When my mom died, the 76ers and Patti LaBelle helped get me through the holidays Her death at age 53 from dementia left me looking for solace

“That was what one person could do for another, fix him up — sew up the problem, make him all right again. …”— Beneatha Younger in A Raisin in the Sun, explaining why she wants to be a physician.


My mother died on the 12th of December, 1977: early onset dementia. She was 53. Bit by bit, she lost herself. Toward the end, she didn’t know who I was. She called me “that man.” And I didn’t know who I was either. All my life, I’d been Ruth Rivers’ son, a card-carrying mama’s boy. But to my mother, I was just some strange man who wouldn’t let her run out of the house and into the street to who knows where.

Tuesday, I’ll reflect upon her proud and resilient life. Tuesday, I’ll look back at Mom’s death and the misery that led up to it. Tuesday, I’ll remember the time that, in a soft and beseeching voice, I told my mother that even if she didn’t know who I was, I loved her just the same. And Mom reached out and kissed my hand, giving me the strength to face another day.

But Tuesday, I’ll also think of the Philadelphia 76ers’ 1976-78 seasons. Led by future Hall of Fame forwards Julius (Dr. J) Erving and George McGinnis, the 76ers presented a dazzling group of players but a flawed team plagued by spotty outside shooting and defense. Consequently, the constellation of Philly stars was dimmed by playoff losses both years, including in the 1977 NBA Finals to the Portland Trail Blazers.

Still, I was riveted by every moment.

At home, I watched or listened to all their games. I read all the 76er stories in all the Philly newspapers. And sometimes, when I could steal away, I went to the games in person, a crucial respite from going through life holding my breath.

Rooting for that team in those two NBA seasons helped me get through the months that led up to my mother’s death and the months that followed it.

Tuesday, I’ll think of Patti LaBelle, and how, for a few hours in 1977, I placed my mother’s troubles and my anguish on the stage at Philly’s Academy of Music, when Patti sang “You are My Friend” and I swooped and soared with her majestic vocal.

Many people are bolstered by friends, family and faith in bad times. But for others, it’s the entertainers and athletes who help us survive challenging times.

Forty years ago, Patti and the 76ers helped pull me through. Today, everyone from Beyoncé to the Houston Rockets help salve the wounds of countless others.

The nation’s great athletes and entertainers earn a lot of money, at least for a time. But they enrich our society in ways that can go far beyond wins and losses, hit recordings and sold-out arenas.

Sometimes, the right play in the big game or the right note in the big concert stops people living besieged lives from slipping into darkness.

Sometimes, the athletes and entertainers, Dr. J to Patti LaBelle, fix us up, make things right again, if only for a thrilling moment.

If only we could find the words to tell our stars how much they can mean to us. If only they knew.

No matter the circumstance, black men walk through life with swag In their new movies, Denzel Washington, Chadwick Boseman and Rob Morgan walk like brothers with a certain attitude

Something in the way three black men move in their current movie roles is evocative not only of the characters they play but also of the times in which these men each lived.

As soon as Denzel Washington walks on-screen in the eponymous role of Roman J. Israel, Esq., it is clear the two-time Oscar-winning actor is exploring new terrain as an actor. Gone is his soulful strut, which has taken its place alongside Marilyn Monroe’s wiggle, Charlie Chaplin’s waddle and John Wayne’s saunter as one of Hollywood’s most recognizable gaits.

Denzel Washington stars in Roman J. Israel, Esq.

Glen Wilson

Instead, in his new movie, Washington walks as if he’s a tightly wound rubber ball who, nevertheless, doesn’t bounce very high, instead rolling through life with harried purpose, often uphill.

In the movie, Washington comes to grips with the internal and external forces he’s been battling to an anonymous and noble draw, just as so many people in real life do.

In movies such as 42 and Get on Up, a James Brown biopic, Chadwick Boseman has used different walks to portray very different men. As Jackie Robinson in 42, Boseman used his walk to portray a great athlete burdened by the pressure of breaking major league baseball’s color line. As Brown, he glided more than walked, a high-flying bird circling his own sun.

