‘Whose Streets?’ pushes back on what we think we know about Michael Brown and Ferguson, Missouri New documentary is a potent combination of social and media criticism

Deep into Whose Streets?, the new documentary about Ferguson, Missouri, after the death of Michael Brown, there’s footage of Darren Wilson, the police officer who shot and killed Brown, giving an interview to ABC’s George Stephanopoulos.

“You can’t perform the duties of a police officer and have racism in you,” Wilson tells him. At the screening I attended, there was an audible mix of gasps and laughter from the audience.

Directors Sabaah Folayan and Damon Davis spent much of the film’s run time up to that point establishing just how much racism lurked within the Ferguson Police Department and the city government. A 2015 report from the Justice Department established that Ferguson provided about as clear an illustration of institutionalized racism as could possibly exist: The city not only targeted black residents for tickets and arrests they couldn’t afford, it was also using the revenue from such stops to fund the nearly all-white police force. The court clerk, police captain and police sergeant were all implicated in sending and receiving racist emails, including one that compared President Barack Obama to a monkey.

Protester Brittany Ferrell hoists a bullhorn as her daughter hugs her in a scene from ‘Whose Streets?’

Courtesy of Magnolia Pictures

And yet here was Wilson telling a national television audience that racism was anathema to policing.

Whose Streets? arrives in theaters Aug. 11, marking the third anniversary of Brown’s death (Aug. 9, 2014) and the uprisings that followed it. It’s a deeply moving work, and the passion of both the filmmakers and their subjects is palpable. “FYI I was literally homeless throughout the first year of production. Worked as a canvasser and put money back into the film,” Folayan, an activist, theater geek and former advocate for prisoners at Rikers Island, tweeted recently. Davis is an interdisciplinary artist whose work is currently featured in the permanent collection at the Blacksonian (aka, the National Museum of African American History and Culture).

The focus of Whose Streets? is the residents of Ferguson and St. Louis who keep marching and screaming for justice till they’re hoarse, who keep agitating long after the national media has turned its attention elsewhere. It establishes the movement for black lives in Ferguson as one driven by young people such as rapper Tef Poe, who are fed up with being targeted by police, and others like organizer Brittany Ferrell and her partner, Alexis Templeton, as well as Copwatch recruiter David Whitt, who want better for their children.

Whose Streets? is likely to serve as a counterweight to Detroit, the new Kathryn Bigelow film about the 1967 Detroit riots and the police murder of three unarmed black people at the Algiers Hotel. It’s not necessarily fair to compare narrative films like Detroit to documentaries, but there’s a similarity in the dynamic between the two that existed with Nina and What Happened, Miss Simone? Both Whose Streets? and What Happened, Miss Simone? end up correcting, or at least augmenting, the record of ahistorical narrative films that struggle with details in which race is central.

Nina made the mistake of casting Zoe Saldana as Simone, then putting her in makeup to darken her skin and prosthetics to make her facial features more closely resemble Simone’s. Detroit fails to imbue its characters with any depth or humanity and devolves into a slog of racist white police officers terrorizing a group of people in the Algiers.

Bigelow’s herky-jerky camerawork and editing in Detroit deliberately create a sense of chaos. Whose Streets?, by contrast, presents real footage of Ferguson buildings in flames after Brown’s death, but the overall effect is far more nuanced. It’s much easier to get a sense of what happened in Ferguson as pockets of violence and property damage pockmarked peaceful, if emotional, protests. Whose Streets? refuses to equate property damage with the loss of human life.

Folayan and Davis offer a potent work of media criticism too. Folayan and Davis communicate just how much cable news, by repeatedly and selectively broadcasting the most violent, hectic footage, was responsible for making Ferguson seem like a war zone whose residents were animalistic and out of control. That narrative was furthered by a distant, largely white media corps accepting police reports as gospel. Whose Streets? challenges that by juxtaposing footage of Ferrell and her cohorts protesting to shut down a highway in Missouri with the official police account of what happened, in which the arresting officer accused Ferrell of yelling out “tribal chants.”

For a moment, we also see what it means to send black journalists into a situation like Ferguson, where police in tanks and armored vehicles are shooting rubber bullets, smoke grenades and tear gas (a chemical agent that the Geneva Convention prohibits in warfare) at the city’s black residents. There’s a clip of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Ernie Suggs walking through Ferguson at night with his hands above his head as police bark orders at black protesters. The police draw no distinction. He’s black, so he might as well be one of them.

Brittany Ferrell leads a line of protesters as they face off with police in ‘Whose Streets?’

Courtesy of Magnolia Pictures

The film gives voice to a community that’s reeling, mournful and frustrated. It has little faith in a government that’s failed it repeatedly. Spliced with footage of white public officials delivering statements that are often canned and worded to avoid legal liability, Whose Streets? brings the idea of two Americas, and two wholly different realities, to life. “Question normal,” it demands of its audience.

Despite the gravity of its subject matter, Whose Streets? has moments of dark levity. One interview follows a clip of President Obama giving a statement about Brown in his trademark style of measured reason.

“I’m waiting on me to have a black president. I still ain’t had me one,” a Ferguson resident named Tory says. “Wasn’t he a constitutional professor? Ain’t no constitution in Ferguson. Tell that n—- he need to teach a new class or bring his a– to Ferguson … and figure out why we ain’t got no constitution.”

Whose Streets? is understandably close in spirit to The Hate U Give, the best-selling young adult novel by Angie Thomas published earlier this year. The Hate U Give is told from the perspective of a teenage girl who is the sole witness as her unarmed best friend is shot and killed by a white police officer. The book, which is heavily influenced by Ferguson, is slated for a film adaptation starring Amandla Stenberg, Regina Hall, Russell Hornsby and Lamar Johnson. It’s early days yet, but I suspect that the film version of The Hate U Give and Whose Streets? will serve as cinematic bookends to understanding what black people went through in Ferguson before and after Brown’s death.

