Pistons, Cavs, Jay-Z and the Red Wings: 72 hours in the New Detroit Three new arenas have changed the face of the D’s downtown, and a hometown girl wonders if it’s for the better

Digital images of perhaps the world’s most famous rapper flash across giant screens. The screens rise toward the ceiling of Little Caesars Arena, the most recent of three new sports venues to emerge in downtown Detroit. It’s where the Pistons play.

Near one side of Jay-Z’s 360-degree stage, LeBron James, perhaps the world’s most famous current NBA player, can barely control his fandom as Jay-Z delivers his 1999 hit with UGK, “Big Pimpin’.” James and the rest of his team are in town ahead of a Pistons game. For nearly two hours, the arena is roaring. And as the last few fans spill onto Woodward Avenue — the drag in downtown Detroit that also houses Comerica Park, where the Detroit Tigers play, and Ford Field, where the Detroit Lions play — the party ain’t over. Far from it.

The sold-out Little Caesars Arena for the Jay-Z concert.

313 Presents

That’s because the area is a far cry from what it was 15 years ago, when the downtown landscape was practically bare. Empty and windowless brick buildings were the standard. Every now and again you could fall into a hidden gem — a teahouse in neighboring Corktown, near the old Tiger Stadium, served a good quiche, and crumpets with fresh preserves. But those kinds of places were few and far between.

But now? There are sports bars, dive bars, throwback juke joints and new late-night spaces thriving next to revived longtime staples. Taxis line the streets, and people are texting friends to find out where the after-after-parties are. The basketball, baseball and hockey arenas, which also host concerts and even Catholic masses, are central to this bustling scene, daytime as well as nighttime. It wasn’t until this new NBA season that all of the Detroit teams, finally, were playing within the city limits. Welcome, kindly, to the New Detroit.

Now where are all the black folks?

Women hold a coat to shelter themselves from the rain as they enter Little Caesars Arena for the Jay-Z concert.

Ali Lapetina for The Undefeated


In the fall of 1998, I was wrapping up an internship at the Minneapolis Star Tribune and heading to my first full-time job as a reporter for the Detroit Free Press. A roommate’s mom, who was white, asked about my plans. When I told her about Detroit, her reply was, “Ugh. Detroit. The armpit of the Midwest.”

The armpit. Insulting, of course. And, I think, racist. I say that because we’re talking about a majority-black city, and one that has been through so much — too much. In the fall of 1998, it seemed the city was only and absolutely declining, although around the dinner table we’d delight in announcing the city’s upswing, based on the smallest of developments. For me, though, the best development was that I was home.

“It’s like a phoenix all of a sudden. You see people enjoying being outside and you’re hearing great stuff about Detroit.” — Rick Mahorn

I grew up in the suburbs of Detroit, in Oakland County. In one of the white-flight townships to which so many families, white and black, moved after the ’67 riot. Yet I have many memories of my maternal grandparents’ home on Indiana Street between Lyndon and Eaton on Detroit’s West Side. They’d moved after the riots, so Mother actually grew up on Lawton Street. Her childhood home and the block it was on burned down decades ago, never to develop again. It looks now like too many Detroit neighborhoods do.

But downtown Detroit? Working at the Free Press, I drove in at least five days a week. And after the day was done, there wasn’t much to do. Near the newsroom was The Anchor Bar, a socially/racially integrated dive beloved by both Red Wings fans and newspaper reporters. I had more grilled cheese and steak fry lunches there than I care to recount. The Free Press’ offices were about a mile away from where the three new stadiums have sprouted. While cafes and chain restaurants abound now, a week before I started, the big news story was that a Starbucks was opening on East Jefferson. It’s right near Belle Isle, a 982-acre island park that functioned as a student hangout on summer weekends.

An abandoned building in June 2005.

JEFF HAYNES/AFP/Getty Images

And the city of Detroit was nearly throwing a ticker-tape parade for the cappuccino outlet. Legendary Detroit Piston Rick Mahorn remembers with a laugh that Starbucks excitement. “When I first got to Detroit, in ’85, I was living downtown because I wanted to be close to water, and it was a beautiful view. Wasn’t a lot to do downtown. … I made that commute all the way up to the Silverdome and then the Palace.”

A Detroit native suggested we do a “hole tour” of Detroit: go to the spaces that used to be places.

The Silverdome, which was imploded on Dec. 5, was in Pontiac, about 31 miles from Detroit’s city limits. The Palace of Auburn Hills, which is soon to be flipped into a “high-tech research park,” is a good 35 miles away from the 313 — Detroit’s area code.

“We love [being back],” said Mahorn, who’s now a radio analyst for the Pistons. “It gives you a more up close and personal feeling. [Team owner] Tom Gores saw a vision to partner up with [Red Wings owners] the Ilitches and the Dan Gilberts [who has invested nearly $2 billion in downtown Detroit] and [current Lions owners] the Ford family. Those things used to be a competition, and now it’s a togetherness to develop the resurgence of Detroit.”

