Andrew Collins believes in second chances so much he’s helping kids avoid needing them The former inmate launched Stain Your Brain while in prison to help save at-risk youth

When community activist Andrew Collins found himself facing prison time, the first question that went through his mind was, “How did I get here?” He leaves the moment that got him to his temporary fate as “making a bad decision by being at the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong crowd.” That decision landed him a sentence of 35 years for second-degree murder, aggravated robbery and aggravated burglary. He served 13 years, five months and two weeks.

He was given a second chance. During his time in a West Tennessee prison, he launched Stain Your Brain (SYB), a nonprofit organization designed to meet youths where they are in an attempt to stop them from going down a similar path.

“When I went before the parole board, I had a plan,” Collins said. “I was told I was the first guy out of thousands of cases that came with a plan and stuck to it. As a matter of fact, I have been out for 12 years now, and to this day members of the parole board still check in on me and send people my way and give referrals and everything.”

Collins was riding in a car with a friend. The friend made a stop, went to a home and a man was killed. Collins faced charges because he was in the car.

“It was my first time being caught up, but I still had to pay the price,” Collins said. “Being at the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong crowd can cost you your life; even though I wasn’t the triggerman, I was there. Our youth need to know that it will happen to them if they go down the wrong path. I am trying to save lives.”

Collins was 25 years old. According to its website, “SYB is designed to attack the growing epidemic of juvenile delinquency, at-risk youth and potential offenders through the lives of previously incarcerated inmates.”

Youths participating in the program gain encouragement through “real-life testimonies from real life situations that led to real life consequences.” Their main focus “is to present a message of hope. No matter what temptations they are faced with, we want to encourage, motivate, and help them stay focused.”

SYB is not only beneficial to at-risk youth, but it also gives former inmates the avenue to give back to their community by allowing them a platform to share their stories and placing them in a position to mentor.

The programs are presented in “raw and uncut” language that youths understand. SYB states that its vision is “Using realistic situations to relay the harsh realities of prison life, we believe, can deter juveniles from becoming delinquents and giving over to a life of crime. Stain Your Brain was designed to be confrontational (stain) as well as educational (brain).”

Collins believes that youths are more likely to listen and respond to individuals who have “lived the life” rather than traditional authority figures.

Bridgette Bowman, an attorney who works for the Memphis and Shelby County Juvenile Court in Memphis, Tennessee, where the organization is housed, believes programs like SYB are needed for the community.

“I think Stain Your Brain is a great program, but it wouldn’t be great if it wasn’t for people like Andrew,” Bowman said. “Stain Your Brain is great because you have an African-American male who lived the life in the system. It’s not a person who has gone to school and got a degree and has book knowledge. Andrew is one those people who is a good guy, got caught up and had to pay the consequences.”

Bowman believes the youths need real-life figures, not just storybook fake figures who might not know what they’re going through.

“Andrew had a great opportunity, he made bad choices and he had to go to jail for them. That’s a lot of the things the kids in this city are facing,” Bowman added. “Andrew went to jail as an accessory to the fact. The other part of the lesson is that whole adage we teach our kids, ‘snitches get stitches.’ Through Stain Your Brain, Andrew has the opportunity to undo some of the negative messages we’ve put in our kids’ head. Messages like ‘snitches get stitches’ have caused our communities to go to hell because people don’t want to open their mouths and talk. They have allegiances to criminals instead of their own standard of living, and we have to change that.”

Collins recently spoke to The Undefeated about his mission to steer at-risk youth in the right direction and his desire to give them hope.


Why are second chances so important to you?

I received a second chance. … I was blessed with a job as a data installer. The company saw what I was doing with the kids in the community and offered me a job. That’s why everyone who is associated with Stain Your Brain is so resilient. Everybody that speaks with me, they have been through something. I’m talking about ex-gang members and ex-gang leaders. Now they are grown men who received second chances at life. Now they’re married, they’re pastoring and giving back to the community.

We don’t look like what we’ve been through, and we don’t look like where we come from. We can sit amongst a crowd; they don’t know who we are until we open our mouths to give our testimony.

Why was it important to start a program like Stain Your Brain?

Well, I had just returned from a church service, and I was looking at the television and I kept seeing what was going on in Memphis. I knew I was going home one day, I just didn’t know when. When I was sitting on my bunk looking at that television, I said, ‘Lord, I need you to tell me, why am I here?’ I had a talk with God, and he revealed to me that I needed to keep as many kids as I can from making unwise decisions as I did. From that moment on, I knew that I wanted to use my testimony to educate the youth about perils of criminal life and let them know it is real.

I called my best friend, who is a graphic designer, and relayed to him the things I needed. After talking to my friend, I had everything I needed to start my own nonprofit organization. I had my own letterhead and business cards. It was important that I started Stain Your Brain while I was in prison. I didn’t want to go before the parole board without a plan. I had six different churches who wrote to the parole board on my behalf because they needed me to speak to the kids.

One of my main statements is ‘If we change the inner man, then the outer man is going to change.’ We teach kids to be independent thinkers, to be leaders and not followers. We teach them to think before they act.

How are parents involved in the program?

I meet with them on every third Saturday. It’s mandatory that the parents come in, meet us and talk to us. We tell parents that we really can’t help their children, we really can’t do this without you. We say, ‘If you want us to help you, you’ve got to help us so we can do this thing together.’ It takes a village to build a neighborhood.

We have to let parents and guardians know that we are not part-time fathers, we’re not part-time dads. We do what we do because it’s in our heart and it’s in our passion, and because of what God allowed us to go to and through.

Basically, the parents’ involvement is critical. We just don’t get involved and don’t deal with the kids if the parents do not get involved. And one of the main things is that a lot of the kids are being raised by their grandmother, their aunts, their sisters.

Do you think it may be certain generational issues are contributing factors to juvenile delinquency?

It’s a generational thing. We have several of the kids be like, ‘Hey, I’m not scared to go to jail. My uncle’s been in jail,’ or ‘My daddy been in jail.’ … If they’ve been exposed to it, then nine times out of 10 they’re going to tap into it in some type of way.

All that has a lot to do with the actions that they take, and it’s not going to change until everybody comes together. I tell it everywhere we go. It’s kind of like, poverty has a lot to do with it, but a lot of these kids have emotional problems they are coping with as well. They’re at home, they’re at school. All of that has a lot to do with their actions and their behavior. Of course, they can’t help what school they go to.

David Robinson’s advice on effective social change: ‘Slow down’ ‘The Admiral’ says it took years to get his school and investment fund up and running

SAN ANTONIO — The students making their way through a first-floor corridor at Carver Academy and College Prep grew wide-eyed when they bumped into the school’s founder. A few gasped when the still-trim, 7-foot-1 Spurs legend David Robinson stopped to wave, and they beamed when he posed for a few selfies.

Most of these young people were not yet born when Robinson’s Hall of Fame NBA career ended in 2003. But, to them, the man nicknamed “the Admiral” is as much a star for what he has done off the court as for what he did on it.

Robinson launched what was then called Carver Academy 16 years ago with $10 million of his own money. It began as a small parochial school serving elementary students, but it is now a publicly funded charter school that enrolls more than 1,100 pupils. Most of the students are Hispanic or black, and most of them are from low-income families. Nearly all of them are on track for college, school officials say.

We’re in an age when athletes are embracing social activism in a way that rivals anything in the past. Following the lead of former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, scores of NFL players have stirred a national debate by taking a knee or sitting during the national anthem to call attention to police brutality and racial injustice. Others have worn T-shirts or hoodies to protest the deaths of Eric Garner or Trayvon Martin. Many athletes have started foundations or otherwise tried to leverage their wealth and fame to spur social change.

It is a level of consciousness that heartens the 52-year-old Robinson. And while Robinson is careful not to criticize any protesting players, he says it remains to be seen whether their strong words will be matched by meaningful deeds — or make the kind of difference that is happening at Carver.

“There is certainly more awareness now. Guys understand their influence and opportunity,” Robinson said. “I’ve talked to a lot of young athletes. They care. They want to do something significant. The question is, how? How do they do it?”

It is something Robinson knows firsthand. It took him years to turn his dream of a school into reality. He says the athletes eager to make change should be prepared for a similar struggle.

A line of students eagerly greet David Robinson as they walk to their next classroom at the IDEA Carver College Prep campus. “I’m a teacher at heart,” said Robinson. “I’m a lifelong student.”

Julysa Sosa for The Undefeated

“Guys in the NBA visit Carver all the time. Some of them say, ‘This is great. I want to start a school too,’ ” Robinson said. “My reaction is usually, ‘Wait. Slow down.’ You’ve got to be sure this is what you want to do. There is so much to learn. It is daunting. When a lot of guys come into the league, they are not prepared to write a check, much less run a school or build something.”

Robinson’s patient brand of activism led him to not only open a school but to also co-found Admiral Capital Group, a private equity firm that helps pay for his good deeds. Admiral controls more than $1 billion in office space, hotels and apartment developments. The company also has invested alongside several NBA and NFL team owners in an online platform that helps coaches at all levels break down game film as well as a separate online platform that automates management of youth athletic leagues. The firm sets aside 10 percent of its profits for donations aimed at making social change.

“The business is a sustainable way of making a long-term impact,” said Daniel Bassichis, a former Goldman Sachs banker and the firm’s co-founder, who once served on Carver’s board. “It has a constant income, which is key. Most [athletes’] foundations do not have this kind of income.”

Admiral has also helped guide investments by other professional athletes, including Spurs guard Tony Parker, former NFL defensive lineman Justin Tuck (who served an internship with the firm as an MBA student) and retired major league outfielder Torii Hunter. Not only are the investors immersed in the details of their investments, but they also receive advice on how to make lasting social change.

“There is so much to learn. It is daunting. When a lot of guys come into the league, they are not prepared to write a check, much less run a school or build something.”

For instance, each year the firm hires 25 Houston-area high school students to work in a Hilton Garden Inn hotel it owns there. The idea is to expose young people to careers in the hospitality industry. If students take to the work, they are given scholarships to the University of Houston, which they attend as Admiral scholars.

Robinson’s vision for social activism came into focus three decades ago during a two-year military commitment after his graduation from the Naval Academy. During that time, Robinson visited a couple of dozen Washington, D.C.-area high schools to deliver a simple message: Just say no to drugs.

Most students seemed thrilled to have the basketball star in their midst. Still, Robinson’s words frequently fell flat, particularly with the students who most needed to hear them. He realized he had to do more than say something. He had to do something.

“I realized it was like trying to put a Band-Aid on a big wound,” Robinson recalled. “Some of the kids would say, ‘This ain’t reality to us.’ From what they knew, drug dealers were making money. Or education wouldn’t change their lives. I found myself wondering, what can I do to help these kids? How do I make change?”

