Deonte Burton harbors an eclectic personality and an equally versatile game perfect for the modern NBA.
Once there was a 10-year-old girl who found herself in an unexplained and vulnerable position. Filled with hurt and pain, in her mind she thought her presence on this earth was doing more harm than good. In her mind, she was the black sheep of the family. In her mind, she was crying out for help with a voice that no one could hear. But one day, her mind told her it was time to stop crying out. She decided it was time to end the pain she felt, or at least to try.
Before she was the center of the Chicago Sky, she was a child named Imani Stafford-McGee who tried to overdose on headache medication. It was her first attempt at suicide, but it was not her last. She was in a battle for her life. It’s a battle that many in the African-American community face but believe they are not free to discuss.
They are like Amanda Chambers, the founder and CEO of Divine Legacy Publishing, who once didn’t leave her house for three months because of anxiety attacks.
Today, the 22-year old WNBA standout and the publisher are sharing their truth in an effort to dispel the myth that mental health should remain a taboo subject.
Stafford-McGee married her college sweetheart, University of Texas football player Paul Boyette Jr., in 2015. The 6-foot-7 Los Angeles native was drafted 10th overall out of Texas by the Sky in the 2016 WNBA. Last season, she ranked seventh in the league in blocks per game and was named to the WNBA All-Rookie Team.
The troubles for Boyette, the daughter of former WNBA star Pamela McGee, began when she was caught in a custody battle between her mother and father, Kevin Stafford, at the age of 3. The court granted custody of Boyette to Stafford, implying that McGee’s playing career was interfering with her parenting ability. Her older brother, Golden State Warriors center Javale McGee, remained in the care of their mother.
She developed a rocky relationship with her mother and was sexually molested by a family member while in the care of her father. After revealing as a WNBA prospect that she had been sexually abused from the ages of 8 to 12, Boyette began to speak more openly about her battles with depression. It is one of the leading mental illnesses in the black community, followed by attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder (commonly known as PTSD).
Using poetry and her WNBA platform, Boyette has become an advocate for mental health, most recently serving as a spokeswoman and summer camp counselor for Sparks of Hope, a nonprofit in Portland, Oregon, that helps children who are survivors of abuse. Through her time speaking out for mental health awareness, she’s observed firsthand the difficulty African-Americans face when approaching this subject. “It is one of the biggest reasons that our community is so heavily afflicted,” said Boyette.
“Poetry helped me find my voice and the confidence to tell my story,” she said. “The more I dove into poetry and shared it with others, I realized my problems weren’t unique. I would go to open mic and poetry slams and watch poetry videos on YouTube and hear all these people speaking openly and authentically about issues that were similar, if not the same, as mine.”
Among the many obstacles that burden the black community, for some the list begins with systemic racism and runs through poverty, police brutality, poor access to quality education, unequal employment opportunities and incarceration. What often won’t be found on that list is acknowledging mental illness.
There is often a “don’t ask, don’t tell” attitude when it comes to this matter, so mental health remains a secretive subject that many African-Americans who struggle with it refuse to discuss or report. While sometimes keeping things under wraps may not have an adverse effect, in other cases it can mean the difference between life and death. For Boyette, it could have been the latter.
According to the Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health, African-Americans are 20 percent more likely to experience serious mental health problems than the general population. They are also more likely to experience factors that increase the risk for developing a mental health condition, such as homelessness and exposure to violence. The National Alliance on Mental Health states that African-American children are more likely to be exposed to violence than any other race.
There are several components that make publicly discussing mental illness a challenge. One of them is the notion that it’s not real.
Chambers often found herself separating from the outside world for fear of having to explain her anxiety attacks. People often lack empathy when talking about certain disorders, she said.
“It used to be very hard because people’s stock response regarding anxiety is typically, ‘You just need to relax.’ Well, if it was that easy, don’t you think I would do it? I mean, who wants to feel anxious?
“For a long time, I just kept it to myself. I didn’t even try to explain it to my husband, let alone other people. I stayed to myself, didn’t leave the house much, which was easy because I work from home, and I stopped attending events. At the time, it was just easier for me to retreat than to have to explain myself to people who refused to acknowledge that anxiety is a real thing. At one point I didn’t leave the house for about three months.”
Another obstacle is the idea of keeping in-house business in-house. “I was always taught what happens in the Stafford household stays in the Stafford household,” Boyette recalled. And while this tactic helps keep family business private, it can make it difficult to decipher when professional help is needed.
Dr. Janet Taylor, a psychiatrist who has appeared on several television networks, told Essence magazine that there is a general distrust of medical professionals because of their cultural bias.
