PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) Shabazz Napier was struggling so much against the Philadelphia 76ers that Trail Blazers coach Terry Stotts sat him early in the third quarter.
As the leading scorer in the NBA, one of the many faces of adidas and en route to perhaps his first MVP trophy, Houston Rockets superstar James Harden is used to having all eyes on him. Come Thursday, though, special attention will be paid to his feet as Harden will be rocking custom-made “Free Meek” shoes. The message, of course, is a homage to rapper Meek Mill who currently sits in the State Correctional Institution in Chester, Pa., following a probation violation from a 2008 gun and drug case. Last month, the Philadelphia MC was sentenced to two-to-four years for after popping wheelies on his dirt bike and an altercation at a St. Louis airport early this year.
The decision immediately sparked outrage not only for Meek’s continuous battles with his own legal entanglement, but the disparities in the criminal justice system as a whole. Hip-hop, through names like Jay Z, Diddy, Nipsey Hussle, Rick Ross and even friend-turned-foe Drake, have come to Meek’s defense expressing their support. But it’s Meek’s draw in the sports world that has been intriguing to watch unfold. Exiled quarterback Colin Kaepernick—whose protest have become the defining sports story of his generation—spoke with Meek days before Thanksgiving. Meanwhile, the NBA has made no secret of its affinity towards the 30 year old rapper.
Harden visited Meek in prison on Tuesday, confirming his “spirits were high” and that he hoped the MC would be home by February. If, in fact, Meek is released in time for All Star Weekend in Los Angeles (Feb. 16-18, 2018), he could thank the league personally. Throughout his career, Meek has recorded with ball players. He played an involuntary supporting role in the odd melodrama between LeBron James and Kyrie Irving. And he’s name dropped countless superstars in his music from James, Dwyane Wade, Kobe Bryant and Allen Iverson—the latter of whom he saw as a role model growing up in Philly. “A.I. had the style, he had the charisma, the braids, everything,” he told Complex earlier this year. “He was doing what he wanted on the court. That’s what we live by in Philly: do whatcha want, never let the game change you to the point where you’re not even yourself.”
Praying for @meekmill and his family!!! Crazy how bad the system is SMH
— Isaiah Thomas (@isaiahthomas) November 7, 2017
Harden’s showing of support is only the latest in the NBA’s very vocal support of the imprisoned MC. His hometown Philadelphia 76ers have led the charge. Sixers icon Julius Erving was one of many athletes who attended a rally in the rapper’s name last month. The team’s two superstars-in-training Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons recently posted up at Jay Z’s 4:44 tour stop in Philadelphia donning “Stand With Meek Mill” t-shirts. The move wasn’t just a photo opp either. Simmons frequently makes Meek’s music part of his daily routine through his Instagram Stories. Embiid visited Meek Mill in prison—an experience he succinctly summed up as “scary”—with 76ers co-owner Michael Rubin. Yet, it’s Rubin’s relationship with Meek that is the most documented. They’re a pop culture “odd couple.”
Rubin and Meek met a few years back when both were sitting courtside at an NBA game. The billionaire owner was seated next to his daughter and Meek was with ex-girlfriend Nicki Minaj. “Once he figured out I was one of the owners of the Sixers and some other pretty big, internet companies he started asking me 1,000 business questions,” Rubin said of how their friendship sprouted. “I liked him. I would’ve had the stereotypical view, this guy is a hardcore rapper … I didn’t know who he was or what he did. But once he started telling me about his career I thought he would have an interesting business.”
Since his sentencing, Rubin has made frequent visits to visit Meek in prison. The two have largely talked legal strategy. For Rubin, Meek’s situation is personal. He considers the “Dreams & Nightmares” rapper one of his “closest 10-20 guy friends…someone I really care about.” He hoped Meek would be home for Christmas so he could spend the holiday with his family, but now the hope is that Meek can spend the bulk of 2018 in a recording booth as opposed to a jail cell.
From its all-female roster of directors to its richly saturated cinematography to its truthful, raw dialogue that will have you grabbing Kleenex after Kleenex, Queen Sugar has been one of the most wholly original television shows on the air since its debut in 2016.
So it makes perfect sense that embedded within all but one episode title of season two is an unofficial reading list. As the title flashes in before the episode’s start, it has been eye-catching to notice that each one is named after poems, novels and anthologies by black writers from the Harlem Renaissance era — in particular the poet Countee Cullen.
With director Ava DuVernay at the helm, Queen Sugar’s show execs have done a phenomenal job of paying homage to the past while lifting up contemporary artists of the present. On the cusp of the season two finale, here is a breakdown of how these poems, anthologies and novels relate to the themes of this roller coaster of a season.
Queen Sugar season two, episode one — After the Winter
Some day, when trees have shed their leaves
And against the morning’s white
The shivering birds beneath the eaves
Have sheltered for the night,
We’ll turn our faces southward, love,
Toward the summer isle
Where bamboos spire the shafted grove
And wide-mouthed orchids smile.
In the season two opener, the Bordelons are facing their own unique and formidable challenges. Nova (Rutina Wesley) is reeling from the aftermath of her breakup with married cop Calvin by taking multiple lovers. Ralph Angel (Kofi Siriboe) is processing the news that their father left the land to him alone while reconciling his relationship with Darla (Bianca Lawson), the mother of his child. Charley (Dawn Lyen-Gardner) is still hurt divorcing her cheating baller husband, Davis (Timon Kyle Durrett). Their son, Micah (Nicholas L. Ashe), has a terrifying encounter with a police officer on his 16th birthday. McKay’s poem about finding solace after suffering through a proverbial winter is especially fitting for this episode. Where will the Bordelons find solace after their personal winters?
Queen Sugar season two, episode two — To Usward
And let us be contained
By entities of Self. . . .
Not still with lethargy and sloth,
But quiet with the pushing of our growth.
Not self-contained with smug identity
But conscious of the strength in entity.
But let us break the seal of years
With pungent thrusts of song,
For there is joy in long-dried tears
For whetted passions of a throng!
To Usward definitely speaks to themes of the episode, as Micah processes his traumatic encounter with the police and Nova organizes a bail fund rally to raise money for people who can’t afford to bail themselves out. This episode represents the struggle that people of color often endure to retain humanity in the face of an unforgiving, institutionalized criminal justice system.
Queen Sugar season two, episode three — What Do I Care for Morning
What do I care for morning,
For the glare of the rising sun,
For a sparrow’s noisy prating,
For another day begun?
Give me the beauty of evening,
The cool consummation of night,
And the moon like a love-sick lady,
Listless and wan and white.
Johnson declaring her love of night over day is an extended metaphor representing her love of people of color in a mostly white society that explains, in covert and overt ways, that loving blackness is a sin. In this episode the themes are seen in Nova’s sparring and later bonding with love interest Dr. DuBois (Alimi Ballard) over how best to uplift African-Americans in the face of institutional racism, and again with Ralph Angel and Micah as they share their traumatic experiences with each other, and Ralph Angel comforts his nephew Micah. The scenes show how the black family chooses to love each other over and over again, even when they don’t always agree.
