Over All-Star break, the NBA is on the ground doing good work in Los Angeles Community efforts to impact youth and families in L.A.

This year’s All-Star Weekend is a family affair for the NBA, which will be spreading a message of unity, hope, solidarity and change in its host city of Los Angeles. From Thursday through Sunday, the league is sending more than 3,000 volunteers into the City of Angels with more than 30 outreach programs and events.

“It’s the most important time of the year, when you can get everybody together,” said Todd Jacobson, the NBA’s senior vice president of social responsibility. “Obviously, NBA All-Star is a celebration, but the ability for us to utilize it as a platform to give back, to use a sport that brings people together, is just incredible. For years, really, the primary program or highlight for us has been our NBA Cares All-Star Day of Service, which takes place on Friday. We have more than 1,500 volunteers coming out. We’ll be building a playground, we’ll be packing more than 240,000 pounds of food with a food bank, packing supplies and needs for Baby2Baby, which helps provide essentials for families in need. And it just continues to be such a great platform to tip off the weekend.”

Events will include the NBA All-Star Fit Celebration, the 11th annual NBA Cares All-Star Day of Service, Jr. NBA Day, the NBA Cares Special Olympics Unified Basketball Game and Building Bridges Through Basketball, among many more.

NBA Cares, the league’s global social responsibility program, will host service projects, basketball clinics and games, and fitness and nutritional activities.

“We tipped it off in 2008. We’ve built more than 90 places now where kids and families can live, learn or play during our NBA Cares All-Star Day of Service,” Jacobson said. “So it’s just a special way to bring people together and celebrate the game and really use it as a point for inclusion and making sure that we are having the largest impact possible.”

The league’s NBA Voices initiative addresses social injustice and bridges divides in communities.

“From an NBA Voices perspective, which is a platform we launched on MLK Day, we’ve had close to 300 events and activities that have taken place over the course of the better of about 18 months now,” Jacobson said. “It actually tipped off here in Los Angeles when Carmelo Anthony helped lead the efforts working with the USA Basketball men’s and women’s Olympic teams. So it’s really terrific to be back here and continuing to have that dialogue, and really helping and utilizing our position to help bring people together.”

This year, through NBA Voices, the league will rally Los Angeles youths, community leaders, law enforcement, and NBA and WNBA players and executives for an in-depth conversation about today’s social climate.

Jr. NBA, the league’s youth basketball participation program, is set to engage more than 2,000 youths in basketball clinics and competitions. The Jr. NBA is focused on helping grow and improve the youth basketball experience for players, coaches and parents. The program offers a free curriculum covering all levels of the game that includes more than 250 instructional videos featuring NBA and WNBA players.

“I think the most important thing we can do is we just want to be part of the community, working with our teams that do so much during the year, the Clippers and the Lakers and all the community partners that we’ve worked with,” Jacobson said.

Here is this year’s schedule of events:


NBA Cares All-Star Community Events:

  • Children’s Hospital Los Angeles Visit (Thursday):
    • Members of the NBA family will visit the hospital and enjoy games and crafts with young patients and their families.
  • NBA All-Star FIT Celebration (Thursday):
    • The NBA, Kaiser Permanente and After-School All-Stars will unveil a newly refurbished fitness center at Alliance Gertz-Ressler/Richard Merkin 6-12 Complex. NBA and WNBA players and legends will join students in fitness and nutritional activities focused on the total health of mind, body and spirit.
  • Community Conversation (Thursday):
    • In partnership with Brotherhood Crusade and the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD), the NBA and the National Basketball Players Association will bring together local youths, law enforcement and community leaders for a discussion addressing the challenges facing their community and ways to build trust.
  • NBA Cares All-Star Day of Service (Friday):
    • Current and former NBA and WNBA players, coaches, partners and celebrities will lead three service projects with support from Nike, SAP and State Farm. In partnership with KaBOOM!, members of the NBA family will construct a student-designed playground at Jefferson Elementary School. Other volunteers will join Baby2Baby to package donations for children living in poverty. At the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank, packed donations will go to local seniors in need.
  • NBA Cares Special Olympics Unified Basketball Game (Saturday):
    • NBA and WNBA players and legends will join 12 Special Olympics athletes from Los Angeles and around the world for a clinic and demonstration game at the Los Angeles Convention Center (LACC).
  • Building Bridges Through Basketball (Saturday):
  • Hoops For Troops (Thursday-Sunday):
    • The NBA will partner with the USO and Tragedy Assistance Program For Survivors to host special experiences for military service members, their families and the families of fallen service members at NBA All-Star’s marquee events, including a visit to the Bob Hope USO Center.
  • Make-A-Wish (Thursday-Sunday):
    • The NBA will grant the wishes of eight Make-A-Wish kids with critical illnesses in Los Angeles. The kids and their families will enjoy several days of fun events and life-changing experiences, including meet-and-greets with NBA All-Stars, State Farm All-Star Saturday Night participants, and NBA and WNBA legends.

Jr. NBA schedule:

Events will include clinics, tournaments and educational sessions that teach the values and fundamentals of the game. All events and clinics will take place at LACC on courts provided by SnapSports.

  • NBA Day (Friday):
    • In partnership with Under Armour, more than 1,500 local youths will participate in a series of basketball clinics alongside NBA All-Stars and Mtn Dew Kickstart Rising Stars players.
  • Gatorade Jr. NBA All-Star Invitational (Saturday-Sunday):
    • Sixteen boys and girls middle school basketball teams, which advanced from preliminary tournaments in January, will play in the Gatorade Jr. NBA All-Star Invitational single-elimination quarterfinal and semifinal rounds on Saturday and the championship games on Sunday.
  • NBA Skills Challenge (Saturday-Sunday):
    • More than 500 participants will compete for a chance to advance to the national finals of the Jr. NBA Skills Challenge, which will be held in New York in June. The Jr. NBA Skills Challenge is a national competition that provides boys and girls ages 9-13 the opportunity to showcase fundamental skills through dribbling, shooting and rebounding competitions.
  • NBA Coaches Forum (Sunday):
    • In partnership with Positive Coaching Alliance, A Call to Men, Athlete Ally and the Human Rights Campaign, the Jr. NBA will host a coaches forum to educate and support nearly 100 local coaches in developing young athletes of character. NBA and WNBA legends will discuss teamwork, diversity and inclusion.
  • NBA Clinic for LAPD and LAFD First Responders (Sunday):
    • In partnership with the LAPD and Los Angeles Fire Department, the Jr. NBA will host a Jr. NBA basketball clinic for first responders and their families at LACC. NBA legends will join participants for on-court skills and drills.

The players’ anthem: when Marvin Gaye sang ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ at the 1983 All-Star game Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Pat Riley, Magic, Dr. J and more on the pride and heartbreak of witnessing Gaye’s rendition of the national anthem

Being the head coach of the Lakers, and coaching the All-Star Game at the Great Western Forum that day … it just made it a special, almost spiritual-type moment for me.

— Pat Riley


Marvin Gaye could not have looked more quintessentially Marvin Gaye if he’d tried. It was Feb. 13, 1983: the afternoon of the 33rd annual NBA All-Star Game at The Forum in Inglewood, California. Everyone was packed in, a stone’s throw from Hollywood. Julius “Dr. J” Erving, Earvin “Magic” Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Maurice Cheeks, Larry Bird, Isiah Thomas, Reggie Theus, Moses Malone, Pat Riley, Bill Laimbeer, Andrew Toney, Alex English, Robert Parish, Jamaal Wilkes and more. Even then the synergy of basketball icons and a musical icon made all the sense in the world. And now as the NBA All-Star Game returns to Los Angeles this weekend — the fourth time since the game’s 1951 inception that it’s been held in the L.A. area — the synergy is a given.

Thirty-five years ago, things were of course different. Nowadays, fans have a huge say with regard to who starts in the game. The top two vote-getters draft their own teams. And music is a quintessential part of the NBA All-Star Weekend experience. The NBA named Migos’ “Stir Fry” the weekend’s official anthem, and a slew of the hottest musical artists in the game are expected to host countless parties. The omnipresence of celebrities courtside has made the NBA America’s most culturally significant sport — and it will be turnt up even higher for the All-Star Game.