Now, as Thurgood Marshall in Marshall, Boseman walks with open and confident strides as the crusading civil rights lawyer who would later become the nation’s first black Supreme Court justice. I’m eager to see how Boseman will walk in Black Panther, a 2018 superhero movie based in Africa. If the teaser trailer is any indication, the Black Panther will walk a little like James Brown. Black superheroes have soul, and they are superbad.

And as Hap Jackson in Mudbound, Rob Morgan walks as if his soul and spirit dance, despite the bone-breaking work he does to support his family in the 1940s American South. And he stands tall, as if he can see a better day for his family and his people.

In Hollywood, actors of all races root their characters in how they move, how they walk. But in much of black America, our men turn everyday walking into a kind of performance art.

During the 1960s, Martin Luther King Jr. walked with the serenity of a man who could hear the waters parting as he sought to lead his people to the promised land.

Twenty years later, a young Michael Jordan of the Chicago Bulls walked on to NBA basketball courts as if it were Friday night and he carried two weeks’ pay in his back pocket and the prettiest woman on the South Side of Chicago waiting for him back home.

And a generation after that, Barack Hussein Obama, the nation’s first black president, walked into the White House as if the majestic horns of John Coltrane’s “Blue Train” or Earth, Wind & Fire’s “In the Stone,” fanfares for an uncommon man, heralded his arrival.

When I was a child growing up in Philly, I learned that there was nothing pedestrian about the way black men walked. Instead, each man’s gait revealed a journey, whether it was from the street corners, the factory floors or the cotton fields.

Today, too many young black men walk as if they wear chains around their ankles, tottering back and forth, with no particular place to go. We’d do well to understand the sorrow and disaffection revealed in the way they walk.

In their current movies, Washington, Boseman and Morgan explore the inner and outer space of their characters’ lives. They take us to places we know. They take us to foreign places. They take us to places we’d like to be: a bite of the good life, a sip of forbidden water, the embrace of a good woman.

They ask us to walk with them and see what they see, feel what they feel. We do. And we are better for the journey.

Thanksgiving is a day to celebrate, no matter our problems Black Americans, as always, will stand as exemplars of America’s resilience, spirit and promise

Thanksgiving is a day to celebrate, no matter our problems. Let others dismiss Thanksgiving as an occasion where warmed-over family resentments and simmering political antagonisms are passed around the holiday tables as we stuff ourselves with turkey, apple pie and football.

But for those of us who look forward to the holiday, we know that Thanksgiving is the start of the season of giving and gratitude, a time when we seek to share our blessings and good cheer, a time when we seek to care for people who are neglected the rest of the year.

Which is to say Thanksgiving, like other national holidays, can be whatever we need and want it to be.

For some of us this Thanksgiving, our holiday family will be those who happen to be with us on or behind the line at the homeless shelter. For others, our Thanksgiving families will be composed of the men and women who will join us in workplace potlucks.

But for still others, especially the most fortunate African-American families, Thanksgiving will be a multigenerational celebration: a time when the Little Bobbys, Juniors and Treys commune with the Big Bobbys, the Nanas and the Aunties.

Consequently, we will be able to look around our Thanksgiving tables and see in the faces of others assembled there who we have been and who we will be, from the toddlers to the elders. And we will feel the presence of the ancestors in the retelling of old and precious stories.

To be sure, all Americans contribute to the nation’s greatness. We all own a piece of Plymouth Rock, the Liberty Bell and the Statue of Liberty. We’ve all inherited the nation’s myths and traditions and transformed them.

On Thursday, we’ll sit around one long communal table, from sea to shining sea, but in a house divided by race, class and politics.

Nevertheless, black families have a lot to teach America this Thanksgiving and throughout the year. After all, black families are among the nation’s oldest and most diverse. Our genetic heritage is primarily African, European and Native American, though usually not as much of the latter as the elders have sometimes claimed.