Queen Sugar season two, episode four — My Soul’s High Song
My Soul’s High Song, anthology of poems by Countee Cullen
An anthology of poetry and prose from one of the most prominent voices of the Harlem Renaissance.
As usual, Charley and Ralph Angel argue over their methods of tending to the farm, revealing the ever-present distance between the siblings, including privilege, wealth, access and skin tone. One of the recurring themes in Cullen’s work is the emotional fallout of America’s continuous unfair treatment of black citizens. It is fitting that this anthology serves as the title of this episode.
Queen Sugar season two, episode five — Caroling Dusk
Cullen’s purpose in creating this anthology was to highlight “lights and shades of difference” in poetry by black writers, as he wrote in the book’s introduction. The focal point of this episode presents Charley and Darla as a set of contrasts as they both try to rebuild their lives. Charley is strong-willed, determined, confident and outspoken, while Darla is more tentative and introspective. However, they have more in common than what seems to be on the surface, as Charley struggles with her grief for the dissolution of her marriage. Darla is much stronger than she seems, as she applies for jobs after getting fired and eventually becomes Charley’s personal assistant.
Queen Sugar season two, episode six — Line of Our Elders
Here’s the difference in our dying:
You go dawdling, we go flying.
Here’s a thought flung out to plague you:
Ours the pleasure if we’d liever
Burn completely with the fever
Than go ambling with the ague.
While the episode is titled Line of Our Elders, it is so similar to Cullen’s poem Lines to Our Elders that it must be another homage to this writer. Ralph Angel finally comes clean about who their farm truly belongs to. Charley nearly has a panic attack after a malfunction during the opening of her sugar processing mill. The grief she never expressed over her father’s death comes pouring out in front of the family and members of the press. Both Nova and Charley are hurt that Ralph Angel didn’t tell them about the land being left only to him and express their feelings about the fact that their father excluded them. That last couplet in Lines to Our Elders in particular relates because the episode shows the problems that occur when problems fester and individuals hold feelings within (go ambling with the ague) rather than face the truth head-on (burn completely with the fever).
Queen Sugar season two, episode seven — I Know My Soul
And if the sign may not be fully read,
If I can comprehend but not control,
I need not gloom my days with futile dread,
Because I see a part and not the whole.
Contemplating the strange, I’m comforted
By this narcotic thought: I know my soul.
This episode shows how the characters view themselves by their late father after hearing the amended will that leaves the land solely to Ralph Angel, after they believed the land was left to all three of them. Viewers experience a rift form between the Bordelon siblings as Charley begins to question what she’s doing and where she is going after learning about what she believes are Ernest’s (Glynn Turman) true feelings about her. None of these characters are in control.
Queen Sugar season two, episode eight — Freedom’s Plow
If the house is not yet finished,
Don’t be discouraged, builder!
If the fight is not yet won,
Don’t be weary, soldier!
BETTER DIE FREE,
THAN TO LIVE SLAVES.
This poem certainly echoes themes of episode eight. Nova and Dr. DuBois constantly debate throughout their relationship. Viewers finally discover what happened to Micah the night he was arrested in a heartbreaking scene played beautifully by Ashe. In the scene, Micah describes how the arresting officer put his gun in his mouth and threatened to kill him. The episode shows how these questions manifest themselves in everyday encounters and how they affect the most vulnerable among us.
Queen Sugar season two, episode nine — Yet Do I Marvel
Yet do I marvel at this curious thing:
To make a poet black, and bid him sing!
In this episode, Charley finally learns what happened to Micah when he was arrested, and she blames herself for not preparing him enough for how harsh the world is for young black men and women. The episode introduces Charley’s mother, Lorna, who is white. Suddenly we gain a better understanding of Charley — why she grew up apart from Nova and Ralph Angel, the distance between the three siblings, and why Charley has struggled to determine where she truly belongs.
Queen Sugar season two, episode 10 — Drums at Dusk
It is fitting that Drums at Dusk — a novel that explores the connection between wealthy plantation owners, poor whites, free people of color and the slaves who staged the largest and most successful slave rebellion in the Western Hemisphere — is the title of this episode. We see these themes of land, money, blood and power in Charley’s ongoing conflict with the Landrys, who used to be the only family with power and land in the parish. And they are determined to take away what little of both the Bordelons have managed to attain. Charley is undermined by the Landrys in ways great and small, and it is a conflict that her mother, as much as she loves her, simply cannot understand because she has never experienced the racism and sexism Charley has come up against her entire life.
Queen Sugar season two, episode 11 — Fruit of the Flower
And yet my father’s eyes can boast
How full his life has been;
There haunts them yet the languid ghost
Of some still sacred sin.
Cullen’s poem about his ambivalence about the two sides of his heritage fits the theme of this episode, as this is when we learn about the true nature of the relationship between Charley’s mom, Lorna (played by Sharon Lawrence), and Nova and Ralph Angel’s mom and their father, Ernest.
Queen Sugar season two, episode 13 — Heritage
What is Africa to me:
Copper sun or scarlet sea,
Jungle star or jungle track,
Strong bronzed men, or regal black
Women from whose loins I sprang
When the birds of Eden sang?
Cullen’s poem asks important questions: “Who am I?” “How do I hold on to my humanity in the face of chaos?” And in this episode of Queen Sugar, each character asks these questions in some form or another. Darla’s parents return after a years-long estrangement; Remy and Charley ponder what next steps they should take in their budding romantic relationship; and by the end, Darla’s father encourages her to reveal a painful secret that has devastating consequences: Ralph Angel might not be Blue’s father.
Queen Sugar season two, episode 14 — On These I Stand
Charley and Nova face professional challenges, while Ralph Angel slowly unravels in the wake of the news about Blue possibly not being his son.
Queen Sugar season two, episode 15 — Copper Sun
Cullen’s third book of poetry, where he discusses love and race relations in more oblique terms, serves as the title of the penultimate episode of season two. Ralph Angel tells Charley, Nova, Aunt Vi and Hollywood about Blue, and the whole family feels the reverberations of Darla’s secret. And Darla, who has worked so hard to regain the Bordelons’ trust, appears to have lost it forever. Meanwhile, Micah faces suspension after he channels his Aunt Nova and protests the display of Confederate memorabilia at his posh private school. Each member of the Bordelon family faces the consequences of his actions — or inactions.
“Just as a reminder to myself / I wear every single chain even when I’m in the house …” — Drake, 2013’s “Started From The Bottom”
Miami is hardly the first college team to rally around an inanimate object, the most recent high-profile example being Alabama’s “Ball Out Belt.” Much like Miami’s chain, the Crimson Tide’s belt was given for performance on the field. But unlike Miami’s chain, the belt didn’t have black South Florida roots. And it didn’t become anything like the cultural phenomenon the gaudy slab of diamonds and Cuban links so connected to brothers and sisters in the 305 area code.
