‘The Quad’ recap: GAMU students get a peek at what a merger really means Doing what’s right isn’t always easy, and Eva Fletcher is learning that the hard way

Season two, episode 6 — The Quad: March

If we thought rumors of a Georgia A&M University merger had finally been settled, this week’s episode is here to remind us just how angry students are on both sides.

Eva Fletcher has been doing everything in her power to keep GAMU’s legacy alive, but during breakfast with her daughter Sydney, Fletcher told her that she would be speaking to the president of Atlanta State University later in the day. In the background, Fletcher’s anxiety medication remains visible, which causes Sydney to worry. Fletcher convinces her daughter that better days are ahead for the school and her mental health. At least, that’s what she hopes.

Back on campus, students already had planned a protest, but with the new information from Sydney, a busload of students packed up their protest and brought it to ASU, where the two presidents were in the middle of discussing a plan that would work best for everyone involved. What they hadn’t expected was a counterprotest from a small group of alt-right activists, which turned violent once GAMU students were told to go back to where they belong. Punches were thrown, and Madison Kelly was struck with a glass bottle. Both presidents were alerted to the chaotic scene outside. The only way GAMU students would return to campus was if Fletcher rode the bus with them, a suggestion from Cedric Hobbs.

Although Sydney Fletcher’s relationship with her mother and her best friend, Kelly, had been warped, the trying times have brought them all closer together. Later in the episode, Sydney explains to her mother that GAMU’s support system, especially after her rape, has brought a new perspective. Sydney’s words of encouragement and support for her university may even serve as motivation for Fletcher to keep GAMU independent.

Back on campus, the newly pledged men of Sigma Mu Kappa are in the dorms celebrating. An elated Bryce Richardson can hardly contain himself, while his new line brother and roommate Hobbs still can’t quite understand the hype. This alone causes him to be an outcast among his other frat brothers, especially since they believe special privileges allowed him to join the line so late.

In reality, Hobbs is being forced into this brotherhood as a favor to Richardson. Although being a Sigma Mu Kappa man is Richardson’s family legacy, Hobbs has gained respect from some of his prophytes because of his leadership skills, which isn’t sitting too well with Richardson.

In a separate plotline, BoJohn Folsom is still recovering after being jumped by the friends of the high school football recruit aiming to take Folsom’s spot. His concerned teammate and roommate, Junior, has been trying, but a frustrated Folsom has been ornery. The real problem might stem from Folsom’s lack of communication with their third Musketeer, Tiesha, who has been ignoring him since their argument over her flirting with another guy. The two still haven’t spoken since the party, and Junior has been trying to play peacemaker until a later conversation revealed that Folsom and Tiesha had been more than friends. Junior, still processing the information, isn’t sure whether he’s more shocked or hurt that his two best friends hadn’t been truthful with him. With Folsom and Tiesha’s “situationship,” it’s apparent that Tiesha might not have wanted to commit to Folsom because he is white. Instead of talking things out, Tiesha leaves Folsom, adding another layer of complexity to their confusing relationship.

Folsom and Tiesha aren’t the only ones with relationship problems.

Somehow, Hobbs continues to land himself in hot water with every woman he meets. Hobbs, who is still dealing with the death of his first girlfriend and the fresh breakup from his last, thought it’d be a good idea to sleep with his best friend, Ebonie Weaver, before flirting with another one of his peers. Although Weaver wasn’t initially truthful about her feelings for Hobbs, Noni Williams made it clear to Hobbs that their hookup meant more to Weaver than just sex. Hobbs goes to Weaver’s room to try to clear things up and finds that Williams was telling the truth. Weaver does have deeper feelings for her best friend than she’d let on. Before Hobbs could show her that he shares the same feelings, he was interrupted by his roommate.

The two have been summoned by their fraternity and end up being punished for Hobbs breaking code earlier in the day. Hobbs, Richardson and their line brothers end up blindfolded and wearing nothing but their boxers in the middle of the woods. The show ends with the young men trying to find their way out of the woods after their prophytes leave them stranded — something Hobbs continues to struggle with and may end up speaking out against in the future.

‘The Quad’ recap: Ghosts of the past rear their ugly heads Eva Fletcher’s past continues to haunt her, while Cecil Diamond unearths memories that will change his life

Season 2, Episode 5 — The Quad: Native Son

After a week of waiting for a new episode, The Quad is back! And with a new episode, new drama unfolds. That’s what we’ve been waiting for, right?

The episode begins with what’s presumably Bryce Richardson still dreaming of being a member of Sigma Mu Kappa — a dream that was snatched away from him when his roommate, Cedric Hobbs, got him in trouble with the rest of the fraternity and he was kicked off line. The scene then transitions from Richardson’s nightmare to Eva Fletcher with a new boy toy, a nice escape from the hell she’s been dealing with.

After her arrest for assaulting a police officer, Fletcher has been on a crusade to end police brutality and clear her name. Fletcher’s attorney warns her that reporters have been digging around into her past, especially her medical history, to check the officer’s claim that Fletcher’s erratic behavior may have stemmed from drug use. The attorney vows to get to the bottom of things and urges Fletcher to let him take care of the situation. After all, it’s what he’s being paid to do.

On the field, BoJohn Folsom is facing a gaggle of angry teammates. After a fight broke out at a party between him and a top football recruit, which resulted in punches being thrown, coach Eugene Hardwick didn’t take too kindly to the news. The players complain to Folsom as Hardwick makes them roll the length of the field as punishment.

In the dorms, Richardson’s father, whom we hadn’t seen since last season, pays him another intense visit after hearing from his brother that things weren’t going so well with the fraternity. Bryce doesn’t want to run the risk of ruining the family’s legacy, but he knows he can’t tell his father the truth about his situation. Richardson’s ear-hustling roomie, Hobbs, overheard the conversation. Since he’s partially at fault for the mess, Hobbs approaches Miles Thrumond (Quentin Plair) and threatens to have the fraternity suspended on grounds of hazing if Richardson isn’t let back on line. It was a good try but a failed attempt. Hobbs went back to the drawing board for Plan B.

Although Fletcher was told to let the attorney handle her situation, of course it’s Fletcher fashion to go and find more trouble. With a little digging, Fletcher finds another man, Dave Hill, who filed a lawsuit against the same police officer, then dropped it. She finds Hill at a shop where he works as a mechanic and listens to his story before trying to persuade him to join her on the crusade for justice. Hill, explaining to Fletcher that he wants no part of her mess, rips up the attorney’s business card that Fletcher had given him as soon as she leaves.

In the midst of all the chaos, the student body has disapproved of Fletcher’s leadership, and the most recent series of unfortunate events has dragged her ratings even further down the hole. There have been police checkpoints set up near the school — most of them involving the unnecessary harassment of students. On top of that, Fletcher has canceled the school’s Spring Holiday Fest, which is a huge Georgia A&M University tradition. Hobbs encourages the student body not to be so hard on Fletcher, and if they want to reach her, it’s simple: Text her. She’d given out her number at the beginning of the year for students to do so.

Bad idea.

Hobbs’ idea leads an angry student body mob to Fletcher’s inbox, where she begins to receive disrespectful and hate-filled texts every two minutes. Not the best thing for someone suffering from panic attacks and anxiety. Fletcher steps out to go grocery shopping, but even her normal routine is disrupted by Mark Early, the police officer who assaulted and arrested her. He warns her that he has seen the “glassy look” in people’s eyes before, implying that Fletcher was under the influence of something the day she was pulled over. Fletcher stands her ground but is shaken after the officer leaves. She returns to Dave Hill to tell him that she has once again been harassed. This time, Hill decides to join her crusade by adding himself to the witness list.