The Eastern Conference All-Stars of the 1983 All Star Game: the front row (L to R): Maurice Lucas, Isiah Thomas, Middle Row: Bill Laimbeer, Buck Williams, Robert Parish, Moses Malone & Larry Bird. Back Row: Assistant Coach Bill Bertke, Trainer Ray Melchiorre, Sidney Moncrief, Reggie Theus, Marques Johnson, Head Coach Billy Cunningham, Julius Erving, Andrew Toney, Assistant Coach Jack McMahon, Assistant Coach Matt Guokes

NBAE via Getty Images

The 1983 Western Conference All-Stars of the 1983 the front row: Gus Williams, Jim Paxson, Middle Row – Earvin “Magic” Johnson, Jack Sikma, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Artis Gilmore & Maurice Lukas. Back Row – Assistant Coach Bill Bertke, Assistant Coach Dave Wohl, Jamaal Wilkes, Alex English, Head Coach Pat Riley, George Gervin, Kiki Vandeweghe, David Thompson & Trainer Jack Curran

NBAE via Getty Images

But back then, Gaye was a feel-good comeback story. Following a stint in Europe where the singer temporarily escaped demons that had nearly devoured him, he was riding high off the success of the smash album Midnight Love, which was, in turn, fueled by the Goliathan influence of its landmark single “Sexual Healing.” Gaye would use the NBA’s center stage to propel him to the Grammys just 10 days later.

Gaye, a linchpin of swagger, walked to center court at The Forum in a deep blue suit — jacket buttoned — wearing dark shades courtesy of an NBA gift package that had been distributed to all media and VIP guests. But there was something wrong with the shades. “[The sunglasses] had ‘L.A. All-Star’ imprinted on the lenses,” said Brian McIntyre, the NBA’s public relations director in 1983. “Trouble was, whoever printed them, printed it backwards.” Gaye either didn’t know, didn’t show, or didn’t care. He also didn’t know he was the second choice — Lionel Richie, sitting on the huge success of his solo debut, had turned the NBA down for the anthem honors.

Players and coaches lined up on opposite free-throw lines. The honor guard of nearby Edwards Air Force Base was behind Gaye with the American and California flags raised. Seventeen thousand people in the arena were on their feet for the national anthem — there was little reason to expect a diversion from the way “The Star-Spangled Banner” had been performed their entire lives.

“We’d only heard the national anthem done one way,” said then-Chicago Bulls guard Theus. Having coached the Sacramento Kings and at New Mexico State, the two-time All-Star is now head coach at Cal State University, Northridge. “We weren’t anticipating anything. We knew he was Marvin Gaye.”

Gaye had intertwined his way into the sports world before. He’d sung the anthem on many occasions — each time in the traditional format. Four years earlier, in 1979, Gaye sang at the second Larry Holmes/Earnie Shavers fight at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. In 1974, he sang the anthem at Alameda County Coliseum in Oakland, California, before the Raiders’ regular season finale vs. the Dallas Cowboys. And Motown’s crown prince belted out “The Star-Spangled Banner” before Game 4 of the 1968 World Series between the Detroit Tigers and St. Louis Cardinals — the Tigers ended up winning in seven games. Ironically, for Game 5 of that series, young singer José Feliciano performed the anthem with a slower, brooding twist that caused some Tiger Stadium attendees to pepper the blind Puerto Rican musician with boos. The backlash derailed his Grammy-laden career for decades.

“In my mind, ‘What’s Going On’ … had the most impact on me than any record, ever.” — Pat Riley

Gaye was an avid sports fan— he even once tried out for the Detroit Lions. And he floored Motown founder (and his former brother-in-law) Berry Gordy when he told him, at the apex of his prolific singing, songwriting and producing career, that he wanted to pursue boxing. Whether he knew it or not though, as much as Gaye found inspiration in the athletes who stood behind him on The Forum’s court, they found as much if not more in him.


“I’ve gone on the record many times saying that Marvin Gaye was my favorite artist. His music touched me in a deep, special and personal way. Reading Divided Soul: The Life of Marvin Gaye, it’s kind of gut-wrenching. It’s heartfelt in terms of the struggle he had … Just to do what he wanted to do. He really just wanted to be a crooner. He just wanted to sing and share his gift with the world. But pressure came from a lot of different places to be more, do more, and that eventually cost him his life.”

Julius “Dr. J” Erving


Gaye was a tortured spirit whose life oftentimes played out publicly — despite the singer’s natural shyness. “Marvin’s problems can easily be understood by listening to his music,” Gordy said in the 1987 documentary series, Motown on Showtime. I come up hard, come on, get down / There’s only three things that’s for sure / Taxes, death and trouble. ‘Trouble Man’ was a song he did for a soundtrack that was, of course, probably reminiscent of his life.”

Gaye attempted suicide by cocaine overdose in Hawaii in 1980. The years leading up to the All-Star performance were taxing — physically, mentally, emotionally and financially. “About 1975 through about 1983 hasn’t been very good,” he said in a 1983 interview. “The last seven years of my life haven’t been exactly ecstatic … I’ve been happy, and most of the time pretty depressed.”

By the time of the 1983 All-Star Game, Gaye had long since returned from his self-imposed European exile. He spent two years in Ostend, Belgium, ostensibly away from failed relationships, financial woes and drugs. While there, Gaye co-wrote (with Odell Brown and David Ritz) 1982’s sultry “Sexual Healing.” But long before the Europe and “Healing,” Marvin wrote the score to the lives of many NBA All-Stars who surrounded him that February afternoon.

Marvin Gaye performs in the Netherlands.

Rob Verhorst/Redferns

“[Marvin’s music] resonated with me just growing up as a kid in the ’60s and ’70s in Chicago,” said Hall of Famer and 12-time All-Star Isiah Thomas. The two-time NBA champion and Finals MVP point guard laughs at the memory of first meeting Gaye in Hollywood — alongside Johnson — at the famous and infamous The Palladium. Thomas was surprised Gaye knew his name. “His music was our music. He really hit how we were feeling … in poverty, and our desperate cry for just recognition, and understanding.”

Abdul-Jabbar, on a break from the book tour for his Becoming Kareem: On and Off the Court, recalls running into Gaye at studio sessions for his friend Stevie Wonder’s 1976 Songs In The Key of Life. These, said the NBA’s all-time leading scorer, were among the best times ever. “Marvin Gaye was absolutely on the forefront of [artists tackling societal issues]. He was an important guy, artistically, at that time. He talked about issues that resonated in the black community in a very meaningful way.”

“You knew it was history,” Erving said, “but it was also ‘hood.”

Quite possibly the most excited for Gaye’s performance wasn’t a player, but a coach. During The Beatles phenomenon of the ’60s, Riley — much like Quincy Jones, apparently — never truly caught the wave. “I was raised on doo-wop, Frankie Lymon and The Teenagers, Jimmy Smith. Then when Motown really had it course in the early ’60s, that was it for me,” he said, the enthusiasm in his voice rising with each memory. “I was all about The Four Tops and The Temptations. The Supremes.” But as for Gaye himself, “What happened in the late ’60s was a lot of what’s going on in our society today. People just not agreeing what’s happening with our government,” Riley said. “In my mind, ‘What’s Going On’ — for my lifetime — had the most impact on me than any record ever.”


“[After the game,] it was just common knowledge that whenever you talked about the anthem, everybody just pointed to it like, ‘Yeah, that was the best one that was ever done.’ Not because his techniques were good — they were — but because spiritually, in that moment, he really captured the feelings of everyone in The Forum. I’ve never been part of an anthem where everybody’s just in unison and lost control and just started moving. It was a beautiful moment.” — Isiah Thomas


Before Marvin took the floor at the Forum, there was mild panic. Then-NBA commissioner Larry O’Brien was an old school, by-the-book type of guy. O’Brien had told McIntyre during the previous day’s rehearsals, “Make sure we don’t have anything that’s going to cause a scene.”

All during the day, and right before the early afternoon tipoff, Gaye was nowhere to be found. “[Lon Rosen, Lakers’ director of promotions] hadn’t heard from Marvin or his people. They weren’t sure where he was,” McIntyre said. There’s a chuckle in his voice now. But 35 years ago it was anything but a laughing matter. “So they started looking for a backup, I think.”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RZ9WdCunvy8

Arriving only moments before showtime, Gaye made his way to the floor. A longstanding myth says the notoriously recluse singer was intentionally late to avoid tension with Lakers personnel who believed his rendition was too long the day before at rehearsal. While he adjusted the microphone stand, a simple, yet infectious instrumental began playing. Lawrence Tanter, the Lakers’ public address announcer panicked. “Ah s—,” he reflected. “They’ve got the wrong tape. This is ‘Sexual Healing.’ ”

But it wasn’t. It was a simple beat dubbing a drum track done by Gaye’s guitarist and musical director Gordon Banks and a keyboard track Gaye laid down himself. And what happened next would be the only time in history the national anthem closely resembled a rhythm and blues song. There isn’t a blueprint for Gaye’s charisma. Or his showmanship. It was innate. “You could feel the vibe as soon as he walked out there,” Theus said. “He was the epitome of cool, and smooth at the same time.” Gaye’s anthem was patriotic in its own soulful way, but it was simultaneously debonair, too. Each note left his vocal chord with the pizzazz of a street crooner.