Like America, black folks are defined by stark contrasts and contradictions. Our complexions range from parchment to obsidian. Our women are the nation’s best educated and least respected. Our men are the most feared and the most vulnerable, plagued by chronic illnesses, early death and mass incarceration.

Everything from the loss of farmland to the loss of factory jobs happened in our families first or most acutely, and we have survived. Our families have embraced our Muslim brothers and sisters along with other religious traditions from across the continents and around the world. Some may continue to struggle to embrace our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters, just as others do, but our arms have been open.

We have loved America and fought to defend its highest ideals, from the battlefields to the voting booths, courts and picket lines. Far too often, we’ve been rebuked and scorned by an America that’s been blessed by our hard work, creativity and patriotism.

And long before the term “fake news” was invented, black Americans suffered the cruel lash of lies about what we’ve done and who we are.

We’ve survived that too.

Indeed, Thanksgiving is the great American holiday that celebrates survival and acclimation, endurance and transformation.

On Thursday, the nation gathers together and yet apart. Many will sit among family and friends and enjoy a feast of good fortune. And black Americans, as always, will stand as exemplars of America’s resilience, spirit and promise.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Today’s troubles ‘ain’t nothing new’ Lessons my grandmother found in the Good Book

When I was a child, my grandmother would sometimes allow me to come into her kitchen and lick her big wooden spoon after she mixed the batter for one thing or the other, a sweet moment in our often bitter relationship.

She was so mean, dispensing daily doses of disapproval to her household, especially to me. Besides, we were so different.

I was a city boy and a child of books, imagination and ambition. She was born in the country and became an old woman of the Bible, prayer and endurance. I would never have made it in her rural past. She’d have no place in my urban and urbane future.

My grandmother was a child of God and a conjure woman. She knew everything she needed to know. The sun rose and the sun set. God was in His heaven. And on earth, as it was in heaven, nothing that really mattered ever changed.

When I was a child, there was so much I wanted to know in a time that was changing, with still more change to come.

“Boy,” my grandmother would say, “ain’t nothing new under the sun,” a pearl of wisdom she’d scooped up from the Bible and then dropped from her righteous pedestal.

Black folks were marching in the streets then. They were dancing in the streets too.

But for my grandmother, the evil men of the early to mid-1960s were just the latest incarnations of the pharaohs of the Old Testament and King Herod as the new hand puppets of the devil. For my grandmother, the dances of my youth were no more than a new generation shuffling their feet over the same things invented and forgotten eons ago.

Nothing worth thinking about. Nothing worth talking about. Nothing new.

Still, from time to time my grandmother would ask my grandfather, who read several newspapers a day, to tell her about the people, places and things that had gotten the world in a tizzy. After my grandfather gave his wife his latest current events update, my grandmother would search her Bible for context and further explanation.

“Ain’t nothing new under the sun.”

More than 50 years ago, my grandmother found everything neatly explained in her Bible, from Bull Connor to the Vietnam War: “There will always be war and rumors of war,” grandmom said of the latter.

If she were alive today, grandmom would find explanations for everything from global climate change to the resurgence of white supremacy in America and in Europe in her Good Book.

Society’s travails, my grandmother would say, are the consequences of people mocking God and his commandments of how we should live in accordance with nature and one another.

As far as I know, my grandmother never voted or took to the streets to protest the trouble the world was in or the men and women who made it so. Instead, she found solace and sanctuary in her faith, secure in the notion that nothing really changed.

But sometimes my grandmother, who never hugged me, would invite me into her kitchen and let me lick her big wooden spoon, a tacit embrace of my hopes and dreams for a better future. It’s a sweet memory that bolsters me in bitter times, which, as always, are changing.

#MeToo should also expose the vileness of what happens to black and brown women Is America only protecting the white victims of sexual harassment and violence?