The documentary ends on a hopeful note, but no one in Whose Streets? is a Pollyanna, least of all Ferrell. She’s open about the fact that she’s taking prescription medication to treat anxiety and says she’s not sure the justice she and her partner are seeking will come in their lifetimes. They’re counting on another generation of troublemakers and revolutionaries to carry on. They’re raising one in their elementary-school-aged daughter McKenzie, seen in the film with her mothers leading a crowd and screaming as loud as she can, “WE HAVE NOTHING TO LOSE BUT OUR CHAINS!”

Esperanza Spalding heads to Harvard a professor and drops new project, ‘Exposure’ The singer will livestream from the studio beginning Sept. 12

The simple words “award-winning” in front of her name don’t do Esperanza Spalding enough justice. The singer, songwriter and bassist is a four-time Grammy Award winner, and she just may be having the coolest, most undefeated week in the world of announcements.

On Monday, Harvard University announced that Spalding joined the faculty of the Department of Music as professor of the practice. According to the press release from Harvard, in her new role she will teach a range of courses in songwriting, arranging, improvisation and performance, bringing her commitment to music and as a voice for social justice. The university defines professors of the practice as individuals “who have a national or international reputation as leaders” and who are “the best in the field.”

The Portland, Oregon, native took to Twitter on Wednesday to announce her new project. For her next album, Exposure, she will spend 77 hours in the studio, beginning on Sept. 12, and will stream the experience live. During the three days, Spalding and her team will fully produce the album in front of web viewers everywhere. None of the songs will be prewritten, and, according to The New York Times, her goal is to finish 10 songs.

Spalding, 32, has five solo albums. She is recognized internationally for her musicality, dazzling live performances and range as a singer and composer. The artist blends jazz, fusion, rock, funk, soul, rhythm and blues, and Brazilian musical traditions and she incorporates her style into theatrical lyrical storytelling.

Spalding gained attention in 2011 when she won Best New Artist at the 53rd Grammy Awards. She was the first jazz artist to win the title in the show’s history. But many became familiar with the 2008 Berklee College of Music alumna when she was the laureate-invited singer and bassist at the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony in 2009 when President Barack Obama was a recipient.

Her awards include the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Jazz Artist, Boston Music Award for Jazz Artist of the Year, Smithsonian American Ingenuity Award for the Performing Arts, Soul Train Music Award for Best Contemporary Jazz Artist/Group, Frida Kahlo Award for Innovative Creativity, and ASCAP Foundation Jazz Vanguard Award.

NAACP searches for relevance in era defined by Black Lives Matter and Trump Group looks for new leadership while continuing to play the inside game

BALTIMORE — The NAACP calls itself the “oldest and boldest” civil rights organization in the country. The first part of that description is not in dispute. But in an era when activists quickly organize and mobilize mass demonstrations online, the NAACP finds itself struggling to remain on the cutting edge of the social justice movement.

As thousands of NAACP supporters gather here for the 108-year-old organization’s annual convention, the group is grappling with an urgent internal question: How can it better respond to the new realities confronting African-Americans without abandoning the principles that made it one of the nation’s leading forces for social change?

“The NAACP has to remember its history but also plan for the future,” said Baltimore Mayor Catherine E. Pugh, an NAACP life member who used to consult for the organization. “It is not just about social justice, but it is also about economic justice and being prepared to take advantage of opportunity.”

The NAACP also faces urgent external challenges. The most pressing are coming from President Donald Trump’s administration, which is pushing policy changes on health care, criminal justice reform, educational funding and voting rights that are adamantly opposed by the organization.

All of that is complicated by the demands of a younger generation that is impatient with the NAACP’s style of advocacy. Groups such as Black Lives Matter, for example, have led raucous demonstrations to force the issue of police brutality onto the national agenda. That kind of action can make the NAACP’s approach, working within the system to hammer out legal and legislative change, seem ponderous or even irrelevant.

Earlier this month, the African Methodist Episcopal Church’s (AME) Council of Bishops released a scathing open letter demanding that the NAACP reinvent itself. “We call upon the National Board of the NAACP to restructure the organization, define its mission and set forth its vision, lest it remain on its current path toward irrelevancy and ultimate demise … longevity alone is not proof of relevance,” the letter said.

NAACP leaders say they recognize the organization’s predicament and are working to address it. Cornell Brooks, an AME minister and Yale Law School graduate who served as the group’s president and CEO for three years, was forced out in May after the board decided not to renew his contract. Derrick Johnson, the board’s vice chairman and an adjunct professor at Tougaloo College in Mississippi, is serving as interim president and CEO until a permanent replacement is named. Officials said they expect a new leader to be in place by the end of the year.

The organization said it will embark on a national listening tour before hiring a permanent president. NAACP officials said the tour will visit seven cities to hear from activists around the country about its future direction.

The tour should “expand our reach, touch our people, engage more diverse audiences and reinforce our focus on civil rights in this age of great political and social uncertainty,” Johnson said.

NAACP board Chairman Leon Russell said that while the NAACP is determined to keep pace with the times, it does not want to lose its identity of successfully working within the system. He noted that the organization faced similar questions of relevance during the heyday of the civil rights movement, when groups such as the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, the Congress of Racial Equality and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference led street-level protests and sit-ins, while the NAACP supported their action by working for legislative and legal change. The same is true now with Black Lives Matter and other organizations, officials said.

“Groups like Black Lives Matter and others are important, and we appreciate and support what they do,” said Hilary O. Shelton, director of the NAACP’s Washington bureau, which lobbies Congress and other federal entities. “They shine a bright light on problems, which is a very important first step. Our role is to get the courts, the legislature and government agencies to address those problems.”

