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.

‘Black Panther’ costume designer Ruth Carter talks dreaming big and her journey into film The design vet takes time out of her busy film career to encourage parents and children

ORLANDO, Florida — Moviegoers are fascinated by the fictional African nation of Wakanda, home to Marvel Comics’ superhero Black Panther. Just a little over a month ago, the comic book phenom burst onto the big screen, with Black Panther raking in more than $1 billion and is now inspiring a deeper dive into the film, including a look at the costuming of actors Chadwick Boseman, Angela Bassett and Lupita Nyong’o and others. Not that close attention is new to Ruth Carter, the woman behind the looks.

When the Oscar-nominated costume designer arrived on the campus of Hampton University in 1982, she did not realize she’d depart with a bachelor’s degree in theater arts. Starting out as an education major and switching gears as many students do, she now boasts a career of more than 40 films, including Amistad, Malcolm X, Do The Right Thing, School Daze and plethora of others.

“I started out in education,” she said. “I come from a legacy of teachers and I wanted to be a special ed teacher and then halfway through college I changed my major to theater arts. And my mom said, ‘Oh, you’re going to do the news.’ And I thought no, I’m going to do costumes. When I came out and I was doing backstage work in the theaters, my mom said, ‘You went four years to college to do laundry,’ and I said, ‘Yeah, I’m still on my path, mom.’ ”

Carter was as an intern at the Santa Fe Opera in Springfield, Massachusetts, until moving to Los Angeles in 1986 and meeting director Spike Lee.

“Once I got to Los Angeles I met Spike Lee and he was telling me ways that I could get a career and get experience in film by going to some of the big colleges in Los Angeles like USC and UCLA and signing up for film thesis projects,” Carter said. “So that’s kind of what I did … She’s Gotta Have It, when I saw that, I was like, ‘what, it’s one girl walking through Brooklyn, who can’t do that.’ It’s a medium I had to learn. It’s a huge medium …”

Carter’s advice to children is to keep dreaming and dream big. She spoke to 100 students at the 2018 Disney Dreamers Academy in Orlando last week.

“I think it’s important for Dreamers to know that you can be successful and it starts with your dream,” she said. “And it starts that dreaming just makes everything blossom into the rest of your life. I don’t want them to dream as if they are going to be something in the future. I want to dream about who they are right now and empower themselves with that dream.”

She also spent time with parents and guardians at a private event withalongside ABC’s The View co-host Sunny Hostin and Mikki Taylor of Essence magazine.

(From left to right) Mikki Taylor, Sunny Hostin and Ruth Carter discuss parenting and cultivating the goals of children at the 2018 Disney Dreamers Academy.

Kelley Evans

“My mom was curious about what the heck it was I had done with my life and my education, but she was patient with me,” Carter said. “So my advice to parents is to be patient. Your kids are going to find their path, they’re going to blaze their trail. Do not do the helicopter mom thing.”

Carter’s journey includes the designing of costumes for Jungle Fever, Mo’ Better Blues, What’s Love Got to Do With It, Four Brothers, Sparkle (2012), The Butler, Selma and Being Mary Jane.

“The hardest part of my journey is management,” Carter said. “I think that I’ve got the costume design thing. I can do that. I can dress almost anybody. But I have to bring artists into my group, into my team and to tap into their minds. So the management part of the creativity is really the hardest and I think once they understand what you want, they flourish. But it’s not until you get to that part does it work.”

‘The Quad’s’ Ruben Santiago-Hudson brings himself to character Cecil Diamond ‘What I bring to each role I play is the best of myself’

Georgia A&M University band director Cecil Diamond may be one of the most polarizing characters on BET’s nighttime drama The Quad.

Diamond, who has led the prestigious 200-member Marching Mountain Cats since 1990, is one of the best band directors Atlanta has seen in this fictional historically black college setting. And once band members get past the sometimes cold exterior of their fearless leader, they learn to love him — for the most part.

There have been some traumatic experiences on Diamond’s watch. Whether the brutal beating of a band member, a betrayal within his band family or personal health scares, Diamond proves that though he can be bruised, he will not be broken. Approaching season two was no different.

“His frailties are much more prevalent now,” said Ruben Santiago-Hudson, the actor who portrays Diamond. “He’s able to expose a lot of that to people who are close to him, and I always look for those opportunities in my characters because they’re clearly signs of his humanity — when you’re not only powerful but you’re also vulnerable. This season gives him opportunities many times, or at least a few significant times, to show the dichotomy of the character and his personality.”

Santiago-Hudson knows the brazen, tough-love, no-nonsense character is exactly what he needed to be. And becoming Cecil Diamond wasn’t the toughest part, since Santiago-Hudson considers the character to be merely an extension of himself.

“Cecil Diamond is one of those guys, I don’t know if you can kill him,” Santiago-Hudson said. “His reserve and his energy and his will is so incredibly powerful that he’s used to fighting. He’ll fight any foe, and he feels he can win.

“We are one. I think there’s times I can be as firm or hard as Cecil, and there are times I can be as soft as Cecil, so all I can give you as an audience member is the best of me. Whatever you see of me, I’m giving it to you real. I’m not a method actor per se, but I am a seasoned actor. And what I bring to each role I play is the best of myself.”

With a career spanning more than four decades, Santiago-Hudson has challenged himself and displayed his acting abilities in several roles. But as he matured in his career, he desired new challenges and different types of roles. Starring as a detective here or a police officer there were great roles to add to the résumé, but Santiago-Hudson tired of fruitless parts that relied on his “black authority” yet omitted his vulnerability, sensitivity and intellect.

Once he received the call from Felicia D. Henderson, the show’s co-creator, Santiago-Hudson knew that this was one role he would not turn down.

“When I read the script and had a discussion with [Henderson], it was just where I wanted to be,” Santiago-Hudson said. “I didn’t want to go to L.A. I wanted to be closer to home, and I wanted to do something other than being a police officer. … I could show a lot more of who we are as a people.”

