Phil Freelon, America’s most prominent black architect, designs for the culture The ‘Blacksonian,’ Atlanta’s civil rights center — and a Durham bus station — are all part of his legacy

It was a brisk early afternoon in January, and I was sitting in a van in Durham, North Carolina, with Phil Freelon, arguably the most prominent working African-American architect in the country. Freelon is best known for designing the National Museum of African American History and Culture and other major museum projects — among them Atlanta’s National Center for Civil Rights, San Francisco’s Museum of the African Diaspora, and Charlotte’s Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture. But on this day, we were admiring, of all things, a bus station.

“If you go around the country and visit bus stations, they’re usually seedy and dirty,” he said. “But they don’t have to be.”

And the Durham Station Transportation Center, which Freelon designed, wouldn’t be out of place on the gilded campuses of Apple or Google. The center, which opened in 2008, has a glass exterior topped by a sleek metal roof sloped like a beret, covering an airy, minimalist interior lounge and ticketing area.

“In my career, I’ve learned that if you build something beautiful, people will respect it,” he said. “You’ll notice there’s no graffiti. Now, I don’t think everyone going to catch a bus looks around and says, ‘Wow, this is a beautiful building.’ But I think they soak in the ambiance, and I’m happy about that.”

Durham Station Transportation Center

James West/J West Productions LLC

The paradox of architecture is that it’s all around us, and yet, for many people, the profession remains esoteric. “If you have a talented young African-American, their family will likely know a lawyer, doctor, teacher or a clergyman, but not an architect,” Freelon said. “My parents, who were both college-educated, didn’t know an architect of any color, and certainly not a black one.

“Diversity is a huge problem in our profession. The profession is small — there are only 110,000 licensed architects in the United States, compared to 1 million attorneys and 800,000 physicians. And only 2 percent of architects are African-Americans, a lower ratio than with lawyers and doctors.”

Freelon, 65, has attempted to change that on several fronts: through his hiring practices, visits to predominantly minority schools to speak about his work, and the establishment in 2016 of the Freelon Fellowship, which provides financial aid so a student from an underrepresented group can attend the Harvard Graduate School of Design. And since he founded his eponymous firm in 1990, much of his work has been focused on designing libraries and other academic buildings for historically black colleges and universities and cultural projects in traditionally black neighborhoods.

Currently he’s involved with a major expansion of the Motown Museum in Detroit, a mile-long open-air museum along Crenshaw Boulevard in Los Angeles and the North Carolina Freedom Park in downtown Raleigh. “He’s designed nearly every major museum or public space dedicated to black culture in the United States,” Fast Company magazine observed when it named Freelon its Architect of the Year in 2017.

“Of course, you don’t just wake up one morning and the Smithsonian wants you to build a museum,” Freelon said. “There’s 30 years of work that leads up to that.”


Before he had ever met an architect, Freelon had decided to become one. He grew up in Philadelphia, where his mother was a school administrator and his father was a salesperson for Cordis, a Miami-based medical device manufacturer. Freelon attended Central High School, an academically rigorous, predominantly white, all-boys magnet school, which also produced the famed architect Louis Kahn. Citing the influence of his grandfather, Allan Randall Freelon Sr., a Harlem Renaissance-era painter, Freelon said he was drawn to classes in the visual arts, as well as drafting and design. He also took inspiration from his strolls through the city, visiting the Franklin Institute and the Philadelphia Museum of Art. “Only later,” Freelon said, “did I learn that a black architect, Julian Abele, helped design the museum,” including the iconic steps featured in Rocky.

Freelon had his mind set on attending a historically black college or university (HBCU) and enrolled at Hampton University in Virginia. “It was the height of the civil rights movement and Black Power, and I had an Afro and was very socially engaged,” he said.

Freelon plowed through the curriculum. “He was an excellent student, meticulous and curious,” said John Spencer, chairman of the architecture department, whom Freelon credits as his first mentor. Believing he would be more challenged at a larger university, Freelon transferred to North Carolina State, although he was anxious about moving deeper into the South. “When my father used to attend his company’s annual conference in Miami in the ’60s, he couldn’t stay in the downtown hotels and would stay in the black neighborhood of Overtown,” Freelon recalled. But a visit to Raleigh reassured him.

“At N.C. State, Phil and I were two of only a handful of black students at the College of Design, and there weren’t any black professors in our discipline,” recalled Percy Hooper, now an associate professor of industrial design at N.C. State. “We didn’t feel segregated from the white students, but we ended up spending a lot of time together, supporting one another.” The coursework was demanding, and there wasn’t a lot of downtime. To unwind, the friends would ride their bikes or, more ill-advisedly, toss around ninja stars.

During summers, Freelon worked for a professor at the Durham-based architectural firm of John D. Latimer and Associates and continued at the firm’s Taunton, Massachusetts, office while pursuing a master’s degree at MIT, which he completed in 1977. He worked briefly for a large firm, 3/D International in Houston, before returning to Durham to join O’Brien Atkins Associates, where he soon became the firm’s youngest partner.

“I’ve learned that if you build something beautiful, people will respect it.”

Freelon helped design schools, churches and other buildings around the state. “As a young architect, you’re not a specialist and you tackle a wide variety of projects.” A significant step in his career, he said, was being tapped as lead designer for Terminal 2 of the Raleigh-Durham International Airport. “Of course, it’s since been demolished and rebuilt,” he said, chuckling. “At this stage of my career, there are a few buildings that I’ve designed that have been torn down.” (He later designed an award-winning parking garage at the airport, as well as the airport’s general aviation building.)

In 1989, Freelon received a fellowship to study independently for a year at Harvard. The next year, he left O’Brien Atkins to launch his own firm, the Freelon Group. It began as a one-man shop and grew to more than 50 employees, about 40 percent of whom are women and 30 percent people of color.

“When I decided to start my own practice, I had a pretty good idea of what I wanted to do and not do,” Freelon said. “I wasn’t going to design prisons, strip malls or casinos. The work that excited me were schools, libraries and similar projects that positively impacted the community.” Freelon also said he had little interest in upscale residential projects, the multimillion-dollar homes that fill the pages of Dwell and Architectural Digest, the ubiquitous coffee table magazines of the aspiring bourgeoisie. “The only home I’ve ever built is my own,” he said.


Phil and Nnenna Freelon in 2015

Lissa Gotwals

One afternoon, I joined Freelon and his wife, Nnenna, at their suburban home, a 15-minute drive from downtown Durham. The modern, two-story structure with a matching separate studio space features a warm combination of concrete, steel, glass and laminate siding. The sloped lot abuts a pond and runs the length of a football field. There’s a long path from the house to a fire pit and a steel animal sculpture that the Freelons named Kareem Abdul-Giraffe.

Inside, the New Standard Quintet, a Chicago jazz group, played on the stereo while the couple’s dog, Count Basie, perched by the couch. Earlier, Freelon had told me how he met his wife. Nnenna, a Massachusetts native, was finishing her undergraduate degree at Simmons University in Boston. She was on a visit to the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, where she was considering pursuing a graduate degree in health care administration. A mutual friend introduced them. “We met on our friend’s front porch, and for me it really was love at first sight,” Phil Freelon said. It was a swift courtship. With only her undergraduate thesis to complete, Nnenna moved to North Carolina, they got married and she quickly became pregnant. She put graduate school on hold and eventually turned to her first love, jazz singing, and is now a six-time Grammy Award nominee.

“Phil is one of those lucky people who always knew what he wanted to do,” Nnenna Freelon said. “For most of us, it’s more circuitous. I was blessed to have a husband who was passionate about what he did and wanted me to find what I was passionate about.”

For a globe-trotting professional singer and star architect, Durham isn’t an obvious home base. Why not New York, Los Angeles or Chicago? “When you have kids, your life changes,” Phil Freelon said. “We figured we could live here and get in an airplane and go where we needed to go. I’m a huge family guy, and I love being a father. That was most important.” The Freelons have three children, who all live nearby. Deen Freelon, the oldest, is a tenured professor at the UNC School of Media and Journalism. Maya Freelon Asante is a visual artist. And Pierce Freelon, the youngest, is an activist and former Durham mayoral candidate who runs Blackspace, an after-school entrepreneurship and social media program for disadvantaged youths.

“I wasn’t going to design prisons, strip malls or casinos. The work that excited me were schools, libraries and similar projects that positively impacted the community.”

“It’s been impressive what Phil has done here,” said Kevin Montgomery, the African-American president of O’Brien Atkins whom Freelon recruited to that firm in 1988. “He was able to develop a firm in a midsize market that has global recognition and can compete with much larger firms in places like New York and Chicago.”

That proved to be the case with the Smithsonian museum, a project, Freelon said, that was more than a decade in the making. A couple of years after his Museum of the African Diaspora opened in 2005 in San Francisco, Freelon teamed up with New York’s Max Bond to win a contract from the Smithsonian to complete the planning and pre-design work for the African-American museum on the National Mall. A year later, the Smithsonian announced an international design competition, and Ghanaian-British architect David Adjaye approached Freelon and Bond about joining forces.

“David is the highest-profile architect of African descent in the world, and we had our eyes out for what he was going to do for the competition,” Freelon said. “We met and determined we had similar approaches and values, so the team was expanded.” They also added another firm, Washington-based SmithGroup, which had previously done work for the Smithsonian. More than 60 groups, representing firms throughout the world, sought the commission. The Smithsonian eventually culled the field to six, provided them with stipends and asked them to produce designs within 60 days.

Team members from Freelon Adjaye Bond/SmithGroup, who designed the winning concept for the National Museum of African American History and Culture, meet with members of the Smithsonian Institution: (from left to right) Hall David, Peter Cook, director of the National Museum of African American History and Culture Lonnie Bunch, David Adjaye, Phil Freelon and Smithsonian secretary Wayne Clough in front of a model of the winning design in Washington, D.C., on April 14, 2009.

AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin

“We were competing against all these starchitects,” Freelon said, including I.M. Pei, Norman Foster and Moshe Safdie. A committee composed of members of the Smithsonian, the architectural press and academics picked the Freelon Adjaye Bond/SmithGroup design.