“There are some health care providers who assume that … strife in black people or having a difficult time are what’s to be expected. In some cases they may normalize what may be a traumatic reaction,” Taylor told the magazine. Compound this with the fact that fewer than 2 percent of American Psychological Association members are African-American and it becomes clearer why black people might not seek help: They don’t believe providers are culturally competent enough to understand their issues.
Chambers found the strength to deal with her anxiety in her company. “It’s one of the reasons I started my publishing company,” she said. “When it comes to my business, I map everything out and set realistic deadlines that my clients and I agree on. Being able to see the deadlines puts me in control, and I don’t feel anxious at all. My clients love it because I’m extremely organized and detailed with everything, which is important in my line of work.”
Boyette found her strength to handle depression in poetry: “I always credit poetry with saving my life, and the many beautiful and supporting people I met through the art.”
Both Boyette and Chambers understand the lack of mental health resources in the black community, and that is why they speak out. Boyette uses her life as a warning to others to seek help. “My biggest word of advice is to keep fighting,” she said. “It sounds so cliché, but I couldn’t fathom my life today at 15-16 because I didn’t want to live. But I’m so overjoyed that someone bigger than me calls the shots.
“I encourage people dealing with these issues to, one, give yourself a break; some days you may only be able to brush your teeth — and that’s OK. But you have to try again tomorrow. And, two, you have to stay hopeful. Hope is the strongest weapon you have against darkness, against sorrow. I encourage people to seek help, be it professional or a loved one.”
Chambers is trying to provide a voice for the voiceless. Through programs with her sorority, Sigma Gamma Rho, Chambers talks about mental health with college students and is more open about it now than ever before. “In the beginning, it was [difficult to talk about having a mental illness]. Now I’m very outspoken about it. I have to be, because somewhere there’s a person who’s been sitting in his or her house for three months because they are scared of what people will say. I have to give that person a voice. I know how it feels to have no voice.”
On Memorial Day, many of us return to the water. The ocean washes up on West Coast beaches. The spray from open fire hydrants splashes onto smiling faces in East Coast cities. On Memorial Day, many of us return to the land, rural campsites to big-city parks.
We crank up the volume on our stereos looking for the good-times soundtrack, today and yesterday, Motown to Nashville, Chic to Alan Jackson.
We eat strawberries and cream and chase them down with champagne. We eat roast pig and chase it down with cervezas. We eat fried chicken and chase it down with Kool-Aid, grape or cherry.
We dance, dance, dance, often in a line, but sometimes in delirious circles, our mouths open, as if we want to let the sunshine in. We watch the elders defy the march of time with their stunning and surprising dance moves. We march to the malls, our charge cards at the ready, to take no prisoners at the holiday sales.
Of course, none of this has anything to do with mourning the servicemembers who have died in the nation’s wars.
But Memorial Day can be what you make of it, what you want and need it to be.
And many of us need Memorial Day to be a time for barbecue, beaches and beer, the moment that the door into summer gets kicked open by feet shod in high-heeled sneakers, or cowboy boots or sandals.
After all, school is already out for many colleges and universities. And nothing announces summer more deliciously than the end of school.
In the coming days and weeks, the children freed from school will beguile us at the Scripps National Spelling Bee, the FirstEnergy All-American Soap Box Derby, The Little League Baseball World Series, celebrations of Americana through childhood competitions.
More importantly, in summer, the children beguile one another, lost in the poetry of unscripted play, a celebration of the childhood imagination.
And then there is love.
There is nothing like love, especially a new love, especially in summer, a kiss that lasts forever.
Throughout the year, TV brings us together to tell us horror stories, death and destruction, tumult and terror, with seemingly no one ready, willing or able to save us.
But the Memorial Day weekend begins the summer movie blockbuster season in earnest. Hollywood brings us together under the cover of darkness at our multiplex movie theaters: The American summer blockbusters give us bombs bursting in air, men with square jaws and women with hourglass figures. The good bad guys, the bad good guys, the superheroes, the ultimate outsiders, to save the day before all the popcorn has been eaten.
As always, Memorial Day finds the sports world in transition. The NBA and the NHL are set to choose champions. Then the focus of most big-time pro sports will move from indoors to outdoors, and Major League Baseball will enjoy its season in the sun.
No matter what games we play, no matter how well or how badly, we can all be boys and girls of summer.
And, for many of us, summer begins today.