Returning to the dorms, Folsom still tries to keep an upbeat attitude despite teammates, including his roommate, Junior, being mad at him. After getting out of an awkward conversation with Junior, Folsom makes a nightly store run to pick up some gifts to make things right with Tiesha (Aeja Lee). Before he can safely make it back to his dorm, Folsom is jumped by guys avenging the friend he punched at the party.

Junior hadn’t noticed the extent of Folsom’s injuries until the next morning. Bloodied and bruised, Folsom remained in bed while Junior informed the rest of the team about what had happened. Hardwick pays Folsom a visit in the dorm and tries to take him to the hospital but is blocked by Folsom’s father, who angrily scolds Hardwick for not taking care of his son.

On a lighter note in the episode, Cecil Diamond appears to be living his best life. His cancer is in remission, the problem children from his band have been removed and living carefree seems to be the new motto. Diamond walks into the club, where he’s immediately greeted by his old band buddies, who ask him to sit in on their set. The youngest of the bunch, the drummer of the band, immediately takes issue with it. Diamond can’t figure out where the hostility is coming from until a friend drops by campus to see him. He delivers the news that the hot-headed drummer is Diamond’s kid.

Yes, you read that correctly. Diamond is the father of a 26-year-old he’s meeting for the very first time. The world isn’t ready for another Cecil Diamond, but it will make the upcoming storylines that much more interesting.

With so much going on in Fletcher’s life, and so few friends to turn to, Fletcher invites colleague and “friend” Ella Grace Caldwell over for drinks and appetizers. She confides in Caldwell, even after Caldwell and dean Carlton Pettiway have already shown they can’t be trusted after going behind Fletcher’s back and making their own deals. Fletcher picks this moment to be honest. She begins to talk about the cop and how reporters have been poking into her background, which leads to the real reason that she resigned as president from the prior institution. She tells Caldwell about the affair that led to her divorce and resignation. Caldwell seemingly reserves judgment, but a few short scenes later she declares to Pettiway and Diamond that maybe Fletcher isn’t the right person for this job.

Finally, there is good news for Fletcher. The district attorney’s office successfully filed charges against Officer Early, and Fletcher gained the satisfaction of finally having something go right in her life. But the scene also reveals Fletcher’s new man, a doctor, who leaves a large bottle of alprazolam – better known by the brand name Xanax — on her nightstand. Was the officer right all along? Is it possible that Fletcher is abusing prescription drugs because of her anxiety? All signs point to yes, since Fletcher refuses to go to the pharmacy to get prescriptions filled.

Back on the yard, the latest class of Sigma Mu Kappa men is being revealed to the campus. When the time comes for masks to come off, it is revealed that Richardson is the ace of the line. One by one, masks come off. The tail at the very end of the line? Hobbs. Seems like Richardson will have a lot of making up to do to his roomie-turned-frat-brother from now on.

What is the ‘State of the Black Athlete’? The cultural resonance, political awakening and activation of the black athlete, as told in pictures

Athletic success may get you through the door, but be mindful, once you get here: “Stick to sports.”

There has been an unspoken expectation and, more recently, an apparent insistence that athletes’ opinions and passions are to be kept quiet. But the cultural resonance, political awakening and activation of the black athlete has pushed back on this narrative.

We asked several artists of color to examine and interpret the current “state of the black athlete.” Here’s what they came up with.

Sam Adefé

I often find that no matter the sport, brothers in the game continuously have to prove themselves worthy of the pedestal they are heavily burdened with. I say brother because to me, every black athlete represents someone like myself — a black kid chasing his dreams — finding inspiration in the actions of the people already paving the way.

Represented here is Anthony Joshua’s raised clenched fist after he defeated Wladimir Klitschko. To the many black youths who happened to be watching that day, witnessing that gesture meant more than just a show of celebration. This gesture symbolizes a show of solidarity.

Adrian Brandon

My goal with this illustration is to address the commonalities between black professional athletes and the black victims of police violence — it highlights the incredible amount of responsibility black athletes have and the role sports fans play in the current wave of athlete activism.

The sprinter in the illustration is focused on the finish line, while his shadow represents the young black victims of police brutality, symbolizing the constant fear that all black men and women face in today’s society.

Both the sprinter and his shadow are running away — in the same direction, illustrating the chilling similarities between black professional athletes and the victims we see on the news.

The crowd supporting the runner changes from sports fans (right) to protesters/activists (left). This begs the question, who is the black athlete competing for? How has this wave of black athlete activism changed the mentalities of sports fans?

Brandon Breaux

I wanted to capture black athletes in a contemplative state. These competitors have or have had the ability to reach so many people — it’s a great responsibility, but can also be a great burden.

Athletes, in general, already have to deal with so much: unwanted attention, pressure, rumors, performance anxiety, and even more. Black athletes, have all that on top of feeling as though they aren’t 100 percent accepted in their own country.

Today’s current state of affairs feel special. I think it’s a time where the life of a black athlete/person is so much bigger than the self, and the athletes in my illustration represent the contemplation that comes with it.

Caitlin Cherry

John Urschel, a former offensive lineman for the Baltimore Ravens, retired in 2017 to pursue his studies as a doctoral candidate in mathematics at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. His retirement came suddenly, just two days after a study of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) found nearly all former NFL players who donated their brains to science had signs of CTE.

It seemed the two were connected.

Urschel knows the all-too-real statistics that injury risk is high and the average NFL player’s career spans between two and five years.

He should inspire the next generation of would-be ballplayers in any professional sport that their studies in college are not supplementary. There is a life after the NFL. I appreciate him as a Renaissance man.

Chase Conley

What Huey P. Newton has taught me is that I have the power to change my condition, and it’s vital that we stand up against the unjust and fight for what we believe in, even if the cost is high. Until these players start worrying about the issues concerning the state of black people in this country and not about their paychecks, they are still a part of the problem. Yes, you may lose your job, but is that job more important than the condition of your people? Young black teenagers being gunned down in the street every other week? We all should have the courage to sacrifice for the greater good.

What would these leagues be without black people anyway?

Emmanuel Mdlalose

I likened the movement of sprinter Allyson Felix to when a caterpillar turns into a butterfly. Representing Felix overcoming obstacles faced by a black woman, especially in the athletic world — just dominating. I am drawn to her composed personality while being able to be strong-willed at the same time. She really represents the metamorphosis of a butterfly — in all her beauty, swiftness, and, most importantly, freedom.

Kia Dyson

In a time where black bodies are on public display and seemingly viewed to hold no value, I have attempted to find a way to turn tragedies within the black community into works of art.

“Above All Things” represents the ability, and, more importantly, the necessity for women of color to go above and beyond in all we do just to receive fair recognition. The expectations are higher for us.

We don’t have the luxury of mediocrity when it comes to providing, performing or competing. So we use our excellence as a form of protest: a demonstration of strength, acceptance, womanhood and visibility.

Laci Jordan

The state of the black athlete is conflicted.

Athletes grow up simply loving the game. As they grow older, outside factors come into play that can inhibit that love: notoriety, fame, special treatment, money, etc. Players can also become public figures and role models. Black athletes are stuck between these two worlds.