The Miami Hurricanes’ chain was inspired by a quartet. First-year Miami defensive coordinator Manny Diaz was looking to motivate his players. Cornerbacks coach and Canes alum Mike Rumph told famed jeweler Anthony John “AJ” Machado an idea he had for a necklace that defensive players could wear each time they forced a turnover. Super Bowl champion and former Canes standout Vince Wilfork was at Machado’s shop for an unrelated piece of custom jewelry and told Machado and Rumph the chain had to personally reflect who and what Miami stood for. Not just the campus, but the community’s culture. “In Miami, what are we famous for? We’re famous for the Cuban chains,” Machado told the South Florida Sun Sentinel in September. “But we need to add a little something to it.”
The chain’s true price remains a mystery, part of its ongoing fascination. But this 6.5-pound, 10-karat piece of jewelry — like so many trophy-esque watches, tennis bracelets and pearl chokers — is loud, boisterous, arrogant. And fun. Miami is famous for many things, and the swag of a Cuban link chain is one of them. The Miami Hurricanes’ turnover chain is Miami culture to its core. And it goes beyond — just ask Raekwon about his classic 1995 Only Built 4 Cuban Linx.
The U’s ascension back into the ranks of the elite programs in the game is directly tied to the allure of its turnover chain. College football, fun but far from radical, needed Miami’s swagger again. The team — led by guys such as safety/leading tackler Jaquan Johnson, linebacker Shaquille Quarterman, defensive end Trent Lewis, quarterback Malik Rosier and running back Travis Homer — is as counterculture as Allen Iverson was to the Jordan years of the NBA. The team is a breath of fresh air in a landscape with dominant but less personable powerhouses like Alabama, Ohio State or Michigan. The NCAA — chided for years for its lockdown on celebrations, which is seen in many circles as the “Miami rule” — enforces the personality of teams over players. So watching a team not only revel in how good they are but also live up to the hype? It’s rich. And the turnover chain has galvanized a defense that’s as physical, violent and cocky as there is in the country — tied for fourth in the country in turnovers forced (24) in one fewer game. Their Sept. 9 game at Arkansas State was canceled as Hurricane Irma barreled toward South Florida.
At 9-0, and currently first in the ACC’s Coastal Division, the Canes are the No. 2 program in the country. They’re also sitting on a streak of four consecutive games of four turnovers, including Nov. 11’s dismemberment of No. 3 Notre Dame — much to the chagrin of Fighting Irish defensive coordinator Mike Elko, who all but called the dogs on his own team with a peculiar pregame on-field rant. A recent poll, too, found that many believe the chain is the best story in sports. And even if it’s not, the financial implications and the marketing behind the chain have already paid dividends of hundreds of thousands of dollars for vendors capitalizing on the sudden nationwide appeal with various forms of apparel. It’s great, right? But is it?
“Do it for the culture / They gon’ bite like vultures …” – Quavo, from Migos’ 2017 “T-Shirt”
Because already, infatuation with the chain teeters on appropriation. There’s always this tension when something very black — like a big gold chain, being worn by black men — “catches on.” The success of a thing or a gesture or a style is great, but then suddenly it’s not “ours” anymore, the benefit of it is going to everyone else and it’s wrung out and dead before it can be fully enjoyed.
It’s a feel-good story until it isn’t, right? Take the dab for instance, popularized in 2015 by Migos and brought to the doorstep of middle America on Sundays by Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton. Everyone did the dab. That includes candidates such as Hillary Clinton, as well as Speaker of the House Paul Ryan’s son.
The dab became a caricature of itself. A pure, fun creation of popular hip-hop was bastardized by an American culture that has always fed off its energy — and yet is so very often ultimately demonized. Comedian Paul Mooney talks about in a bit called “Ugly On Us But Cute On Them” in 2012’s The Godfather of Comedy.
He could well have added big jewelry. On black people: grotesque, over the top, showy. On others: bold, edgy, fancy, innovative.
The turnover chain is more talked about right now than the race for the Heisman Trophy. Everyone wants in on the most recent gold mine, the flavor of the moment. But however impossible, how about we try to let the players have this moment? And let’s not forget: Their spontaneously joyful on-field marketing of the chain has generated hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not more, yet the guys on the field are entitled to none of the profits. The chain should be theirs.
The turnover chain is a flashback to “The U” that was the baddest, most intimidating and most threatening force in college football. But the rules changed, and the brand of bullying that made Miami nationwide goons (but neighborhood superstars) has been discontinued. So it begs the question, will this new we-the-best momentum of the chain soon feel the clip of new rules? Yes, because, as ESPN’s Dan Le Batard recently said, “This team is still black. And the people doing the ravaging on defense are still black. There will be a turning on that. Showboaty black guy rarely gets embraced. … To be honest with you, if we’re going deep into this, the chain is the only thing from those overtly black Miami teams that is allowed in 2017.”
“Don’t look down on the youngsters because they wanna have shiny things.” — Pimp C, 2013’s “F—WithMeYouKnowIGotIt”
How long The U’s undefeated season lasts is no guarantee, especially since there’s a date with No. 4 and defending national champion Clemson on the very near (Dec. 2) horizon. Yet, there’s history that shines brighter than the 900 orange and green sapphires swaying back and forth on the necks of players who have revived arguably the most culturally relevant college football program of all time.
The chain creates excitement on the field. The chain is useful because the players are motivated by that gleaming trophy. And the chain is important far beyond just the Instagram ops for celebrities and fly-by-night fans. Don’t let the University of Miami’s turnover chain die the same death as the dab. Don’t let the true essence of the chain be swept under the rug. Don’t allow the history of the chain and its place in Miami culture to be overlooked. Because it’s going to happen. If it hasn’t started already.
Outside the office of Bronx, New York, District Attorney Darcel Clark, a protest rally for Pedro Hernandez this summer began and closed with prayer.
Hernandez, 18, had spent 13 months awaiting trial in Rikers Island prison on questionable weapons charges in the shooting of another teenager because his mother couldn’t afford his $255,000 bond. Eventually, the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights group paid a reduced bond of $100,000. Between the prayers for people unjustly locked in the criminal justice system, those gathered at the rally called on Clark to dismiss the shooting charges.
Some local politicians and advocates said the situation was painfully reminiscent of the case against Kalief Browder. Browder spent three years on Rikers Island, two of them in solitary confinement, because he was unable to make $10,000 bail after being charged with stealing a backpack as a 15-year-old. That case was eventually dismissed, but it left Browder a broken man who later took his own life.
The Browder case has haunted Clark. The first woman of color to be elected district attorney in her state, she campaigned as a change agent who understood the burdens the criminal justice system imposes on black and brown lives. But in her previous role as a judge, Clark presided over six of Browder’s 31 court dates while he languished in jail — and admitted during her campaign that she couldn’t remember them.