This year’s agenda for the convention reflects the organization’s insider priorities. On Monday, former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder is scheduled to speak about how the Justice Department’s civil rights enforcement has eroded since Trump took office. More than a dozen members of Congress, including Democratic Sens. Kamala Harris and Cory Booker, will also address the convention. Trump was invited to speak, too, but turned down the offer.

Since its founding in 1909, the NAACP has been at the forefront in combating lynching, dismantling segregation and helping to gain voting rights for African-Americans. NAACP martyrs such as Medgar Evers and husband and wife Harry T. and Harriette Moore have been murdered as a result of their NAACP activism. But after piling up a string of landmark civil rights victories, the NAACP now finds its targets more elusive.

The organization claims more than 500,000 members and in 2015 reported a budget of more than $29 million. The group has 2,200 local chapters that deal with issues before local governments. Many of those issues never bubble up to national attention. That structure gives the group an important grass-roots presence. But it also gives it an unwieldy bureaucracy, and national leaders struggle to improve communication between often independent local branches and the national headquarters in Baltimore.

Akosua Ali, 34, president of the organization’s branch in Washington, D.C., said the fact that the NAACP has an organizational infrastructure sets it apart from many other social justice groups.

“I know we have the capacity to get things done, and that is important,” she said. “We have the foundation for training and learning and a history that is unrivaled. There is really no other organization that offers that training and structure.”

Motown mastermind behind ‘Dancing in the Street’ recalls the 1967 Detroit riots – when black folks took to the streets Writer William ‘Mickey’ Stevenson remembers the pain, the glory, the commitment to creativity — and to changing the world

It was time for a change.

Motown was becoming bigger than music. The label was challenging the segregated whiteness of American pop with songs such as 1961’s “Shop Around” from Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, which was the label’s first million-seller. And “Please Mr. Postman,” from the Marvelettes, was Motown’s first No. 1 pop hit in that same year. Yet, by the time the middle of the decade arrived, Motown — with recordings such as Martha and the Vandellas’ hit 1964 anthem “Dancing in the Street” and Martin Luther King Jr.’s politically direct 1967 “Why I Oppose The Vietnam War” (recorded on Motown’s Black Forum label) — was dipping its collective toe into the creation of socially conscious works.

This label, based in Detroit’s midtown area, was of course the brainchild of young Berry Gordy, a former featherweight boxer with a dozen wins on record. In 1959 he launched Tamla Records, which was incorporated a year later as Motown Record Corp. He did this with an $800 loan he’d collected from family. Motown’s records were addictive, a pop culture phenomenon: gospel-inflected vocals draped over infectious, energetic beats, and most often telling stories of good folks having good times, good love gone bad, or pining away for some unrequited love. It was the kind of music that soundtracked rent parties and backyard barbecues — and eventually, after much behind-the-scenes prodding, stridently white spaces such as The Ed Sullivan Show. But the sound shifted. It had to. Too much was going on — right in the label’s neighborhood.

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Smokey Robinson and the Miracles perform live on stage. (Echoes/Redferns)

Unrest broke out in Detroit on Sunday morning July 23, 1967, and lasted through July 27. Although “the insurrection was the culmination of decades of institutional racism and entrenched segregation,” the sparking incident was when a police squad raided a “blind pig” (an unlicensed bar) near the intersection of 12th Street and Clairmount Avenue on Detroit’s West Side, about a half-mile from Motown’s Hitsville U.S.A. offices and studios. Confrontations between the Detroit Police Department and the city’s black citizens resulted in one of the deadliest and most destructive riots in the history of the United States.

A new Kathryn Bigelow film, Detroit, starring Anthony Mackie, John Boyega and John Krasinski, is set to premiere Aug. 4. It brings to the screen the bone-chilling Algiers Motel incident: during the Detroit Riots, at the motel, three black men were killed and nine others were beaten by law enforcement. Overall, the civil unrest known as the 1967 Detroit Riot (and alternatively as the Detroit Rebellion of 1967, and the 12th Street Riot), left 43 dead. The Michigan State Police, the Michigan National Guard and the U.S. Army were called in. One thousand, one hundred and eighty-nine people were injured. There were more than 7,200 arrests. More than 2,000 buildings were destroyed.

A city, forever changed.

Motown, which formally moved to Los Angeles in June 1972, was still in Detroit in 1967. It was a wildly successful company; at the time, it was the country’s most successful black-owned business. By the end of 1966, Motown was home to more than 450 employees. The label owes much of its early success to songwriter and producer William “Mickey” Stevenson, the company’s first director of artists & repertoire.

Stevenson was in the background but stood next to Gordy and Robinson and played a huge part in recruiting and nurturing the talents of icons such as Martha Reeves, Stevie Wonder, the Four Tops and Marvin Gaye. He assembled “the best-kept secret in pop music,” Motown’s legendary in-studio band, the Funk Brothers. Stevenson also wrote approximately 500 songs during the course of his Motown career.

Songwriter and producer William “Mickey” Stevenson at New York’s Verve Records on March 16, 1967. (PoPsie Randolph/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

Some of his bigger hits include the Marvelettes’ “Beechwood 4-5789” and Gaye’s “Stubborn Kind of Fellow,” both from 1962, and Gaye and Kim Weston’s classic 1966 “It Takes Two.” He co-wrote Martha and the Vandellas’ fun 1964 “Dancing in the Street,” his most successful track for the label and one that functioned as a “radical anthem” during the civil rights movement. There’ll be laughing, singing, and music swinging / Dancing in the street / Philadelphia, P.A. / Baltimore and D.C. now. / Can’t forget the Motor City.

Yes, the Motor City’s discontent was a tipping point for the music of Motown. As the label sailed into the 1970s, the music became compellingly and deliberately politicized: There was Gaye’s 1971 pitch-perfect “What’s Going On,” “Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler)” and “Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology),” The Temptations’ 1971 “Ball of Confusion” and Stevie Wonder’s 1973 “Living For The City,” among many others.