Robinson, a devout Christian, prayed on it. The answer he got convinced him that he should one day open a school to help guide young people to make better choices, regardless of the difficult circumstances they may confront.

“You can talk until you are blue in the face, but you can’t change people,” he said. “But you can plant seeds, and education is a natural way to plant seeds.”

Robinson nurtured his dream for most of his NBA career, making donations and connections and learning what he could about educational policy. Finally, he made his move, opening Carver Academy in 2001, two years before he retired from basketball. As a parochial school, it had just 120 students. To expand its reach and relieve the constant fundraising pressure, Robinson agreed in 2012 to convert Carver into a publicly funded charter school by joining forces with IDEA, a nonprofit that operates 61 schools serving 36,000 students across Texas. Robinson is now a member of IDEA’s San Antonio regional board.

The school, renamed Carver Academy and College Prep, now has more than 1,100 students in kindergarten through 11th grade. (It will add 12th-grade classes next year.)

David Robinson originally founded George W. Carver Academy in 2001. Eleven years later, he partnered with IDEA Public Schools to expand his goal of accessible quality education for all children.

Julysa Sosa for The Undefeated

“When I started Carver, I did not know what I was doing,” Robinson said. “It is a huge undertaking: fundraising, curriculum, finding partners. It is a commitment, and it takes a long time to learn.”

Carver is located not far from the Spurs’ home arena. “We have students in homeless shelters, or who have lived in cars for periods of time. There are all kinds of life issues,” said Guadalupe Diaz, principal of Carver’s elementary program. “But there is an abiding belief that they can overcome. They can do it.”

One of Robinson’s core beliefs is that tough circumstances should not be seen as insurmountable obstacles to achievement. He named the school after George Washington Carver, who was born into slavery but nonetheless went on to become a widely respected botanist, inventor and teacher. He thought Carver’s life story contained a lesson for young people today.

“If you think you have a bad situation, that man grew up in a worse situation,” Robinson explained. “But Carver knew there was a reason he was here. That led him to do amazing things. We have to start where we are, use what we have and make something of it. And never be satisfied.”

Robinson says another one of his core strategies is to inspire young people to tap into their own gifts and leverage whatever opportunities they have.

“Every time you turn on the television, people see rap stars, athletes and actors. You don’t see the everyday people who are doing well. The culture points us to these unattainable roles. How many of us are going to be athletes? Practically nobody. Success is not being Jay-Z. There is only one Jay-Z. Who is telling kids that this long journey of being a father is crazy important? The idea is to get them excited for the life before them.”

Too often, Robinson said, schools that serve low-income students succumb to the instability and low expectations that often accompany poverty. It is a problem identified by many educators but one Carver has apparently found a way to conquer. Its elementary school students consistently score near the 70th percentile on standardized math and reading tests, an achievement that officials attribute to their individualized focus on the students. Parents have responded: This year the school could enroll just 120 new students out of 300 who applied through a lottery.

“Who is telling kids that this long journey of being a father is crazy important?”

“What I think Carver has figured out is how to help students grapple with community issues that might come up and not hold them against the kids,” said Brittany Hibbert, an assistant principal at Carver’s upper school. She said students and administrators do home visits, staff Saturday school and take calls from students at night. “We literally do whatever it takes.”

High expectations and individually tailored instruction help. But it is also helpful that one of San Antonio’s best-known celebrities is a regular presence at Carver. The first floor of the upper school has a small museum dedicated to Robinson, a two-time NBA champion, 10-time All Star and former league MVP. There are jerseys from the Naval Academy, the Spurs and the two U.S. Olympic teams he played for. There are also medals and trophies, and even a small section of basketball floor marked with the footprints of Robinson and some of his former teammates and coaches.

“His presence is significant,” said Chang Yu, principal of Carver’s upper school. “His name appeals, and it resonates quality, sportsmanship, education — all good things that people gravitate toward. He definitely is a factor in our success.”

Robinson says that is where many people who command the spotlight can be helpful. Robinson applauded stars such as LeBron James, Chris Paul and others who have backed up their calls for social justice by donating millions of dollars for things such as after-school programs and college scholarships. As he watches more athletes find their voice embracing the new civil rights movement, he said he will be dividing them into two categories: those who just say things, and those who back their words with action.

“I can say anything I want to say, but you can also go back and track what I’ve done over the last 20 years to see if what I’m saying matches up,” Robinson said. “Where is your money going? What have you given to? So you have the nerve to make a public statement. Now I am going to check and see how much you’ve done so I can determine whether your statement has any value.”

John Carlos, John Wooten know Kaepernick’s road is a long one After 50 years of fighting for change, these old warriors are unbowed but tired

Five decades before a backup NFL quarterback used the national anthem to tell America it can do better — enraging a U.S. president and millions of others, suffering the personal and professional consequences — John Carlos did the same.

He was the original.

He paid his dues, put in the time, working for social change for so long that he and Tommie Smith, his teammate on that Olympic podium in Mexico City, became the gold standard of athlete activism. They’re now so revered for their conviction and courage during the bubbling-over racial cauldron of the 1960s that there are statues of them on their college campus at San Jose State.

Carlos is now 72 years old. But he still can’t smell the roses. Or catch barely a sniff of satisfaction for all the work put in. His voice is raspy. He sounds exhausted. He knew it wasn’t over, this centuries-old cage fight for human rights. He just figured there would be more enlightened soldiers by now.

“It’s been a wakeup call for the last 50 f—ing years to let them know,” Carlos says from his home in Atlanta. “Excuse my language.”

“Like I been sayin’ for 50 years, there ain’t no neutrality. You gotta be on one side or the other. This man [President Donald Trump] is pushing them to make a decision, to find out who they really are. It’s time to get involved, to speak your truth — ‘You’re going to call me for what I am and respond to me for what I am’ — or you’re going to be a sucka for all eternity.”

You don’t want to be a sucka for all eternity.


A group of top African-American athletes from different sporting disciplines gather to give support and hear the boxer Muhammad Ali give his reasons for rejecting the draft during the Vietnam War, at a meeting of the Negro Industrial and Economic Union, held in Cleveland, June 4, 1967. Seated in the front row, from left to right: Bill Russell, Muhammad Ali, Jim Brown, and Kareem Abdul Jabbar. Standing behind them are: Carl Stokes, Walter Beach, Bobby Mitchell, Sid Williams, Curtis McClinton, Willie Davis, Jim Shorter and John Wooten.

Bettmann/Contributor/Getty Images

John Wooten was blocking for Jim Brown in Cleveland and learned a brother needed help: Muhammad Ali was facing charges for refusing to fight the war in Vietnam. Wooten began calling famous black athletes willing to stand with Ali at the Cleveland Summit. From Brown to the future Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, they all said, “No problem, we’ll be there.”

He knew it wouldn’t be over in 1967 when he stood behind The Greatest and alongside Bill Russell at that historic conclave of change agents. But 50 years later, Wooten is 80 years old, and there’s no sense of triumph for him either. No sense of finality in his war against inequality.

It’s going on midnight at his home in Arlington, Texas. He’s tired, the words tumbling slowly and deliberately through the receiver.

“It’s obvious to me that nowhere does our president understand the Constitution of this country,” says Wooten, the chairman of the Fritz Pollard Alliance, which promotes diversity in the coaching ranks and front offices of the NFL. “Because those players standing or kneeling or sitting did not break one single law of this country, nor have they broken any rule in the National Football League.”

Wooten has a couple of more thoughts before going to bed, so he can get up and fight tomorrow.

“When does unsportsmanlike conduct come in when men are standing to show this country that they are concerned about the young people being killed across the country? Are the football players and athletes to pretend this doesn’t exist?”


These two athletic icons for human rights know that change comes embarrassingly slowly. Fighting for it is soul-siphoning hard. Discouragement and defeat are just as frequent, if not more frequent, than success and victory. It wears you down and can leave you bitter.

“Listen, man, they are out there all the time,” said Carlos of the racists in our midst. “When they come, they come in numbers. The real sad thing is, they’re more united than we’ve ever been. Even people now, they think these dudes [protesting] hate their country instead of fighting for a better world and saying we can do better. Fifty years after Tommie and me, really, how far have we come?”

“It’s time to get involved, to speak your truth — ‘You’re going to call me for what I am and respond to me for what I am’ — or you’re going to be a sucka for all eternity.” – John Carlos

Next summer is the golden anniversary of Carlos and Smith bowing their heads, standing on the podium without shoes to symbolize American poverty, and raising their gloved fists. The next day they were expelled from the U.S. team and sent home. For the next 10 years, “my life was hell,” Carlos told Vox last year. He lost much more than money: friends, his marriage. They loved him. But they were scared they, too, would be ostracized.

Ali’s anti-war position was blasphemy to many Americans in 1967. But “we didn’t care about any perceived threats,” Wooten told the Cleveland Plain-Dealer this past year to mark the summit’s anniversary. “We weren’t concerned because we weren’t going to waver. We were unified. We all had a real relationship with each other, and we knew we were doing something for the betterment of all.”

The country forked in thought with some repulsed and others viewing their acts as courageous.

Just like … now.

“Why does it take for [Trump] to make that one statement to make all [players] react now, when they know they should’ve reacted earlier anyway?” Carlos said. “They should have been out there a long time ago to support [Colin] Kaepernick and Michael Bennett. They all should have been rallying around them.

“But Trump done put it on the line now and told them, ‘If you do it, we gon’ spank your a–.’ And that’s a threat. So now it’s on the owners — should they disrespect the will of their players, their human rights?”

Says Wooten: “I hope these players will … show the president and the country the unity felt by all of us who want to see a better, more just world. And that those who feel it is an affront to patriotism will one day see that this act of solidarity is about making America better, not worse.”

Many NFL owners locked arms with their players on Sunday. Some released statements in support of their socially conscious employees. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith bonded over a common enemy.

“Those players standing or kneeling or sitting did not break one single law of this country, nor have they broken any rule in the National Football League.” – John Wooten

Former Cleveland Browns great John Wooten watches during an NFL football game between the Browns and New York Jets on Sunday, Nov. 14, 2010, in Cleveland.

AP Photo/David Richard

Wooten is more measured than Carlos, who is animated, sometimes angry and trying ineffectually to avoid a public scrap with Trump.

“The man is creating so much division in the country,” he continued. “You better get ready for the next Civil War, brother. Not to mention the wall. What can I say, man? If I get out there right now, I’m going to lambaste the man so bad, ’cause I ain’t gonna hold s— back about where his mind his. I don’t want to get into no running battle with this fool.”