“This happens all the time,” said Akeem Browder, Kalief’s brother, a few moments before the rally for Hernandez in August. Clark grew up in the Bronx, he noted. “Like, you were raised in our community. You should use it to our advantage and not to lock up kids.” Browder, a long-shot Green Party candidate for mayor, said the presumption of innocent until proven guilty often does not apply to black and brown residents of the Bronx. “District Attorney Clark is guilty of this,” Browder claimed. “The community has to say enough is enough.”
Weeks after the rally, Clark’s office dropped the weapons charges while continuing to pursue an unrelated robbery case against Hernandez. DNAInfo reported recently that the prosecutor in the shooting case is being investigated over allegations that he helped coerce people into falsely identifying Hernandez.
“Prosecution of violent crime is challenging,” Clark said in a statement after the charges were dropped, “especially when victims and witnesses decline to cooperate, but this is the reality we face in the Bronx every day as we continue to build trust with the community.”
“I am very thankful and very appreciative that they did the right thing,” Hernandez’s mother, Jessica Perez, said at the courthouse that day. “But let’s not forget, Pedro is just one of them. I hope this exoneration of his bail can be used for another kid who’s in the same need.”
Numbers have long painted a cruel reality in the Bronx. The borough north of Manhattan is home to 1.5 million people, most of whom are black or Hispanic. More than 8 percent are unemployed, almost double the national average. More than 30 percent live below the poverty line. The South Bronx has the bleak distinction of being the poorest congressional district in the country.
Lawyers in its court system routinely handle crimes of poverty, such as subway turnstile jumping. The Bronx also has the highest rate of violent crime in the city and a notorious backlog of felony cases. It’s a system that processes misery day in and day out.
Clark came into office promising a new day. “I want to change the narrative of the Bronx,” she told the crowd at a community meeting last December, a few weeks shy of her first year in office.
Clark, 55, was elected in November 2015, as national headlines questioned the police-involved deaths of Eric Garner, Sandra Bland and Freddie Gray and the acquittals of the officers involved. She is one of several people of color recently elected as local prosecutors who are vowing to aggressively pursue a reformist vision for the criminal justice system, especially in its interactions with people of color.
In Chicago, Cook County State’s Attorney Kimberly Foxx argued as a candidate that prosecutors have a conflict of interest in handling police-involved shootings because they must work regularly with law enforcement. In St. Louis, Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner has said she will work to restore residents’ trust in the criminal justice system and work to divert nonviolent offenders from entering a courtroom.
Clark has a 30-year résumé as a former prosecutor, a criminal court judge and an appellate judge. But her election was controversial. Her predecessor, Robert Johnson, held the job for 27 years. After running unopposed in the Democratic primary in 2015, Johnson resigned a few weeks before the general election to seek a judgeship. Critics blasted the move as politically corrupt, saying it essentially allowed the Democratic Party machine to handpick the next district attorney: Clark. In the Bronx, Democrats outnumber Republicans by more than 12 to 1. In the general election, Clark won 85 percent of the vote, easily beating Republican Robert Siano. With the party registration numbers so lopsided, insiders say Clark can be district attorney for as long as she wants.
During the campaign, Clark said she would push the office to be more effective, cut the colossal backlog and build a stronger relationship with residents who distrust the legal system. Clark said she would send prosecutors into neighborhoods to hear firsthand the concerns of residents and work with them to prevent crime, particularly gun violence.
“A 21st-century prosecutor is not just about prosecuting cases, you know, having people arrested and locked up and throw away the key. We are here to service the entire community,” Clark said in an interview earlier this year. That includes defendants as well as victims, she said. “Criminal justice includes all of the community,” said Clark, “and as a prosecutor, I have to see myself in that way.
“You have to change minds and hearts,” Clark said, “and somewhat the court culture, in order to get it done. But you know, it’s doable. You just have to do it.”
Some say she’s not doing it fast enough, though, and question how much Clark can truly reform a system in which she was a longtime cog.
More people are in jail waiting for their trials in the Bronx than in the rest of the city’s boroughs combined, Siano said. “Hopefully we see changes in four years,” Siano said. “When her term is over, I hope the Bronx will hold her accountable.”
Clark has been in office less than two years, arguably not enough time to judge her office’s results. But others are hopeful about Clark’s ability to bring change.
“We were obviously very happy and encouraged that one of our own, a black woman lawyer and judge, would be in this role,” said Paula Edgar, president of the Metropolitan Black Bar Association. “When there is diversity in thought, diversity in experience and someone who has committed so much to justice in the Bronx, change has happened.”
“She grew up like us,” said Aldo Perez, a community activist who has met with Clark. “She knows what we need, but she also knows her role. She also knows that we don’t need to prosecute for low-level crimes but focus on violent offenders.”
Perez believes that Clark’s experience growing up and living in the Bronx offers hope. “There’s nothing she cannot understand when it comes to how we feel about crime,” Perez said, “how crime affects the community, because she’s seen it. She knows who was selling drugs in the neighborhoods. She knew how to stay away from that. She knew what was going on in the projects. She can identify with the common person who is the victim and the common person who is being tried. She knows. She knows. And you can’t fool her.”
Clark grew up in the Soundview Houses public housing development in the South Bronx. Her father, Daniel, worked there for more than two decades as a groundskeeper. Her mother, Viola, a nurse’s aide, headed the tenants organization. Clark said she was the first in her family to attend college. “It was just really, you know, it took a village,” Clark said of growing up in the Bronx. “It was like if you did something wrong, before your mother came home from work, she knew because someone had already told her. There was always that kind of connection with people. That’s what I grew up on.”
She still lives in the Bronx with her husband, Eaton “Ray” Davis, a detective and 30-plus-year veteran of the New York City Police Department. His perspective deepens her understanding of the police, she said.
After Clark graduated from Boston College in 1983, and from Howard University Law School in 1986, she was hired as an assistant district attorney in the Bronx. She spent 13 years in the office, was supervisor of the narcotics bureau and later deputy chief of the criminal court bureau. In 1999, then-Mayor Rudy Giuliani appointed Clark as a judge in criminal court. In 2006, she was elected to the Supreme Court in Bronx County, the trial-level court in the state’s system. In 2012, then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo appointed her to be an appellate judge covering Bronx and New York counties. Clark stepped down from the bench in 2015 to run for district attorney.
Clark is described by colleagues as laser-focused, a clear thinker and down-to-earth, as well as someone who possesses a holistic understanding of what works and what doesn’t work in the criminal justice system.
“I think she is a formidable individual,” said Daniel Karson, who co-led Clark’s transition team, recalling how she came into office “brimming with confidence.”
With a 2017 budget of $71.6 million, Clark began hiring, adding new prosecutors, for a total staff of more than 850 people. There is no reason that her office should not be ready for trial, she said. “And if there is, we need to take that in account as to what our approach is going to be on those cases.” Clark said she meets with her staff weekly to review upcoming cases and the oldest cases to determine whether they are still viable. Those measures have cut the backlog from more than 15,000 pending cases at the end of 2015 to just over 11,000 at the end of 2016.