“We represented a social environment that was changing,” The Supremes’ Mary Wilson said in 2009. “The experience we had known being black was not being bona fide citizens, not being able to drink out of the same water fountains, playing to segregated audiences. When that started to fall away, and you saw that music was one of the components that was helping it fall away, that’s when it really felt like we were doing something significant.”

Stevenson, now 80, reflects on how that era, as painful as it was, shifted the Motown sound and was an authentic soundtrack to a changing America.

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In the aftermath of the 1967 Detroit riots, members of the National Guard patrol neighborhoods. (Lee Balterman/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)

What was it like being black in 1967 Detroit? Before the end of that July?

For me and my brothers — and I mean Smokey, and the Temptations, and the Four Tops — it was a proud thing. We were proud. ‘I’m black and I’m proud!’ We meant that. And we knew it was just a matter of time. We were doing wonderful things, and we were doing it around the clock. Listen — the work we were doing was not a job. It was a joy. We could do it ’round the clock, and that is pride. It was love.

Do you remember where you were, physically, when you first heard about Detroit heating up?

Yes. I was in Detroit, and I was at home. I had friends with me — Jewish friends. We were there at my place, and when it was taking off, my first thought was to make sure [they didn’t] leave my house. My house was in the city, right in the middle of the riots. My house was on Courtland and, like, Dexter. That’s where it all kind of happened, right in that area.

Detroit burning, July 24, 1967. (AP Photo)

And you didn’t want your friends to leave?

I didn’t want [them] to get killed. [They] would have been in danger trying to get to the airport. It wouldn’t have happened.

As a black Detroiter, I imagine that you were empathetic to some of the issues …

Yeah. Well, it was working itself up for a while. We’d come out of one riot much earlier, when I was a kid. I could see this coming back again. It was an uncomfortable situation … you had to watch yourself. Motown was out on West Grand Boulevard, which was a pretty good street. And even there, at a certain point, like 12th Street, moving in that direction — Dexter, Linwood, like going deeper, where I would say the ghetto was, you had problems. It was building itself up. I didn’t know it would break into a riot, but it was building itself up where we had to watch it. All of us.

What was happening at the label in July of 1967?

I was A&R director of Motown. We just had to stay busy, doing the best we could. We didn’t take time to deal with the problem of the city. We had enough problems dealing with the manufacturing and producing of product, to go out. We were always in a fight somewhere, in some place. Moving black product on white radio, that was not a walk in the park. You understand what I’m saying? We were in position — we had to stay in position at all times.

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A month after the Detroit uprising, what began as a demonstration turned into something else. It was Aug. 21, 1967, and the Michigan State Police intervened. (Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images)

My understanding is that Martha Reeves was on stage at the Fox Theater, in the midst of a Motown Revue, when they got word the riots were still happening near the Tiger Stadium?

If she was there, I was there. Because she was one of my favorite, talented artists — and of course my biggest song, ‘Dancing in the Street.’ I’m sure the idea was for her to keep everybody calm, because that’s the way we operated, period. It was not like, ‘Should we do it?’ That’s an automatic thought. We had this kind of thing come up in New York, and Philadelphia, and Washington. And so, it was always when things got out of hand, we would have to say to the audience, ‘Look, let’s stay under control.’ Nothing unusual for us to make that happen.

Your acts often performed in places where black and white concertgoers couldn’t lawfully integrate. What was Motown’s biggest role within the civil rights movement?

[Singing] our songs to both black and white audiences. We made it a point to insist that everybody had a chance to hear our songs. We didn’t look at it as black music. We looked at it as music. When Motown artists came on, we made everybody get involved, because if you didn’t, you were adding to segregation. You’ve got to look at it like this: Our whole staff was mixed at Motown. Our sales department was mixed. Our marketing department was mixed. We forced an issue. If you’re with us, you’re with us, or you’re not with us. Let’s build as one unit. We were very proud to push that button. Sometimes we got challenged.

How so?

Some of our trips. I remember getting stopped in the car and the police made me get out and sing. You either put up a fight and get your head blown off, or you sing. Which one you want to do? If I sing now, I’ll be able to sing later. If I stand and fight, there’s no telling where I’ll be. You got it? I can name that with a few artists. I know Smokey had problems with that. It’s not like it was an easy time. We had to deal with it, but we had made up in our minds, we gonna make this thing work. I tell everybody — I don’t want to overtalk this thing — but I tell everybody, ‘This is God’s work.’ We were just instruments at that time. We took on great stands because we had no other way to think.

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Detroit, July 1967. (Lee Balterman/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)

How did you and Berry Gordy and Smokey Robinson talk about the creative direction of Motown, after the riots?

When the riot was on, nobody could get to the studio. Remember, we were on a main street, so we’d have had a huge problem. When it calmed down … we went to the studio. And when we went in — fortunately we didn’t have broken windows and none of that kind of craziness — we went in going to work. We went in trying to figure out, what’s the next best songs we need to get out? What sessions can we pull together now? I know that sounds odd, but we were a machine. We worked like a machine, not like individuals. ‘What happened to you? Anything happen to you? Are you all right?’ No. We didn’t get into that. If you’re standing there, you’re all right. Go to work.

Were you inspired by the uprisings to think about the socially conscious music that Motown started making, going into the 1970s?

Not so much the riots. We were inspired by the workings and the help of Dr. King and people like that. Our job was, in our heads, to let it be known that we’ve got to back this up, be behind it, care about one another. Take a stand. When we put out the album, [featuring] King, on our label [Black Forum] … we were into that kind of thinking. We thought that if we didn’t work together to fight this thing, it was not going to go away. So we did it with music, with artists — and backed financially as much as we could.