It’s also of course about business and jobs, this downtown sports district with both Comerica Park and Ford Field less than a mile away from the multipurpose arena. “When you look at what happened in the late ’60s, and how everybody started moving out, now [Detroit’s] like a phoenix all of a sudden. You see people enjoying being outside and you’re hearing great stuff about Detroit.”

Scenic view of downtown Detroit.

Ali Lapetina for The Undefeated

But before downtown’s Woodward Avenue was filled with shiny new spots such as Nike Community Store, Lululemon and Under Armour Brand House, as well as line-out-the-door breakfast spots such as the Dime Store or Hudson Cafe — Detroit had not only decades of segregation and decline from which to rebound. It had what felt like a singular tragedy.

A new, fresh, black mayor was elected in 2001. Kwame Kilpatrick was 31 years old, had played on Florida A&M’s football team, was a member of Alpha Phi Alpha and became the youngest mayor in the city’s history. Ridiculously long story short, he was a massive disappointment — it started with him using his city-issued credit card to rack up thousands of dollars in personal, luxurious charges, and it ended with an FBI felony corruption case that got him thrown in a federal prison for 28 years. The Kilpatrick case featured sex and money and race and captured big headlines just about everywhere. My old newspaper earned a Pulitzer Prize for its coverage of his misdeeds.

But the story, the trajectory of Kilpatrick’s life, still makes me sad. And what makes me sadder is that Detroit was the biggest loser. Eventually, in 2013, the city filed for bankruptcy: the biggest “municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history.” Even with some new crowds bringing money to Detroit’s casinos — and those came with much conflict and pushback — Detroit was officially broken.

Ben Wallace came to the Pistons in 2000. He remembers the first piece of advice he and his teammates were given. “People were encouraging us not to go downtown, not to hang out downtown. ‘Whatever you do, avoid going downtown,’ ” said Wallace, who led the Pistons to their third NBA championship in 2004.

The Pistons retired Wallace’s jersey last year; he’d returned to the team after stints in Chicago and Cleveland and finished his career in Detroit in 2012.

He lives in West Virginia now but finds himself periodically in Detroit, like last summer when he was hanging out downtown and marveling at the new arena, which wasn’t quite finished then.

“To see the city coming to life, and people actually walking downtown and enjoying themselves, having a great time. To see people, to see things going up, it was amazing,” Wallace said. “It was a proud moment for me to see the city breathing and finding the light again. It was great for me to actually … see the city thriving.”


At the Free Press, we used to have a weekly features meeting. All were welcome to attend and discuss story ideas. One attendee, a Detroit native, suggested that we do a “hole tour” of Detroit: go to the spaces that used to be places and talk about the history that used to be there. All over there was emptiness where grandeur used to exist. Detroit wasn’t 360 degrees of pretty. But it was home.

I sold my small suburban condo and moved to downtown Detroit to live with my college roommate Joy, a white woman who grew up in Brighton, Michigan. Brighton neighbors Howell, a town known as the KKK capital of Michigan. Robert Miles, grand dragon of the Michigan Ku Klux Klan, lived in a nearby township and hosted rallies there.

Joy and I both worked downtown, she for the rival Detroit News, and quite frankly, as girls from the ’burbs, we wanted that authentic Detroit experience. We saw things that were starting to happen and figured it was an ideal time to be part of building a community.

“When you look at what happened in the late ’60s, and how everybody started moving out, now [Detroit’s] like a phoenix all of a sudden.

Comerica Park had just opened, and with it came new life. Hockeytown Cafe was erected next to the historic Fox Theater — a place to grab grub and a brew and head to the rooftop lounge. I remember hanging out with some Detroit rappers and managers there for an open bar event, and you couldn’t have told us we weren’t Hollywood lite.

Downtown Detroit on an uptick? It seemed like it. Detroit hosted the Super Bowl in 2006, and everyone was amped to flex and show the sports world how we’d grown. As is the case in most Super Bowl host cities, empty spaces were quickly rented out, transformed into magical one-night-only party venues with the aid of corporate checkbooks. But daily conveniences were scarce.

Joy and I spent our weekends on Interstate 75, driving 22 miles north to a grocery store in Troy. The headlines back then were that the entire city of Detroit was a “food desert” with no major supermarket chains in the entire city. Joy and I lasted downtown a year. But now there’s a Whole Foods on Woodward, technically in midtown. It opened in 2013, a 21,000-square-foot location, and it’s apparently doing well.

Something Jay-Z rapped to the crowd on Saturday night resonated. See, Jay-Z is from the public housing projects of Brooklyn, New York, and knows about struggle, and about seeing your worn and torn neighborhood transformed into something greater than anyone could have imagined. All this happens as the black and brown people who kept that place alive aren’t able to benefit from the new richness: gentrification.

Paul’s Liquors next to Little Caesars Arena before the Pistons Game. The store has been there before the changes began downtown and is a stop for many of the regulars in downtown.

Ali Lapetina for The Undefeated

There’s an area of Brooklyn called Dumbo, which stands for Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass. In his recent and Grammy-nominated “The Story of OJ,” he raps, I coulda bought a place in Dumbo before it was Dumbo for like $2 million/ That same building today is worth $25 million/ Guess how I’m feeling? Dumbo.