Something special was happening. Riley was standing next to Abdul-Jabbar. On the surface, Riley was calm. But his mind raced a mile a minute. “I was thinking to myself, ‘We’re about to see something very unique here,’ ” the three-time Coach of the Year said. “Then the first words came out of his mouth, and he went on. Then he went in a different pitch. It was mesmerizing to me.”

Gaye, the archbishop of swagger. “You knew it was history,” Erving said, “but it was also ‘hood.” For a two-minute stretch, the basketball world revolved around Marvin Gaye and within his gravitational pull were MVPs, world champions, former rookies of the year, future Hall of Famers and 17,505 in the stands. “We were two-stepping, listening to the national anthem,” said Johnson with a laugh. “We were just bouncing left to right. It blew us away. We just got caught into the moment of this man. People just forgot it was the national anthem.”

“We were two-stepping, listening to the national anthem,” said Johnson with a laugh.

Off the rip, the crowd swooned. They shouted and clapped as if the NBA All-Star Game had momentarily swapped places with a gospel choir. “Before you knew it, you were swaying, clapping and were like doing something to the anthem that you’d never done before in your life. Or since,” said Thomas. “It just wasn’t the players. It was the whole arena. Everyone in unison almost caught the Holy Ghost.”

“You kinda paused for a second, listening,” said Oklahoma City Thunder assistant coach Maurice Cheeks, who was making his first, as a Philadelphia 76er, of four All-Star Game appearances in 1983. Cheeks has also been head coach of the Portland Trail Blazers, the Sixers and Detroit Pistons. “You looked around to see if anybody else was appreciating this the way you are … everybody was — especially the crowd.”

A roar had risen by the time And the home of the brave capped off Gaye’s rendition. He’d given the national anthem a makeover. Gaye, later in 1983, offered a self-diagnosis. His depression stemmed from a deep empathy for humanity. All he wanted was for people to listen to him. In less than three minutes on The Forum’s hardwood, he’d done just that. If only for a sliver of time, the anthem wasn’t about the stars, the stripes or whatever its original intentions were. Gaye made it a song about love, inclusion and triumph.

The crowd showered him with a standing ovation. How do we follow THAT? many of the players wondered. The walk back to the bench following the anthem was one of excitement and befuddlement. Players slapped high fives, laughed and recapped. “Everybody was like, ‘Man, he tore the house down!’ ” Johnson said, essentially yelling into the phone. “Going to the bench like, ‘Man! That was unbelievable!’ ”

As Gaye exited the floor, he pulled Erving aside. It was a brief meeting of the sex appeals. The two had met before at shows in New York, Washington, D.C., and in Virginia. “I got something coming out. You gon’ love it,” Gaye told Erving. The “it” he referred to was a then-unreleased song called “Sanctified Lady.” Unfortunately, though, only Erving would be alive to hear the record following its 1985 release.

East All-Star Julius Erving dunks one past the imposing figure of West All-Star Artis Gilmore.

Getty Images

The Eastern Conference, led by Erving’s MVP effort of 25 points, defeated the West, 132-123. But all the talk after the game centered on Gaye. The buzz was still electric. This was of course the pre-internet era. The race was to obtain any sort of recording of the performance. “I remember the conversation being, the game was great,” said Theus. “But that it wasn’t anywhere near as good as Marvin Gaye.”

“It wasn’t even about the game,” said Johnson. “The whole attention was on, ‘Is it on TV? Make sure we get a copy! Find Brian [McIntyre]!’ ”

McIntyre for his part was a bit queasy. He knew the younger generation was enamored with the performance. Lakers owner Jerry Buss, called it, even in the moment, “the greatest anthem of all time.” Yet, in the back of his mind McIntyre was dreading the older generation’s response. Of those possible complaints, O’Brien simply told McIntyre, “You have to answer them all.”

The official CBS after-party was packed. Finger foods and cocktails. David Stern, O’Brien’s eventual successor, and his wife Shelly were in attendance, as was Rick Welts (current Golden State Warriors president), Russ Granik and Gary Bettman. All anyone wanted to hear was Gaye’s anthem. “They were replaying the game [at the party], but every so often someone would say, ‘Let’s hear it again!’ ” said McIntyre. “So they’d switch it back to the anthem and play it all over again. The crowd was just into it.”


“[Marvin] died young and it’s like there was an unfulfilled promise. I’m looking at these rock bands, they’re doing all this crazy stuff, and they’re still touring. They’re still making music! Guys going into their ’60s, ’70s and hitting 80 and they’re still out there. Bill Withers is still out there making a little noise every now and then. So Marvin, what would he have been able to accomplish had he survived the demons?” — Julius “Dr. J” Erving


Much has changed. The NBA looks completely different. Players carry far more leverage than they did in 1983. The style of play has shifted to a more perimeter-based attack. And even the national anthem sounds different — in rankings and context. The biggest story of the year is NFL players kneeling during it in protest of police brutality and the state of the criminal justice system. For those who stood on the floor that day in 1983, they remain connected to Gaye’s rendition. The version sung by Whitney Houston at the 1991 Super Bowl is the only other anthem close to a comparison to Gaye’s rendition, in their eyes.

“This is what made it so special,” said Johnson. “Everybody said, ‘Wow.’ Everybody went absolutely crazy. It was blacks, whites, everybody — saying, what a moment.”

The moment was one so memorable the NBA had Marvin’s daughter, Nona, perform the same anthem “in a special duet” with her father at the 2004 All-Star Game, when it returned to Los Angeles. In a sport littered with previous anthem singers such as The Temptations, Destiny’s Child, Mary J. Blige, John Legend, Brian McKnight and more — Marvin Gaye remains on the NBA’s musical Mount Rushmore.

But how does Gaye’s anthem fit into the current conversation around it? “We have to take everything in context,” said Abdul-Jabbar. Many of the issues Gaye addressed in his music run parallels to Colin Kaepernick’s original message. “I think that people were trying to make an issue of the anthem because they didn’t want to deal with the issue Colin Kaepernick raised, which is the fact that black Americans — unarmed black Americans — should not be getting killed by police officers at the rate that they are. That’s what the issue is.”

For Theus, it’s a simple matter. “Marvin Gaye’s rendition of the national anthem superseded and surpassed any negativity that was in anyone’s mind,” he said. “When you hear something like that, you don’t hear the national anthem that everyone is talking about today. It was another national anthem that we were listening to. You can’t relate the two.”

“So Marvin, what would he have been able to accomplish had he survived the demons?” — Julius “Dr. J” Erving

Ten days after the All-Star Game, for “Sexual Healing,” Gaye was awarded the only two Grammys of his career. “I’ve waited … 20-something years to win an award like this,” he said in his acceptance speech. He thanked God, his children, his mother, and his fans. He did not, however, thank his father. Almost prophetically, he closed the speech saying, “Stay with us, we’re gonna try and give you more.” Gaye embarked on what would be his final tour in the summer of 1983. He traveled with, and kept a preacher in one room. His drugs in another. In a figurative sense, Gaye stood between heaven and hell throughout his Midnight Love tour.

Marvin Gaye holds ones of his Grammys.

Ron Galella/WireImage

“I expose myself because the fans demand it,” he told his ex-wife Jan Gaye. “I offer myself up for slaughter. I am the sacrificial lamb. If their pleasure requires my destruction, so be it.”

By the Detroit stop, Gaye was a zombie. “After the performance, we got back to the dressing room,” Mel Farr recalled of his final meeting with Gaye. (Farr died in 2015.) “He had all those hangers-on giving him this drug and this drug. I said, ‘Wow, man. I don’t think he’s going to make it.’ It was that bad.”

Four-hundred fourteen days following his anthem, on April 1, 1984, Gaye was murdered by his father, Marvin Gay Sr., a day shy of what would have been his Marvin Jr.’s 45th birthday. The house where the killing took place was but seven miles from The Forum. Toward the end of his life, as he battled voices in his head, Gaye still understood the importance of Feb. 13, 1983. “I asked God,” he said, “that when I sang [that anthem] that it would move men’s souls.”

He most certainly moved Riley, who keeps hours upon hours upon hours of Gaye’s and Motown’s greatest hits near him at all times. The Miami Heat president still keeps a framed picture of himself, Abdul-Jabbar and the Western Conference All-Stars lined up watching Gaye. Call it his way of paying homage to an artist he says changed his life and enhanced his perspectives long before the NBA came calling. Thirty-five years later, after the 1983 All-Star Game, from his South Florida office, there’s pride and sorrow in his voice.