As an athlete, you have the keys to success to take care of yourself and your family, but on the other end, you sacrifice your voice and ability to speak on anything political — you’re told to stick to the game. As a black athlete, you’re expected to enjoy your riches and fame in exchange for your voice, choices and ethics.

Pierre Bennu

This piece references the Afro-futurist interpretation of the slavery project in the Western Hemisphere as a centuries-long genetic experiment, as well as the Sankofa concept of looking backward and seeing the future.

In choosing materials to make up the image, I imagine the middle passage as a thrusting or throwing forward into the future of mass amounts of human capital. With the crown of shards, I seek to reference the toll that many professional sports take on the body and also the regal state of being at peak physical form.

Robert Generette III

The statement on the tape, “PLAY,” not only states a command but also commands attention. I wanted the art to speak to different sides of the argument: players who comply, players wanting to exercise their First Amendment rights, and fans for or against athletes’ choices.

In the illustration, a spotlight is placed on an ambiguous African-American athlete who is shirtless, which suggests he’s baring it all. For the athletes who comply with “shut up and play,” the red arrow symbolizes the potential for them to excel or “climb the ladder to success” in their sport. The athlete who complies thrives.

For the athletes wanting to exercise their First Amendment rights, the intense stare reflects the absurdity of being told to shut up and play. The athlete has the complex choice of raising one fist (in protest) or raising both fists (in victory). For the fans who are not affected by or disagree with the views of athletes, the sticker across the athlete’s mouth, in their opinion, should become an essential part of the uniform.

I want this illustration to beg the questions: Should you keep quiet and find contempt for living one’s dream? Or should you use your dream as a platform to speak for those whose voices go unheard at the expense of sacrificing one’s dream?

Ronald Wimberly

I asked myself about the political role of the black body within a racist, consumerist paradigm and how that plays out in sports. For this image I thought about how athletes may work through these very same questions through sports. From Muhammad Ali’s name change to the Black Power fists of the 1968 Olympic Games, to Colin Kaepernick’s act of taking a knee — we are given expressions, symbolic abstractions, symbols that challenge us to think. I think this is the most radical act: to be challenged to think, to ask questions. Explaining artwork is a trap.

Formally, the work is a dialogue with the works of Aaron Douglas and Tadanori Yokoo and the movements to which they belong.

Tiffany B. Chanel

“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” said Colin Kaepernick. In the face of explicit and implicit racism, everyday people rise selflessly to address social injustice. Among these people are African-American athletes, such as the ones in my painting, who use their public platform and their First Amendment right to solidify their purpose as change agents. Their primary goal is to rewrite the narrative of oppressed people and afford them a pathway to upward mobility.

Some may say we have come really far, but have we really? What would you say?

Actress Candice Patton opens up on her role as Iris West in ‘The Flash’ The 29-year-old believes it’s important to break from historical roles and seek more diversity

Mary Jane Watson in Spider-Man: Homecoming was played by Zendaya. Samuel L. Jackson commanded the role of Nick Fury in The Avengers. In the movie Thor: Ragnarok, Idris Elba is the Asgardian gatekeeper Heimdall. Quvenzhané Wallis starred as the always singing and hopeful foster kid Annie. Brandy Norwood found her happily ever after as Cinderella with Whitney Houston dressed in gold as her fairy godmother. Will Smith protected Earth from aliens as Agent J in Men in Black.

What’s the significant common feature of these actors and their characters? They are all African-Americans playing characters who were originally white in their respective comic or children’s book.

Adding to the list is Candice Patton, who is in her fourth season of The Flash as Iris West. West is white in the DC comic, and her character is the no-fear-no-matter-the-danger, tough-as-nails journalist and longtime best friend of Barry Allen, aka The Flash. They’re married now and she leads S.T.A.R. Labs, the team behind The Flash in stopping crazy meta-human activity in Central City. The series airs on Tuesdays at 8 p.m. ET on The CW.

The Plano, Texas, native began her career in Hollywood with a stint on The Young and the Restless after being chosen in a national college casting search for a guest role. Once Patton graduated from Southern Methodist University in Dallas, she moved to Los Angeles to continue her acting career. Her television credits include appearances on Entourage, Castle, Grey’s Anatomy, The Game, CSI: Miami and Heroes, to name a few.

“It’s a huge honor because young people and future generations will remember Iris West as black,” said Patton, 29. “If my casting wasn’t working [for TV], they would have changed it for the film, but they didn’t [and cast Kiersey Clemons, another African-American woman], and that’s a great thing.”

There’s still a long way to go with diversity and inclusion in Hollywood, but celebrating every inch, foot and mile fought to push the glass ceiling higher is just as important as the fight.

While in Washington, D.C., for the “DC in D.C.” pop culture event, Patton spoke with The Undefeated about being a woman of color in Hollywood, how the leading lady on and offscreen has evolved and just how tearing her ACL as a cheerleader jump-started her passion for acting.

What have you learned from playing Iris West?

She is strong, fearless, passionate and emotional. There is strength in vulnerability, and Iris isn’t afraid to show her emotions. She won’t let that defeat her.

How is it both an honor and responsibility playing Iris, who is traditionally white in the comic book?

It’s a huge honor because young people and future generations will remember Iris West as black. They can see themselves as the ingénue. Iris is the love interest of the hero, he’s the one he desires. She’s the leader of the team; she’s the one who rallies everyone together. And that’s a really important role model for young girls and even boys.

#KeepIrisBlack has trended on Twitter. What significance does that have to you?

I got into acting to A) pay my rent and B) live out my dreams … but another part of it became being a voice for so many young women of color. They get to see themselves on-screen [when they watch The Flash]. I craved to see that as a child growing up. It was just never there. All of my heroes were white and blond. There’s nothing wrong with that, but what made it difficult for me as a black girl was that it felt outside of myself, like something over there … something that was so cool but could never happen to me. Even when I was starting out in Hollywood, all of the roles I was going for was the best friend of the pretty white girl. So now for the first time, I’m [metaphorically] the pretty white girl.

What actresses do you look up to?

I remember watching Halle Berry win that Oscar and thinking how an acting career path was possible for me. Her grace, dignity and class are all things I’ve aspired toward. Zoe Saldana has done an amazing job in the diverse roles she has acted in, and that further paves a huge path for women of color too.

Hollywood is recognizing interracial relationships, like that of Iris and Barry on The Flash, and finally normalizing it. Why is that important?

It’s very important because it becomes normal and less fearful for people who haven’t seen interracial couples in their own neighborhoods and communities. People see Iris and Barry and say, “Oh they’re just like us … a normal relationship.” Having diverse storylines in general across film and TV impacts communities and [deep-rooted] mindsets.

Leading women in TV and film have evolved. How would you define what a leading lady is today?

The leading lady is extremely important to the other heroes in the show. We used to see women as the sidekicks, but we’re moving away from that and women are becoming the heroes of their own stories. Iris is stepping into that, especially this season.

[Outside of the screen], we as a culture have a specific way of what we’re used to seeing women as or how we want to see women. But the change is happening because women are now deciding for themselves and we are saying, “No more.” We’re making choices that are going to make people uncomfortable because before it wasn’t the feminine way and it wasn’t acceptable for women [to do that]. But now we are seeing women step up and say, “No more. Thanks for your input, but I decide on what I wear, what profession I’m going to pursue and what I deserve to get paid.”