When did you notice that a tide was changing socially and culturally? When did you notice that perhaps the music you all were creating was helping black folks be seen in a way that we weren’t seen before, and kind of being able to exist in a way we weren’t able to before?

Certain spaces and certain places we couldn’t get in or get on, or be on that show, or whatever — all of a sudden, we started getting calls, ‘Come do this show.’ It took people like Dick Clark and others who broke that barrier. ‘If I put this Motown act on, I could have the hottest show on TV.’ He was absolutely right. They had all white artists. No blacks. Clark was a huge gambler, and he really believed in the music. I got to give it to him. He made it a point and took a risk. He stood his ground and became the hottest thing on television. Then there were people like Ed Sullivan who refused to let us come on and sing a whole song. If he brought you on, it was only for him to say a few words right at the end of his show. You know what I mean? And we changed that theory. We made him put on The Supremes, and do two songs, and talk to them.

Unspecified, circa 1970: Martha and the Vandellas with Dick Clark. (Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

The Supremes, (from left to right) Cindy Birdsong, Mary Wilson and Diana Ross, pose with host Ed Sullivan onstage at The Ed Sullivan Show in New York on Dec. 20, 1969. (CBS Photo Archive/Getty Images)

Left, circa 1970: Martha and the Vandellas with Dick Clark. Right, The Supremes, (from left to right) Cindy Birdsong, Mary Wilson and Diana Ross, pose with host Ed Sullivan onstage at The Ed Sullivan Show in New York on Dec. 20, 1969. (Left, Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images. Right, CBS Photo Archive/Getty Images)

Motown music is the music that changed the world. It also helped to heal a nation while it was suffering through yet another one of its horrific racial ruptures. Why do you think this particular music helped?

I believe in my heart, and quite a few of us do — Smokey, we talk about this all the time – Motown was God’s game plan, and we all bought into it. That whole sound happened at a time when our country was at its worst. And the love of the music … reached everybody. This music’s got so much love, and so much caring in it. Those moments … while you’re listening … all that hatred, all that dislike for one another, was no longer there. That changed the world. Not only here in America, in London, all over the place. That had to come from a source bigger than you and I. I’ve heard men say to me that the time when Motown was going on, and the riots and stuff was going on — ‘Man, I used to get in the van, pull the cover over my head, and listen to Motown music. When I heard those words, that was incredible for my heart. It took me to a wonderful place.’ That’s exactly what the music was for. It lasted for 60 years. It’s still lasting.

March on Washington Film Fest features 9th Wonder, Diahann Carroll and Eric Holder This year’s festival looks at civil rights across sports, entertainment, higher education and the legal system

The March on Washington Film Festival returns this month for its fifth year of celebrating films that explore themes of civil rights, activism and social justice.

Panels and events including actress Diahann Carroll, producer 9th Wonder and former Attorney General Eric Holder are among the highlights of the 21 events that run from July 13-22.

Holder will be on hand for a couple of events. He’s part of a panel discussing Walk With Me: The Trials of Damon J. Keith before an invitation-only audience July 20 at the Supreme Court. And he and his wife, Sharon Malone, will be presenting writer Ta-Nehisi Coates with the Vivian Malone Courage Award on July 15. Vivian Malone, Sharon’s sister, was one of two students who integrated the University of Alabama in 1963 and became its first black graduate in 1965.

Carroll will be attending to support a documentary-in-progress co-directed by her daughter, Suzanne Kay. Festivalgoers will get a glimpse of the film from Kay and Margo Speciale about The Ed Sullivan Show and its importance in introducing America to black artists. Sullivan faced threats and boycotts for integrating his variety show, one of the most watched programs in America, but he persisted nevertheless. The full documentary is expected to be completed in 2018.

9th Wonder, the ear behind Jay-Z’s Black Album, Kendrick Lamar’s Damn., and Anderson .Paak’s Malibu, will be on hand to discuss The Hip-Hop Fellow (2014) with the Kennedy Center’s new director of hip-hop programming, Simone Eccleston, on July 21. The Hip-Hop Fellow follows 9th Wonder (also known as Patrick Douthit) as a fellow at Harvard’s Hip-Hop Research Institute, where he also taught for the 2012-13 school year. Among the records that 9th Wonder selected to be archived in Harvard’s Loeb Music Library: A Tribe Called Quest‘s The Low End Theory, Lauryn Hill’s The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, Nas’ Illmatic and Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly.

This year’s festival also marks the introduction of the Freedom’s Children Student Journalists Competition. Earlier this year, students from around the country submitted work for the chance to cover the festival for various journalism outlets. The Undefeated is participating and will be running work from the winners.

Also worth a gander:

Olympic Pride, American Prejudice

Deborah Riley Draper’s 2016 documentary, narrated by Blair Underwood, looks beyond Jesse Owens to the 17 other black American athletes who participated in the 1936 Berlin Olympics, some of whom also won medals at the Games.

Scarred Justice: The Orangeburg Massacre 1968

When many people think of violent clashes between college students and the police, the horrors of Kent State spring to mind. But Scarred Justice: The Orangeburg Massacre 1968, the 2008 film from directors Bestor Cram and Judy Richardson, reveals the history and context behind a standoff at South Carolina State University in 1968, when South Carolina Highway Patrol officers killed three protesters and injured 27 others who were demonstrating for the desegregation of an Orangeburg bowling alley.

Winnie

Director Pascale Lamche’s 2017 documentary about the freedom fighter and former wife of Nelson Mandela premiered this year at Sundance. Winnie Mandela sat for four interviews in two years with Lamche, and the result is a look at her fight against apartheid in South Africa and the toll it took on her and her marriage. The festival will host a discussion at the National Museum of Women in the Arts on July 19 with poet Elizabeth Alexander and Gay McDougall of the U.N. Committee for Ending Racial Discrimination.

Festival attendees can check out the full event lineup and purchase passes and tickets at http://marchonwashingtonfilmfestival.org.