“… I have been following the news and reading the accounts of women coming forward to talk about being assaulted by Harvey Weinstein and others. I had shelved my experience with Harvey far in the recesses of my mind, joining in the conspiracy of silence that has allowed this predator to prowl for so many years. I had felt very much alone when these things happened, and I had blamed myself for a lot of it, quite like many of the other women who have shared their stories … “
Lupita Nyong’o, an Academy Award-winning actress, in New York Times op-ed on Oct. 20

“… I knew enough to do more than I did …”
Academy Award-winning filmmaker Quentin Tarantino in New York Times interview Oct. 19 where he discussed Harvey Weinstein’s alleged sexual misbehavior with women

A black woman with a stop sign in her hand, a gleam in her eyes and a smile on her face sprinted into the middle of the street to protect me.

“Go ahead, baby,” the school crossing guard said. It’s been a long time since I was a schoolkid. But I remember the enduring lessons of how to safely cross the street, though I haven’t always heeded them.

This time, I looked both ways and stepped confidently into the street to continue my early-morning errand. A warm October sun illuminated a light blue sky, a chambray blanket stretched overhead. When I drew abreast of the crossing guard, I said, “Thanks for looking out for me.”

My protector said, “Anytime, baby,” punctuating her words with a gap-toothed smile.

Black girls and women have been protecting me all my life. Indeed, the strength, resilience and generosity of black women have been so consistent in my life and America’s that they have come to be expected more than appreciated, by me and the rest of the nation.

Perhaps that’s why we haven’t done more to protect black women.

You know, American society often seeks to use spectacular events to talk about routine yet horrific circumstances that cry out for change and justice: The O.J. Simpson murder trial and our racial divide, mass shootings and gun violence, accused celebrity predators and sexual harassment.

And so, allegations against longtime movie mogul Harvey Weinstein prompt a discussion about sexual harassment, which is endemic to our society; it is universal, a grim tie that binds women from the shacks in the valley to the mansions high on the hill.

But it’s the famous names accusing Weinstein of sexual misconduct, including Gwyneth Paltrow, Mira Sorvino and Lupita Nyong’o, that will have us talking for a time.

To be sure, victims of abuse deserve justice, whatever their socioeconomic backgrounds. Movie stars, groped and prodded, mocked and shamed, intimidated and humiliated, deserve our compassion. And they will get it.

But it’s poor women, women of color and especially black women who suffer sexual harassment and exploitation in a society that doesn’t care enough to see it. Poor women don’t endure sexual harassment for movie roles. Instead, in real life, they endure the harassment and humiliation to get favorable work schedules, to keep their lights on and their children fed.

These women, often young and vulnerable, will be expected to shake off their traumas and go on, especially if they are black, strong and resilient. And they will, just as their ancestors did after being pinched, prodded and paraded on the slave auction blocks.

Whenever and wherever women are routinely made victims of unwanted sexual advances, whenever and wherever women can’t assert their unassailable sovereignty over their bodies, the society loses a little bit more of its soul and decency.

For a time, allegations lodged against a rich and powerful man made by famous and glamorous women will be front-page news, something titillating to discuss.

At some point, the talk will end. Everyone from the brown-eyed girls being groped on the back stairs in housing projects to the blue-eyed women being fondled on the casting couches will look to America with damning eyes. Their eyes will ask a wrenching question: What more will America do to protect its women from sexual assaults, especially women made most vulnerable by an indifference that’s rooted in race and class hostility?

How will we answer?

From anthem protests to our hair, our bodies can be symbols of revolution This week with NFL management and players meeting, we’ll see how much progress has really been made

During the last NFL season, Colin Kaepernick, then a San Francisco 49ers’ quarterback, took a knee during the playing of the national anthem. Since then, other players have joined Kaepernick’s protest against racial injustice, including police brutality.

This year, others have protested Kaepernick’s continuing exclusion from the league. Still others have knelt to stand up against President Donald Trump and his allies who have demanded that the protests end. Throughout the various NFL protests and their stated motivations, no one has claimed to be demonstrating against the national anthem, the nation’s flag or its troops.

Nevertheless, Jerry Jones, owner of the Dallas Cowboys, has said players on his team will stand during the anthem or they won’t play. He says kneeling is disrespectful. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell says team owners will discuss the demonstrations during meetings in New York this week. Representatives of the NFL Players Association are expected to participate in the meetings.

