Many believe Austin, Texas’ troubled racial history is behind deadly bombings Families of victims Draylen Mason and Anthony House are prominent in city’s African-American community

Three deadly bombings within 10 days in the Texas capital of Austin, victimizing three African-Americans and one Hispanic, have, shockingly and revealingly, peeled back the layers of a deep-rooted history of racial strife in a city considered, at least on the surface, among the most liberal and progressive in the state, if not the entire country.

“It’s almost like, ‘Do the bombings uncover another side of Austin?’ It’s that other side that people really don’t get that I think is a national story.”

The speaker is Joseph C. Parker, an attorney licensed to practice law in Texas and federal courts and senior pastor at David Chapel Missionary Baptist Church in East Austin. A longtime community activist whose father marched with Martin Luther King Jr., Parker drew parallels between the deadly bombings in Austin and the ones that terrorized his hometown of Birmingham, Alabama, five decades earlier.

“When the bombings were happening when I was growing up in Birmingham, it was a segregated city and a racist city. When you contrast the image of Birmingham, which we negatively referred to as ‘Bombingham,’ there were killings all across the South. But now you come to the 21st century, and to have bombings in Austin, Texas, raises a different contrast than bombings in the 1960s in Birmingham,” Parker said March 16 after it was revealed that Austin police received 236 suspicious package reports in 24 hours and a total of 735 as of Sunday since March 12, when two package bombs exploded — one killing Draylen Mason, 17, and critically injuring his mother. A second explosion killed 75-year-old Esperanza Herrera. Authorities connected those bombings to the first package bomb that killed Anthony Stephan House, 39, on March 2.

The families of Mason and House are prominent in the African-American community. House and Mason both attended Wesley United Methodist Church, where Mason’s stepfather, Freddie Dixon, was a minister for more than 20 years. Dixon is friendly with Mason’s grandfather, Norman Mason, who operates a dental practice in Austin. A high school senior, Mason was a talented bassist who had been accepted to the prestigious Baker School of Music at the University of Texas. Mason’s grandmother, LaVonne Mason, is a co-founder of the Austin Area Urban League.

On Monday, interim Police Chief Brian Manley said, “We are clearly dealing with what we expect to be a serial bomber at this point.”

Austin police have been joined by more than 500 federal agents from the FBI and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and a reward of $115,000 has been offered for information leading to the arrest of the perpetrator. “It’s clear to everybody involved this is creating terror in our community, this is creating fear,” Manley said during a community forum on March 15.

After another explosion Sunday in a different part of Austin in which two men in their 20s were hospitalized but in good condition, officials didn’t know if the latest bombing was connected to the first three.

The race of the victims was not released. This time, a suspicious backpack was left near the scene of the explosion. In another incident during the weekend, police arrested a man early Sunday morning who they said emailed a bomb threat that forced the cancellation of a concert by The Roots at the city’s popular South by Southwest music festival.

Said Parker, who is among a group of attorneys who filed four landmark lawsuits last month challenging the winner-take-all method that states use to allocate their Electoral College votes:

“How does that happen here? I believe it’s race-based, but it may be disclosed later that’s not the real reason. People just don’t know. Who’s doing this? Why are they doing this? In my mind, my upbringing, coming up in Birmingham when bombings were taking place, this brings that back for me. When people speak of Austin, they speak of it being a progressive city, a Texas city different from any other place in the state. I love Austin. But there are still some race challenges here, and I believe it is because we have not dealt appropriately with the issue of race in this country.”

Austin acknowledged as much two years ago when Mayor Steve Adler formed a task force in response to racially motivated incidents involving African-Americans and police. One involved the fatal shooting of 17-year-old David Joseph that resulted in a $3.25 million settlement to the teenager’s family — the largest payout in the city’s history as a result of lethal police force. In another incident, Officer Bryan Richter’s forceful arrest of Breaion King led to an HBO documentary, Traffic Stop.

Headed by Huston-Tillotson University president Colette Pierce Burnette and Austin Independent School District superintendent Paul Cruz, the task force found in its initial report that Austin faces severe systematic and institutional racism as a result of racially motivated city policies and ordinances.

In 1928, Austin created a “Negro District,” which resulted in black residents being forced to move east of what is now Interstate 35. Whites took over property west of Interstate 35 once held by blacks. In later years, through gentrification, whites acquired desirable real estate held by blacks closer to downtown.

Much of the distrust and anger in the African-American community can be traced to that history.

Last September, statues of Confederate leaders were removed from the University of Texas campus near the state Capitol. Five months later, the Austin school board voted 7-2 to remove the names of men who served in either the Confederate military or government from five campuses. Trustee Ted Gordon, the only African-American on the school board, put forward the motion.

“Austin, Texas, is viewed nationally as a very prosperous city. But it’s also a white city, that’s very clear,” said Nelson Linder, president of the Austin region’s NAACP branch since 2000. “The policies here have never really treated black people right.”

“There’s an issue with the system continually justifying its behavior. The leadership is OK with always apologizing,” said Fatima Mann, executive director of the grass-roots organization Counter Balance: ATX, who attended the forum. “On top of that, how Anthony [House] was treated. Blacks never get to be the victim, even when we are victimized.”

Linder, who indicated the intended target was another person who might have been connected to House and Mason, said Austin’s poor race relations contributed to black skepticism about the police investigation into the bombings. It was days before police told the public that the explosion that killed House had been caused by a package, and more than a week before authorities warned the public to beware of suspicious packages.

“I’m asking people to keep an open mind. Let’s be willing to follow the facts and go where they lead us,” said Linder, who hired House to build and maintain the NAACP’s website a decade ago. “For me, being involved in the investigation, there’s a force out there targeting families who are connected, and they’re doing it in a very professional manner. We [can’t] be biased ourselves because the folks being killed are black. So while we have these issues of equity and racism, we have to have the ability to not let what we’ve experienced govern all of our ideas. Yet, knowing who we are and the history of what we’ve gone through, that’s a challenge.”

Morehouse allowed this black man to step outside the stereotypes I almost didn’t go here, but four years later, I’m glad I did

I was not supposed to attend Morehouse.

Left to my own devices, I would’ve been at “The U” — enjoying Miami’s sunshine and great football while trying to forget the $60,000 worth of debt I would have accumulated during the past four years. It would’ve undoubtedly been an amazing college experience, yet I’d be missing something.

Having graduated from a predominantly white high school, I wanted to go where I’d feel comfortable. Despite having spent the last two years of high school gradually withdrawing from my white peers, I was not open to immersing myself in a primarily black environment. “Just visit and see how you feel then,” I can remember my mother saying.

After visiting Morehouse in the spring of 2014, my position on attending a historically black college or university (HBCU) remained unchanged. I was intrigued by the Atlanta University Center’s 22-to-1 girl-to-guy ratio, but there was too much to overlook: The campus looked antiquated, the school’s history did not pique my interest and the amenities I had grown accustomed to were nonexistent.

Four years later, however, I can honestly say heading to South Florida would’ve been the worst decision of my life.