Fans cheer after a goal is scored during the Red Wings game on Nov. 19 in Detroit.

Ali Lapetina for The Undefeated

The next night, the crowd at Little Caesars Arena was different — as I expected. Twenty-four hours before, a hip-hop icon stood center stage and told a sold-out, mostly black audience that kneeling during the national anthem is an act of patriotism and not something for which athletes should be persecuted.

But on this night, there was a white crowd, a characterization that could very well be a stereotype of hockey fans. They were there to take in the Red Wings vs. the Colorado Avalanche. And it did seem like a lot of folks wondered why a lone black woman was roaming around, taking in Gordie Howe’s statue (one of three statues of Red Wings legends that were brought over from Joe Louis Arena, where the team played the season before).

A man stretches on the escalator during intermission at the Little Caesars Arena.

Ali Lapetina for The Undefeated

As happy as I am for all of the new development in downtown Detroit, it comes at a cost — a feeling that hit me as I was sitting perched high in the press box looking down as the Zamboni smoothed the ice rink where Jay-Z’s elaborate stage had been the night before. Culturally, as well as geographically, things just feel so segregated.

On one side of the coin is a pristine new district, one that should be celebrated, as it’s taken exactly 50 years for Detroit to rise from the dust of the 1967 riots. On the other, much of this has come at the expense of long-standing businesses such as Henry the Hatter, which couldn’t afford the 200 percent rent increase and was forced to shut down.

Hallie Desmet, 21, and Megan Elwart, 24, hold each other during a Red Wings game at Little Caesars Arena in Detroit. The two traveled from Marquette, Michigan, to see the team play for Hallie’s 21st birthday.

Ali Lapetina for The Undefeated

“I’ve lived all of my life in Detroit,” said David Rudolph. He’s a small-business owner who played outside linebacker on Michigan State University’s 1988 Rose Bowl-winning team. “What I’m used to is a city that basically lacked a lot of things, so it is kind of special to now live in a city that looks like and starts to feel like other places across the country. Now we have a cross-section of different types of restaurants. We now have all of our sporting [goods] in the area; you don’t have to travel.”

The flip side is there, though. “It’s always been a black town,” he said. “I was born in a time when the legislative body was African-American. Now you’re starting to see people who are non-African-American come to the city. … Their presence is way more noticeable. Boutique businesses, small businesses, entrepreneurs coming from all over the place. There seems to be a spirit that is attracting these folks to the city, which is great. I remember those bad jokes of ‘Can the last person please turn off the lights?’ [But] I never left Detroit. I was really keeping a seat warm … keeping warm whatever was viable about this city through my presence and my business, which has been here for 23 years, through my tax dollars.”


The Detroit Pistons play the Cleveland Cavaliers at Little Caesars Arena.

Ali Lapetina for The Undefeated

The next night at the arena, the Pistons game hosted its biggest crowd of the season. The Cavaliers were in the building, and seeing King James live, even if you’re a diehard Pistons fan, is a moment. Fans mill about the newness of the arena loading up on Detroit-famous coney dogs, burrito bowls and Little Caesars pizza.

Pistons fan at Little Caesars Arena.

Ali Lapetina for The Undefeated

This night, it’s a diverse group of people, an aesthetic that looks like what some pockets of greater Detroit look like. At a Detroit NBA game, there’s no one culture defining the fan base of Detroit’s newest and shiniest sports arena. It just feels like everyone.

I took my dad with me to see the Pistons. He came to Detroit after he graduated from Alabama State University, and he’s told people he’s from Detroit since forever — he arrived in ’71. He and my mom still live in Oakland County, about 15 miles from downtown, and don’t have a real reason to head downtown with any regularity. Dad marveled at the jam-packed traffic that hit about a mile before we got to the parking structure. There was never traffic on a Monday night in this part of downtown, not that either of us could recall.

Piston fans at Little Caesars Arena on Nov. 20 in Detroit.

Ali Lapetina for The Undefeated

“It’s good, in terms of what’s happening,” said Rudolph. “Revitalization. There’s so many good things that I see. I only live seven minutes from downtown. I’ve found over the last couple of years is that I actually travel less out of the city to do a lot of things. Which is what we’ve always wanted. Not always to have to go to metro Detroit to eat. Everything was always outside [downtown]. I slept in Detroit, but I spent all of my time outside of Detroit. So now things have changed. It’s kind of fly. … We’re rediscovering our own city.”


There’s nothing like summertime in Detroit. Nothing.

The downtown festivals gave us life. At Hart Plaza, every weekend there was something different to do. The African World Festival was the spot to go to and stock up on shea butter, black soap and incense for the year. Each summer there were gospel festivals: Detroit staples such as The Clark Sisters, Fred Hammond and the Winans family would perform. And the Electronic Music Festival featured some of the best house music and Detroit-based ghetto-tech music you’ll ever treat your ears to. There was one festival that was noticeably different: the downtown Hoedown, which was the country music festival that would take over Detroit’s downtown streets. It was the one weekend where you would see white people out on, say, Larned Street.