As those meetings unfold, it would be wise for the owners to remember they own their franchises, but not the games, the players or their rights as Americans to protest.

The protesting players kneel along a path charted by countless men and women who have marched in defense of their civil and human rights and a better America. There is no reason for NFL players or any other Americans to play Mother May I? with team owners or other bosses regarding the exercise of their First Amendment rights.

Still, there can be stark consequences for exercising one’s rights in America. The players are vulnerable to being demonized and exiled, especially if they fail to stand together.

But no matter how the owners seek to circumscribe or proscribe player protests during NFL games, the athletes and the rest of America remain free to work to change the circumstances that prompt the demonstrations.

Meanwhile, the debate about the Confederate flag and other remnants of the Confederacy continues. Proponents say the flag, monuments to Confederate troops and generals, and even holidays in their name are merely benign celebrations of Southern heritage and essential artifacts of the nation’s history.

But those who oppose the valorizing of Confederate people, places and things understand that the Civil War — rooted in white supremacy and its offspring: slavery and black oppression — presented the gravest threat our nation has faced. By the end of the war in 1865, more than 600,000 people had died, making it the nation’s bloodiest conflict. Almost 100 years later, the ghosts of the Civil War claimed the lives of four little black girls in a Birmingham, Alabama, church.

And in August, the specter of the Civil War struck again, this time in Charlottesville, Virginia. Heather Heyer, a white woman, had gone to that city, home to the University of Virginia, to protest right-wing zealots who were marching. She was struck by a car and killed. The driver, James Alex Fields Jr., has been charged with second-degree murder.

Furthermore, the opponents of glorifying Confederate titans know that monuments to Confederate war “heroes” obscure the nation’s cruel history with slavery rather than illuminate it. They know that during the 1950s, elements of the Confederate flag were stretched into white opposition to black civil rights. And they know that at this very moment, the Confederate flag is being used as a symbol of white supremacy in the United States and in Europe.

The contrasting views of the NFL protests and the meaning of Confederate flags and monuments are part of a conflict in America that touches everything from sports champions visiting the White House to our clothing choices and our hairstyles: Who decides what our actions and symbols mean?

For example, earlier this month, a young black woman in New York was stunned to learn that her box braids prompted her manager at a Banana Republic clothing store to rebuke her on the grounds that she was too urban (read: black), unkempt and didn’t fit the store’s image. Other organizations have sought to prohibit their black employees from wearing some natural hairstyles in their workplaces, and some courts have sustained their right to do so.

Power and money are on the side of employers who seek to ban black workers wearing locs, just as they are on the side of the NFL owners and those who seek to continue celebrating a mythical view of the 19th century South in 21st century America.

As always, power and money loom as formidable and determined foes of morality and truth. They form a mighty wheel that’s being pushed up a mountain.

Flags, and now hair, symbolize our independent thinking. Put your shoulder to the wheel or be prepared to get rolled over.

Pots & pans: From Sally Hemings to Jane Doe, ‘throwaway’ women demand their places in history and in court Accusations against Pete Rose show a view of women that is toxic

In the wake of allegations that decades ago Pete Rose had sex with an underage girl, this week’s planned celebration of Rose by the Philadelphia Phillies, his team from 1979 through 1983, has been shelved.

Thus, Rose becomes the latest male celebrity to have his past tainted and his future shrouded by allegations of sexual abuse. Rose was barred from participating in major league baseball because he gambled on the game while managing the Cincinnati Reds, and the sex scandal puts another bolt on the door that stands between Rose and baseball’s Hall of Fame.

Of course, Rose, major league baseball’s all-time career hits leader, denies doing anything criminal. He says his accuser was 16, or that he thought she was 16, and at the age of consent in Ohio when the teenager and the then-married Cincinnati Reds star began their sexual relationship. I don’t seek to convict Rose of a crime. He deserves a full exploration of the events that prompted the allegations, just as does his accuser, who has been identified only as Jane Doe.