Morehouse allowed me to be myself without the fear of conforming to the stereotypical boxes often ascribed to black men. In high school, I was either the athletic black kid or the smart black kid; exhibiting any signs of both were grounds for social suicide.

From the moment I stepped onto Morehouse’s campus, I cut ties with these social assumptions and saw the multifaceted black male experience firsthand. My classmates and I have different backgrounds, hairstyles, career goals and bench press personal records. But by making the choice to attend Morehouse, we share one thing: a will to succeed.

This ambition is the undercurrent that drives Morehouse College. It has fostered the brotherhood that has made the institution famous. It’s what led the student body to advocate for school improvements in 2016 and why Morehouse has continued to produce more black men who go on to earn doctoral degrees in an array of fields than any other undergraduate institution. Graduates and patrons of the college call it the Morehouse Mystique.

Additionally, that brotherhood brings a level of competitiveness that breeds excellence. In a space that produced great men such as Martin Luther King Jr., Spike Lee and Bakari Sellers, I’m not just encouraged to be true to myself — I’m pushed to be exceptional.

If that weren’t enough, you only have to stand outside and ask those passing by what they did over the summer, from working with Goldman Sachs to internships with NBC Universal to interning with the city of Atlanta.

Still, like most HBCUs, Morehouse is not free from imperfections. But what Mother Morehouse lacked in resources she compensated for by providing a wealth of opportunities. The school attracts recruiters who are looking to employ and professionally develop black males. In terms of extracurricular activities, events such as early blockbuster film screenings — I saw both Get Out and Black Panther before the masses — celebrity artist pop-ups and free Atlanta Hawks tickets are not out of the norm.

“Hungry dogs run faster,” the oft-quoted line from the Philadelphia Eagles’ parade, has typified my experience at Morehouse. From the spotty Wi-Fi to the century-old dorm rooms to the extensive lines outside of the financial aid office, it has all played a role in preparing me for the real world. When the real world doesn’t provide an easy path, Morehouse has given me a road map in the form of a stellar network, a competitive degree and an unadulterated sense of self.

This is all helpful in a world where black males are incarcerated at a much higher rate than our white peers and are three times more likely to die at the hands of a police officer.

In retrospect, maybe it is these statistics that fuel the determination of the men of Morehouse, or that they are one false move away from being one of them. At Morehouse, however, you’re free from these notions being ascribed to you. Every teacher, student and administrator is determined to push you past the limits society has placed on you.

For this very reason, I am happy I chose Morehouse. The past four years have been the greatest of my life. If I could do it all over again, I would. The only difference? I’d save some time and money by applying only to Morehouse.

HBO to broadcast Anna Deavere Smith’s show on the school-to-prison pipeline Playwright reworked ‘Notes From the Field’ after the killings of Michael Brown, Tamir Rice and Philando Castile

Actress and playwright Anna Deavere Smith is a master of verbatim theater, a marriage between documentary storytelling and the stage that involves the actor re-enacting the words of her subjects. Her latest work, which is debuting on HBO on Saturday at 8 p.m., is Notes From the Field, a one-woman show that delves into the school-to-prison pipeline.

If you’re not a theater nerd, you’re probably more familiar with Deavere Smith from her guest star turns as Rainbow’s mother on black-ish or as the lip-pursing-but-ultimately-loving hospital administrator Gloria Akalitus from Nurse Jackie.

For years, Deavere Smith, 67, who is also a professor at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, has used her one-woman shows to examine race relations and other complicated social problems. Her career has provided a blueprint on how to produce art with a conscience without making it dogmatic.

Fires in the Mirror: Crown Heights, Brooklyn and Other Identities (1992) looked at the Crown Heights riot of 1991 from the perspectives of both black and Jewish residents. Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992 (1994) was about the Rodney King riots. Let Me Down Easy (2008) was about health care and the fragility of human life.

All were constructed from the same process: Deavere Smith traveled across the country to interview hundreds of people — for Notes From the Field, she interviewed 250 — and distilled them down to the 20 or so most effective and moving accounts. Then, Deavere Smith recreates these people on stage: their voices, their clothes, their mannerisms, their emotions, their words. She is a reporter in an actor’s body, and her expeditions in search of the truth earned her the George Polk Career Award in journalism from Long Island University last year.

“I had content that I felt that I needed to rush to get onstage and a brief window where Americans were thinking about race.”

“One of the deans of political journalism, David Broder, said to me The New York Times should change that little thing ‘All the news that’s fit to print’ to ‘All the news that’s fit to print — by deadline,’ ” Deavere Smith said during an interview at HBO’s offices in New York. “I have a much longer, fatter deadline. Yes, I’m told, ‘This is previews and this is opening night’ and I have to be ready. But … I’m lingering and lumbering around in a way that [reporters] can’t. I’m like a cow. I gather all this stuff, and then I just sit around and chew it.”

For Notes From the Field, Deavere Smith spoke with experts, teachers and lawmakers. But she also interviewed people whose voices often get lost in the debate over the brokenness of our criminal justice and public school systems: the students and inmates who pass through them.

One account from Denise Dodson, a prisoner at the Maryland Correctional Institution, is particularly wrenching. Dodson speaks about how getting an education while incarcerated has been pivotal in changing the way she sees herself. Still, she told Deavere Smith that she thinks it’s fair that she’s imprisoned on charges of conspiracy and attempted murder. Dodson’s boyfriend killed the man who was trying to rape her, mid-act. The overwhelming majority of women who are imprisoned are survivors of domestic or intimate partner abuse.

Deavere Smith originally staged a shorter version of Notes From the Field in 2014 in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and brought it to New York in 2016. The New York Times called it “wonderfully energizing” and labeled Deavere Smith “the American theater’s most dynamic and sophisticated oral historian.”

She had written and researched it before Michael Brown, before Tamir Rice, before Philando Castile, before Walter Scott. Since then, she’s updated it. The HBO adaptation includes Deavere’s depictions of Bree Newsome, the activist and artist who was arrested in June 2015 after she scaled the flagpole of the South Carolina Statehouse to remove the Confederate flag that hung there, and Niya Kenny, the former student at Spring Valley High School in Richland County, South Carolina, who filmed her classmate being dragged from her desk and handcuffed by a school resource officer.

“I wasn’t planning to actually make a full-fledged play out of my project, but I did because I had content that I felt that I needed to rush to get onstage and a brief window where Americans were thinking about race,” Deavere Smith said, citing the cellphone videos of police killing unarmed black people. “These windows are always brief, and in fact, I think it is not a picture that is as strong right now as it was, say, in 2015, because other things are happening and some of those things are distractions.”

“I don’t need to know any more smart people. I’d like to meet more kind people.”

Deavere Smith was participating in a panel discussion with CNN commentator Van Jones and former Obama White House chief of staff Valerie Jarrett recently at New York’s 92nd Street Y recently when she reiterated that an actor’s greatest tool is empathy. That empathy, combined with curiosity, results in the most emotionally arresting performance of Notes From the Field, when Deavere Smith recreates the words of Allen Bullock, the protester who filmed the arrest of Freddie Gray.