“You’re starting to see people who are non-African-American come to the city. There seems to be a spirit that is attracting these folks to the city, which is great. I remember those bad jokes: ‘Can the last person please turn off the lights?’ But I never left Detroit.” — David Rudolph

To be at Hoedown, metro Detroit white folks had to engage with the city. They probably felt it was “an armpit.” Homeless folks, with few exceptions, were black. In our minds, they gazed without context at the burned-out buildings and gutted areas — a painful reminder of what racism did to this city 50 years ago during the 1967 Detroit riots.

But today, downtown Detroit is filled with a sea of white folks. I barely counted anyone who looked like me as I dined two days in a row at The Townhouse for brunch. The second day, I took Jemele Hill with me and we sat in an atrium where a DJ played and where of all the patrons, there were four black folks — including us. This is the new Detroit.

On the Pistons team is former NBA player (and native Detroiter) Earl Cureton as Community Ambassador, a role he’s held since 2013. He’s helping the team embed in all kinds of Detroit’s neighborhoods.

Cureton, who played forward-center at Finney High School on Detroit’s east side back in the early ’70s, is charged with connecting the franchise to real Detroit. Cureton grew up in the infamous Mack and Bewick area.

“Tom Gores’ plan was [get] the team to be impactful for the city, not only to entertain basketballwise,” Cureton said at halftime of the Cavaliers game. “We made an attempt at doing that, out at the Palace of Auburn Hills, but now that we’re back — which makes me so happy — we have the opportunity to connect, [and] not just to the downtown area but to areas away from downtown that desperately need it.

“And by the players being right here, it gives them the opportunity to mingle and mix with the kids. The kids get a closer relationship, seeing them, just like I did when I was a kid.”

It’s all different, though. Soon, once the Pistons’ practice facilities are completed, many of those players will take a look at the plush residential lofts popping up on downtown Detroit’s landscape, and at some of the restored historic neighborhoods located not too far from where they punch in. There’s a side that says the white people are here, and so goodbye, poor people. And there’s a side that says wealth is needed to help ease inequality. The way forward likely is someplace in between.

Folks wanted the best for this city. So many black folks stuck around, through the riot, and then the recessions, in hopes of seeing this city rise again. It’s rising again now, and their place in it is uncertain. But it feels like some moves are being made, so that new Detroit is still theirs. Maybe, as the sign flashes when you’re on the escalator at Detroit Metro Airport, my hometown can be America’s Greatest Comeback City. Maybe it can be true for everyone. It’s time.

Dhani Jones’ linebacker skills have taken him around the world The serial entrepreneur on what he’s learned, and the great advice he got from Michael Strahan

Life is a big adventure for former NFL linebacker Dhani Jones. Even during his 11 seasons in the league, Jones, now 39, was in the process of grooming himself for the next stage in his life. As a linebacker for the Cincinnati Bengals, Jones spent two offseasons exploring the world and participating in international sports for the filming of his Travel Channel show Dhani Tackles the Globe. At the same time, Jones went to work on BowTie Cause, an organization that creates custom-made bow ties to raise money for charitable groups. From that came Bow Tie Cafe, in Cincinnati.

“I played football. We’re entrepreneurs by nature,” said Jones. “Anybody that plays sports is an entrepreneur. Anybody who competes is entrepreneurial by nature. I came into that world by following a lot of other people. Also, by trying specific things and understanding what I like. The entrepreneurial world is not a comfortable world. I’ll tell you that much. You have to be comfortable with being uncomfortable.”

In 2011, Jones announced his retirement from football. Two years later, Jones co-founded Qey Capital, a private equity firm. “[Entrepreneurship] is an area in which I have an incredible passion, and also … African-Americans need to be able to get involved in investing,” Jones said. Soon, Jones was approached by CNBC about a new show, Adventure Capitalists, that combined his love for entrepreneurship and adventure. It premiered in 2016. Season two began on Oct. 10. The hourlong program showcases the products of four entrepreneurs who are seeking investments from Jones, Olympic gymnast Shawn Johnson and world champion skier Jeremy Bloom.

“I’m as crazy as the rest of them,” said Jones. “I like learning about people just as much as I like learning about their product. There’s still the American dream that lives in this world. Whether it’s technology or packaged goods or whether you’re an artist, it all still can be accomplished. The most important thing is, you need partners.”

What question are you asked most by fans?

The question I get asked all the time is, ‘Why do you live in Cincinnati?’ People ask me that every single week. It’s amazing.

And what’s your answer?

My answer is, the Midwest is important. There’s a lot of things going on on the coasts, and they’ll always be extremely successful. But the Midwest is on the uptick. Think about all the people that support you — why would you run from them? People who play in Green Bay and they live in Arizona. Doesn’t make any sense. No one knows you in Arizona. … If you want to vacation in Arizona, great. But work where people know, like and trust you.

Best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

It’s from Michael Strahan. He was like, ‘Say please. Say thank you. Shake people’s hands. Look them in the eye. Be very appreciative, and it will come back around in a very valuable way.’ That’s been very true. Strahan taught me a lot when I was on the Giants.

What’s a place you’ve never been that you’re dying to visit?

Greece, like Mykonos. Places like that. I haven’t been there. All my friends go. I’ve been kind of saving that place.