Santiago-Hudson knew he could be what the role required of him. He could be cold and calculating or caring and emotional. As far as Diamond’s musical career, Santiago-Hudson also had that covered. He is a self-taught harmonica player who also worked as a disc jockey for eight years. Music has always been a means of expression and integral part of his life, but transforming himself into a band director would present some unique challenges.

Santiago-Hudson did not attend a historically black college or university (HBCU), but he said he lived vicariously through his children, who received their college educations at Hampton University, Morris Brown College and Morehouse College. Immersing himself in the HBCU band culture to transform into Diamond was a learning experience for Santiago-Hudson.

“I’m a very studious actor,” Santiago-Hudson said. “I love dramaturgy. I love research. I had some wonderful people around that were provided to me to learn what it meant, what the tradition was, what the status was and what it really meant to be a band director. We brought band directors from high schools in Atlanta and we brought band directors from universities in the South. They all had a different take and something else to offer me, and everybody offered me gems, jewels, that I continue to build so that I can have a whole pocketful of gems and jewels.”

Once the basics were down, Santiago-Hudson made Diamond’s style his own. From facial expressions to commands, the actor took a small piece of everything he’d learned to form a complete character.

“If you watch RonReaco Lee [who plays the role of rival band director Clive Taylor] conduct and you watch me conduct, it’s two different styles,” Santiago-Hudson said. “The expressions on my face, the way I command, the way I look over my shoulder. Watch how I walk through my band and the respect they have for me and how a little look or a raised eyebrow says a lot to them. That marching band culture at black colleges, you can’t get more prestigious.”

Besides studying, learning and researching more about HBCU culture, Santiago-Hudson was even more impressed by the environment, and new family, around him. As long as Cecil Diamond has a place at GAMU, Santiago-Hudson will continue to give his all.

“The community of actors we’ve gathered, the collaborative process with our writers, directors and showrunner, Felicia D. Henderson, the sense of community [is my favorite part of being on the show],” Santiago-Hudson said. “And something that brings me tremendous joy is to look beyond the camera and see people of color pulling cables, adjusting lights, focusing cameras, catering, wardrobe. We have, I would say, 85 percent on the other side of the camera who look like me. I have not seen that, and it really brings me joy to tears. That’s how much that means to me.”

Hampton, get your house in order After a town hall meeting last week, students hope administrators keep promises to help fix problems

“No, no, no, I’m talking now, young lady! I am talking!” shouted William R. Harvey, president of Hampton University.

The university president interrupted a student who demanded answers on how the administration plans to better handle sexual assault cases on campus during a Student Government Association town hall on Tuesday. She said she was a survivor of assault on Hampton’s campus.

Students came to voice their concerns about their issues at the university, including cleanliness, campus safety and a healthy environment after mold was found in some dorm rooms and in the cafeteria.

“First of all, this is not a grievance session,” Doretha J. Spells, treasurer and vice president for business affairs, said in response to a student who stated her grievance regarding the cleanliness of the cafeteria food. Spells did inform students about a $20 million renovation plan that has been underway for the past two years to deal with a mold problem.

It wasn’t just about how the university handles sexual assault complaints. The issues are many, so much so that Hampton’s administration sent out a second press release Thursday night stating how officials are addressing problems with food services and facilities. Now students have to wait to see whether the administration will come through or just made these statements to keep students quiet.

Complaints like these are the reason #HUTownHall was trending on Twitter for nearly a week. In less than 48 hours, the issues brought up at Tuesday night’s town hall meeting have gotten the attention of Hampton alumni, parents, other historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) and the local media. Hampton sent out its first press release Wednesday stating that administrators take these issues “very seriously” and listed how some issues, such as reports of sexual assault and harassment, are handled. On Thursday, Harvey called a meeting of student leaders and members of his administration to discuss some of the issues that surfaced at the meeting.

The administration has not responded to a request for comment.

Other universities around the country are facing scrutiny and confrontations with students over allegedly failing to address serious issues on their campuses. Student members of the Atlanta University Center (AUC), comprising Spelman College, Morehouse College and Clark Atlanta University, started a campaign called #WeKnowWhatYouDid alleging the Spelman and Morehouse administrations “protect rapists.” There was a shooting near the campus of Bethune-Cookman University in Daytona Beach, Florida, that resulted in the death of a student.

Hampton alumni and other HBCU graduates took to Twitter speaking out in support of students:

As the town hall meeting ended, I felt myself getting a headache along with a stomachache. Could it be that my dream school is falling apart right before my very eyes? I feel like I’m living in an episode of The Quad, filled with nothing but drama. This isn’t what I signed up for.

I know that every institution has its problems, but this is showing less than the “Standard of Excellence,” considering that the cafeteria food has made me sick on numerous occasions and I have seen mold in all three of the dorm rooms I’ve lived in since my freshman year. These questions ran through my head: What about our future students? How will this be handled? Is this situation larger than all of us?

The fact that administrators stood in front of students and said they weren’t telling the truth made me sick to my stomach — literally. A change must come to end this cycle of unanswered complaints on HBCU campuses where we pay tens of thousands of dollars to attend. We need to make sure we’re not wasting our time and money.

Meet Angel Rich, the entrepreneur whose app tackles financial literacy for youth She’s being called the black Steve Jobs despite the challenges of being a woman in the tech biz

Financial literacy among youth is a necessity in today’s global world. To meet that need, entrepreneur and Washington, D.C., native Angel Rich has turned her passion into an app, and she’s getting recognized for it.

Rich, a Hampton University graduate, developed Credit Stacker, an app that teaches students about personal finance, credit management and entrepreneurship through games and simulation exercises. She’s won business competitions and has been featured in Forbes and mentioned by former first lady Michelle Obama’s organization, and her notoriety is continuing to rise despite challenges.

