From Charlottesville to Kaepernick, white anger is all too familiar to my grandmother A little black girl who dared drink from the wrong water fountain has seen this all before

The cries of white men with the burning torches in Charlottesville, Virginia, were familiar to her. Their anger was, too.

The continuous news coverage over the weekend prompted her own highlight reel of memories that included racial taunts, attacks and fears she’s lived with since she was born in the thick of the Great Depression. She couldn’t erase them if she wanted. “You never forget that feeling of being preyed upon,” said my grandmother, Clemmie. “It’s something I’ve been experiencing my entire life. I’m far from alone.”

Clemmie, 86, isn’t surprised by the white nationalist march that made the hometown of the University of Virginia (UVA) a murder scene this past weekend. Her pain is ever-present. Charlottesville; Ferguson, Missouri; Little Rock, Arkansas; Selma, Alabama; Greensboro, North Carolina; Detroit; Watts in Los Angeles — the scenes of prejudice, revolt and massacre stick with her. Racism has followed her since she was a little girl growing up in the Deep South, at the apex of Jim Crow segregation.

My great-grandmother, Juanita McCrowey.

There was 1956 in Dinwiddie County, Virginia, when a white convenience store owner wouldn’t allow the woman who would become my grandmother to heat up a bottle for her infant daughter — my mom. Clemmie, born in 1931, experienced run-ins with the Klan so frequently it’s impossible to remember life without them. Their presence was a fear tactic. Anyone who stepped them was met with violence. At best, bruises and cuts. At worst, death. At her segregated grade school, young Clemmie and her friends received “new” textbooks with “n—–” written on nearly every page: They were hand-me-downs from all-white schools. During family trips from Rock Hill, South Carolina, to Philadelphia, bathroom breaks meant pulling over and crouching in the woods, because they couldn’t use restroom facilities at gas stations along the route.

Clemmie once drank from a whites-only water fountain.

“I wanted to see if their water tasted different than the colored ones,” she said recently. “It didn’t.” But she harbors a particular memory more than others.

“You know how traumatizing that is? To be cleaning their house and find those sheets? But you needed that $2 a week job.”

My grandmother watched the hatred on the faces of the white nationalist and neo-Nazi Charlottesville protesters. She watched the graphic video of the car plowing into the crowd of counterprotesters (Heather Heyer, 32, was killed). Clemmie had, of course, seen that kind of venom up close before.

She, her older brother, Sonny, and her mother, Juanita, were walking into town in Rock Hill to go grocery shopping. The trip took an abrupt change when the three of them began being taunted by a group of white kids from a nearby house.

My grandmother, circa 1934.

“They just kept saying, ‘Look at the n—–s!’ ” she recalls. Clemmie’s mom, my great-grandmother, who died in 1972, told them to ignore the calls. But Clemmie had had enough. On previous grocery trips, she’d dodged rocks from these same kids. In a fit of rage, she broke away and sprinted after the girl in the group, chasing her into the house. Clemmie beat her up. “I definitely hit her,” my grandmother said of the moment, over 70 years later. “It was worth the beating my mama gave me that night, too.”

But the delivery of a first-round knockout came with an emotional toll. “I put my mother in a bad position,” she said. South Carolina was home to intense Ku Klux Klan terrorism.

“Thankfully, the girl’s parents weren’t home. They could have pressed charges against my mother. The Klan could’ve come to our house and burned it down with us in there. The system could’ve broken my family apart and made me an orphan. My mother, I guess, was just trying to protect me from what later happened to Emmett Till,” she said solemnly. “That’s the thing about racism. The side that’s pushed to the edge is always the one who suffers the most.”


This past weekend, while Charlottesville commandeered the country’s attention, Clemmie, who lives in Virginia, was busy being a part-time dog sitter. Jordan is her dog, as hyper a Yorkie as there is in America — with a penchant for running counterclockwise when excited. Riley is my Aunt Cynt’s dog, named after Cynt’s all-time favorite basketball coach, Pat Riley.

Walking up and down the steps to feed Jordan and Riley and put them outside is a reprieve from the endless onslaught of Charlottesville media coverage. Clemmie made an effort to sidestep the news at times because, as she says, it’s so hard to find good. She’s had Young & The Restless since 1982, and you’d never guess how much of a Pinterest expert she is on her iPad.

Some of the most enlightening conversations I’ve ever had with my grandmother happened when I used to drive her back to South Carolina shortly after receiving my driver’s license. This was years ago, when she was going to see her younger brother, Gilbert, at the nursing home where he lived before his death in 2014. On the road, my grandmother and I never listened to music. Instead, we talked about how she found love, lost it and came to find peace again afterward. We talked about how the death of her son (my uncle) when he was just 42 forever changed her outlook on life.

I mentioned these chats to her on Sunday, when Charlottesville is the talk of the town. She brings up Colin Kaepernick. As the widow of a Division II college football coach, mother of three football-crazed kids and grandmother of an annually depressed and maniacal Dallas Cowboys fan (guilty as charged), she’s familiar with the game and the polarizing characters it creates. “It’s sad what they’re doing to [Kaepernick],” she said. “He’s lost his job forever because he stood up for what he believed in. Him not standing for the anthem didn’t make him unpatriotic.” For context: The Baltimore Ravens signed quarterback Thad Lewis on Monday. He hasn’t played in a regular-season game since 2013.

She sees connections between the exiled former Super Bowl signal-caller and the carnage near UVA.