Voice rising, Carlos is spiritually back in the ’60s. And, of course, that’s the most wrenching part: Fifty years later, not enough has changed.


Large chunks of our society don’t see black men kneeling for racial justice and a more equitable country. They see people demeaning Arlington National Cemetery’s dead.

Wooten and Carlos know of this historical bait and switch. They refuse to allow #TakeAKnee to be reframed as a referendum on “The Star-Spangled Banner.” It’s a protest of police brutality and racism, the often senseless killing of black men by overwhelmingly white law enforcement. That’s it.

“You would think the NFL is a Hollywood show now, the way they promote it on TV, where it’s about family and inclusive and we’re all happy,” Carlos says derisively.

“Until we go into a meeting to find out why this young man isn’t in the NFL now playing. He’s played for several years. He’s gone to the Super Bowl. He’s better than a lot of quarterbacks in the league. Why is it that he’s not playing? But [Goodell] refuses to answer and address that, and the public refuses to demand him to do that. And everybody eats it up and does nothing.”

Carlos is resigned to the fact that most people will never care as much as he does. Wooten is more hopeful, if equally tired. For 50 years, nothing has happened quickly for either of them.

It’s the right fight; it’s just not an easy one. You devote your life to something for that long, you pay a price. People get burned out. It’s deflating.

But the best of them keep going, because they know the alternative. It’s too important, too ingrained in their identities. Today’s players need their wisdom and strength now just as Ali and Smith needed them then.

John Carlos is 72. John Wooten is 80. Their joints throb. They’re tired. And 50 years later, they still live for the fight.

Ibram Kendi, one of the nation’s leading scholars of racism, says education and love are not the answer Founder of new anti-racism center at American University sees impact of policy, culture on black athletes

It’s a Wednesday night at a bookstore in a well-off part of Washington, D.C., and every seat is taken. More than 100 people spill into the aisles or crowd the stacks past the philosophy and cookbook sections to hear Ibram X. Kendi talk about the racist ideas that founded the nation. About how racial progress is always followed by new and more sophisticated racist progress. And, especially, about the deeply held beliefs that most Americans, including black people and liberal whites, woke up with this morning that they don’t even know are racist and wrong.

For instance, “Black neighborhoods are not more dangerous than white neighborhoods and neither are black people,” Kendi tells the crowd. Layers of racist ideas account for why we think so.

Last year, the 35-year-old scholar became the youngest person to win the National Book Award for nonfiction in 30 years for Stamped from the Beginning, The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America.

And this year, his moment continues. He’s just moved to Washington, where he is launching the Antiracist Research and Policy Center at American University next week. He’s a historian of racism at a time when our public conversation is fixed on it, when successive presidents have triggered the tribal apprehensions of our Mason-Dixon lines, and when the threat of shoot-you-down, run-you-over racial violence feels as close at hand as the peril to the republic from fake facts and revisionist history. This convergence of circumstances keeps him perpetually on book tour.

Ibram Kendi, right, addresses the audience as Washington Post reporter Wesley Lowery, who was the presenter for the event, stands by.

André Chung for The Undefeated

A diverse group made up a standing-room-only audience during Dr. Ibram Kendi’s recent book promotion event at Politics and Prose.

André Chung for The Undefeated

With the breadth of his scholarship and expanse of his reach, Kendi has been compared to the famed late historian John Hope Franklin, except he wears his locs long and his edges laid. He used to fantasize about a career in the NBA — or, at the very least, on SportsCenter. He’ll hit you back on Twitter.

Just so you know, black people are not inherently better athletes than white people, Kendi says. We only think so because “black people have not only been rendered inferior to white people, they’ve been rendered like animals,” and thus physically superior creatures. It’s an old racist idea that helped justify African-Americans’ suitability for backbreaking labor and medical experiments and the theft of their children. “When we embrace this as part of our identity,” Kendi says, “we don’t understand.” He wants to correct our misunderstandings.

Education, love and exemplary black people will not deliver America from racism, Kendi says. Racist ideas grow out of discriminatory policies, he argues, not the other way around. And if his new center can help identify and dismantle those policies in the U.S. and around the world, he believes we can start to eliminate racism. At least that’s the goal.

As the evening wears on in the crowded bookstore, people line up at microphones to question, challenge or offer up hosannas to this young scholar, who, in many ways, is just getting started.


Ibram Kendi is the new founding director of The Anti-Racist and Policy Center at American University. He is a leading thinker on race and his 2016 book, “Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America” won the National Book Award.

André Chung for The Undefeated

Kendi apologizes for the spare office space he shares with a colleague inside American University’s School of International Service. The walls are bare, and his name has not yet made it outside the door. He’s still unpacking from the move to D.C. with his wife, Sadiqa, a pediatric emergency room physician at Children’s National Health Center, and their 1-year-old daughter, Imani. It’s an ambitiously busy life.

Besides being the founding director of the research center, he’s teaching history and international relations as part of a joint appointment that brought him from the University of Florida, where he was a professor of African-American history.

He’s learning the city, and working on priorities for the center — part think tank, policy shop and incubator for anti-racism strategies — which formally launches next fall. It joins dozens of other customized centers of racial research. One of the earliest and most notable, the W.E.B Du Bois Research Institute at Harvard University, rose to prominence under the leadership of Henry Louis Gates Jr. This year, “year zero,” is to raise funds and recruit researchers, faculty and students.

The goal is to identify inequalities, identify the policies that create and maintain those inequalities, and propose correctives in six areas: criminal justice, education, economics, health, environment and politics. Kendi also hopes to create an online library of anti-racist thinking. He’s still considering initial projects.

But when he talks about racism, he is not still puzzling out his ideas. Kendi has spent thousands of hours reading thousands of documents, including “some of the most horrific things that have ever been said about black people,” to uncover the origins of racist thought. His words are distilled, precise, authoritative. His voice never rises. He is, temperamentally, an antidote to the heat of the subject matter and the hyperbole of the times.

“We have been taught that ignorance and hate lead to racist ideas, lead to racist policies,” Kendi said. “If the fundamental problem is ignorance and hate, then your solutions are going to be focused on education, and love and persuasion. But of course [Stamped from the Beginning] shows that the actual foundation of racism is not ignorance and hate, but self-interest, particularly economic and political and cultural.” Self-interest drives racist policies that benefit that self-interest. When the policies are challenged because they produce inequalities, racist ideas spring up to justify those policies. Hate flows freely from there.

The self-interest: The Portuguese had to justify their pioneering slave trade of African people before the pope.

The racist idea: Africans are barbarians. If we remove them from Africa and enslave them, they could be civilized.

“We can understand this very simply with slavery. I’m enslaving people because I want to make money. Abolitionists are resisting me, so I’m going to convince Americans that these people should be enslaved because they’re black, and then people will start believing those ideas: that these people are so barbaric, that they need to be enslaved, or that they are so childlike that they need to be enslaved.”

Kendi boils racist ideas down to an irreducible core: Any idea that suggests one racial group is superior or inferior to another group in any way is a racist idea, he says, and there are two types. Segregationist ideas contend racial groups are created unequal. Assimilationist ideas, as Kendi defines them, argue that both discrimination and problematic black people are to blame for inequalities.

“The actual foundation of racism is not ignorance and hate, but self-interest.”

Americans who don’t carry tiki torches react viscerally to segregationist ideas like those on display at the white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, that left one young counter-protester dead. Assimilationist ideas are more subtle, seductive and coded.

“You can be someone who has no intention to be racist,” who believes in and fights for equality, “but because you’re conditioned in a world that is racist and a country that is structured in anti-black racism, you yourself can perpetuate those ideas,” says Kendi. No matter what color you are.

Anti-racist ideas hold that racial groups are equal. That the only thing inferior about black people is their opportunities. “The only thing wrong with black people is that we think there is something wrong with black people,” a line that Kendi uses like a mantra.

The Blue Lives Matter (the problem is violent black people) Black Lives Matter (the problem is the criminal justice system, poor training and police bias) and All Lives Matter (the problem is police and black people) arguments are extensions of the same, three-way debate (segregationist, anti-racist and assimilationist) that Americans have been having since the founding of the country.

“We’ve been taught American history as a steady march of racial progress,” but it’s always been a dual march of racial and racist progress, which we see from Charlottesville to “their Trump Tower,” Kendi says.

This is the jump-off Kendi uses to frame the most roiling issues of the day. But before he could build that frame, he first had to deal with his own racism.


Ibram Kendi

André Chung for The Undefeated

Kendi was born Ibram H. Rogers in Jamaica, Queens, New York, to parents who’d been student activists and were inspired by black liberation theology. He grew up playing basketball and still is an ardent New York Knicks fan.

The family moved to Manassas, Virginia, where Kendi attended Stonewall Jackson High School (named for the Confederate general) and dreamed of a career on the hardwood. The slim, 6-foot-1 former guard says he specialized in the no-look pass. “I consider the beautiful pass the most beautiful part of the game of basketball,” he says.

Sweet passing aside, his basketball aspirations were irrevocably dashed his sophomore year when he failed to make the junior varsity team. “I was so crushed,” Kendi says.

He studied journalism at Florida A&M University and initially wanted to be a broadcaster or a sportswriter. But after internships at The Mobile Register and The Atlanta Journal Constitution, he began to shift his career focus. He wound up getting a doctorate in African-American studies from Temple University. His first book, on the black student protest movement in the ’60s and ’70s, was published in 2012. He began researching Stamped from the Beginning the following year.

That’s when he started to re-examine some of his most deeply held beliefs about race. “I was born into a world of racist ideas, many of which I had consumed myself,” says Kendi. “I had to come to grips with … some of the things that I imagined and thought,” about black people “and one of the first and most obvious ones was the idea that black neighborhoods are more dangerous than white neighborhoods, which is a very popular idea.”

The highest instances of violent crime correspond with high unemployment and poverty, and that holds true across racial lines, Kendi found. Most white poverty, unemployment and thus violent crimes occur in rural areas, while for blacks those ills are more concentrated in densely populated urban neighborhoods. If impoverished white communities “had five times more people, then that community would have five times, presumably, more violent crime.”

“I was born into a world of racist ideas, many of which I had consumed myself.”

Another racist idea: “I believed that black children were achieving at a lower level than white children. And I believed in the existence of an achievement gap,” says Kendi. Standardized tests prioritize reading and writing as measures of verbal proficiency, as opposed to the wider ability to articulate. And they test subject areas where black schools are vastly underresourced.