When the National Museum of African American History and Culture opened in 2016, Los Angeles Times architecture critic Christopher Hawthorne hailed the building’s “powerful strangeness” that “embraces memory and aspiration, protest and reconciliation, pride and shame.” He continued, “The museum’s skin — has that typically benign architectural term ever been more charged? — allows it to stand apart from the Mall’s white-marble monuments like a rebuke.” The most recent accolade came in January, when the American Institute of Architects named the museum one of nine winners of its 2019 Honor Awards.

During the opening ceremonies, which included a Kennedy Center performance by Nnenna, Freelon was walking with a cane. He’d experienced leg troubles the previous year, although at first he didn’t think much of it. “I was run-down anyway, because 2015 was an intense year,” he said. Not only was he finishing the museum, he was also teaching at MIT. He had also just completed a merger of his firm with the global architecture powerhouse Perkins + Will, which had been courting Freelon for more than a decade. Freelon now oversaw the firm’s North Carolina operations from Durham.

“It wasn’t just that Phil was a superstar — and he really is the Michael Jordan of architecture,” said Perkins + Will CEO Phil Harrison. “We wanted Phil because of his design sensibility, which is modern but not cold. There’s a real humanism you can see in all his work. And with his staff you see a real diversity, not just in demographics but in thinking.”

When Freelon traveled to D.C., he would jog around the Mall to stay in shape. “I noticed I’d use the same effort, but it was taking me longer and longer to complete my course, and my right foot was dragging.”

After meeting with several doctors, Freelon was referred to Richard Bedlack, who heads Duke University’s Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis Clinic. Freelon was diagnosed with ALS, commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, which is progressive and incurable. It attacks the nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord and in time results in total paralysis and, ultimately, death — typically within two to four years after the diagnosis.

Freelon was “shocked and disappointed,” he said, and there was a brief period of denial. But after a few months, Freelon told his staff and took a month off to ponder his future. “But I decided to go back and work full time,” he said. Now, he uses a heavy electric wheelchair and works less and mainly from home. He remains on the Perkins + Will board of directors and is closely involved in ongoing projects.

“I’m an optimist by nature, and I look at my prognosis as a glass half full,” Freelon said. “I’m relieved I was able to raise my children and have a career and family.”


Architect Phil Freelon at the offices of Perkins + Will in Durham, North Carolina.

Endia Beal for The Undefeated

One can drive a mile in almost any direction around Durham and come across a building Freelon designed. With his sister-in-law Debbie Pierce driving Freelon’s customized van, we visited the Durham Bulls’ Athletic Park, home to the country’s most famous minor league baseball team featured in the movie Bull Durham; the Durham County Human Services Building, an airy, glass structure with a huge courtyard that replaced a grim, Soviet-style bureaucratic bunker; and several science buildings on the campuses of North Carolina Central, an HBCU, and Duke University.

Few professions offer their practitioners a chance to leave a physical legacy, and I offered to Freelon that he must feel proud as we revisited his creations. He laughed and alluded to a famous Frank Lloyd Wright quote: “A doctor can bury his mistakes, but an architect can only advise his clients to plant vines.”

Of course, Freelon didn’t view his works as mistakes. He was being self-deprecating. But it was also significant that on our tour he insisted I visit a few buildings he didn’t design.

We parked in front of Duke University Chapel, a majestic Gothic structure with a 210-foot-tall bell tower. The chapel, along with other significant structures on Duke’s campus, including Cameron Stadium, was designed by Julian Abele, an African-American architect who was the chief designer for the Philadelphia firm of Horace Trumbauer. “The story goes that when Abele came down here to do site work he had to dress up in overalls and pretend he was a common laborer or he wouldn’t have been allowed on campus,” Freelon said. It wasn’t until the 1980s that the university formally acknowledged Abele’s contributions, placing a portrait of the architect in the lobby of the main administration building and naming the main campus quad Abele Quad.

Later, we pulled in front of a small church in a historically African-American neighborhood. Opened in 1931, it was originally a church for the deaf, who were recruited to work in Durham’s noisy cigarette manufacturing plants. More recently, it had been rented to various congregations. Eventually, it was put up for sale and Phil and Nnenna Freelon purchased it. We went inside, where workers were renovating the space. Freelon had hired a friend who had more experience with such work to be the architect.

The Freelons created a nonprofit, North Star Church of the Arts, to operate the building as a community space. (An inaugural service will be held Feb. 17.) “We’ll have spoken-word nights, after-school programs, maybe some weddings and other ceremonies,” Freelon said. “We just want to give back to the community.”

We were in the back of the church. The pews had been pulled out and stacked to the side, and we looked toward an imaginary dais.

Freelon has been involved in building celebrated structures that will last for many years. The Smithsonian museum likely will survive as long as our republic. But here he was inside a humble church that he didn’t even design, smiling. “Nnenna and I wanted this to be our legacy project,” he said.

On the 25th anniversary of  Snoop Dogg’s ‘Doggystyle’ — a look back at his life and times  A hip-hop prodigy, in a pop culture maelstrom — on trial for murder

Big Boy is a connector. “You need to speak to Dogg?” That’s what the Los Angeles-based syndicated radio personality asks when the topic of 1993’s Doggystyle comes up. “I mean I can help you … I’m with him right now.”

Before you even get a chance to respond, he’s already calling Snoop, born Calvin Broadus Jr., to the phone. “Aight bet,” Snoop Dogg says in the background. “Gimme a second!” It’s the week before Snoop’s long deserved victory lap around the City of Angels. This conversation was a week before the Hollywood Walk of Fame honor — Snoop got his star — that featured a massive crowd of fans, family and friends such as Dr. Dre. Pharrell, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Jimmy Kimmel and more. A week before a weeklong celebration for the quarter-century anniversary of his first album that solidified Death Row as cultural tour de force.

“I want to thank me for believing in me,” he’ll say at his Walk of Fame ceremony. “I want to thank me for trying to do more right than wrong. I want to thank me for just being me at all times. Snoop Dogg, you a bad m—–f—–.” A unique kind of humility, indeed, but from a man who paid the cost to be his own boss — a well-deserved moment of indulgence.

Snoop carries himself like a man well aware of his resume, but he’s not vain about it. There are the 16 solo albums, five collaborative albums, four soundtracks, and singles that span five presidential administrations. There are the 53 million albums sold worldwide. Thanks to Tupac Shakur, who persuaded Snoop to pursue it, Snoop’s acting career includes more than 50 roles in movies and television.

“We can create this picture of him as always being Snoop the rapper without considering Calvin the person.”

As for his entrepreneurship career in the marijuana industry — appropriate doesn’t even begin to describe that venture. Snoop Dogg, for all intents and purposes, is the greatest success story in rap history. In a manner similar to Jay-Z, he is the American dream. Snoop survived rap’s bloodiest era, and now, approaching 50, he’s a living legend. A living legend who nearly lost it all before it truly began.

Doggystyle (Death Row/Interscope), is Snoop Dogg’s debut album — it turns 25 years old Friday. After a jaw-dropping appearance on the title single of the 1992 soundtrack to Deep Cover, Snoop’s avant-garde first album functions as a coming-of-age project that landed between the 1992 Los Angeles riots and the 1994-95 O.J. Simpson trial. Snoop’s first album also coincided with murder trial in which he was a defendant.

Broadus, at the age of 24, was acquitted in February 1996 (along with bodyguard McKinley “Malik” Lee), of first- and second-degree murder charges in the shooting death of a gang member Philip Woldemariam at a Los Angeles-area park. As the jury was deadlocked on remaining voluntary manslaughter charges, a mistrial was declared. MTV broadcast the reading of the verdict, after which Snoop Dogg rolled off in a Rolls-Royce with a driver. Snoop and Lee had maintained that the victim had been perceived as a mortal threat. The case nearly derailed one of the most unique and impactful careers in American music history.


At this point, Snoop Dogg, 47, has been famous longer than he hasn’t. The pop culture personality has done everything from smoke herb on White House grounds (according to Snoop), to becoming besties with Martha Stewart. Their Martha & Snoop’s Potluck Dinner Party was described in 2017 as “the cultural exchange America needs.” Over two seasons guests included Seth Rogen, RuPaul, Rick Ross, and Kelis, and more. And as the meme goes: One Of These Is a Convicted Felon. With each year, Snoop’s guardianship of hip-hop becomes more and more massive. And in a genre that has lost its brightest stars for heartbreaking and sometimes violent reasons, Snoop’s presence is a gift. And he’s quite cognizant of how differently his life could’ve gone.

Snoop’s standout feature on Anderson .Paak’s new “Anywhere” features Snoop reminiscing on the days before fame. I didn’t have a dollar, but a n—a had a dream / Whippin’ over the stove and a n—a gotta eat / Threw my raps in the garbage, f— being an emcee, he raps. Thank the Lord for Nate Dogg and thank God for Warren G / Funny how time flies when you’re high as me.

“I think about … the fun that I had. The age … I was at,” he says now. He was 22 when Doggystyle hit the streets. “Just being innocent, and honest. Not really hoping for success. I wasn’t even wishing for success.” He pauses. Almost as if the past 30 years of his life are playing in fast-forward. “I was just hoping to be on.”

In the fall and winter of 1993, Janet Jackson was the biggest pop star in the world. President Bill Clinton was nearing the end of his first year in office. Police began investigating Michael Jackson for child abuse. Allen Iverson was sentenced to five years in prison. Tupac Shakur was charged with shooting two off-duty police officers in Atlanta in October, and sexual assault a month later. Whitney Houston was on The Bodyguard World Tour. Jurassic Park was king of the box office while Menace II Society was film royalty of the ‘hood. Michael Jordan’s retirement coincided with the onset of the Shaq and Penny era in Orlando, Florida.

For Jemele Hill, then a freshman at Michigan State University, hip-hop was not only blowing up the Billboard charts but was the foundation of local party scenes. The impending arrival of Snoop Dogg’s debut was the axis around which hip-hop revolved. He was featured on the 1993 cover of VIBE’s first official issue, the look a culmination of a two-year meteoric rise. Snoop’s 1991 appearance on “Deep Cover” from the soundtrack of the same name, was a fire starter. His appearance a year later on Dr. Dre’s genre-shifting The Chronic caused some to dub Doggystyle, in the moment, “the most anticipated rap album of all time.”

“For months, that was the album — when everybody got together, in the dorm room or kicking it in somebody’s crib — that we were listening to. [It’s a reminder of] the lightness that hip-hop could bring into your life.”