Clemmie doesn’t watch football as much as she used to. She gets updates from me on Monday mornings. But Clemmie knows the storyline. And she sees the connections between the exiled former Super Bowl signal-caller and the carnage near UVA. My grandmother is concerned for Marshawn Lynch, who sat for the national anthem this past weekend (although he’s been doing that for years). And she’s worried about players who will follow their leads, including the Seattle Seahawks’ outspoken defensive end Michael Bennett, who recently confirmed he’ll be seated for the national anthem the entire season. Bleacher Report’s Mike Freeman said Monday on Twitter that more players will certainly follow suit — stemming from “league-wide outrage” over Charlottesville and President Donald Trump’s comments.

This isn’t Clemmie’s first rodeo. She remembers Muhammad Ali refusing induction into the Army in 1967, and how he lost the prime years of his career going toe-to-toe with the United States government. “I felt what he was saying,” she said. “All he was asking, ‘Why fight for a place that’s just gonna beat me up when I come back?’ ”

My grandmother is amazed but not shocked that this narrative is still playing out 50 years later. “If you love someone, or something, you tell them their flaws because you want to see them be the best person they can be. That’s all [Kaepernick] was doing for America. At least that’s how I saw it. And this country basically told him, ‘Shut up and stay in your place.’ They tried to do the same thing to Ali. Them speaking on America’s flaws doesn’t make them unpatriotic. America not living up to its promise — that’s unpatriotic. ”


Given all she’s seen, experienced and endured, Clemmie has never succumbed to hatred. Her heart goes out to the family of Heather Heyer, the legal assistant killed in Charlottesville whose last Facebook message read, “If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention.” And her heart still bleeds for James Chaney, Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman, the three civil rights activists whose deaths made national news in 1964 when their bodies were found — murdered by the Klan — under an earthen dam near Philadelphia, Mississippi. My grandmother appreciates anyone with a heart because, as she says, she’s seen so many without one.

But she’s incensed about the president’s recent statement about “many sides” (which he awkwardly walked back). There’s just no debate, says my grandmother. For her, those tiki-torch-carrying protesters were a gut punch from the past. “The KKK would march on you in a minute,” she said. “You didn’t know who was under those sheets. It could be the mayor, or governor of South Carolina. Or it could be the people your parents work for. You know how traumatizing that is? To be cleaning their house and find those sheets? But you needed that $2 a week job. Everyone called you a n—–. We didn’t have any protection. We had to ignore it because if we fought back …” Her voice trails off.

It’s hard for Clemmie to hear “both sides” when hers has lost so much. The 1960s are difficult for her to speak about, even a half-century later. The thought of President John F. Kennedy’s murder still moves her to tears. His brother Robert’s, as well. Medgar Evers’ assassination was “proof we weren’t even safe in our own homes.” She recalls the fear that followed the death of Malcolm X, a man whose voice reflected the rage she and so many others were tormented with daily. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination ripped the soul of black America from its chest. And the countless other men and women who fought and ultimately lost their lives during the civil rights era who will never find their legacies in textbooks — this haunts my grandmother, a woman born just 66 years after Emancipation.

“You gotta understand. Every time we had someone, they took them from us. By the end of the ’60s, you were just mad. It seemed like we would be stuck behind the eight ball forever,” she said.

That fear and frustration, in part, didn’t allow her to enjoy the eight years of Barack Obama’s presidency. She campaigned locally for him in 2008 and 2012. She cried both times he won. “I’ve never been prouder of a president than I was of him. He’s a black man. Michelle’s a black woman. But I was scared from the day he was walking down that street [during his 2009 inauguration]. I just knew somebody was gonna get him, because that’s all I knew. When he and Michelle left on the helicopter this year, I just said, ‘Thank you, God.’ ”

These thoughts and more race through her brain when she thinks of Charlottesville. It’s impossible for her to isolate Charlottesville because the pain, and the forces that cause it, span generations. Her parents and grandparents were terrorized. She was terrorized. Her children were terrorized. And now, she’s scared because what happened near UVA’s campus, what’s happening to Colin Kaepernick, and what could happen to me, are merely new shades of paint on the same car she’s dodged for 86 years.

Charlottesville, in context, is another painful affirmation of a reality she’ll never truly escape. “The more things change, the more they stay the same,” she said. “For some people, it’s nothing scarier than that.”

No long-ago hurricane will stop rapper Don Flamingo The Roc Nation artist says his East New Orleans neighborhood is resilient

“This ain’t Kansas,” yells Don Flamingo. He’s in front of his friend’s mother’s house, surveying boarded-up windows and a nearly decimated roof. “A tornado? We never get tornadoes!”

Most of New Orleans’ residents have a name for Hurricane Katrina, the storm that tore through the city in 2005, leaving a path of devastation from which the city is still recovering. They simply call it The Storm. Hurricanes are powerful, lasting tropical storms. Tornadoes are a violently rotating column of air. You say tomato. Katrina is so ingrained in the NOLA collective consciousness that when rapper Don Flamingo, who was raised in New Orleans East, discusses the tornado that ravaged the neighborhoods around his hometown in February, he frequently calls it a hurricane. By force of habit. Little did he know, just a mere six months later, almost to the day, the city would experience its worst flooding in 15 years. The hits, as they say, keep on coming.

New Orleans East is a NOLA suburb sitting east and north of the Mississippi River, making up part of the city’s 9th Ward. There’s no Bourbon Street. No Superdome. No fanfare. So it’s easy to overlook the damage from the strongest tornado to strike New Orleans in its recorded history. That’s where Don Flamingo, real name Donald Allen III, comes in. He made his name on the local independent circuits, rapping at shows and building his name until the folks at Roc Nation came calling.

