Daily Dose: 6/19/17 Another black person killed by police, this time in Seattle

The fight continues in Washington, D.C. And no, this one has nothing to do with President Donald Trump. On Monday, the Washington Redskins secured a small victory with a Supreme Court ruling that deemed the law preventing the team from registering trademarks with the word “Redskins”— or “offensive trademarks” — as unconstitutional. The controversial team name has been a topic of discussion for decades, but it intensified in May 2013 after team owner Dan Snyder staunchly vowed to never change it. Months later, President Barack Obama joined in, adding, “If I were the owner of the team and I knew that there was a name of my team — even if it had a storied history — that was offending a sizable group of people, I’d think about changing it.” A year later, the Trademark and Trial Appeal Board ordered the cancellation of the Washington Redskins’ six federal trademarks. Now, three years and several court appearances later, we’re here. Snyder is “thrilled,” according to reports, and team attorney Lisa Blatt praised the court’s decision. The team may have won the war, but something tells me this battle is far from over.

Oh, wait! There is Trump news. Within a few hours of releasing a statement acknowledging Juneteenth, the oldest and most well-known celebration honoring the end of slavery in the United States, the internet quickly drew comparisons between President Trump’s issued statement and former president Barack Obama’s — one focused more on freed slaves, while the other praised men who allowed slaves to be freed. As the statement continues to be debated, most social media users have moved on to criticizing the president’s silence after an overnight van attack in London that left one pedestrian dead and 10 others wounded.

Another day, another non-conviction. If you haven’t heard about the infuriating yet unsurprising acquittal of Officer Jeronimo Yanez in the shooting death of Philando Castile last July. The verdict prompted marches and calls to action across the country. Castile, a 32-year-old cafeteria supervisor and registered gun owner, reached into his pocket to get his license. Fearing that Castile was retrieving a weapon, Yanez shot him multiple times and walks away a free man, as we’ve witnessed so many times before. The same song will continue: The national outrage, pain and frustration and personalized hashtags will roar, then quiet until the next unfortunate encounter.

Two days later, another police-involved shooting. A pregnant woman was fatally shot by two officers in front of several children in Seattle after reporting a burglary earlier that morning. According to police, 30-year-old Charleena Lyles displayed a knife before the two officers opened fire. Although the incident is still under investigation, family members told media outlets that Lyles had been suffering with mental health issues for the past year. The children inside the apartment at the time of the shooting were not injured.

Jay Z adds context to the recent 4:44 ads. We’ve all seen the mysterious salmon-colored background with the bold, black 4:44 displayed directly in the center. The ads, which simultaneously popped up in New York and Los Angeles and on several websites two weeks ago, sent social media sleuths into a frenzy. The only clue: the word “Tidal” in the coding that accompanied the ads. Many speculated it might be a new project from the proud papa of newborn twins, and others hoped it would be specifically about the twins.

Jay Z will be dropping a new album on June 30 as a result of a new partnership between Tidal and Sprint. In addition to the new music, the partnership will support the 1Million Project to help 1 million low-income high school students across the United States gain access to the internet. Free mobile devices and free high-speed wireless internet will be provided to participating students during their high school years.

It’s a win for all.

For the sake of black fatherhood, stop the war on drugs I get to celebrate Father’s Day with my dad after 27 years thanks to President Obama

“Your father WAS a good man, Nique. He always looked out for folks.”

“Boy, Ralph could run. You run just like him. He WAS a legend.”

“You Ralph son? He HAD a brain on him. Smart. Sorry to see that happened to him.”

Growing up in Toledo, Ohio, and playing sports made these common sayings that were spoken to me. My father, Ralph Warren, was a present memory in my life but a very distant one to friends and admirers. Hearing this, you might assume my father was deceased — maybe an accident, a bullet or maybe bad luck happening to a man many had fond memories of. That wasn’t the case at all. My father was alive and well living in Indiana, then Kentucky, then Illinois in a jail cell, sentenced to life in prison for a nonviolent drug offense. He wasn’t deceased, but his sentence would ensure that he would never see freedom. He would die in jail. DIE IN JAIL.

That had always hung over me with great pain, fear and anger. I would not be able to see my father grow old nor pass away in the comforts of his home because he would be in a federal prison cell. That is why on Jan. 17, 2017 — when President Barack Obama, mere days before his term was up, commuted my father’s sentence for drug trafficking and firearm charges after 27 years — I cried for hours knowing that I would know my father as a free man.


On Feb. 8, my father arrived back at the Greyhound bus station in Toledo, Ohio, where dozens of family members, including my mom and sibling, and a host of friends welcomed him back. I introduced him for the very first time to my daughter, Lois Marie. Since his release, he has edited and re-released his novel Target, begun working at a local auto supplier plant and, most importantly, spoken to recovering drug abusers and young men who have come into contact with the prison system. Together, my father and I are advocating for reduced sentencing and more funding for re-entry programs to local and federal legislators. Our lives have been affected by this “War on Drugs,” and we are on a mission to ensure it won’t reintensify.

Between 1970 and 2005, America’s prison and jail population ballooned from 300,000 to more than 2 million. America’s “War on Drugs” began under former President Richard Nixon in 1971 as a response to the increase in recreational drug use and abuse in the 1960s. Initial appropriations were geared to clinical and drug abuse prevention efforts, increased funding for prisons, directives for harsher sentences and aggressive law enforcement geared at drug cartels. It escalated under President Reagan, with the creation of mandatory minimum prison sentences in 1986 after an influx of crack cocaine in American cities targeted black and brown communities.

The American presidency from 1970 to 2005 focused on “Law and Order” to combat drug trafficking and violence, resulting in 1 in 9 black children currently having an incarcerated parent. Ninety-two percent of parents in prison are fathers, and an overwhelming proportion of these fathers are black.

Children of incarcerated parents are faced with trauma, higher chance of being in poverty, and increased rates of incarceration that create a cycle of destruction in the black community. Mass incarceration of black fathers limits the financial stability of families. Coupled with other racially prejudiced systems, mass incarceration plagues the stability of the black community.

Attorney General Eric Holder established the Smart on Crime initiative in 2014 to reduce mandatory minimum sentencing and push more funding to programs that decrease prison recidivism. Researchers from the Pew Charitable Trust agree that federal mandatory minimums don’t deter crime or reduce the number of people who return to jail. Directing prosecutors not to seek mandatory minimums for low-level and nonviolent offenses, the Obama administration’s commutation and pardon policies allowed thousands to be freed and reunited with families and society. Unfortunately, these policies came to an end with the presidential election of Donald Trump and appointment of Jeff Sessions as attorney general.

In May, Sessions directed federal prosecutors to seek the harshest indictments for drug offenses and reinstated mandated federal minimums for all charges, which includes the “three strikes” provision when disclosing to judges all facts pertaining to sentencing. This reversal of policy is not just a setback for best practices in federal prosecutions and has widespread opposition by both political parties, but it is also a setback for black fathers and their children.

Current policies for the Justice Department directed by Sessions empower prosecutors to use the full power of the federal government to enact harsh sentences for low-level and nonviolent crimes and keep the current prison population, the world’s largest, growing. We know that federal sentencing grossly prosecutes a high proportion of black males, leaving their children fatherless, without dual incomes and suffering from extreme trauma. There are no winners in this scenario, only losers. The appearance of being tough on crime from the DOJ will not reduce crime, but it will ensure millions of fatherless children who will be at risk of committing crimes themselves.

If 21st-century federal sentencing policies mirror the past 30 years of “Law and Order” mandates, we will continue to see our prison population rise and spend much-needed funding on housing prisoners instead of investing in communities, families and children. The annual cost of housing a prisoner outstrips the cost of tuition in states such as California, costing more than $75,000. Frederick Douglass in the 19th century said, “It’s easier to build strong children than broken men.” As prison and education costs rise, we as a nation have to make a choice of where our priorities lie. If we believe that families matter and children need fathers, mandatory minimums that target black men must be a policy of the past. We need to reinstate the commutation policy of the last administration so that imprisoned citizens are reinstated back to their communities.

This is the first Father’s Day I will spend with my dad in 27 years. I won’t take it for granted, because I know that many children won’t be able to celebrate it with their fathers.

They were, like me, waiting and waiting for that dream of seeing their fathers on this side of freedom. I am also vigilant for black fathers who will be targeted by the Trump administration’s arcane policies that invoke echoes of the past and have destroyed communities and families of color in the name of “Law and Order.”

On this Father’s Day, celebrate black fatherhood and work to protect it at all costs. I plan to strap my daughter into her stroller, put on my best running shoes and run just like my father, next to my father.