In 2015 in an interview with the business website 1776, Rich said she knew she wanted to start a company geared toward financial literacy to help youths when she was 6 years old. She launched The Wealth Factory Inc. in 2013, along with co-founder Courtney Keen, and created her brainchild, Credit Stacker, which she’d been working on since 2009.

“Our mission is to provide equal access to quality financial education all across the world,” Rich said in the interview. “We feel as though that anyone who has a dime in their pockets should also have financial literacy to go along with it.”

The D.C.-based firm has a financial literacy model that uses online gaming to develop skills that will help youths understand the financial gap between America’s haves and have-nots. She wrote the book The History of the Black Dollar, published in April, in which she explains this phenomenon.

One way Credit Stacker helps youths is by opening their minds to understanding credit reports and the scoring system using gaming and simulation. It has been enhanced to help teachers in classrooms customize students’ experiences.

The app is set up to receive funds from advertisers and contracts with organizations such as the Department of Health and Human Services and the D.C. Department of Insurance, Securities and Banking.

In May, Forbes posed the question “Could The Next Steve Jobs Be A Black Woman?” in a story that featured Rich. At that time the app had been downloaded 24,000 times. Now with more than 200,000 downloads, Credit Stacker is growing, and it’s poised to become one of the best products in the country dealing with financial literacy.

Rich won Prudential’s annual National Case competition for her technology-based marketing plan. She worked with the company as a global market research analyst, where she conducted more than 70 financial behavior modification studies. Rich parted ways with Prudential in 2012. According to Forbes, she’d raised $6 billion for the company and received a $30,000 bonus and an opportunity to have her education paid for to obtain a master’s degree in business administration from Wharton. She declined and went full throttle to run her own company and make her app a reality.

While she is succeeding, she’s said her major challenge has been playing on a level field as a black woman in business and technology. She told Forbes her “competitor raised $75 million. I won best of financial product and best learning game. My company raised only $200,000.”

Less than 20 percent of venture capital money goes to women-owned companies, and the numbers are slimmer for black women. According to a report by #ProjectDiane, black women represent only 4 percent of all women-led tech startups in the United States.

But this is not stopping Rich from reaching the company’s goals. According to the website Business Women, Credit Stacker was named the “best financial literacy product in the country” by the Office of Michelle Obama, the “best learning game in the country” by the Department of Education and the “best solution in the world for reducing poverty” by JPMorgan Chase. It has won first place in several business competitions, including the Industrial Bank Small Business Regional Competition and the Black Enterprise Elevator Pitch Competition.

Credit Stacker is free and available in 40 countries. It has also been translated into four languages. Despite the odds, Rich is continuing to press forward, and she has the support of people and organizations across the board.

More about Rich:

  • In 2010, Prudential’s CEO asked Rich to lead President Barack Obama’s Veterans Initiative Research Study, and her recommendations were announced in the State of the Union address.
  • In 2011, Rich conceived the first African American Financial Experience Study, which now serves as the benchmark across the financial services industry for marketing to blacks.
  • In 2012, Rich was recognized with a Presidential Achievement Award for Exceptional Research and Innovation for helping Prudential save $6 billion, rising from No. 16 to No. 4 in service in one year.

Ten years after Kanye West’s ‘Graduation’ — and mine Yeezy and a whole generation meet real life and wonder ‘what it all really mean?‘

A cloud of marijuana smoke hovered in the apartment. It was early September 2007. Some of us lay on the floor. Some on the couch. Some at the kitchen table that had been used to roll the seven or eight jays. None of us said much. Per the rules of that summer’s “listening sessions,” no one spoke over the music. In this case, Kanye West’s new LP, Graduation, was the reason for the cypher.

Over that summer, these sessions had become a fixture. Thanks primarily to Lil Wayne’s run of mixtapes (it felt like they dropped every week), there was always a reason. But this session was different. On a day leading up to the start of our senior year at Hampton University, West spoke into existence our own existence.

Up to that moment, his music had always held collegiate and coming-of-age allusions, starting with 2004’s The College Dropout and Late Registration the following year. Often forgotten in the grand scheme of his catalog, West’s May 2007 Can’t Tell Me Nothing mixtape featured “Us Placers” featuring Pharrell and Lupe Fiasco (aka the short-lived supergroup Child Rebel Soldiers), “C.O.L.O.U.R.S.” featuring Fonzworth Bentley, Wayne and UGK, and my introduction to a rapper named Big Sean on “Getcha Some.” Graduation arrived when we were all about 21 years old — adults by age, but kids with so much life and the hurdles that came with it in front of us.

Kanye West spoke into existence our own existence.

At that time, it seemed West spoke for our entire generation. On Sept. 2, 2005, with New Orleans crippled by Hurricane Katrina, close to 2,000 people dead and even more displaced, West stood next to comedian Michael Myers and famously declared that President George W. Bush “doesn’t care about black people.” He spoke for us and to us. Several students who evacuated from New Orleans-based historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) such as Xavier and Dillard transferred to Hampton. We read the reports. We watched CNN in horror, like the rest of the country. The anger we felt about seeing (mostly) black people referred to as “refugees” in their own city while their entire lives were submerged underwater left us enraged. Even when it’s a natural disaster, it’s somehow still our fault. West’s angst reflected our own.

Kanye West performs on stage at the Concert for Diana at Wembley Stadium on July 1, 2007 in London, England.

Dave Hogan/Getty Images

He was confident — or arrogant, depending on the crowd — but inquisitive about himself and a world moving at warp speed. West seemed poised to carry rap into the next decade and beyond. And his music spoke louder than even he did. These were the pre-Tidal, pre-Apple Music, pre-Spotify US days. New albums leaked online roughly 10 to 14 days early, and it felt like blank CDs were single-handedly keeping places like Circuit City open. The summer-long wait for Graduation was an event itself, and “Can’t Tell Me Nothing” and “Stronger” were the summer’s anthems.