“I’m privileged to have been there at that moment when this icon sang that song. The people that were in that arena that day saw something unique, probably changed people to some extent,” Riley said. “The tragic way that Marvin died was something that was very depressing for a lot of people. I know it was for me. But,” he said, “[Marvin will] always be in my heart because I hear his voice all the time. You never forget people like this.”

King’s ‘Letter from Birmingham Jail’ explains the rage over the NFL anthem protests and the persistence of racial injustice Re-reading the famous letter today shows how much still needs to change

On Feb. 11, at 8 p.m., The Undefeated will present Dear Black Athlete, a one-hour special on ESPN featuring conversations with athletes and community leaders about social justice. Inspired by Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” the program will be taped at Birmingham’s Sixth Avenue Baptist Church, where King spoke and led civil rights marches. Below, we examine the meaning of King’s letter in today’s racial climate.


Martin Luther King Jr. penned his Letter from Birmingham Jail in a narrow cell on newspaper margins, scraps of paper and smuggled-in legal pads. He had no notes or reference materials. Yet, King’s eloquent defense of nonviolent protest and searing critique of moderation continues to resonate in a nation still divided by race.

In 1963, the letter spoke truth to white clergymen who called him a troublemaker for coming to Birmingham, Alabama, to confront that city’s harsh segregation and racial violence. In 2018, King’s tract stands as a beacon to a new generation of activists impatient with injustice perpetuated less by flush-faced bigots than by the ostensibly colorblind institutions that structure our society.

King’s letter famously said creating tension was necessary to the work of nonviolent protesters, and that “justice too long delayed is justice denied.” He called out the white church for being an “arch supporter of the status quo,” and castigated its ministers for urging members to comply with desegregation because it is the law, not because it is morally right and “the Negro is your brother.” He also expressed grave disappointment with white moderates, whom he described as “more devoted to order than justice.”

The letter was “prophetic,” said Lecia Brooks, outreach director for the Alabama-based Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks racial extremist groups. “King really calls out systemic racism and, particularly, systemic anti-black racism. And, of course, it persists today.”

Brooks hears echoes of the white clergymen who accused King of inciting violence in the stinging criticism of NFL players who protested racial inequities by taking a knee during the national anthem.

“What they have done is in the tradition of nonviolent protest. It forces people to have a conversation,” she said. “But the pushback has been ugly. It’s like, ‘We’re sick of you, the nerve of the NFL players.’ They are like the outsiders that the clergy mentioned in going after King.”

King’s letter was written nearly a decade after the Supreme Court outlawed school segregation, but Alabama’s largest city operated under its own rules. Black people could not work or try on clothes in downtown stores. They were given used books in separate schools, and made to wait in separate waiting rooms at public hospitals. Those who challenged the established order risked the wrath of the Ku Klux Klan or other terrorists who enforced apartheid so savagely that the town was nicknamed “Bombingham.”

Today, the city is no longer segregated by law, and violent racists no longer run amok. But segregation remains: Many whites fled the city, and its schools are 99 percent black and Hispanic. The city’s poverty rate is more than 30 percent. Then there is the racial wealth gap, income gap, unemployment gap, school achievement gap, incarceration gap and life expectancy gap. It is a story common to many parts of the country.

“The pushback has been ugly. It’s like, ‘We’re sick of you, the nerve of the NFL players.’ “

Birmingham is now led by Mayor Randall Woodfin, 36, a proud Morehouse College graduate who is among the more than 10,000 black elected officials serving across the country.

“It is hard to read King’s letter and not want to re-reread it and re-read it again,” he said, calling it the civil rights leader’s seminal piece. Not only does it lay out the steps, from self-education to negotiation, that should precede protest, Woodfin said, but it also makes a historical case for why black people are impatient for real change.

“We have black leadership now. But some of the things Dr. King was talking about as it relates to poverty and better education and opportunity, they still exist,” Woodfin said. “We need to be bolder in correcting things we know are not working for many people.”

Better education funding, longer school years, seamless coordination between schools, libraries and recreation centers are some of the things that Woodfin thinks could help. “We are not spending enough time with our children,” he said. “We need to do more with workforce development, that entire pipeline from birth until young people cross that stage.”

But winning support for such initiatives is difficult in Birmingham, much like it is in Detroit or Baltimore or East St. Louis, Illinois. The city alone does not have the wealth to pay for those things, and white taxpayers in neighboring communities do not see problems in places like Birmingham’s as theirs. If polls are any indication, almost none of those white suburbanites see themselves as racist. But they are the present-day equivalent of the moderates King wrote about, minimizing the importance of discrimination in the ongoing struggles of places like Birmingham.

Seven in 10 African-Americans surveyed in a 2016 Pew Research Center poll cited discrimination as a reason blacks have a harder time than whites getting ahead, a view shared by just 36 percent of white respondents. A series of independent studies have found that black people still face discrimination from the criminal justice system, from employers, from real estate agents, and from banks and mortgage companies. Yet, when asked about the racial fairness of institutions fundamental to American life — courts, police, the workplace, mortgage companies — white people are much less likely than African-Americans to say black people are treated unfairly. White evangelicals, who are most prominent in the South, were the group least likely to perceive discrimination against blacks, according to a 2017 poll by the Public Religion Research Institute. Only 36 percent of white evangelicals reported perceiving a lot of discrimination against black people.

Growing up white in Birmingham, the Rev. Jim Cooley said segregation was a way of life that as a child he never stopped to examine. “It was a different planet then,” said Cooley, who is now pastor of the city’s First Baptist Church. One of his predecessors, the Rev. Earl Stallings, was among the eight clergymen who signed the statement that prompted King’s famous letter.

“I remember seeing separate bathrooms and separate water fountains as a youngster. I guess it was a tribute to my parents that I did not think of it as this is ‘upper’ and that is ‘lower.’ My impression was that there was some natural reason for this that I did not understand.”

Now he knows better, and he thanks King for helping to transform his city. He says the new Birmingham is evident in his own church’s growing racial diversity and the fact that its black organist causes no one in the congregation to as much as raise an eyebrow. He also sees black and white people coming together in civic groups to address the city’s many problems.

Still, Cooley acknowledged that huge racial disparities remain. Some are no doubt the result of Birmingham’s long history of racism, he says. But he thinks the gaps have as much to do with educational shortcomings and social isolation that he said also hinders many white people.

“If I walk around my neighborhood, there is an English couple. A man across the way is involved in the Sons of the Confederacy. There is an African-American doctor. Next to him, an Indian veterinarian and a Chinese pharmacist,” Cooley said. “There is less friction now, for sure. While everything was so drastically race-driven 50 or 60 years ago, now it is about opportunity and education. And that cuts across all kinds of racial strata.”

Freeman A. Hrabowski III, 67, the longtime president of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, grew up in middle-class black Birmingham, as did former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, activist Angela Davis and Alma Powell, the wife of former Secretary of State Colin Powell. It was a nurturing world of high aspirations tightly controlled by the constant threat of racial violence.

“When we went downtown, we knew we were not part of mainstream Birmingham because there was nobody black in a position of power, not even at a cash register,” he recalled. “No police, firemen, nothing. It is hard to understand if you were not there just how dramatically different the world was then.”

Hrabowski was 12 years old when he was arrested and held for five days for taking part in the “Children’s Crusade,” waves of demonstrations that King launched not long after he was released from the Birmingham jail.

“When we went downtown we knew we were not part of mainstream Birmingham because there was nobody black in a position of power, not even at a cash register.”

Hrabowski brings the lessons he learned then to his work as president of UMBC, a public university just outside Baltimore. During his more than quarter-century at the university’s helm, he has turned the once nondescript commuter school into one of the nation’s top producers of African-American doctorates in science, technology, engineering and math.

That has not happened by accident. Hrabowski had made it his business to mentor and support black students and those from other underrepresented groups. Hrabowski promotes his school with evangelical zeal and brings at-risk students to campus to help them learn the habits of academic success. He promotes his sharpest science nerds as if they were rap stars, and he singles out basketball players with high grades so they can be seen as both athletic and academic role models.

He shed tears of joy in November when a black woman from suburban Maryland, 21-year-old Naomi Mburu, was named UMBC’s first Rhodes scholar. And when the university opened its new basketball arena and events center last weekend, he made sure Mburu strode onto center court, where she was introduced to the crowd at halftime.

It’s his way of battling the pervasive injustice he once endured in Birmingham.