Clark shifted the office to a vertical prosecution model in order to cut delays and build accountability. That means one assistant district attorney handles a case from beginning to end, from charge to disposition, instead of cases being handed off to other assistant district attorneys at various stages.
Clark opened a 14-person bureau on Rikers Island that includes investigators, administrators and prosecutors to work on cases against inmates and correctional officers. Clark also created a conviction integrity unit. One of its first cases involved Steven Odiase, 31, who was sentenced to 25 years to life in 2013 for the killing of 15-year-old Juan Jerez.
Odiase’s attorneys later came across a redacted police report in evidence that the district attorney’s office had turned over. Blacked out was a witness’s description of Jerez’s killer that did not match Odiase, said Odiase’s attorney Pierre Sussman, who alerted Clark’s office. Prosecutors then asked for Odiase’s conviction to be vacated. In April, he was released from prison, and Clark announced last week that he will not be retried.
“We don’t know whom eliminated it,” Sussman said of the evidence that four years later cleared his client. He did, however, credit Clark and her office for their response. “Once they turned that over to us and it was discovered by us, they did the right thing and the only thing,” said Sussman. “They joined us in helping the court overturn the conviction.”
Sussman also credited Clark for staffing the conviction integrity unit with veteran defense and appellate lawyers. “That tells me that she’s taking it seriously,” Sussman said. But he cautioned: “It’s a nascent unit, so we’ll see what happens in the next few years.”
Clark’s time as district attorney so far shows the complexities and contradictions of her role.
At the community meeting in December, many residents voiced concerns about policing and police brutality. Clark assured them, “If the police want to run wild, they have to come through me.” Many applauded, but one man stood up and challenged her. Even if her office brought charges against a police officer, he said, Clark had little to no sway over a conviction. Some applauded in agreement.
Asked about that moment later, Clark said that “still, the district attorney is the gatekeeper.”
“Police could arrest a whole lot of people, but if the DA doesn’t prosecute them, what is the point?” She added that she has a “fair relationship” with the New York Police Department “and they get that message loud and clear.”
“I’ve had to work side by side with the police. We need the police. You know, people say they don’t like the police until they need them.” Still, Clark pointed out, the Police Department in New York and others throughout the country also need reform.
“How many times are the courts going to dismiss cases?” Clark said. “How many times are there going to be federal monitors on a police department? How many times is a judge going to declare that the tactics of the police are unconstitutional?
“If they keep getting that message over and over, then they’re going to have to change with the times as well.”
Last year, Clark confronted the shooting death of Deborah Danner, 66, by a police officer.
Emergency crews and police officers had come to Danner’s seventh-floor apartment in the Castle Hill neighborhood on Oct. 18, 2016, in response to a 911 call about an emotionally disturbed woman screaming in the hallway. Danner allegedly refused to go to the hospital. At some point, she held a pair of scissors, then swung a wooden bat toward Sgt. Hugh Barry. Barry opened fire, shooting Danner twice.
The mayor and police commissioner both criticized Barry, saying he should have used a stun gun instead of his gun. But the state attorney general, who has the power to investigate police shootings of unarmed people, declined to proceed, stating that Danner was armed when Barry shot her. In response, Clark impaneled a special grand jury to hear evidence in the case.
In May, seven months after Danner was shot, Barry, 31, was indicted for second-degree murder, manslaughter and other charges in the killing of Danner. The grand jury found that Barry should have used other ways to subdue Danner or should have waited for a specialized emergency service unit to arrive before he used deadly force. He was released on $100,000 bond. His next court date is Nov. 27.
In a statement, Clark offered her condolences to the Danner family and acknowledged “the heartbreaking loss they have suffered.” She also thanked them for their patience.
“The men and women of the NYPD protect and serve us and face the possibility of danger every time they respond to calls of emotionally disturbed persons, domestic violence incidents and other crises,” Clark said in her statement. “They answer thousands of these calls each year without incident. I hope that measures will be taken to prevent another tragedy such as this.”
Organizations such as the Legal Aid Society have been pressuring Clark and other borough prosecutors to stop pursuing low-level crimes such as subway fare evasion and possession of small amounts of marijuana. Black and Hispanic New Yorkers are disproportionately targeted for such violations, advocates say.
“When you think about justice and the communities that are being impacted, this goes all the way to the womb,” said Edgar, of the Metropolitan Black Bar Association. “If you have a broken system, there are so many things that fall into the brokenness of that system. … It’s that long-standing institutional racial bias that affects our communities in a much more detrimental way than other communities.”
Over the summer, Clark held a second Another Chance event as part of an effort to address the concerns. In the first event, held during her first year as district attorney, she partnered with public defenders and judges to bring a warrant forgiveness program to the Bronx. In a makeshift courtroom at Mount Hope Community Center, 270 people had 355 summons warrants erased, many for offenses such as public alcohol consumption, disorderly conduct or possessing a small amount of marijuana. Because these offenses are handled in criminal court, convictions can prevent people from getting housing, employment and immigration visas.
During the event in August, held in the basement of Eastchester Presbyterian Church, a few men sat in metal folding chairs waiting for their cases to be called. In case after case, the summons was for having an open container of alcohol on the street. Bobby Diago, 56, had eight summonses, the oldest from 2011. After his case was called, the judge vacated his warrants in a matter of seconds.
By noon, more than 100 warrants were dismissed. It was “a drop in the bucket,” Clark said, compared with the 355,000 open summonses in the Bronx and the 1.5 million throughout the city. Many of them, Clark admitted, could not be tried.
As a judge, Clark said, “I presided over these very same summonses when people had them in court, and I can tell you that a lot of them are not prosecutable.” Sometimes the records are missing addresses, the defendant’s name is incorrect or the allegations don’t sustain the charge, she said. “So that’s why I really wanted to do this.”
Standing outside the church and holding his disposition certificate, Diago, a construction worker, said that he had not taken the summonses too seriously (“What, they gonna give me life for an open container?” he said), until his wife told him a police officer had come to their home looking for him.
Clark said outside the church that more of such offenses are being moved to civil court from criminal court. “We’re doing anything that we can to try to keep people out of the criminal justice system and provide them with resources so that they can be stable and really be productive members of the community,” she said.
Another certificate holder, Joseph Ramos, remembered the date of his summons clearly — it was his 26th birthday, June 12, 2015. The whole block in his Bronx neighborhood was seemingly outside celebrating with him, Ramos recalled. “The cops came and gave everybody tickets,” according to Ramos, who said he works as a security guard. One officer, Ramos said, took the plastic bottle Ramos had in his hand and poured its contents, an almost full bottle of Hennessy, onto the ground.
Now, Ramos said, “I don’t have to stand outside and be worried about getting locked up.” But he predicted, “Most likely it’s going to happen again.”
The Bronx court system still runs on delays. On any given day, a long line of defendants with court appearances snakes out the door and onto the sidewalk. A holding room is filled with those transported from prison, awaiting trial. Judges routinely adjourn cases, attorneys say. “It’s a horror show,” said Sussman, who has been an attorney for more than 20 years.