With senior year washing ashore, and us thinking the world lay at our fingertips, hearing West’s defiant proclamations — Man, it’s so hard not to act reckless — were more a way of life than a hot single. Plus, we all knew Yeezy was good for a cohesive, intricate and beautifully sequenced album.

So when the word traveled, via text, Facebook and word-of-mouth, that the album had leaked, we all knew what to do.

Each person bring a pre-rolled jay — something to drink, too, and a stash for one more if the vibe called for it. (Spoiler: The vibe always called for one more.) None of the seven of us, roughly an even mixture of guys and girls who just loved chiefing and good music, believed we were doing anything illegal. We were college kids getting high and listening to great music — an American tradition if there ever was one.

You ever wonder what it all really mean?/ You wonder if you’ll ever find your dreams? — “I Wonder

In retrospect? We probably looked like the HBCU version of the cutaway scenes on That 70’s Show. Via nonverbal communication, we vibed out. I can’t forget what it felt like hearing “Good Life” for the first time. The Michael Jackson “P.Y.T.” sample is classic Kanye. But T-Pain’s outro — Is this good life better than the life I lived? / When I thought that I was gonna go crazy / And now my grandmamma/ Ain’t the only girl callin’ me baby — now that was a moment.

Rapper Kanye West performs onstage during the Hot 97 Summer Jam presented by Boost Mobile at Giants Stadium June 3, 2007 in East Rutherford, New Jersey.

Roger Kisby/Getty Images

“Flashing Lights” felt more like a movie than a song, and the hook from “Everything I Am” (Everything I’m not made me everything I am) became away messages on AOL Instant Messenger — they seemed like the world’s first tweets (Twitter technically existed then). And, in the moment, we didn’t know what to think about West’s ode to Jay-Z, “Big Brother.” We couldn’t see the joy of “Otis” yet. We couldn’t see how friendships sometimes go.

We ran West’s third effort back two or three times that night. The number of jays in rotation is lost to history, but the discussions following were incredible: Where does this place Kanye in terms of the game’s current greats? What is Kanye’s ceiling? And, of course, is anyone trying to order food? The Graduation listening session, at an off-campus apartment with smoke billowing from the screen door balcony, ranks as one of the most innocent moments of my entire college experience. We understood the magnitude of the senior year ahead of us, but what a time to be alive — just being there, in the moment.

That kind of innocence also applied to West. None of us, including West, knew it then, but life would forever change after that album. Most of us in that room graduated the following May and entered the “real world” just as the economy was diving into the worst pit since the Great Depression. Two months after Graduation’s release, West lost his combination best friend/mother, Donda West, who died as a result of complications from cosmetic surgery.

Donda West and Kanye West

Johnny Nunez/WireImage

By April 2008, Kanye West and then-fiancée Alexis Phifer called off their engagement. West secluded himself as he prepared for his celebrated Glow In The Dark Tour (with Lupe Fiasco opening, and N.E.R.D. and Rihanna on the bill as well). Within months, West lost the first woman he ever loved and had broken up with the one who was by his side when it happened.

The summer-long wait for Graduation was an event itself, and “Can’t Tell Me Nothing” and “Stronger” were the summer’s anthems.

By 2009 he was running up on stage interrupting Taylor Swift and then escaping to Hawaii. So now what? It’s a question we both had to face. A question that would haunt us both. Where West fled to the islands to create new music, I fled to Georgetown University. Not necessarily because I wanted to go back to school, but it provided an escape and a way for me to think I wasn’t just wasting my time working dead-end jobs in the restaurant and retail industries. In college, it’s customary to think “graduation, job.” That’s embedded in your head since high school, if not earlier. But by ’09, the economy had completely tanked. Some of us had jobs, more of us didn’t. A lot of us were living at our parents’ homes, humbled by bedrooms we grew up in. Applying for jobs was no more than uploading resumes into a digital Bermuda Triangle: CVs were never heard from again. About the only positive from that year was the Obama family in the White House.

By 2012, the Obamas had returned for an encore. West held his first ready-to-wear show, married Kim Kardashian in Florence, Italy (as featured on special episodes of Keeping Up With the Kardashians), and captured Grammys with Jay-Z for 2011’s “N—as in Paris,” which sold 5 million copies alone. The recession apparently ended in late 2009. Some of us moved to new cities to chase original dreams. Some did OK. More were left wondering when and how the sleepless nights, rejection letters and no callbacks would be worth the heartbreaks.

Kanye West attends the Louise Goldin fashion show during MADE Fashion Week Spring 2014 at Milk Studios on September 7, 2013 in New York City.

Ilya S. Savenok/Getty Images

And West’s celebrity increased. As he continued to search for peace in his, we searched for our own. At what point is sacrifice for a dream worth the pain? And at what costs do dreams become real? Life after Graduation, figuratively and literally, came with no road map.

Kanye West in 2017 is of course different from the one who created his own Graduation 10 years ago Monday. We all lose our innocence — it’s what happens if you’re blessed to live long enough.

West has a son and a daughter now (and another baby girl on the way carried by a surrogate) and is married to a mob. With Yeezy, he doubled down his dream of being a fashion innovator and changed for the better the fortunes of Adidas. West and Jay-Z aren’t on speaking terms in part because of West’s unpredictability. West’s life has become progressively more discombobulated: Paparazzi rants. Calling out Jay-Z at his shows. Blasting Wiz Khalifa in Twitter rants. Shaming ex-girlfriend Amber Rose. Supporting Trump. The hospitalization. But the three albums that follow Graduation — 808s & Heartbreaks, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy and Watch The Throne — still get burn.