Her performance, filmed in front of a live audience at Second Stage Theater in New York, is kinetic and engaging. Her face is superimposed on a huge screen behind her as she walks the stage, video camera in hand, sporting a Copwatch hoodie. She recreates Bullock’s anguish at witnessing Gray being thrown into a Baltimore police wagon, his anger as he saw officers restraining Gray with leg shackles and dragging him away, simply for the mistake of making eye contact with them. Deavere Smith challenges the audience to see Gray as both subject and object.

Despite a dramatic deep dive that complements the work of Michelle Alexander (The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness) and Ava DuVernay (13th), Deavere Smith isn’t ready to call herself a prison abolitionist, like those who want to raze the prison-industrial complex entirely. But she thinks efforts to ban The New Jim Crow from prisons, or shut down prison libraries altogether, are misguided.

“It’s terrible. Terrible,” Deavere Smith said. “They can try to ban it all they want, but you and I both know that the walls of prisons are very porous.”

Although she’s arguably more knowledgeable about schools and prisons than a majority of Americans at this point, Deavere Smith avoids being prescriptive. When it comes to prisons, she’s not Angela Davis, and she’s similarly agnostic about charter schools despite the fact that her reporting led her to conclude that American public schools are “a disaster.” They often fail poor students, students of color, disabled students and students for whom English is a second language, and they’re more segregated today than they were in the late 1960s.

“Most of the people I know who have charter schools want to be able to boast and brag about success and how many kids they send to college,” Deavere Smith said. “And even those things make me nervous when that’s the way they talk about the experience. ‘Well, we’re sending every single person or every single person in our class graduated with such and such SAT score. They’re all going to college.’

“And you go, ‘OK, great.’ But something about it bothers me, and I think what bothers me is that there’s only one measuring stick for success. I know a lot of smart people. I don’t need to know any more smart people. I’d like to meet more kind people. I’d like to meet more generous people. I’d like to meet more forgiving people. … I’d like to see them get commended. You know, smart’s just overrated, as far as I’m concerned.”

The Super Bowl parties were very hot in ice-cold Minneapolis J-Lo, Cardi B, Jamie Foxx and Shaq were among the guests and performers

MINNEAPOLIS — Despite freezing weather, football fans crisscrossed the Twin Cities for some spectacular nightlife. There were some dynamic and exclusive events, parties and concerts before what ended up being the Philadelphia Eagles upsetting the New England Patriots 41-33. If you were in the right places, you could catch Jamie Foxx playing waiter and Shaquille O’Neal doing his DJ thing. Justin Timberlake ended up drawing mixed reviews for his official halftime show, but Minneapolis, on the nights before the big game? Jennifer Lopez and Pink lit up the same venue, albeit it on different nights. And new superstar Cardi B graced the Super Bowl festivities. So much to do. Not enough time to do it all. I have no idea how my colleague and friend Kelley L. Carter maintains this pace. A quick look at some of what went down in these parts.

Leigh Steinberg’s 31st annual Super Bowl party – The longtime NFL agent who served as the model for Tom Cruise’s fictional character in Jerry Maguire was at it again, delivering one of the week’s best parties. Steinberg uses his platform to honor NFL professionals for their charitable work, as well as to introduce his upcoming draft class, which includes University of Southern California running back Ronald Jones II. The elusive runner could be a high pick. Rookie Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes was in attendance. With the trade of veteran quarterback Alex Smith from Kansas City to the Washington Redskins last week, Mahomes will begin his second NFL season as Kansas City’s first-string passer. NFL Hall of Famer Eric Dickerson was in the packed house as well.

EA Sports Bowl – The most interactive event of the week. Guests waited turns in front of massive screens to play the hottest games. It was a great way to get pumped before Imagine Dragons took the stage.

The 2018 Maxim party – Is there any performer on the planet hotter than Belcalis Almanzar? Just hearing that Cardi B is scheduled to perform is enough to get most people to jump into an Uber. Shoot, it was enough for me.

Pink – The lady is a trouper. Although battling the flu, Pink put on a good show earlier in the week and delivered a strong, efficient rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner” before kickoff. Props.

J. Lo – Lopez always has high-energy shows. Last week was no exception.

The 6th Annual Big Game Experience – The daylong festivities began with a luncheon and Q&A session about, among other topics, life in the sports media game. Hosted by ESPN’s Mike Greenberg and Samantha Ponder, the session also included Hall of Famer Jerome Bettis, Ray Lewis (a member of the 2018 Hall of Fame class) and Minnesota Vikings star wide receiver Adam Thielen. Much later, after a dinner, Foxx jumped onstage and went to work. The Academy Award and Grammy winner handed out late-night snacks and drinks. Then O’Neal, the 15-time NBA All-Star and four-time NBA champion, showed off his DJing skills.

Tiki Barber and Drew Rosenhaus – Barber, the former New York Giants Pro Bowl running back, teamed with Rosenhaus, among the NFL’s most successful agents, to throw a well-attended bash. Hall of Famer Jonathan Ogden, Kansas City Chiefs star wideout Tyreek Hill and former NFL passer Charlie Batch were among those who joined in the fun.


Drake’s strategic silence and the task of a triumphant return The Toronto superstar appears to have recused himself from Grammys — but he’s still at Grammys

A Toronto to New York flight usually takes less than an hour. But don’t expect Drake to stand in line at customs to be in New York this weekend as the Grammys return to Manhattan for the first time in 15 years. For the first time since 2008 — the year before his genre-bending third mixtape, So Far Gone, altered hip-hop’s sound, structure and release pattern — Drake will not be an official part of Grammy festivities. In recent times, music’s biggest night and one of music’s biggest names haven’t exactly seen eye to eye.

Drake’s 2017 More Life was not submitted for 2018 Grammy consideration. According to Billboard’s anonymous source “close to the nomination process,” the decision was Drake’s.

The 35-time nominee has won (only) three times. Drake captured the last two for the huge sales/radio/video/streaming smash “Hotline Bling” and later took to his OVO Sound show on Apple’s Beats 1 to voice frustration. “Even though ‘Hotline Bling’ is not a rap song, the only category they can manage to fit me in is a rap category. Maybe because I’ve rapped in the past, or because I’m black, I can’t figure out why,” he said. “I won two awards last night, but I don’t even want them. … It feels weird for some reason.”

There’s a possibility that he’s still in his feelings a year later. He kind of made his statement with the recent Scary Hours, a duo of songs. The bouncy, anthemic and A-side-ish “God’s Plan” is soon to be a No. 1 pop hit. It and “Diplomatic Immunity” — patented, introspective, sans hook — end Drake’s self-imposed musical sabbatical.

“Even though ‘Hotline Bling’ is not a rap song, the only category they can manage to fit me in is a rap category. Maybe because I’ve rapped in the past, or because I’m black.”

In the nearly a year since “getting back to his regular life,” hip-hop continued to be music’s trendsetter. Kendrick Lamar and Jay-Z were the authors of the year’s most analyzed and celebrated projects — records that dealt with self-atonement and generational and emotional dispositions. Migos and Cardi B dominated airwaves with monster records. Tyler, the Creator dropped a career-defining number. Bruno Mars cemented himself as pop culture’s king. And Toronto’s newest wunderkind, Daniel Caesar, emancipated another layer of The 6’s musical identity with Freudian. The timing of Hours’ release, a week to the day that Grammys weekend kicked off, wasn’t random. Nothing Drake does ever is.