It commences with a buzz. A high-pitched drone, insistent and frenzied, like a wasp tunneling for your brain. The sound builds, intensifying until it erupts in a blast of lurching rhythm and stabbing electric guitar. A male voice, sly and insinuating, arises from the din:
You know you’re a cute little heartbreaker (foxy!)
You know you’re a sweet little lovemaker (foxy!)
I’m gonna take you home, I won’t do you no harm
You’ve got to be all mine! All mine!
Ooh! Foxy Lady …
Today, the buzzing sound that opens “Foxy Lady” seems like a metaphor for the buzz Jimi Hendrix created 50 years ago upon his arrival on the international music scene. Released May 12, 1967, “Foxy Lady” is the opening track on the U.K. edition of Are You Experienced, the debut album by The Jimi Hendrix Experience (the LP wouldn’t be issued in the U.S. until August that year). The absolute Molotov cocktail of 1960s rock recordings, Are You Experienced was so powerful, so volcanically innovative, so out there, it changed the course of music history. After its release, rock and R&B music would be harder, funkier, more street, and with an emphasis on virtuosity that rivaled the postwar bebop jazz era.
Along with mid-1960s recordings by the Beatles and Cream, Are You Experienced ushered in the age of psychedelia and high-concept albums. Widely regarded as a benchmark in the evolution of hard rock and heavy metal music, Are You Experienced was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1999, an honor extended to records of “lasting qualitative or historical significance.”
After all, Hendrix’s high-wire solos on Are You Experienced transformed guitar playing into a competitive sport, inspiring generations of guitarists, including Carlos Santana, Prince, Ernie Isley, Lenny Kravitz, Vernon Reid, Slash, Tom Morello, Gary Clark Jr. and countless others. Are You Experienced also signaled the arrival of the power trio, a rock threesome capable of creating a symphony-scale commotion, with the help of amplification technology. Following the Experience’s lead, influential bands such as The Police, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble, Nirvana, Green Day and John Mayer Trio took the power trio concept to the bank.
Jimi Hendrix live in Gulfstream Park, Florida, (near Miami) in 1968
But most of all, Are You Experienced showcased Hendrix’s extraordinary musical range, from the acid-dropping euphoria of “Purple Haze” to the folklike storytelling of “Hey Joe” and the sensitive R&B balladry of original Hendrix compositions such as “May This Be Love” and “The Wind Cries Mary.” Rolling Stone ranks Experienced No. 15 on its list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time, praising Hendrix for establishing “the transcendent promise of psychedelia.” Smithsonian musicologist Reuben Jackson has said Are You Experienced changed music just like James Joyce’s Ulysses changed literature. “You read a page or two of Ulysses,” Jackson told NPR in 2006, “and then you listen to just ‘Purple Haze’ and you think, My goodness, what is this?’ ”
For Jimi Hendrix, Are You Experienced was the culmination of a lifelong musical obsession.
Born James Marshall Hendrix on Nov. 27, 1942, he took up the guitar because “every house you went into seemed to have one lying around.” Enthralled by blues and rock legends such as Muddy Waters, B.B. King and Buddy Holly, Hendrix became proficient via sheer will. Self-taught, he practiced incessantly, taking his guitar almost everywhere.
After a stint with the 101st Airborne Division, Hendrix hit the road, performing with chitlin’ circuit legends such as Little Richard, the Isley Brothers and Wilson Pickett. In 1966, Hendrix was discovered performing at New York’s famed Café Wha? by Chas Chandler, a budding British manager. Sensing he’d struck pay dirt, Chandler whisked Hendrix to England, teaming the guitarist with drummer Mitch Mitchell and bassist Noel Redding. The Jimi Hendrix Experience was born.
Though the trio had yet to play its first gig, the Experience had already done something revolutionary. Here was Hendrix, a foppish black man from segregation-torn America, calling the shots in a rock trio featuring two white British musicians. The Experience’s inverted chain of command was almost as jarring as its music, a symbol of racial unity and growing black empowerment amid the backdrop of the civil rights movement.
To promote his controversial new band, manager Chandler arranged a grinding European tour that found the Experience performing in England, Luxembourg, Germany, France and Holland. Initially, the band padded its set with classics such as Otis Redding’s “Respect” and Wilson Pickett’s “Midnight Hour,” but Hendrix’s songwriting muse shifted into overdrive as the tour wore on, resulting in the original tunes that would form the Experience’s debut album. “A lot of material suddenly came out in a very short space of time,” said drummer Mitchell.
The Experience was an instant sensation, garnering the enthusiastic support of Europe’s rock elite and netting the band a recording contract with newly established Track Records. “We got a tremendous amount of help from people like Mick Jagger, Paul McCartney and John Lennon,” Chandler recalled. “They would rave about Hendrix and turn the entire course of an interview around just to talk about him.”