Jim Brown has no time for games Fifty years after standing with Muhammad Ali, the aging warrior is still working on his legacy of responsibility and economic empowerment

Jim Brown forgot his cane. A piece of breakfast is stuck to the front of his shirt. He has let his beard grow out, woolly and gray. It’s 7:39 a.m. outside the Cleveland Browns headquarters, across the street from Ohio Nut & Bolt Co. A backhoe has torn up the parking lot. Time to get to work.

The 81-year-old legend retrieves his walking stick from a black SUV, flanked by his wife, Monique, and loyal soldiers Rudolph “Rock Head” Johnson, James Box and Rob Wood. Everyone wears black except for Rock Head, a former Original Compton Crip, who is dressed in blue. They unload two rolling suitcases, one old-school valise without wheels and a raggedy cardboard box. Navigating past chunks of broken pavement, they enter the offices of the once-proud franchise.

Brown will not impart much football wisdom to his former team on this muggy day in May. No rah-rah to rouse the athletes after last season’s 1-15 debacle. His purpose here is as far removed from football as Cleveland is from its last NFL championship, in 1964, when Brown led the league in rushing for the seventh time, with 5.2 yards per carry.

Independent, intelligent and sometimes angry, Brown walked away from football at the peak of his abilities, for a movie career and to preach a gospel of economic empowerment, self-reliance and social justice. His thinking on those latter subjects is contained inside the suitcases: dozens of 142-page manuals titled The Amer-I-Can Program — The Responsibility of Self-Determination.

These are the textbooks for a 60-hour self-help course. They contain the heart and soul of Brown’s life and legacy. They illustrate both the greatness of Brown’s gifts and, after a half-century, their inevitable decline.

Thousands of people on three continents have benefited from Amer-I-Can since Brown founded it in 1988, an outgrowth of his earlier work with the Negro Industrial and Economic Union. Lives have been changed, even saved. But the Amer-I-Can foundation’s revenues have plunged 80 percent in the past few years, and far fewer people are studying the manual. Prominent staffers have been convicted of crimes. The curriculum is unavailable online and out of step with younger activists’ focus on structural racism and social media. Brown is hoping an infusion of cash from President Donald Trump’s slashed domestic budget can revive the program.

Still, he plows forward, dragging Amer-I-Can manuals from city to city with the determination that used to gain him as many yards after contact as before it. He says the program is far more meaningful than anything he did in the NFL.

This trip to Cleveland also shows that Amer-I-Can is fading away, along with the greatest football player of all time.

“The common concern of the group is that each of us helps the other become a better person.” – Amer-I-Can Trainee Manual, Page 2

“The youngsters now have to catch up and become more involved in making this a better world,” Brown tells me, referring to the Browns players and coaches, most of them in their 20s and 30s, who are gathered inside the auditorium-style team meeting room. An Amer-I-Can manual rests on each of the 126 chairs.

Brown, who is employed by the team as a senior adviser, steps to the front, clutching his cane with huge, gnarled hands. He wears a faded baseball cap, not the famous red, black and green kufi. You need to strain to hear his voice.

“Communities across the country need us to take more interest in what’s going on,” Brown says. He takes a moment to decry African-Americans killing each other. “But you are football players here this morning,” he continues, “so we’re gonna concentrate on giving you a philosophy that you might already have, but we’re also going to include community work in what we hope will be your motivation to be the greatest players you can be.”

The players give Brown their full attention. His football résumé demands it. In nine dominant NFL seasons, all with Cleveland, Brown never missed a game or practice. Playing the 1963 campaign with a broken big toe, he set a record of 1,863 rushing yards — in a 14-game season. He delivered so much punishment, many defenders feared tackling him. He still holds the career record of 104.3 rushing yards per game. He retired at age 29, coming off his fourth MVP season.

But one of Brown’s most significant accomplishments occurred two years after he left football. Fifty years ago, on June 4, 1967, Brown organized the Cleveland Summit, a gathering of star black athletes who came to quiz and ultimately support heavyweight boxing champion Muhammad Ali in his refusal to serve in the Vietnam War. The athletes Brown convened included Lew Alcindor, who would soon change his name to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar; Celtics great Bill Russell; Carl Stokes, soon to be elected Cleveland’s mayor and the first African-American to lead a major U.S. city; and football stars who would become bankers, radio station owners and a U.S. ambassador.

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.

Robert Abbott Sengstacke/Getty Images

After meeting with Ali, the 12 men stood in front of the cameras in downtown Cleveland, a united front of negritude that altered the course of the war, the civil rights movement and the nature of athlete activism.

“Can you imagine LeBron, Serena, Durant, Tiger, Simone Biles, Mayweather and Odell Beckham Jr. meeting to discuss the role of black athletes in the age of Trump?” says Leonard Moore, a University of Texas history professor. “That’s how powerful and impactful this meeting was.”

That meeting took place a few miles from the current Browns team meeting room, where the session is now being led by Box and Rock Head. The two facilitators will review two of the 15 chapters in the Amer-I-Can manual, which cover topics ranging from motivation and focus to family relationships and emotional control, plus details on how to behave in job interviews, set financial goals and avoid drugs. At every step, the program insists there are no excuses for failure: “Individual responsibility and determination are key factors,” it says. “Your success ultimately rests with you.”

Box steps to the front. “I grew up here in Cleveland, I’m 55 years old. I’ll just cut to the chase, we all men here. I spent 9 1/2 years of my life in the penitentiary, used to sell dope, gangbang, rob, steal, all that craziness.”

He discusses the “conditioning” he received as a child with no father and a mother addicted to heroin. Box speaks smoothly, without notes. He’s been working with Amer-I-Can for 27 years. He passes the mic to Rock Head, another Amer-I-Can veteran, who tells his own story of a misguided life, of the attitude change and motivation needed to succeed. Both facilitators use language straight from the manual. Both refer to Brown as their father.

At first, it seems like the presentation has little relevance for a team of highly paid athletes who must have had plenty of motivation and focus just to reach this room.

Then Box reaches Page 5, which he calls “the most intimate part of the training program.” It’s a list of 231 “feeling words.” Box tells the players he’s going to provide a topic, and they should say how it makes them feel.

“Father,” Box says.

The players start to open up. “I didn’t have a father,” one says. “He was a good guy,” says another. “Role model.” “Leader.” “Protector.” “I didn’t know him.”

“My father wasn’t there for the early part of my life. God was my father,” says linebacker Demario Davis (who was recently traded to the New York Jets). “But I was able to forgive, and now we’re best friends.”

Brown tells the players he saw his father only four times in his life. He asks for all the players without a good relationship with their fathers to raise their hand. About a dozen of the 100-plus men respond.

“The main ingredient to a lot of the problems we have in these streets is based on the fact that a lot of these young men do not have a father,” Brown says. “You’re an elite group of individuals. If you work together with other like-minded individuals, we can make a dent, a great dent, in the violence in our community. There are young people who need our help.”

Afterward, I ask Brown why he brought Amer-I-Can to the team.

“I know I could help them,” Brown says.

But Brown also needs help from the team — to keep Amer-I-Can going.

“We alone are responsible for the degree of financial stability that we create; we must not depend on, blame, or hold others responsible for our lack of monetary security. ” – Amer-I-Can Trainee Manual, Page 86

After giving the players a two-hour taste of Amer-I-Can, Brown and his crew met with Dee Haslam, who owns the team with her husband, Jimmy. Brown wants the team to take the full 60-hour curriculum and to help expand the program in the Cleveland community. Peter John-Baptiste, vice president of communications, said the team is trying to determine the best way to support Brown’s efforts.

In 2010, the nonprofit Amer-I-Can Foundation for Social Change had $1.15 million in revenue from grants, donations and contracts with local and state governments, according to public tax records. In 2014, the most recent year for which tax forms are available, the foundation had $182,489 in revenue — a drop of almost $1 million.

What happened? A decades-long contract worth six figures annually to teach the curriculum in Los Angeles County correctional facilities dried up. A major annual donor, shopping mall developer Mace Siegel, died in 2011. The former president of Amer-I-Can, Oregon State Police Lt. Col. Dean Renfrow, retired in 2011 and has yet to be replaced.

In Cleveland, the Amer-I-Can program lost support when Box was charged with inappropriate sexual contact with two women participating in a court-ordered program that he facilitated. He pleaded guilty in 2014 to attempted abduction, assault and unlawful restraint and was sentenced to three years of probation. In 2016, Cleveland Amer-I-Can staffer and former Browns receiver Reggie Rucker was sentenced to 21 months in prison for embezzling money from Amer-I-Can and other nonprofits.