But Flamingo always comes back home, though rarely is he sure what will be waiting for him when he returns. Don’s childhood home is gone. There’s no damage, no blighted property. Even that would be something. No, the plot of land where his house used to be is just a yard with no trace of a house ever being there. His whole life is unrecognizable, and he wants the world to know about it. And he wants to let the world know his city is built to survive. “This is a resilient city,” he says. “The soul and the togetherness in this city will keep us together and get us through this.”

Flamingo takes The Undefeated on a tour of New Orleans East.

Animated short ‘Hair Love’ to show the bond between fathers and daughters Filmmaker Matthew Cherry wants to help ‘normalize’ black fathers

Matthew Cherry’s evolution has taken him from the football field to a stint as a production assistant to music videos. Now, his résumé includes a heartwarming short film in production called Hair Love.

Cherry said the idea for the film came from watching viral videos of fathers interacting with their daughters. In particular, he focused on ones that showed fathers combing their daughters’ hair, which can be both a chore and a bonding experience.

His five-minute animated film is about the relationship between an African-American father, Stephen, his daughter, Zuri, and her hair. Although Stephen has long locks, he is used to his wife doing his daughter’s hair. When she is unavailable right before a big event, Stephen has to figure it out and concludes that Zuri’s hair has a mind of its own.

Cherry said the “story was born out of seeing a lack of representation in mainstream animated projects, and also wanting to promote hair love amongst young men and women of color. It is our hope that this project will inspire.” He took to the crowdfunding site Kickstarter to fund the film. His initial goal was $75,000. To date he has raised almost $252,000, making Hair Love the best-funded short film in the history of Kickstarter.

Cherry, 35, is a former college wide receiver. In his four-year career at the University of Akron, he finished with nearly 2,000 receiving yards and 13 touchdowns. After college, he played for the Jacksonville Jaguars, Cincinnati Bengals, Carolina Panthers and the Baltimore Ravens. In 2007, he moved to Los Angeles to pursue a career in entertainment, landing work as a production assistant.

“I was just Matt the PA, and I was here to work,” Cherry said. “I was here to learn and work the game from the ground up, and that’s how I kind of got my foot in the door.”

He has worked on more than 40 commercials and was a director for more than 20 music videos for singers and entertainers such as Michelle Williams, Tweet, Jazmine Sullivan, Lalah Hathaway, Kindred The Family Soul, Snoop Dogg, The Foreign Exchange, Bilal, N’Dambi, Maysa Leak, Dwele, Najee, K’Jon and Take 6.

Cherry’s film The Last Fall received awards at the American Black Film Festival (ABFF) for Best Screenplay and Martha’s Vineyard African American Film Festival (MVAAFF) for the HBO Best Feature Film Award. After a limited theatrical release, it made its television premiere on BET in December 2012 and is currently streaming on Netflix and Hulu. He recently released a short film, Forward, which premiered on Ebony.com. He also writes and directs the award-winning web series Almost 30 and Almost Home.

Cherry has one sister (visual artist Caitlin Cherry) and grew up on the northwest side of Chicago.

“Sports was a big part of both of our lives growing up,” he said. “I played baseball ever since I was 5. Football ever since I was 6. Played three sports in high school. Had a full scholarship for football in college. … My existence was very much kind of tied into sports growing up.”

Cherry spoke with The Undefeated about his transition out of football, positive representation of black fathers in the media and normalizing black families.


What was your inspiration for Hair Love?

The biggest, and I think the most important, is just we’re seeing a big lack of representation in that computer-generated, animated world.

We really haven’t seen a lot black characters in that space. Bebe’s Kids was the first animated feature film directed by a black director. That came out in 1992; 25th anniversary was a couple of days ago. Peter Ramsey was the first African-American director to direct a CGI [computer-generated imagery] animated film. That was like two or three years ago, Rise of the Guardians. I think in between that time, there’s really only been those two black directors that have done like a full-length feature film in the animated space.

So we only really have had in recent years maybe four or five examples of full-length feature films that really tell our story. But a lot of times you don’t really see the whole, full family dynamic, particularly in these computer-generated feature films. The biggest thing for me is just like really seeing that lack of a presentation. … I don’t have kids myself right now, but got a serious girlfriend, and one day we’re going to get married and be having kids, and I really wanted to make sure that when I did have kids that they had a character that they could relate to.

When you look at mainstream media, and you see all the images, black hair isn’t made out to be the norm. It’s not meant to be the standard of beauty. We have a very Eurocentric standard of beauty in America, and if you watch TV, if you pick up a magazine, if you look at different things, you’re not going to see yourself represented. … You don’t see your curly, kinky hair on these different models, on these different actors and actresses, on these different music videos, etc. It can really do damage to your self-confidence and how you perceive yourself.

That’s why my biggest thing with this project, first and foremost, was just to really hopefully have some characters that were human, that showed black families in a complex but also simple manner, and just have characters that people can relate to but then try to help increase that diversity in the animation world, because representation is everything. I think my biggest thing is if a little girl can see Zuri or see Stephen, and see themselves represented, if it makes them feel better about themselves, to me, mission accomplished.

Who did you consult with about dads, daughters and hair?

I’ve actually had this idea for a couple years. I always thought it would be cute to do a story about a dad trying to do his daughter’s hair. I’ve seen a lot of kind of online videos, and my main dad friends who have kids, they’re always posting pictures and videos online of their failed attempts of trying to do their son’s and daughter’s hair, and just always thought that that would be a really cool angle to hit, particularly because the whole black father angle. I think, again, in mainstream media, we’re really nonexistent.

We look at a lot of these movies and TV shows, they always depict black dads as deadbeats, nonexistent, abusive. These fathers, they’re getting girls pregnant, running off, that whole thing, and while obviously in every race, every group, you have that negativity, but it’s always made out in the black community like that’s just all black men are. We just are deadbeat dads. We’re not in our kids’ lives.