“I certainly am somebody who advocates equalizing the resources of school and creating a situation in which we actually live up to our pronouncements that we live in a meritorious society,” says Kendi. “But even if these schools persist in being resourced unequally, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the students in the schools with lesser resources are intellectually inferior to the students with better resources.” He reaches into history to illustrate his point: Just because slaves’ lives were circumscribed, they faced more adversity and they dealt with more violence, that doesn’t mean enslaved people were inferior to people who were free.

A “more lighthearted area” he had to confront was his ideas about dating black women. “Black women were angry, they didn’t know what they want, they’re difficult,” he’d heard. “And from my standpoint, those are some of the things that I said when I was having some difficulties in dating.” When we have negative experiences with individuals, “we often say there’s a problem with that black group,” without realizing those are racist ideas.

Now, he’s a poster child for black love. He and his telegenic wife met on Match.com and debuted their new last name Kendi (“loved one” in the Kenyan language of Meru) at their 2013 wedding in Jamaica, which was featured in Essence magazine.

Mark Anthony Neal, a professor of African and African-American studies at Duke University, calls Kendi part of a vanguard of young black historians, which includes Treva Lindsey at Ohio State and Brittney Cooper of Rutgers, who are transforming the field. Part of what makes him right for the moment is his ability to speak to millennials, who have access to lots of information but can’t always decipher what is good or bad. “What he has written is an accessible history of black folks,” said Neal. In terms of a book for general readers “that covers such a wide historical period, the only thing I can think about in terms of comparison is John Hope Franklin’s From Slavery to Freedom.”

Kendi’s book resonates like the 2015 National Book Award winner, Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates, said Neal. “Ta-Nehisi’s was kind of an emotional analysis of what this moment is. Kendi’s was to bring that kind of energy, except to do it in a historical context. I think it’s important to be able to talk about the history of these racist ideas, the impact they’ve had on black people and black life.”

With regard to the most front-and-center issue in sports today, athletes and activism, Kendi says it’s important to remember that the athlete/activists of the 1960s — Muhammad Ali, Jim Brown and Tommie Smith — all spoke out in the context of the Black Power movement, which is “precisely what’s happening now” with Colin Kaepernick and others who were inspired by Black Lives Matter. “We look for athletes to generate movements, when historically athletes have been good at being athletes, which is precisely what they should be good at, and we should be looking to activists to generate movements.” There will then be those athletes who use their platforms to support those movements and ideologies.

Kendi says that while the numbers of black players on the fields, courts and arenas have increased dramatically over the past 50 years, it’s been harder to make shifts at other positions.

“We should determine diversity in sports, just like outside of sports, not by the transient players but by the people who are permanent, like the owners, like the coaches, like the sports writers, like the executives.” If those groups “are lily-white, then [a sport] is simply not diverse.”

This kind of analysis gives Kendi cachet beyond the ivory tower and makes him popular with students, Neal said. Young people see Kendi with his locs and his ability to communicate in a vernacular they know and that expands their thinking about the possibilities for their own lives. They’ll say, “This is somebody I can imagine being somewhere down the line,” said Neal.

“We should determine diversity in sports, just like outside of sports, not by the transient players but by the people who are permanent, like the owners, like the coaches, like the sportswriters, like the executives.”

Peter Starr, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at American University and one of those responsible for bringing Kendi to the university, cites Washington as an organic place to do anti-racist work. “To make real lasting change, change that lasts beyond changes of administrations and flips from one party to the next, you really need to reach out to people who are making more fundamental policy on the ground, in the agencies and throughout the government,” he said.

Starr calls Kendi’s vision to use researchers from around the country an approach that mirrors what happens in the sciences. “He’s got a very expansive vision of the center, and we really think this is a center that’s not just the usual, relatively small, one-person shop,” he said.

He calls Stamped from the Beginning the kind of book scholars write in their 50s and 60s. But Kendi’s impact will transcend the written words, Starr said. Especially since American has struggled with racist incidents recently.

In May, bananas were found hanging from nooses at three locations on the American University campus. This followed racist social media messages and a banana thrown into a black student’s dorm in the past few years.

For students of color and “all students, being able to look to someone like Ibram Kendi, who is a model of intelligent scholarship and activism informed by deep contextual and historical understanding,” is powerful, said Starr. He’s got “a fire to make a difference in the world that I’m not sure I’ve ever seen in another scholar, frankly.”


Ibram Kendi greets fans at Politics and Prose after discussing his book.

André Chung for The Undefeated

At the bookstore, the questions, and disquisitions posing as questions, continue as the crowd grapples with, or pushes back against, Kendi’s ideas about race and America.

“I think that the issue is that the Africans and the Europeans really can’t mix,” one person steps to the mic to say.

Across the room, another questioner says, “Gentiles are underrepresented on Wall Street. White males are underrepresented in the NBA. At what point does the assimilation shift into something where other factors come into play?”

“All right now, tell it like it is,” says E. Veronica Pace, a genealogist who steps to the microphone and identifies herself as a student of Howard University sociologist E. Franklin Frazier. She asks about the book’s title, which was taken from a speech in which Confederate President Jefferson Davis called racial inequality “stamped from the beginning.”

Finally, the talk is over and people form a line that stretches toward the door to have him sign their books. “If we are all mindful about this and put our hearts and souls into it, we can turn this ship around,” says James Kilgore, whose wife is in the line. He’s says he’s waiting to see what Kendi is going to do.

For starters, he’s working on another book, a memoir entitled How to be An Anti-Racist. “Racist ideas become almost like a drug. Once you hear them and become hooked, you need more in order to sustain the way you see the world, right?” Kendi says. “I was hooked for a long time,” and now “I’m trying to relieve other people.”

And he’s focused on launching the center he’d like to help change the world. The former sports reporter reaches for a metaphor. It’s a rare moment where his equanimity seems to falter, just for a bit, perhaps from the weight of the task at hand. “I’m on the court and I’ve suited up. Now the game is about to start and I have to be ready to perform,” Kendi says. “And to win.”

Master P and Romeo Miller love the Saints, like Stephen Curry, and look forward to Lonzo Ball The father/son stars of ‘Growing Up Hip Hop’ on basketball, heroes — and courage

Seems like Master P and Romeo Miller are always fighting. It’s just a thing they do. The love is real between father and son, but so is the drama. No Limits Records founder Percy “Master P” Miller and his rapper-turned-actor son, Romeo, are executive producers and stars of WE Tv’s Growing Up Hip Hop, which chronicles the duo’s sparring sessions. Now in its third season, the show has showcased Romeo’s decision to skip the family’s record label event in New Orleans to film scenes for Fox’s hit show Empire. Papa Miller also wasn’t happy about Romeo being slapped with a $500,000 lawsuit after an on-camera restaurant brawl. On a recent visit to the Smithsonian National Museum of African-American History and Culture, Romeo and his dad talked sports (of course), the Balldashians and keeping it real.

Which NBA and NFL teams are your favorites?

Master P: In the NFL, we got the New Orleans Saints.

Romeo: Even when we were losing, we still had the Saints.

Master P: We won the Super Bowl, and Drew Brees about to go back again.

Romeo: Let me tell you a secret. I’ve always liked the Cowboys, too. It’s always been the New Orleans Saints first, but Deion Sanders is my favorite player. Him and Troy Aikman and Emmitt Smith — them days? That’s the glory days for me.

Master P: As for the NBA, I really like Steph Curry. I think he’s an underrated player at this point. My favorite guy to watch play basketball right now, for sure.

Romeo: Let me say something about basketball. If the New Orleans Pelicans let [my] pops come over there and coach, I think they could make it to be a top-three team.

Master P: I’ve been talking to them about it a little bit. [Laughs.]

Romeo: My favorite NBA team is the Los Angeles Lakers. I’m a ride-or-die Lakers fan. I like Lonzo [Ball]; he’s a great talent. I’m looking forward to seeing what he can do. I like LaVar [Ball] too. Lonzo’s got a strong father figure in his life, and that’s amazing. Can’t wait to see what all of the Ball brothers do in their careers.

Master P: I take my hat off to LaVar for being such a strong presence in his kids’ life.

What’s the craziest lie you’ve ever told?

Master P: Hmm, I’ve got to think on that one.

Romeo: That’s the thing about him; he keeps it real. He’s not a yes man at all.

Master P: I always try to live by my word. If I say something, I’m giving my word. Now that I think about it, I do have one. I told my dad once that I was on my way to school when I had actually been expelled. I’d gotten into a fight at school and they kicked me out. So that wasn’t good to do at all.

Where do you get your courage?

Master P: Coming from nothing, growing up in poverty.

Romeo: I get it from seeing my two cousins die with my own eyes when I was 9 years old. You go give anybody $10 million, $100 million right now, but you don’t change overnight. And that’s why I always had the blessing with my family where I’ve seen both sides. I’ve seen my favorite cousin locked up, my best friend dead. And I know you can’t take nothing for granted.

Who is your childhood hero?

Master P: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. He said, ‘I have a dream,’ and that meant something to me. That’s how I made it in this world.

Romeo: It’d definitely be my pops, and Allen Iverson.

According to recent study, Obamacare worked for many Americans Report shows more people of color have insurance, health disparities decreased for blacks and Latinos

Health care disparities are much higher in black and Latino communities than in any others, according to statistics that have been cited for over a decade. But recently revealed stat-based research featured positive results.

According to a study published by The Commonwealth Fund in August, the number of uninsured blacks and Latinos decreased under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) — or, as it’s nationally known, Obamacare.

As NBC recently reported, the study reveals that the numbers declined within the first two years of the Obamacare coverage expansion.

“From 2013 and 2015, the uninsured rate among blacks between ages 19-64 dropped 9 percent, and dropped 12 percent among uninsured Latinos ages 19-64, the study showed. The rate of uninsured whites dropped 5 percent. The disparity among uninsured blacks and whites also narrowed by 4 percent and among Latinos and whites narrowed 7 percent,” according to the article.

“If we are going to reduce these disparities, we must continue to focus on policies like expanding eligibility for Medicaid that will address our health care system’s historic inequities,” Pamela Riley, vice president of The Commonwealth Fund’s Delivery System Reform and a co-author of the report, said in a statement.

The ACA was enacted by the 111th U.S. Congress and signed into law by President Barack Obama on March 23, 2010. When the health care law was passed, states were required to provide Medicaid coverage for all adults ages 18 to 65 who hold incomes up to 133 percent of the federal poverty level.

States also have the option to expand Medicaid beyond the minimum federal guidelines and eligibility requirements. After Obamacare was enacted, many states declined Medicaid expansion, which made health care coverage hard to obtain for many individuals.

But for those states that participated, the results were evident in communities of color.

“Uninsured Latino adults dropped 14 percent in states that expanded Medicaid coverage compared to 11 percent in states that did not. The number of uninsured black adults meanwhile fell 9 percent in states both with and without Medicaid expansion,” NBC reported.