The engine of Amer-I-Can has always been Brown. He raised a family of facilitators in cities across the country and improvised ways to fit his curriculum into existing endeavors at schools, prisons, community centers, even FBI training centers. Amer-I-Can’s only formal structure seems to be the curriculum itself. Dozens of Boxes and Rock Heads, from all walks of life, were drawn to Brown’s passion and empathy. His message of self-responsibility appealed to conservatives; his attacks on injustice excited liberals. Brown’s family and friends say he’s too proud to ask for money, but when the Hall of Famer showed up in a troubled city and talked up Amer-I-Can, rich folks found their checkbooks and politicians found room in their budgets.

From left, Pastor Darrell Scott, former professional football player Jim Brown and Omarosa Manigault arrive at Trump Tower, Dec. 13, 2016, in New York City. President-elect Donald Trump and his transition team are in the process of filling cabinet and other high-level positions for the new administration.

Drew Angerer/Getty Images

But the magic is wearing off. His fierce intelligence remains, but facts can slip and he is starting to forget things. He tells the Cleveland Browns that Amer-I-Can is 15 years old, instead of 29. He tells me that former President Barack Obama has never explained his feelings about his mixed racial background, which was the subject of Obama’s best-selling book, Dreams From My Father.

Rock Head used to be paid $6,000 per month as a facilitator. Now he’s driving an Uber and running a youth basketball foundation in California. Box’s salary has dried up too.

Most of Brown’s income comes from speaking engagements, memorabilia signings and his Cleveland Browns salary. Through Amer-I-Can, he and his wife paid themselves modest annual salaries of $18,000 to $50,000 from 2010-12. Brown’s salary was $120,000 in 2011, when revenues were $1.1 million. He was paid nothing in 2013, when revenues were $310,000, and nothing in 2014. Unless the Browns are paying, Brown often flies coach. On the trip for the team seminar, he stayed at the airport Sheraton.

Many members of the extended Amer-I-Can family told me there was money in Trump’s Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) budget for the program. Brown voted for Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, but after the election he accepted an invitation to Trump Tower to meet with the president-elect. He hosted an Amer-I-Can fundraiser in Washington, D.C., during the inauguration.

But specifics are scarce on the Trump budget promise. Monique Brown says Amer-I-Can has “basically been approved,” but she won’t elaborate. Messages left with HUD and the House committee overseeing the budget were not returned.

When I ask Brown how he thinks Trump is doing as president, a flash of his famous fight emerges. “What kind of question is that?” he growls.

“Trump is the president sitting in the seat of power … so my way of looking at my contribution or our contribution is that we can’t ignore that seat and just call names of the person that’s sitting in it,” he says. “Calling names won’t do anything.”

It’s right there in the manual: Your success ultimately rests with you.

“If I analyze myself, what am I doing?” Brown continues. “Not what Donald Trump is doing, what am I doing to make this a better country?”

“Some people who are conditioned at childhood never break through the blanket of suppression in order to achieve their full potential.”– Amer-I-Can Trainee Manual, Page 10

Swinton “Sweet Sue” Brown, a boxer, gambler and womanizer, left a few weeks after James Nathaniel Brown was born Feb. 17, 1936, on St. Simons Island in Georgia. Two years later, Theresa Brown left baby Jim with her mother and grandmother to work as a maid on Long Island, New York. Jim didn’t rejoin his mother until he was 8.

Sweet Sue lived down the street from Theresa with his new family. On the rare occasions that Sweet Sue visited, he argued bitterly with Theresa. “They would fight in one part of the room, and Jim would just sit there in another part of the room and not say a peep,” Ed Walsh, Brown’s high school football coach, said in Mike Freeman’s unauthorized biography of Brown.

After becoming a football star in the 1950s, Brown hit the sexual revolution and indulged to the fullest, including while he was married to his first wife, Sue, from 1958 to 1972. He appeared in his first film, Rio Conchos, in 1964, and became a movie star with 1967’s The Dirty Dozen. Brown filmed some of Hollywood’s earliest interracial love scenes. He bought a home in the Hollywood Hills above Sunset Boulevard, with a commanding view from his rear deck of Los Angeles and the Pacific Ocean, where he still lives today.

Publicity still portrait of American actors Jim Brown and actress Raquel Welch in the western drama ‘100 Rifles’ (20th Century Fox), 1969.

John D. Kisch/Separate Cinema Archive/Getty Images

In his 1989 autobiography, Out of Bounds, Brown devotes an 18-page chapter to his seduction methods, orgies he hosted at his home and his preference for petite women — the younger the better.

Near the end of Out of Bounds, Brown says he has “slapped women. … In a perfect world, I don’t think any man should slap anyone, and I don’t consider slapping people a sign of strength. In my case, it’s related to a weakness. If I’m dealing with someone, and they do something I feel is wrong, I’ll tell them that, and that I don’t like it. If they continue to provoke me, I’ll say, ‘Okay, you leave now, or leave me alone.’ That means we’re at an impasse, and I’m about to lose my temper. At that point, in that situation, I have slapped women, and put my hands on men. … I regret those times, I should have been more in control of myself.”

Authorities have accused Brown of violent acts seven times, five of them against women. Two accusations remained tattooed on his reputation.

One involves the model Eva Bohn-Chin, whom Brown met while filming The Dirty Dozen. In 1968, Bohn-Chin moved in with Brown when he also was dating Gloria Steinem. As Brown recounts in Out of Bounds, at home one night in L.A., “I slapped Eva and she slapped me back.”

Police found Bohn-Chin beneath the rear deck of Brown’s home. Authorities said Brown threw her over the railing. Brown maintains that after police arrived, Bohn-Chin jumped off the balcony trying to escape the situation.

Bohn-Chin gives a cryptic explanation in Spike Lee’s documentary Jim Brown: All-American. “He came toward me, and I found myself in the hospital the next day,” she said. “I was not able to jump. … I was a young, good-looking person who loved life. Why would I jump?” Brown was charged with assault with intent to commit murder, but charges were dropped after Bohn-Chin would not name Brown as her assailant.

The second incident came in 1999, when Monique Brown called 911 after her husband smashed the window of her unoccupied car with a shovel during an argument over whether he was having an affair. Brown was convicted of vandalism and served several months in jail rather than accept the sentence of counseling and community service.

By phone from Los Angeles, Monique Brown tells me that questions about domestic violence make her angry.

“The people that know Jim, obviously we’ve had our ups and downs like any other marriage, we’ve been together for 22 years, but more ups than downs. There’s no marriage of that length that hasn’t gone through things, but I’m far from abused.”

Jim and Monique met in 1995, when she was 21 and he was 59. Monique was a model making an appearance at a TV station in her native Buffalo, New York, that was interviewing Brown. The day after meeting Brown, she went to an Amer-I-Can meeting.

Monique Brown, now 43, majored in liberal arts at Denison University in Ohio. She speaks as passionately about Amer-I-Can as her husband does. They live in the Hollywood Hills home with their 15-year-old son, Aris; a 13-year-old daughter, Morgan; and two pit bulls adopted from a shelter. Brown has a mostly distant relationship with his three children with his first wife, as well as three children with three other women.

He’s no longer the same man who wanted to fight teammates over locker room debates or assaulted a golf partner over the placement of a ball. “He’s way more tolerant of differences and opinions,” Monique says. “He doesn’t have to have the last word or, things don’t always have to be a personal offense just because you disagree on certain things.”

Hall of Fame fullback Jim Brown poses with his wife Monique during the unveiling of his statue outside FirstEnergy Stadium prior to game the Baltimore Ravens and Cleveland Browns on September 18, 2016 at FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland, Ohio.

Nick Cammett/Diamond Images/Getty Images

“Having that purity in our hearts for what our purpose is that’s bigger than us has really been a unifying factor,” she says. “No matter what we’re upset at each other about, we’re still committed to what we’re doing. Like, yeah, you know what? You pissed me off, but that’s not gonna stop the work.”

As long as people are suffering, the work remains. The work will outlive Brown.

Will Amer-I-Can?

“It’s like understanding the secret of life that we’re all going to die,” Brown tells me. “Old age is a challenge, but when you’re fortunate enough to have your business in order, your family will be all right, you’ll leave something that can be built upon, and you go away.”

“I’m very happy because I think that my wife and the babies will be all right. I think my friends can build upon what we set up. I think the country can benefit, and consequently the world. When I say benefit, I’m not talking about changing the world or changing everything. I’m talking about just contributing to something positive.

“What age tells you is that it’s not complicated. It boils down to being the best person you can be and helping others wherever you can. What else can you do?”

“There is opportunity and room in the world for each one of us to make a contribution …” – Ameri-I-Can Trainee Manual, Page 34

Brown’s contribution is real. He conquered a violent game, then used that strength to help people from some of the most troubled pockets of America.