Hrabowski noted that back when King penned his letter only 2 or 3 percent of African-Americans were college graduates, as were roughly 10 percent of whites. Now, according to the Census Bureau, 23 percent of African-American adults are four-year college graduates, as are almost 37 percent of whites.

“We’ve made tremendous progress since Dr. King’s letter, yes we have,” Hrabowski said. “You want to acknowledge that progress. But a lot of people are left behind, and to solve that we have to look at the unjust policies that Dr. King talks about. Just because it is in the structure, doesn’t mean it is just.”

Happy birthday, Oprah! Take a look at 10 times she wowed us all Today, we celebrate our favorite media mogul on her 64th birthday

Happy birthday to the woman who has been a source of inspiration to all — Oprah! Take a look at the 10 times Oprah wowed us all.

1985 — She performed in one of the best black cult classics, The Color Purple.

There will never be a day where The Color Purple is not referenced in some way, shape or form. The popular 1985 film — based on the best-selling 1982 novel written by Alice Walker — has since been used in the form of memes and GIFs on social media, and in more serious settings such as university lectures. In 2016, an interview with entertainment website Collider was published regarding Oprah’s role as the headstrong, fierce and proud Sofia. The media mogul explained how her role as changed her life:

The Color Purple changed my life. It changed everything about my life because, in that moment of praying and letting go, I really understood the principle of surrender. The principle of surrender is that, after you have done all that you can do, and you’ve done your best and given it your all, you then have to release it to whatever you call God, or don’t call God. It doesn’t matter because God doesn’t care about a name. You just release it to that which is greater than yourself, and whatever is supposed to happen, happens. And I have used that principle about a million times now. You release it to Grace. So, when you see me in this movie, I had never been happier in my life. It is the reason why I ended up owning my own show.”

1986 — Oprah earned her college degree and racked up a bunch more along the way.

Oprah may have earned her undergraduate degree from the historically black Tennessee State University, but the talk show host has collected honorary degrees through years from colleges such as Howard, Princeton, Harvard, Duke and the University of the Free State in South Africa. This was also the same year her very first daytime talk show, The Oprah Winfrey Show, debuted. It was the first successful year of a 25-season run.

1988 — The Skinheads episode of Oprah.

The Oprah Winfrey Show had only debuted two years earlier, yet Oprah was taking on one of the most polarizing moments in the show’s history. A black woman purposely inviting a group of white supremacists to expose ignorance and confront hate was a pretty bold move, but there were some very important lessons learned that day.

The white supremacists riled the audience with their sentiments that only white people created the country, and “blacks still lived in the jungles of Africa.” Oprah was even called a monkey on her very own show.

Twenty years later, Oprah expressed how that particular show changed the way she chose her show’s topics. “I realized in that moment that I was doing more to empower them than I was to expose them,” Oprah said during a 2006 interview. “And since that moment, I’ve never done a show like that again.”

2000 — If having her own show wasn’t enough, Oprah launched her own magazine.

In 1999, Oprah fans were thrilled to learn the queen of daytime television would be launching her own publication and when the first issue arrived in 2000, supporters ran to the closest stands to grab their copies. Eighteen years later, O, The Oprah Magazine remains one of the most successful women’s magazines on shelves. And like the boss she is, Oprah has featured herself on every cover of the magazine. Only a few of her closest friends have had the honor of sharing the cover alongside her.

2004 — “Everybody gets a car!”

It was certainly the happiest day in the show’s history for audience members of The Oprah Winfrey Show, who all received a new Pontiac G6 from Mrs. Oprah Claus herself (maybe she wore that stunning red dress for a reason!). The episode still remains in Oprah’s 25 Most Unforgettable Oprah Show Moments.

2007 — Oprah opened a school for girls in South Africa.

Oprah’s global humanitarian efforts increased in 2007 when the TV personality opened the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls near Johannesburg. Oprah’s motivation to get the school completed was, in part, due to a promise she made to South African revolutionary Nelson Mandela.

“I wanted to give this opportunity to girls who had a light so bright that not even poverty could dim that light,” Oprah said at a news conference at the time. “If you are surrounded by beautiful things and wonderful teachers who inspire you, that beauty brings out the beauty in you.”

2011 — Oprah launches the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN).

And what happens when you think you’ve acquired everything you could to build your brand? You OWN a network. Oprah took sole advantage of that feeling of pride, evident by the network’s acronym. Oprah shared her feelings on starting the network with readers shortly before its launch:

“I’m in the countdown to the end of the great phenomenon of my life. Headed off to launch a network of shows intended to do what The Oprah Winfrey Show and this magazine have done for years: inspire and entertain. Everything you’ve ever done prepares you for all that you can do and be. So I move forward to start a new chapter with the lessons I’ve learned and the strength I’ve gained. OWN debuts January 1; in its kickoff year, we’ve planned more than 600 hours of new programs. To fill the time 24/7/365, you need close to 9,000. We have a lot of work ahead. You can see why I hesitated for a moment. Do I really want to take this on? But the launch is just the beginning of what will eventually be a channel filled with creative, meaningful, and mindful programming.”

2013 — Oprah received one of her most important honors: The Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Oprah has collected quite an impressive collection of hardware throughout the years, but her 2013 addition was one that left Oprah beaming as then-President Barack Obama presented her with the highest civilian honor a president can bestow. The honor was bestowed upon Oprah for being “one of the world’s most successful broadcast journalists.

2015 — Oprah also continued her health journey by buying 10 percent of Weight Watchers.

Oprah has publicly shared her weight loss journey with supports over the years, but investing in Weight Watchers was a pleasant, yet unexpected next step. “Weight Watchers has given me the tools to begin to make the lasting shift that I and so many of us who are struggling with weight have longed for,” Oprah said in a statement. “I believe in the program so much I decided to invest in the company and partner in its evolution.” Stocks rose 105 percent after Oprah announced she would not only being investing, but also joining the Weight Watchers board. She has made roughly $300 million with the company since 2015.

2017 — In a candid moment, Oprah shows us why everyone needs a best friend like her.

A video of Oprah caringly, yet jokingly telling her best friend Gayle King that she needed to lotion her elbows was the best thing to happen to the internet that week. Oprah and Gayle’s friendship have been documented throughout the years from road trips to sit-down interviews. This was just a small reminder and rather funny reminder of how real their friendship is.

Kevin Durant: A letter to my neighborhood The NBA Finals MVP reflects on growing up, giving back and the pleasures of going home

I hail from Seat Pleasant, Maryland, a predominantly African-American town of about 5,000 people just east of Washington, D.C., that certainly has had its share of struggles. If I could talk to myself when I was a young man growing up there, I would say that having tunnel vision when you’re passionate about something is a gift and a curse. While I knew how bad my surroundings were, and how tough it is to make it out, I had a laser focus on achieving what was necessary to leave my community. I didn’t want to abandon my hometown, but there was always something going on: police brutality, poverty, crime. In order to get out of this mess, I ultimately had to turn a blind eye to what was going on. I had to ignore it. And I felt like basketball was the only way I could get out of that wreckage.

Looking back at my childhood, I wish I would have just opened my eyes. I lived in a 95 percent black neighborhood with 80 percent of us living in poverty. But I didn’t really have the maturity or the voice to get involved back then. Today, I realize that my achievements are rare for somebody from my neighborhood. Today, I know that I can give a lot of hope to people who feel like they don’t have a way out. While I have regrets that I didn’t realize this earlier, today I can make amends to my community by providing hope and joy to people who come from where I come from and that struggle the way I struggled. Now I am aware of the problems.

When we’re given the gift of a great environment where people care for us and support us, it is our duty to give it back. We need to invest in our own communities. Invest in our kids.

I am in an unusual place—I feel like I’m living two lives, one as an NBA player and another as a black man from an impoverished neighborhood.

After winning an NBA championship, I was in the optimal position to help inspire my hometown. I brought the trophy back last August and saw that the people in my neighborhood were happy about it. It meant everything to me that the people of Seat Pleasant showed up for my championship parade, especially because it was on a weekday in the middle of the day. Usually, people have to work and go provide for their families. I thought about my mom’s struggle and how she could have never shown up to that celebration back in the day. Seeing my community’s reaction to my success proves that if we’re put in good positions by being given the necessary help and resources, we can flourish.

There’s just so many loving, caring and amazing people in Seat Pleasant. But it’s difficult to sustain the foundation of happiness in our souls when our surroundings bring out ugliness. When we’re given the gift of a great environment where people care for us and support us, it is our duty to give it back. We need to invest in our own communities. Invest in our kids. I believe communities will blossom and our country as a whole will be better because of it.