So for me it was just really important to normalize black fathers, normalize black families. And really I think in starring a young black father and his daughter, I think that would just do wonders to kind of help normalize those images, because it’s important.

What’s been the most difficult part of moving from football to filmmaking?

The most difficult part of my journey is feeling like you have to constantly create your own opportunities. Like, to this day, nobody’s ever hired me for anything. All my opportunities have been self-generated in some fashion. Outside the music video world, from feature films to short films, it’s all been stuff that I either created with some friends or I created on my own, and sometimes it gets frustrating because you feel like, ‘I made this. This premiered at a major festival. Help me.’

Help me get to the next level. I did the work. I followed the blueprint. I did everything that they say you’re supposed to do in order to have somebody help you get to the next level. …

You make all these sacrifices like putting your mom’s life insurance money into the making of your first movie. It comes out, hey, you get a little bit of press, but nobody hires you. Damn. OK. You go away for a couple years. You do random things to kind of stay alive. Then my second feature film, 9 Rides. We shoot it on iPhones and that’s the thing that gets you noticed and gets you an agent and then you realize that all the work you and your team put in mattered after all.

They’ve seen us doing the short films for no budget. They’ve seen us doing the music videos. They’ve seen us doing these feature films and all this other stuff, so. I think the biggest, most difficult part of the journey has just been having to continuously create your own opportunities to kind of continue to put yourself in the game, and I think that there’s a lesson in that, in that you can’t predict what’s going to be the thing that hits, or is going to be the thing that helps put you on. You’ve just got to keep working, keep grinding, and eventually something’s going to hit, or eventually someone’s going to help.

Do you miss football?

Not at all. Not in the least. No, I don’t, especially with all this news about what’s been going on with players’ heads and CTE. I’m actually glad that I didn’t play too long. People have been playing since they were 5 years old, too. You know what I mean? Between Pop Warner, high school, college, you might have your five or 10 years in the league, but if you’re 25 you might have played for 20 years.

How did you prepare for your career after sports?

I studied radio, TV, broadcast and media production in college. I interned at a lot of radio stations, and I was the music director at my college radio station at the University of Akron. I interned up at the Cleveland radio stations, KISS and then on WENZ. And so I would always be kind of dabbling in production, but more of an audio-radio side, and it was something I was really interested in. I loved cutting promos, loved working with all these other kind of post-production programs, and I kind of knew even in college that whenever I got done playing ball I’d either be working in radio or some level of entertainment on the production side of things.

I signed as an undrafted free agent. My rookie year with the Jacksonville Jaguars, I knew after training camp, I was like, “Yeah. I’ve got to get my plan B together,” because it was just so political. When you come in as an undrafted free agent it’s like being a walk-on, so all these things have to happen that are outside of your control in order for you to make it. Guys will generally have to get hurt or traded and all these other things. It’s not really about how you perform, necessarily. It’s about, ‘OK, can you justify putting this guy in over the guy we’re paying millions of dollars?’

And I knew literally in training camp like, ‘Yeah. This is kind of unfair. I’m doing my thing, but I’m still not getting rewarded for it on the field.’ I actually got cut during training camp, and then they re-signed me to the practice squad. That’s how they do it, and I learned when I first got cut by just feeling there was nothing more I could have done. I felt like I balled out. I did everything that I should have done to be able to make the regular team, and it didn’t happen for me.

What’s up next after Hair Love?

This has all been a roller-coaster ride. The biggest thing for me is just really trying to just continue to do projects that are personal to me. Things that I really love. We hope to be able to use the characters from Hair Love and turn it into a feature film

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

‘Insecure’ recap: Issa gets her groove back, Molly’s dating life is back and Lawrence loses track We all knew once Lawrence left that cookout he was never returning

Season 2, Episode 3 | Episode: “Hella Open” | Aug. 6

When a basketball player is going through a slump, to regain confidence, he or she needs to see the ball go through the hoop — a jumper, dunk, 3-pointer, layup or free throw. Doesn’t matter, as long as it’s a bucket. That’s how I feel about Issa’s sex life.

Rekindling the romance with Lawrence is a pipe dream (for now), so Issa needed to go full Stella and get her groove back. Even if it was in typical Issa fashion — awkward. It nearly went down with Luke James, but that went to hell with a gasoline thong on. But sexing the neighbor was to be expected. Close living vicinity. Happenstance meeting. Creep pool glimpse from the kitchen window. But even I have to applaud Issa’s savage game — using the “did you forget your charger?” move. The only question now is how does Issa keep the momentum going moving forward since she’s so interested riding the wave of this “hoe phase.”

Last week we pondered Molly’s personal life — and here we are. All credit to Issa as ultimate wingwoman in the club scene setting the pick-and-roll long enough for Molly to meet her new love interest (played by Emmy Award winner Sterling K. Brown of The People vs. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story and This Is Us). Things are moving along swimmingly until he mentions settling down to marriage on the first brunch date.

To be fair, Molly finding a way to not be interested in buddy might be classic overthinking Molly. But, playing devil’s advocate here, we all remember how hesitant she’s been to meet a new dude, considering how the situation with Jared went last season. And who brings up starting a family on the first brunch? Our guy Sterling K. went from blowing it with Marcia Clark in The People to doing so with Molly in back-to-back years. That’s an accomplishment in its own regard.

But as the great black philosopher Marshawn Terrell Lynch said in 2015, “You know why I’m here.” This episode was all about the bounce-back that divided social media to its core and inspired me to order a Lawrence Best Buy shirt: Tasha and Lawrence. The duo was on thin ice after Lawrence’s admission that he slept with Issa. They made up at the end of episode two. But things get tricky when Tasha invites Lawrence to a family cookout, which Lawrence accepts. Wrong move.