Having insurance coverage also encouraged more people to go to the doctor. The study revealed that blacks who reported that they did not see a doctor because of medical cost decreased from 21 percent to 17 percent once they were insured. For Latino adults, the decrease was from 27 percent to 22 percent.

“By 2015, the disparity between black adults and white adults without a usual source of health care narrowed from 8 percent to 5 percent. It narrowed even more for Latinos compared to whites — 24 percent to 21 percent,” the report found.

Click here to read the entire analysis by The Commonwealth Fund.

Jay Z — an artist truly made in America — makes his case for an authentic rest of his life From Bun B to Styles P to T.I. — the grown men of rap are having a moment

In May, Jay-Z inked a new $200 million deal with Live Nation. Before this weekend, his last major tour was in 2014 with his wife Beyoncé for their ($100 million-grossing) On The Run excursion. Jay-Z’s return to Made In America, a music festival he founded with Budweiser in 2012, was to be the culmination of a chain of events that started with speculation, leading up to June 30 release of 4:44, about just how much Jay-Z did or didn’t have left in the creative tank.

Rap, historically, has been a young man’s game. Could Jay-Z, at 47, still shift the culture as he’s done countless times before? Could he successfully coexist in a world of Futures and Cardi Bs and Lil Yatchys and Migos — all of whom were either gracing the Made In America stage this year or in years past? Would Jay’s first major solo performance in three years be his next Michael Jordan moment?


Music fans in ponchos attend the 2017 Budweiser Made in America festival, day one on Benjamin Franklin Parkway on Sept. 2 in Philadelphia.

Lisa Lake/Getty Images for Anheuser-Busch

Sunday morning. On Philadelphia’s Chestnut Street. Jay Z’s new “Meet The Parents” blasts from a black Toyota Avalon. People on the sidewalk rap along — the car’s speakers are an impromptu appetizer for what’s to come later. He can’t explain what he saw / Before his picture went blank / The old man didn’t think / He just followed his instincts,” Jay-Z rhymes at the stoplight. Six shots into his kin / Out of the gun / N—a be a father / You’re killing your sons.”

On that day — before the Labor Day holiday and Night 2 of the sixth annual Budweiser Made In America Festival — a group of friends walking down 20th Street playing cuts from 2009’s Blueprint 3 on their mobile phones. Thousands of iterations of Shawn Corey Carter stared back from T-shirts worn by the crowd that swarmed Ben Franklin Parkway.

Then, it happened. An explosion lit up an adjacent stage. Just Blaze on the turntables.

And then there was the young man working at UBIQ, a chic sneakers store on chic Walnut Street. Looking like a student from Penn, he said he planned on taking in Jay-Z’s headlining Sunday set. At least for one day at the end of summer, the City of Brotherly Love bled blue, Jigga’s favorite hue. “It’s a skate park like right across the street,” Penn Guy said as cuts from Jay-Z’s lauded 4:44 play from the store’s speakers. “I’ve never seen him live. I’m excited.”

Jay-Z’s return to rap — there’s been no new solo album since 2013’s middle of the pack Magna Carta Holy Grail — has been a summer-long process. First came the rumors of a new album watermarked by mysterious “4:44” signage that covered everything from city buses to websites all across the country. Then, at the last of June came the album itself, which was met with immediate and widespread love. A slew of “footnotes” — videos, conversations between people such as Chris Rock, Tiffany Haddish, Will Smith, Jerrod Carmichael, Chris Paul and more — followed, which detailed the album’s creation and inspirations.

From there, in mid-August, the most-talked-about music interview of the year showcased Jay-Z alongside Tidal and Rap Radar’s Elliott Wilson and Epic Records and Rap Radar’s Brian “B.Dot” Miller. The podcast left no stone unturned. In a two-part, 120-minute conversation, they peeled back layers of Jay-Z’s thought processes about music, life, love, motivation, depression and, even LaVar Ball.

On the heels of that talk, and through a Saturday of unseasonal chilly downpours, Jay-Z and Beyoncé watched a new generation of stars command muddy crowds. Family from both sides of the Carter-Knowles union cheered Solange on through her Saturday set. Was may well have been a kind of moment Jay-Z envisioned throughout the recording of 4:44. At 47, he had to wonder about his creative mortality, and if he could shift the culture as he’d done so many times before.


Bun B performs onstage at The Fader Fort presented by Converse during SXSW on March 16, 2013, in Austin, Texas.

Roger Kisby/Getty Images

The Los Angeles Lakers’ rookie point guard Lonzo Ball said it: “Y’all outdated, man. Don’t nobody listen to Nas anymore […] Real hip-hop is Migos, Future.”

On one hand, it’s difficult to fault a 19-year-old for backing the music of his youth. Younger generations of artists and fans alike have always bucked back at generations who view their contributions as destructive. Tupac Shakur openly dissed De La Soul on 1996’s seething battle record “Against All Odds:” All you old n– tryna advance/ It’s all over now take it like a man/ N– lookin’ like Larry Holmes, flabby and sick/ Tryna playa hate on my s–, eat a fat d–. And only weeks before he was murdered, The Notorious B.I.G. vowed to never rap past 30. On the other hand though? Right now is a particularly good time for a handful of statesmen who dominated hip-hop before Big Baller Brand was just a twinkle in Lavar Ball’s eye.

How generations before talked about Marvin Gaye, Prince, Whitney Houston and Michael Jackson, he’s hip-hop’s them.

Run The Jewels’ Killer Mike and El-P (and their soundman, Trackstar the DJ) have consistently been one of the decade’s most impactful groups. They tour the world — and, in particular, amassed a melting pot crowd of various races and ages moshing at the Sunday Made In America set. Nas’ 2012 Life Is Good is, in many ways, rap’s interpretation of Marvin Gaye’s Here, My Dear, and one of the great late-career albums from any MC. OutKast’s 2014 tour was weird, but Big Boi of OutKast has quietly been responsible for several stellar albums — 2010’s Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty, 2012’s Vicious Lies and Dangerous Rumors and 2017’s Boomiverse — in this decade alone.

Jay-Z wasn’t the only artist in the pre-Lonzo Ball era displaying moments of clarity over the last few years either. A handful of hip-hop’s mature and notable names have been creating art and expressing — via conversation and on social media — everything from encounters with their own mortality to the pain and occasional beauty of survivor’s remorse.

Rice University instructor Bernard “Bun B” Freeman (currently working with Beyoncé and Scooter Braun on a telethon to benefit the victims of Hurricane Harvey), one half of the legendary Port Arthur, Texas, rap group UGK, sat down with Queens, New York’s own N.O.R.E. for an installment of the MC’s popular Drink Champs podcast. Per tradition, both parties swap hip-hop war stories and imbibe for the better part of two hours. The most emotional segment centered around memories of Freeman’s partner in rhyme, Pimp C, who died in 2007.

“The illest s— Pimp [C] ever said was ‘I don’t need bodyguards. I just need mighty God.’ Ever since he said that, and I never told him, I move like that,” Freeman said. A single tear streamed down the right side of his face. “If you wasn’t moving with me within God, I’ll just move by myself. That’s the way life should be.” He continued, “If you are who you say you are, and you’re honoring that in a real way, you can move anywhere in this world. Pimp and I are proof of that.”

When it comes to honoring a fallen comrade, T.I. (who was not feeling Lonzo’s comments) understands all too well. In May 2006, T.I’s best friend Philant Johnson was murdered in Cincinnati following a drive-by shooting. Phil, is inspiration behind T.I.’s massive Justin Timberlake-assisted single “Dead & Gone.” Phil had been by T.I.’s side that same evening — holding his mobile while the rapper performed. Hours later, his lifelong friend lay bleeding to death in his arms. “I told him I had him, and it was going to be all right,” T.I. told MTV in 2006. “That was what I said. And he said, ‘All right.’”

The death could be viewed as the trigger that disrupted T.I.’s massive mid-2000s success. His 2007 weapons arrest and subsequent incarceration was seen by many as a response to Johnson’s murder. T.I. contemplated quitting rap. But T.I.’s moved forward. While not at just this minute the Billboard and box office star he split time as a decade ago, the film producer, actor, and two-time Grammy winner born Clifford Harris is still a recognizable figure in rap. Particularly on his very active Instagram account.

Instagram Photo

Last month, Tip (a father to six who is who has experienced his own share of public marital ups and downs with singer-songwriter Tameka “Tiny” Harris) posted the video of him presenting Phil’s daughter with a new car. She’s now a high school senior. In a heartfelt caption, Tip used the moment as a social media therapy session. “Making straight A’s and maintaining a 3.8 GPA, all the way through school, staying away from all the things we were eyeball deep in when we was her age, & doing any & everything that’s EVER been asked since you left,” he wrote. “How can we not make sure she rides cool & in comfort her senior year? We miss you more than we can express…but we fill in for you everyday until it’s all said and done.”

He promised to send her to college. And that she’d never suffer for anything. It was more than an Instagram caption. It was remaining true to a promise to a man who died in his arms 11 years ago. “Our loyalty lives forever!”

Lastly, it’s Styles P — one-third of ’90s Bad Boy trailblazers The LOX. He and his wife, Adjua Styles, visited Power 105’s The Breakfast Club in August. Among other things, the couple discussed the benefits of healthy eating, and Charlottesville, Virginia. They also talked about their daughter’s suicide.

It’s what performances like these are masked for—regular season games for a championship run.

In June 2015, Styles P’s stepdaughter, Tai Hing, took her own life. She was 20. Styles P addressed the tragedy a month later via Instagram, detailing the difficulty he and his family faced, and would face. Hing’s death, her mother believes, could have been the boiling point of depression, issues with her biological father, and perhaps her sexuality.

Fighting back tears, Styles P was emotional about never having been able to take the place of Hing’s biological father. The dynamic bothered him deeply, but was beginning to understand as he, himself, was a product of a similar situation. “If we knew she was depressed she would’ve been home with us,” he said. “ We all deal with depression on some sort of level … You expect your child to bury you, not to bury your child.”

Honesty has always been a prerequisite for hip-hop in its most soul-piercing form. Beyond the flash, the lights and the flossing, at its core, rap was necessary to explain the fears, dreams, joys and pains of a people so often still struggling. And dealing with police brutality, poverty, misogyny, and more. So Styles P’s pain, T.I.’s memories, Bun B’s instructions from Pimp C, and Jay-Z’s vulnerability aren’t new grounds for rap. But their grief, and willingness to shred the cloak of invincibility rap often mirages is living proof of the power behind the quote a wise man said nearly a decade ago. Ain’t no shame in holding onto grief. As long as you make room for other things, too.