Rock Head was a hardened criminal with years of prison under his belt when he led a caravan of 60 Compton Crips to Brown’s house in 1991 as part of a peacemaking effort. But when he saw news cameras, he left in disgust. Brown kept phoning him, but the gangster wouldn’t answer. Finally, Brown got him on the phone and asked, “Are you a man, or a b—-?”

Rock Head recalls grabbing his .357 and rushing to Brown’s house. Brown answered the door.

“What did you say?” Rock Head demanded.

“I said are you a man, or a b—-? Are you gonna shoot me, or come inside and deal straight up with your problems?”

They talked for five hours and have been together ever since. When Rock Head’s daughter was shot and killed, when Rock Head himself survived being shot 11 times at point-blank range, Brown talked him off the ledge.

“He is my father,” Rock Head says. “When people ask what I do, I tell them I work for my dad.”

Erica “Tati” Carey grew up gangbanging with the Mansfield Hustlers in West Los Angeles. She was introduced to Brown through her longtime boyfriend Ronald “Loon” Barron. Around 2002, they began taking the Amer-I-Can curriculum together in a gang intervention program. It changed their lives. Their graduation ceremony was held at Brown’s home.

“Loon used to kill, steal and destroy. He ended up being one of the most effective gang intervention facilitators in all of America,” Carey says. “I was with him for 10 years. The program 1 million percent did it.”

Barron was killed in 2010 by a 16-year-old he tried to stop from writing graffiti on a wall. Carey now is a skin care specialist with her own line of products and celebrity clients such as Floyd Mayweather. “Amer-I-Can changed the way I make decisions,” she says. “It can change the perception of one’s entire life. You can change. It explains very specifically how to make a change.”

Amer-I-Can changed East Hartford High School in Connecticut, where the dropout rate plunged 50 percent after principal Steven Edwards secured a $50,000 per year state grant to offer the curriculum in the late 1990s. “We spend so much time on content and high-stakes testing, essential skills just don’t get taught that are needed not just to thrive, but survive in life. Amer-I-Can filled that void,” says Edwards, who is now an education consultant.

The program also helped keep good kids on track. “It was a head start of guiding me,” says Roy Roundtree, an assistant football coach at Indiana State University, who experienced Amer-I-Can at his middle school in Canton, Ohio. “I could have been on the wrong path. Growing up in the ’hood, you have a lot of distractions. I learned a lot of core values.”

Memories of these victories push Brown forward. He wants to duplicate as many as possible, change a few more lives before he’s gone. He wants his wife and Amer-I-Can children like Rock Head and Box to keep his legacy alive.

“If it’s not set up right, it will [fail],” admits Rock Head. “I’m worried. We all worried. We want to show that although the engine of Amer-I-Can is Jim Brown, that he does have enough guys that he respects and loves enough to run this program. I’ve been with him since ’91, ’92, never went back to jail, no trouble, never accused of anything. I’m a true example of change.”

But there is only one Jim Brown. Without his celebrity presence, without him carrying Amer-I-Can into ghettos and owners’ suites, the manual is a nice collection of inspirational quotes and pragmatic advice.

One man can only do so much. Your success, after all, ultimately rests with you.

When the players have left the meeting room, I ask Brown whether Amer-I-Can is his greatest accomplishment.

“I don’t think that way. That’s almost like standing back looking at yourself,” he says.

He gestures at the empty room. “This is the Cleveland Browns, man. That guy used to be Rock Head Johnson. We’re sitting here with Rock Head Johnson giving the Cleveland Browns a lecture. This guy was incarcerated. So was this guy,” he says, pointing at Box.

“But they’re sitting here now in a National Football League team headquarters. That’s not bad.”

The Obamas are now homeowners in the District of Columbia The $8.1 million home is the second most expensive in the neighborhood

Former President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama have been creating quite a buzz in their post-White House lives. From vacations in Tahiti to lavish trips to New York, the Obamas are living a seemingly carefree life. The most recent post-presidency report making waves on social media is the purchase of the home they have been renting: an eight-bedroom, nine-bathroom home in the ritzy Kalorama neighborhood in Washington, D.C. — two miles from the White House. On May 31, the deed on the Tudor-style mansion had been transferred from the owner to the Obamas.

This May 25, 2016, file photo shows a mansion in Washington’s Kalorama neighborhood. Barack and Michelle Obama bought the home, which they’ve been renting since the former president left office. Property records show the deed transfer was recorded on May 31.

AP Photo/Andrew Harnik

According to The Washington Post, the $8.1 million mansion is the second most expensive in the neighborhood. Amazon founder Jeffrey P. Bezos shelled out $23 million for his home in the same neighborhood. The couple had been renting a home in the area as their younger daughter, Sasha, who starts her junior year of high school this fall, finishes school at nearby Sidwell Friends School. The Obamas will also continue to own their home in the South Side of Chicago.

“Given that president and Mrs. Obama will be in Washington for at least another two and a half years, it made sense for them to buy a home rather than continuing to rent property,” Obama spokesman Kevin Lewis told the Chicago Sun-Times.

The Obamas join a list of politicians and public figures who call the Kalorama neighborhood home, including President Donald Trump’s daughter Ivanka, and her husband, Jared Kushner, as well as Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson.

Photos of the mansion can be viewed here.

In another White House surprise, Trump declares June as African-American Music Appreciation Month Where were you when Trump announced he liked black music?

On the surface, this is hilarious. Not like, “Oh, I’m so pleased with this piece of humor,” but more of an “every time I think I couldn’t imagine something more ridiculous, it happens and my only choice is to laugh” kind of funny.

Since we’re already in a good mood, let’s take a look at this press release, never mind the content of the declaration itself. It should be noted that this time last year President Barack Obama did the same thing, in case you were wondering where the motivation for this move came from.

“Songs by African-American musicians span the breadth of the human experience and resonate in every corner of our Nation — animating our bodies, stimulating our imaginations, and nourishing our souls,” the Obama release read. “In the ways they transform real stories about real people into art, these artists speak to universal human emotion and the restlessness that stirs within us all. African-American music helps us imagine a better world, and it offers hope that we will get there together.”

President Donald Trump’s declaration went so far as to specifically reference Chuck Berry, Dizzy Gillespie and Ella Fitzgerald. It’s also double-spaced and misspells the word “canon” as “cannon,” but that’s a different story altogether. How Kendrick Lamar, Maxwell and the Carolina Chocolate Drops were left off this list, who knows. In all seriousness though, the thought of the president sitting around jamming to black music of yesteryear is quite the exercise.

https://twitter.com/BraddJaffy/status/869967985800339456

Wake us up when the president is actually inviting black musicians to play in the White House in front of his friends and family. This guy is always here, right on time.

13 documentaries to dive into this summer — on Netflix, PBS, or at the cinema A Baltimore step team. Dr. Dre. A woman wrestler. Freedom of the press. This summer’s docs aim to entertain — and educate.

If you’re looking for deep dives into real-life information to go alongside the usual summer offerings of massive explosions and budget-busting superhero fights, we’ve got just the thing. There’s Stanley Nelson’s latest project focusing on historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) and Step, the film about a group of girls on a Baltimore step team that netted raves at Sundance. Debuting in theaters Aug. 11 is Whose Streets?, the film from artist-activists Sabaah Folayan and Damon Davis about the killing of Ferguson, Missouri, teen Michael Brown and the aftermath of his death. If the date sounds familiar, it’s because the film is opening on the anniversary of Brown’s death.

There’s a wide range of subjects to peek at this summer, both unfamiliar and not, with edifying works that will leave you a little bit more knowledgeable about the world than you were when you walked into the auditorium to see them.


Unacknowledged | May 9

Director: Michael Mazzola

Remember the warm, fuzzy feeling of hope and intrigue that you felt after walking out of Arrival? Well, Unacknowledged is a film about aliens too, although it will likely leave you feeling uneasy, paranoid and maybe more than a little willing to don a tricornered hat made of Reynolds wrap. Unacknowledged bears a tenor not unlike Alex Gibney’s explosive 2016 documentary Zero Days — they both set about to reveal things the U.S. government purportedly doesn’t want you to know, and in the case of Unacknowledged, it’s the government’s apparently vast secret apparatus directed at all things extraterrestrial. Assuming you believe in that sort of thing, Unacknowledged boasts footage of UFOs and, in an effort to distance itself from the inventions of supermarket tabloids, interviews with government officials. At the center of the film is Steven Greer, founder of the Disclosure Movement, which agitates to get the government to release whatever information it has about aliens and their contact with humans. This movie is now available to stream on Google Play, iTunes and Amazon Video.

