like they would have a real fight. They didn’t, but they had a main event match and The Rock finally got his big WrestleMania main event win. Finally.

“John and I had a real different relationship back then,” he told Jonathan Coachman in 2016. “I did not like him, and he did not like me, and it was legitimate.” Which, for someone who’s as guarded as The Rock, translates to, I hated his guts. Old habits die hard. The Rock is apparently currently beefing with his Furious co-star Vin Diesel during the run-up to the premiere.

Aside from Cena, The Rock’s biggest obstacle to a true comeback came from wrestlers who believed he was taking their deserved WrestleMania spot. Being able to main-event WrestleMania is the biggest accolade any wrestler can hope to accomplish. Wrestlers work year-round to get booked at the top spot, where more eyes are glued to a ring than at any other point in the year. So when The Rock, a part-time wrestler, got that spot, wrestlers such as Dolph Ziggler and Randy Orton couldn’t wait to go public with their anger. “Anybody in the locker room that says it doesn’t piss them off,” said CM Punk, “that he works however many days a year he works when we’re working 300 days a year … they’re kidding themselves.”

All of this reeks of haterism. White wrestlers spouting ideas about The Rock staying in his place and not leaving the WWE to become more successful reeks of microaggression and racially coded language — as if they were happy with The Rock’s success as long as it served WWE, its wrestlers and their bottom line. But once he got too successful, it became a problem. The resentment has only been magnified as we roll up to this weekend’s WrestleMania.

The main event of WrestleMania 33 is a world title match between Bill Goldberg, a 50-year-old wrestler who hasn’t been active since 2004, and Brock Lesnar, who, like The Rock, left WWE in 2004 to pursue an NFL career that eventually turned into a dominant run with mixed martial arts. Both wrestlers are on “special attraction” contracts with WWE that allow them to make limited TV appearances.

As much as he tried to remain a villain, and make wrestling crowds hate him, his charisma was overpowering. By 1998, The Rock was one of the most popular stars in wrestling.

Goldberg is the current WWE Universal champion who beat full-time wrestler Kevin Owens in less than a minute. The two men are rarely on television, yet they have supplanted WWE’s full-time stars. But what’s notable here is that there hasn’t been nearly the amount of backlash from wrestlers about their spots being taken. There hasn’t been much public complaining from wrestlers about the main event.

Maybe wrestlers saw the paychecks they received from the WrestleManias in which The Rock participated, thanks to those shows having record-breaking buy rates. Maybe they’ve learned to deal with the new wave: The Rock was just the first in a new trend of part-time stars taking main events. Cena, who is now effectively a part-time wrestler who has begun guest hosting on The Today Show, has changed his tune about The Rock:

“I consider what I said back then the stupidest stuff ever,” he said on a December 2016 episode of WWE’s Talking Smack. “I was looking at it through very blinded eyes. I really wanted The Rock to come back to the WWE, and figured that hitting him where it hurts would get him back … it worked. But I’ve apologized to him in person; I’m on the web for the world to see. I was wrong, he was right. He’s now the highest-paid actor in Hollywood, he has transcended this business and I think … any time a superstar can give what he’s given to the WWE, and then transcend the WWE, that’s good for all of us.”

For the past couple of years, The Rock’s WrestleMania appearances have been surprises. He hasn’t wrestled since his WrestleMania 29 rematch with Cena in which he tore not only his abdomen but also his adductor muscles off the bone. Part of the dilemma is that any injury The Rock suffers can derail Johnson’s filming schedule for months.

Johnson’s wrestler name, The Rock, has taken on a double meaning for a man who seems to have an impenetrable surface of chiseled muscle, pearly white teeth and an infectious smile. Because, yes, Johnson smiles. A lot. His image is that of a man with a perfect life. But beneath that surface is a man who spent years battling expectations and a wrestling industry that rarely knew what to do with a star like him. For kids like me, he was a black superhero before he was a black superhero. We’ll always remember.

World Wrestling Federation’s Wrestler Rock Poses June 12, 2000 In Los Angeles, Ca.

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What do HBCUs think about the visit with President Trump? The Rhoden Fellows, our correspondents on six campuses, tell us what university presidents and students are saying

The Rhoden Fellows Initiative is a two-year training program for the next generation of sports journalists from historically black colleges and universities, headed by former New York Times award-winning columnist and Undefeated editor-at-large William C. Rhoden. The fellowship – established as part of The Undefeated’s mission to develop new voices and serve as an incubator for future multicultural journalists – is open to outstanding undergraduate students at HBCUs.