Whatever happens with the allegations against Rose, or Bill Cosby or any number of men accused of abusing women, the significance of privileged men being accused of abusing women can’t be denied.

For too long we’ve focused upon what sex scandals would mean to the accused men, their careers, reputations and legacies. But when we change our focus, we see that when men stand accused of abusing women it underscores grudging changes in our society. After all, powerful, prominent and popular men have always been able to sexually exploit and abuse women without fear of being held accountable for their actions: It’s not the abuse but the potential consequences that are new.

Indeed, from Sally Hemings to Jane Doe, our society continues to struggle with women maintaining sovereignty over their bodies.

For decades, Hemings was Thomas Jefferson’s slave and nothing more, at least outside her family. Family stories about her relationship with Jefferson, America’s third president, were just tall tales about one of the nation’s most towering figures.

But today, the family stands vindicated as academic inquiry and DNA evidence have built a consensus that Jefferson probably fathered Hemings’ children.

Now a woman seeks to hold Rose accountable for a relationship that began when she was a teenager and he was a married baseball star twice her age. A few months here and there could add up to the difference between Rose having done something criminal and exploitative in the 1970s and his doing something merely exploitative.

But no matter how old his teenage lover was, Rose behaved like a man who sought to use a young woman and then ball her up and throw her away. The inconvenient truth for Rose and for others of his generation and ilk is that there are no disposable women. Indeed, the notion of disposable women is toxic and unsustainable and must not be recycled.

Women will have sovereignty over their bodies. They will say yes or no, when and how, and with whom. And men who can’t understand or respect that could find themselves in a world of hurt, as they should.

As women assert sovereignty over their bodies and control of their futures, they will be met with opposition from the bedroom to the boardroom.

But if American society is to climb toward higher ground, women must walk beside men, and sometimes take the lead, just as the nation’s female athletes did during the 2016 Summer Olympics.

Since its beginnings, America has been defined by white men. Its history has been framed and interpreted through what white men said or did, thought or imagined. But it is likely that 21st-century America will be significantly defined by the actions and decisions that women of all races make for themselves, the nation and the world.

One of the telling decisions modern American women have made is that they will not be defined by the tastes and whims of men. They will not be disposable. Instead, old notions about the value of women and the men who hold them will be.

Somewhere, a teenage Sally Hemings, with her life and body her own, says no to Thomas Jefferson, and, broom in hand, chases him away.

Pots & pans: Floyd Mayweather’s fight with Conor McGregor might help pay $22 million bill The IRS is a foe the boxer can’t take lightly

I don’t know what will happen when Floyd Mayweather Jr. fights Conor McGregor in August, but I have always thought of Mayweather as one savvy dude.

A master of defense in the ring, Mayweather has earned hundreds of millions of dollars from boxing. Now 40, past his prime and two years removed from his last bout, the undefeated boxer is set to gross millions more in a fight against McGregor, the UFC lightweight champion. With a 22-3 career record, McGregor sometimes spars with boxers, but he hasn’t boxed regularly since he was a kid growing up in Ireland. The fight at 154 pounds will be governed by boxing rules. McGregor, a mixed martial artist, will be penalized if he kicks his opponent.

McGregor is 29 and a devastating puncher in the UFC. His profuse trash-talking outside the ring includes calling Mayweather a boy, which could anger Mayweather before the fight, portending the possibility of an animosity-laced bloodbath during the fight — or so promoters would have us believe.

Still, it’s Mayweather, a winner of championships in five weight classes, who could end up hemorrhaging money. He owes the Internal Revenue Service more than $22 million from 2015, and he’s asked the IRS to defer collection until after next month’s fight in Las Vegas.

Perhaps Mayweather is not so savvy after all. As everyone from gangster Al Capone to boxing legend Joe Louis has learned, when it comes to the IRS, you can run but you can’t hide.

Being a black American celebrity who owes the government money is like boxing with your hands held at your waist and your chin jutting out — a stiff hook that will knock your finances flat is on the way.