Lawrence obviously didn’t listen to Biggie Smalls when told us 20 years ago on “Sky’s The Limit” to Only make moves when your heart’s in it. Lawrence is not invested in Tasha. Anyone with a half a brain could see Lawrence wasn’t staying at that cookout. His mind was already distracted by his co-workers hyping up the company kickback. And to be honest, Lawrence looked more out of place at Tasha’s family cookout than Carlton Banks at a black college homecoming. There wasn’t a soul who was convinced he’d make it back to the cookout when he told Tasha he had to run – to handle some tasks at work.

Just like there wasn’t a soul who was surprised when Tasha called him a “f— n—–.” The writing was on the wall. That’s the thing with not being in a relationship, but in a gray area where you’re “talking” to someone, and it’s not official. Lawrence was trying to be the good guy and live a single life. Trying to straddle that fence is like the Sex Panther cologne in 2004’s Anchorman — 60 percent of the time it works every time.

Tasha is done with the games. And Lawrence, he’s got a new place, so the blow-up mattress life he was living in Chad’s house earlier this season appears to be in the rearview. So R.I.P. Lawrence-Tasha, the 3.25 episode fling we hardly knew. For now, at least.

This man started the Facebook page ‘A Message from God’ and now has 1.3 million followers Lee Eric Smith’s messages help people through their difficult journeys

It started in October 2006, when writer Lee Eric Smith began to pen a book that included short spiritual inspirations.

“I can’t really describe it other than to say that I felt a voice on the inside saying, ‘Get up and go to your keyboard.’ ”

Experiencing his own personal spiritual encounters over the years, he trusted that little voice, and the journey began for A Message from God. By late 2008, Smith launched a Facebook fan page that now has more than 1.3 million followers, and it keeps growing by the day.

“It was written in the voice of God, and it was just the idea of writing something that would serve as guidance for people regardless of where they are,” Smith said. “The book was to be made available at no cost by subscribing to the mailing list on the website.”

Smith said he would post daily the things God was giving to him to help him through a difficult divorce. His journey started from that dark period, a time when he was beginning to post things that helped him.

“Just trying to get up each morning, face the day with love and hope, kind of making my own choice regardless of what negativity is coming at me and how can I take that, hand it over to God and have God produce something positive out of it. Just making that choice every day wasn’t always easy or comfortable, but I’m grateful for what’s come out of it,” Smith explained. “Those messages started resonating with people.”

The “A Message from God” Facebook page had a massive jump in followers in 2014 after the death of actor and comedian Robin Williams. Smith added a video clip from an interview that Williams did with reporter Diane Sawyer in which he opened up about his relationship with God.

“Given how much he had impacted people with his comedy, to hear him talk as thoughtfully as he did, I don’t know if you’d call it him talking about his faith, but he spoke about God,” Smith said. “I saw that video. I shared it online, and that thing went viral. I think it got like 17 million views around the world, and that really exposed the page to a much broader audience. Then I think that was around the time I went, that it jumped from, say, 100,000 to [200,000] or so, but it’s been steadily growing ever since.”

The 47-year-old writer spoke with The Undefeated about his personal journey and his spiritual page.

Where do you get most of your inspiration to share?

I often go through previous posts that I’ve shared. It was the type of stuff that I felt like God would say to me and anybody else just struggling to get through the day, is how those came. Now I might scroll through a post and it catches my attention, and I recognize that somebody else might get a bit of wisdom out of it. The overriding principle, I think, is that if you believe in such a thing as divine timing, that these messages are posted and the ones that are chosen, regardless of why I may think I’m posting it, there’s a larger plan at work. I consistently see people saying, ‘Oh, my God, this is exactly what I needed to see. I’m dealing with this right now.’

I’m always blown away when you see those because it speaks, I think, to how ultimately we’re all humans and we’re all dealing with the things that life throws at us regardless of whether you’re in Memphis, Tennessee, or Madagascar or Manila, the Philippines. There are people dealing with loss, with financial challenges, with, in some cases, war zones and violence. People are looking for hope. I think these messages tend to hit that common thread among all of us. That’s some of the beauty of it as well.

How much of these messages are self-care inspirationals, you ministering to yourself?

Thank God I’ve been able to move out of that season, so it’s a lot of things that are going better for me right now. I want to say it’s an old Charlie Brown quote maybe, and maybe he borrowed it from somebody else, but the phrase goes, ‘I teach what I need to learn.’ I’m keenly aware, even as I’m posting, that, because there’s this concept that if you are a teacher or a spiritual teacher or pastor or whatever, that God is finished working on you and that you’ve got everything all together and that’s why you can teach this, but I don’t believe that’s necessarily true at all.

Would you consider yourself as a preacher, a teacher or just a messenger?

I would consider myself a teacher and a messenger. I don’t think of myself as a preacher, even though some of the people who respond to our posts call me pastor. I don’t really think of myself that way because I don’t put myself on that kind of pedestal. I haven’t been to a theological seminary or anything like that. I do believe that there are things that God’s shown me over the course of my life, and I’m not even just talking about Bible stuff. God can use anything to teach us, from reading books and watching videos about quantum physics to understanding how photosynthesis works in a plant to understanding artificial intelligence. I mean, I have a broad range of interests, and one thing that has served as a unifying thing for me is approaching how I look at the world as if it all not only comes from God but is God.

That conditions my mind to look for the God in everything. Then if you can see God in everything, then you start to see connections where a lot of people don’t see. I like to think of myself as a messenger for those lessons and those connections, as well as a teacher.