Through the lens of sports, the fellows will produce stories about race, class, and culture and serve as campus correspondents for The Undefeated. There are six students in the inaugural class: Miniya Shabazz, Grambling State University; Kyla Wright, Hampton University; Paul Holston, Howard University; C. Isaiah Smalls, Morehouse College; Simone Benson, Morgan State University; Donovan Dooley, North Carolina A&T.

Below are reports on what’s happening on their campuses in reaction to the White House visit by HBCU presidents and President Donald Trump’s executive order on HBCUs. C. Isaiah Smalls’ report about Morehouse College is a separate story.


Hampton University

Hampton University students had a lot to say.

“I feel that the executive order on HBCUs was a ploy to gain interest from the black community,” said Victoria Blow, a junior and strategic communications major from Franklin, Virginia. It was difficult for students to find authenticity and a sense of genuineness in the invitation to HBCU presidents, she said, especially after hearing that President Donald Trump referred to the HBCU presidents as “you people.”

“[President] Trump meeting with HBCU presidents reminds me of ‘The Ballot or the Bullet’ speech by Malcolm X … Trump wants to sugarcoat his bigotry to the HBCU presidents,” said Daryl Riley Jr., a sophomore and electrical engineering major from Newburgh, New York. Riley referred to an excerpt in the speech, saying, “… the first thing the [white racist] does when he comes to power, he takes all the Negro leaders and invites them for coffee, to show them that he’s all right …”

Hamptonians expressed concerns about what went on at the White House.


Despite reports, Morehouse president hasn’t been fired over Trump statement


Students admired Morehouse College president John S. Wilson for releasing a statement about the events with Trump and his administration, and were disappointed they had not seen a statement from their university president. “I would have liked [President William R. Harvey] to reassure us that he and the other university leaders would hold Trump accountable for delivering what he claimed he would do in the executive order,” said Aris Fulton, a sophomore communicative sciences and disorders major from Charlotte, North Carolina.

“I run Hampton like a business, for educational objectives. I do what I think is best, I do what I think is right. I always have and I always will,” said Harvey. Though he doesn’t plan on sending out anything to students, Harvey said that he does intend to send something to Hampton alumni. In regards to remarks made by other university presidents about the visit, Harvey said that he thinks that they were either “uninformed, naïve or disingenuous.”

Harvey has been to the White House more than 200 times during his 39-year presidency and said he’s familiar with these presidential meetings. “If they were expecting to go into the Oval Office and query the president, then that was a false expectation. That doesn’t happen.” Harvey thought that the conference went well, considering that they met with the president, vice president and top advisers to the president. Harvey went on to say this meeting with a majority of HBCU presidents was monumental and to his knowledge, it was the first time that all of the HBCU leaders met in one room – usually it is one or two presidents along with other HBCU representatives.

While many students were upset about the idea of the visit, others remained optimistic. They said they are hopeful that Trump’s administration can follow through with his plans for HBCUs and that the universities’ executive leadership can stand behind him for the greater good of their higher education.

“Regardless of your political views, or views on Trump in particular, it is important to create dialogue about what our HBCUs need in order to continue to succeed. Therefore, I am not against our president, Dr. Harvey, or any other HBCU presidents visiting the White House,” said Warren Hill, a senior finance major from Cincinnati. “President Trump has promised to do more for HBCUs than any other president. However, it is hard to stay optimistic in light of Trump’s many contradictions … as well as Betsy DeVos’ recent misinformed comments regarding the legacy of HBCUs.”

“Give more scholarships to youth who decide to attend HBCUs. Work hands-on with student leaders on campuses, create more internship opportunities for our students within the government … how about that?” said Brittany Daniels, a sophomore marketing major from Queens, New York.

Grambling State University

“It was significant regardless of who the president is. The fact that we as a collective group of such large numbers were there at the same time was historic and significant,” said Grambling State University president Richard Gallot.

During his visit, discussions focused on the White House Initiative on HBCUs being moved back to the White House from the Department of Education, the expansion of access to Parent PLUS loans, investment in school infrastructure, and a reinstatement of year-round Pell Grants. This would benefit Grambling because approximately 90 percent of Grambling students are eligible for Pell Grants.