What is the worst purchase you’ve ever made?

I’m trying to figure out what I bought and didn’t like. We’ll have to come back to that one.

Best purchase?

Oh, my belt. I’ve had this belt for a long time. I’ve probably owned two belts in my life, and this is the second one. I love it. I own a bunch of belts, but there’s only two belts I’ve ever worn.

If you hadn’t become a football player, what would you have been doing?

A pediatric neuroplastic surgeon.

Are there any habits you picked up in football that you still find yourself doing today?

Yeah, the most important habit I picked up in football is always sort of scanning the field, and I always scan the world. It’s helped me a lot in terms of the world of business. That’s the most important skill.

If you could go back and deliver a message to your 15-year-old self, what would it be?

Always take a beat. Be patient. Don’t be so … anxious is the wrong word, but don’t be so quick to do things. Take your time.

Black love: Sensitive thugs need hugs After home visits, Eric opens up on ‘The Bachelorette’

They say you never forget your first love.

For fans of the Bachelor franchise, we’ll never forget when Eric decided to declare his feelings to Rachel in the Spanish countryside. We certainly won’t misremember when Peter said to her that to him engagement is the same as marriage. And the look on Bryan’s face when Rachel’s sister Constance asked her how it’s possible that they fell in love so quickly is burned into our brains.

But Monday night, after meeting The Bachelorette’s mother, pregnant sister, sister’s husband and a couple of other members of her Dallas-based family, we all learned something about ourselves. To be clear, I am not listing these in the order of appearance, so deal with it.

It should be noted the format was switched up a tad bit for this, so all three guys were in town while the others visited the house as well. This created a bit of a rapid-fire effect, which certainly took its toll on the family. Normally, there would have just been two. For the purposes of brevity, I’m going to combine both the parent experiences and vacation experiences of each.

I’ll also say at this point that if this were me, I would have bailed after meeting these people. Nothing personal, necessarily, but a) not being able to meet her father because he’s a federal judge, b) they are clearly mega-rich and c) they have a chessboard and a telescope in the same room. Three strikes.

Let’s get to the action.

Peter

If nothing else, this man is honest. He told Rachel last week that he wasn’t necessarily going to propose even if he won, a shocking dose of reality from a guy who had the nerve to trot out two black friends in Wisconsin to tout his bona fides on “tolerance,” as if this were the 1960s.

The picture above is of him talking to Rachel’s mother, exposing the look he had on his face almost the entire episode. It was somewhere between “I didn’t actually think this whole ‘marrying a famous black woman’ thing through” and “my God, her family is richer than mine, this is awkward.” If for no other reason than it clearly made him more comfortable, the fact that Rachel’s sister Constance’s husband is white was certainly a calming influence on the family dynamic.

His run of incredibly lucky date opportunities continued, with the two of them this time going shopping for baby clothes for Constance, obviously a win-win situation all around. He gets to talk about how much he loves kids without any actually being present and, on the back end, show up with something for the family that someone actually needs, instead of just a smile and some weak lines about being ready for the next step.

The strangest juncture came when he and Rachel finally sat down to discuss their partnership and Peter basically was unwilling to compromise his previously established values for the sake of a television program. Which leads to the obvious question of: WHAT ON EARTH ARE YOU DOING HERE, ANYWAY? … but we’ll get to that later. He contends that he doesn’t want to waste an engagement on a marriage, which is apparently a thing that dudes do.

We’re also guessing he doesn’t like the fact that she’s seen Rachel buy Bryan a Breitling and, in general, still just isn’t really all that comfortable with the fact that he hasn’t won this already. It’s one thing to be against a whole group of guys. It’s quite another when you’ve all got relationships with each other and one of you might not end up getting the proverbial prize, here.

Yayaya Peter’s so sexy and fun. He’s been treating this whole thing like it’s a forced arranged marriage, and his hair is my favorite part about him on this show.

Bryan

This was a disaster right out of the gate. His pre-family meet date was a weak sauce brunch with two of Rachel’s friends, who looked and acted exactly like the type of people you’d meet at your new girlfriend’s brunch who have one too many questions about who you are for polite company. They were talking about the guy like he wasn’t even there, and the whole thing appeared rather unproductive, even for Bachelorette standards.

Things really got moving when they got to the house. Bryan’s No. 1 mistake was looking sloppy. His shirt was a little too big to be untucked and a little too casual to also be unbuttoned, giving him a look simply not befitting of a 37-year-old man whose mom is a little too attached to him. Oh, wait.

Anyway, no one in the family liked him from the beginning, and it showed. Just at lunch, he was fielding questions from all sides and at one point had to leave the table because he was under so much pressure. At which point, Rachel jumped in to point out exactly how much she didn’t appreciate this from them.

It’s worth noting that some of us have thought Bryan was a fraud from the jump. Not that he was necessarily trying to play Rachel, but this was all effectively a game for him, to up his popularity back in Miami, where he’s just another old dude in the club. Of course, that vibe plays well on TV with a bunch of other guys from the Midwest, but in the 305, he’s nothing special. He needs this to keep his playboy vibe relevant, because that “good with my hands” line is getting old.