There are many great people who are trying to fight their way out of the struggle. For people like me who come from that struggle, it’s relatively easy to give money back or say how much we care. It’s a tough job, however, for us to really put our feet on the ground and put our imprint on those communities. But it is not an unattainable ideal.

Sadly, back home there is little progress. People are stuck in the same cycle every day, surviving minute by minute. I have been blessed to see the other side. Once given financial freedom, the world opens up. Your eyes open up. Every community needs resources, and those resources give people opportunities to do things they are passionate about and get their minds focused in the right direction. It has a trickle-down effect: a better household, a better community and a better future for our kids.

If I could give some advice to the youth of Seat Pleasant, it would be to find something that you love and do it as if your life depends on it. It sounds cliché, but it’s really that simple. If you put your mind to it, have faith and seek support, all with the foundation of a strong work ethic, the world will open for you. And once the world is open for you, then the conversations with close friends and family about how we can effect further progress in our communities will come from your own fulfillment, joy and freedom. So try to find your passion every day. See what the world has for you.

Love,

Kevin Durant from Seat Pleasant

This story appears in ESPN The Magazine’s Feb. 5 State of the Black Athlete Issue. Subscribe today!

What does it mean to be black and play sports? It’s a question that demands you consider athletes in full, starting with their intellect

Two years ago, I interviewed Kareem Abdul-Jabbar on the main stage at the National Book Festival before an appreciative crowd in the nation’s capital. We were backstage waiting to go on, and Kareem, an introspective man not known for small talk, -surprised me by asking where I was from.

Reflexively, thinking he meant my professional home, I began to tell him what I did at The Undefeated and before that at The Washington Post. He cut me off.

“No, where are you from? Where are your people from?”

I explained my Wichita, Kansas, roots and my dad’s decision to move the family to Washington, D.C., during the early 1960s to pursue a career in geology. This piqued Kareem’s curiosity, as he understood the barriers countless African-Americans have faced in so many professions and how often sports and entertainment have defined our achievement.

Kareem is well-read, the author of 14 books and numerous insightful columns, a Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient whose interests range from World War II to the Harlem Renaissance. He is an exemplar of the most unexplored and underreported dimension of black athletes: their intellect.

Interviewing Kareem on The Daily Show recently, Trevor Noah remarked: “It’s almost like NBA all-time leading scorer is No. 6 on your résumé. You have lived quite an accomplished life.”

We are proud at The Undefeated to collaborate with ESPN The Magazine on this special issue, State of the Black Athlete, a glimpse into the creativity, struggles and brilliance of African-Americans in sports. We understand these athletes’ quest to be seen and comprehended beyond high-flying dunks and celebratory end zone dances, to have their minds considered fully.

Consider John Urschel, with expertise in spectral graph theory and high dimensional data compression, deciding to retire from the Baltimore Ravens at age 26 to complete his doctorate in math at MIT. Or Jaylen Brown of the Boston Celtics, who taught himself to play piano, learned the Arabic alphabet and quotes parables from David Foster Wallace to reference Martin Luther King Jr., as he recently did in an interview with Donald McRae of The Guardian. Look at Venus Williams, who hasn’t just won 49 singles titles but fought for pay equity in her sport, including lobbying the British Parliament for equal prize money for male and female players at Wimbledon.

We are witnessing an extraordinary period of activism in sports, one driven by black athletes, but we also are watching some of the greatest sports stars on the planet show off their most undervalued asset: their minds. They’re tackling public policy issues, trekking to Capitol Hill, producing documentaries and books, and otherwise engaging in thoughtful contemplation about how best to use their influence.

Sometimes size or height, athleticism, poverty or just the limitations of your dreams propel you into a life of sports. The thrill of competition enlivens you, the cred you generate in your community empowers you. Athletic success opens doors that never seem to close—and you become defined by your physical skills. The world engages you through highlights and sound bites, and your Twitter feed. The rest of your genius—your tastes, passions, eclectic interests—the world sometimes misses. Or, sadly, just ignores.

I love the photos that French-born basketball veteran Boris Diaw posted on Instagram from the Grand Canyon, with his personal espresso machine resting on rock, the sun rising across the darkened sky. The lives of today’s black athletes are filled with experiences hard to imagine when Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was coming of age, or when Paul Robeson was excelling as an actor/singer/scholar/athlete/20th-century Renaissance man while being hounded by racism.

One of the most unheralded tales of black athletic triumph is the story of the 18 black Americans who made the U.S. Olympic team in 1936, captured in Deborah Riley Draper’s brilliant documentary Olympic Pride, American Prejudice. Everyone has heard about Jesse Owens winning four gold medals in Berlin during the height of Nazism. But there were 17 others on that team, including Ralph Metcalfe, who later was elected to Congress, and two women, sprinters Tidye Pickett and Louise Stokes.

Both black women also had made the 1932 U.S. Olympic team but were treated harshly by American teammates and never competed in the Los Angeles Games. They were replaced by whites on a relay team that won the gold—a rebuke that devastated them. Pickett went on to become an elementary school principal, and Stokes founded the Colored Women’s Bowling League—both saddened but unbeaten by the prejudice they encountered.

But what more could they have become?

I couldn’t help but think, as I was interviewing Kareem, that black athletes are having a great moment—on the rise in power, influence and confidence.

Had he been a foot shorter, Kareem says, he might have been a history teacher trying to figure out life after retirement. Instead, he has spent the three decades since he stopped dropping skyhooks on centers who couldn’t guard him crafting a vital second career: as an intellectual, an activist and an inspiring role model to black athletes interested in exploiting their brilliance. We’re all better off that Kareem grew that extra foot.

This story appears in ESPN The Magazine’s Feb. 5 State of the Black Athlete Issue. Subscribe today!

New documentary shows us that Lorraine Hansberry of ‘A Raisin in the Sun’ was one tough-minded woman ‘Sighted Eyes/Feeling Heart’ portrays a ‘left-wing radical’ who spoke truth to power

Here’s a phrase I bet you thought you’d never read: Be prepared to fangirl over Lorraine Hansberry.

Told ya.

Friday at 9 p.m., PBS is airing Sighted Eyes/Feeling Heart, a documentary on Hansberry, whose life story has been collapsed into a criminally incomplete Black History Month tidbit. She wrote A Raisin in the Sun, and then Sidney Poitier and Ruby Dee starred in the movie adaptation. At some point you watched it in middle school one February and didn’t pay much attention because it was in black and white. Or someone in your class cracked a joke about Poitier always being ashy.

But Hansberry was so much more. As Dee says in an interview in Sighted Eyes, “She seemed to know something about everything. She was a profound thinker.”

Thank goodness for director Tracy Heather Strain, who committed years to research and gathering the funds and archival footage necessary to make Sighted Eyes. The film transforms the memory of Hansberry from that polite woman who wrote one really important play to, as Hansberry’s friend Douglas Turner Ward deemed her, a “left-wing radical.”

I first saw Sighted Eyes at the Toronto International Film Festival last year, and about 20 minutes into it I scribbled in my notebook, “I think I love this woman.”

Hansberry had a wit that would have fit perfectly in today’s times, examining the traps of respectability politics and sending them up. Toward the end of her life, she bought a bucolic compound in a predominantly white area of upstate New York and winkingly named it Chitterling Heights. It was a nod, I think, to the efforts of her father to integrate Chicago’s then-white neighborhood of Woodlawn when she was 7. One of the formative experiences in Hansberry’s life was when a crowd gathered outside the Hansberry house in Woodlawn and someone threw a piece of mortar through their front window that just missed her head. What better way to throw a middle finger to white supremacy than to move into a neighborhood and give your house the blackest name you could think of?

Lorraine Hansberry surrounded by clapping African-American teens at Camp Minisink in upstate New York.

Courtesy of Gin Briggs/Lorraine Hansberry Properties Trust

Let’s not disregard the significance of A Raisin in the Sun. Hansberry crafted a play in 1959 about a family living on the South Side of Chicago that dared to show black people as, well, people and not buffoons, and she wrote it by drawing from her own experiences. But Hansberry was also a fearless agitator for civil rights, a feminist inspired by Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex, which she said “might very well be the most important work of this century,” a nervy woman who had mapped out a plan for her life by the age of 23 and miraculously stuck to it. She was privately queer and unapologetically black, and undoubtedly someone who would have transformed American culture even more had she lived past the age of 34 (she died of pancreatic cancer). Hansberry married Robert Nemiroff, a producer and champion of her work, in 1953. He left his white wife to be with her, and he was so devoted to her and in awe of her that even though they divorced in 1962, Nemiroff publicly served as Hansberry’s beard for many years.