He emphasizes that patience is key.

“Coming from a legislative background, these kinds of things take time. If anybody had an expectation that we would go to Washington and all go home with a check was not a realistic expectation on how this process works,” said Wilson.

Taylor Stewart showed a special interest in these meetings because there is already a lack of funding for higher education in Louisiana. “The biggest thing that concerns most HBCU students is the funding of HBCUs as far as Pell Grants and making sure that they will be able to have the financial aid to last them all four years,” said Stewart, GSU’s Miss Covergirl and a public relations major from Columbia, Maryland.

Stewart, 21, believes actions speak louder than words. “I appreciate that Gallot went to the meeting because you should always want to meet the person in charge, but I don’t feel that it was beneficial.”

When Gallot met Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Florida), he saw why it was important for him to establish relationships. The senator told Gallot that he grew up as a big fan of legendary Grambling football coach Eddie Robinson and the Bayou Classic football game. “Who knew that a senator from Florida was a fan of coach Eddie Robinson at the Bayou Classic?” said Gallot.

Gallot did not accept the invitation until he spoke with the student government president, the alumni association and the faculty senate.

Grambling State University’s president is looking forward to the possibility of more funding for HBCUs and the fulfillment of Trump’s promise to make HBCUs a priority.

“I think it was important that President Gallot went so that our university can have a voice at the table. I do hope that something positive comes out of the meeting so that it can benefit our university. I’m a little on the fence about this executive order because what we see from Trump already as a president, however I want to remain optimistic and see how it goes,” said Endiah Green, the White House Initiative’s HBCU All-Star from Gambling State University.

“I think it’s really important that Gallot did go because he was trying to push for the betterment of HBCUs,” said senior Breonna Ward, 21, an elementary education major from Dallas.

“It’s important that he and other HBCU presidents went just to fight for us, let them know that we’re there and see what we can do to better ourselves fundingwise. … The things that we can do with the little money that we have is amazing, so just think of the things that we can do if we had money to actually afford to do it.”

Ward said she was aware that a lot of people opposed Gallot going to the White House. “I’d rather somebody go and hear what somebody has to say whether you agree with it or not than not go and not have a voice at all,” said Ward.

“It helps with trying to get Trump possibly on the same page and to see what his ideas were for higher education of African-Americans,” said senior Allen Mays, 23, a double major in history and mass communication from Little Rock, Arkansas. “Trump was trying to appease the people and there is no weight behind it yet.”

Howard University

Howard University President Wayne A.I. Frederick attended the White House meeting, but according to Frederick, his presence was brief.

“My schedule is driven by the university’s priorities and as such, I was only able to attend a short portion of the White House meeting and could not be present for the discussions with the Secretary of Education and the vice president,” said Frederick. “I also could not attend the congressional symposium. Consequently, I cannot report firsthand on the outcomes of those sessions.”

And while Frederick did not stay at White House during the entire duration, Howard students expressed differing views on his recent decisions to align himself with the Trump administration.

“While I understand the scope of people’s distaste about HBCU presidents meeting with Trump, one must understand that several of these schools are privately and federally funded. So establishing some type of relationship is integral in its well-being,” said Malcolm Friday, a senior electrical engineering from Richmond, Virginia.

“I don’t expect anything to come from this HBCU executive order … especially given the bigoted behavior that Trump’s presence has brought,” said Collin Scott, a junior computer engineering major from Memphis, Tennessee.

Since his private meeting visit with Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos on Feb. 9, Frederick has met with resistance from some student activists, including Concerned Students, 1867, who after DeVos’ visit released a list of six demands on Feb. 12, that included a call for Frederick and Howard to “ban” Trump from university buildings.

Recently, graffiti and vandalism were found on across campus accusing Frederick of being a “Trump Plantation Overseer” as well as claims of the HBCU initiative “coonin’ ” for Howard. HU Resist also interrupted Howard’s 150th Charter Day Convocation on March 2, making a statement on their right to protest and asking Frederick which side was he on.

“The concerned students of HU Resist are here today to deliver a message,” said a HU Resist member with a megaphone. “President Wayne Frederick, someone might have convinced you that money is more important than people. We are asking you in this moment to choose us — to take a stand for us and to do right by us.”