The album sold more than 800,000 copies in its first week, making it, at the time, the fastest-selling rap debut. Black kids loved him. White kids wanted to be him. A heavy dose of Dr. Dre’s production and Snoop’s syrupy smooth flow proved, once again, to be an undeniable supernova — even as rap sheets ran concurrent with rap hits. This was gangsta rap, but with a new vibe. Snoop, long affiliated with the Crips, talked that street talk. He was authentic, yet relatable.

“ ‘Doggy Dogg World’ was a moment in time. A star-studded event dripping in black charisma.” — Snoop Dogg

Los Angeles in particular, devoured the album. Compton, Inglewood, Watts, and of course Long Beach — where ’64 Impalas bounced, where people gathered, Snoop was the soundtrack. “The anticipation in L.A. ran high and it was real,” says Big Boy. “Everywhere you went, there was something coming out of somebody’s speakers from [that album]. When we just saw ‘What’s My Name’ and Dogg on top of the VIP in Long Beach — that was our moment.”

He brought listeners live and direct to his home ‘hoods of Long Beach that gave him the ammunition for songs like “Tha Shiznit” and “Serial Killa.” “What Snoop provides the rap world in that cadence, delivery and flow seems to have had a very lasting influence,” says University of Virginia professor of hip-hop A.D. Carson. “But because no one has been able to duplicate it, he still occupies that same space [to this day].” Chart-topping singles such as “Gin & Juice” and “What’s My Name” and the video were MTV darlings.

Twenty-five years later, Doggystyle, to Snoop, remains defined by two records, “Lodi Dodi,” a homage to Slick Rick, and “Doggy Dogg World” featuring his favorite 1970s group, The Dramatics.

The blaxploitation era and the superheroes it birthed are a part of Snoop’s DNA. “To be able to have a session with The Dramatics,” he says, still in awe a quarter century later, “and then to be able to incorporate them into the movement [Death Row] was on — that, to me, is a look that says, OK. The visual for ‘Doggy Dogg World’ was a moment in time. A star-studded event dripping in black charisma.”

The video included features from Fred Williamson, Pam Grier, Antonio Fargas, and Rudy Ray Moore, Fred Berry, and Ron O’Neal. Snoop’s close friend and longtime collaborator Ricky Harris, who died in 2016, was also in the video. “This,” Snoop boasted last year, “was like my Harlem Nights.

As for “Lodi Dodi”? Snoop idolizes Slick Rick. It’s an homage, and is quick to point out that the song is first example of a rapper remaking a song and not being labeled a “biter.” “[Rick] was somebody I really, really looked up to. It’s like Kobe [Bryant] and [Michael] Jordan,” he says. “When you’re able to play against him, and he gives you a few pointers, and you end up becoming just as good as him.”


Doggystyle ended a historic year in music with 1.2 million copies sold in its first two weeks on the shelves. By December, he was outselling the rest of the top five albums in the country combined.

“Ain’t nobody bigger than me but Michael Jackson,” Snoop said shortly after the album’s release. But criticism of gangsta rap, was prevalent, even before Snoop’s debut, rightfully centered on its depiction of women. And Doggystyle was features more than 60 references to “b—–s” and the cover drew the ire of critics nationwide. By the fall and winter of 1993, Snoop was accused of the “beastializing [of] women.”

“It’s sickening to see that any African-American, male or female, would hold the human dignity of African-American women in the form that is presented [in the album cover],” said C. Delores Tucker, a frequent opponent of hip-hop. “We are now looking to the distributors, financiers and producers of [Doggystyle] …We are going to use the powers we have to withhold our dollars where our dignity is not respected.”

Rap, Snoop in particular found, an ally in U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters. “While I find some of the language offensive and hard on the ears, I didn’t first hear the words whore and b—- from Snoop,” she said in 1994. “It’s part of the culture. These songs merely mimic and exaggerate what the artists have learned about who we are [as a society]. And while it is unacceptable to refer to any person in derogatory terms, I believe rappers are being used as scapegoats here.”

“We are going to use the powers we have to withhold our dollars where our dignity is not respected.” — C. Delores Tucker

As critics sought to paint him as the new king of misogyny, Snoop went on the defense. “It’s not personal at all,” he lamented in ’93. “When women come up to me and they see me on the street and say, ‘How you doin’, Snoop Dogg? How you doin’, baby?’ I don’t say, ‘Hey, b—-. How you doing?’ I don’t come at them like that.”

Doggystyle is the linchpin for issues that still rage on. Misogyny is very real. For Hill, it’s a complex issue. “Most women have always had a love-hate relationship with hip-hop,” says Hill, who says that Dr. Dre’s 1992 “B—-es Ain’t S—” is among her favorite songs. “We’re not ignorant to what some of these lyrics have meant.” It’s a case by case basis for Hill, who remembers the very real discussions about Doggystyle that were happening while women and men were partying to it every day. “I don’t take it personally, though there is a part of me that does wish they could be better in this area. But I’ve also heard many [rappers] explain that they rap this because they are talking about personal experiences.”

Yet even more than the moral critique about the album, it was Snoop’s real life that drove the conversation. The first-degree murder charge was the case that they gave him. Woldemariam, a reputed gang member had reportedly threatened Snoop before at a video shoot and had also been in an argument with Snoop and Lee earlier on the day of the shooting. Gang ties were reported to be at the center of the dispute. With a warrant out for his arrest, Snoop still joined George Clinton and Dr. Dre in presenting the best R&B video award at the 1993 MTV VMAs.

Snoop Dogg/Calvin Broadus reacts to not-guilty verdict in Los Angeles Superior Court on Feb. 21, 1993. Judge Paul Flynn declared a mistrial on his involuntary manslaughter charges after the jury was found deadlocked, but the jury did clear the rapper of an accessory after-the-fact conspiracy charge. Broadus was acquitted of first- and second-degree murder charges.

MIKE NELSON/AFP/Getty Images

He turned himself in shortly after. The case slowed Snoop’s victory lap, while it concurrently create mass hysteria for its release. Gangbanging was a way life in Southern California. Snoop was a child of this reality. Newsweek’s contentious cover, which featured Snoop tattooed with the question “When is rap 2 violent?” may have well been part of the project’s official rollout.

As Snoop’s celebrity transformed him from Dr. Dre’s understudy to bona fide megastar, he faced life in prison. Death Row Records was living up to its name. Those closest to Snoop even saw how the situation took its toll on him. “During that time, everybody was down with everything that was going on,” Warren G says via phone. “But we just stayed down with him. Ride or die.”

With rap’s crown came repeated attacks. “It’s truly a sad statement about our society that an alleged murderer can end up serving as a role model for our kids,” said Bob DeMoss, youth culture specialist for the Colorado Springs, Colorado-based Christian media watchdog group Focus on the Family.

Snoop was stressed. “Black people are sayin’, ‘F— it, you’ve got this much power. You could be tryin’ to say: ‘Don’t do drugs, and, hey, stop this,’ ” Snoop said in 1994. “But Martin Luther King tried that s—. It didn’t work.”

And as the trial came to an end, the prosecution tired of the defense painting the victim Woldemariam as a crazed gangbanger who was the aggressor in his own slaying. The defense claimed the prosecution used Snoop’s celebrity as its motivation more than his actual involvement. Details emerged supporting Snoop’s self-defense claim when one of victim’s friends admitted to hiding Woldemariam’s gun after the shooting. Even after he was acquitted, drama still followed him. He and newly signed Death Row labelmate Shakur’s “2 of Amerikaz Most Wanted” once again turned drama into unimaginable success. But by March 1996, Dr. Dre had left the label. Six months later Shakur was murdered in Las Vegas. And Knight, in less than a year, was back in prison on a probation violation for his role in a fight the night Shakur was shot.

“While I find some of the language offensive and hard on the ears, I didn’t first hear the words whore and b—- from Snoop.” — Maxine Waters

What little room Snoop had to truly celebrate Doggystyle was depleted. Staying alive was more important for Snoop, who purchased a bulletproof van following the murder of Biggie Smalls. “The way that we can mythologize him — we can create this picture of him as always being Snoop the rapper without considering Calvin the person,” says Carson. “I can’t imagine that [part of his life] being anything other than a nightmare for him. It’s something … heavy to sort through.”

With Doggystyle in the rearview mirror, Death Row’s very public and tragic downfall and his own career at a professional crossroads, Snoop’s next moves set in motion a new arc. “He was a totally changed person,” says Warren G. “It was a reality check that this stuff can be taken away at any given moment, so you gotta get yourself together … That’s when he started to grow and morph into … a man. He realized none of this stuff is worth [losing] your family [over].”

“That’s the American dream …Well, ain’t it?” — “Bathtub

There is no career like Snoop Dogg’s. American gangster to American icon, if you’re looking for a tagline. He’s been a Rastafarian, a pimp, the quarterback of his own stage play and chart-topping gospel artist. He’s Grandpa Snoop and Uncle Snoop to an entire generation who grew up on Uncle Phil. “There’s nothing everyman about the way he lived his life and the way he came up,” Hill says with a laugh, “but yet he is the dude in rap you wanna go get a beer with. But I guess in his case … get high with.”

It’s true. It’s not a stretch to say that Snoop has played a tangential role in America’s slow, but gradual acceptance of marijuana. On TV, he’s everything from dedicated youth football coach to LeBron James’ big homie. He’s persuaded an entire country to “Smile” on Lil Duval’s huge hit while directing his political aggression toward President Donald Trump via song and, in a patented Snoop way, “grassroots activism.”

Even “gangsta s—” evolves. Making music for Long Beach. Making music that reflected the lifestyles, good and bad, that he grew up in. Monday’s Hollywood Walk of Fame immortalized him in a long overdue ceremony. But for Snoop, a tour de force who has seemingly accomplished — and survived — everything, hip-hop has to offer, it’s not about what he missed. It’s about the celebration he never truly got to enjoy in his early 20s. Until now. “I was too busy trying to enjoy my life and trying to make sure I was going to be free [to enjoy Doggstyle],” Snoop says. You can almost hear the grin spread across his face. “So maybe I’ll enjoy it this year on its 25th.”

WNBA sneakerhead Tamera ‘Ty’ Young designs — and debuts — her own signature shoe ‘I never imagined having my own sneaker — especially one that isn’t a basketball sneaker’

Despite never being signed to an endorsement deal by a sportswear brand, veteran Las Vegas Aces forward Tamera “Ty” Young has amassed an insane shoe collection of more than 600 pairs (and counting) while earning the crown as the WNBA’s biggest sneakerhead. Now, she has a shoe of her own.