That said, Rachel’s family made it incredibly awkward. It might be their job to protect their girl, but she’s also a grown-up who knows her way around the world. The whole thing felt gratuitous. In chronological order, Bryan was the last to visit, which made it feel like they were just ready to have these people out of their house.

No one particularly impressed, but we did get a plethora of Constance memes and GIFs, so be ready to deploy those from here till kingdom come.

This is the point where I point out that I think the word “love” should be banned from this show altogether. It would solve so many problems and force people to genuinely appreciate each other without these over-the-top declarations that add unnecessary pressure to something that is ultimately fake. I have thought this for years, and will staunchly defend that stance. Except …

Eric

Look, no one thought this dude would make it this far. He was the first person to nearly fall into Lee’s racist trap, but he made it out of that and outlasted quite a few other guys who might have had him beat on personality and emotion. And, to be even more frank, I’ve really only been talking about these other dudes for the sake of posterity, because this episode was all about Eric. Let me explain.

When this whole thing got serious, nobody counted him in. He barely made the cut to hometowns when he was part of the group date — but next thing we know, here he is, after having a legit parent reconciliation on national television. That’s important, because let’s not forget what happened to Dean, who ambushed his dad with an emotional roller coaster to the point that he ended up getting booted off the show. It was too much.

But Eric was thoughtful and patient about explaining his circumstance. His parents were separated. Love wasn’t really part of the picture. Never mind his personal circumstance of being a product of Baltimore, where the street life was a very real draw and threat at the same time. In short, he was very honest about his emotional availability. It was next to none. He’d never told a girl he loved her. The last time he’d met a woman’s family was in college at Thanksgiving, and the time before that was prom. He was at a clear disadvantage walking into that house.

Let me explain this in no uncertain terms as someone who’s been there. Eric is about as in touch as anyone I’ve ever seen in terms of being self-aware about his own insecurities regarding his family life and what he wants to get to. I’m genuinely superimpressed by his communication. It’s SO easy to psych yourself out when you see a healthy unit and sabotage yourself for the purposes of not wanting to upset someone else’s seemingly perfect situation.

“I’m nervous because going into this, I’m always confident, especially with you,” Eric says while they sip champagne atop some tower restaurant overlooking Dallas. “But it’s your family, and it’s one of those things, it’s like, I’ve never been in this process at this point. Like, about to get engaged with someone. Like, meeting someone’s family for the first time.”

At this point, Rachel seems a bit bored, if not annoyed. It feels like he’s trying to find a way to screw this up, and she ain’t got time for that. But at this point, we start to notice something in Eric we haven’t seen before. His voice is a little softer and more playful. He smiles more. He’s actually not afraid to express a little joy here and there without qualifying it. Dude is very anxious but doesn’t just have to resort to primal screams to make up for it.

When they get there, he doles out a couple of church handshakes and gets right down to business. They were openly hating since they loved Peter so much, which didn’t help his cause. Eric opened up about his lack of structured family life and says, “I’d never seen my mom and dad together.” From there, he sort of runs through it as the soft piano plays, but that sentence is important, and I say that from personal experience.

If you’ve got a parent who’s dead, or lives overseas, or is in jail, that’s one experience. But if you’ve got two able-bodied people who simply do not want to be in each other’s company and happen to be your parents, it’s a situation that affects you a little differently. For example, I have exactly one picture of me, my mother and my father in the same place at the same time. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t understand exactly what Eric was going through in this moment, sitting in this house with a squad of people who’ve all done well to establish themselves together.

“I’m listening to Eric talk as we meet him,” Constance says. “I’m watching Eric’s reaction, I’m watching Rachel, comparing it to what she had with Peter, and I’m thinking, I don’t know if they’re on the same playing field as far as, you know, relationshipwise.”

Of course they aren’t. But that’s the whole point. Eric is really and truly trying to better his situation from an emotional health and life prospects standpoint. He doesn’t have random reservations about getting down on a knee more than once in his life. Nor is his mom going to crash-land his relationship and ruin anything.

Constance gave him the third degree, and he was honest with her about never having been in love. He notes that he’s grown to this point, which is about as honest a thing as you’ll hear on a show like this, ever. Rachel’s cousin likes Eric better than Peter. “He’s not a fairy-tale person. He’s very real,” she said.

“I love her in a way, unconditionally. I’m not in love with her, but for me, when I say those words and I give that, it means a lot to me. The way I look at it, I’m here for you no matter what,” Eric says. “I just want her to know that I can be the man I know I am.”

This is the point where I stood up on my couch in my Whaboom tank top and started applauding. Personal connection aside, I’m completely in the tank for this dude in life, never mind the show. He’s the only black man left. He’s showed his actual self on camera, and perhaps most importantly, as a result he genuinely has become a cooler dude as the show has gone on. You can’t make this stuff up. Sure, edits help. But take it from me: It’s not easy to fake it when you don’t know what it looks like to begin with.

Honestly, the rest of this episode was a bit of a blur. There’s only so long I can listen to a man try to explain his way through the cobwebs of his heart on TV before I just start crying and thinking about all the mistakes and missteps I’ve made in life as a result of fear, hubris or some dumb combination of both.