“The Browder case was the kind of illustration,” said Sussman, “the horrible illustration for what can go wrong when a backlog means that a case for theft of a backpack, if that is even what it was, takes three years to unfold in court. And the result is breaking a man. It’s not that Browder was shot down in the streets. He took his own life. They broke him.”
With the Browder case still echoing through the system, Clark says the most challenging aspect of her job has been dealing with youths.
“It’s scary that we really might be losing a generation to some of the things that are happening,” said Clark, who made a point to note the many young people who are succeeding in lives that don’t make headlines. “When I was judge, those were the most difficult cases. Because even though they’re accused of criminality, and may in fact be guilty of it, what do you do really with them? You don’t want somebody’s life to be ruined forever, but you don’t want them to think it’s OK to just prey on their community and do the things that are wrong and that there are no consequences. So it’s just really deciding to figure out that balance between what is wrong and what is right, and how to go about getting a result that is going to be beneficial to the whole community.”
Time will tell which case will determine that balance and define Clark’s tenure as district attorney.
It’s Week 8 of the NFL season and more drama is unfolding following President Donald Trump’s statements during a speech at a political rally Sept. 22 in Huntsville, Alabama, against kneeling during the national anthem to raise awareness of racial inequalities that started the storm.
While some players are still standing in solidarity and exercising their right to freedom of expression, other players are looking for solutions. But after Houston Texans owner Bob McNair’s statements in a private meeting about the protests were revealed, players are faced with a new issue.
On Oct. 18 during a meeting attended by NFL owners, player union representatives and team executives, McNair said, “We can’t have the inmates running the prison.”
The comment was reported by ESPN’s Seth Wickersham and Don Van Natta Jr. and in ESPN The Magazine, where they cited complex details about the meeting.
As Friday went on, and the story unfolded, here are some facts to consider and players’ reactions.
Others in the meeting were offended by McNair’s characterization.
NFL executive Troy Vincent said he’s been called many things including the N-word but he never felt like an “inmate.” McNair later pulled Vincent aside and apologized, saying that he felt horrible, a source told ESPN’s Adam Schefter.
McNair issued a public apology Friday following the ESPN The Magazine report.
“I regret that I used that expression,” McNair said in a statement. “I never meant to offend anyone and I was not referring to our players. I used a figure of speech that was never intended to be taken literally. I would never characterize our players or our league that way and I apologize to anyone who was offended by it.”
McNair’s comments enrage players despite the delivery of the news.
Texans head coach Bill O’Brien held a morning meeting Friday so the players would not be blindsided, sources told Schefter.
Texans wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins was not having any of it.
About 10 players, including Hopkins, left the facility Friday. Sources told Schefter that Hopkins’ absence from practice Friday was directly related to McNair’s comment. Most of the players who left returned to the facility, the source added, and the remaining players were talked out of staging a walkout by the coaching staff. The team is expecting that all players including Hopkins, will make the flight to Seattle Saturday for Sunday’s matchup against the Seahawks. O’Brien called Hopkins’ absence from practice a “personal day.”
An emotional meeting was held for players.
O’Brien, general manager Rick Smith and assistant head coach Romeo Crennel led a 90-minute meeting to allow players to honestly express their feelings. The goal was to make sure that the organization did not splinter and that it would turn protest into progress. The players were emotional during the meeting. The meeting delayed the start of practice.
“When it happened, there’s a thousand emotions going through your mind,” Texans left tackle Duane Brown said. “Obviously, one of the emotions is to leave the building immediately. We decided to go to work. The situation’s not over. It’s something that we’ll reconvene and talk about again, but we had practice today.”
O’Brien said he’s for his players.
“I’m 100 percent with these players,” O’Brien said. “I love these players, I love this coaching staff. We will show up in Seattle and play. We will play very hard. Seattle is a great football team with a great coaching staff. But we will be there when the ball is kicked off in Seattle.”
Brown said he “can’t stay quiet about it.”
The Texans players have not decided what they’ll do for the national anthem but Brown is speaking out. “I think it was ignorant,” Brown said. “I think it was embarrassing. I think it angered a lot of players, including myself. We put our bodies and minds on the line every time we step on that field, and to use an analogy of inmates in prison, that’s disrespectful. That’s how I feel about it.”
When asked if Brown would consider not playing on Sunday because of McNair’s comments, he said he wasn’t sure.
“This game, this locker room, this field that we play on isn’t just about him,” Brown said. “So it’s a lot of factors you have to consider when you step on that field. Definitely something that myself, and I think a lot of people in there, have to consider going forward.
Philadelphia Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins said the players were looking forward to change.
“From a player’s perspective, I think we’ve done a great job of trying to work in a collaborative manner with the league to really come up with solutions, to move forward and create some real change, and I don’t see that changing,” he said. “Obviously, his comments will represent him, but from a player’s standpoint, we’re focused on our goals, we feel like we still have an opportunity to move forward with whoever is interested in doing that, and so hopefully we can get that same type of commitment from those in league leadership.
“That’s our goal. It’s not to appease one another, it’s not to change someone’s personal opinion, it’s just to get some actual work done and change done. That’s what our focus is going to be. Obviously you have quite a few different comments come from different owners, but I feel like players have been very, very diligent in making sure that our message has been one that we want to continue to push forward, that we want to continue to collaborate and move forward. So hopefully we can get to that point.”
Other players and notables took to social media regarding the incident.
I wish more ppl would do that. So the world could ostracize those who don’t want to see EQUALITY. Otherwise they will continue to hide
— Richard Sherman (@RSherman_25) October 27, 2017
A quote that will make you cringe from Texans owners Bob McNair, re: anthem protests: “We can't have the inmates running the prison.”
— Jemele Hill (@jemelehill) October 27, 2017
Nahhh Bob McNair didn’t say that…nah y’all tripping. He couldn’t have. Nope he didn’t. Did that wake some of y’all up now?
— Damon Harrison (@BigDame900) October 27, 2017
— rolandsmartin (@rolandsmartin) October 27, 2017
Statement from Texans Founder, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Robert C. McNair: pic.twitter.com/EXdwKZ4y4x
— Texans PR (@TexansPR) October 27, 2017
I don’t believe he is the only owner that feel that way… smh
— Treston Decoud (@_TD31) October 27, 2017
This says it all smh …… pic.twitter.com/MDZho1hAXY
— Cecil Shorts III (@CecilShortsIII) October 27, 2017
— Jody Breeze (@Blafell1) October 27, 2017
I can appreciate ppl being candid. Don’t apologize! You meant what you said. Showing true colors allows ppl to see you for who you are.