On Tuesday, Young debuts the “Army Youngie” signature lifestyle sneaker via her personal clothing brand TY1 Gear, which has been worn by retired NBA champion Stephen Jackson and Houston Rockets point guard Chris Paul. Designed by Young herself, the shoe’s details include camo pony hair, a calfskin tongue, a suede lace panel and toe cap, leather comfort insoles and leather interior. Before the release, The Undefeated caught up with Young, who’s spending the WNBA offseason playing overseas in Israel, to talk about the career milestone.


How does it feel to now have your own sneaker?

It’s an amazing feeling. Being a sneakerhead and having the opportunity to design and create my own shoe is an achievement. I’ve worked hard to build my own brand, and to see the hard work paying off is an incredible feeling. I never imagined having my own sneaker — especially one that isn’t a basketball sneaker.

How long have you been working on the shoe?

Since the summer. … It was brought to my attention that I should create my own shoe because of my style and the influence I have. I was hesitant at first because I was unsure of the process of creating and selling a shoe. What if I created a shoe that no one liked, or would support?

Instagram Photo

What inspired the design?

The love I have for low-tops. Camo is a print that is very fashion-forward and loved by many. The shoe is a sneaker but can also be worn casually. That is something that was important to me, especially with my profession.

What do you like most about the “Army Youngie”?

The material used to create the shoe and the sleek look. You can dress it down for a chill, casual look or dress it up for a business or business casual look.

Can we expect a TY1 Gear basketball sneaker in the future?

I’ve thought about doing a basketball shoe, but I like this casual sneaker process better right now, stepping outside of the box as an athlete and creating a shoe that has nothing to do with playing basketball. If I ever got a shoe deal, I think it would be dope to have a TY1 sneaker. But until then, I like being in my own lane.

The TY1 Gear “Army Youngie” drops on Tuesday at noon EST, exclusively on the brand’s website tyoungone.com. The shoe is available in men’s sizes (8-13) and women’s sizes (7-10) for $200 a pair.

While players were balling in NBA playoffs, these students were winning in NBA Math Hoops National Championship The second annual event was hosted by the Detroit Pistons and the nonprofit Learn Fresh

While the NBA playoffs were in full swing in mid-May, the Detroit Pistons were hosting 20 students from across the country competing in the second annual NBA Math Hoops National Championship, courtesy of the NBA Math Hoops Program, Learn Fresh and NBA Cares.

On May 18, the team welcomed participants for the weekend event and competition at Little Caesars Arena. On the final day, sixth-grader Angela Montelongo and fifth-grader William Cooley, representing the Utah Jazz, were named winners in this year’s competition.

Asia Mays and Daivion Smith, the Pistons’ 2017 national championship representatives and tournament runners-up, were on hand to congratulate the new champions. Both Pistons students competed in the inaugural 2017 event, which was hosted in the Bay Area by the Golden State Warriors.

Students competed in multiple events including a Jr. NBA Clinic and a college savings session for participating parents and educators courtesy of Flagstar Bank. The University of Michigan and Wayne State ran unique sessions that connected sports and science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), while exposing the students to a collegiate academic environment.

Angela Montelongo (left) and William Cooley (right) representing the Utah Jazz emerged as winners at NBA Math Hoops National Championship.

The NBA Math Hoops Program is a board game with a built-in sports-based curriculum offered in schools in 14 states that all have NBA teams. The program is offered in communities of color for students in grades 3 through 8. Using basketball as a hook to engage participants, it helps students to improve their core math and social emotional skills while developing a passion for learning. The main goal is to help students become better prepared for high school math and STEM subjects, and ultimately lead to increased graduation rates, college attendance, and diversity in STEM-related fields. To date, more than 87,000 students have completed more than 60 million math problems through the NBA Math Hoops program. This year more than 30,000 students participated nationally.

The NBA Math Hoops calendar is broken into 12 weeks running 
parallel to the NBA season. Students spend 45-90 minutes in the program per week, for eight weeks leading up to winter break and four weeks after returning. The top student from each participating NBA team’s community is then selected to attend the national championship and compete for the title of math champion.

In weeks 1-3, students are also introduced to the game of basketball, drafting a team, and learning the game rules. Weeks 4-7 are considered the regular season, when students compete in their first games of NBA Math Hoops. During weeks 8-10, the regular season continues and students battle it out on the Math Hoops “court,” while getting a chance to rebuild their teams for a playoff run. In weeks 11-12, the Math Hoops Tournament begins, and students compete for their site’s championship title and complete requirements to qualify for the national championship. Top students from each site earn the chance to compete at the regional championship.

NBA Math Hoops is run by Learn Fresh, a nonprofit organization that “makes math fun by using the power of things kids actually care about.” Khalil Fuller, the co-founder of Learn Fresh, started tutoring kids when he was 16 years old, and realized he didn’t have any tools or resources at his disposal to make math fun and culturally relevant.

“When I was growing up here [in Los Angeles], the Lakers were just absolutely life,” Fuller said. “Kobe Bryant was a god. So I started to think, ‘Wow, there’s a lot of really cool, useful, beautiful math in the sport of basketball. What if we could just peel back one thin layer and expose that to kids. Couldn’t that be such a game changer?’

“What that looked like when I was 16 tutoring kids was like instead of Sally went to the store and bought X number of raffles, it’s Kobe’s in the gym and took X number of shots. Simple, simple stuff like that.”

During Fuller’s freshmen year at Brown University, he met some people who’d been working on the infrastructure of NBA Math Hoops — Bill Daugherty, and math teacher/curriculum writer Tim Scheidt.

“These two people were both established professionals, one of them used to work at the NBA for a long time before leaving to start a company and he was teaching entrepreneurship at a local high school, and the other was actually the inventor of this NBA Math Hoops games. He’d been in the math field for 25 years.”

Fuller wasn’t sure about his life path, but with his mentoring background, he figured working with the organization could be a great fit.

“We took this idea directly to the league, got the first-ever royalty-free license from them and this NBA Math Hoops concept was born. We work really closely with local NBA teams in school districts, after-school programs, community organizations across the country. We’re in about 30 states, reaching about 35,000 kids on a weekly basis.”

Fuller is in the middle of the transition from his role as CEO into a board member.

“In the fall, I’ll be headed to Stanford for an MBA and master’s in education to reflect, learn and chart a path of continued impact,” he said. He will be a member of the inaugural cohort of Knight-Hennessy Scholars  —  a new program at Stanford modeled after the Rhodes Scholarship.

Stepping into the role as CEO is Nick Monzi, who has been with Learn Fresh for five years as the chief operations officer.

For Monzi, it’s important that people understand that kids need to be educated.

“Fundamental math skills … It’s not the most sexy thing in the world, but it’s critical, and if you want to be a musician, or you want to be a doctor, you need to know how to do fundamental math,” Monzi said.

“Having the NBA behind us allows us to have a really key stakeholder to connect to the teams, which are now the real driving impacts. I mean, the teams are incredible supporters to the community, but financially, and just from a connecting standpoint, it also allows us to have significant credentials behind us when we’re looking at other partners to work with.”

While players were balling in NBA playoffs, these students were winning in NBA Math Hoops National Championship The second annual event was hosted by the Detroit Pistons and the nonprofit Learn Fresh

While the NBA playoffs were in full swing in mid-May, the Detroit Pistons were hosting 20 students from across the country competing in the second annual NBA Math Hoops National Championship, courtesy of the NBA Math Hoops Program, Learn Fresh and NBA Cares.

On May 18, the team welcomed participants for the weekend event and competition at Little Caesars Arena. On the final day, sixth-grader Angela Montelongo and fifth-grader William Cooley, representing the Utah Jazz, were named winners in this year’s competition.

Asia Mays and Daivion Smith, the Pistons’ 2017 national championship representatives and tournament runners-up, were on hand to congratulate the new champions. Both Pistons students competed in the inaugural 2017 event, which was hosted in the Bay Area by the Golden State Warriors.

Students competed in multiple events including a Jr. NBA Clinic and a college savings session for participating parents and educators courtesy of Flagstar Bank. The University of Michigan and Wayne State ran unique sessions that connected sports and science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), while exposing the students to a collegiate academic environment.

Angela Montelongo (left) and William Cooley (right) representing the Utah Jazz emerged as winners at NBA Math Hoops National Championship.

The NBA Math Hoops Program is a board game with a built-in sports-based curriculum offered in schools in 14 states that all have NBA teams. The program is offered in communities of color for students in grades 3 through 8. Using basketball as a hook to engage participants, it helps students to improve their core math and social emotional skills while developing a passion for learning. The main goal is to help students become better prepared for high school math and STEM subjects, and ultimately lead to increased graduation rates, college attendance, and diversity in STEM-related fields. To date, more than 87,000 students have completed more than 60 million math problems through the NBA Math Hoops program. This year more than 30,000 students participated nationally.

The NBA Math Hoops calendar is broken into 12 weeks running 
parallel to the NBA season. Students spend 45-90 minutes in the program per week, for eight weeks leading up to winter break and four weeks after returning. The top student from each participating NBA team’s community is then selected to attend the national championship and compete for the title of math champion.

In weeks 1-3, students are also introduced to the game of basketball, drafting a team, and learning the game rules. Weeks 4-7 are considered the regular season, when students compete in their first games of NBA Math Hoops. During weeks 8-10, the regular season continues and students battle it out on the Math Hoops “court,” while getting a chance to rebuild their teams for a playoff run. In weeks 11-12, the Math Hoops Tournament begins, and students compete for their site’s championship title and complete requirements to qualify for the national championship. Top students from each site earn the chance to compete at the regional championship.

NBA Math Hoops is run by Learn Fresh, a nonprofit organization that “makes math fun by using the power of things kids actually care about.” Khalil Fuller, the co-founder of Learn Fresh, started tutoring kids when he was 16 years old, and realized he didn’t have any tools or resources at his disposal to make math fun and culturally relevant.

“When I was growing up here [in Los Angeles], the Lakers were just absolutely life,” Fuller said. “Kobe Bryant was a god. So I started to think, ‘Wow, there’s a lot of really cool, useful, beautiful math in the sport of basketball. What if we could just peel back one thin layer and expose that to kids. Couldn’t that be such a game changer?’