“I’m not sure he’s trying to shake anybody at the Grammys, but I do think what he’s saying is, ‘I’m recharged,’ ” said longtime New York Times pop music critic Jon Caramanica, “Like, ‘That’s cool. Have your party. But I’m coming.’ I assume what he’s saying is ‘The summer is mine.’ ”

In the coming months, rumors of a new Drake album will become reality. He’s been dealing with whether to stay in constant pursuit of immortality, or to fall back and let music figure out how to operate without him. The clues to this tug of war are in his own music, hidden in plain sight.

In his decade-long drive to reach rap’s Mount Olympus, Drake has become the most successful post-808s & Heartbreaks artist. He has best synthesized the DNA of hip-hop and R&B to embody an unfiltered sense of emotion. After So Far Gone’s runaway success, Drake’s mesh of singing and rapping was diagnosed in influential circles as a detriment to rap’s brashness, and/or as a flavor of the moment — nothing sustainable. This made Drake not only an eternal brooder but also (even with his relentless success) an underdog attempting to plant his OVO flag in the center of hip-hop. “[Drake was] driven by feelings,” said Caramanica, “pioneering or popularizing a musical approach that not everybody at that time was on board with.”

Underdog Drake, though, opens the doors for King Drake. From February 2015 to March 2017, Drake released four projects: If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late, What A Time To Be Alive with Future, Views and More Life. He embarked on two marathon tours: Summer Sixteen, with Future, and his international leg, the Boy Meets World Tour. Drake was also involved in rap’s most publicized beef since the days of Jay-Z and Nas. Meek Mill vs. Drake was a battle the More Life rapper won, but its aftereffects haunt him.

Drake has been enjoying a tidal wave of success. His fingerprints are all over the musical spectrum, with a king’s ransom of hits: his first No. 1 as a lead artist in “One Dance”; its spiritual twin, “Controlla”; the Tyra Banks-assisted “Child’s Play”; DJ Khaled’s “For Free”; and Rihanna’s international smash “Work.” Statistically, Drake had no peers with his 2016 behemoth Views — he is the first to crack a billion streams on Apple Music.

By his own admission, life at the top of rap’s food chain is exhausting. Sorry if I’m way less friendly, he noted on “Work,” I got n—as trying to end me. “To be completely honest with you, I was having trouble figuring myself in rap at the time,” he said last year. “I was a very defensive individual just coming off the situations I’d come off of.”

I’m not a one-hit wonder, they know all my stuff/ You let me turn into the n—a that you almost was/ I done see a lot of s— and I done been in things/ And I never started nothin’, I just finish things — Drake on French Montana’s “No Shopping” (2016)

So, whether it’s due to Views’ lukewarm critical and social media reception, the anxieties of fame, the claims of his experimentation with ghostwriting or a potluck of the three, it can seem like Drake never had an opportunity to flourish in his global success — even as he’s all smiles courtside.

“Like, ‘That’s cool. Have your party. But I’m coming.’ I assume what he’s saying is, ‘The summer is mine.’ ”

This bellicose introspection has been noted by those closest to him. His producer/creative partner, Noah “40” Shebib, constantly reminded Drake of this moody, at times even messy persona during Views’ recording sessions. “[40] was like, ‘Man you really sound aggressive and defensive,’ ” Drake recalled. And Drake’s mother saw the change in her otherwise jovial only child. In her message at the end of 2017’s “Can’t Have Everything,” she wondered whether Drake’s new alienated attitude would “hold him back in life.”

Nowhere did his mental merry-go-round present itself in more contradictory terms than on More Life. With nearly 90 million global streams in its first 24 hours on Apple Music and 61.3 million global streams in the same time frame on Spotify, Life was more critically embraced than Views. Drake had seemingly entered a new chapter: applying pressure on rap’s jugular. N—-s see me in person/ First thing they say is, ‘I know you need a break,’ he rhymes on “Sacrifices.” Hell, nah, I feel great/ Ready now, why wait?

Between Jan. 21, 2017, when he recorded “Sacrifices,” and Life’s release on March 18, Drake’s mentality seemed to change. His breaking point arrived on Life’s melancholy “Do Not Disturb.” He reminisced on the Views era: Yeah, ducked a lot of spiteful moves/ I was an angry youth when I was writing Views, he confessed. Saw a side of myself that I just never knew/ I’ll probably self-destruct if I ever lose/ But I never do.

“Disturb” wasn’t just Life’s final song. It was the last song he recorded for the project — a bon voyage to rap, a la Jay-Z’s “Dear Summer.” More importantly, the curtain call held the album’s most important revelation. Take summer off, ’cause they tell me I need recovery/ Maybe gettin’ back to my regular life will humble me/ I’ll be back in 2018 to give you the summary … More Life.

“Everybody who has the throne loses the throne. That’s just the definition of the throne. It’s got nothing to do with Jay [Z], [Kanye West], Drake or any individual,” said Caramanica. “Rather than continue to pump out music and sort of be in perpetual competition, the healthiest thing to do was to step away.”

Drake, in essence, dropped More Life and went on about living his. There were no videos from the project, nor was there a need to rush out singles. As a result, Drake’s 430-week run of at least one song on the Billboard Hot 100 — a run, by context, that spanned all but 124 days of Barack Obama’s tenure as president — was snapped. He let go. Almost as if to say, “I’ve done this at such a high level for such a long time. I’m confident enough to walk away. I need to walk away.”

There was his short-lived fling with Jennifer Lopez, a romance Drake characteristically translated to his music. He paid homage to his Toronto superstar prophyte Vince Carter in a candid sit-down with basketball stars LeBron James and Chris Bosh. He further embedded himself with his hometown Toronto Raptors by co-designing the team’s City Edition jerseys. Drake donated $200,000 to Hurricane Harvey victims, and tragedy struck even closer to home as he served as pallbearer at the funeral of his friend Anthony “Fif” Soares.

Drake’s vow of a 2018 “summary” has interesting timing. He returns at a time when his two most high-profile associates-turned-competitors, Kendrick Lamar and Jay-Z, are celebrated for projects (both of which released after More Life) that largely helped shape the conversation in hip-hop last year. Both DAMN. and 4:44 are nominated for album of the year at the Grammys. “The type of record that Jay made can only be made by someone who is middle-aged and reflective,” Caramanica said, “[whereas] Kendrick’s [project] is political, socially aware, religiously invested. It’s a much more earthy, grounded endeavor. It’s just not what Drake does.”

Maybe. At 31, Drake’s portfolio continues to expand. The most successful rapper 35 and under/ I’m assuming everybody’s 35 and under, he waxed on 2016’s “Weston Road Flows.” That’s when I plan to retire, man, it’s already funded. Whether 35 is a hard date is a question better left for the year 2021. For now, as he said last year, leaving music is off in the distance. “But,” he told The Hollywood Reporter, “I do plan on expanding — to take six months or a year and do some great films.”