What do you want readers to get from A Message from God the e-book, as well as the Facebook page?

The object of the whole project, both the Facebook page and the e-book, are to help the reader develop a closer relationship and understanding with God as they understand it. I often say things like, ‘I’m not trying to convert anybody to any particular line of thought or religion.’ This project, we have Muslim followers, we have Buddhist followers, we have … there’s a guy who contributes on the page regularly who’s an atheist, saying, ‘You guys are delusional for believing in God at all.’

I want to create, and we have created, this place where people — and admittedly they’re mostly traditional — we’ll just call them traditional Christians, but the environment and the community that we’ve created there is a place where you don’t have to believe the same thing. We don’t have to all believe the exact same thing to show love for one another, to be kind to one another and to want to help each other. It’s possible to be a Christian, or for a Christian and a Muslim to sit down and have a conversation over a cup of coffee and even talk about their faith without coming to an argument or blows and to walk away without feeling like you’ve forsaken your religion. That’s possible.

That’s one of the things that I love about our page, but my thing is that even if you read this book, you read the messages, and I tell people, I’m like, take … don’t trust anything you see on this page, but read it. Take your time and go to your private space. Take it to God in prayer or meditation, however that looks, whatever it is, and ask God, ‘OK, this is what I saw on this page. This is what I’ve always thought. I don’t know what to make of it. What should I do with it?’

Why is this project so important to you?

I’d say I think I was raised, certainly, with a feeling of connection to a higher power. I’ve always wanted to be of service. One of the things that was really important — particularly, again, in the days of my divorce, as I was moving through that process — was I wanted to … OK. All right. Here we go. … There were times when I considered ending my own life. That’s how rough it was at one point. I’ve been there. I asked God. I was like, ‘How do I get through this? How do I survive the day?’ Because at that point I couldn’t look beyond just the day that I was in. When I would wake up in the morning, I would ask God, ‘OK, God, who do you want me to be today?’ Usually, the answer was show love, kindness, practice forgiveness even for the people who are trying to destroy you right now. Pray and forgive them. Pray for them and forgive them and try to generate as much love and light as you can. I would strive to do that over the course of the day.

Now, I would give it my best shot. Sometimes my best shot was just getting out of the bed. Other days, I was able to post some of these messages and try to do that, but when I got to the end of the day and I could have my private time with God and say, ‘Hey, God, I did my best today. How did I do?’ I usually felt a voice in my soul saying, ‘Well done, good servant.’ That’s my advice on how to survive these tough times, is to stick to the principles God’s written on your heart and just try to live them out the best you can each day. That’s what I still try to do. That’s what I still work on each day.

How do you see ‘A Message from God’ panning out, moving forward?

I’ll be doing a podcast. That is our plan, and just to continue to mobilize this community to generate love. That’s one of the things I routinely tell people, is that in spite of everything you see going on in the world, whether it’s political upheaval, conflict or whatever’s going on in your world, each one of us can make the choice to be loving and kind and forgiving regardless of what’s going on around us. I believe what God’s really put in my heart lately is, how do we mobilize this movement to end world hunger? I believe we can do that in our lifetime.

If we can figure out, and we’ve already figured out, how to kill everybody on the planet many times over, if we can figure that part out, I refuse to believe we can’t figure out how to feed everybody. It’s just more a question of will. The way we’re going to do that is we’re going to show people the healing and redemptive power of love. Once we get that moving, we’re going to do miracles. Miracles is where this thing is headed.

Which is, most people tend to think of miracles as a supernatural kind of event, you know: the walking on water, the turning water to wine or coming back from the dead. Those are absolutely miracles, but what God’s revealed to me is that a miracle doesn’t have to be supernatural. A miracle is just a revelation of possibility where only the impossible was thought to have existed.

For instance, if you are poor and you are this close to having your utility bill cut off tomorrow and you have no way, you can’t imagine how you’re going to get this utility bill paid, and somewhere out of the blue a good neighbor, or a Samaritan if you will, gets together a group of friends and they all spare 50 bucks to pay off your utility bill, now you can argue there’s nothing supernatural about that. But if you didn’t think it was possible four hours ago and you look up four hours later and it’s happened, is that or is that not a miracle?

‘Insecure’ recap: Tinder lovers, lobster rolls and Instagram creepin’ Molly’s losing at work, Issa’s losing everywhere, Lawrence is playing it real loose

Season 2, Episode 2 | Episode: ‘Hella Questions’ | July 30

What this episode lacks in “Say what?” reactions, it makes up for with developing plotlines that will explode as the season progresses. Take Molly, for example. We still haven’t seen a peep of what’s going on in her personal life. We know she’s fed up with the glass ceiling she keeps running into at work. She’s already vented as much to her therapist — a dope, subtle and needed wrinkle in the show’s fold. And we know Molly’s at wit’s end after attending a Los Angeles Kings game in hopes of getting to know her boss better. They bonded over some lobster rolls in a Staples Center suite. Those things are delicious! And Molly’s boss only faintly acknowledged her in the office the next day. Just when you think you know somebody.

She’s going to be splitting time between L.A. and Chicago soon for work, which leaves open the possibility of a long-distance courtship, fling or something. We haven’t seen much of Molly’s personal life yet. But when we do, methinks it’s going to be worth making sure there’s a cool drink nearby. Better yet, an ice-cold bottle.

Issa finally discovers Tasha and e-stalks her for basically the entire episode.