“What that looked like when I was 16 tutoring kids was like instead of Sally went to the store and bought X number of raffles, it’s Kobe’s in the gym and took X number of shots. Simple, simple stuff like that.”

During Fuller’s freshmen year at Brown University, he met some people who’d been working on the infrastructure of NBA Math Hoops — Bill Daugherty, and math teacher/curriculum writer Tim Scheidt.

“These two people were both established professionals, one of them used to work at the NBA for a long time before leaving to start a company and he was teaching entrepreneurship at a local high school, and the other was actually the inventor of this NBA Math Hoops games. He’d been in the math field for 25 years.”

Fuller wasn’t sure about his life path, but with his mentoring background, he figured working with the organization could be a great fit.

“We took this idea directly to the league, got the first-ever royalty-free license from them and this NBA Math Hoops concept was born. We work really closely with local NBA teams in school districts, after-school programs, community organizations across the country. We’re in about 30 states, reaching about 35,000 kids on a weekly basis.”

Fuller is in the middle of the transition from his role as CEO into a board member.

“In the fall, I’ll be headed to Stanford for an MBA and master’s in education to reflect, learn and chart a path of continued impact,” he said. He will be a member of the inaugural cohort of Knight-Hennessy Scholars  —  a new program at Stanford modeled after the Rhodes Scholarship.

Stepping into the role as CEO is Nick Monzi, who has been with Learn Fresh for five years as the chief operations officer.

For Monzi, it’s important that people understand that kids need to be educated.

“Fundamental math skills … It’s not the most sexy thing in the world, but it’s critical, and if you want to be a musician, or you want to be a doctor, you need to know how to do fundamental math,” Monzi said.

“Having the NBA behind us allows us to have a really key stakeholder to connect to the teams, which are now the real driving impacts. I mean, the teams are incredible supporters to the community, but financially, and just from a connecting standpoint, it also allows us to have significant credentials behind us when we’re looking at other partners to work with.”

How Meek Mill opened Sixers owner Mike Rubin’s — and so many others’— eyes to a broken criminal justice system From counted out to counted on: The rapper’s new freedom comes with reality’s nightmare — and a chance to change lives

And why I’m rappin’ like I got somethin’ to prove…

— Meek Mill, 2017’s “1942 Flows


Meek Mill told him. Meek made clear the harsh realities of the criminal justice system. Philadelphia 76ers co-owner Michael Rubin only wishes he had believed Meek sooner.

But now of course, Rubin — billionaire entrepreneur and minority owner of the New Jersey Devils and Crystal Palace FC, as well as the Sixers — has entered the pop cultural lexicon because of his close friendship with the Philadelphia MC born Robert Rimeek Williams. The two met while sitting courtside at the 2015 NBA All-Star Game in New York City.

But 48 hours before the Sixers’ season officially ended with a 114-112 Game 5 Eastern Conference semifinal loss in Boston, Rubin leaned forward over a round table in the Director’s Lounge at Wells Fargo Center. It was an hour before Game 4’s tipoff and VIPs maneuvered, ordering specialty cocktails.

But Mike Rubin is thinking back to conversations he and Meek had about the polarity of their realities. “Meek used to always say to me, ‘There’s two Americas.” I’d be like, ‘Dude, there’s one America.’ He was right,” Rubin says. “I was wrong. There’s America, and then there’s black America. I didn’t agree with him, but he proved to be right.”


Meek Mill’s lawyer, Brian McMonagle, who represented Bill Cosby before removing himself from that case, knew something was off when he entered the Philadelphia courtroom of Judge Genece E. Brinkley. Everyone was nervous, especially Meek. McMonagle saw six sheriff’s deputies. The hair on the back of his neck stood up.

“That told me she’d made her mind up, independent of any argument she was about to hear,” McMonagle says from his 19th-floor office overlooking Rittenhouse Square. It’s at “the heart of Center City’s most expensive and exclusive” neighborhood, essentially an alternate universe away from the North Philly blocks that cultivated Meek. “And obviously once you heard the sentence, it was like a punch in the throat.” On Nov. 6, 2017, Meek Mill was sentenced by Judge Brinkley to two to four years in the State Correctional Institution at Camp Hill on a probation violation. Dirt bike riding (popping wheelies) was involved.

An entire courtroom was in shock. Meek immediately began removing his jewelry. For McMonagle, it was the first time in his 33 years of practicing law that he, the district attorney and the probation department were all on the same page — and the judge refused to accept the will of the parties. The case sparked national headlines and inspired rallies and the hashtag #FREEMEEK, simultaneously providing yet another glimpse into a criminal justice system that had haunted Meek since he was 19 — and the community from which he comes for far longer.

“They talking about ‘Free Meek’ and some of them got family members in jail? They supported me?”Meek Mill

During his time in the belly of the beast, Meek became larger than just a cult-y musical icon in his hometown of Philadelphia. He became a local sports Yoda. His 2012 “Dreams & Nightmares (Intro)” had long been revered in hip-hop circles for its energy, fearlessness and unabashedness. So it made sense that the Eagles adopted the record as their theme song en route to the franchise’s first-ever Super Bowl victory. Likewise, Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid and Markelle Fultz all visited Meek in prison — as the Sixers made it as close to the NBA Conference finals as they have since Allen Iverson’s apex. James Harden visited Meek as well. Julius Erving, Kevin Hart and several Eagles players showed up at rallies and lent their voices to the cause of securing Meek’s release, and to the larger cause at hand.

But neither money nor celebrity shielded Meek. In many ways, it seemed to make him more of a target. “I would’ve never discussed [the criminal justice system] with my daughter before,” says Mike Rubin, the sincerity in his voice impossible to ignore. “We got in the car and Meek told me a really scary story about how he grew up that I told my daughter last night. She couldn’t believe it. For me, it was eye-opening. Sometimes … you have moments in life that change your perspective.”

Last November changed Rubin’s view of life in America. He says he’s dedicating much of his focus and energy moving forward — and not just with Meek — to addressing what he calls “a completely broken system.”

Meek has been locked up several times before. As he said from the stage in a Tidal One-of-One conversation with Angie Martinez, “I just turned 31; I’ve been on probation since I was 19.”

Some of these arrests were perhaps warranted. But the root of the charges date back to 2007 when a member of Philly’s Narcotics Field Unit claimed Meek sold crack to an informant. Per Meek’s cousins, who were with him at the time, the arrest was abominable. “It was like three cops — two of them had his feet, and one of them had his arms,” Rasson Parker told Rolling Stone this year. “They basically used his head as a battering ram [to break through the door].”

Profane. Intense. It’s the zeitgeist of Meek’s catalog and a serious candidate for the greatest intro in rap history.

Meek met prison’s revolving door in 2008 and again in 2014. In 2016, he was sentenced to 90 days of house arrest for traveling without permission, forced to wear an ankle monitor, banned from recording music or traveling outside of Philadelphia. Others times he was violated for things like an altercation he got into after refusing to take a picture with a St. Louis airport employee. The charges varied, but there was one constant: Every probation violation he had was brought by Judge Brinkley, who is black. Her interest in him has been consistent.

Once inside, because of his celebrity status, Meek was placed in a mental health ward instead of in the larger general population of the prison. Incarcerated essentially for participating in a fight he didn’t start, and for popping wheelies on city streets, Meek was living beside people who smeared their own feces on walls. Per McMonagle, early on, Meek entered a prison meeting room appearing disheveled. “I thought while I was in there,” Meek told McMonagle, “that I had gone insane and didn’t know it.”

Even with one gold and two platinum albums, Meek remains rap’s quintessential underdog. It’s a role he’s comfortable in. “I’m in the business of proving people wrong,” he says en route to his conversation with Martinez. “Anytime people went against me, doubted me or actually offended me, it gave me the energy to go harder and win. I always had that drive growing up.” Meek played basketball growing up — but you can see why sports teams would love his energy.

Meek began his rap career street battling. Berks Street in North Philly was his first stage. From there, he created a steady barrage of mixtapes, starting with 2008’s Flamers. He signed to Rick Ross’ Maybach Music Group in 2011, and to Roc Nation for management a year later, but the last three years of his career in particular have been a roller coaster. There was a high-profile beef with Drake, a high-profile relationship and breakup with Nicki Minaj. And now Meek has emerged — with help from his lawyers, from Mike Rubin and from the community surrounding him — on the other side of his recent prison stint as a new ideogram for the conversation surrounding criminal justice reform.’

Part of the mantra of his critically acclaimed 2017 Wins & Losses album is that growing up in the ghetto teaches you to cherish the wins and learn from the losses. “[It’s] beautiful,” says Meek. “I come from poverty, living without barely anything to my name, to making money and being able to take care of my family and travel the world. … I always reflect back to where I came from and where I’m at now, and it’s not too bad.”

It’s not without its dramas either. Nearly three years have passed since he and Drake experienced their very public falling-out. Meek, during the summer of 2015, held the No. 1 album in the country with Dreams Worth More Than Money. He also essentially accused Drake of not writing his rhymes (which remains a touchy subject in hip-hop circles), and while Drake was dubbed victorious in the virtual squabble thanks in part to his Grammy-nominated battle record “Back To Back,” Meek’s assertion that he didn’t write his own rhymes has been a thorn in Drake’s otherwise invincible side ever since.

“That beef was pretty much a social media thing,” producer Jahlil Beats says from his South Philadelphia studio. Jahlil has worked with Meek on more than 100 songs, and he’s also a co-producer with Rick Ross and Boi-1da of 2012’s Dreams and Nightmares, the album that features “Dreams and Nightmares (Intro),” an opener to the project that became an anthem — in meetings, in the locker room, on the field — for the Eagles. It’s also been on every Philly music lover’s gym playlist and car speakers for the past six years. I’m ridin’ ’round my city with my hand strapped on my toast/ Cause these n— want me dead and I gotta make it back home/ Cause my mama need that bill money/ My son need some milk/ These n— tryna take my life, they f— around, get killed/ You f— around, you f— around, you f— around, get smoked/ Cause these Philly n— I brought with me don’t f— around, no joke, no. Profane. Intense. It’s the zeitgeist of Meek’s catalog and a serious candidate for the greatest intro in rap history.