I keep a running tally of black celebrities and celebrities of other races I’d let sleep on the couch until my wife puts them out if they fell on hard times: from Smokey Robinson to writer Viet Thanh Nguyen, author of The Sympathizer.

Floyd Mayweather is not on the list. I don’t know the real Mayweather, but his public persona, boastful and peevish, presents him as someone who would quickly wear out his welcome at a block party, even if he brought the beer, potato salad and screaming chicken wings.

Still, I don’t want to see him or other highly paid black celebrities hit with a flurry of money problems, especially federal tax money problems. Tax problems battered Marvin Gaye, bruised Lionel Richie and sent Lauryn Hill and Wesley Snipes to prison.

I root for black celebrities to take full advantages of their hard work and talents. Our highly-paid stars should be able to go beyond having a good time until the money runs out. They should strive to become savvy enough about money to secure their familes’ futures for generations to come.

Furthermore, I don’t join those who look to black celebrities to fund every worthy cause. After all, white celebrities don’t face similar responsibilities or expectations.

Furthermore, no matter how generous celebrities of all races are, their largesse cannot take the place of good government that works to better 21st-century America. And it is their money, to save or squander.

Still, Mayweather and other rich black celebrities could use their money and influence to help America become a better place, much as Oprah has done for decades.

Even if Mayweather and his financial handlers have the best of intentions, if they manage his money badly, especially his taxes, he’ll be less able to help others.

Born into a Michigan family of boxers and turmoil, Mayweather has taken his future in his hands and boxed his way to a 49-0 ring career. Along the way, he’s earned fame and fortune despite getting hit repeatedly with allegations of domestic violence.

Like rapper and mogul Jay-Z, Mayweather has gone from entertainer to businessman, businessman to (a) business, man. His deferring payment of taxes might be a way he’s learned to slip the jab of the IRS, just as he slips opponents’ jabs in the ring.

Perhaps he’ll use next month’s bout and future fights against nontraditional opponents to pay his taxes for years to come. By all reports, Mayweather should have a lot of money, a lot of liquid assets.

But he should keep in mind that when celebrities start getting cutesy about paying their taxes, their liquid assets can run through their fingers and they can end up drowning in a sea of red ink.

Pots & pans: We need to celebrate our heroes and heroines both past and present this Juneteenth No matter the when, they are all making it possible for blacks to realize the true American dream

On this date in 1865, black people enslaved in Galveston, Texas, were told the Union forces had won the Civil War and that they were free. Since then, black Americans have marked Juneteenth with jubilation, feasts, strawberry soda and other red drinks.

Today, I raise my glass of strawberry soda to salute some of the people I believe exemplify the continuing struggle to gain full civil and human rights for black people in our country, a struggle that has helped America draw closer to the vision outlined in the Declaration of Independence.

Consequently, I toast LeBron James and Kevin Durant. Since 2010, James has gone from the Cleveland Cavaliers to the Miami Heat and back again, winning three NBA championships along the way. This season, K.D. moved from the Oklahoma City Thunder to the Golden State Warriors and led that team to a 4-1 victory in the NBA Finals over LeBron’s Cavs, the defending champs. Furthermore, they triumphed by competing against each other vigorously while respecting each other as athletes and as men.

Although some deride and dismiss the significance of millionaire black athletes deciding their fates, their actions represent a generation of black athletes who feel free to pursue happiness and league championships on their own terms.

I toast broadcast journalist April Ryan and U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris from California, wonder women who seek to lasso the truth with their probing questions. They have asked questions that revealed inconvenient truths about the white male political establishment that has sought, without success, to dismiss them and shut them up.

Meanwhile, I toast Ta-Nehisi Coates and Chadwick Boseman. The two Howard University men continue the integration of the nation and the world’s fantasy life. Coates, a John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation genius grant winner, has been writing the comic book Black Panther, about a genius inventor and one of the world’s smartest people. Boseman, who has captured the physicality and emotional complications of James Brown and Jackie Robinson on screen, will continue playing the Black Panther in an eponymous 2018 movie.