How did cheerleading play a part in you becoming an actress?

I grew up in Texas, so you either played football, went to the games or was a cheerleader. I enjoyed it a lot, but then tore my ACL. I couldn’t cheer for a while, so I ended up hanging out in the theater club, and the rest is pretty much history.

What insecurities have you overcome?

Fear of being wrong, making mistakes and being the perfect celebrity for people to look up to. I learned that I have to be true to who I am because people will see my sincerity through a mistake that way.

Where does your courage come from?

My mom and dad. My mom always tells me to be as proud as a peacock, and my dad as a now-retired FBI agent would say, “Just because you’re shot doesn’t mean you’re going to die.” I go through trials and tribulations, but it doesn’t mean it’s the end of the world. You just have to keep pushing through.

How has being a new dog mom changed your life?

My dog, Zoe, has changed my life and has been a great anxiety relief. She’s given me that sense of responsibility to love something outside of myself. Sometimes, this career can feel so self-absorbed because it’s a lot about you and your character. I just felt like it was about me, me, me, me for way too long. Having Zoe takes me outside of myself, which is great.

What’s your favorite throwback shows?

I grew up idolizing Lucille Ball. I’d watch I Love Lucy every single night. There was something about how she made me feel good and entertained. I just knew that I wanted to do that and be part of being in people’s home every night. Acting was a hobby that turned into my passion.

What emoji do you use the most?

The side-eye one. 👀

What’s your favorite movie-time snack?

Keiynan Lonsdale [who plays my brother Wally/Kid Flash on The Flash] introduced me to adding Maltesers chocolate to a warm bag of popcorn. I don’t even like chocolate, but this snack is on point.

Chicago minister Derrick B. Wells shares 12 steps to happiness His new book draws lessons from the cult martial arts movie ‘The Last Dragon’

The most recent Happiness Report revealed that happiness in America has fallen to its lowest score since 2006, due primarily to social issues rather than economic causes. Taking this into consideration, one Chicago reverend has formulated Guidelines for a Master: 12 Steps to an Extremely Happy Life, a practical guide to help readers pursue happiness.

Derrick B. Wells, senior minister of Christ Universal Temple in Chicago, felt compelled to write the guidelines after noticing a shift in energy and attitude during the 2016 presidential election.

“There just seemed to be a great deal of angst in the public space,” Wells said. “I wanted to be able to offer a writing that could perhaps serve as a counterbalance to some of that dialogue and at the same time give the reader some very practical steps and things that they could do to begin to effectively reclaim some of what they might’ve been giving away in terms of their personal power.”

Settling on the 12 steps, Wells said, was a twofold process. He had to find ways to narrow down the steps in terms of practicality while making his book stand out from other self-help books and articles. Wells’ use of two key components makes all the difference: First, the guidelines can be followed by anyone, regardless of where they are in their lives, Wells said. “There’s also a spiritual connotation [the number] 12 carries with it as some sense of completion and fulfillment.”

Second, Wells draws parallels with the 1985 cult classic The Last Dragon, about a young man looking for “the master” to help him attain the highest level of martial arts expertise. He uses examples from various scenes and turns them into relatable lessons.

“Leroy serves as a wonderful symbol as how we oftentimes think that the pursuit of fulfillment exists outside of ourselves,” Wells said of the lead character. “And so, in the movie, he’s really kind of fascinated with this idea of meeting the master and being able to attain the glow. He feels that his journey to meet the master and to learn from the master will be the same. That served as a catalyst to help him get to that glow, that enlightenment. If you look at the story … he’s demonstrating incredible awareness and mastery.”

In some ways, Wells leaned on his own experiences. As a Chicago native, Wells knows how the surrounding environment can affect people. According to the Urban Institute, the rate of long-term anxiety and worry among Chicago youths hovers around 24.1 percent, while the national average sits at 3.5 percent. But Wells believes hearts and minds can always be changed and damage done from environmental factors isn’t irreversible.

“I think we’re all, to some degree or another, a product of our environment. We also recognize, in being products of our environment, to a very large extent it’s how we process our environment that gives us the ability to navigate it effectively or not,” Wells said.

“It helps to have a sense of self-determination and to be able to move out of an experience that you have outgrown. As someone who was a drug dealer, in a gang, who spent time in county jail and have done things I’m not proud of, I still consider myself a rose that grew from concrete. I learned how to make different decisions, and through learning how to make different decisions I was able to create a different life.”

Wells hopes that those who read his book will not only gain a positive outlook about what is possible in their lives but also gain an understanding of the tools that the book offers.

“I don’t want the book to only be informative. I don’t want it to be only transformative. I want it to be practical,” Wells said. “The content within Guidelines is intended to be very practical and spiritual so that anyone at any knowledge or level of education, experience or background can have a tool. Even if it’s a single tool that they take away — a single tool that they can be able to use to build and design and create a life that works for them.

“I want Guidelines to serve as motivation to get into action. A plan without action is really just a dream.”

‘Unsolved’ aims to dispel all the misconceptions about Tupac and Biggie Television Critics Diary: Two promising shows about Bad Boys and ‘Good Girls’

PASADENA, California — Last year, FX made it impossible not to obsess over O.J. Simpson. This year, they’re hoping they can do the same with Gianni Versace and the serial killer who murdered him.

So of course other networks were bound to join in and try to get a piece of that true-crime ratings juice.

Which brings us to Unsolved: The Murders of Tupac and the Notorious B.I.G., USA’s 10-episode limited series, which premieres Feb. 27.

Unsolved jumps back and forth in time from 1997, the year Biggie Smalls was murdered, to 2007, when Detective Greg Kading (Josh Duhamel) and Officer Daryn Dupree (Bokeem Woodbine) are trying to close the still-unsolved case. And it aims to dispel all of the misconceptions about Smalls and Tupac Shakur, particularly for an audience that didn’t follow every detail in the case.

“There is a huge misunderstanding that these men were gangsters, and therefore that they should be seen in a negative light,” executive producer Mark Taylor told me at the Television Critics Association press tour here. “A lot of that came from the media. It’s an easy way to categorize people. It plays into a lot of racial fears. But it doesn’t capture who they were. It doesn’t fully capture who anyone is to say they’re a gangster.”

It’s a useful revisiting, based on the real-life Detective Kading’s book Murder Rap. Jimmi Simpson plays Los Angeles Police Detective Russell Poole, who investigates the case in 1997. USA has only released the pilot to the press, but it appears to have the makings of something truly addictive. There’s a deeply chilling scene between Biggie’s mother, Voletta Wallace (Aisha Hinds), and Simpson, and at a press tour panel on Tuesday, Simpson squeezed his eyes shut and gestured with his hands as he tried to convey the depth of his appreciation for Hinds’ performance.

All of that is wonderful, but what you really want to know is whether USA found actors who effectively captured Biggie and Tupac.

Yes. The answer is yes.

Marcc Rose, who played Tupac in Straight Outta Compton, is revisiting the role for Unsolved. The producers found a newcomer in rapper Wavyy Jonez to play Biggie, and it’s a relief to see that he’s not just doing an impression. Both men give their characters depth and an unexpected youthful playfulness under the direction of Anthony Hemingway. There’s one scene in particular where the two are playing under a sprinkler system in the California sun with real, but unloaded, guns, and Hemingway makes his point: They were just kids when they died in 1996 and 1997, barely adults on paper and even less so in spirit.