Music fans attend the 2017 Budweiser Made in America festival – Day 2 at Benjamin Franklin Parkway on September 3, 2017 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Lisa Lake/Getty Images for Anheuser-Busch

The weather Sunday proved to be Mr. Hyde to the Saturday’s Dr. Jekyll. The only visible fingerprint from Saturday was the mud that essentially became a graveyard for shoes. Jerseys were popular with the crowd. UNC Michael Jordan and Vince Carter. Cavaliers, Heat and St. Vincent-St. Mary LeBron. Sonics and Warriors Durant. Nuggets Jalen Rose, Sixers Ben Simmons. Lakers Kobe, and Hornets Glen Rice. UCLA Russell Westbrook, and Lonzo Ball. Arizona State James Harden, University of California Marshawn Lynch, Niners Colin Kaepernick, LSU Odell Beckham and Georgetown Allen Iverson. Obscure jerseys such as Aaliyah’s MTV Rock n’ Jock and Ray Finkle’s Dolphins jersey (from the 1994 Jim Carrey-led comedy classic Ace Ventura: Pet Detective) were sprinkled among the sea of thousands.

Afternoon sluggishly careened into evening. 21 Savage, Run The Jewels and The Chainsmokers all commanded large crowds. Felicia “Snoop” Pearson from The Wire dapped up fans. Hometown young guns Markelle Fultz and Joel Embiid of the Philadelphia 76ers walked through the crowd. Festivalgoers camped near the main stage for hours in hopes of landing an ideal viewing spot for Jay-Z’s performance. To pass time, cyphers were had. Weed smoke reclined in the air. Guts from dutches and cigarillos were dumped. All to pass the time.

Months ago, many, especially on Twitter, wanted to act like Jay-Z wasn’t a headliner. No one even saw an album coming. Now here they were minutes from history. That’s what Jay-Z is in 2017. How generations before talked about Marvin Gaye, Prince, Whitney Houston and Michael Jackson — Jay-Z is hip-hop’s them. He’s a throwback to the genre’s yesterday lyricism while embracing the newer generation he still attempts to impart game on and learn from.

The oversized Balloon Dog by famed sculptor Jeff Koons took the stage: It was time. “I’ve been waiting for this all summer,” one concertgoer said as he wrapped his arms around his girlfriend. “I know one thing, Jay better do the songs I wanna hear!” demanded another young woman.

So he did. Jay-Z’s set lasted nearly an hour and a half. He blended 4:44 cuts with classics from his catalog — the radio-friendly and the graphic street narratives. Jay-Z commanded of the crowd, but critiques did exist.

In his Rap Radar interview, Jay-Z mentioned that he was still toying around with the set list for his upcoming tour (slated to start in October). While it’s not a question to 4:44’s quality, Jay-Z weaving in old classics such as “Where I’m From,” “H to the Izzo,” “N—as In Paris,” “Big Pimpin’,” “Hard Knock Life,” “Run This Town,” “Empire State of Mind” and “Heart of City” captivated the crowd, cuts from his most recent album seemed to dissipate from the energy those helped muster. 4:44, after all, does not have a big radio single.

4:44 is Jay-Z’s most personal album to date. His thirteenth solo effort revolves around the complexities of his marriage, his mother’s sexuality and societal issues that continue to create systematic disadvantages for people of color. Its intimacy can get lost in an outdoor crowd of tens of thousands. For an album of that nature, it’s tough to ask even Jay-Z to plan for such.

Breath control was expected to be off-center in his first major performance in three years — though coaxing the crowd to sing Beyoncé happy birthday was a great diversion. Are these flaws that will doom his upcoming tour? No. He still has three more festivals on deck before setting sail on his own on Oct. 27. It’s what performances like these are made for — regular-season games for a championship run.

“It’s Jay, so he did all the songs I wanted,” a concertgoer told me. “But I’m greedy. I wanted more.”

Jay-Z performs at Budweiser Made in America festival on Sept. 3 in Philadelphia.

Arik McArthur/FilmMagic

Jay-Z’s catalog: a litany of hits he can employ at any time to wrap a crowd around his fingers. People filmed Instagram and Snapchat videos of themselves rapping along. People yelled to him from the back of crowd as if it were a Sunday service. And cyphers between friends sprouted everywhere. Another element Jay-Z kills with is the element of surprise. He concluded the show with a tribute to Coldplay’s Chester Bennington, who committed suicide in July: an inspired performance of his Black Album single “Encore.”

As he left the stage, crowds swarmed to the exit. Some concertgoers voiced their displeasure. Jay-Z did his thing in the 90 minutes he gave Philly. But there was still something missing. “That’s it? He didn’t even do half of the songs I wanted,” said a girl as she walked toward the exit. “It was aight, I guess. It’s Jay, so he did all the songs I wanted,” another concertgoer told me. “But I’m greedy. I wanted more.” Made In America was over.

Then, it happened. An explosion lit up an adjacent stage. Just Blaze on the turntables. Some slipped in the mud trying to get there, ruining their clothes, but those concerns were faint. Hundreds were already on the street heading back to their apartments, AirBnB’s or Ubers when Jay-Z informed Philly that the party wasn’t over yet. This set was only for his “Day Ones.”

Jay pulled his “Pump It Up Freestyle” out his back pocket. This bled into “Best of Me,” “I Know,” “Hola Hovito,” “Money Ain’t A Thing” and more. Hometown kid Meek Mill’s guest appearance gave an already frenetic crowd an HGH-sized boost of adrenaline as the rapper ran through his catalog’s zenith and most intense track, 2012’s “Dreams & Nightmares (Intro).”

As Jay-Z closed the second set with [his favorite track], “Allure,” the mood was ceremoniously serene. Michael Jordan finished with 19 points on 7-of-28 shooting in his first game back in versus Reggie Miller and the Indiana Pacers in 1995. The 21 misses are footnotes in history. It’s a moment everyone remembers for two simple words: “I’m back.” Grown as hell, Jay-Z is too.

‘Survivor’s Remorse’ recap: M-Chuck discovers a therapeutic replacement for random sex This week is all about self-awareness

Season 4, Episode 3 | “Closure” | Sept. 3

Is it just me or is this show turning into a weekly therapy session?

That’s not necessarily a bad thing, simply an observation, given that so much of this season revolves around characters reckoning with past demons that are still haunting their present.

We’ve become accustomed to M-Chuck’s breakthroughs because the show has been following her through therapy sessions. What’s interesting is seeing Reggie (RonReaco Lee) undergo similar epiphanies with careful prodding from his wife, Missy (Teyonah Parris). Reggie’s always been prickly, and the further we dig into his character, the more we learn how much of that’s due to his own insecurities.

Reggie’s confession that he’s not sure he’ll be able to provide the life he thinks Missy deserves because he sees himself as too emotionally screwed up felt like something out of Lemonade. Underneath Reggie’s bravado is a man who’s not sure he’s worthy of the life he’s built, and those insecurities are rooted in class. Growing up poor can mean that you might become an adult who hoards money, or who has hang-ups about the thermostat or the type of towels you have in your house. But it also can really mess with your conception of self-worth. On top of that, Reggie’s playing host to a father who’s a recovering alcoholic. A part of him still worries that Trent (Marlon Young) is going to wake up at 4 a.m. and pummel him in his bed. And while it’s great that he’s sharing this stuff with his wife, I’m really hoping Missy encourages him to talk about it with a professional.

The title of this episode is Closure, but it would have worked just as well to name it Self-Awareness. Besides Reggie’s realizations, we’ve still got Cam and M-Chuck (Erica Ash) to dissect.

More than anything, Cam (Jessie T. Usher) is disappointed that he lost his father to prison and poverty. “It’s all so f—ing sad,” he tells Allison (Meagan Tandy) during a video call. There’s a clever, meta quality to Cam realizing what a cliché he and his father are, despite their best efforts to avoid it, in a show about a pro basketball player who grew up without a father and is now a multimillionaire.

And then, of course, there’s M-Chuck, who decides to pee and poop upon the grave of her three Rape Dads after a meal and some soul-searching with Pookie (Sir Brodie). “I thought I would feel better,” M-Chuck tells Pookie. Her emotional resolution about her “dads” doesn’t come about neatly, but in the course of pursuing it, she finds something else: a way to deal with her feelings that doesn’t involve sex with strangers. The best part is M-Chuck’s charming realization that therapy can work. We get to see her recognize her own “aha moment.”

(A side note: I miss Jimmy Flaherty (Chris Bauer). Pookie has replaced Jimmy as the older, wiser, straight male friend in M-Chuck’s life. It’s too bad, and I think that has something to do with Ash’s skill in sharing scenes with other abrasive types.)

So far, this season feels a bit disjointed, and it’s because the characters are physically spread out. Cassie and Chen are in China. M-Chuck and Cam are both in Boston, but unaware of each other’s presence there until the end of this episode. After three seasons in which these people spent so much time together under the same enormous roof, it’s strange to take in the separateness of their current lives. It also means there are more phone calls being deployed to advance the plot, which can get clunky.

Why Floyd Mayweather can still box after beating women No photos, no central authority and black victims

He might be a coarse, past-his-prime boxer, but plenty of people are still willing to pony up the paper to see 40-year-old Floyd “Money” Mayweather fight again and risk his unblemished record of 49-0. And even if boxing spectators are aware of the physical and emotional damage he’s inflicted on the black women in his life for nearly two decades, there’s little in American society that’s more beside the point.

Why does Mayweather remain such a compelling figure despite his repeated and documented instances of domestic abuse? Let us count the ways: There are no publicly available photos showing the evidence of his crimes; there’s no central organization to hold Mayweather and other abusive boxers to account; and there’s an understanding, however contentious, that some boxers are inherently violent, their rage uncontrollable. Furthermore, there’s a long-standing pattern of victims, especially black women, holding their tongues to protect the black men who hit them.

All of those factors leave some fans torn, some indifferent and some completely disgusted. Despite the moral split decision, many boxing fans remain reliable spectators who continue to reward Mayweather with cultural cachet, fame and money, money, money.


Mayweather has consistently deflected and dismissed the abuse he’s inflicted. His explanations are twofold: “Only God can judge me,” he’s repeatedly said. He’s also maintained that there is no photographic evidence of his misdeeds. (That’s because it’s been locked away or legally destroyed by Las Vegas officials, according to reporting by Deadspin.)

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Mayweather, for all the talk of his over-the-top public persona (his other nickname is “Pretty Boy”) is a savvy media operator. He understands the damning nature of video and photography, which is why he’s repeatedly insisted on pointing out that there are no photographs of his crimes. In 2015, after journalists Michelle Beadle of ESPN and Rachel Nichols, then of CNN, publicly challenged Mayweather on his history of domestic abuse, the boxer responded by trying to ban them from covering his fight with Manny Pacquiao.