Dumb: The Story of Big Brother Magazine | June 3

Director: Patrick O’Dell

In every generation, there’s a group of maniacs who insist upon rule-breaking, not in the name of some sort of principled stand for freedom but simply because they’re a bunch of roustabout, devil-may-care libertines. And that’s basically the characterization of the skateboard fanatics behind Big Brother magazine. The ideological predecessor and inspiration for Jackass, Big Brother was a chronicle of all tricks great and stupid, instructing its readers in the art of hell-raising, interspersed with the usual NSFW sex stuff about Big Brother-certified hotties. In short, it was sought-after contraband for teenage boys before YouTube, or The Man Show, or Tosh.0. The movie will be available to stream on Hulu.

The Defiant Ones | July 9

Director: Allen Hughes

Hughes (Menace II Society, Dead Presidents) followed Dr. Dre and Interscope records co-founder Jimmy Iovine for three years, resulting in a four-part HBO documentary that shares a name with the 1958 film starring Sidney Poitier and Tony Curtis. Iovine was instrumental in the astronomical success of Beats by Dre headphones, and the two men’s professional partnership is one that’s netted many millions for both. Hughes’ look at their empire includes interviews with Dre’s protege Eminem, plus Nas, Ice Cube, Gwen Stefani, Tom Petty, Trent Reznor, Snoop Dogg, Iovine’s business partner David Geffen, and Bono. Promos for the documentary series have promised never-before-seen footage of recording sessions with N.W.A, J.J. Fad and Eazy-E.

City of Ghosts | July 14

Director: Matthew Heineman

One of the challenges of America-centered rhetoric about Syria and the Islamic State group: It’s generally framed as a discussion of how what’s going on there affects the interests of the United States. But City of Ghosts, the latest film from Cartel Land director Matthew Heineman, is a searing look at the people who are most directly victimized and terrorized by ISIS: other Muslims, particularly those who refuse to pledge allegiance to the group’s extremist ideology. Heineman’s film follows those who are risking their own lives to document and stop ISIS’s campaign of terror, and who risk the lives of their families to do so.

Step | Aug. 4

Director: Amanda Lipitz

If you liked The Fits, chances are you’ll enjoy Step, Amanda Lipitz’s look at a real-life step team providing hope, confidence and motivation to a group of impoverished Baltimore teen girls, which netted admirable buzz and even better reviews at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. With a cast of compelling subjects, Step reels you in as the seniors on Baltimore Leadership School for Young Women strive to become the first individuals in their families to attend college.

Whose Streets? | Aug. 11

Directors: Sabaah Folayan and Damon Davis

Even the release date of Whose Streets? — which coincides with the anniversary of the death of Mike Brown, the teen slain in 2014 by former Ferguson, Missouri, Police Officer Darren Wilson — makes a statement. Whose Streets is a story about not just Brown’s killing but also the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement and the violent reaction to news that Wilson would not be indicted for killing Brown. The story is told from the viewpoint of those who were on the ground in Ferguson — Folayan identifies herself as an activist — and serves as a counterweight to national media struggling to fairly and accurately cover the result of decades of injustice that came to define black life in Ferguson. After Whose Streets? premiered at Sundance this year, film critic Nick Allen declared it the documentary he’ll recommend when people ask about the Black Lives Matter movement in 50 years.

Wrestling With Chyna | release TBA

Director: Erik Angra

Even if you weren’t a consummate wrestling fan, it was nearly impossible during the late ’90s not to have encountered Joanie Laurer — although you likely knew her as Chyna, the muscular, 5-foot-10 star of the WWF, and wrestling’s “Ninth Wonder of the World.” Angra takes a look at the tumultuous life and career of Laurer, from her struggles to reconcile her career and physique with pressure to look and appear traditionally feminine, to the struggles with drugs that led to her 2016 death at age 46. Angra captures Laurer as a smart, self-aware, tortured figure, including footage of an interview with Laurer days before her death. Wrestling With Chyna is a sober look at one of pro wrestling’s most magnetic performers just as hype begins to surge for Glow, Netflix’s forthcoming dramedy series about female wrestlers.

Served Like A Girl | release TBA

Director: Lysa Heslov

In recent years, there has been a lot of discussion about the specific challenges many female soldiers face, whether it’s a military structure not exactly conducive to identifying and punishing perpetrators of sexual assault or the debate over women serving in combat roles. But less attention is given to female veterans returning from war. In her debut feature, which premiered this year at SXSW, Heslov follows the lives of five female vets as they compete for the title of Ms. Veteran America. Yes, it’s a pageant, but it’s also more than Miss Congeniality with combat fatigues: The pageant serves as a fundraising event for homeless female vets.

Tell Them We Are Rising: The Story of Black Colleges and Universities | release TBA

Directors: Stanley Nelson and Marco Williams

For so long, education has held a particular significance in the black American community: valued as an engine of freedom, social uplift and economic advancement. While recent studies show education is not a salve for the racial wealth gap, Stanley Nelson and Marco Williams take an in-depth look at the importance of HBCUs, historically and culturally, beginning with the rise of such schools during Reconstruction. Nelson is perhaps best known as the director responsible for Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution and here, with Williams, he delivers another chapter of black history on film, in the exact moment that chronically underfunded and undervalued HBCUs are facing new threats and uncertainty about their futures.

500 Years | release TBA

Director: Pamela Yates

Bursting with color and inspiration, 500 Years examines the aftermath of the conviction of former Guatemalan President José Efraín Ríos Montt, who stood trial in 2013 for genocide and crimes against humanity. The title draws its name from the five centuries of violent apartheid to which the indigenous Mayans of Guatemala have been subjected, a subject Yates examined in the 1983 film When Mountains Tremble and again in 2011 with Granito: How to Nail a Dictator. Now, the Mayans face new challenges as they assert their voice politically — namely, destruction of their homeland from multinational corporations seeking to mine the land and control their water with hydroelectric dams. Yates, a familiar and regular presence at Sundance, is an accomplished director when it comes to telling the stories of people living under repressive and unjust regimes. Besides her epic trilogy following Guatemala, she’s explored the subject in The Reckoning: The Battle for the International Criminal Court, and in 2015 told the story of political documentary filmmaker Haskell Wexler.

Give Me Future | release TBA

Director: Austin Peters

Granted, a whole concert documentary about the electronic dance music group Major Lazer sounds, well, eye-roll-worthy, but Peters manages to sneak in more than a little bit of a look at Cuban youth culture and politics. Turns out Major Lazer was the biggest American name allowed to perform in Cuba in 2015, not long after President Barack Obama began normalizing relations with the country. Besides following Diplo, Jillionaire and Walshy Fire behind the scenes, Give Me Future offers a glimpse into what it’s like to live in a place that for so long has been largely immune to America’s most potent export of all: its pop culture.

40 Years of Rocky: The Birth of a Classic | release TBA

Director: Derek Wayne Johnson

Forty years after the release of the film that came to define Sylvester Stallone’s career, director Derek Wayne Johnson (Broken Blood, John G. Avildsen: King of the Underdogs) captures the actor and Rocky director John G. Avildsen discussing work on the most recognizable boxing movie of all time. Johnson brings a passion to the story of Rocky and Stallone that practically makes him the Ken Burns of the subject. Besides 40 Years, Johnson is also responsible for a biographical documentary about Avildsen and another yet-to-be completed project about singer-songwriter Frank Stallone, Sylvester’s younger brother.

Nobody Speak: Trials of the Free Press | June 23

Director: Brian Knappenberger

The result of Hulk Hogan’s 2013 lawsuit against Gawker Media was a chilling one for journalists. Financially backed by venture capitalist and PayPal founder Peter Thiel, Hogan sued the Nick-Denton-founded media company for invasion of privacy. With a $140 million judgment hanging over the company’s head, Gawker was forced to declare bankruptcy, sell itself to Univision and settle with Hogan for $31 million. Knappenberger’s (We Are Legion, The Internet’s Own Boy) film, which will air on Netflix, seeks to put the lawsuit and its fallout in a broader context: Thiel’s involvement in the case set a dangerous precedent. Don’t like what a news organization says about you? Find someone rich enough to help you sue them out of existence.

Activist Brittany Packnett is woke, and she’s empowering others too Her journey of self-discovery fuels her passion to fight for education and black lives and against depression

Culture, education, social and racial activism have all been parts of Ferguson, Missouri, activist and educator Brittany Packnett’s life since she was a toddler. She remembers seeing pictures of herself with her parents at rallies. The photos were a foreshadowing that she wouldn’t escape kismet.

Some 20 years later, she just may be the face of modern-day wokeness.