Retta, Mae Whitman and Christina Hendricks, stars of the NBC show “Good Girls.”

Maarten de Boer/NBC via Getty Images

NBC has a new dramedy from creator Jenna Bans that follows three suburban Detroit moms who decide to hold up a grocery store after they find themselves and their families in dire financial straits.

Good Girls stars Christina Hendricks, Retta and Mae Whitman as moms Beth Boland, Ruby Hill and Annie Marks. Beth discovers that her used-car salesman husband, played by Matthew Lillard, has not only been cheating on her with his spokesmodel but has also mortgaged the house several times over and maxed out their credit cards trying to save his floundering business. Ruby’s daughter has a rare kidney disorder that requires either a transplant or a drug that costs $10,000 a month out of pocket. And Annie is a struggling mom to a genderqueer tween whose well-off father wants to sue her for full custody.

NBC is selling this show as a cross between Thelma and Louise and Breaking Bad, which I suppose makes sense. Mostly, it reminds me of Set It Off, the 1996 film starring Queen Latifah, Jada Pinkett, Vivica A. Fox and Kimberly Elise as four desperate women who turn to robbing banks to get the cash they need.

Good Girls tries to capture all of the ways women are ignored, disrespected and underappreciated while also portraying the danger that women face — Annie has her own #MeToo moment — and managing to be darkly funny.

It’s Retta who brings a wonderful, tender ordinariness to the show. She and her husband, Stan (Reno Wilson), both work low-paying full-time jobs, neither of which affords them great health care for their daughter, played by Lidya Jewett. Retta spoke at length Tuesday about how she immediately responded to the script, precisely because she’s playing a person and not a best friend, or a meter maid, or a postal worker, or some other stereotype of what dark-skinned, plus-size black women are imagined to be.

Ruby and Stan have a loving, working-class marriage. Retta told me that Bans alerted her a few days ago that Ruby and Stan were going to have a fight because they have a sick kid and money’s tight. It makes sense.

Still, “I f—ing had a panic attack,” Retta said, “because I was like, ‘I love — don’t let them get into a fight!’ My thing is, because I love Ruby and Stan so much, and I love them together, and I love our kids — our kids are super f—ing cute. The kids are so cute, and Lidya is so damn smart. We just love being together. A lot of times, you know, you don’t necessarily loooove to perform with the kids. We love our kids. I’m having anxiety about the fight that we’re going to have to have.”

Kendrick Lamar’s ‘DAMN.’ good run places him face to face with the president Kendrick Lamar’s ascension coincides with college football’s big moment and President Donald Trump

Fifteen-year-old Kendrick Lamar likely never thought he’d be performing at halftime of one of the biggest sporting events of 2018. Certainly not when he, as a teenager, was getting stomped at Compton, California’s, Avalon Swap Meet. But a decade and a half after the fight he references on “ELEMENT.,” from 2017’s Grammy-nominated album DAMN., here he is: headline performer at halftime of the college football national championship — the NCAA’s Super Bowl. The all-Southeastern Conference main event is Monday night in Atlanta.

College halftime shows traditionally feature marching bands. But in an effort to mirror February’s actual Super Bowl, the College Football Playoff and ESPN announced last spring that an artist would perform. Lamar’s résumé of course warrants his booking.

Forbes placed Lamar on its December 2017 cover, lauding the “antisocial extrovert” for his business decisions such as ending his long relationship with Reebok and launching a new collaboration with Nike. Lamar’s tour dates routinely gross more than $1 million per night. And in 2017, not only did he surpass even Beyoncé and Bruno Mars with more than 2 billion radio spins, but Lamar also had five of the most streamed songs of 2017. And while his 2012 “m.A.A.d city” (featuring MC Eiht) is featured in the next week’s Den of Thieves, Lamar recently confirmed that he and his Top Dawg Entertainment are producing the soundtrack for Black Panther, led by a collaboration with SZA titled “All The Stars.”

All the stars are expected to flood box suites to watch the Quavo-endorsed University of Georgia versus the crème de la crème University of Alabama. This VIP list reportedly includes President Donald Trump. From self-doubt to self-proclaimed greatness, Lamar’s ascension coincides and often collides with the United States’ 45th president.

Trump, a frequent sporting provocateur, has been an occasional target of Lamar’s lyrics dating to 2015. So speculation is swirling: What will this moment mean between the lyrically sharp MC and verbal live-wire commander-in-chief? Lamar’s fellow Comptonite, and perhaps hip-hop’s most famous Trump antagonist, YG, has at least one suggestion for Lamar.

There is drama leading up to the moment. What statement will Lamar make? Will outside forces — the NCAA, sponsors or even Disney — attempt to define the parameters of his performance? Will he even make one at all?


Tell me what you gon’ do to me / Confrontation ain’t nothin’ new to me/ You can bring a bullet, bring a sword / Bring a morgue / But you can’t bring the truth to me.

— “All The Stars” with SZA (2018)

Lest time forget, Lamar’s 2015 To Pimp A Butterfly is a fingerprint for an era defined by Black Lives Matter, police brutality and the final months of the country’s first black president’s administration. The record features a handful of Lamar’s most complex and analytical cuts: “i,” “Hood Politics,” “Mortal Man” and President Barack Obama’s favorite “How Much A Dollar Cost.” But undoubtedly, Butterfly’s star is “Alright.” It’s the generational equivalent to James Brown’s “I’m Black and I’m Proud.”

Presidential critiques aren’t foreign to Lamar’s catalog. Seven years ago, Lamar painted a picture of gangland Compton (decades before gentrification arrived) on “Ronald Reagan Era (His Evils).” 1987, the children of Ronald Reagan raked the leaves, he said of the generation directly affected by the legacy of the 40th president’s Reaganomics, Your front porch with a machine blowtorch.

The Obama era, for Lamar, brought reverence and clarity. The reality of a black president inspired pride and accomplishment. But he wasn’t blind to current and past issues: Streets don’t fail me now, they tell me it’s a new gang in town /From Compton to Congress, set trippin’ all around/ Ain’t nothin’ new, but a flu of new Demo-Crips and Re-Blood-licans, he opined on 2015’s “Hood Politics.” Lamar understood Obama’s power as president was in constant opposition with forces that sought to derail, override and neuter. Red state versus a blue state, which one you governin’? / They give us guns and drugs, call us thugs / Make it they promise to f— with you / No condom, they f— with you / Obama say, ‘What it do?’

Later that same year, while then-candidate Trump was still seen by some as a political punchline, Lamar addresses growing right-wing hysteria on “Black Friday,” saying, I’m the son of the pioneer that near the sun /Play with him / B—- you better off voting for Donald Trump.

A year later, in 2016, as Trump-mania gained indestructible steam, Lamar again directed his attention to the candidate nearly two months to the date of the presidential election. Might stay in the Trump Tower for one week, he rapped on “What’s Wrong.” Spray paint all the walls and smoke weed / F— them and f— y’all and f— me. In 2017, as the reality of a Trump presidency set in, Lamar observed.

Donald Trump is a chump / Know how we feel, punk? Tell ’em God comin’ / And Russia need a replay button, y’all up to somethin’, Lamar rapped on “The Heart Pt. 4,” a month before Robert Mueller was named special counsel for the ongoing Russia investigation. But for “XXX.,” on DAMN., the reality set in for Lamar. Donald Trump’s in office / We lost Barack and promised to never doubt him again / But is America honest, or do we bask in sin?