The few from that original Graduation-day cypher who I keep in touch with have gone on to find some sort of peace in life, even in these times. We remain connected to Graduation because it helped define us with its unabashed confidence and unfiltered vulnerability. That’s what West represented perhaps more than any artist at that time. Volatile, charming and impulsive, he was rap’s most astute mama’s boy — and its most massively sensitive Gemini since Tupac Shakur. West’s waves not only topped charts and made headlines but also stirred emotions on a deeply personal level.

I know people wouldn’t usually rap this/ But I got the facts to back this / Just last year, Chicago had over 600 caskets / Man, killing’s some wack s—/ Oh, I forgot, ’cept when n—as is rappin’ / Do you know what it feel like when people is passin’?

We laugh about the cypher during Hampton homecoming weekends. But we also talk about how it doesn’t seem like West has found any peace. I don’t know. But I do know his mother was an integral part of the making of his first three albums — of the “old Kanye” he rapped about on last year’s entertaining, uneven The Life of Pablo. According to bereavement expert Phyllis R. Silverman, we lose not only the person who has died but also a relationship and the sense of self that existed in that relationship. It could be that West is searching for a sound that no longer exists because a large part of the inspiration for that sound no longer exists.

We remain connected to Graduation because it helped define us with its unabashed confidence and unfiltered vulnerability.

A couple of months ago, around the time West was seen chopping it up with Donald Trump, I had a conversation with a homey from that Graduation cypher. “I can’t believe this n—- is rocking blond hair now. … I wasted good weed on this dude,” he told me. “But I really believe this all boils down to his mom’s passing. He never took the time to cry, it seems.”

I mostly remember Graduation as the last album Donda West heard. The closest West’s come to addressing the effects of his mother’s death, and his burden living with it, came on 2015’s “Only One” — the meaning of his birth name. I can’t help but hear Graduation songs in “Only One.” If for no other reason than the 2007 Kanye could have never believed he’d have to make that song.

Positioned as an open letter to Kanye and Kim’s daughter, North, from her grandmother Donda, the record is a very specific emotional canvas of the pain Kanye carries. I talked to God about you/ He said he sent you an angel / And look at all that he gave you, Kanye sings. You asked for one and you got two / You know I never left you / ’Cause every road that leads to heaven’s right inside you. Playing the record back, with North sitting on his lap, Kanye couldn’t recall singing the words. He came to the conclusion that the words didn’t come from him, but through him. “My mom was singing to me,” he said, “and through me, to my daughter.”

It’s this burden, and this pursuit of peace, that Kanye Omari West has been living with since Graduation. In 2015, he said his biggest sacrifice was his mom. “If I had never moved to L.A., she’d be alive,” he told the U.K. music magazine Q. “I don’t want to go far into it because it will bring me to tears.”

That’s what Graduation means. It’s not just the album itself and some of the greatest songs he’s ever recorded that live on there, and how we were higher than telephone wires that late summer night. It’s not just how Graduation accurately reflected a period when so many of us believed we had life under control — and then we didn’t. Life happens. We found out the hard way, after graduation. Kanye, too, found out after Graduation.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why’d it take so long for some of us to find out about Juneteenth? Some people think that it should be independence day for black Americans

I’ve been celebrating July Fourth for as long as I can remember, but I only learned about Juneteenth last year. Before you ask for my black card, hear me out.

1. Why social media is necessary

It takes a few hours for President Donald Trump’s tweet about a fake word to go viral, but it took almost 20 years for me to learn about a holiday celebrating the end of slavery in Galveston, Texas.

What’s more, I’m not alone. Nine out of 10 college students I know learned about the holiday just within the past five years.

We as a people are lacking education on a holiday that’s supposed to be ours in our classrooms and in our communities. “There’s so much vital history that school textbooks leave out, especially when it’s about African-Americans,” said Daryl Riley Jr., a junior at Hampton University. “Growing up, all I knew was that we were slaves and about Martin Luther King Jr.”

2. Holidays need branding too

The description of Juneteenth is not consistent. The San Diego Union Tribune described it as “a combination of June and nineteenth, the day in 1865 when many slaves in Texas learned they were free. Although emancipation had taken place more than two years earlier, federal troops were sent June 19, 1865, to tell slaves in Galveston, Texas, of their freedom after that news had been kept from them.” The Tribune called it the day slavery ended in America.

The Post Newspaper of Galveston County said it was the day “enslaved people were freed after Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation was ‘read on a harbor pier in Galveston.’ ” says the day commemorates the abolition of slavery.

As a result, it’s hard to tell exactly how many people even observe Juneteenth or whether they know exactly what they are celebrating. The Galveston Island Convention and Visitors Bureau says 40 states around the country host official commemorations.

3. Now that we know, what do we do?

The NAACP hosts annual Juneteenth gatherings to teach new generations about the day.

“Throughout my undergraduate career, I performed annually at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, NAACP’s Juneteenth celebration,” said Alexjandria Edwards, a recent graduate of the University of Michigan. “Each year, I performed Negro spirituals while other artists, traditional folk storytellers, dancers and designers displayed varying forms of black excellence.”

Lyndsay Archer, a junior from Wayne State University, said, “In order for black people around the world and people of color to progress, we must be able to acknowledge and embrace our past history, learn from those experiences, and gain a sense of both pride and humility in our rich narratives.”

Come to find out, many African-Americans have mixed emotions about celebrating July Fourth. After all, blacks weren’t free in 1776.

Lauren Smith, a junior at Howard University, is one.

“I celebrate the Fourth of July because we built this country for free, so every holiday belongs to us.”

Robbie Osborne, a sophomore at Hampton University, doesn’t celebrate July Fourth as a holiday at all. “I don’t celebrate the Fourth of July because it doesn’t represent the liberation and freedom of all races in America.”

I’ve been debating whether I should look at Juneteenth as the true independence day for black people.

I’m aware that the slaves were officially freed by the Emancipation Proclamation two years earlier, but I’m in solidarity with some of the last black folks to find out. I hate being the last to find out about anything important.