Hansberry began her writing career as a journalist for the black newspaper Freedom, which was founded by Paul Robeson. She began writing about racism, sexism, poverty and imperialism, which caught the negative attention of one J. Edgar Hoover. Even as civil rights agitators were being identified and surveilled by the FBI, they persisted in their work, and Hansberry was one of them.

She bought a bucolic compound in a predominantly white area of upstate New York and winkingly named it Chitterling Heights.

Lorraine Hansberry holds hands and sings with singer Nina Simone and other activists at a pre-benefit gathering for the Student NonViolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in June 1963 in the home of activist/singer/actor Theodore Bikel.

Courtesy of Lorraine Hansberry Properties Trust

A group of black activists and artists assembled by James Baldwin to meet with Attorney General Bobby Kennedy included Hansberry, Harry Belafonte and Lena Horne. The May 1963 meeting was meant to pressure the Kennedy administration on civil rights or, at the very least, gain its sympathy.

Baldwin wrote about how frustrating the meeting was because rather than listen to what black Americans were enduring, particularly in the South, Kennedy became defensive, insisting that the Justice Department supported the civil rights movement. There was an undercurrent to his words intimating that those gathered who did not agree with him were ungrateful for the administration’s (frankly, rather meager) efforts.

Jerome Smith, a CORE activist who had been attacked and thrown in jail for protesting in Mississippi, bitterly recounted his experiences and refused to dress them up for the attorney general. He decried the Justice Department’s lack of action as activists were being beaten, arrested or worse.

“Mr. Kennedy, I want you to understand I don’t care anything about you and your brother,” Smith said. “I don’t know what I’m doing here, listening to all this cocktail party patter.”

Hansberry also refused to cower before the face of the American government. She didn’t worry about alienating what the group hoped could be its most powerful ally. Instead, Sighted Eyes recounts, she, too, gave Kennedy a piece of her mind.

“You’ve got a great many very, very accomplished people in this room, Mr. Attorney General,” Hansberry told Kennedy. “But the only man who should be listened to is that man over there,” she said, referring to Smith.

“I don’t know what I’m doing here, listening to all this cocktail party patter.”

Sighted Eyes is part of a trifecta of recent documentaries that have given us colorful new insights into the lives of those we often see in black and white. With What Happened, Miss Simone? and I Am Not Your Negro, about Baldwin, directors Raoul Peck and Liz Garbus produced chapters of an anthology about black intellectuals and artists who were contemporaries and friends. These directors give us insight into how the lives of Hansberry, Baldwin and Simone bled into each other, how their friendships provided solace and comfort to each other, how they lived as members of a community and not just as singular figures. They come alive.

Hansberry’s experiences, often told in her own words, come to life in Sighted Eyes thanks to voiceover from actress Anika Noni Rose reading from Hansberry’s journals and other archival material.

Strain, an experienced documentary filmmaker (I’ll Make Me a World, Race: The Power of an Illusion) and professor at Northeastern University became interested in Hansberry after seeing a community theater production of Hansberry’s play To Be Young, Gifted and Black in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. The play, assembled from Hansberry’s own words after her death, shares its name with the Nina Simone song, which Hansberry inspired Simone to write.

With Sighted Eyes/Feeling Heart, Strain has created a portrait of Hansberry that’s as complete and well-rounded as the portrait of black family life that Hansberry captured in A Raisin in the Sun. In doing so, she’s transformed Hansberry from more than just a pretty young playwright who died tragically young. She’s rightfully preserved her place in American history.

Neither Cornel West nor Ta-Nehisi Coates is giving us his best Black intellectual debate should be about more than name-calling

For the two of you not in the know, Cornel West scribed a scathing indictment of Ta-Nehisi Coates, blasting him for his supposed failures as a prominent black intellectual. Coates’ initial defiant response on Twitter gave way to him leaving the social media platform altogether, deleting his account.

Should older thinkers like West cede the black public intellectual landscape to younger cohorts like Coates? I’ve heard this question posed in personal interactions and have spotted people answering yes on social media.

The idea, to be honest, repulses me — telling a brilliant person like West to shut up and let others take the mic smacks me as downright odd. I believe this idea flows from the fraudulent and destructive notion that we black folk need representatives to stand on the mountaintop and air our grievances to white America. West, so this argument goes, prosecutes the wrong case, and thus he must be locked in a closet while others, who sing songs resonating better with our hearts, occupy center stage.

I could see if West engaged in racial betrayal, was a duplicitous Negro who could never be trusted to serve as an honest participant in our national race conversation. But that’s not the argument I’m wrestling with here. So, no, I can’t co-sign telling West to shut up, and neither should anyone else.

We should deal with West’s arguments as warranted. If his arguments hit with a whimper, as many claim, then defeating them should be easy, no?

Concentrate on that.


While seeing how black writers have responded to West’s piece, I have focused on one of the various tantalizing threads regarding this ordeal. I want to pull on it here.

Some maligned West for supposedly being fueled by petty jealousies and charged to Coates’ rescue like an overprotective parent. Since I have little way of determining what spurred him to compose his screed and don’t think his motives matter much, I will ignore this issue. If jealousy inspired his critiques, they could still be right. People fall victim to a basic logical fallacy, argumentum ad hominem: seeking to discredit an argument by discrediting the person making it.

I think many attacked West personally, in part, based on a belief that many black folk endorse: that we should eschew arguing in public, fearing how ill-intentioned white folk might employ secrets learned from internal debates to harm our interests. I’ve written about this at length before, so I feel free not to belabor the point. But, simply put, black folk must cease acting like we need to agree in public or reserve some conversations for times when nonblacks cannot hear us. This distorts intraracial dialogue, inhibiting our ability to debate strategies for full emancipation.

One issue I have noticed about black thinkers living today, as opposed to black thinkers who have long since died, is the unwillingness to critique black people in public. To read many black writers today is to get the sense they have nothing of note to utter to other black people beyond white supremacy debilitates us in this or that way.

I want to yell, “Do you have anything critical to say of your people? Do you think we are getting everything right? Can we improve our situation with any changes? Have you even contemplated these questions? If not, why are you even here?” A race writer whose every piece fits the black-folk-as-victim narrative needs to search for other stories reflecting the full complexion of our people.

Martin Luther King Jr. once wrote: “We must frankly acknowledge that in the past years our creativity and imagination were not employed in learning how to develop power. We found a method in nonviolent protest that worked, and we employed it enthusiastically. We did not have leisure to probe for a deeper understanding of its laws and lines of development. Although our actions were bold and crowned with successes, they were substantially improvised and spontaneous. They attained the goals set for them but carried the blemishes of our inexperience.”

Here, King examines himself, the movement to which he belonged, and his people. He noticed some good, some bad and some areas of improvement. And he put pen to paper and shared his thoughts with the world. This sort of thinking, regrettably, is in shorter supply now, to our people’s detriment.

I think those who most stridently defended Coates did so, at least in part, because they fail to understand the full role of the black intellectual: One must train the microscope outward as well as inward.

Many black folk are catching hell right now, writhing in pain, searching for an avenue for an improved future. We will never help those of us struggling most if we fail to examine ourselves critically and be willing to chastise when necessary.


Now let’s examine West’s piece on the merits. On the whole, I found it to be sloppily written and sloppily argued. He makes two basic points. One undeniably fallacious. One undeniably correct.

First, he argues that Coates represents the “neoliberal wing” of the “black freedom struggle.” He fails to define what he means by neoliberal. I know the term as a purely economic one, but he’s using it in a newer sense as reflected in recent scholarship. According to Michael Harriot of The Root, West once defined neoliberal as such:

Well, “neoliberal” is somebody of any color who sees a social problem and does three things; privatize, financialize and militarize. You’ve got a problem in the schools, privatize the schools, push back public education. Bring in the financiers, the profiteers. Make money on the test, make money on the teachers while you push out the teachers unions, and then you militarize the schools. You bring in security. We’ve got precious young brothers and sisters in the ‘hoods going to schools like you and I going through the airport. That’s the militarization of the schools. Police, the same way. Outsource, militarize right across the board, so that a neoliberal is somebody who is obsessed with markets.

If that’s the definition, West must demonstrate how Coates meets it. He founders.

West writes that Coates remains silent on drone strikes, the assassinations of U.S. citizens with no trials, bombings in Muslim countries, further adding that in Coates’ writing, he sees “no serious attention to the plight of the most vulnerable in our community, the LGBT people who are disproportionately affected by violence, poverty, neglect and disrespect.”