Here’s what others at Howard had to say:

“In terms of Howard President Frederick meeting with President Donald Trump, I feel as though it makes sense to a certain degree. Whether people agree with his methodologies and thoughts, he is our commander in chief, and we have to work to the best of our abilities to make it work to our advantage despite everything else that is going on. Furthermore, I feel like the executive order may be beneficial after further research, but it is being taken for purely face value now,” said Tariq Johnson, a junior chemical engineering major from Atlanta.

“I believe that President Frederick wasn’t wrong in meeting with President Trump. He simply wanted to listen to what Trump’s administration wanted to say/propose to HBCUs, not blatantly follow their orders. I think a couple of Howard students responded extremely to the meeting and their response is not a representation of the attitude of the Howard community,” said Bakare Awakoaiye, a junior biology major from Oakland, California.

“Obviously, it’s a volatile situation and HBCU students are caught in a difficult position. Firstly, we have to acknowledge that Trump has been openly and subtly racist in the past. But, running a university goes past being a social justice warrior, and sometime you have to make moral sacrifices for the sake of business,” said Jabarri Charles-Barnes, a junior economics and sports management double major from Trinidad and Tobago.

“As a student of an HBCU, I feel a sense of pride with the executive order to place emphasis on HBCUs and acknowledge their importance. And I therefore believe it makes sense for President Wayne Frederick to meet with President Donald Trump in order to develop pleasant relations,” said Kirsteph Cassimire, a junior chemistry major from Trinidad and Tobago.

“I don’t expect anything to come from this HBCU initiative. Especially given the bigoted behavior that Trump’s presence has brought,” said Collin Scott, a junior computer engineering major from Memphis, Tennessee.

Morgan State University

The campus erupted into debate after President David Wilson attended the meeting with Trump administration officials.

“After consulting with students, alumni, and faculty, I decided to go,” said Wilson.

“I wanted to make sure the Trump administration had an appreciation for historically black colleges and universities of this nation to make sure they knew the talent from these schools have enabled America. And I did not want any alternative facts being said,” said Wilson.

Some students questioned Trump’s intentions for the meeting.

“It was valuable for him to go, but you never know their true intention, it’s like making a deal with the devil in my eyes,” said freshman Dasia Bailey.

How would it benefit students and advance the needs of the campus?

“I don’t know what it’s going to take to get the money or representation that we deserve, but this certainly was not enough,” said senior Zanha Armstrong.

Another student was suspicious that Trump was using these distinguished black men and women just for a photo opportunity.

“Immediately, I thought it was nothing but a photo op on Trump’s end,” said senior Tramon Lucas. “I did not think at all that there was going to be anything meaningful behind it. But as far as President Wilson, to talk about the conversation, you have to go and be about the conversation.”

Said senior Lorenzo Moore, “Just them meeting with President Trump is a start of something, it’s better than nothing.”

North Carolina A&T

Spring break at N.C. A&T State University in Greensboro began last Friday.

But associate vice chancellor for university relations Todd Simmons told Fox8.com, “There are discussions that we need to have around resources that have typically flown to predominantly white institutions more abundantly than they have to HBCUs, so that has created inequalities over generations that have significantly disadvantaged places like this.”

Track standout Aaron Deane had an intriguing opinion regarding chancellor Harold Martin’s attendance at the HBCU presidents’ meetings. “I feel that the chancellor is furthering himself out of touch with the students he serves. First, he requests for tuition hikes for the last four years, now he’s meeting with the most opposed [person] by the black community in the 21st century.”

Deane’s teammates Ron Cubbage and Derrick Wheeler had different sentiments, however. “I feel like this is a good meeting for the president considering he may not know the importance of HBCUs and our chancellors can bring notice to him. Although we are not sure it will work, it is worth a shot,” said Wheeler. “I would like to see more funding allotted to HBCUs so that we can grow as an institution with our campuses and scholarships. Trying to give the same opportunities given at PWIs [predominantly white institutions] at our colleges.”

Cubbage, a white pole vaulter who does not support Trump, said, “I feel encouraged. We cannot let a man be a deterrent in the pursuit of equality, and academic achievement amongst all people. For the moment, we are stuck with the leader we have, and it is therefore a wise choice for those who might not benefit from his administration to show him that their cause is one of importance and the embodiment of American principles. He may be a man that seems to cause disagreement, but to ignore him is to let any existing disagreement grow into a rift that will become harder to mend over time.”