Maybe that’s the reason Meek’s most high-profile visitor, New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, showed up two weeks before his April 24 release. Kraft witnessed the power of the song firsthand at this year’s Super Bowl as the Eagles charged the field at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis. And the Boston Globe headline? “Who is rapper Meek Mill and why is Robert Kraft visiting him in prison?”

Asked perhaps because Kraft is one of the most visible team owners in a league at odds with exiled quarterback Colin Kaepernick, whose protests for criminal justice reform helped lay groundwork for the activism around Meek’s recent incarceration and present-day activism. Kaepernick has defended Meek, calling him a victim of systemic oppression — a huge example of why the QB took a knee in the first place. In January, from behind bars, Meek donated $10,000 to Youth Services Inc. — an organization committed to servicing at-risk kids, teenagers and their families — as part of Kaepernick’s Million Dollar Challenge.

A source close to Kraft believes that his prison visit with Meek carried a binary opportunity. One: narrative change. Still suffering from fallout within the team because of his team’s unavoidable tie with President Donald Trump, Kraft may have wanted to demonstrate that he, and hence the Patriots, were in some way committed to the cause of criminal justice reform. Two? To perhaps help a young man he views as a friend. Although he isn’t completely familiar with all the details of Meek’s long, exasperating legal history, Kraft and Meek have social ties that go back at least a few years — as noted in a 2015 Rick Ross Instagram caption as #hoodbillionaire, as well as another this year in which Ross said the Patriots honcho was “signed to MMG.”

Michael Rubin recalls, in particular, a private jet conversation Meek and Kraft had about race, culture and how people treat each other. “Meek was really deep in his thoughts. … [Kraft] was really charged up to go see [Meek],” Rubin says.

“This whole situation is bigger than Meek Mill,” says Jahlil Beats. “We’re fighting for something … fighting for a change … [Kraft] could be [using it as public relations], but it’s bigger than that. It’s bigger than whatever people will gain from it. I get it, but I don’t think we should even be focused on that type of stuff. Because at the end of the day, it’s bringing the cause to the forefront.”

Jahlil has been working with Meek since his 2009 Flamers 3 mixtape and has produced/co-produced some of his biggest records: “Make ’Em Say,” “Willy Wonka,” “I’ma Boss” with Rick Ross, “Amen” with Drake and “Burn” with Big Sean. Meek’s time in and out of prison has led to Beats pursuing real estate and entrepreneurship opportunities that includes bringing the first DTLR store to his hometown of Chester, Pennsylvania.

Loyalty to Meek, though, still drives the producer. “We got about 100 records together. I’m so invested in Meek’s stuff that when he takes a hit, we all take a hit. This dude helped change my life. If he’s not out here doing his thing, and I can’t work with him, then how can we eat?”

Meek has survived public embarrassment on multiple fronts. He checked into rehab to battle Percocet addiction. But for Meek, what timelines dub failures are the opposite. As he told Angie Martinez, “If you follow me, you know I stay with ups and downs.”

Travel restrictions and ultimately prison stints prohibited Meek from marketing the brutally honest 2017 Wins & Losses project in the manner it deserved. But W&L did permeate the 12-month news cycle that is the NBA. The album’s second song, “Heavy Heart,” became the soundtrack many speculated LeBron James used to send subliminal shots toward former teammate Kyrie Irving when news broke that Irving wanted out of Cleveland.

Even Drake was shouting, “Free Meek!” from Australia a week after his former nemesis was sent to prison. Meek’s energy speaks to the fervor of so many young black men and women from similar upbringings. Some escape their harsh conditions. Some become ghosts of the streets. But the underlying pain in Meek’s music is what speaks to a generation — one seen every day in courtrooms, prison visitation cycles and living in sheer fear of law enforcement. There’s comfort experiencing shared pain together. That’s the story of Meek’s music: fervent, pained, real. It’s the story of being black in America, no matter where you’re from.


Meek’s prison-to-courtside odyssey the day he was released? An instantly classic, and unfortunate, hip-hop moment. Questionably imprisoned rapper gets out of prison, is flown by helicopter to Wells Fargo Center to be welcomed as prodigal son at the clinching game of his hometown team’s first round of the NBA playoffs. It’s one of those hood superhero tales that will expand exponentially as years pass — like Tupac flying straight to Los Angeles, in 1995, to begin recording what became his All Eyez On Me. Or Gucci Mane recording his homecoming ode “First Day Out The Feds” on, indeed, his first day out of prison in 2016. However triumphant, it’s part of the grizzliness of rap, and how society views the art and those who specialize in it, that being incarcerated underlines profiles.

But Meek has re-entered a society with new influence. “I’m different,” is what he told Angie Martinez on Wednesday. “We have hashtags and move on. Let’s not move on from this.” Meek’s philanthropic history is well-documented, even in prison. Now he is even more ready and willing to speak out about an issue that has defined his entire adult life. The magnitude of his support hit him while he was still in prison.

“I saw people standing out in the rain for me when they didn’t even know me. [That] changed my life,” he told Martinez. “They talking about ‘Free Meek’ and some of them got family members in jail? They supported me?”

Freedom is subjective, especially for Meek. “I ain’t felt free since I was 19,” he said. He’ll continue to fight until he’s completely exonerated. But now it’s more about helping those without the luxury of his celebrity. “If that was me in Starbucks, on probation,” he said with regard to the recent racial profiling controversy in his hometown, “I would have actually been found in technical violation.”

This topic can’t just live in the virtual world, though. For Meek, it can’t just be an internet conversation. It has to be rooted in real-life pain and real-life consequences. It’s that responsibility that weighs heavy on him, but one many believe could be the best revelation for him. “Meek is our sacrifice. His words are like scriptures,” says Boom 103.9’s DJ Amir. He and Meek’s relationship dates back to their teenage years. “He had to be held accountable for those actions even though if he ain’t do it [yet] as a boss your workers are still your liability. I think he understands that now. I think everything’s gonna look good for the future.”

That future is now. Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf joined Meek in an intense news conference calling for criminal reform. On Tuesday, Meek delivered a ‘powerful’ speech at the Innocence Project gala in New York City. Meanwhile, Rubin promises he and Meek have “some pretty impressive plans” set to be announced in the “not too distant future.”

“There’s America, and then there’s black America.” — 76ers co-owner Michael Rubin

For Meek — and really for race relations moving forward, period — it’s about having the authentic painful conversations. The systematically inflicted pain Meek shares with so many, along with the passion it has birthed, is his story to tell. Through music, especially. The vehicle that’s driven Meek all the way from the back lots of North Philly to present-day stardom. “Some people trying to put me in a box,” he said. “I’m not going to be Martin Luther King Jr. I’m still gonna be Meek Mill. ”

Yet, he knows music can spread a message donations can’t buy. Jahlil Beats is excited to rejoin Meek in the studio. He compares their chemistry to that of DMX and Swizz Beatz in the early 2000s. “His voice is more important than anything,” says Jahlil. “With this album, it has to be about that. Even down to the requests of the production he’s been asking us to do, it’s a lot of big strings and a lot of uplifting vibes. He really has something to say.

Before getting up, he has one more thought. “I know he been through a lot of things, but this is something different. He’s doing interviews, but the music is how he’s really going to get to the people.”

Sydel Curry is brand-new, with a new wine, a new Neiman Marcus personal brand — and a new fiancé The former college volleyball player, and younger sister of Stephen and Seth, keeps the faith but also believes in ‘manning up’

The Curry family has been building an empire for quite some time — and Sydel Curry, a former Division I athlete who retired from volleyball in 2017, is a huge part of that. The daughter of former NBA sharpshooter Dell, and younger sister of both NBA champion and two-time MVP Stephen and Dallas Mavericks guard Seth, she is also engaged to Atlanta Hawk Damion Lee.

But Curry has arrived on her own terms. She recently teamed up with Neiman Marcus to launch her own brand, “A Curry Girl.” Curry’s brand is growing through partnerships, but it began with her lifestyle website, a space where she shares her passions, opens up about her faith and spreads awareness about the importance of mental health. “This year, I’m putting myself out there,” she said. “I have true anxiety issues, which is partly why I’m a homebody. But more than anything, I’m an ordinary girl that just wants to create my own extraordinary experiences.” The 23-year-old recently graduated from Elon University, landed a full-time job as service concierge at Tesla and has career goals focused on helping others — all the while trying to live her best life, of course.


Best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

BOW YA NEK. My dad is from a small town in Virginia, and he’s super Southern … ‘Bow ya nek’ is a way of saying ‘man up.’ My dad and I have matching tattoos of it.

Favorite late-night food run?

Wingstop.

Most frequently used emoji?

The crying laughing emoji.

Have you ever been starstruck?

I don’t usually get starstruck, but as I was walking into this year’s NBA All-Star Game and was holding my fiancé’s hand, Jesse Williams walked out of a car. I gasped so loud my fiancé turned and said, ‘Excuse me?’

Last concert you went to?

Daniel Caesar.

“I’ve had a counselor — since a bad relationship I was in, out of high school — and she has really helped me. So I want to be that for others.”

Last show you binge-watched?

Gilmore Girls for the 16th time.

Last book you read?

The Bible.

Favorite place to eat in Oakland, California?

Plank in Jack London Square.

Last stamp on your passport?

Turks and Caicos for a siblings-and-significant-others trip this past summer.

A place you’ve never been to but you’re dying to visit?

I want to island-hop around Greece, which is inspired by The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants.

Favorite board game?

Monopoly.

Best or most thoughtful gift you ever received?

It’s the simplest ones that I love. For my high school and college graduations, all of my family members made videos telling me how proud of me they are. I rewatch them from time to time.

What would you tell your 15-year-old self?

It’s not that serious.

What’s in your fridge?

Nothing edible! Week-old eggs and wilted spinach.

Who are you as “A Curry Girl”?

A sum of the myself I am to other people … a little sister, a daughter, a fiancée — that’s so weird to say — and a huge believer in God. I’m hardworking, independent and aware of my mental health.

Where do you see yourself professionally in the next five to 10 years?

I want to be a marriage and family therapist. I’ve always had a passion for people and knew I wanted to be a counselor. It’s important that we really nurture ourselves and relationships, and sometimes we need someone to lead the way. I’ve had a counselor — since a bad relationship I was in, out of high school — and she has really helped me. So I want to be that for someone/others.

Where does your courage come from?