Lamar is an atypical selection for such a widely viewed event. He’s not “safe,” nor is he “routine.”

In the coming weeks we can anticipate an impending marketing avalanche for Panther, perhaps “the biggest and blackest blockbuster of all time,” with Lamar a critical component. Later this month, the seven-time Grammy winner looks to add more with seven new nominations, including going head-to-head with Jay-Z for the evening’s most coveted award, album of the year. I said it’s like that/ Dropped one classic, came right back/ ‘Nother classic, right back/ My next album, the whole industry on a ice pack, he vowed a week before DAMN.’s arrival. The promise has him on the doorstep of Grammy history on Jan 28.

Trump, in Lamar’s eyes, is the complete antithesis of what his much-loved music is about, but in many ways he is a source of inspired frustration. And the nature of Monday night’s halftime performance, even with Friday’s free-to-all dress rehearsal, is difficult to predict. Despite his undeniable star power, Lamar is an atypical selection for such a widely viewed event. He’s not “safe,” nor is he “routine.” It easy to imagine part of Lamar’s performance being veiled shots: I know how you work, I know just who you are/ See, you’s a, you’s a, you’s a— / B—- ...

So, does Lamar feel the pressure to symbolically take a knee Monday night? I, for one, don’t think it’s wise to believe anxiety will play a part in Lamar avoiding The Elephant In The A. He and TDE are from Compton, a cultural ground zero where wearing the wrong hat, or walking down the wrong block with the wrong shoelaces, sometimes came with fatal consequences. A halftime show, by comparison, is a field trip to Calabasas, California.

Illuminating truth to power is daunting. Kanye West knew what would come of his comments about President George W. Bush, but he became a larger-than-life figure afterward. Colin Kaepernick understood that taking a knee would all but involuntarily retire him, but he is now the millennial Muhammad Ali. Lamar’s life has been one risk after another — a butterfly effect set in motion as documented in the mind-numbing odyssey “DUCKWORTH.,” DAMN.’s closing number.

Trump vs. Lamar is quite the undercard for Monday night’s main event. It could very well be a culture-shifting moment spearheaded by the man who has been bestowed with the heavy title of “voice of a generation.” Lamar is well-aware of the moment he occupies and times he’s become a voice for. His message to Trump could very well come in words, via actions or even purely via symbol. Does this mean halftime will be his Kanye West 2009 MTV Video Music Awards moment? Who knows.

Whether he decides to stir the pot, whether he fulfills YG’s wish, there is a reality evident about Lamar. Nothing looks to stop the momentum he’s built over the past year. Not even the president of the United States.

Russell Simmons revolutionized the culture, but now it doesn’t matter Recent sexual assault charges reveal the damage that can be done to women under the cover of fame

To date, more than 10 women have accused Russell Simmons of sexual misconduct. The accusations range from harassment to rape. Simmons says, “I vehemently deny all these allegations.

The accusers include model Keri Claussen Khalighi. She says she begged for help as Simmons coerced her to have oral sex. Musician Sherri Hines accuses the author and Def Jam Recordings founder of throwing her on a couch and raping her. Tina Baker, a lawyer, says that Simmons, who managed her career at the time, invited her to his apartment, where he held her down and raped her. Screenwriter Jenny Lumet says that Simmons coerced her into sex after having his driver take them to Simmons’ place without her consent. Drew Dixon, a former Def Jam A&R executive and daughter of former D.C. Mayor Sharon Pratt Dixon, accused Simmons of sexual abuse and also says former Epic Records chairman L.A. Reid sexually harassed her. (Reid stepped down from his position at Epic in May amid sexual misconduct allegations.)

The allegations against Simmons span from 1983 to 2016. “These horrific accusations have shocked me to my core,” he wrote to The New York Times, “and all of my relations have been consensual.”

Since the initial allegations were made public at the end of November, Simmons has stepped down from all of his companies. HBO comedy series has removed him from All Def Comedy. The New York Police Department is now opening an investigation, as seven of the alleged incidents occurred in New York City.

The question shouldn’t be what would the world look like without the art these men provide.

Any stories about Simmons up to two weeks ago would have had a totally different first paragraph. Before the allegations of sexual misconduct and assault, Simmons’ story would have started with his immeasurable contributions to black culture and, by proxy, American culture. With Def Jam, Simmons helped take hip-hop from street corners to Wall Street. His visionary approach to the music business is largely responsible for making rap music the pop culture juggernaut it is today.

Beyond that, his Def Comedy Jam launched the careers of comedians such as Martin Lawrence, Chris Rock and Dave Chappelle, who are of course now household names. The debacle of his RushCard debit card, in which thousands of customers were locked out of their accounts over a weekend and unable to access funds, was a stain on his otherwise good reputation. All of these accomplishments, and more, used to be Simmons’ resounding legacy.

Used to be, because none of that matters anymore. While the fruits of Simmons’ cultural labor are spread across global pop culture to this day and beyond, none of those contributions would be equal to the cost from the painful toll he’s accused of inflicting on women over the course of the past three decades. The road to greatness isn’t worth a damn if that road is paved with pain and violence toward women.

So we’re left with the idea that one of the main architects of the current musical landscape — in September, Nielsen reported that the combined genre of hip-hop and rhythm and blues is No. 1, for the first time, in overall consumption — has allegedly victimized women along the way. These women were managers, artists, journalists, all who — who knows, but — could perhaps have made even larger impact on the culture.

Simmons has always been a role model for what creativity, business acumen and hard work can do, how one person’s brilliance can transform the world. Now, he may be another example of the damage that can be done to women under the cover of fame.

There will be a push — as always, and especially when black female victims are involved — to litigate just how much sexual assault is acceptable in relation to a particular artist’s contribution to popular culture. R. Kelly defenders love bringing up that his music is just too iconic to discard. Bill Cosby defenders protest that their love for The Cosby Show is just too much to sacrifice, no matter his charges. The same goes for less-discussed accused transgressors: We revere Martin despite the allegations that the titular star sexually harassed Tisha Campbell. What about Dr. Dre? Floyd Mayweather? Mike Tyson?

Where is the line, and what will be left if every man who abuses a woman is exiled from his respective level of achievement? The fact is, art will survive. Brilliance is an infinitely replenishable resource that women who are free from the anxiety and trauma of violence are more than capable of providing. The question shouldn’t be what would the world look like without the art these men provide. The question should be how much better would the world be if everyone were free to create in a world where sexual assault and violence didn’t exist. Isn’t that more valuable than a few great albums and TV shows?

Robin Roberts reports on importance of early detection for black women with breast cancer The ‘Good Morning America’ anchor and cancer survivor teamed up with WebMD to tell stories of survival

In 2007, Good Morning America anchor Robin Roberts conducted a self-exam of her breast after reporting on a friend who had died of cancer.

“It all started a few weeks ago,” she wrote in an email that was shared with the world. “We had gotten the news that our dear colleague and friend Joel Siegel had passed away and we began preparing for our special tribute show for him. I did a piece about Joel’s courageous battle with cancer, reporting on the way my friend had lived his life and been such a successful advocate for the importance of early cancer screenings.”

She found a lump.

Roberts had a biopsy, then surgery, and by January 2008 she’d gone through eight chemotherapy treatments and six weeks of radiation. She later learned she had myelodysplastic syndrome, which is “a disease of the blood and bone marrow and was once known as preleukemia,” Roberts said in a new message posted on the ABC News website.