No roses were given out at the end of the episode, which featured a “to be continued …,” but the story of the day for me was Eric. When he smiled after telling Rachel he loved her, you could just feel all that weight come off his chest — not because he’d been holding it in, but because he’d been wanting to feel it.

No matter what happens in the rest of this season, we got to witness a real breakthrough for a person on television this week. Good for him, and good for anyone who respects how hard it is sometimes to show the world who you really are, because you barely know how to show yourself that person either.

Tierra R. Wilkins contributed to this report.

The Morning Roast: 7/17/17 Let’s talk about the Knicks, X Games, ‘The Bachelorette’ and contracts

Mina Kimes was back from assignment, Clinton Yates was back from the Midwest and Domonique Foxworth decided to go to McDonald’s for breakfast instead of the usual bagels and coffee. It was a great show.

Hour 1

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Mina managed to make it to the ESPY Awards, which apparently has a standby list that I didn’t know about until she brought it up. Alas, the person whose seat she took wasn’t a very memorable person, but being in the building is half the fun.

During the show, Roger Federer managed to win yet another Wimbledon men’s singles title, which means he broke a record. Clinton was way more interested in talking about the line judges and those cool outfits they get to wear. Speaking of outfits, the All-England Club ain’t playing when it comes to its all-white policy. Tournament officials straight-up made a team change their underwear, because God forbid anyone show any color whatsoever.

Of course, Carmelo Anthony is still looking to get out of New York, and this time the Houston Rockets look to be the landing spot. This somehow led to a conversation about the Knicks and Melo staying together to appease Kristaps Porzingis, whom you might recall bounced on the team before exit interviews at the end of last season. That led to a show-long thread of broken-home discussions, which, although painful for Clinton, at least provided good show content.

Since it’s summer, the NBA summer league is around, and more popular than ever. The gang discussed how the Ball family is handling the entire situation. More importantly, Clinton and Domonique unveiled their theory of how Lonzo is handling his shoe contract situation, which is very forward-thinking.

Hour 2

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Things got off to a hot start with Showtime’s Brian Custer, who discussed the latest in the Floyd Mayweather/Conor McGregor boxing match, which has gotten ugly on the news conference front. He’s been at all of them, but the most fun part of the interview came when quite a few listeners thought Custer dropped an f-bomb on the air (he actually said the word “buck.”)

No one was more excited than Domonique and Mina to get back to football talk, sparked by the fact that Richard Sherman says players need to strike if they expect to make more money. With both of them being union experts, they broke down exactly why labor strife is not going to work out in the players’ favor when it comes to the NFL.

Clinton was back from Minnesota, where he was attending the X Games, so that’s where Top 5 went. If you’ve never been to one, you know that all sorts of people attend this event, so he looked back at who he ran into while he was at US Bank Stadium.

Hour 3

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As of this posting, Kirk Cousins still has not signed a contract with Washington’s NFL franchise. Which means that if he plays another season without reaching a long-term deal, the team will have to fork over huge cash if it’s looking to franchise-tag him a third time. Clearly, that situation is ridiculous, which gave Clinton, a fan of the team, an opportunity to literally yell and scream about it.

The Bachelorette is down to hometown visits, but first, Rachel had to cut a couple of people. Dean got the short end of the stick on the date front, but Bryan is out here copping Breitling watches with Rachel. Most importantly, Christian Yates is back from vacation in Uruguay and China, much to Domonique’s delight.

Finally, we unveiled a new bit called House on Fire, which Domonique created as a poll question. Basically, it’s the opposite of “1 Gotta Go,” and you have to pick one thing you’d save in a situation if your proverbial house were on fire. The best part of the bit came when one caller decided to blow up the whole construct of the game with a rather brilliant observation.

Enjoy!

This Juneteenth, #40Acres40cities is reclaiming land as a form of reparations No one is getting a mule, but a free people can occupy land

Monday marks Juneteenth, otherwise known as freedom on CP time.

Yes, President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation on Jan. 1, 1863. But it wasn’t until June 19, 1865, that the word made it to Texas, in the form of an order read by a Union Army general.

“Blacks greeted the news with the overwhelming joy that accompanies receiving the answer to a life-long prayer,” wrote Judson Jeffries, professor in the African American and African Studies Department at Ohio State University, in “Juneteenth, Black Texans and the Case for Reparations.”

White Texans, on the whole, were not as elated. One celebration of the newly freedmen was interrupted, Jeffries wrote, “when a (white) sword-wielding man nearly cut a black woman in half on the street.” In another instance, a black man who “leapt high in the air to express his delight” was shot between the legs by his slave master.

The reparations of 40 acres and a mule promised to freed people? It never arrived. This year, the Black Land and Liberation Initiative wants black folks to collect on that debt — not in the form of the beast of burden, but the one thing that they’re not making any more of.

On this Juneteenth, in cities across the country, black people will reclaim places and spaces as part of #40Acres40Cities, a direct action coordinated by the BlackOUT Collective and Movement Generation. Reclamation could take the shape of a pop-up park or a community festival in an empty lot. Or it could be the takeover of a space with contested ownership.