— Richard Sherman (@RSherman_25) October 27, 2017
My husband has put his BODY & MIND on the line for your team for 10 YRS & to you he is an “inmate”. You owe these players RESPECT & support https://t.co/RJWqgBb2NE
— DEVI BROWN (@DeviBrown) October 27, 2017
That's how they really feel huh??? 🤦♂️ These words out this man's mouth are infuriating to me and the rest of my brothers in this League https://t.co/o1oQXb5Liz
— Brian Orakpo (@rak98) October 27, 2017
Draymond Green on how Roger Goodell should respond to Texans owner Bob McNair calling protestors "inmates" pic.twitter.com/9ETjerC2Fz
— Mark Medina (@MarkG_Medina) October 27, 2017
Too late Bob, I ain’t rollin! Hopefully nobody is…even though I’m not a Texans fan, I’m from Houston and this irks me…and millions!
— DeAndre Jordan (@DeAndre) October 27, 2017
How Bob McNair sees the NFL Draft pic.twitter.com/MEc3KupA1e
— Tyler Wellington (@WellingtonTyler) October 27, 2017
Texans owner Bob McNair knew EXACTLY what he was saying. & he wasn't just talking about Blk NFL players. White supremacy is a global prison
— Tariq Nasheed (@tariqnasheed) October 27, 2017
Carmen Williams did all she could to hold back tears as she watched her mother, Carla Williams, introduced as the new athletic director at the University of Virginia. “It’s emotional because she’s always been a champion for me and now I get to see her achieve her dreams.”
Former athletic director Craig Littlepage did all he could to fight back tears when asked about seeing control of the athletic program being turned over to an African-American woman. “I’m proud to say,” Littlepage said, pausing for a full 20 seconds as his mouth quivered, “if there’s a place, this is the place because this community has been through a lot.”
As for Williams, just moments after displaying a composed self-confidence during her news conference, she also got a little emotional when asked about how she thinks she’ll be perceived by young African-American women as the first African-American female athletic director at a Power 5 school.
“You want to make an impact,” she said, brushing away a tear that formed in the corner of her right eye. “You want to be an influence, a positive influence. And this is my way of doing that.”
UVA introduced Williams on Monday, two days after she arrived on campus with her husband, Brian, and children Carmen, Camryn (both students at the University of Georgia) and Joshua. She’s just the 10th athletic director in UVA’s history, replacing Littlepage, who announced his retirement last month after overseeing the most successful athletic era in school history (including seven NCAA team titles and 53 Atlantic Coast Conference championships during the 10-year period between 2002 and 2012).
UVA won 13 national championships during Littlepage’s 16-year tenure in Charlottesville.
Which all means the shoes that Williams has to fill are huge, replacing a man who was the first African-American athletic director in ACC history. But Williams’ impressive qualifications have assured the school administration that the program is in good hands. The former All-SEC basketball player at Georgia spent the past 13 years in athletics administration at her alma mater, most recently as the school’s deputy athletic director, a role in which she managed the daily operations of a department with a $127 million budget.
“At UVA we believe in uncompromised excellence, and that means that our coaches and our student-athletes pursue excellence in competition and in a classroom with equal levels of energy and commitment,” said Teresa Sullivan, the president of UVA. “Carla Williams shares our commitment to these principles, and that’s why I’m thrilled to introduce Carla as UVA’s new director of athletics.”
Williams grew up in LaGrange, Georgia, a city of just over 30,000 people that’s about an hour’s drive southwest of Atlanta. Her interest in sports emerged when she was a young girl playing basketball and football against boys (in those rugged sandlot football games, she played quarterback and running back).
“From a young age I learned some valuable lessons,” Williams said. “ I learned how to compete against people who were seemingly bigger, stronger and faster than me.”
What drove her competing against boys? “Don’t be intimidated, always be prepared,” she said. “I learned humility is strength.”
As she gained strength, Williams learned how to win. As Carla Green, she led LaGrange High School to two Class AAAA state titles. That led to a scholarship from Georgia, where she was a three-year starter as a 5-foot-9 guard (she played with five-time Olympian Teresa Edwards and two-time Olympian Katrina McClain) and was among the top 10 scoring leaders in school history when she graduated in 1989.
Williams returned to Athens for grad school, and after receiving her master’s degree in public administration in 1991 she was hired as an assistant women’s basketball coach. She was on the sidelines when Georgia went to consecutive Final Fours in 1995 and 1996.
But even before Georgia lost to Tennessee in the 1996 championship game, Williams knew she wanted to leave coaching to become an administrator. From 1996-97, she served as the school’s assistant director of compliance, beginning an administrative journey that included stops at Florida State (where she received her doctorate) and Vanderbilt (where she was an assistant athletic director) before returning to Georgia.
“When you looked at what she’s done, she checked all the boxes,” said Marcus Martin, a vice president and chief diversity officer at Virginia who was on the search committee formed after Littlepage announced his retirement. “Carla’s had the opportunity to go to other schools as an athletic director, and she could have risen to that level at Georgia. But she decided to come here, and this is an outstanding opportunity for not only her but for us.”
Phoebe Willis, the student representative on the search committee, expressed pride in having a woman in the school’s top athletic position.
“I’m an openly gay woman, and to see any type of minority be a first person in a significant place of power is exciting,” said Willis, a former field hockey player at Virginia. “But I’ll say with Carla Williams, what stood out with her was that she was the best qualified for this job first, and then it’s just an exciting thing that she’s the first African-American female to have this job in a Power 5 conference.”
Former Virginia basketball great Ralph Sampson attended the news conference to support the new hire.
“With [football coach] Bronco Mendenhall and [men’s basketball coach] Tony Bennett coming from outside, I think it’s good to bring some new flavor and spice to the school,” said Sampson, who was the National Player of the Year in three of his four years at Virginia. “She was the most qualified for this job. She’ll have no problem learning the culture here.”
Williams likely won’t immediately move to Charlottesville because her husband, an associate professor in the School of Public and International Affairs at UGA, has to finish the semester in Athens. Her family likely will relocate in December or January to a city, Charlottesville, that made international headlines after a violent white nationalist rally in August.
“I watched it all play out on television, and I felt bad for the university and bad for Charlottesville,” Williams said. “What happened was not a reflection on UVA and the Charlottesville community. I was hurt for what this community went through.”
As Monday’s news conference came to a close, Williams spent some time meeting her new co-workers, taking photos and meeting the local media. As she answered questions, her 21-year-old daughter, Carmen, stood nearby beaming as she watched her mother handle the spotlight with poise.
“To see someone achieve those things you never thought were possible makes all African-American women think, ‘I can do this too,’ ” Carmen Williams said. “I saw a tweet from one of my friends who said, ‘I want to be just like Carla Williams.’
“I’m happy everyone is going to get a chance to see the type of incredible woman that I’m exposed to every day,” she added. “It’s her time.”
Hey, now! Got another win on Around The Horn on Tuesday, which was fun. Of course, Wednesday night is the season opener for the Washington Wizards, which should be exciting, so I’ll be there.
Even when it comes to showing concern, President Donald Trump has problems. After falsely claiming that various presidents had not contacted the parents and families of soldiers who were killed in action, when he finally decided to do it himself, he made things worse. According to Rep. Frederica Wilson (D-Florida), Trump told the widow of the late Army Sgt. La David T. Johnson that “he knew what he signed up for.” He leaves behind two children and an unborn child. If you’d like to donate to their college funds, you can do so here. Trump has denied it happened.