In 2012, she received a bone marrow transplant from her sister.

Now she has teamed up with the online human health and wellness publication WebMD to help tell stories of early detection, support and bravery. Advanced Breast Cancer: Courage, Comfort and Care with Robin Roberts, a five-part video series, was released in August. The series tells the stories of women with advanced breast cancer, “plus the families and friends who provide encouragement and support, and includes insights from medical experts leading the charge to combat the disease,” WebMD announced.

In one episode, Roberts looks at the effects of breast cancer in the African-American community and promotes the benefits of early detection.

She introduces Felicia Johnson, a Philadelphia woman and two-time cancer survivor who said the disease also attacked her maternal grandmother, her sister and her first cousin. Including Johnson, 11 women over three generations in her family have been diagnosed with cancer.

“It seems like our list just goes on and on,” Johnson says in the episode.

“Felicia’s connection to breast cancer is not unusual,” Roberts reports. “Death rates from breast cancer are higher in the African-American community, and research shows that African-American women are now being diagnosed with breast cancer more frequently.”

Roberts also introduces Lisa Newman, a surgical oncologist and director of the Breast Oncology Program for the Henry Ford Health System in Detroit. Newman says many black women are not getting preventive treatment, so she spends a lot of her time advocating for early detection.

“Every opportunity to get the message out to African-American women regarding breast cancer screening and early detection is critical,” Newman says.

“We completed several series for WebMD on a variety of health subjects, but this series represented a chance for us to take a deep look at the many facets of breast cancer treatment and survivorship,” Roberts told Essence in August.

“From personal experience with the disease, I know there’s a lot of fear associated with breast cancer, especially when a patient is first diagnosed and when the disease has already reached an advanced stage — I also felt the series could help people learn how to better cope with the fear and anxiety, and offer them hope for their future.”

Author Jesmyn Ward talks about enduring hurricane season, the South, and what it means to be a MacArthur ‘genius’ She has a deep love for the South, but isn’t sure she wants to finish raising her children there

Winning a MacArthur “genius” grant can be a little bit like winning the nerd lottery.

Not only are you recognized for your intellectual prowess and contributions to society, but it’s publicly announced to every major media outlet in the country that your bank statements will be a bit bigger. MacArthur fellows get $625,000, with zero strings attached, spread over five years.

“It didn’t feel real until everyone knew, and then, of course, you speak to people that you haven’t spoken to in years, and everyone congratulates you,” said author Jesmyn Ward, one of 24 people honored by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation this month. “It’s a huge, huge honor, but it is overwhelming. It is overwhelming. Everyone immediately wants to borrow money.

“Everyone is already like, ‘Oh, so we’re rich now. We’re rich.’ ”

Ward, 40, was already a superstar. Her novel Salvage the Bones won the 2011 National Book Award, and this year her latest novel, Sing, Unburied, Sing, is short-listed for it. Inspired by James Baldwin, Ward also edited a 2016 essay collection, The Fire This Time, which assembled thoughts from luminaries such as Isabel Wilkerson, Kiese Laymon, Clint Smith, Edwidge Danticat and Emily Raboteau.

Ward, who teaches at Tulane University, grew up in Mississippi with modest means. After stints in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and New York, she elected to return, buying a home in DeLisle, Mississippi, a 57-mile drive to New Orleans and her university job. Salvage the Bones, which followed a poor black Mississippi family in the days leading up to Hurricane Katrina, was inspired by her own experiences living through the storm. Despite her deep love for her home state and its most vulnerable citizens, Ward is not sure how much longer she’ll remain there.

We talked about writing, the strangeness of becoming a public figure, making it through this year’s harrowing hurricane season, and the hyper-abbreviated nature of black childhood, which Ward explores in Sing, Unburied, Sing. Her latest novel follows a 13-year-old boy named Jojo, and his young mother, Leonie, who serve as alternating narrators. They’re poor and live in rural Mississippi with Leonie’s mother, who is dying of cancer, and Leonie’s father. Leonie decides to take a road trip with Jojo and her toddler daughter, Kayla, to pick up their white father, Michael, from prison. Every generation of the family is grappling with death and unresolved loss in some way, but Leonie is particularly striking because of her inability to reckon with the death of her brother, Given, who was murdered by a white schoolmate.

This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.

What is the moment like when you find out that you’ve been awarded a MacArthur grant?

It’s totally surreal. When it’s happening, when they’re telling you that you’ve won a MacArthur grant, it just doesn’t feel real. It’s such a huge award and such a huge honor that it’s never the call that you expect to get. I don’t think it feels real until the announcement. When everyone else finds out, that’s when it feels real. [The MacArthur Foundation] prepares beforehand, because they send a video crew out to your house and you spend an entire day with them.

Most writers are not extroverts. Once you started accumulating this snowball of acclaim, what did that do to you?

It’s difficult, especially because I am naturally a shy person, or at least I was, in high school and afterwards for years. One of my friends … while I lived in New York, would introduce me, and he would jokingly say, ‘This is my mute friend,’ because I would never speak. It’s really odd for me to now have to develop and assume a public persona and to share. I have to figure out how much of my private self am I willing to reveal. How comfortable am I, will I attempt to be, when I’m sharing my life with other people? It’s something that I have to work at.

When did you first realize there’s Public Jesmyn and Private Jesmyn?

I didn’t really realize that I would have to develop a public persona until Salvage the Bones was nominated for the National Book Award. That’s when everything changed for me, because I wrote Where the Line Bleeds as my first novel, my baby novel. A fair amount of people read it, but it didn’t get a ton of serious reviews and I didn’t do a lot of interviews. And then Salvage the Bones came out, and the reception was better, but it was before it was nominated for a National Book Award. Then everything changed, and then of course once I won, everything really changed.

I devoted years of my life to becoming a better writer. I’ve learned how to read like a writer. I worked on my craft and just tried to improve with everything that I produced, with everything that I created, but I never really thought about what it would mean to actually get better and get good enough to the point where other people start recognizing it, and then you’re reaching more people, wider range of people, reaching lots of readers. Suddenly you have an audience.

“One of my friends … while I lived in New York, would introduce me, and he would jokingly say, ‘This is my mute friend,’ because I would never speak.”

Writing is such a solitary thing, so it was a total surprise for me when I realized that my life as a writer would not just consist of me sitting in a room typing or reading.

But you know what helps? Teaching, because I’m a professor, and that helps me a lot. I was put in plenty of situations where I had to think quickly, speak quickly, plenty of situations where I had to attempt to be eloquent and to learn how to talk about something that I was very passionate about, because that’s what teaching demanded.

Is it more difficult talking to a roomful of college students or talking to reporters?

It’s definitely talking to a roomful of college students! This has not happened to me at Tulane, but I’ve definitely taught at other schools where the college students I’m teaching do not think that I am the smartest person in the room, and in fact they think they are the smartest person in the room. That’s always a little difficult to navigate.

What did you mean by “learning to read like a writer”?

For me, that meant reading poetry to attempt to figure out how figurative language can create beauty, how figurative language can make a reader feel. I read poetry to also figure how sentences can create rhythm, how paragraphs can create rhythm.

I read literary fiction to attempt to figure out what was pleasing to me as far as a prose style. I also read literary fiction to figure out how to develop a character, how to make a character come alive on the page. I read literary fiction to figure out pacing and how to balance narration and scene, and what was pleasing to me as a writer, what kind of balance was pleasing to me, whether I liked lots of dialogue and a little narration or more narration and less dialogue.