The 11 tracks that would constitute Are You Experienced were recorded over five months in three London studios. The album’s U.K. release was preceded by the singles “Hey Joe,” “The Wind Cries Mary” and “Purple Haze,” all of which rocketed to the British Top 10. To stoke demand for Are You Experienced, it was decided that none of the aforementioned hits would be included on the album’s U.K. edition.
Are You Experienced went on to spend 33 weeks on the British music charts, peaking at No. 2, a tremendous feat for a debut artist. Pundits speculate that the only thing that prevented Hendrix’s debut from reaching No. 1 was the June 1 release of the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. But while Hendrix had taken Europe by storm, reaction to Are You Experienced wasn’t totally enthusiastic. (“The kindest thing I can say about … Are You Experienced is that I survived one full session,” huffed Liverpool Post critic George Gregson.) Still, such scathing reviews were rare. Having conquered Britannia and its Atlantic neighbors, the Experience set its sights on the U.S.
Fifty years hence, Are You Experienced still inspires both blinding awe and head-scratching bewilderment. “Manic Depression” employs a ¾-time waltz rhythm to communicate a message of mental torment. “Love or Confusion” starts out like a cosmic Indian raga before mutating into a lithe, sexy samba. On “Third Stone from The Sun,” the Experience pits amp feedback and Wes Montgomery-style guitar chords against whirling jazz drums, creating a sound that could only be described as “space swing.” With its stun guitar and lumbering beat, “Purple Haze” sounds like Godzilla leveling Tokyo, while the album’s title track resembles a Scottish bagpipe reel transposed for the rock trio.
Song after song, the album lobs sonic grenades at the listener, leaving mind-bending psychic explosions in their wake. The album betrays Hendrix’s disdain for pop music conventions: None of the LP’s 11 tracks possesses anything close to a traditional, sing-along chorus — unless you think Hendrix frantically repeating “Stone Free!” constitutes a chorus.
Yet, for all their idiosyncrasies, Hendrix’s songs feature some of the most memorable lines in rock: “Excuse me, while I kiss the sky”… “is this love, or confusion?”… “move over, Rover, and let Jimi take over!” His seeming contempt for songwriting norms is all the more impressive considering Are You Experienced was released before underground FM radio reached critical mass, offering artists like Hendrix a platform.
Curiously, music was only part of the debut album’s charms. Though Hendrix reportedly hated his singing voice, his vocals, which deftly staked out the space between whispery tenor and midrange-y baritone, possessed so much gravitas he could make even the most inane lyric sound like divine writ. His lyrics were street poetry that often veered into science fiction territory. OK, so tracks like “Foxy Lady,” “Red House” and “Hey Joe” find him portraying the tongue-flicking Lothario, or the vengeful jilted lover. But on ballads such as “May This Be Love,” he exhibits the vulnerable sensitivity that made him such an expressive musician.
Some people say daydreaming’s for all the lazy-minded fools
With nothing else to do
So let them laugh, laugh at me,
So just as long as I have you, to see me through,
I have nothing to lose …
But “May This Be Love” is a rarity. The tracks that bookend that gorgeous ballad seethe with frustration, befuddlement and fear of persecution, including “Purple Haze” (“don’t know if I’m coming up or down”) and “Love or Confusion” (“my mind is so mixed up, goin’ round and round”). On the self-explanatory “Manic Depression,” Hendrix’s frustration seemingly knows no bounds.
Manic depression is searching my soul
I know what I want, but I just don’t know … how to go about getting it
Music, sweet music, I wish I could caress
Manic depression is a frustrating mess!
These tense, high-strung sentiments beg a question: Did Hendrix suffer from mental illness, perhaps bipolar disorder or worse? Though we’ll never know the answer, it’s interesting to speculate how an undiagnosed emotional disorder might have fueled the guitarist’s matchless creativity, influenced his music and fed his insatiable appetite for adventure.
The other thing “Manic Depression” underscores is Hendrix’s love of music, an affection so deep he wished he could caress it, make love to it. Are You Experienced would reveal just how close Hendrix could come to accomplishing that rhetorical goal, but first he had to endure the real-life experiences that would help sculpt him into rock’s greatest expressionist.