I will still celebrate July Fourth because it provides my family a chance to take a break from work, to celebrate each other, eat great food and watch fireworks. I appreciate the opportunities afforded to me as an American citizen, but Juneteenth as independence day resonates more strongly for me.

Juneteenth is the celebration of black freedom from slavery in the U.S., so why is it 2017 and so many black Americans are just learning about the holiday?

Perhaps the answer is connected to why freedom, as it was intended by the Founding Fathers, feels like an impossibility for black folks. Given all of the black people in prison, the numerous unarmed black men and women who are killed by police, the wage gap between blacks and whites and all the black girls who are discouraged from rocking their natural hair in schools or at work, I’m dubious about how free we are today.

I have only known freedom, but there are still so many black people who don’t. Like the Solomon Burke song says, “None of us are free if one of us is chained.”

Black female sports agent Tiffany Porter is making her way in a white-male-dominated field She wants to be a role model for women and men alike

While many sports agents are busy at the 2017 draft, there is one standing out in the crowd. As a woman in a male-dominated world, Tiffany Porter is proving that she can stand strong and give her clients the best representation possible.

For Porter, becoming a sports agent was a natural progression to her multifaceted career. The Hampton University alum has built her credentials over the years as a criminal defense attorney and is managing partner of Porter & Whitner Law Group LLC in Atlanta.

Porter spends many of her days fighting for citizens in the criminal justice system while inspiring single mothers, cancer survivors and families. She’s taken the challenges of her life and turned them into positives. There are few challenges that Porter has not conquered.

As a certified NFL agent, Porter negotiates contracts, but more importantly she strives to protect her clients’ future beyond their playing days. Earning her law degree from Emory University, she is no stranger to beating the odds in the courtroom or in her personal life. She also earned her MBA from Georgia State University.

As a child, she and her younger siblings experienced watching their mother go in and out of federal prison. She was reared by her grandmother and great-grandmother.

Porter was born in Ohio and grew up in Belleville, New Jersey. She quickly became a mother figure for her younger siblings and had to face the responsibility of looking after their best interests. Now she’s a wife and a mother of four children, ages 10, 12, 15 and 18.

A member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc., Porter went through the toughest battle of her life when she was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 29.

“It was caught very early, and I opted to take some radical measures,” Porter explained. “I’m very candid about my procedure and everything. I opted to have a double mastectomy, and for me it’s all about my quality of life. I wanted to be here for my children. That was very important for me.”

But life for Porter, 38, kept going. She was a professional cheerleader for the semipro Atlanta Chiefs football team. She began practicing in 2005 and began her own practice in 2009.

Porter spoke with The Undefeated about her journey.

What made you switch your focus to sports?

Well, I won’t say that I necessarily switched to sports. Sports had always been an endgame for me. I was a track and field athlete, and I always wanted to be in the sports arena in some way, form and fashion. I had clients who played in the NFL, played in the NBA, where I handled just their legal business, and I began to see that a lot of them were broke and didn’t have any kind of goals or aspirations after life after football or basketball, and I was like, ‘Well how is your representation? How did that happen? What did your representation look like while you were playing?’ And a lot of them just said, ‘Hey, I had an agent, I had this person, that person that was there while I was playing, but life after can’t even get a person to pick up the phone for me.’

So for me I was like, ‘You know what, I really want to go in and help these guys or these women to really make a brand and to build everything they need to sustain them after their professional careers,’ their professional athletic careers, that is. Because I saw that there was a lack in that, and to help them keep their money and to be able to take care of their families once they were done. So I was like, ‘You know, look, I’m gonna go into this. I have the legal background and the negotiation side with dealing with contracts. Now I can help them navigate into what is it that they want to do. What kinda businesses do they want? What are their aspirations afterward?’ That’s what really made me want to start the sports agency: to really, really help these athletes and to help them envision more than just playing on the field.

How many clients do you have now?

Right now I have one client that is on his way into the NFL. I did have some previous clients; they’re no longer playing right now. You know, it can be an in-and-out thing with the NFL, but I have one client right now who is making his way in, and we’re just waiting for the draft and working minicamp to begin to see where his journey’s going to take him. His name is Kevin Snead. He was attending Carson-Newman, and that’s in Tennessee.

Being a female in a very especially white-male-dominated role, how do you keep your balance?

Well, to keep my balance in this industry you really have to command respect — demand it, rather. The way that I work, being a woman with all these men that are in the industry in the NFL side, all of the GMs and scouts, it’s all men. And then you have all of the agents, most of them are men, so when you come in, you have to really as a woman be able to stand out and make sure that you know your stuff. You have to make sure coming in that you know what your worth is and that you know what is expected. For me, a lot of times I’m mistaken as an aunt or a girlfriend or, ‘Who are you, a family member?’ But for me, I’m like, ‘No, I’m their agent, and this is what we bring to the table.’ I have been at the table and negotiating contracts with the Houston Texans. I had a player that played with the Houston Texans, and the questions I get are not like men would get. You know, I do get, ‘Well, how did you meet him and how did this happen?’ And the how is, how did the black woman get in here and get to this point? But once they see that I’m about business and that I know the game and I know about from a contractual standpoint as to what the players should get, they give me the respect.

I just make sure that at all times I never allow lines to be crossed or blurred as far as being a woman, because there are a lot of men, so they’re going to try you and see what angle they can come at. But I let them know straight up, I am strictly here for business, I am married and as nothing else. It may come out sometimes as cold, but I want people to know me for what I do for the players, not necessarily being, ‘Oh, she’s a cute woman’ or ‘She’s got this and that going on.’ I don’t want that. As far as the players, a lot of the new players coming in, especially African-American males, most of them are raised by African-American single females, and when they see me and meet me and understand what I have to bring to the table, they fall in love with me. My main thing is to connect with their families as well as connect with the players and let them know that I’m there to protect their interest. So when they see someone that looks familiar, looks like Mom, at times that can be an advantage as well.