Mayweather’s representatives did not offer any comment when contacted this week by The Undefeated.

“Everything has been allegations,” Mayweather told The Guardian in 2015, despite court cases that said otherwise. “Nothing has been proven. So that’s life.”

When the news organization pressed him about the contradiction, Mayweather responded, “Once again, no pictures, just hearsay and allegations.”


Mayweather’s record of domestic abuse:

2001: Mayweather punches Melissa Brim, the mother of his daughter, Iyanna, in the neck during an argument over child support at a Las Vegas mall. In March 2002, according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, he pleaded guilty to two counts of battery against Brim and received a suspended sentence.

2003: Mayweather is accused of punching two female friends of Josie Harris, mother to three Mayweather children, at a Las Vegas nightclub and chasing them out of the club. Mayweather receives a suspended sentence after being convicted of two counts of battery, according to the Las Vegas Sun. He’s ordered to undergo “impulse control” counseling. The verdict is later vacated and the charges “dismissed per negotiations.”

2005: Mayweather stands trial for felony battery after allegedly punching and kicking Harris and dragging her out of his Bentley after she confronts him about cheating. Harris changes her story on the witness stand and says she lied to police about the fight and Mayweather’s history of abuse. Mayweather is acquitted.

2010: Mayweather and Harris have split, but she still lives in a house Mayweather owns. Mayweather confronts Harris at the house for dating NBA guard C.J. Watson. After police head off the initial fight, Mayweather returns shortly before dawn and beats Harris in the back of the head and threatens to beat his children if they call the police, according to the arrest report. In an account given to Las Vegas police, Harris’ son Koraun, then 10 years old, says, “I saw my dad was on my mom and my mom said go to the office my dad was hitting her… my dad kick my mom and he told me to go in my room.” Mayweather, who contends that he was trying to restrain Harris, is charged with multiple felonies. He pleads guilty to misdemeanor domestic assault and harassment and is sentenced to 90 days in jail, the Associated Press reported. He’s released a month early for good behavior.


Photographs may be the new burden of proof in the era of 24/7 cable news and social media, but Mayweather’s abuse isn’t “alleged.” He’s served jail time for it. So why hasn’t he suffered more professional repercussions, like former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice? In 2014, the NFL suspended Rice for two games for hitting his then-girlfriend, now-wife Janay Palmer, knocking her out, and dragging her unconscious body out of an elevator at an Atlantic City, New Jersey, casino. It wasn’t until TMZ published video of the incident that the NFL treated it more seriously. Commissioner Roger Goodell eventually suspended Rice from the league indefinitely. That decision was eventually overturned in federal court, but no team has signed Rice since.

According to boxing experts, it’s not just the video that’s missing, it’s also the ability of the sport to sanction fighters or even maintain the most basic rules and standards of behavior.

Football has something boxing does not. That’s “a governing body,” said Rock Newman, a former boxing promoter whose most famous fighter, Riddick Bowe, was a two-time heavyweight champion. “Baseball, football, basketball, most professional sports, soccer, you know, hockey, you pretty much have a clearly defined set of rules in which you’re expected to operate by on the field and, by extension, off the field,” said Newman, who now hosts a public affairs show on Howard University Television.

There’s no central authority in professional boxing. Four sanctioning bodies govern the sport, and they each award their own belts: the World Boxing Council (WBC), the World Boxing Association (WBA), the International Boxing Federation (IBF) and the World Boxing Organization (WBO). Even if one decides to suspend a boxer, there are three others that may decide otherwise, which means there’s going to be a fight somewhere, sanctioned by someone, especially if there’s a lot of money on the line.

Newman, a longtime advocate for oversight to curtail the exploitation of fighters, says a single governing body could also insist on putting moral turpitude clauses in fighters’ contracts that would affect their ability to earn a living.

Gary “Digital” Williams, creator of the Boxing Along the Beltway blog, agrees. “There’s no one entity that can say to a boxer, ‘You cannot fight because you have had issues with domestic violence.’ ” And there’s a long history of boxers who’ve had those issues.

Some are famous names: Jack Johnson beat women (some of them white) as he rose to fame in the early 20th century. Decades later, Joe Louis beat Lena Horne. Mike Tyson, Sugar Ray Leonard and Riddick Bowe all had issues with domestic abuse. In 2014, Robin Givens wrote a first-person account for Time explaining why she stayed after Tyson hit her. Leonard told sportswriter Buzz Bissinger he hit his wife, Juanita Wilkinson, while she was holding their infant child and threatened to kill himself if she left him. Bowe was not only arrested for second-degree assault, but served prison time for kidnapping his first wife and their five children. Edwin Valero, a WBA and WBC featherweight and lightweight champion, committed suicide in a Venezuelan jail cell after his arrest for stabbing his wife to death.


Boxer Floyd Mayweather Jr. goes through moves during a media workout at the Mayweather Boxing Club on Aug. 10 in Las Vegas.

John Gurzinski/AFP/Getty Images

Boxing’s appeal is atavistic. It’s the same reason everyone runs toward the school yard melee when somebody yells “Fight!” And the qualities that make someone an excellent boxer do not necessarily translate well outside of the ring.

“If somebody hits them too hard in the ring, they can retaliate any way they like, as long as the referee doesn’t call them on it,” said Gail Wyatt, a professor of psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences at UCLA. “At home, if somebody pisses them off, it’s hard to say, ‘Well, now, I’m not supposed to exhibit the same kind of behavior here as I am there.’ So many times, they act like they are in a ring.

“They’re actually at war. Many times they don’t have any kind of anger management, because anger management, it’s only appropriate for those people who require it. You can’t have anger management in boxing — you wouldn’t box. … There are some sports that just work against a person understanding the kind of respect and boundaries that people have to have in a relationship to keep a partner safe.”

Sugar Ray Robinson used to say that “boxing is the hurt business.” Newman says that’s true both inside the ring and out. We cheer the fighter who walks into the ring knowing he’s going to get “his face smashed in, but continuing to come back” when most people would run. “They stand there and endure that, and we cheer. We rise to our feet and cheer that kind of gladiator mentality, and we’re surprised or act like we’re shocked when they’re caught doing 110 mph in a 30 mph zone, or when they beat the hell out of their wife.”

Mayweather comes from a troubled home. His mother was a drug addict. His father was a drug dealer who was part of a family of renowned boxing brothers. Mayweather’s father was imprisoned for drug trafficking when the boxer was a teenager. Newman has known Mayweather since he was an 8-year-old watching his father and uncles fight and mimicking their every move.

In Newman’s experience, fighters often come from tough or abusive homes. “That gladiator appeal is a result of, most times, of fighters who come from homes that have been taught very little in the way of conflict resolution skills,” he said.

“It’s ‘God damn it, you took my crab cakes, I’m going to beat the s— out of you.’ ”

We are conditioned to expect domestic violence among poor people because economic insecurity is often tied to increases in domestic violence, according to the American Psychological Association. But leaning too heavily on that correlation can be dangerous. Since we expect higher rates of domestic violence from poor people, we’re more likely to excuse it.

Being brought up in poverty alone does not cause domestic violence. Rich men enjoying the spoils of generational wealth beat up their partners too, and they use the same excuses to explain or minimize it. It’s just that their wealth and social status can sometimes allow them to outrun the stain in ways that their less economically fortunate counterparts cannot.

When Mayweather uses the Las Vegas judicial system to reclaim or disappear photographic evidence of his crimes, he’s doing what rich and powerful men do: Use their wealth to quash the less savory aspects of themselves they’d prefer not be revealed.


Floyd Mayweather on Jimmy Kimmel Live! on Aug. 15.

Randy Holmes/ABC via Getty Images

Despite his notoriety, Mayweather is still seen as a compelling, charismatic figure in the court of public opinion. Last week, for instance, he was a guest on Jimmy Kimmel Live! and the interview wasn’t even briefly uncomfortable for Mayweather.

Kimmel’s interview was another late night exhibition of fawning grotesquerie: 12 minutes of chatting about money, boxing and strippers in which it would have been bad form to bring up that time you beat your girlfriend’s ass. The only time women even entered the conversation was when Kimmel asked about — and, as a result, plugged — Mayweather’s Las Vegas strip club.

“I got into the strip club business because I knew breasts, the vagina, alcohol and music would never go out of style,” Mayweather said confidently. Kimmel laughed, then cut to commercial.

We have a hard time reconciling our understanding of such men with intimate partner violence. That’s in part because of how we consume and distill our understanding of such violence through pop culture. On screen or stage, domestic abusers are often pitched as obsessive, psychotic, mouth-breathing villains, from the titular character in Othello to Billy Campbell in the 2001 film Enough to Patrick Bergin’s in Sleeping With the Enemy (1991).

On-screen fictive portraits of domestic abusers are often flat in the same way portraits of racists are. In film and television, racists are typically depicted without nuance, as unambiguously evil, isolated individuals. They provide an emotional shorthand for audiences: This guy is bad. And so we see such characters as evil, mean, with no particularly redeeming qualities, rather than as humans who are messy and complicated and morally ambiguous. It’s more difficult to process accusations of assault when they’re aimed at people we find likable.

In the case of intimate partner violence, this also makes it easier to blame women for the abuse they endure. If he’s so awful, society asks, then why does she stay?


Mayweather’s five documented accusers are all black women. In response to their allegations, he has cast himself as the true victim, a beleaguered black man bearing the cross of race-based resentment in a white society that doesn’t want to see him succeed. In a January interview with ESPN’s Cari Champion, Mayweather’s language was a reminder of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas’s testimony after Anita Hill accused him of sexual harassment during his 1991 Senate confirmation hearings. Thomas referred to the process as a “high-tech lynching” and cast Hill as an agent of white supremacy angling to bring a black man down. Mayweather, too, was defiant.

“That was in my past, and of course, with any situation, when someone talks about domestic violence with a fighter like myself, when they say, ‘Floyd was involved with domestic violence’ — restraining someone, yes I did that,” Mayweather told Champion. “I’m guilty of restraining. But as far as stomp, kicking, beating a woman, I think that the world would see photos.

“You must realize this. For so many years, for so many years, they tried to defeat me in so many different ways — negative things. But I couldn’t be defeated inside the ring, so they tried to defeat me on the outside, far as trying to discourage me. Do I think they want … for me to break Rocky Marciano’s record? Absolutely not. Do I think — do people want to see me fail? Absolutely. But I beat all odds.”