Black people’s connection to the land is as deep as it is tenuous. We farmed the land, reaping crops and generating profits for slave owners, profits that undergird families and businesses that exist to this day.

Yet at the same time, we are vulnerable, be it to gentrification, predatory lenders, subprime mortgages or government policies that discriminate against black farmers. The #40Acres40cities action focuses on the South and Midwest, where the concentration of black people is higher. And while the Movement for Black Lives’ website lists some of the participating cities, the exact location may stay secret until the direct action occurs.

“You can’t say, we’ll be at this corner for an occupation,” said Chinyere Tutashinda, co-director of the BlackOUT Collective. “For black folks, when we think about liberation and equality, we have to understand that capitalism won’t get us free,” she said. “In order for it to continue to exist, someone has to be oppressed. … And because of racialized capitalism, it will almost always be black people.”

So while the Black Land and Liberation Initiative’s action Monday is about building communities, the larger mission is to confront the systems, institutions and people who built their wealth on the exploitation of black bodies and labor.

Speaking of wealth, just this month, the Federal Reserve announced that household wealth is up for the first quarter of this year, to $94.8 trillion. But rising tides have never lifted all boats. For every $1 of wealth the average black family has, the average white family has $13, a racial wealth gap that has grown since the Great Recession ended.

But the tropes that conservatives usually rely on to explain this disparity fall short. Here’s what doesn’t close the racial wealth gap, according to a 2017 report: attending college, working full time, spending less or raising kids in a two-parent household.

“We find that white adults who don’t graduate high school, don’t get married before having children, and don’t work full time still have much greater wealth at the median than comparable black and Latino adults — and often have more wealth than black and Latino households that have married, completed more education, or work longer hours,” wrote researchers in “The Asset Value Of Whiteness: Understanding The Racial Wealth Gap.”

Home ownership is often a path to wealth creation, but just over 40 percent of black people own their home, compared with 71 percent of white people.

Not surprisingly, the racial group that benefits most from the status quo believes little should be done. Just over 65 percent of black people but only 21 percent of white people believe the country’s wealth today is “significantly tied to work done by slaves,” according to a 2016 Marist poll. And 58 percent of blacks and 15 percent of whites believe the U.S. government should pay reparations to the descendants of slaves.

If what we’ve done has gotten us what we have, then it would take something almost unimaginable to repair the gap. Something like reparations. While reparations are usually visualized as a check for the descendants of African slaves, land is a suitable option, said Jeffries, who, with several others, started the first Juneteenth celebration in Lafayette, Indiana, 16 years ago.

Every year for more than 20 years, U.S. Rep. John Conyers, a Michigan Democrat, has introduced legislation to study the impact of slavery on African-Americans and suggest remedies — such as reparations.

His bill fails every year, and there’s no reason to think his 2017 bill will be the exception. Right? “I don’t see any reparations on the horizon,” said Jeffries, “but I didn’t see Obama on the horizon either.”

Frederick Douglass coin becomes second release in the 2017 U.S. Mint collection The abolitionist leader joins an elite list of African-Americans to grace the collectors’ item

The Frederick Douglass National Historic Site in Washington, D.C., has joined the ranks of national monuments and historic sites as the 37th overall coin to be released in the America the Beautiful Quarters U.S. Mint collection.

The U.S. Mint produces circulating coinage and has featured some of America’s most important national parks and monuments since 2010. When the program ends in 2021, there will be 56 quarter-dollar coins available for collection.

This particular coin is the second 2017 release. It first featured the Effigy Mounds National Monument in Iowa, which was made available in February. Three more coins will be released to the public in June, August and November.

The Frederick Douglass coin features the original 1932 quarter obverse of President George Washington on the front, and Douglass —seated and writing at a desk with his Washington, D.C., home in the background — is on the coin’s reverse side.

Douglass remains one of the most influential African-Americans in history. He was an abolitionist, social reformer, activist and author who escaped slavery and went on to become one of the most well-known proponents of the abolitionist movement.

Douglass was born into slavery in 1818 and began working as a body servant in Baltimore at 8 years old. Although slaves were not allowed to formally learn to read and write, and were severely punished if caught trying to learn on their own, Douglass ignored the warnings and taught himself anyway, finding an affinity for debates and speeches by age 12. In 1838, the 20-year-old Douglass had become fed up with oppression and began plotting his escape. With the help of Anna Murray, a free black woman whom Douglass would later marry, he disguised himself as a free black sailor and boarded a train that would take him from Baltimore to New York City.

Douglass and Murray began their new lives in New Bedford, Massachusetts, where Douglass gained notoriety as an orator who traveled across the North and Midwest to speak out against slavery and the mistreatment of blacks. Douglass would go on to become a top recruiter of black troops in the Civil War, serve as the U.S. Marshal for the District of Columbia and the U.S. minister to Haiti, and write three autobiographical narratives describing his life experiences in great detail.

The Frederick Douglass National Historic Site is the only site featuring an African-American in the coin collection to date. The Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site in Tuskegee, Alabama, is set to join Douglass’ in 2021, closing out the 11-year program.