Since the turn of the century, Pharrell, Kanye West and Drake represent the holy trinity of songcraft. While the (warranted) debate rages about whether, in fact, Drake has a classic album to his name, there is no debate about his ability to shift conversations and birth new dialogues. Drake’s credibility lives and dies on him being Drake: the emo, wickedly selfish yet fiercely loyal, boastful, successfully paranoid extroverted introvert and modern-day Billy Dee Williams who can’t seem to find love in any of the strip clubs he frequents.

“I think if you look at earlier artists who have some version of the throne, where they may have gone wrong is chasing a younger sound when they were trying to fit in a place where they didn’t naturally fit in,” said Caramanica. “My hope is that Drake will be astute enough to not do that.”

Will Kanye’s new daughter influence his future art? Kanye and Kim expand the Kardashian family empire — and welcome a baby girl

Well, it’s official. The West-Kardashian clan has its own starting five. Kim Kardashian West announced the news on her website in early hours of Jan. 15. Kardashian and her husband, superstar Kanye West, welcomed their third child, a healthy 7-pound, 6-ounce baby girl. “We are incredibly grateful to our surrogate who made our dreams come true with the greatest gift one could give, and to our wonderful doctors and nurses for their special care,” Kardashian West said. “North and Saint are especially thrilled to welcome their baby sister.”

West and Kardashian West are two of the most famous people in the world, as a couple and individually. But the image of them as parents appears to be very private — as much as one can be in a Kardashian world. And, whether by design or destiny, West’s been unusually silent for nearly a year. Of course, with West, cameras are always around, but the “Famous” producer, designer and rapper hasn’t made many headlines since his brief moment with then-new President Donald Trump and an onstage rant that became fodder for Jay-Z’s Grammy-nominated 4:44. Maybe West needed to fall back for a minute?

He is listed as an executive producer on Damon Dash’s new film Honor Up (set for select theaters and OnDemand Feb. 16). But musically, even if West has been privately active, he’s been publicly dormant, a strategic move that may play in his favor if, in fact, he’s been in a creative musical cave. And it’ll be interesting to see whether the birth of his third child influences his music in the ways North and Saint did. But: Until concrete evidence is provided, talk of a new Kanye project will remain just that — talk. Then again, he’s got more important duties to take care of at the moment. New babies are everything.

‘The Chi’ and ‘South Side’ go beyond the violent rep of Second City’s South Side Is television finally starting to represent the real Chicago?

In the premiere episode of the already critically acclaimed The Chi, a fresh-faced, precocious African-American teen is shot to death on the streets of Chicago’s South Side. After lifting a gold chain and sneakers from a dead body, an affable teen named Coogie, portrayed by Jahking Guillory later runs into the deceased boy’s stepfather, Ronnie (Ntare Guma Mbaho Mwine) — he’s racked with grief and looking for payback. Coogie tries to reason with the man, but it’s too late.

A gun goes off, and Coogie is left stretched on the pavement, bleeding to death. There are no heroes and no villains. It’s a devastating moment. And while it seems in line with all-too-familiar real-life headlines associated with the South Side, things are more complex and nuanced on The Chi.

Chicago has struggled to shake off a rep as America’s most dangerous city. According to a recent USA Today piece, 650 people were killed in the city in 2017, a 15 percent drop from 771 people in 2016. And for much of last year, the Windy City didn’t even rank among the highest murder rates in the country: St. Louis; Baltimore; New Orleans; Detroit; Kansas City, Missouri; Memphis, Tennessee; and Cleveland. Chicago did, though, surpass New York and Los Angeles’ combined murder rates for the second straight year. And most of these murders happen on the predominantly black West and South sides.

And yet The Chi, created by actor/producer/activist Lena Waithe, avoids being tragedy porn. Waithe portrayed Denise in Netflix’s acclaimed and award-winning Master of None and made history in 2017 as the first black woman to win an Emmy for comedy writing for the show. A proud native of the South Side, Waithe grew up on 79th Street near Chicago’s Dan Ryan Expressway before moving to suburban Evanston, Illinois, during her preteen years.

There was comedic gold in the lives of everyday, hardworking, blue-collar black folk.

“[Chicago] is not a jungle,” she said a few weeks ago on CBS This Morning. “It’s not a bunch of hooligans with no hearts and no souls. Every black boy isn’t born with a gun in his right hand and a pile of drugs in his left. They’re born with the same amount of hope and joy as every other little baby in the world.”

Hollywood has had a long, complex history with regard to its portrayal of Chicago — and way before today’s gang issues, it’s very often been about the city’s infamous gangster side. Starting with 1931’s Little Caesar (Edward G. Robinson as a not-so-subtle stand-in for the Chi’s Al Capone), it’s taken years for the city to transcend its image of a lawless town under siege by gunfights and political corruption.

There’s the beloved 1975 tearjerker Cooley High, the 1997 romantic poetry drama Love Jones and the Ice Cube-headlined 2002 box office hit Barbershop. “Black Chicago” has had an even more turbulent representation, particularly on the small screen.

The landmark ’70s CBS series Good Times is perhaps the most celebrated (and polarizing) television show about the Chicago black experience. Hailed as a game-changer during its initial run starting on Feb. 8, 1974, the groundbreaking Mike Evans-created series, developed by legendary television producer Norman Lear, took America inside Chicago’s poor Cabrini-Green housing projects.

There were struggles, but Florida and James Evans instilled family values and a strong moral code into their three children. But the controversial death of James, Good Times’ lone father figure, had critics crying foul. And it didn’t help when the catchphrase-wielding J.J. Evans — Dynomite!!! — was pushed front and center as the show’s reigning star.

The Chi is executive produced by both Waithe and rapper/actor Common, a fellow Chicago native. The 10 episodes are directed by Rick Famuyiwa of the film Dope, as well as behind-the-camera talent that includes Tanya Hamilton (Night Catches Us), Dave Rodriguez (TNT’s Animal Kingdom and USA’s Queen of the South) and Roxann Dawson (Netflix’s House of Cards, PBS’ Mercy and ABC’s Scandal).

This is not to say that The Chi doesn’t delve into hard-knock realities. There’s a distinct feel in its scripts and in the acting that you won’t find on such procedural dramas as the Dick Wolf-produced Chicago Fire, Chicago P.D., and Chicago Med — so vanilla, so pedestrian that they may as well have been set in Any City USA.

Showtime’s long-running Shameless (shot largely in Los Angeles) follows a dysfunctional yet tight-knit white family in the North Lawndale section of the South Side. And CBS’ formulaic “Chicago” sitcom Superior Donuts revels in the diversity of its black, white, Latino and Middle Eastern cast members. But it doesn’t aim for the idiosyncrasies of The Chi, filmed on the South Side, giving it a rich, textured feel, and the narrative is ignited by the murder of a promising young basketball player.

Frustrated law enforcement officers struggle for answers in a neighborhood weary and distrustful of cops. This is a city, in real life, that has been embroiled in a series of high-profile police brutality scandals. And everything about the series screams authentic all-caps CHICAGO, even down to the show’s sound, which included the homegrown genre of stepping music, as well as Chicago artists such as Chance the Rapper, Kanye West, Chicago Children’s Choir, Sir Michael Rocks, and Noname. On The Chi, there is life, laughter and even hope.