This article has been changed to correct the number of events and the relationship of Vivian and Sharon Malone.

What do independence and freedom mean to black college students? It’s about music, fireworks and discussion of America and our so-called independence

The Fourth of July has come and gone, but conversations about freedom and independence don’t get old … especially among black college students.

Webster’s Dictionary says freedom is the power to act without restraint, while it defines independence as not requiring or relying on others. How do students feel about the two?

America’s birthday seems to be inextricably tied with fireworks, barbecues and feuds over its significance. Some students simply describe the federal holiday as a day off work. Others joined Chance the Rapper in calling it Malia Obama Day.

When asked about music that inspired or made them think of independence, students spoke highly of songs that encourage economic independence, social justice and hope for black folks:

  • “The Story of O.J.” by Jay-Z
  • “A Change Is Gonna Come” by Sam Cooke
  • “Someday We’ll All Be Free” by Donny Hathaway
  • “Revolution” by Arrested Development
  • “The Conquering Lion” by Lauryn Hill
  • “Change” by J. Cole
  • “Glory” by John Legend and Common
  • “16 Shots” by Vic Mensa
  • “Alright” by Kendrick Lamar
  • “F.U.B.U.” by Solange Knowles
  • “Where Do We Go” by Solange Knowles
  • “Candles in the Sun” by Miguel
  • “They Don’t Really Care About Us” by Michael Jackson
  • “Wake Up Everybody” by Teddy Pendergrass

These songs come out of different generations and genres, but the common chord they share is one of unity, equality and perseverance. The beats are so good and the messages are so timeless, this playlist could stay on repeat any day of the week.

Besides music, some college students can point to individuals who are advancing the black community and America at large.

“I think everyone in opposition to the president is actually making America great; Auntie Maxine and Auntie Kamala, I see you!” said Arielle Wallace, 21, a senior at Hampton University.

“Ethnic and social diversity makes America great,” said Demetrius Smith, 36, an alumnus of Morehouse College. “Those outside of the dominant culture hold America accountable to its ideals, which results in slow yet continuous advancement of American society.”

“The charitable donations that Russell Westbrook’s Why Not? Foundation have made to the OKC and L.A. communities has taken another approach other than usual athletes by focusing on education and family service programs while encouraging youth to believe in themselves and ultimately ask, ‘Why not?’ of any situation,” said Jordan Frank, 21, a senior at Clark Atlanta University.

Jenise Williams, 20, a senior at the University of Michigan, sees Independence Day as a time to be with family.

“The Fourth of July is just about me coming together with my friends and family despite all of the craziness of America and the world in general.”

Michigan State sophomore Andrei Nichols questions whether the celebration is premature for people of color.

“For some Americans, it is a time to celebrate freedom that was said to have been granted,” said Nichols, 19. “However, as a black man in America, [I don’t think] freedom was ever granted to people of color. But, hey, what do I know?”

Celebrating America’s independence from British rule may happen once a year, but the fight for individual and collective freedom never stops.

Veronica Chapman’s new children’s book is about helping black girls dream big ‘I Know I Can!’ stars a confident little girl named Faith

While at Spelman College in Atlanta, Veronica N. Chapman figured out two things: She wanted to help young black girls and she was destined to use words to inspire them. The 35-year-old author and entrepreneur is now doing both. She just finished her second book, I Know I Can!, a powerful children’s book that introduces a young dreamer, thinker and doer named Faith.

“Faith is this super courageous pro who has these vivid dreams of traveling the world and meeting historical figures,” Chapman said. “She is basically the high school valedictorian and she’s talking about the places she wants to go, like Cuba and South Africa and France, and the historical figures she dreams of having the chance to meet. For one example, she had a classical piano lesson with Nina Simone, who tells her that she’s young, gifted and black.”

Troubled by the insidious messages that young black girls are assaulted with, Chapman decided to take a stand by creating the counternarrative in I Know I Can! She is no stranger to the worlds of art and activism. She is the founder of Boxxout, an organization that provides educational workshops for teens. Her first book was titled The Advent of Planet Martyr, and she can add playwright to her resume for Ancestors Inc., in which she reflects themes that showcase her commitment to the community and youth.

The New Jersey native earned a bachelor’s degree in Spanish from Spelman and a master of business administration degree from Babson College in Massachusetts. Chapman, who now lives in Boston, spoke with The Undefeated about her new book, giving back to the community, her experience attending a historically black college and empowering young girls.


How did you come up with Faith?

The initial idea for the story came my graduation week. I do educational programming for teenagers, and so while doing the programming around self-esteem, I kind of think about ways to empower young children, especially girls, so that by the time I work with them they’re feeling empowered and confident in what they can accomplish.

How did writing I Know I Can! differ from writing your first book?

The first one, I was right out of college and I had just come from traveling in Spain and France. I was a bit culture-shocked and it was just a lot going on, so it was more of like a social commentary. It was a way for me to track all the experiences I had traveling out of the country and in the country and just kind of like, in a creative way, explained my experiences and the way I was feeling. That was a definitely … it was definitely a totally different book, because it was a social commentary, it had some poems in it, a short story, and it had a play in it that I produced, called Ancestors Inc., which is a motivational play for teenagers. That was a different thing, but the same thing [in finding] a creative way to address social justice issues.

I would say that the children’s book is the same, actually. She meets Dr. King and he tells her to continue to fight for economic justice, so there’s still a social justice component but it’s colorful, it is motivating and empowering. When people finish reading, they’re just like, ‘Oh, my gosh.’ They feel really great, which is what I really wanted to do.

How was your experience at Spelman as a Spanish major?