From the people around me. I learn a lot from other people and their experiences. I know that if I’m going through a hard time, I know that I’m not the only one.

This week, you and [Stephen’s wife] Ayesha announced that you two are launching a wine called Domaine Curry. What sparked the idea?

In our family, we love wine. We go towards any kind of cabernet that’s big, bold and superjammy. Ayesha and I wanted to do a project together that explains our relationship and explains the women in our family. The 2015 vintage is called Femme 31. In Proverbs 31, it talks about the virtuous woman. There’s a Scripture there that explains how a woman gains her earnings in the field and plants her vineyard. The virtuous woman takes care of her family and herself, just like the women in our family. We wanted to make something we can pass on to [nieces] Riley, Ryan, my future daughter and all of the Curry women.

NBA Finals prediction?

Warriors in five.

The Buffalo Bills’ Marshall Newhouse: ‘Relative to the rest of your life, the NFL is a very, very small piece’ The entrepreneurial offensive lineman adores ‘Seinfeld’ and his Super Bowl ring  

There’s a notation on the Wikipedia page of veteran offensive lineman Marshall Newhouse that jumps off the screen. It’s not that he’s played for five franchises. Nor is it perhaps his greatest accomplishment on the football field: winning a Super Bowl as a rookie with the Green Bay Packers, after the Dallas native was selected in the fifth round of the 2010 draft out of Texas Christian University.

The line that sticks out is from the “Early Years” section: “He was also very active on campus at Lake Highlands as a member of the Horticulture Society and Japanese Club.” The two extracurricular activities are also mentioned in his old TCU bio, which you can still find online. Despite being more than a decade removed from high school, the 29-year-old Newhouse can’t seem to avoid questions about his interests in “the art and science of plant production for both beauty and utility” or Japan.

So in late March, when The Undefeated caught up with Newhouse not long after he signed a one-year deal to join the Buffalo Bills, we couldn’t help but ask him about the two clubs — among other things, of course.


We’re approaching the annual NFL draft. What do you remember most about the day you were drafted?

I was with my family and a few of my closest friends. We were still at College House in Fort Worth. … In the second round, I got called [via phone] twice … by Kansas City and by Denver. You leave the room and take the call. One of them was the O-line coach, and one was the GM [general manager]. Both of them said, ‘Yeah, we wanna take you with this next pick.’ You come back in the room, tell your family and friends, then the picks come and your name isn’t called. That was a shock. … By the third day of the draft, we got tired of sitting on the couch. I said, ‘Let’s go get some tacos.’ We went to one of my favorite places in Fort Worth called Ernesto’s. Then [Green Bay general manager] Ted Thompson’s on the line, asks me if I wanted to be a Green Bay Packer. It’s kind of crazy how it went down like that.

What do you remember most about winning a Super Bowl as a rookie?

First, it was just the confetti and that euphoric realization, like, ‘Oh, crap, this is happening.’ You try to live in the moment as much as you can. Just soak it in, ’cause winning is incredibly hard. Watching the trophy walk by on the field … my family was there, so I got to hang out with them in the stadium. That was my late grandmother’s last game she saw me play, so that was pretty special. That night, we went back to the hotel and had a party. Kid Rock played … that was pretty cool.

Do you remember any specific moments you shared with your grandmother that night?

She was just so proud and happy. She was a big part of me pursuing sports. When my parents were working and I was playing select baseball, my grandma was the one who took me to practice, or tournaments on the weekends. She was just such an important part of my sports history, so seeing her in that moment, getting to share that with her, was really special.

Where do you keep your Super Bowl ring?

It was in my bedside dresser in a jewelry box, but I’ve been moving so much … it’s at [my family’s] house in a safe right now.

You have some strong bloodlines in the game of football. What are the most important football lessons you learned from your father, John Newhouse, and your cousin Robert Newhouse?

My dad was pivotal in my football upbringing. He was my coach for a lot of years too. I don’t know if there’s one particular lesson, but he was a running back that played the veer at the University of Houston. He went through some adversity, had to persevere and fight through some crazy stuff, and injuries. Robert, who was called my uncle growing up because he’s around my dad’s age, he told me, ‘You never know what your last day is gonna be, so use that as … motivation to continue to work and make the most of the short opportunity.’ Because relative to the rest of your life, the NFL is a very, very small piece.

“Andy Dalton loves The Office maybe more than anyone I’ve met in my life.”

Fill in the blank. If not for the NFL, Marshall Newhouse would have pursued a career in … ?

Man, that’s changed so many times. At one point, I thought it would be graphic design and art design. That was early on in college, and I switched. Then I thought I was gonna be in advertising. It switched even more now to just being an entrepreneur. And that’s such a broad term, just making a business for yourself, being your own boss, kind of getting to pursue whatever you see fit.

What was your experience in the NFL’s recent Sports Business Academy — and how’d you get involved?

That was incredible. I give thanks to Kaleb Thornhill for putting that together, and all the people that were involved. Never in my career had I been around that many guys in the league who were that like-minded. And also the professionals and CEOs and founders were all just there to help us. It was such a learning opportunity, and even past that, the formation of a bond that all the guys that were there will have. It’ll be fun to see how it manifests for every guy … and we’ll stay in touch through it all. Some of us might do business together, and we’ll continue to encourage each other.

Aside from yourself, who would you say is the most business-savvy player in the NFL?

You can’t know that for sure unless they share a lot with you. Some guys are more quiet than others, which I respect. I’m more that way too. But I would say Ndamukong Suh. Talking to him, his mindset is just so on point. Where he’s at right now, the way he’s leveraging, the people he’s meeting. He’s got his hands in a lot of stuff. He’s high-profile, so a guy like that could just sit around and not do much. But he’s … in multiple fields of business and he’s getting it, for sure.

What’s the worst purchase you’ve made since entering the NFL?

I’m frugal by nature, but I think the worst purchase is … man, I bought a gaming PC like four years ago, which I used, but it being a desktop, I couldn’t travel with it. So it sat at my home for eight months out of the year and collected dust until I sold it. That was a couple thousand dollars. It was a custom PC and really nice. But it was a dumb purchase.

Who’s on your Mount Rushmore of offensive linemen?

I grew up watching Larry Allen in Dallas. … Walter Jones, I always looked up to him … and same with a guy like Jonathan Ogden … I don’t think he gets enough credit. I enjoyed watching … Damien Woody play. I kind of compare myself to him in terms of stature and size.

Who’s the most difficult player you’ve had to block during your career?

There’s been a lot … but I would say Cam Jordan. I still don’t think he gets his fair due. He’s a great player. You gotta get your mind right before you go against him.

You played at TCU with Andy Dalton, as well as in Cincinnati. What’s one thing not many people know about him?

He loves The Office maybe more than anyone I’ve met in my life. Like, he has seen every episode multiple times, can quote it. It’s crazy.

What’s your favorite TV show of all time?

I’m a Seinfeld guy. I grew up watching Seinfeld. My parents say I got some of my smartassness from watching too much of it. Most shows have characters who are redeemable or try to better themselves, but no one on that show tried to be better. They were all just terrible people, and I just thought it was hilarious.

“You try to live in the moment as much as you can. Just soak it in, ’cause winning is incredibly hard.”

What’s your favorite movie of all time?

I don’t know if I could do just one. … It’s obscure, but The Fifth Element … it comes on and I watch it. It’s one of the ones where I can quote most of the movie. I’m a big fan of Pulp Fiction. I’m a big Tarantino fan.

Which actor would you want to portray you in a movie about your life?

I’ll just say Denzel Washington because he’ll make me look more handsome than I am.

What’s one bad habit you wish you could shake?

Socially, I’m never on time. When it comes to my job, or business meetings, I’m always on time. But with friends, like going to dinner or being out, I’m habitually late. It’s something my friends give me crap about all the time, and I really wanna change that.

Were you actually in the Horticulture Society and Japanese Club?

They had a club day at the beginning of the school year where you could sign up for dinner clubs. And I’d always heard the more clubs you’re in, the better your applications to college will look. So I was literally going from table to table and signing up for whatever I could find. With football, I didn’t have time to do it at all … but I always had an interest in Japan and Japanese culture. The horticulture thing was … random. I think I attended, between the two clubs, one meeting. And then somehow that ends up in my bio in high school, college and now the NFL. And here you are asking me about it. It’s followed me everywhere I’ve gone.

Briana Owens’ Spiked Spin isn’t just the new wave in wellness — it’s the new standard The hip-hop-heavy spin class has become a haven for women and men of color

Want to make health and wellness guru Briana Owens laugh? It’s simple. Ask her how many times she’s heard the phrase, “I’ll be damned if I go to SoulCycle while Briana’s got Spiked.” The line is a flip of Jay-Z’s I’ll be damned if I drink Belvedere while Puff got Ciroc, from 2017’s “Family Feud.”

Spiked Spin is Owens’ creation — a hip-hop inspired soul-cleansing physical sermon moonlighting as a high-intensity spin class. Her target: wellness issues in the black community. Owens’ is about “generational health.” It’s what wakes her up at 6:30 every morning. But in the nearly two years since Spiked got off the ground in New York City, the paranoia of the days, weeks, hours and minutes leading into her inaugural event stay with her.

“Treat everything like your first project” is advice Biggie Smalls offered with regard to staying humble — and it’s advice Owens, born in Queens, New York, follows daily. Before Spiked, many knew her as an interactive and detail-oriented part-time spin instructor at a private gym in Columbus Circle in Manhattan. That Owens embarked on her own path in came as no shock to friends and family who knew of her ambitions as a rider.

The then-marketing specialist at CBS reached out to every one of her New York e-mail contacts, telling them of her first event. That took place at the lower Manhattan gym 10 Hanover Square. These days she can laugh about her early days, but it was so funny two years ago before her first solo class under the brand she created. “I was just so anxious, so freaked out. [But the class] was actually amazing. Once I did the first one, I kinda was like, ‘OK, I think I’m on to something.’ ”

That “something” continues to evolve in the $3.7 trillion global wellness industry, according to figures from the Global Wellness Institute. Fitness and mind-body, which Owens specializes in, accounts for $532 billion. Yet it’s an industry where black women are traditionally underrepresented, though awareness of the problem has inspired a new wave of women of color to punch their way in via avenues such as fitness, spin classes, yoga and more. Spiked Spin still takes place at 10 Hanover Square — her home base until the brand’s flagship, permanent headquarters open, “very soon.” In the past year and a half, Owens said, Spiked has opened its New York doors to at least 1,600 women and men — many who look just like her. The numbers don’t include the pop-ups Spiked has held in Washington, D.C., Atlanta and Los Angeles.