As Coates and Boseman champion black inclusion in society through a superhero, Lynn Nottage uses ordinary people to help America better understand today’s challenges, which are made worse by racial and class divisions.

She earns a strawberry soda salute with her bittersweet Sweat, her Pulitzer Prize-winning play that explores the end of work and the emotional chaos that follows. Colson Whitehead, a Pulitzer Prize winner for The Underground Railroad gives us a poetic vision of slavery and its aftermath. And Tracy K. Smith, another Pulitzer Prize winner (Life on Mars), and the new poet laureate of the United States, finds majesty in the everyday, just as Gwendolyn Brooks and Rita Dove did before her.

They meld the intellectual ambition of W.E.B DuBois and Booker T. Washington’s veneration for sweat and craft. They show that the road to higher ground is paved with a commitment to excellence. They show that great art is fundamental to our survival. I toast them all.

And I toast all the black people, especially the slaves, lost to the years. They bore the lash. They prayed. They loved.

And they live in today’s triumphs, undefeated and unbowed, now and forever.

Pots & Pans: Ella Fitzgerald was the voice of all our mothers This year, we celebrate the centennial of her birth and music that helped us through some tough times

When my mother was a teenager, she’d lock arms with a group of other girls and head off to her Philadelphia high school. Often, as my mother so fondly remembered, the girls would break into an Ella Fitzgerald song: “A-Tisket, A-Tasket,” a 19th-century nursery rhyme that Ella helped remake into a silly hit tune for serious times, the Great Depression:

“… A green and yellow basket

I send a letter to my mommy, On the way I dropped it,

I dropped it, I dropped it,

Yes, on the way I dropped it

A little girlie picked it up

And put it in her pocket …”

Unlike Billie Holiday, just two years older, Ella didn’t so much interpret song lyrics as toss them joyfully, yet precisely, into the air. To paraphrase a Duke Ellington tune, she let a song go out of her heart. Married at least twice, the men she loved got away, including bassist Ray Brown, a former husband with whom she adopted a son, Ray Brown Jr. Still, she sang love songs as if she were an ingenue recounting her first kiss. And her music was often most compelling and charming when she forgot the lyrics to the songs she sang (and improvised new ones), or when she substituted scat singing for lyrics.

Further, she sang for and to the unsung, especially the black women of my mother’s generation. They endured the long nights of dreams deferred and embraced the morning joy promised by their faith and Ella’s singing.

They cornrowed hair and cleared paths for the next generation in the classroom, on the factory floors and in the office suites. At home, they made nutritious meals from food scraped from cans and poured from boxes, meals seasoned with hope and thrift. They stood by their men and bent their knees to God.

For my mother’s generation and others that followed, Ella’s voice soared like a flock of doves released against a blue midmorning summer sky. Although my mother and her friends couldn’t sing like Ella, many had something in common with The First Lady of Song: They steeled themselves against hard lives and radiated a public optimism that sometimes masked private insecurity and pain. Ella once explained, “It isn’t where you came from, it’s where you’re going that counts.”

Ella was born on April 25, 1917, in Virginia; her voice took her from living on New York streets to living in her home in Beverly Hills. Along the way she sold 40 million albums, earned 13 Grammys and was honored with the National Medal of Arts. During a career in which she stamped her imprint on the Great American Songbook, she performed songs composed by everyone from Irving Berlin (“White Christmas”) to Stevie Wonder (“You Are the Sunshine of My Life”). She sang with everyone from Louis Armstrong to Frank Sinatra. A longtime sufferer of diabetes, she died in 1996 at 79.

Later this month, many will continue to mark the centennial of Ella’s birth. Notably, on April 26, Jazz at Lincoln Center in New York will hail Ella in an event that doubles as a fundraiser for the organization. Scheduled performers include the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis and singers Renée Fleming, Audra McDonald and Cécile McLorin Salvant.

Ella’s singing was a smile sent from the heavens, a work of art and a force of nature. Like jazz, Ella’s singing never grows old. It just flings its arms open wide and envelops a new generation with joy.