I had a really great teacher for my first class. She recommended that I go to a place called Middlebury College in Vermont, where they have an immersion for foreign languages, so I went there one summer after my freshman year. You have to sign up, as you only speak the language that you had to learn; even if you don’t have a vocabulary, you have to figure it out. By the time I left there, I came back and I was in junior-level Spanish because it was that effective as a teaching mechanism. … I studied in France and Mexico, and I got to go to Cuba right after graduation. Learning languages really opened up my world. Then, the following summer, I went back to Middlebury to study French.

After college, did you go straight into entrepreneurship?

No. I come from a family of entrepreneurs, so my father owned a car dealership in Staten Island and he wanted me to kind of come and see if it was something I was interested in doing. I went through, like, a car dealer training program to learn every aspect of the business, and then I realized that I was not interested in it. Right around that time is when I came out with my first book, and I decided that I wanted to go to business school this time while finding creative ways to empower, especially young people.

What inspired you to really dive into helping young people?

Spelman College, again. When I was at Spelman, I founded a chapter of an organization that would define creative ways to teach the principles … let’s just say, like, teach entrepreneurship principles to children in the West End of Atlanta and any schoolchildren. So I created a team, and we would spend hours and hours finding creative ways to go into schools, host events on campus, teaching young people principles of entrepreneurship, and as part of this organization you have competitions.

That was the first time I got exposed to finding creative ways to educate and empower, because of my founding that chapter on campus. Ever since then, I’m just like, ‘Oh, this is so much fun.’ You know? Let me figure out how to do this, keep doing it. That’s how the first book came along, and the play in particular, because I produced that once as a fundraiser for my local Urban League chapter in New Jersey.

Where did your love for storytelling come from?

I like to spread joy. I compliment strangers. It just makes people’s day. It’s something so small that you can do to make people’s day. Just wanting to educate and empower young people so that they feel confident in themselves, so that their contributions to the world can be even greater. That’s something that I really am committed to.

What cultural value do you see in your writing?

One cultural value is that there’s so many messages that are negative, especially when it comes to black kids. This is multilayered because, even though I wrote for children, I get a lot of feedback from adults. Adults have pride in front of you reading it, and you never really know why. For me, it’s a book, it’s happy.

There’s value of just writing something that’s empowering and educational and which broadens the awareness of the reader. That’s something that’s intended. Then, there’s the unintended. I didn’t realize that an adult would be as impacted by the children’s book.

What was the hardest part of the book?

I would even say the actual first page, even though it was written over 10 years ago. I was actually in the kitchen cooking … and then just the first page came to my mind and I wrote it down. I was like, ‘You know, one day I’m gonna use this. It’s gotta be a good book. It’s gotta be a good story.’ All these years later I was on Instagram, and I saw the illustrations of an artist, her name is Daveia Odoi, she is the illustrator. I looked at her work and I said, ‘You know what? Daveia is the one who can really bring this story to life.’ Her work is joyful, it’s all smiles, and is really awesome and playful and joyful.

What inspires you?

I really love music, and I really love to see people using their talents for the betterment of society. Every day I ask myself, ‘OK. Let me check in with what I’m here to do, and if I’m doing it,’ like what I’m on earth to do and if I’m doing it. I love to be around people who are in that same mindset, like how to use our talents and gifts for the betterment of the world. I’m inspired by people who do that well.

What are your favorite songs right now?

There’s a young artist out of Toronto named Daniel Caesar, I think he’s supertalented. I’m listening to him. I love anything Jazmine Sullivan, ’cause she’s awesome. Anything she’s on is great. I’m really into Motown. My mom is from Detroit, so anything Motown.

What do you think the future is for black writers of children’s stories?

I self-published my children’s book, so that means I had to find an illustrator, find a book designer and hire all these people to make sure it was professionally done. There are so many more awesome authors now focusing on creating children’s books with characters of color, which is really great to see. It’s also great that people aren’t only relying on the publishing houses to try to get their work out; they’re not being stopped by like rejection letters anymore. Obviously, there are some that have had to go through a publishing house, but if you have a message and if you have the right people in place, you can create a work of art that is a book that is exceptionally done. A lot people are taking those steps, and because of that there are more books available for especially black kids, black children, that were not available even like four or five years ago. That’s wonderful, I think.

How do you feel about e-books versus print books?

Kids are born brilliant now, so if they can use an iPad by the time they’re 3, I think it’s great to have that option. If they’re in the car or something, they tend to be on these devices anywhere, so that’s good to have that option. From what I hear, from parents, the preference is still physical books. They want to create a library for their children. It’s good to have it as available because it’s usually the cheapest option, in terms of price.

What are your plans for future projects?

When you do something that people love, they’re always like, more, more. You know? ‘We want more.’ Right now, just two weeks ago I had a photo shoot because I got some ‘Dream big’ T-shirts with the characters’ faces that say the key messages: ‘Dream big’ and ‘I know I can.’ The young girls modeling them were so excited between having this book and having this shirt that reinforced the message, that was really exciting for them. I’m also in the process of developing a doll of the character and just exploring other themes.

I had I Know I Can! translated into Spanish, Portuguese, to reach the young people that asked for it. Every country I’ve been to, I’ve seen we face similar experiences within a nation, and just exploring additional languages to publish it in. I’m looking forward to, in the next couple years, doing some readings in like Panama, Cuba or Brazil. So just trying out different ways of reaching other people. I’m really looking forward to that part.

A state-of-the-art African-American museum is coming to Charleston, South Carolina The $75 million project will include a resource center for African-American genealogy

There are many unique ways to tell the story of the United States’ rich, cultural African-American history. From the first African slaves to step onto American soil to the complex yet resplendent history of African-Americans today, there are still so many stories that have yet to be told.

It’s part of the reason that businessman Michael Boulware Moore, the great-great-grandson of Robert Smalls, an enslaved African-American who escaped to freedom by commandeering a Confederate supply ship, is hoping to help continue to educate the public by spearheading a project that will bring a $75 million African-American museum to Charleston, South Carolina.