Having already been featured in several outlets, the 2011 Hampton University alum is humbled by the continued growth of her class, her brand and, most importantly, her as a woman. She credits the omission she saw in the industry as inspiration, but she’s equally as complimentary to her longtime boyfriend Zach, whom she frequently features both on her personal and work Instagram pages. What’s next for Owens, Spiked Spin and the health and wellness industry? One thing’s for certain. Owens has something to say.

Instagram Photo


Music is obviously an integral aspect of working out in general. But why is particularly important with Spiked?

Full transparency — the whole idea for Spiked came from music. Before I even thought of this as a business … I was teaching classes and having to download music that would never be on my iTunes. I was having to talk to co-workers or look up Top 40 and look up all these songs that I would never listen to in my personal life. I loved my classes and I loved the students who came to my classes, but I realized this is the kind of music they like and if I want us to have a good workout … that’s where I got my first idea saying I’m going to teach a class with hip-hop. Instead of playing Taylor Swift, I just wanna hear Future. I don’t even wanna do the Beyoncé vs. Jay Z. I wanna hear ’93 Ice Cube. I wanna go in! You can come to Spiked Spin and hear Eazy-E or you could hear Drake or Luther Vandross. It is always gonna be hip-hop, R&B and soul, because that’s who I am. I think of it like when you go to the club. If the music isn’t poppin’, you don’t wanna go. Before we go somewhere in New York or Atlanta, we always ask, ‘What’s the music?’ That’s how I approach the class. The vibe has to be right.

But how do you find time for balance in your life with CBS, Spiked, your personal and social lives? Especially in a city like New York.

It’s definitely a challenge! As Spiked is growing, I’m learning how to be more creative and fluid with my time. As much as people think I’m doing so much socially, there are a lot of things I don’t get to do socially because I’m usually, if I’m not at work, I’m teaching class. If I’m not teaching class, then I’m usually doing something relevant with Spiked.

Don’t even talk about what your body looks like. What is your heart doing?

I wake up early. That’s something I’ve had to commit myself to because, trust me, I love to sleep! But I don’t have that luxury as much now. I usually try to get my day started around 6:30 a.m. so I still have time to work out for myself. Then I go to work. Then I go teach. And after teaching, I focus on anything that I have to do for Spiked. I’m extremely organized. I think that’s something that has helped me for a long time.

The issue of women of color in the health and wellness space has become a necessary topic of conversation. But since you’ve really been immersed in this field, what have you seen as the biggest example of progress?

When it comes to those … who are not as educated on the field, or live in lower-income areas, they have the least amount of awareness. That’s where, for me, there’s trouble. And there’s trouble [where] people who are aware of wellness and enjoy it … they deserve to have an experience that keeps them in mind. They shouldn’t have to go to a class that only plays a certain type of music or only have a certain type of instructor. And then there’s also that set of demographics who no one even thinks about. No one’s talking to. They [can be] unaware of just the basic things, like moving for your heart. Don’t even talk about what your body looks like. What is your heart doing? Do you know you’re at a higher risk of diabetes, high blood pressure, kidney failure? All these things. Those are the conversations that are not even being had. Before we even get to body image, foundationally there’s a miseducation. Within our community, there are levels. And with those levels, look up health statistics. There’s a direct correlation with income and health.

There are definitely strides being made. There is some representation. Is there opportunity for more? Of course. One person can’t do it. How many more people can be inspired to be part of this conversation, and figure out how to reach the people? So we can have a larger effect on what I call #generationalhealth.

Courtesy of DJ Akisanya

What was the moment when you realized this passion of yours was becoming your new reality?

It’s something that’s been happening over time. Spiked Spin started as a ‘business’ because people paid for my service. I didn’t even realize the passion that I had for the conversation element of it. And for the importance of it beyond the class. It literally just started as a class. Like, here’s a cool workout that’s hip-hop. It’s fun. I am my No. 1 target audience. That’s where it started.

Since then I have met so many people, men and women, who have literally cried and said, ‘I needed this. Beyond the classes, I needed to feel like I’m important. I needed to feel like I can do more than whatever I thought I could do.’ That’s when I started to say this is bigger than the class. This is a conversation. This is empowerment. These are people who have not felt like they mattered in the space. My one-on-one conversations with people are where I really find the drive to keep going.

Pursuing your passion as a woman of color in this space … how important is it to have a partner [her boyfriend of seven years and college classmate Zach Thompson] by your side in this journey? It’s something that gets overlooked when we hear success stories.

It’s actually one of the best things. We’ve been together since I was 21 years old. I’ve been about 20 different people in these seven years. He’s seen the evolution to this point … little things that most people probably don’t pay attention to, but when I take a second to reflect, I realize how much of who I am is directly correlated with … things that he has seen in me before I even saw them in myself.

Him just being supportive like when I come home and say, ‘I wanna start this business.’ He doesn’t say is this a crazy phase. He’s like, ‘Aight, let’s do this.’ He’s always, always, always been supportive. It feels good because in this process there are people who support me wholeheartedly and there are people who don’t. It’s just nice to see he’s remained consistent all the way through my hardest days when I’m probably just yelling at him over something that has nothing to do with him. He gets me. It’s nice to have someone who isn’t a business partner. He has no skin in the game aside from wanting to see me win. But he’s still 100 percent in as if it were his baby, too.

Instagram Photo

How much of a blessing has it been to really see the support of your community? The classes are inclusive to everybody, but what does it make you feel when you see a room full of carefree black women really getting something out of your classes?

In real time, it’s (pauses) literally the best feeling. That’s because I realize I’m not the only one getting something out of it. Whatever they’re getting from it, they consistently get it and they feel good about it. The room is filled with electric energy. Just so much love and support. It’s not only just women. It’s women and men. We end every single class with what we call ‘The Spiked Way.’ It’s a few moments of reflection, of support, of love, self-acceptance. You can tell those are the things the room is filled with the entire time. It’s an overwhelming feeling of excellence. It feels so, so great.

Disney, Steve Harvey and ‘Essence’ magazine continue to help students achieve big dreams The Disney Dreamers Academy kicks off with a new class of 100

ORLANDO, Fla. — From “curing cancer” to “becoming a pilot” to “overcoming fears,” every child has dreams. And with the help of Walt Disney World Resort, Steve Harvey and Essence magazine, many of them also have a platform to help them achieve those dreams.

On Thursday, 100 high school students, ages 13 to 19, from all over the country found themselves experiencing a four-day, all-expenses-paid trip to Disney World for the 2018 Disney Dreamers Academy. Eleven years strong, the weekend is more than games and roller coasters, as Dreamers go through a series of power-packed workshops that give students the tools they need to reach their full potential.

Since 2008, 1,000 Dreamers have done this work. The students are selected from thousands of applicants who answer a series of essay questions about their personal stories and dreams for the future. Per tradition, the weekend kicked off with a parade at the Magic Kingdom, followed by welcoming remarks from Tracey D. Powell, Disney Dreamers Academy’s executive champion and Walt Disney World’s vice president of Deluxe Resorts; author and talk show host Steve Harvey; award-winning gospel artist Yolanda Adams; Mikki Taylor, editor-at-large for Essence magazine; and George Kalogridis, president of the Walt Disney World Resort; Mickey Mouse; and Disney Dreamers Academy alums. The experience ends Sunday with a commencement ceremony.

With a new #Be100 theme, Walt Disney World Resort is continuing its ongoing commitment to inspiring teens at a critical time in their development by providing a space to empower and encourage the Dreamers to relentlessly pursue their dreams.

(Top-bottom, left-right) Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Steve Harvey, Tracey D. Powell, executive champion for Disney Dreamers Academy, and Mikki Taylor, editor-at-large for Essence magazine, star in a special parade Thursday at Magic Kingdom in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. The parade signals the beginning of the 11th annual Disney Dreamers Academy with Steve Harvey and Essence magazine. The event, taking place March 8-11 at Walt Disney World Resort, is a career-inspiration program for distinguished high school students from across the United States.

Courtesy of Todd Anderson

“When I was a dreamer I had a couple of questions,” Disney Dreamers Academy alum Princeton Parker said Thursday evening as he addressed the 100 Dreamers, parents, chaperones and invited guests during the welcome ceremony. “A lot of those questions were centered around ‘what if?’ ”

Parker — a minister and University of Southern California graduate, among his many accomplishments — learned through the program how to overcome his fear. He also attributed his success to the academy, which he said changed his mindset.

“If you decide to Be100, your destiny will respond,” he said.

According to its website, Disney Dreamers Academy aims to “inspire students through immersive and inspirational guest speakers; introduce a world of possibilities in a variety of interactive career sessions, ranging from animation, journalism, entertainment and entrepreneurship to culinary arts, medicine and zoology; and prepare students for the future through developing skills such as networking and interviewing.”

Kalogridis voiced his thoughts about the academy and shared his favorite times at Disney.

“Long before there is a happily ever after, there has to be a once upon a time,” Kalogridis said as he welcomed the new Dreamers. “We at Disney are glad that you’re enjoying your time with us,” he said. “We are thrilled that Disney Academy is entering into its second decade.”

Powell said the academy is challenging the planners on how to build success from the past 10 years.

“It’s our commitment to dream even bigger on how we can empower you,” she said to the Dreamers. “It’s a personal commitment to excellence.”

The impressive résumés of students landed them the opportunity of a lifetime. Dreamers and their parents and/or chaperones all have different itineraries throughout the weekend, which gives the students a sense of independence. Dreamers will engage in a wide variety of experiences while working alongside some of today’s top celebrities, community and industry leaders and dedicated Disney cast members. Celebrity panels include educator Steve Perry; motivational speaker Alex Ellis; retired NFL great Emmitt Smith; artist, producer and songwriter Ne-Yo; actor and singer Jussie Smollett; actress Ruth Carter; actors Miles Brown and Marsai Martin (black-ish); and sisters China, Sierra and Lauryn McClain of the girl group McClain.

Walt Disney World Resort hopes students “leave prepared to be a role model for others as they believe in the power of their dreams and make a positive difference in their communities and the world.”