Because Molly’s still busy being the ride-or-die chick Issa needs in her life — which, speaking of — what is Issa going to do when she finds out about Chicago? Issa finally discovers Tasha and stalks her across a variety of social media platforms, including Instagram for basically the entire episode. Don’t act brand-new and say you haven’t done it once or 73 times in life before. Getting back to her roots, Issa convincingly raps to herself in a bathroom mirror about getting her man back from Tasha. Molly checks in on her, only to have Issa respond, “Pull that b—- up!” Molly devilishly smirks, making for one of the funnier moments in the episode. Also, Issa’s sex life is basically nonexistent, which forces her to turn to the last option of any self-respecting human — Tinder. Let’s see if she has better luck than me using the app. More on this in next week’s episode.

(Caption: Exclusive, never-before-seen footage of Issa trying to get ahead in life)

Even when Issa wins at work, she takes a loss. She and Frieda (Lisa Joyce) finally received the participation they craved in their “We Got Y’all” after-school program, thanks to vice principal Charles Gaines. This sounds great, and it is … even though vice principal Gaines, who is black, is a geyser of racial stereotypes and slurs — he makes a “build a wall” joke about Hispanic students that shakes Frieda’s wanna-be-woke soul to her core. This can’t bode well for the long-term success of this program — and eventually Issa’s gig.

Perhaps the least surprising plot twist of the entire episode is Lawrence telling Tasha he slept with Issa — although I’m using “slept” loosely here because Lawrence’s two-minute offense was quicker than Peyton Manning down five in the fourth with no timeouts. We’ve all been there. Don’t laugh. The first one always has a mind of its own anyway.

Anyhoo, Tasha eventually takes him back, which, again, doesn’t shock anyone even vaguely familiar with the ebb and flow of a situation like this. He claims sleeping with Issa was a “mistake.” OK, Lawrence, easy with the verbiage. This can come back and haunt you if you’re not careful. Tasha understands, “It’s whatever. … We never said we was exclusive anyway.” Translation: “It’s not ‘whatever.’ I liked you, but I can’t get as mad as I want because I knew the deal. But if we keep this going and you blindside me again, I might cut you. No, I will cut you.”

Here’s the thing. Lawrence can’t keep playing both sides of the fence. I say that as someone who’s tried it and watched my intentions dissolve in front of my face. I’m sticking to my guns, too: This Lawrence and Tasha situation will not — I repeat, will not — end amicably. But it makes for riveting Sunday television, right?

Bonus: One more thing. Am I tripping, or does vice principal Gaines look like an older, chunkier Kanye West?

Double bonus: Be honest. Part of you really thought Issa punched Tasha in the bank, didn’t you? Everything was in play once we found out Issa and Lawrence sleeping together wasn’t just one of Issa’s elaborate daydreams.

Triple bonus: The two funniest minor characters are Kelli (Natasha Rothwell) and Chad (Neil Brown Jr.). They’re comedy every time they speak. This isn’t up for friendly banter, either. Debate it with your co-worker who believes Colin Kaepernick ruined football and asks, “Well, rappers say it, so why can’t I?” Thankfully, Chad’s Obamacare joke didn’t age well, though.

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.

Television anchor Jim Vance was a hero in black Washington A fixture on the local news for four decades, he died of cancer

Back in the day, Jim Vance used to double-park his cream Mercedes 450 SL outside Roland’s grocery store on Pennsylvania Avenue in Southeast D.C. He’d run in, grab a magazine, some Junior Mints, often a pack of Marlboro Reds, and dap up every soul in the store who recognized him before peeling away.

This was 1979, when local TV news was king and most every American news anchor was white. The nation’s potentates and poseurs ran the country just down the street. But to black Washington, Vance was a hero, anchoring the leading local news show in the nation’s capital for more than four decades.

Young’uns and old heads alike beamed with pride at his accomplishments and what he represented: an elite African-American professional, playing by his rules.

“They thought he was working for them — and he was,” recalled Scott Towle.

Towle was 20, stocking shelves and working as a cashier at Roland’s in 1979. Today, he is another Washingtonian who felt as if he lost a family member when NBC’s WRC-TV announced Vance had died of cancer Saturday morning — just two months after he told viewers about his diagnosis.

“He became the embodiment of black Washington,” said his widow, Kathy McCampbell Vance, whom Vance often credited with saving him from cocaine addiction in the mid-1980s. They were married in 1987. Through separations and an on-and-off-again courtship, she’d been his closest companion for 40 years.

“He lived in Southeast, in a black neighborhood in Capitol Hill, for years,” she added. “Vance was a bootstraps kind of guy. He was just smart. And he had so much personality and charisma.”

If Birth of the Cool belonged to Miles Davis, Vance was the Continuum of Cool. He read the news with a jazzy syncopation, enunciating every sentence just so. In television, a world of harried producers and directors, he moved at the speed of … Jim Vance. If time hadn’t stood still for him, at least the 6 and 11 o’clock newscasts did.

Jim Vance (left) and Doreen Gentzler prepare to return to the live broadcast after a commercial break.

Andre Chung for The Washington Post via Getty Images

I met him in 2005 through sportscaster George Michael, who invited me to be a panelist on his NBC Washington sports shows. Vance was an unabashed local sports fan who formed a close relationship with Hall of Fame NFL coach Joe Gibbs and many of the team’s best players during Washington’s three Super Bowl victories between 1983 and 1992. He pined for the day when the Wizards would hoist the NBA trophy like Wes Unseld’s Bullets did in 1978. Vance was always curious what Gilbert Arenas was really like, why Stephen Strasburg always looked so angry for a man paid millions to play a child’s game and why Dan Snyder kept getting in his own way, “because Lord knows I know what that’s about,” he told me.