Gucci Mane is now a married man. In a lavish $1.7M ceremony dubbed The Mane Event on BET, Radric Davis wed Keyshia Ka’oir in front of a celebrity crowd all dressed in white. Because this is 2017, the entire process will be part of a 10-part special for the network, The Wopsters, which will be must-see TV. We need not extol the virtues of Gucci and his turnaround — except, actually, we do. His new album, Mr. Davis, is way better than the two previous post-jail projects he’s dropped. This dude is such an inspiration.
Chris Long puts his money where his mouth is. Earlier in the year, he pledged to give game checks to start scholarships for college in his hometown of Charlottesville, Virginia. You might recall that a white nationalist rally in that city sparked huge outrage when a driver plowed into a crowd of people in a scarily violent and deadly scene. Now, the Philadelphia Eagles defensive lineman is donating his next 10 game checks to launch the Pledge 10 for Tomorrow campaign, designed to support educational equality efforts. Great cause.
NFL 1, President Trump, 0. After a meeting Tuesday with players, the NFL decided that it will not be penalizing players who don’t kneel for the national anthem, a far cry from all the bluster that was spoken in previous weeks. Remember when Trump got on stage and started screaming that if guys didn’t stand for the anthem they should be fired on the spot? And then Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones backed that up with a toothless statement that no player of his would kneel without getting benched?
Coffee Break: You know you’re an important person in society when Lego decides to re-create your likeness for kids across the globe to play with. Lego’s now done so for female scientists with the new “Women of NASA” set, which features Nancy G. Roman, Margaret Hamilton, Sally Ride and Mae Jemison.
Snack Time: When it comes to cultural appropriation, some people are so ruthless with it. Take for example this restaurant in California that serves Popeyes chicken, which they PROUDLY have delivered twice a day. Wow.
Dessert: Let Thundercat take you away this afternoon. We love him.
The revolution was televised. On Jan. 21, networks tuned in to watch 2.6 million people across the world come together for an iconic moment. A five-hour rally known as the Women’s March took place.
The event highlighted topics dealing with criminal justice reform, social justice, racial discrimination, domestic violence and women’s rights, and it implored entertainers, celebrity speakers, actors and activists to help progress the cause.
Now, the Women’s March organization is taking its activism further. The first Women’s Convention will be held in Detroit from Oct. 27-29. The massive gathering, which will bring together thousands of women and allies of all backgrounds for a weekend of workshops, strategy sessions, inspiring forums and intersectional movement building, will aim to continue the preparation going into the 2018 midterm elections in Detroit.
The convention is set to bring first-time activists, movement leaders and rising political stars to the forefront. And it’s all happening a few short weeks after NFL players sat, knelt or raised their fists in protest during the national anthem in direct response to President Donald Trump’s recent comments regarding on-field protests.
Now, Detroit-based players, coaches and their families are taking their causes a bit further and stretching their likeness to organizations such as the Women’s March for their upcoming Women’s Convention. To date, former Detroit Lions linebacker DeAndre Levy and his wife, Desire Vincent Levy, recently donated $30,000, along with Detroit Pistons president and head coach Stan Van Gundy and his wife, Kim, who have also donated $10,000 to a scholarship fund for the convention.
Activist Tamika D. Mallory, national co-chairwoman for the Women’s March and founder of Mallory Consulting, said players coming together to help with the cause isn’t surprising.
“I think that has really garnered the attention of NFL supporters,” Mallory said. “With all of the issues we see happening with the NFL and how it sort of intersects with some of the issues that the Women’s March has been bringing to the forefront, it would make sense that there would be players and others within the sports industry who would want to support and help.”
Mallory notes that while the Women’s March did not have any past relationships with players, the Gathering for Justice, the organization that the Women’s March is part of, has a relationship with Colin Kaepernick.
“He donated to the gathering prior to the Women’s March and has had a very strong relationship with us,” she said. “I think that it [the decision to donate] was really important for us because it lets us know that people are not disconnected from the issues. That just because a person is playing for a sports team and it may sometimes seem as though they’re not necessarily connected to what’s happening on the ground, that’s not in fact the case. That people are actually listening, that the work that we’re doing resonates with folks from all industries. So it is certainly very encouraging to have the support of people from the sports industry, for certain.”
The organization’s decision to choose Detroit as the place to hold the Women’s Convention was made during the summer and “very intentional.”
“We were looking across the country, looking for cities that we thought represented all the issues in our Unity Principles, a place that’s sort of a microcosm of the issues that we know are happening to marginalize people in America,” she said. “Detroit specifically, you’re looking at a place where gentrification, workers’ rights, the police accountability issue, right down the road from Flint, where the water crisis continues to today. Looking at economic stability, or instability, and just looking at the displacement of black and brown folks and how that plays out within the Detroit area. Even gun violence, a major issue there. We looked at Phoenix, Arizona, we also looked at Atlanta, Georgia, and Detroit was always the No. 1 choice for us, so when we were able to find dates that worked, we went there.
“We wanted to go to a place that we could bring folks from across the country to hear from people who are dealing with very, very serious challenges, but also we know that Detroit is a place where you have so many great organizers, people who have organized and done great work throughout history, and so we know that there’s also a great cultural experience that people coming from all over the country can benefit from. Lastly, we wanted to make sure that when bringing resources into a particular city, that we as Women’s March would bring our resources to a community that needs those resources and needs an infusion of care from people across the country.”
The Levys attended the Women’s March in January. The two made their donation to the Women’s Convention “to support women and girls from Detroit to be able to attend the conference” and “for local vendors to be able to vend in a social justice city.”
“I was really excited when I learned that it was going to be coming to Detroit,” Desire Vincent Levy said. “This is important because it’s a convergence of a lot of different individuals from Detroit, from around the country, coming together to connect and build and learn. Supporting that, the connection and convergence, just given the climate of the world right now, I think is very important.”
The Levys are no strangers to giving. They host a fundraiser called Our Issue, which raises money for the backlog of neglected rape kits in Detroit.
“We also have a scholarship in partnership with the Detroit Food Academy that is funded through a dinner series called Regenerate Detroit,” Levy added.
With the climate of what’s going on right now with football players’ silent protests, Levy believes the NFL and Women’s March organization can collaborate more.
“I think both are looking for solutions and sparking and continuing conversations about inequality and injustice that’s occurring in our society,” Levy said. “To me they both have the same aspiration: to spark conversation, to get people engaged that maybe wouldn’t normally be engaged and, quite honestly, need to be engaged.”
The organizers refer to the convention as a place where people can get the tools that they need to organize locally and connect with other organizers so they are able to continue their local work.
“The resources that we have received and continue to receive from people in the sports industry and other influencers alike, it’s helpful to give us the space and the opportunity to provide them these necessary tools to organizers and activists,” Mallory said.