Is it hard to gain the trust of the family members involved?

It is. But for me, my credentials speak for themselves. A lot of times when I come in they’re like, ‘Well, you’re an attorney as well?’ ‘Yes.’ That establishes a lot of trust right there. They believe, ‘OK, you’re an agent as well an attorney, so we know that you have the legal training to do this.’ Now they want to just understand who the person is, and will you protect my child just like you would protect your own. And they want to know that and see that.

For me when I am being interviewed, I’m also interviewing them, the family as well as the player, ’cause I want to be on the same page and let them know that it’s not all about just the money, money, money. We need to build the brand, and how does that look? And where do we go from here? And how do we create a legacy for the player? And so a lot of agents do not come with that. I tried to bring something different to the table so that we can talk about what needs to happen on the field so that they can prepare for life off the field.

What inspired you to build your own brand?

For me, I would say coming from very humble beginnings I’ve always wanted to have my own business and be a role model for other young ladies. Because I was pretty much raised by my great-grandmother, and my grandmother. My mother was in and out of prison, and my father was killed when I was really young. So I did not grow up in the best of circumstances, but I made the best of what I had. I knew that education was going to be my way out. And with education I knew that I could pretty much do whatever I wanted to do. For me, I wanted to build a brand where I could be that role model for women of all color, but for women who have come out of some of the same struggles that I had. At one point I was a single parent with my four children. I had breast cancer, and how do you come out of all those things and make it work? So that’s for me, building my brand is showing others that through all of this adversity, that you can overcome and do whatever it is that you want to do in life.

Can you recall a memory as a child that just kept you grounded?

She [mother] first went to prison when I was about 6 years old, then went a few times after that, but with my great-grandmother and my grandmother — really my great-grandmother — very early on when I struggled with my mother not being there she was always telling me, ‘You can be anything you want to be. You don’t have to go this route.’ And she was just always very supportive of me. So at 7, I decided, you know what, I want to be on the other side, and yes, at 7 years old I was thinking about this and I was like, ‘I want to be a lawyer. I want to be a lawyer, and I want to help people.’ I looked at it as, well, I want to help people like my mother to not be in prison. I didn’t really understand the full picture of how the justice system worked at the time, but that just catapulted me into what I wanted to do. My great-grandmother was just always behind me and reminding me of: ‘Hey, remember you know you said you want to be a lawyer? This is what you want to do, and this is what you need to do to get there.’

What’s been the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

Best piece of advice I received was to stay true to myself, to always never compromise my integrity. If I know that something is wrong, or if it’s something that I don’t believe in, to not be involved in it. I can say that has really helped me in just staying grounded, because in the sports and entertainment industry you really can get lost and get caught up. So for me my morals and my standards and where I place myself have sometimes caused me not be able to get the client, but it’s not about that at the end. My integrity is what I stand on and what people look at in the end. So that was the best piece of advice that I received is to always stay true to myself.

What’s the best piece of advice you give to young women?

So my best piece of advice to young women is to set your goals and to stay focused on what it is that you want to do in life, and that nothing is impossible — with the will and determination you can do anything. I believe sometimes young women get caught up into what others are doing, or they may be discouraged because they may have hit some obstacles. I’m always encouraging young women to stay the course and to stay focused on what it is that they want to do in life and to never allow anyone else to thwart their dreams or to allow anyone or anything to come before their dreams.

What’s the best piece of advice you give to your players?

My advice to athletes, especially those just beginning, is to never lose your integrity, and loyalty is a must. You want to have people that are in your corner who are going to be loyal to you, as well as you loyal to them. Because in the end, when all of the glitz and glamour are gone, you need those people in your corner who are going to continue to help you and to support you. The No. 1 thing I believe the athlete should always think about is, ‘How am I going to build a legacy for myself and my family?’ That should always be No. 1, and that can really guide them throughout their professional athletic careers as to also into what they’re going to do after.

What’s the advice you give to single parents?

My advice to single mothers is to never stop. Never stop. Don’t allow your current situation to determine your future. It’s hard, but you use your children as your motivation. Use them to motivate you to do more. And never give up. I know a lot of times when I was a single parent I just wanted to give up and throw in the towel because it was so hard and frustrating. But I always tell my single moms it gets better. No one would have been able to tell me with four children and law school and breast cancer that I would be where I’m at today. I didn’t see that because it was so far away. I always encourage my moms to just stay the course and to never give up.

What’s the best piece of advice you give to other cancer survivors?

And lastly, for breast cancer survivors, my advice would be to stay strong and understand that it’s a process. It’s not the end of the road. Your life is not over; there is life after breast cancer, and it’s what you make of it. And you have to keep a positive attitude during that journey so that your health could be at its best. I believe if you’re sitting around crying and depressed, you can physically make yourself sick or more sick than you are. And really just having a strong … I would say my strong faith in God really helped me through that entire process. So you always have to look to a higher power when going through that kind of trial because it really takes a lot out of you. But just staying strong and knowing that there is life after.

Who’s your support system now, other than your husband?

My family. Pretty much my entire family is in Georgia. My grandmother is still here, and she helps me with the children. I have my brother and my sisters. We all pretty much help each other. But they’re my main support system. My family and of course a few of my close friends.

Do you have any future plans for you, the practice, or your clients?

My future plans are, I plan to write a book. This book will be to inspire other women as well as people who have gone through some of the experiences that I’ve gone through to show them how to navigate just through life, and how you can overcome obstacles. I plan on also doing more motivational speaking where I’m encouraging others who want to come into the business of sports or come into the business of entertainment and show them how that looks. As far as the brand, just going to continue building the agency. We will begin our basketball division this year, so I’m really excited about that. So we will be representing NBA athletes and just continuing expanding my brand as a whole, and being that next big sports agent.