On June 18, 1967, The Jimi Hendrix Experience played the Monterey International Pop Festival, a first-of-its-kind showcase intended to promote artistic rock acts emanating from around the world. Performing on a roster that included Redding, Janis Joplin, The Who, Jefferson Airplane and sitar player Ravi Shankar, Hendrix and the Experience stole the show. Splendid in a ruffled orange shirt and feather boa, Hendrix pulled out all the stops, playing guitar behind his back, with his teeth, between his legs, the works. In a rock ’n’ roll sacrificial rite, the guitarist set his beloved Fender Stratocaster on fire, then smashed it during a finale performance of the rock anthem “Wild Thing.”
The shock of that set is captured in D.A. Pennebaker’s 1986 documentary Jimi Plays Monterey. As Hendrix tosses his shattered guitar into the Monterey crowd, Pennebaker’s cameras pan on some young women in the audience, their faces pallid with horror, confusion and desire.
Roughly two months after that debut U.S. performance, Are You Experienced was finally issued in the U.S. on Aug. 23, 1967. The album remained on Billboard’s Top LPs chart for 106 weeks. Unlike the U.K. edition, the album’s U.S. version included the singles “Hey Joe,” “The Wind Cries Mary” and “Purple Haze.” To date, Are You Experienced has sold more than 5 million copies in the U.S.
Many English rock fans today embrace Hendrix as an honorary Briton. Though he was born and raised stateside in Seattle, Hendrix was born again in the England. The country is rightfully proud to have served as the launching pad for the greatest rock musician ever. Hendrix, Mitchell and Redding are all dead now, the first classic rock band whose members are all dead. Ironically, a song from Are You Experienced suggests Hendrix may have harbored doubts about his future. Entitled “I Don’t Live Today,” the guitarist claimed the track was a paean to the world’s indigenous peoples, but the lyrics could easily be viewed as Hendrix pondering his legacy.
Will I live tomorrow?
Well, I just can’t say …
On its 50th anniversary, The Jimi Hendrix Experience is universally acclaimed. A half-century later, the Hendrix buzz still resounds.
It’s playoff season for young poets, with spots on some coveted slam teams up for grabs. The Undefeated follows two spoken-word artists before the Washington, D.C., Youth Slam Team Grand Slam Finals, where they find out whether they were chosen to represent the city at the national Brave New Voices competition.
Everyone knows there was more, much more, to the late, great boxing champion Muhammad Ali than his fiery moves inside the ring. His sharp tongue, rhyming words and singsong continue to move fans nearly 60 years after his first fight.
Ali’s prose, a genre of its own, is so influential that Campaign for Black Male Achievement (CBMA) has used The Greatest’s words to encourage black high school seniors in Detroit; Oakland, California; Chicago; Washington, D.C.; Milwaukee; Baltimore; and New York to express their inner Ali through the organization’s first poetry contest, Ali Prose.
One of his most popular chants, which he and trainer Drew Bundini Brown commonly used to hype the boxer up before and during fights, serves as the name of CBMA’s annual event: Rumble Young Man, Rumble.
“As many people will recall, not only was Ali a great fighter, some people say he was one of the first rappers,” said Steve Vassor, director of Rumble Young Man, Rumble. “He actually created what some categorized as pretty bad poetry, but it was poetry nonetheless. You’ll find that he’s a visual artist, you’ll find that he’s a cultural icon, you’ll find that he’s a civil rights fighter.”
Within the contest, the theme of the submitted poems should honor Ali’s legacy and include one of his six core principles: confidence, conviction, dedication, giving, respect and spirituality. And they shouldn’t be more than 20 lines long.
“What we want to do is get poetry from young men across the country inspired by Ali and his six core principles and the idea of black male achievement, then pick the best of the bunch that comes through,” Vassor said. “Again, it’s just another way to extol those who are leading the site for black men and boys around the country in whatever way they rumble. We’re hoping to lift up some poetry that will do what Bundini and Ali did for each other in terms of getting them amped for the fight.”
Poetry submissions, which are due April 23, will be judged by poet, publisher and educator Haki R. Madhubuti and international youth slam poetry champions Philly Youth Poetry Movement. All three winners will receive scholarships with a combined value of $1,750 and have their profiles featured on CBMA’s website.
Vassor said the Ali theme during National Poetry Month was a perfect match. Besides the contest’s thought-provoking submissions, Vassor hopes the conversation surrounding CBMA and Rumble Young Man, Rumble’s efforts will continue to help make the lives of young black men an ongoing priority.
“We would like to develop Rumble into more of a lifestyle so that it’s not just an annual event that only 150 people can attend,” Vassor said. “Our intention is to create a series of engagements and activities across the year. This poetry contest is one way to extend this idea of Rumble beyond one annual event.”