For the Chicago-born Sylvia Jones, one of the scribes behind The Chi, working on the series has been a revelation. “This is Lena’s baby … her vision,” said the former local news producer at WGN and WLS. She quit her job in 2016 and flew out to Los Angeles to chase her dream of becoming a television writer. “Very often, shows about Chicago show people either tragically poor or affluent. But there’s not a whole lot in between on television, and that’s what most of us are in real life. … The Chi tries to show black people in all their complexities.”

Indeed, Jason Mitchell (Mudbound, Straight Outta Compton) plays Brandon, a gifted, hungry chef with dreams of opening up his own restaurant with his ambitious girlfriend, Jerrika (Tiffany Boone). There’s the aforementioned Coogie, Brandon’s half brother: a wild-haired, unabashedly quirky kid who rides past murals of Chicago’s adopted son President Barack Obama on a canary yellow bike while listening to Chance the Rapper’s “All We Got.” And Mwine as the drifter Ronnie, a troubled yet loving stepfather who also happens to be a police informant. Alex R. Hibbert (Moonlight) dives into the show-stealing role of Kevin, a charismatic tween who has a crush on a cute schoolmate. And Jacob Latimore is Emmett, an obsessive sneakerhead and girl-crazy playboy living with his mother. The all-too carefree young man is finally forced to face the sobering responsibilities of fatherhood.

It’s a stellar cast, rounded out by Chicago native and Oscar-winning rapper/actor Common and the criminally underrated Sonja Sohn (The Wire) as Brandon’s protective alcoholic mother. The Chi is a welcome nuanced television portrayal of Chicago’s black working class shown through a complex lens that sidesteps the usual one-dimensional stereotypes. And The Chi is not alone.

This fall, Comedy Central will debut the workplace comedy South Side. It’s set in and around a rent-to-own appliances and furniture business in Chicago’s notorious section of Englewood. It’s a risk-taking premise for sure: finding comedy in the heart of an infamous neighborhood that in past years has claimed Chicago’s highest murder rates. But according to Bashir Salahuddin, who came up with the idea for the series with his brother Sultan Salahuddin and former fellow Late Night With Jimmy Fallon writer Diallo Riddle, humanizing the community of Englewood is priority.

Many of the actors and workers on the set of South Side are actually from Chicago. And Salahuddin says he hopes to show another side of low-income communities like Englewood, which is experiencing a noticeable upswing. From January to October 2017 there were 130 fewer shootings, a 43 percent decrease. And, even as conversations about gentrification swirl, openings of both Starbucks and Whole Foods have injected a sense of economic optimism.

“A huge chunk of our show is actually shot in Englewood,” said Salahuddin, 41, from his Los Angeles home. Like The Chi’s Waithe, he was born and raised on the South Side. Salahuddin, who also stars as referee Keith Bang in the breakout Netflix wrestling comedy GLOW, recalls hearing hilarious stories from his boy who worked at a Rent-A-Center in Chicago. That’s when the idea hit. Salahuddin knew there was comedic gold in the lives of everyday, hardworking, blue-collar black folk.

“I remember being shocked the first time I saw Friday because all I knew about the West Coast was Boyz n the Hood and Menace II Society,” he said. “So to see the same ’hood backdrop where those two movies took place in, but with a strong black family where the mother and father are together and working and they are staying on their son to better his life, those values portrayed in that environment … blew my mind. We want people to experience the same thing with South Side and say, ‘Oh, there are other kinds of things going on in Englewood, and some of it is really funny and thoughtful.’ ”

For Atlanta native Riddle, also 41, immersing himself in the idiosyncrasies of Chicago culture as well as the city’s notoriously segregated history was an eye-opening experience bigger than West Side vs. South Side, Harold’s Chicken Shack vs. Uncle Remus or Chicago Cubs vs. White Sox.

“When I meet a white person from Chicago, I’ll often say, ‘Man, this person can be from anywhere,’ ” Riddle said. “But a black person from Chicago feels a lot more specific. It’s a weird mix of Midwest and heavy South. Even when I would talk to Bashir’s family or listen to Chicago artists like Kanye [West], there are little things that were tapped into their way of speech and culture that you don’t see anywhere else. For us, this was unclaimed territory. We knew we needed to do a definitive show that jumped into that specific culture.”

“Often, shows about Chicago show people either tragically poor or affluent. But there’s not a whole lot of in-between on television. And that’s what most of us are in real life.”

The emergence of The Chi and South Side come at a time of exceptional growth for the Chicago entertainment industry. According to the Illinois Film Office, which awards a 30 percent tax credit to film, television and advertising productions, in 2016 alone projects generated an estimated $499 million in Illinois spending, a 51 percent increase over the previous year. From 2011 to 2015, $1.3 billion was injected into the cities’ economy, bringing in local jobs and a much-needed kick to hard-hit neighborhoods.

One of the eight major television series filmed full time in Chicago is Empire. “Chicago has such a great pool when it comes to local actors,” said Joshua Allen, a supervising producer on the Fox ratings-fixture and himself a Chicagoan. “People have slept on Chicago forever as a theater town, because when people think theater, they usually think of New York. But it has a huge, vibrant theater scene, so we have a lot of actors we can pull from.”

Both South Side and The Chi offer fresh, challenging takes on the home of the blues. Perhaps that’s why The Chi in particular resonates so profoundly, and South Side, even before its premiere, seems full of possibility. Lena Waithe, and the trio of Diallo Riddle and Bashir and Sultan Salahuddin, are creating work that tells their truth: the good, the bad and the absurd. There’s a newfound black power and freedom that jumps off the screen — as on such other uncompromising shows as Donald Glover’s surreal Atlanta (FX), which returns in March, and Issa Rae’s fearless Insecure.

“There are millions of TV shows, so we have to stand out,” Salahuddin said. “Why do all this stuff and then not show people something authentic?” Indeed.

Slow down on the Oprah presidency talk. This still is America Fairly or unfairly, in the age of Trump she’ll undergo unbelievable media scrutiny

Slow down on the Oprah presidency talk. This still is America.

Since Oprah Winfrey delivered her dazzling acceptance speech for the Cecil B. DeMille Award at the Golden Globes, political talking heads have buzzed about whether she will seek the 46th presidency. CNN recently reported that Oprah, according to two close friends, is “actively thinking” about running. And her longtime partner, Stedman Graham, informed the Los Angeles Times, “It’s up to the people. … She would absolutely [run for president].

With the idea of an Oprah candidacy bustling through the public debate, many journalists are weighing her odds of winning, concluding that Democratic challengers should quake in fear should she enter the ring.

Politico’s Playbook deemed her a formidable foe: “We bet she has pretty high approval ratings among, well, everyone. She’s universally known. She’d raise the money quite easily. She’s a billionaire, so she could say she has business chops. Imagine Donald Trump talking trash about Oprah! Quite frankly, there isn’t any clear Democratic favorite that would clear the field at the moment. Don’t count someone like her out.”