And then I read other genres, like fantasy, like sci-fi, like children’s books, middle-grade books, YA books, even romance, because I feel like those genres taught me different things about — I feel like I wasn’t necessarily reading them to learn lessons about prose and about what I felt worked well and what didn’t. I think that those books taught me things about how to create suspense, about plot.

What are you excited to be reading right now?

I have a poetry anthology next to my bed. Czeslaw Milosz. A Book of Luminous Things. That’s nice, to have books that I can open up and read a short piece and get some satisfaction from knowing that I’ve read something.

I recently read a children’s book called The Girl Who Drank the Moon, which was amazing. In the last two chapters, I was tearing up the entire time. It was insane, but it was such a pleasure to read that because I could just enjoy it. I feel like it’s easiest to turn off my writerly brain when I’m reading children’s lit. It’s just a lovely, beautiful book.

You have spent a lot of time thinking about Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath. What was it like for you living through this hurricane season?

It’s been difficult, especially seeing the devastation in Houston, seeing the devastation in Puerto Rico, seeing the devastation in Florida, being witness to the current administration’s ambivalence towards that suffering, and sometimes outright hostility that echoes some of the ambivalence and hostility that at least New Orleans, and somewhat the Mississippi Gulf Coast, that we experienced during Katrina. It’s hard, and I didn’t realize how difficult until I saw Houston was flooding, and I thought, ‘I should write something about this,’ and I couldn’t write a thing. I couldn’t write anything, and then I realized how deeply affected I was and how haunted I was by Katrina and by what happened after Katrina.

And then I realized that again, when we were preparing for Hurricane Nate. Nate was a Category 2 storm, and we were losing our minds. I was trying to get a solar-powered generator. I was stocking up and preparing in a way that you would prepare for a Category 5, and yet so was everyone else. It wasn’t just me. It was everyone else here, on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, in New Orleans. That’s the long shadow of Katrina. I think that every time it happens, that we’ll react like that, because of Katrina, because we’re still struggling with it. I think there’s a lot of unresolved anxiety and terror that people carry from our experiences in Katrina.

In Sing, Unburied, Sing, you bounce back and forth between Jojo and Leonie, who are both young, as narrators. Jojo is forced to grow up faster than his years, and Leonie, his mother, doesn’t quite feel like a real grown-up yet.

I think that black childhood is not something that’s granted to black children in America, and so I think that my characters reflected that. Jojo, his experience reflects that in the present moment, as he’s going through it, but I feel that Leonie is the kind of character who comes to life when a black person has — when their childhood has been denied. When that childhood has been stolen, she’s the result, where she’s sort of stuck in this extended adolescence, especially with her selfishness and her inability to process hardship, to face hardship and to live with hardship and to thrive, really. That’s what happens.

“I feel like it’s easiest to turn off my writerly brain when I’m reading children’s lit.”

It’s funny, because then I think about Richie’s character, who is a ghost. He’s a ghost, and he should be nearly as old as Pop is, but yet he, too, is stuck in some sort of adolescence because his childhood was taken away from him, because he was robbed of his childhood.

I think about Mam and I think about Pop, and I wonder why they did not break, why they don’t seem broken in the way that Leonie’s broken, or that Richie is broken.

When I think about Kayla and Jojo, I don’t think that they will be broken people like Leonie or like Richie. I think that they’ll be like Mam and like Pop, and maybe the reason why I don’t think that they will be broken people, and maybe the reason why Pop and Mam aren’t broken, is because there was something there that sustained them. I think for Mam, it was the love of her family, and also these things like black spiritual traditions, voodoo and hoodoo and herbal medicine. I think that that sustained her. With Pop, I think it’s family. I think that that definitely sustained him, and maybe a sense of community that he has or a sense of responsibility that he had to that family and to that community.

You go so hard for the South. So often it’s discussed as a place where the best thing about it for black folks is that they can leave. What makes you want to stay there?

I am writing about the kind of people who I grew up with. I’m writing about people who are like my family members. I’m writing about people who are like people who live in my community. I think, because I’m writing from that place, that I can love them, but I can also be critical of them. And I think, too, that I’m very aware of how history bears on the present in the South, and of how it complicates people’s lives, and how it is this really underacknowledged force in the region. I want to acknowledge that, and I think that that’s also what is fueling some of that critical eye.

I wanted to come back for so long, and I am here now, but I have gotten to this point in my life where I can’t say that I will stay here forever.

Why not?

It’s just motivated by my kids, because I have a 5-year-old daughter and I have my son, who [is now] 1. I love my kids, and I want the best for them, and I don’t know. I feel like, in some respects, that I would be failing them if we stayed here through the years when they were teenagers, because this is not a kind place, in many ways, and I worry for them. I want them to live, and I want them to thrive, and I don’t know if this is the best place for that to happen.

Is there any place in America that’s safe for them, where they can be children?

I know that there’s nowhere in this country where they could be completely safe, but I do feel like there are places in this country that would be safer, and made safer, because of where I have worked, because of where I’ve gotten in my life. Classwise, I could afford them different opportunities that if I were poor, or if I lived in poverty, and if I were moving to the Northeast or Chicago or the West, they’d face more dangers. But there’s some opportunities that I can give them because of where I am right now.

I don’t know a single educated black person who has risen to a certain place in society who doesn’t have family members who aren’t as lucky.

It’s difficult. I do what I can, but I think that — how do I say this? I do what I can for my extended family, but I think that their ideas of what I have and the demand on what I have are different from my knowledge of what I have and what I have to give. It induces a lot of guilt, because you want to help. When you’re personally in that situation, you want to help your extended family. I feel guilty because I’m in this position, and they’re not, and then I also feel guilty that I can’t do more. But I can’t. I’m not a millionaire. I’m not a billionaire. I’m a thousandaire.

How much did the death of your brother figure into Leonie and the way she’s working through Given’s death?

I was worried about that when I discovered Given’s character, when it worked out that Leonie had a brother and that he died when they were teenagers. I was worried about writing him, because I know that readers know about my brother, and I didn’t want them to confuse me with Leonie. I didn’t want them to confuse my brother with Given, but I felt like Given was the key. Given was the key to understanding Leonie. His death was the key to understanding her — who she was, her trauma, and understanding why she does what she does. And so I felt like I had no choice, in some respects. I had to write him.

But then, those fears eased a little bit once I got further into the manuscript because their relationship took on a life of its own. It became real, and it was very different from my relationship with my brother. And so, once I got to the point where I felt like their relationship took on life, I was like, ‘Oh, we’re nothing like each other.’ But knowing that Leonie lost a sibling helped me to really understand her, understand that pain that she basically shies away from dealing with and living with.

You talk about the resilience of Mam and Pop, but I wonder if her cancer is basically her internal grief welling up inside her?

I read an article … that was about health and racism. The article was making the argument that racism is a stressor, and that that stressor affects black people’s health in many different ways, and that when you control for class, that still you see a big difference in the health outcomes for black people at a certain class and health outcomes for white people in a certain class.

That was really striking to me. They’re looking at things like heart disease, like diabetes, like maternal health. They’re looking at things like premature births, and then the health outcomes for the children. The article was really making the argument that racism has lasting effects, health effects on black people. I was thinking about that a lot while I was writing Sing, Unburied, Sing.