Packnett, 32, said she doesn’t consider herself famous. She considers herself to be just visible.

“I know I’m more visible than I thought I would be. I didn’t set out for this. I didn’t seek fame or visibility. I’m not an entertainer. I’m not an athlete. I’m not someone who said, ‘I want to be a star.’ I really just love my people a lot. And I love black children a lot. And I want to see us live. I want to see us thrive. I want to see us enjoy the kind of life that our ancestors fought for. And that’s the way that I was raised. I feel like every time I’m able to access some of that joy, I try to hold on to it in my personal life. I just want to see us all be able to live lives of full humanity, ’cause that’s what we deserve. And then all of this other stuff happened. So yeah, it still is a shock for me.”

Packnett is a regular guest on fellow activist DeRay Mckesson’s podcast, Pod Save the People. The two formed a friendship because of their activism. She was recently named one of Essence’s 100 Woke Women. She rose to prominence after Michael Brown was shot dead in Ferguson at the hands of police. Packnett was outraged, so much so that she knew something needed to be done. So the educator set out to protest, serving as one of the leaders in the Ferguson protest movement. Along with other passionate activists, including Johnetta Elzie and Samuel Sinyangwe, she co-founded Campaign Zero, a campaign centered on police reform and an end to police violence. She was also a member of President Barack Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing.

Influenced greatly by her father, who died in 1996 — the Rev. Ronald Packnett, pastor of Central Baptist Church, a large historically black congregation in St. Louis — and her mother, Gwendolyn Packnett, a social worker, she and her younger brother, Barrington, have a sense of community and sharing. Like their father, Barrington Packnett graduated from Yale Divinity school.

“It’s fascinating because when I was on the streets of Ferguson, especially in the first days, people would walk up to me and say, ‘Oh, you’re Rev. Packnett’s daughter,’ or ‘You’re Dr. Packnett’s daughter.’ There are folks in St. Louis and still, if my dad were alive, that we wouldn’t actually have been in that kind of crisis, which is really humbling. And it makes me feel even more responsible, not just to our community but to his legacy, to my parents’ legacy, to do good with this platform.”

The St. Louis native earned her bachelor’s degree in African-American studies from Washington University in St. Louis and her master’s degree in elementary education from American University. Packnett is vice president for National Community Alliances at Teach For America. As an activist and change agent, she is a protester and organizer and co-founder of We The Protesters. From joining #BlackLivesMatter to sounding off on the #BlackWomenAtWork social media movements, Packnett is in the midst of activism and keeps the conversation about racial progress going.

She recently spoke to The Undefeated, where she opened up about self-preservation, social activism and her rise in visibility that have shaped her wokeness. For the first time, she speaks up about her battle with depression and a new endeavor.


What was your first moment of activism?

So I don’t think I can remember my first moment of activism. But I do remember the fact that there were no black Santas at any major mall in St. Louis. I had to be about 10 or 11. My father called one of his contacts at one of the local news stations. They came out to the mall and did a story on a rally that he hosted there, and the journalist turned to me and said, ‘Why do you think it’s important to have black Santas at the mall?’ And I didn’t know it at the time because I didn’t have language, but I was essentially talking about representation. I was like, ‘We shop in these stores, we celebrate Christmas too. It would be nice to go and talk to a Santa who looks like me.’ And I remember going to school later that week and some of my friends had seen it, and they were like, ‘I just don’t understand what the big deal is.’ I went to a majority-white school, and they were like, ‘I don’t understand. It’s Santa. It’s just Santa.’

But I was raised to know that in the small things and in the large things, the recognition of our community and humanity matters. Period, end of story. Whether or not other people want to acknowledge it or understand it doesn’t mean that it’s not important.

Were there any experiences in high school that shaped you into the activist you are today?

I feel like myself and a half-dozen other folks of all different races started a diversity organization, the very first one in the school’s history. And that meant that among other things, we would do awareness speeches in our morning assemblies. And this white upperclassman did not like the fact that we were doing that, and I ended up being the object of his ire for some reason. He used to follow me around after class … in between classes, rather, and harass me. He would say, ‘Is my whiteness oppressing you today?’ The irony of it is rich, though. You actually are being quite oppressive because you are harassing me and I’m just trying to go to school. But I just ignored him, and then one day I turned around and just told him it wasn’t OK for him to do this, and he spit at me, which was a trauma that I think I … not I think, I know I buried for years. I didn’t talk about it for years.

I ended up going back to my high school in the midst of Ferguson — I want to say about September, October of 2014 — and they asked me to talk about my experience on the streets. And that was the first time I told that story since 2000. It just came up and came out, and I realized that reclaiming my story in a place that could have broken me was a really important step for me to take. So, yeah, to answer your initial question, I kind of don’t remember a time that I wasn’t doing this.

What experiences of activism in college stick out?

You know, college was an interesting time because it was the first experience that I’ve had that I feel like was the intersection of what I really care about now. It was working on an institution that I cared about but it was deeply imperfect, engaging in the act of protest and activism and being unafraid to do so, and also going through my own journey as a black woman and learning to love myself and see my own power to be able to go and effect the kind of change that I wanted to see in the world. And I feel like that is what I do every day now, and college was the first place that I got to live in that intersection and really explore what it meant and take the hits and have the hard days, but also have the moments of triumph.

We also did a lot of work on labor. I was one of the co-founders of an organization called Student Worker Alliance. The group ended up shutting down the administration building. I was on the other side of campus because I was also charity and alumni chair for our junior honorary and our big carnival was that weekend, so I couldn’t shut down the building. So I would, like, run water to the building and come and make sure that people were good and then run back to the carnival and make sure that we were raising money for our charity and that people were enjoying themselves.

I also was really physically ill during a lot of college, so I wasn’t always making the best decisions for my personal health, but I always just wanted to see issues of justice win the day. I was constantly making that sacrifice.

I think my college activism taught me a lot about privilege, because in that instance I was not a member of the most affected. I was not a member of the group that was dealing with the injustice. I was the privileged student swiping my card every day to go get food. I was not going to be fired for my activism. I was not going to be fired for speaking up for this. I was not going to risk losing the ability to put food on my family’s table because I engaged in this. It was important for us to engage in a way that didn’t silence folks who did work on our campus, and people that we were fighting for but also fighting with.

Can you share the physical illness you experienced in college?

Yeah, I had bad ovarian cysts in college. I also really suffered from depression. And so the combination was toxic in a lot of ways. I lost a lot of weight my junior year. I was in a relationship that was not healthy for me. There were lots of classes that I just stopped going to. I think for a week straight, all I ate were peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. And I just think that it’s hard for people to imagine someone like me that they might see out speaking out about issues, dealing with something that’s very human. We don’t talk about mental illness a lot in the black community, but thankfully my mother is a social worker by trade, and so she knew the signs. And even when I wasn’t ready to talk about what I was feeling, she knew how to hold me up and make sure that I was cared for in the midst of that.

I ended up taking a leave of absence from school, first semester my senior year. It was a medical leave of absence, but I also needed to kind of remove myself from the surroundings that were weighing me down. I came here, to D.C. actually, and interned on the Hill for Congressman Lacy Clay, who’s our congressman from St. Louis. I did that for a semester, and it just felt like a whole new world opened up to me and that I opened up to myself for the first time in a long time. And this idea that social justice could be something I made a living at, I was reminded of the power of my family’s legacy and that I could carry on that mantle, that I didn’t have to wallow in the depths of what I was feeling, that I could actually live for something greater than myself. And that really helped pull me out of where I was.

And I know that depression is something you can’t say, ‘How’d you get over depression?’ It doesn’t happen like that.

Oh, no, I battle it every day. I battle it all the time. Therapy definitely helps. I also just had to make some decisions about who and what I would allow in my space. Managing depression … because that’s really what it is — you don’t get over depression, you can’t cure it, you manage it every single day. I would say that two points in my life where I was deepest in depression were during college: the second half of college or kind of the middle of college, really. I think I came out of it in my senior year. But also … gosh, I would say probably between 2012 and, like, last year. So when I talk about managing depression, it is purely from a place of lived experience. It’s not anything I read in a book or saw in a movie. It is what I have figured out for myself.

And the big difference between 2015, 2016 Brittany and 2017 Brittany is being intentional and deliberate about what I allow in. And so there are a lot of times that I will take a break from social media. I will take a break from watching the news. I had to give myself permission to not be at every protest. So, too, knowing full well that when I have mental instability, it shows up in me physically. Working on ensuring that those kind of triggers that I’ve identified for myself, I can stay away from as much as possible, which also just meant learning how to love people from afar and recognizing that I want everybody to win. I know that everybody is human. I also know what I need to be strong and what I need to feel like myself. And, so, yeah, making those choices has been really important. We talk about self-care all the time, the movement. I’m not an expert at it. I’m actually not very good at it.