Alex Burns, political reporter for The New York Times, echoed the sentiments:

Yet, this same crowd (political journalists) is the reason we should discount the likelihood that she could win the Democratic Party nomination, let alone the presidency.

Many have overlearned a lesson from 2016, the lesson being that we must reimagine who can win the White House. No longer must a person be a politician or famous war general — celebrity satisfies the burden and thus Oprah, so the argument goes, presents a major challenge in 2020.

A necessary but not sufficient condition for Donald Trump’s win, however, was that the political media failed to seriously and continuously interrogate his political aptitude. The knowledge level of a political novice that close to the most powerful position in the free world should have been regarded as the most important issue in the campaign by the press but wasn’t. In what makes a lot more sense now, Matt Lauer, for instance, pressed Hillary Clinton during the NBC News Commander-in-Chief Forum on Sept. 7, 2016, but allowed Trump to skate by, failing to correct misstatements of facts. Comparable failures continue to recur, most recently with an interview conducted by Michael Schmidt of The New York Times, who refused to probe Trump with pointed questions. FiveThirtyEight’s Nate Silver highlighted the problem with this media failure:

We should not expect the media to treat a black woman, not even Oprah, similarly. If she struggles to display command over domestic and foreign policy issues, the media will pounce, transforming the “Oprah is running” narrative into an “Oprah is unfit” narrative that will depress her likelihood of victory. And such a story is much more likely to occupy center stage for the duration of the campaign.

Women endure extra scrutiny when entering the political arena, as the previous election demonstrated, a reality only exacerbated when that woman has black skin. Our sexist society scoffs at the notion that women can perform as capably as men, forcing women, particularly black women, to clear hurdles men never encounter. Oprah will not benefit from the implicit assumption that a male nonpolitician would benefit from: that she could perhaps still do the job despite an atypical resume.

The media lacks racial diversity, and even if reporters and editors showcase more racial tolerance than the broader population, they nonetheless fall victim to racial stereotyping. Notice how the media, for instance, depicts white male murderers like good kids gone awry but recount the tales of black victims of police brutality through a prism of their personal failings. The media extends a measure of forgiveness and empathy to white folk that they hesitate to extend to black folk. Even if Oprah learned policy quickly, she will err on the campaign trail — even seasoned politicians do — and once that occurs, how will the media treat her?

White men have long reaped jobs and opportunities they had no business receiving. This subplot features prominently in the “white man in America” story. The “black woman in America” corollary contains no such entry. If Oprah stands a chance to be president, she will have to clearly demonstrate her fitness for the Oval Office beyond that of a similarly situated white man. The white journalists pontificating gleefully about the specter of President Oprah will make sure of that.

Sure, she’s Oprah, one of the most respected and adored living Americans, a feat managed in spite of her blackness. But still, twice as hard, twice as good.

Even for Oprah.

The tragic loss of Erica Garner Garner’s own loss of her father made her a woman her family wants remembered as a ‘human: mother, daughter, sister, aunt … She only pursued right, no matter what. No one gave her justice.’

It’s cruelty befitting a Greek tragedy.

A young grief-stricken daughter reluctantly transforms herself into an activist after her father is killed by police during a controversial encounter — a struggle in which the officer chokes the very life from the father, apparently deaf to his repeated gasps of “I can’t breathe.”

Three years pass, the daughter, now an outspoken hero to countless others who have lost loved ones at the hands of police brutality, is a high-profile face for an insistent new police reform movement called Black Lives Matter.

Then, in a twist of fate that mirrors her martyred father’s horrifying demise, the daughter herself is felled by a heart attack brought on by a breath-depriving asthma attack. As if to compound her family’s seemingly endless suffering, the daughter dies during the holidays, Christianity’s celebrated season of miracles, wherein the faithful are offered a path to redemption.

That is the heart-shattering story of Erica Garner. In 2014, the then-23-year-old was thrust into the global spotlight when her father Eric Garner died from an illegal choke hold after resisting arrest by New York police. Eric Garner’s videotaped dying words; “I can’t breathe” became a rallying cry for the anti-police brutality movement, helping to fuel the Black Lives Matter crusade for police reform.

That 2014 choke hold reopened a wound in the African-American community, one that is not God-given, but rather inflicted by law officers who vow to “serve and protect.” In his 2013 book, The Cross and the Lynching Tree, theologian James H. Cone writes: “In the ‘lynching era’… white Christians lynched nearly five thousand black men and women in a manner with obvious echoes of the Roman crucifixion of Jesus. Yet these ‘Christians’ did not see the irony or contradiction in their actions.” Indeed, as Eric Garner’s death proves, there is a crooked and disingenuous through-line between the Crucifixion and the kangaroo-court justice visited upon blacks since the Jim Crow era. Eric Garner’s death, along with those of many other blacks killed in fatal police encounters, was a chilling reminder that state-sanctioned executions are still a frightening component of African-American life.

Into this millenniums-old narrative arrived Erica Garner. The spitting image of her dad, Erica said she even inherited her father’s take-no-guff spirit (“If he had survived what happened to him, he would be out here advocating and doing exactly what I’m doing, if not more,” she once said.) But while she aligned herself with the Black Lives Matter movement, Erica demonstrated a diplomat’s conciliatory grace, carefully framing police brutality as a universal problem that affects everyone. “This is not a black-and-white issue,” she said during a 2014 CNN interview. “This is a national crisis.”

She displayed that same sensibleness when it came to the topic of activism itself. Writing in 2015, Erica urged peace and unity within the police reform movement. “As we activists fight each other, our opposition — from killer cops to corrupt elected officials — upholds this broken system and covers up injustices,” she wrote. “No movement is immune to conflict, but it’s up to every last person on the side of justice to make the decision to move forward together.”

It was Erica’s yin-yang combination of persistence and political savvy that prompted many to post condolences and tributes upon news of her death. Rev. Al Sharpton described her as “a fearless outspoken activist that never stopped fighting for justice for her father,” while Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders tweeted: “Though Erica didn’t ask to be an activist, she responded to the personal tragedy of seeing her father die while being arrested in New York City by becoming a leading proponent for criminal justice reform and for an end to police brutality.” Her family commented, “When you report this you remember she was human: mother, daughter, sister, aunt … She only pursued right, no matter what. No one gave her justice.”

Nor, it seems, did destiny give Erica a fair shake. The world had a scant three years to know Erica, yet she shined brightly during her short time on the international stage. Her father’s death was such a cause célèbre that many people would have excused her for simply expressing inchoate rage over her dad’s mistreatment at the hands of police. Yet instead of being consumed by anger, Erica became of an insistent voice of reason during one of the most racially sensitive periods in America’s modern history.

Her entry into activism was a veritable trial by fire, a learn-as-you-go experience. “It was something that happened basically overnight,” Erica recently told New York Magazine. “I started out with protests, small little gatherings outside the post office … and then I traveled to different cities to talk about this issue with local communities and elected officials.”