“I’ve got a real deep connection to Charleston, to African-American history, to the project, and so I decided to come on and help lead the museum and help raise the money that we need to break ground and to get it built so it can make the greatest impact it can make,” Moore said.

The International African American Museum, slated to open in late 2020, will feature several exhibits that will walk visitors through West Africa in the 17th century and end with the formation of new African-American communities in the 21st century, according to the website. Inside, exhibits will include digital wall backdrops, large-scale film, imagery and life-sized interactive contemporary figures for visitors to engage.

The museum will also focus on the full scope of African-American history, with an emphasis on South Carolina’s role in colonial American history.

Between 1783 and 1808, approximately 100,000 slaves arriving from across West Africa were transported through Gadsden’s Wharf and other South Carolina ports and sold to the 13 colonies, according to an article in The New York Times. Nearly half of enslaved Africans brought to America came through Charleston, and nearly 80 percent of African-Americans can potentially trace an ancestor who arrived in the city.

“Building the museum in Charleston is that one spot where we can all pilgrimage to, to pay homage to our ancestors, pay respects to the sacrifices that they made and contemplate our own lives based on that context,” Moore said. “It was a place where so much economic vibrancy and growth and innovation came from.”

Moore became the chief executive officer of the International African American Museum in February 2016 after being invited to join the museum’s board by former Charleston mayor Joseph Riley. At the time, the board was looking for executive leadership to help move the project along. Having spent more than two decades as an advertising executive leading major marketing campaigns for brands such as Coca-Cola and Kraft, Moore was a perfect fit for the job.

“On one hand, I’ve been this marketer consulting, working and running companies,” Moore said. “On the other, there’s a side of me that’s been focused on social justice, serving others and African-American history. This is the first opportunity in my life where I’ve been able to leverage all of me in service to a project. It’s a very special opportunity. It’s one that I take really, really seriously because of the impact it potentially can have, and I couldn’t be more thrilled about the team we have around us and what we’re doing.”

There are several features Moore and developers plan to incorporate to enhance the museum experience, including a free smartphone app and beacons in each exhibit that will allow visitors to receive the exhibit’s content through video, text and audio right to their phones.

Moore and his team are also negotiating with officials in Sierra Leone to bring artifacts from the West African nation’s old slave fort, Bunce Island, to the museum.

“We’ve discussed bringing a couple of stones that were at the end of a jetty at Bunce Island,” Moore said. “They used to aggregate the captives there, march them down this stone jetty and onto slave ships. The last two stones, we’re talking about retrieving those, bringing them here and using them as a centerpiece of a memorial for the African ancestors.”

One of the most important aspects of the museum will be its Center for Family History, which, according to Moore, is set to become the leading resource center for African-American genealogy in the country. Partnering with DNA firms, genealogy readings will be able to tell visitors specifically where their African ancestry originated on the continent.

“Someone will walk in like most African-Americans and not know a whole lot about their long-term family history,” Moore said. “Most African-Americans can go back maybe to a great-grandparent. They’ll be able to walk out with a full account of their family history back to the first African who came here. It’s really going to be a transformative experience.”

Although several African-American museums exist in the United States, Moore hopes visitors will come to Charleston to pay homage to those who came before them and leave the invaluable experience with a deeper sense of their identity.

“Because this museum is on a spot where almost all African-Americans have a relative, there will be a real connection to the space and to the beginning of our American experience,” Moore said. “What we hope to try to create in this museum is a place where all African-Americans, wherever you are in the country or hemisphere, will want to bring your family here. It’s a place where your ancestors came and a place we can finally go to pay homage to their experiences and sacrifices, and reconnect with them.”

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Oberlin College & Conservatory appoints first African-American leader Carmen Twillie Ambar becomes Oberlin’s 15th president and first African-American leader since its founding in 1833

Oberlin College & Conservatory is making history after appointing Carmen Twillie Ambar as its first African-American leader in the school’s 184 years of operation.

Last week’s announcement made by the Oberlin College Board of Trustees brought excitement and renewed energy to the campus. Ambar is currently serving her ninth and final year as the 13th president of Cedar Crest College, a private liberal arts women’s college in Allentown, Pennsylvania, before transitioning to Oberlin to begin her new tenure this fall.

During her time at Cedar Crest, Ambar achieved multimillion-dollar surpluses and a 35 percent growth in net assets for three consecutive years, according to a press release. The college’s endowment increased nearly 92 percent, and 18 new academic programs, with a primary focus on master’s and doctoral-level programs in the School of Adult and Graduate Education, were also launched under Ambar’s leadership. Enrollment has also been rising for the past three years.

“President Ambar has provided exceptional leadership and service to Cedar Crest College, guiding the institution through challenges to become stronger, more vibrant and poised to thrive for another 150 years,” said David P. Keller, chairman of the Cedar Crest Board of Trustees. “Through her visionary leadership, Cedar Crest has expanded its academic portfolio to include master’s and doctoral-level programs, seen consecutive years of enrollment growth, and is in the strongest financial position in its history. President Ambar has been a champion of the Cedar Crest College mission. For that, and much more, we are grateful and wish her happiness and success in her future endeavors.”

Ambar has already received a show of support from various faculty members, staff and chairpersons as she prepares for a new opportunity to bring strong leadership skills and ideas to the forefront at Oberlin. Although Ambar’s tenure at Cedar Crest does not officially end until August, the future Oberlin president is already thinking about the job that lies ahead as well as her top priorities for the school, such as improvements to access and retention.

“Oberlin is a singular institution in American higher education, with an historic commitment to social justice, academic and musical excellence and the liberal arts,” Ambar said in a statement. “I look forward to my work with Oberlin’s faculty, staff, students, board, and alumni to think creatively and collaboratively together. I am humbled to be joining this institution and excited about the opportunity to lead it into its next era.”