Audre Lorde is one of my favorite writers. … I often think about Audre Lorde’s conversations about self-care, when she talks about how, ‘Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it’s self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.’ It is still very hard for me to take care of myself intentionally and consistently. But when I am able to remember it, it is because I remember that me surviving all of this and me being here to fight on another day is an act of political warfare. It would be much easier for folks to be able to take out activists and for us to not be here to raise the truth, to sound the alarm. I don’t want to imagine a world where Bri is too tired to climb up the flagpole, or where we’re too tired to march down in Baton Rouge with the activists there.

How do you balance your work with activism and your work with education?

Thankfully, my organization is very supportive, but they also understand that the two aren’t separate. I think people ask me that question often, and for me, I don’t actually balance them because they inform one another. When Michael Brown Jr. was killed, he graduated from a high school where we placed teachers. So when I was running Teach for America in St. Louis, I had teachers that saw him walking down the hallway. And whether or not he was ever taught by one of my teachers isn’t the point, because all of these young people are ours. I think looking at them like they’re all our children would get us out of what we’re dealing with now. And so I stepped out on the streets of Ferguson for the same reason that I stepped into a classroom in 2007. I stepped out on the streets of Baltimore for the same reason that I have remained in education for the last eight years. I stepped out on the streets of Baton Rouge for the same reason that my parents stepped out on the streets that they did, because all of this is deeply interconnected and even if Michael Brown Jr. had lived, there was still so much more that we owed him. He graduated from an unaccredited school. He is someone for whom a diploma should have been a ticket up, but it ended up not being bulletproof in the way that we keep promising our children that it is.

I don’t find that they are separate. Justice work will always be necessary inside the classroom and outside of the classroom. And we educate children in the context of their community. I can’t claim to care about what happens in the four walls of a classroom and not be deeply and gravely concerned about what they deal with as soon as they leave that classroom. So it’s all one and the same for me. I know that I have to keep political conversations very separate, and I have to make sure that I’m doing that kind of stuff on my personal time. But whether it’s education or criminal justice reform or police violence or racial injustice, we are dealing fundamentally with people’s humanity and making sure that all of our systems and institutions fully recognize it. And that is the business that I’m in, shifting institutions and empowering people to be able to live full lives. That’s it. Period. Education or not.

What drives your passion for activism and all of the work you do?

In some ways, it’s from knowing what life can be without that. I remember I started finding a lot of my Twitter conversations, threads and tweets with a heart emoji and a fist emoji. And in my head, I was thinking love and power, right? I didn’t quite know where it was coming from, it just came up. … Then I found a quote from Dr. King where he actually talks about this, and he talks about the fact that we often don’t speak about love and power in combination with one another. We think that they’re oxymorons. We talk about love in a way that lacks power, and so it’s usually anemic and sentimental. We talk about power in ways that lack love, so we talk about power that is reckless and dangerous when wielded the wrong way. But the combination of love and power is actually what’s going to change the world. And that is the thing that I am most obsessed with.

What’s been the hardest part of your journey?

Truthfully, knowing that I was good enough for any of this. There are assumptions we make about people with a lot of visibility, that they’ve got it all together, that they’ve got all the answers, that they are not figuring this out along with everybody else. And I didn’t start to own that I was powerful enough, good enough, strong enough, worthy enough to do the kind of work that I’m doing right now, to have the kind of platform that I have right now until very recently, through very intentional hard work and self-reflection.

What’s been the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

This is such a millennial answer. The best piece of advice I received was from Instagram. This is so shameful! I want to tell you it was from President Obama or Valerie Jarrett; I got great advice from them. I want to tell you it was from all these cool people I got to meet over the last few years. There was great advice there. President Obama gave us a good talking-to about being in the work for the long haul, and Valerie and I had good conversations about what a strong pathway looks like and how you consistently increase your aperture and your ability to do more with every step.

But I was scrolling Instagram one day and there was this picture that said, ‘You had a purpose before anyone had an opinion.’

How did you meet DeRay Mckesson?

Oh, Lord. This story. So DeRay and I both taught through the same organization that I still work for, and DeRay was living in Minneapolis at the time. He was working for Minneapolis Public Schools. I wrote a post called Education Didn’t Save Mike Brown, mostly because I wanted people who were questioning my participation in this uprising, who were questioning our students’ participation, a lot of our teachers’ participation in this uprising, to understand why we couldn’t separate justice from teaching and why diplomas are wonderful, important, incredible things but until we fix the systems that are supposed to serve, protect and uplift our students, then those diplomas will never be bulletproof.

So I wrote this piece, and they were about to run it and they were like, ‘We need a picture to go with it.’ So I sent them a picture, I want to say maybe from my second or third night out in Ferguson on West Florissant Avenue. There was a gun line, a skirmish line right behind me, and the symbol we were all using was to hold our hands up. We chant the saying, ‘Hands up, don’t shoot.’ So I’m holding my hands up in front of this gun line. There’s an armored vehicle behind me, and there are police with rifles and all that stuff. DeRay was in the TFA [Teach for America] office when they were about to run the piece, and they were passing the picture back and forth, so DeRay saw the picture. And DeRay was like, ‘I think I need to go down there. I think I’m gonna go down there.’

And there’s a picture of myself, a bunch of our teachers and alums, a couple staff members who were out there of their own volition, and DeRay the first night he was down there. And, yeah, we just started to work together very quickly.

How is the podcast world for you?

So the podcast has been a lot of fun. I’m really thankful to people for listening to it. We called the first episode American Do-over because we were fantasizing about what would happen if everybody just left the White House and we had a whole new election. We just have a nice, American do-over. But I think the podcast represents one of the many ways that we are finding new and creative avenues to engage with folks.

Pod Save the People. So DeRay hosts it, and so DeRay, Sam and I do this segment called My Two Cents in the beginning of each episode. And I think what’s powerful about it is, we are not seasoned politicos, we are not reporters, we’re not official commentators on some network. We are regular people who care a lot about humanity, who care a lot about issues of justice, talking about news that affects us all. So we talk about everything from health care to Michelle Obama’s speaking fees and how Donald Trump was making $1.5 million for speaking fees, so I don’t want to hear about Michelle Obama’s speaking fees in the ways that, honestly, the three of us often talk about things just as friends, as people who care, as black folks who are trying to make a better day.

What’s new for you?

I’ve been very into fashion my whole life, and I taught myself Adobe Illustrator. Well, my boyfriend helped teach it to me. And I can design shirts. I was walking down the street and somebody was wearing my shirt, and I was like, ‘I cannot believe this.’ I’d love to continue figuring out what it looks like to outfit people in a conscious way that both allows people to express what they believe and wear things that they believe in. So I’d love to explore that. But really, I just want to help. … I really want to figure out this intersection of love and power. I really want to help people figure out what it means in their own lives, what it means in how we shift institutions, what it means for how we shift this education game, what it means for how we ensure that the truth is being told and protest on the streets translates into real policy change. I want to make sure that we are using our power, as Dr. King says, to correct everything that stands in love’s way. And so what that will look like, I’m not sure yet. I don’t know what title that would be, I don’t know what job that’ll be, I don’t know what city that’ll be, but I am open to whatever comes, as long as I can ground my feet in love and power.

Michelle Obama claps back over school lunches saying Trump administration is not looking out for children’s health

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“Why don’t you want our kids to have good food at school? What is wrong with you?”

Those were the words of Michelle Obama speaking at the Partnership for a Healthier America 2017 Healthier Future Summit in Washington on Friday. The former first lady was addressing the recent actions of new Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue, who has decided that basically the rules that the Obamas implemented to create healthier food choices in schools shouldn’t all be required, ostensibly for the purposes of not hamstringing the food service providers.

Ever since Donald Trump decided to run for office, he promised to roll back various measures that President Barack Obama had put in place over the previous eight years. In those cases, one could reasonably argue that political differences were a decent reason for said actions. People disagree on what should and should not be regulated all the time. But food for kids? It doesn’t take a policy wonk to know that the health of the next generation is vital to, well, the survival of the nation. This isn’t difficult.

“Think about why someone is OK with your kids eating crap,” Obama continued. “If somebody is doing that, they don’t care about your kid.”

Which, as an aside, is what made her efforts while in the White House so smart. First ladies are often saddled with the often unfair burden of representing a “cause” just for the sake of keeping up appearances. Lady Bird Johnson wanted to make the nation’s capital look better. Nancy Reagan took a different route, lending her face to the Just Say No movement, arguably the most asinine, ineffective and ultimately harmful marketing campaign in American public health history. As the outward-facing image of the highly problematic war on drugs, Reagan was a star in her own right.