Spurred by grief and indignation — she said she watched the video of her father’s death “over and over again” — Erica helped organize a 2014 “die-in” at the Staten Island location where her dad was killed. There, she and other protesters lay on the cold pavement, creating a haunting tableau vivant in tribute to the scores of citizens injured or killed during police encounters. She continued to lead a series of weekly marches at that same spot, all conducted after 6 p.m. to increase participation from workaday nine-to-fivers. Erica claimed the New York Police Department attempted to dissuade her and others from marching. “They’ve stopped protesters from coming across the water [to march],” she told NBC News. “They’ve followed me in unmarked cars, and even barricaded the Supreme Court steps so people will think [the march] isn’t happening.”

Erica was applying increasing pressure on one of the world’s most assertive law enforcement agencies, the New York City Police Department, which has been consistently dogged by accusations of institutional racism. Evidence has revealed that blacks and Hispanics make up most of the citizens stopped for street interrogations allowed under the department’s stop-and-frisk policies. Since the 1980s, the department has made international headlines for fatal encounters involving blacks, including Eleanor Bumpers, Amadou Diallo, Sean Bell, and countless more. In 2004, the department acknowledged the existence of an intelligence unit designed to perform surveillance on rappers and others involved in the city’s hip-hop scene. This is the police organization Erica fearlessly challenged during her stint as an activist.

But not only was Erica was courageous, she also demonstrated an impressive knack for diplomacy. In a tremendously polarized nation where taking a stand against police brutality often results in accusations of being “anti-police,” Erica’s agitating for justice was no small risk. To have any hope of earning sympathy from her reflexively unsympathetic critics, she suppressed whatever rage she must have been feeling, opting instead to coolly advocate for due process. And when due process failed her family, she continued to press for justice. “People ask, ‘When will you stop marching?’ ” Erica said. “ ‘What do you want from marching?’ He was my father. I will always march.”

Erica’s cause was taken up by pro athletes, including NBA stars LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Kyrie Irving and more. Eric Garner’s dying sighs of “I can’t breathe” became a galvanizing slogan for the Black Lives Matter movement. Before long, Erica was fielding interview requests and speaking invitations from schools, colleges, churches and social justice organizations. She made television appearances, both nationally and in her native New York. After a grand jury declined to indict the officer involved, the Garner family brought a wrongful-death lawsuit against New York City, winning a $5.9 million settlement.

While Erica may have been soft-spoken, she was fiercely independent. When many blacks threw their support behind Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign, Erica raised eyebrows for backing Bernie Sanders, citing the Vermont senator’s long-standing civil rights record. At the time of her death, she was in the process of starting a nonprofit to identify and endorse candidates sympathetic to the cause of police reform.

Like Rodney King — himself a police brutality victim who pleaded for peace amid the havoc of the 1992 Los Angeles riots — Erica never sought to become a civil rights lightning rod. She occasionally let her frustration slip, like in 2017 when she voiced her exasperation with the Department of Justice. (“The DOJ literally gathered my family in one place,” she tweeted, “after we have been waiting for answers for 3 years to say they cant answer S—!”). By all appearances, Erica was catapulted into activism by her father’s death, and was carried along by her own grit and a sense of purpose. “I had no idea what I was doing, but I connected with the right people and went from there,” she said.

By and large, Erica wore the mantle she assumed with powerful restraint. Now, the pain many of us felt after viewing her father’s protest-prompting death is magnified by Erica’s own passing. The hurt we experienced after her dad’s killer was let off the hook is now magnified by the knowledge that Erica’s two kids will grow up without their mother.

The daughter who tirelessly sought justice for her slain father has gone to join him in the afterlife, all too soon.

James Harden’s new Meek Mill-themed shoes NBA players continue to bring the jailed rapper’s plight to light

As the leading scorer in the NBA, one of the many faces of adidas and en route to perhaps his first MVP trophy, Houston Rockets superstar James Harden is used to having all eyes on him. Come Thursday, though, special attention will be paid to his feet as Harden will be rocking custom-made “Free Meek” shoes. The message, of course, is a homage to rapper Meek Mill who currently sits in the State Correctional Institution in Chester, Pa., following a probation violation from a 2008 gun and drug case. Last month, the Philadelphia MC was sentenced to two-to-four years for after popping wheelies on his dirt bike and an altercation at a St. Louis airport early this year.

The decision immediately sparked outrage not only for Meek’s continuous battles with his own legal entanglement, but the disparities in the criminal justice system as a whole. Hip-hop, through names like Jay Z, Diddy, Nipsey Hussle, Rick Ross and even friend-turned-foe Drake, have come to Meek’s defense expressing their support. But it’s Meek’s draw in the sports world that has been intriguing to watch unfold. Exiled quarterback Colin Kaepernick—whose protest have become the defining sports story of his generation—spoke with Meek days before Thanksgiving. Meanwhile, the NBA has made no secret of its affinity towards the 30 year old rapper.

Harden visited Meek in prison on Tuesday, confirming his “spirits were high” and that he hoped the MC would be home by February. If, in fact, Meek is released in time for All Star Weekend in Los Angeles (Feb. 16-18, 2018), he could thank the league personally. Throughout his career, Meek has recorded with ball players. He played an involuntary supporting role in the odd melodrama between LeBron James and Kyrie Irving. And he’s name dropped countless superstars in his music from James, Dwyane Wade, Kobe Bryant and Allen Iverson—the latter of whom he saw as a role model growing up in Philly. “A.I. had the style, he had the charisma, the braids, everything,” he told Complex earlier this year. “He was doing what he wanted on the court. That’s what we live by in Philly: do whatcha want, never let the game change you to the point where you’re not even yourself.”

Harden’s showing of support is only the latest in the NBA’s very vocal support of the imprisoned MC. His hometown Philadelphia 76ers have led the charge. Sixers icon Julius Erving was one of many athletes who attended a rally in the rapper’s name last month. The team’s two superstars-in-training Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons recently posted up at Jay Z’s 4:44 tour stop in Philadelphia donning “Stand With Meek Mill” t-shirts. The move wasn’t just a photo opp either. Simmons frequently makes Meek’s music part of his daily routine through his Instagram Stories. Embiid visited Meek Mill in prison—an experience he succinctly summed up as “scary”—with 76ers co-owner Michael Rubin. Yet, it’s Rubin’s relationship with Meek that is the most documented. They’re a pop culture “odd couple.”

Rubin and Meek met a few years back when both were sitting courtside at an NBA game. The billionaire owner was seated next to his daughter and Meek was with ex-girlfriend Nicki Minaj. “Once he figured out I was one of the owners of the Sixers and some other pretty big, internet companies he started asking me 1,000 business questions,” Rubin said of how their friendship sprouted. “I liked him. I would’ve had the stereotypical view, this guy is a hardcore rapper … I didn’t know who he was or what he did. But once he started telling me about his career I thought he would have an interesting business.”

Since his sentencing, Rubin has made frequent visits to visit Meek in prison. The two have largely talked legal strategy. For Rubin, Meek’s situation is personal. He considers the “Dreams & Nightmares” rapper one of his “closest 10-20 guy friends…someone I really care about.” He hoped Meek would be home for Christmas so he could spend the holiday with his family, but now the hope is that Meek can spend the bulk of 2018 in a recording booth as opposed to a jail cell.