Let’s just say for the sake of argument that West captures each characterization correctly, although he doesn’t. West still hasn’t proven Coates is a neoliberal. How does Coates support privatization, financialization and militarization? By West’s own admission, Coates is guilty of silence — that is, Coates does not write sufficiently about these topics. Coates can only be a neoliberal by articulating the neoliberal viewpoint, not by insufficiently critiquing it. West’s argument fails on basic logic grounds.

Second, West contends that Coates “fetishizes white supremacy.” He does, and this comes from someone who once, arguably, committed the same sin.

Merriam-Webster defines a fetish as “an object (such as a small stone carving of an animal) believed to have magical power to protect or aid its owner.” This line of thought hurtles through many of Coates’ pieces. He actually described white supremacy and whiteness as “eldritch energies,” a cartoonish way of describing anything that exists in the real world. By depicting white supremacy as some unearthly power, he glosses over the day-to-day processes by which white supremacy was created and is sustained. It is not of a celestial origin but distinctly human in inception and continuation. And that which humans create, humans can destroy.

Coates harbors pessimism regarding white supremacy, believing its life will continue unimpeded. Time may prove him right. But he commits a logical error of his own in believing that black life cannot improve if white supremacy holds steady. White supremacy does not determine the status of the race. To contend otherwise is to deny that black people are moral agents. Perhaps if Coates understood that white supremacy lacks the power he infuses it with, he would perceive this, and other things, too.

I hope, for the future, Coates and West can dedicate themselves to giving us their best, because we aren’t getting it right now from either.

Former NFL linebacker Aaron Maybin’s new book, ‘Art Activism,’ is an ode to Baltimore and its challenges Former first-round pick includes his own paintings, photography and poetry

The words and images are searing. They speak to the destructive nature of poverty, miseducation and murder. But they also speak to the power of perseverance and the indomitable spirit that has always allowed African-Americans to find a way out of no way.

Those are but a few of the themes captured in the new book Art Activism, the product of the restless mind and talented hands of former NFL linebacker and Baltimore native Aaron Maybin. The work is both an ode to Maybin’s hometown and a lament of the city’s many challenges. He uses his paintings, photography, poetry and prose to convey both the pride and pain of Baltimore.

In a powerful open letter to his city, Maybin compares Baltimore to that girl from around the way: maybe a little ratchet with a little too much attitude, but with that mix of smarts, moxie and sexy that never allows her man to stray too far. “Sometimes you love her, sometimes you hate her, sometimes you want to light her on fire; but you always stay loyal to her,” Maybin writes.

More than a few people wanted to set Baltimore on fire in 2015 after the death of Freddie Gray while he was in police custody. During the uprising, Maybin grabbed his camera and went into the streets to document what he saw. Inspired, he also painted and wrote. It was only later that he decided to pull his photos, artwork and writing together into a book. The result is a collection that he hopes will add to the national conversation about what racial injustice looks like in the 21st century and how we should address it.

“I don’t profess to have all the answers. I don’t profess to know where to go,” Maybin said in an interview. “But I believe I raise a lot of questions.”

He also offers some suggestions, even if few would call them novel. He wants black churches to do more to lift up the city. He wants lawmakers to put more money into a public school system that does not have enough money to address the problems of its students. He would like to see more economic development in poor communities, and he wants employers to pay a living wage to workers.

He would like to see more drug treatment centers, and “more than anything else, we need to STOP KILLING EACH OTHER!!! How can we expect the outside world to value our lives when we don’t value them ourselves?” he writes. He also would like to see an end to the poverty, the blight, the drug addiction and the hopelessness that he sees as the root of Baltimore’s more than 300 murders a year.

Maybin, 29, was an All-American linebacker at Penn State and a 2009 first-round draft choice who made an estimated $15 million during a four-year NFL career that fell far short of lofty expectations.

But he was an artist and writer long before he played football. Maybin started studying art when he was still in elementary school, and he painted his first public mural when he was 11. Coming up, he also played the saxophone, acted in plays and sang in the choir. He was 6 years old when he read a poem he wrote for his mother’s funeral.

“Poetry for me was always a form of therapy,” Maybin said.

As Maybin started growing into a frame that eventually expanded to 6-foot-4 and nearly 240 pounds, he started playing football. By the time his family moved to a Baltimore suburb for his high school years, his goal was to play in the pros. But he also knew he would return to his art.

Some critics of his underwhelming professional football career have said that Maybin’s outside interests robbed him of the single-minded focus that transforms great athletes into great players. “Maybe there’s something to that,” he said. “[But] the game has always been a game to me. My family, my health, my mental stability have always been more important to me.” Not only that, but Maybin said he feels “more fulfilled in the aftermath of my career than I did as an actual athlete.”

Still, he has no regrets about his detour into football. “Without the platform that football created and the money I made, I would never be able to have the same impact that I am having now,” said Maybin, who heads a foundation that works to enhance art education to Baltimore schools. “Once people say ‘former first-round pick,’ then people start to listen.”

Maybin sees his new book, which is available on Amazon and at select Baltimore-area bookstores, as a weapon against injustice. “I try to use my platform as a basis for social critique,” he said. “I hope this book can start a dialogue, not just in my bubble, but with people across the aisle from me.”

Rhyme by rhyme, a street cop slings his story

Patrol Officer Quincy Iverson The Man on the street 26 years in uniform (retired)

“I get that hate from both sides I can’t do no good. Too black for the badge, too blue for the hood.”“I get that hate from both sides, I can’t do no good. Too black for the badge, too blue for the hood.”

Black and Blue: A rap soundtrack for a young thug’s journey to the police force

When the lieutenant knocked on the door for the background check, Quincy Iverson was blasting N.W.A. through his stereo speakers and drinking his second 40-ounce of the day. He was four months out of the Army, a newlywed, working as a Sears carpet cleaner and in need of a better job. Iverson let the white cop in and turned down the music.

Three decades later, Iverson still isn’t sure how he got hired by the Akron Police Department. He had a juvenile record from teenage stunts like stealing from the mall. He flunked eighth grade after a house fire forced him to relocate to a hostile neighborhood and fight his way home most days. At 5-foot-5½, he worried about meeting the height requirement. He dreamed of becoming a famous rapper, not a cop. “But the grace of God, some way, somehow, they hired me,” Iverson said.

Before retiring in September, Iverson, 50, spent 26 years as a patrol officer on the same hardscrabble streets where he grew up, got married and raised his own three children. Akron’s population of 198,000 is 30 percent black and has been declining since tire manufacturers such as Goodyear and Firestone began moving factories elsewhere. The poverty rate (26 percent) and murders (30 in 2016) are rising. The police force of 450 officers is about 20 percent black. Despite Akron’s problems, Iverson reps his city as hard as native son LeBron James has. He can hardly walk a block without someone giving him some dap or a hug — and he’s not going anywhere.

Iverson spent his entire police career on the frontlines, riding in a patrol car, responding to trouble of all kinds. He’s grateful he never had to fire his weapon, although he was shot at several times. He’s arrested more young brothers than he can remember, including some who thanked him years later. Iverson often felt tugged in opposite directions by his loyalty to the black community and his responsibility to his job. It’s the same mix of emotions he felt over the police killing of Tamir Rice, 40 miles up the road in Cleveland. He was saddened by another black life snuffed out, and disagreed with how the white officer rushed up to 12-year-old Tamir in his patrol car, rather than checking out the situation more carefully. But Iverson also knew that if the only information he received on a call was black male with a handgun, and that suspect made one wrong move, “the kid probably would have got it. He reaches, I don’t have a split second to say, ‘Hopefully this gun ain’t real.’ How Scarface say, you only got a minute to pray and a second to die? It’s a bad get-down, bruh, either way.”

Rap has always been Iverson’s oxygen. He started performing in junior high school and was inspired by lyrical pioneers such as the Treacherous Three, Kool Moe Dee, Rakim, LL Cool J and Big Daddy Kane. His crew gained some local fame, but a rapper in Akron before the internet, and more than a decade before Cleveland’s Bone Thugs-N-Harmony put Ohio on the hip-hop map, had little chance of going national. And Iverson’s day job didn’t help matters, once N.W.A. F’d tha Police and rap became dominated by those who broke the law, not enforced it. Iverson concealed his identity behind a rap name, the Copley Road Bully, that combined his neighborhood and his childhood misbehavior, and he never stopped writing lyrics, making beats and recording songs.

The Undefeated asked Iverson to describe, through his music, his career on the police force. And we followed him with cameras through Akron’s streets, from his favorite breakfast diner to the family gathering spot of his sister’s house, to document Iverson’s story of being “too black for the badge, too blue for the ’hood.”