Finding themselves in this compromising position has deep roots for black women, and there are plenty of examples of black men who are celebrated despite accusations of abuse, among them O.J. Simpson, Miles Davis, R. Kelly, and Chris Brown.

“If we only frame race in terms of what is best for black men and that what is best for black men is in aggregate best for black people, then we’re always going to find assault and other forms of gender-based violence as second-tier, secondary issues,” said Treva Lindsey, an associate professor of women’s, gender and sexuality studies at Ohio State University. “What allows this violence to continue is that we don’t believe black women, we don’t trust black women and girls.”

Even when photographic evidence exists and gets released to the public, it’s not necessarily enough.

“So when we get these videos … this objective lens of a camera is presenting us these things and we’re still trying to find ways to justify our interest in a player, celebrity, whoever who are committing these atrocities against black women,” Lindsey said. “It’s still saying even with that kind of truth, we’re willing to forgo the accountability. Even in the face of truth.”


When Cat Taylor isn’t working with her crew cleaning D.C. roadways, she’s attending fights as the Number One Boxing Fan, a title bestowed by the Boxing Along the Beltway blog. It’s a title she takes seriously. She works out to fit in flamboyant outfits, sits ringside and yells. “I travel all over the country in support of all the fighters,” she said.

Taylor originally planned to attend the Mayweather-McGregor fight, but she’s had a change of heart. “I support all fighters, but Mayweather is no longer fighting,” she said. “This is a one-time shot for Mayweather to come out of retirement” and make a lot of money.

Ask her about Mayweather and domestic violence and it’s complicated: “Well, a lot of times, you know, as the Number One Boxing Fan, I try not to get caught into their social lives. However, it is times like this when I’m faced with my opinion on it. In his case, my opinion of that is that Mayweather needs help. Domestic violence is an underlying issue that stems from childhood. That’s not something that was done overnight,” Taylor said. “And it’s sad because his wife or his significant other, she’s a victim, but he’s also a victim too.”

Taylor doesn’t believe court-ordered anger management counseling is sufficient to turn things around. “That’s not enough to get you through that pain and get you through that heartache. The same type of training that he is doing for boxing is basically the same type of training he has to endure to overcome that anger that was admitted into him with that domestic violence.”

Tyrieshia Douglas, a 28-year-old super flyweight from Baltimore and UBF world female flyweight champion, has strong opinions about domestic abuse. “I don’t support men putting their hands on women; I’m totally against that,” she said. “I believe he put his hands on you once, he gonna do it again. And again and again and again and after.”

And that’s why women should learn how to defend themselves, she says, although Douglas hesitates at what, if anything, the sanction should be for Mayweather. “It’s a good question,” she said, but she rejects the notion that, as a boxer, Mayweather might have a harder time turning off the aggression. “I don’t understand how it’s hard to turn it off. At the end of the day, you are a man, you are much stronger.”

Fight fans are fickle, Taylor contends. When the boxer is up they chant for him, but when he’s down, “they’re calling him dumb and saying he’s a nobody.” To her, a fan’s responsibility is to encourage fighters to make them better. Taylor respects the way other fighters admire Mayweather. They tout his craft and his philanthropy: supporting people around him and donating to charitable causes.

“As a fan, and hearing that about him, that means in my eyes, the good outweighs the bad,” she said. “OK, he has this negative thing that’s in the media, but that doesn’t outweigh what he do as a man. … Yes, he has his flaws, but he still is a great man overall, and that’s what I would tend to gravitate more to push him and uplift him.”

It’s that posture — that up-from-poverty, can’t-keep-a-black-man-down, bespoke suit-flaunting, look-at-my-damn-private-jet insistence on claiming his props — that Mayweather so expertly converts into benefit of the doubt and pay-per-view dividends. More than anything, that’s what “Money” is taking to the bank.

Are films like ‘Step’ inspiring or are they inner-city uplift porn? Maybe they’re both

After seeing Step, the new documentary about a step team at a girls charter school in Baltimore, two things happened:

  1. When I walked out of the darkened theater and into the light of day with the other people at the screening, everyone’s eyes were wet, including my own.
  2. I immediately wondered if what I’d seen was well-crafted inner-city uplift porn.

Step, the first feature-length documentary from director Amanda Lipitz, a Broadway producer whose credits include Legally Blonde the Musical, follows the journey of the step team at the Baltimore Leadership School for Young Women (BLSYW, pronounced “bliss”). Most of the girls in the film are seniors, and this is their last chance to win a competition in the midst of typical senior-year concerns, in particular, getting into college.

Their lives are set against a backdrop of hardship: poverty, hunger, the threat of police violence, and parents who aren’t or can’t be as involved as would be ideal. But thanks to their determination and hard work, and constant prodding from coach Gari McIntyre (known in the film as Coach G) and college counselor Paula Dofat, the girls not only persist, they all are accepted into college.

It reminded me of a scene from Primary Colors, the 1998 film based on Joe Klein’s roman à clef about the first Clinton presidential campaign.

In the scene, Gov. Jack Stanton (John Travolta) tells his wife, Susan (Emma Thompson), about an adult literacy program that he encountered on the campaign trail. The program’s home is in the library of a rundown, graffiti-covered, underfunded school in New York.

“Honey, this was so great today, this reading program,” the governor says. “You shoulda seen the people. And the teacher — well. She was just inspirational.”

“Give me a break,” Susan responds. “Tell me how good the curriculum was, not the teacher. We can replicate a good curriculum.”

The scene gets at the crux of the issue with films, both narrative and documentary, such as Step, Dope, Dangerous Minds, All the Difference, and Check It. Such stories rely on individuals, in this case, McIntyre, Dofat and the step team members, to get an audience to pay attention to issues that are far bigger in scope. In the scene from Primary Colors, failing public schools and social promotion created the need for such a literacy program in the first place. In Step, there are larger issues that created the problems the BLSYW girls face, among them housing discrimination, the racial wealth gap, the resegregation of public schools, and unjust allocation of public resources.

So what purpose does a film like Step serve? Lipitz, a graduate of the Park School of Baltimore, where yearly tuition can run as high as $29,620, was inspired by the success of a similar girls leadership school in Queens, New York, with a 100 percent graduation rate. Her mother founded BLSYW on Lipitz’s suggestion and chairs its board.

I asked Lipitz if she worried that the success McIntyre and Dofat were able to achieve would lull audiences into a false sense of security. It’s easy to believe that these women have found a way to solve these larger problems so that the rest of us don’t need to focus on them quite so much.

“I didn’t worry about that,” Lipitz said. “ ‘Cause I think they’re so inspiring that you’re like, ‘I want to go do what Coach G does.’ I feel like they inspire you to get up and move and do something about it. Mentor someone, take interest in someone. I think they inspire people to do that.”

She’s not wrong. There’s tremendous value in films that aim to uplift. That’s what made the Stantons such an effective team: Theirs was a marriage of both pragmatism and inspiration. But it’s a challenge to find films that accomplish both, and frankly, films that skew more toward policy usually end up on public television, not the big screen. Because it’s so hard to make compelling films about policy — Ava DuVernay’s 13th is a notable exception — we end up with a glut of films that are high on uplift and short on the nitty-gritty.

Step doesn’t ignore these larger social issues — McIntyre mentions that she lives on the same street where Freddie Gray was killed. But there’s an underlying message that personal responsibility, hard work, and school personnel so dedicated they qualify for beatification are enough to circumvent the consequences of being born poor, black, and female in a country that’s systematically hostile to people who are poor, black, and female.

In Jack Stanton’s story, it’s the inspiring teacher who’s the savior. Susan Stanton gets at something more practical and less sexy: You can’t scale an inspirational teacher. You need a curriculum. Step illustrates just how important women such as Dofat and McIntyre are, but they’re not enough. We have to fix the problems that make them so invaluable.

Working as an educator in public schools is not easy. Dofat, 50, has been working as a college counselor for 17 years. There’s an emotional scene in Step where she tearfully pleads with two college administrators to take one of her students. She’s afraid that if they don’t, the girl’s life will essentially be ruined. I asked Dofat what kept her from burning out.

“Faith,” she answered. But she also told me about the need to separate guidance counseling from college counseling to achieve more effective results. Public schools that serve poor, majority-minority populations need enough resources to hire some counselors who focus solely on social and emotional issues, and others who focus on getting kids into college, Dofat said. Most schools employ counselors who are responsible for all of it, and therefore are often overwhelmed.

Changes like those Dofat recommends could have huge implications in steering students away from the for-profit certificate and diploma mills that disproportionately target students who are poor, female, and ethnic minorities, saddling them with worthless degrees and debt they often cannot repay.

But wonkier points like that get obscured by Step’s feel-good inspiration. The film recently won the audience award at AFI Docs Film Festival and got a loving reception at Sundance earlier this year. Ultimately, public education should be the responsibility of everyone in a community. It is a public good that only works well when affluent white parents are not scared to send their children to school with poor black children and when they recognize that everyone deserves the same chances and the same resources.

McIntyre began working as a step coach and logistics coordinator at BLSYW in 2015. She went to Milford Mill Academy, part of Baltimore County Public Schools, and eventually graduated from Coppin State after initially dropping out. She’s no stranger to the hardships many of the BLSYW girls face.

“I did have a very rough time with completing high school, because I was more focused on social and creative outlets,” McIntyre said. “I graduated with a 1.8 GPA. I barely went to school, because I felt like the teachers were not challenging me, and I didn’t need to go to school. I would go to school and get A’s on tests and quizzes, but I would never prepare for anything. So, I had the ability, I had to think and had to focus, and I really felt that the teachers were not challenging me or catering to me in the way that I felt that I needed to learn.”

But even more teachers who cared wouldn’t have been enough, she said.

“There are problems that are on a way bigger scale, based off of the way our country votes,” McIntyre said. “Decisions that are based in racial and gender bias, housing discrimination, and there being actual laws that are legally segregating communities, and determining who gets resources and who doesn’t, and that’s not by mistake.

“I think that it’s clear what type of people they want to be successful. It shows grit when a little black girl like Cori [Grainger, a BLSYW senior], who never even thought that she would be Johns Hopkins material, not only makes it in Johns Hopkins, but then graduates and does well. … I think that specifically [when others look at] African-American communities, people truly believe that we want to be impoverished and in violence. Poverty is not what you see in Third World countries in the United States. The poverty is sometimes not knowing where your next meal is going to come from, or being on government assistance, or being a victim to the failed mental health system, or health care system in the United States. … So, I do think that these are way bigger issues, that people are seeing on a smaller level.”

Step is the story of young girls who are beating the odds. After seeing it, I hope audiences remember these girls never should have had to face such odds in the first place.