When Michael died in 2010, Vance took it hard and delivered a profound eulogy for his friend. “George Michael was the first man to tell me he loved me,” he said. “When I told him that the L-word made me feel uncomfortable, George replied, ‘Get over it.’ ”

Vance grew up in Ardmore, a suburb of Philadelphia. His father, James Howard Vance Jr., drank heavily, dying of cirrhosis when Jim was 9. His mother left him in the care of his grandparents. He blamed his father’s death on himself, once lamenting, “I was convinced I was such a piece of s— that he’d rather die than hang out with me.” He earned a degree in secondary education from Cheyney University, a historically black college where he roomed with Ed Bradley, the longtime 60 Minutes correspondent.

He taught high school English for three years and got a job as a television reporter in Philadelphia through a career placement agency in 1968. With America’s racial cauldron boiling, he was recruited to Washington within a year. By 1972, he would become NBC4’s lead news anchor for much of the next five decades.

Winner of 19 Emmy Awards, Vance went to Vietnam. To South Africa. And to Southeast D.C. He fished with President George H.W. Bush. Former D.C. Mayor Marion Barry sought out Vance first after being arrested in 1990 for smoking crack cocaine.

Vance knew where the mayor had been, because he once put himself through the same hell. He entered the Betty Ford Center in 1984 after many years of free-basing cocaine. But he relapsed upon returning to town.

“This was the pre-crack cocaine era,” Kathy Vance said. “I just think free-basing was so seductive to Vance that it just pulled him in.” At his lowest, Vance stuck the shotgun he used for bird hunting in his mouth one evening out by Great Falls, but he didn’t pull the trigger.

Vance’s sobriety from cocaine, which began in 1985, lasted until he died. He became active in Washington 12-step groups, partnering with longtime advocate and D.C. politico Johnny Allem in 1991 to open the Cardozo Club at 14th and V streets, which catered to some of the city’s poorest in need of a recovery group, and the nonprofit Columbia Recovery Center.

By 1989, he had combined forces with Doreen Gentzler, weatherman Bob Ryan and Michael. Ratings soared. More people in Washington watched NBC4 for the next 20-plus years than all the national cable news networks combined.

Jim Vance takes a phone call in his office.

Andre Chung for The Washington Post via Getty Images

Gunner of Harley-Davidsons, slayer of hundreds of king and sockeye salmon each summer outside of Ketchikan, Alaska, connoisseur of tequila, jazz and the good life, Vance began wearing a golden hoop earring in his left ear in 2006 after the death of his friend Bradley, who had worn one.

“He was such a … man,” said Rock Newman, host of The Rock Newman Show and the former boxing manager for Riddick Bowe. “He was such a cool character. Sinatra-like. When he did my show, he walked in with some beautiful sweater, leather coat over it and jeans on. That’s some cool s—.

“No matter who you were, how much money you had, what color you were, you saw Jim and you smiled. He was a magnet for everybody.”

He also wasn’t afraid to be polarizing. Vance emotionally advocated for Washington’s NFL team to change its name in 2013 in his Vance’s Views forum — even though the team had a business partnership with the station that had dated back decades.

CBS’ James Brown, a D.C. native, credits Vance with pushing him toward broadcasting during a lunch they had in the early 1970s. “I was trying to seek safety in the multitude of counsel, deciding whether I should stick with the corporate route or pursue my passion, broadcasting. He said to go with what I really wanted to do, that nothing would take the place of that. I still remember that, that he was one of those sage voices that took the time to reach out to a literal nobody at the time. And he was like that with everybody.”

Donnie Simpson, the District’s DJ for life, moved from Detroit to Washington 40 years ago. His first radio gig in D.C. was housed in the same building as NBC4.

“When I saw that anchor desk, all those black faces — Jim, Sue Simmons, Martin Wyatt, the sports anchor at the time — and Jim Vance was the lead? All I could think was, damn, this was the Chocolate City. Black folks really do have some standing in this city. And Jim Vance represented that.”

Craig Melvin, a former NBC4 reporter and now an anchor with NBC and MSNBC, recalled that when he was hired at WRC in 2008, he was told, matter-of-factly, “You gotta get Jim Vance to bless you.”

When Melvin finally introduced himself, Vance said, “I know who you are. I know why you’re here. Meet me at this address.” He then slid a small piece of paper across the table with the address on it. “Best steaks in the District. I’ll meet you there between shows at 7:30.”

“I’m fairly nervous, to say the least,” Melvin said. “I get there early because it’s Jim Vance. But there’s no steakhouse. Just an interesting-looking building with an awning.” A brawny doorman brought Melvin to a private room.

“Then he walks in — in a top coat, top hat, lookin’ cool as s—,” Melvin said. “He sits me down in a corner. It’s then I realized where we were.”

Vance had had Melvin meet him at a strip bar called Camelot. “We sat there. We talked over what was, surprisingly, a pretty good steak.”

“I was testing you,” Vance finally said. “A punk would’ve walked in here and turned right around. But you’re my kind of guy.”

Kathy Vance knew the deal.

“He had his flaws, his demons, and they were his undoing,” she said. “But on the other side of that he lived the life he wanted, and he left a lot of good behind.

“The thing I remember is he looked you in the eye when you spoke to him and talked as if he was really, really listening to you — because he was. … He read people. And he responded. He didn’t wait for you to tell him who you were.”

The irony is Jim Vance didn’t know who he was until much later in life. And even when he found out, he still perplexed the ones he loved.

“I think I’ll be asking questions for decades to come about who he really was,” Kathy said.

Jim Vance was 75 years old. He is survived by Kathy, three children from two previous marriages, a daughter-in-law, three grandchildren and everyone who ever saw him grace the television of their family room.

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.