So when Obama decided to put a vegetable garden on the White House lawn and use it as a way to teach visiting schoolkids the importance of healthy eating, it was unimpugnable. On top of that, her Let’s Move campaign, an effort to curb childhood obesity, dovetailed nicely with the overall message that healthy living is better for everyone from a basic human standpoint.

Which is why she brought it up today. Do we know why these rollbacks are happening across the board when it comes to The Donald vs. Barack? Of course we do. But now, we also know that if a corporation or company can benefit from something at the cost of your kids’ future, this administration is willing to allow that.

Are we willing to sacrifice a generation to spite the Obamas? Some people in our country have already said yes to that. The question is whether we’re willing to admit why.

Michelle Obama and MTV celebrate 2017 College Signing Day The former first lady steps back into the spotlight — in style, of course

Michelle Obama is officially back from vacation, y’all. We have seen her twice this week.

The former first lady glided onto the stage of the Public Theater in Manhattan on Friday to celebrate one of her signature events: College Signing Day, which is the day high school seniors post their college plans on social media.

She came dressed in head-to-toe monotone gray: V-neck T-shirt emblazoned with a Princeton Tiger (her undergraduate alma mater), flowy cardigan sweater, cropped denim pants and low-top Converse All-Star sneakers. It was an informal, casual look for the glamorous style icon, who was usually seen in public wearing glamorous day dresses, stunning formal gowns or hip athleisure attire during her eight-year tenure in the White House.

“I might not live in the White House anymore, but Barack and I are gonna keep on celebrating you all and supporting you and lifting you up no matter what house we live in.”

Leaving the public life has given the Obama family a new lease on their low-key-style life. The bottom practically drops out of Twitter whenever photos of the Obamas living their best beach and yacht life hit social media. Former President Barack Obama has been rocking his vacation suntan and open-collared shirts (sans neckties) with suits in his most recent appearances. Michelle’s hairstyles are still getting attention — these days for being worn natural or in twin pigtails under a sun hat. Malia Obama is setting street-style fashion trends by wearing short dresses, leggings and boots to her gap-year internship with film industry powerhouse The Weinstein Company.

Former first lady Michelle Obama speaks onstage during MTV’s 2017 College Signing Day With Michelle Obama at The Public Theater on May 5, 2017, in New York City.

Bryan Bedder/Getty Images for MTV

This is the fourth year that Michelle Obama has headlined the College Signing Day event, which is a continuing part of her Reach Higher initiative and the Better Make Room campaign. Her appearance today comes only days after President Donald Trump’s administration denied reports about ending the former first lady’s 2015 global education initiative Let Girls Learn, despite the fact that future funding is in question, according to The Huffington Post.

The College Signing Day event was only the latest in a recent series of sightings of the former president and first lady. When the Obamas appeared May 3 at a community event on the South Side of Chicago to preview the design of the $500 million Obama Presidential Center, Michelle Obama donned a black-and-white print dress and kitten heels.

“We’ve gotta celebrate students going to college bigger than we celebrate the Final Four or the Super Bowl.”

Michelle Obama was preceded onstage at Friday’s event by a procession of high-profile actors, singers, athletes and stars: event host Nick Cannon; Charlamagne tha God; Questlove and Black Thought from The Roots; journalists Tamron Hall, Soledad O’Brien and Robin Roberts; Jidenna; Michael B. Jordan; author, speaker and digital strategist Luvvie Ajayi; Zoe Kravitz; and Emeka Okafor. Many wore apparel with the name of their alma mater, and they all gave pep talks about the benefits of finishing college.

But to no one’s surprise, Michelle Obama was the star of the event. Her pep talk was equal parts “mom-in-chief” and ’round the way girl who studied hard, graduated double Ivy and helped her husband become the first African-American U.S. president. “I might not live in the White House anymore,” she told the college-bound students at the Public Theater, “but Barack and I are gonna keep on celebrating you all and supporting you and lifting you up no matter what house we live in.”

She summed up her talk to the students by saying, “We’ve gotta celebrate students going to college bigger than we celebrate the Final Four or the Super Bowl. The number of acceptance letters should be more important than the number of followers you have on social media.”

Obama library confronts the question of symbolism vs. substance Center aims to train people in the nitty-gritty of durable change

Ever since he stepped onto the national political stage, Barack Obama, the symbol, has been in conflict with Barack Obama, the pragmatist.

His famous 2004 Democratic National Convention speech is better remembered for its soaring aspiration than the keep-it-real admonition that people have to partner with government to make progress happen. As president, some critics said, he underachieved and was given insufficient scrutiny because of his race. Others argued that the first black president did not do enough to help black people.

Obama mostly answered with facts and figures about how he repaired the broken economy and worked to slow climate change. Or about how policies such as Obamacare and reworked student loan programs were designed for all Americans but disproportionately benefited African-Americans.

Echoes of that pragmatic Obama could be heard Wednesday as he laid out plans for his presidential center to be built in Chicago’s Jackson Park. There was little talk of symbolic racial achievement but lots of talk about how the project, estimated to cost at least a half billion dollars, could be used to impart practical skills, inspire young people and serve as an engine for economic growth on Chicago’s struggling South Side.

Former President Barack Obama speaks at a community event on the Presidential Center at the South Shore Cultural Center, Wednesday, May 3, 2017, in Chicago. The Obama Foundation unveiled plans for the former president’s lakefront presidential center, showcasing renderings and a model at an event where former President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama were expected to give more details.

AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh

Obama said he wanted to develop a presidential center, not just a library or museum, because he wanted it to help people navigate the future, not just reflect on the past. The center, to be constructed over the next four years, will have three buildings laid out in the style of a small college campus. There will be a museum with artifacts from his presidency, a library that will archive his presidential papers, a building to host public events and open space that will integrate into the surrounding park. The plan also envisions a movie studio and recording studio, likely firsts for presidential centers.

“We are interested in having displays and exhibits that can teach young people about not just my presidency, but all the people who led to my presidency,” he said. “The process of struggle and the process of overcoming that I stand on top of.”

In some ways, the center harkens back to Obama’s roots as a community organizer. The former president envisions it serving as a center for training people in the practicalities of leadership, as well as a place to train young people in fields such as filmmaking and coding.

“What we want this to be is the world’s premier institution for training young people and leadership to make a difference in their communities, in their countries and in the world,” Obama said. “That is our goal.”

For a president whose election made him a symbol of racial hope, and whose charisma and eloquence energized supporters and even earned him the Nobel Peace Prize, Obama often talked about the limits of his power. He could not just decree change. Instead, he said, change comes about through persistent, organized effort that shapes politics. “We are the change that we seek,” he would say.

Similarly, Obama does not envision the new center reaching for the sweeping change that some people hoped for when he ascended to the presidency. Instead, he wants it to be a place where people hone the skills needed to make the incremental but durable change that is the stuff of government. He said he hopes to see the center partnering with schools and colleges to teach the process of public policy, activism and politics.

The plans for the most visible monument of Obama’s postpresidency speak to his determination to move beyond symbols to the nitty-gritty of tangible change.

He sees the project, for instance, as a catalyst for upgrading Jackson Park, a 500-acre oasis on the South Side designed by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux, who also designed New York’s Central Park. Despite its beauty, Obama said, Jackson Park is underused, not easily accessible to pedestrians and a little rough around the edges. “It is not as good as it could be,” he said.

The big public parks in predominantly white areas of town are better, but Obama sees development of his presidential center changing that. The plan calls for closing a six-lane road that bisects the park, creating better access to Lake Michigan, and adding sledding hills, playgrounds, barbecue grills and an open lawn — all of which should make the park more inviting to the mostly black communities that surround it.

While unveiling plans for his center, the former president announced that he and former first lady Michelle Obama were donating $2 million to help fund summer jobs and apprenticeships in Chicago. Those positions will start this summer, in the hope that more young people will be qualified for the estimated 1,500 jobs expected to be generated by construction of the center.

No doubt many of the historians who visit the Obama center after it opens in 2021 will be searching for information to help define the legacy of the nation’s first black president. Did he live up to the hype? Were his achievements more symbolic than substantive? Did he make real change?

But if the plans for this center offer any clues, Obama seems convinced that real change does not start at the top. The former president said his greatest wish for his presidential center is that it instills hope among young people in Chicago.

“It is about the story that our children tell themselves,” Obama said. “If they see a world-class institution in their community, populated by people who come from their community, they have a sense of importance, and that ultimately is what I want to give back.”