What do HBCUs think about the visit with President Trump? The Rhoden Fellows, our correspondents on six campuses, tell us what university presidents and students are saying

The Rhoden Fellows Initiative is a two-year training program for the next generation of sports journalists from historically black colleges and universities, headed by former New York Times award-winning columnist and Undefeated editor-at-large William C. Rhoden. The fellowship – established as part of The Undefeated’s mission to develop new voices and serve as an incubator for future multicultural journalists – is open to outstanding undergraduate students at HBCUs.

Through the lens of sports, the fellows will produce stories about race, class, and culture and serve as campus correspondents for The Undefeated. There are six students in the inaugural class: Miniya Shabazz, Grambling State University; Kyla Wright, Hampton University; Paul Holston, Howard University; C. Isaiah Smalls, Morehouse College; Simone Benson, Morgan State University; Donovan Dooley, North Carolina A&T.

Below are reports on what’s happening on their campuses in reaction to the White House visit by HBCU presidents and President Donald Trump’s executive order on HBCUs. C. Isaiah Smalls’ report about Morehouse College is a separate story.

Hampton University

Hampton University students had a lot to say.

“I feel that the executive order on HBCUs was a ploy to gain interest from the black community,” said Victoria Blow, a junior and strategic communications major from Franklin, Virginia. It was difficult for students to find authenticity and a sense of genuineness in the invitation to HBCU presidents, she said, especially after hearing that President Donald Trump referred to the HBCU presidents as “you people.”

“[President] Trump meeting with HBCU presidents reminds me of ‘The Ballot or the Bullet’ speech by Malcolm X … Trump wants to sugarcoat his bigotry to the HBCU presidents,” said Daryl Riley Jr., a sophomore and electrical engineering major from Newburgh, New York. Riley referred to an excerpt in the speech, saying, “… the first thing the [white racist] does when he comes to power, he takes all the Negro leaders and invites them for coffee, to show them that he’s all right …”

Hamptonians expressed concerns about what went on at the White House.

Despite reports, Morehouse president hasn’t been fired over Trump statement

Students admired Morehouse College president John S. Wilson for releasing a statement about the events with Trump and his administration, and were disappointed they had not seen a statement from their university president. “I would have liked [President William R. Harvey] to reassure us that he and the other university leaders would hold Trump accountable for delivering what he claimed he would do in the executive order,” said Aris Fulton, a sophomore communicative sciences and disorders major from Charlotte, North Carolina.

“I run Hampton like a business, for educational objectives. I do what I think is best, I do what I think is right. I always have and I always will,” said Harvey. Though he doesn’t plan on sending out anything to students, Harvey said that he does intend to send something to Hampton alumni. In regards to remarks made by other university presidents about the visit, Harvey said that he thinks that they were either “uninformed, naïve or disingenuous.”

Harvey has been to the White House more than 200 times during his 39-year presidency and said he’s familiar with these presidential meetings. “If they were expecting to go into the Oval Office and query the president, then that was a false expectation. That doesn’t happen.” Harvey thought that the conference went well, considering that they met with the president, vice president and top advisers to the president. Harvey went on to say this meeting with a majority of HBCU presidents was monumental and to his knowledge, it was the first time that all of the HBCU leaders met in one room – usually it is one or two presidents along with other HBCU representatives.

While many students were upset about the idea of the visit, others remained optimistic. They said they are hopeful that Trump’s administration can follow through with his plans for HBCUs and that the universities’ executive leadership can stand behind him for the greater good of their higher education.

“Regardless of your political views, or views on Trump in particular, it is important to create dialogue about what our HBCUs need in order to continue to succeed. Therefore, I am not against our president, Dr. Harvey, or any other HBCU presidents visiting the White House,” said Warren Hill, a senior finance major from Cincinnati. “President Trump has promised to do more for HBCUs than any other president. However, it is hard to stay optimistic in light of Trump’s many contradictions … as well as Betsy DeVos’ recent misinformed comments regarding the legacy of HBCUs.”

“Give more scholarships to youth who decide to attend HBCUs. Work hands-on with student leaders on campuses, create more internship opportunities for our students within the government … how about that?” said Brittany Daniels, a sophomore marketing major from Queens, New York.

Grambling State University

“It was significant regardless of who the president is. The fact that we as a collective group of such large numbers were there at the same time was historic and significant,” said Grambling State University president Richard Gallot.

During his visit, discussions focused on the White House Initiative on HBCUs being moved back to the White House from the Department of Education, the expansion of access to Parent PLUS loans, investment in school infrastructure, and a reinstatement of year-round Pell Grants. This would benefit Grambling because approximately 90 percent of Grambling students are eligible for Pell Grants.

He emphasizes that patience is key.

“Coming from a legislative background, these kinds of things take time. If anybody had an expectation that we would go to Washington and all go home with a check was not a realistic expectation on how this process works,” said Wilson.

Taylor Stewart showed a special interest in these meetings because there is already a lack of funding for higher education in Louisiana. “The biggest thing that concerns most HBCU students is the funding of HBCUs as far as Pell Grants and making sure that they will be able to have the financial aid to last them all four years,” said Stewart, GSU’s Miss Covergirl and a public relations major from Columbia, Maryland.

Stewart, 21, believes actions speak louder than words. “I appreciate that Gallot went to the meeting because you should always want to meet the person in charge, but I don’t feel that it was beneficial.”

When Gallot met Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Florida), he saw why it was important for him to establish relationships. The senator told Gallot that he grew up as a big fan of legendary Grambling football coach Eddie Robinson and the Bayou Classic football game. “Who knew that a senator from Florida was a fan of coach Eddie Robinson at the Bayou Classic?” said Gallot.

Gallot did not accept the invitation until he spoke with the student government president, the alumni association and the faculty senate.

Grambling State University’s president is looking forward to the possibility of more funding for HBCUs and the fulfillment of Trump’s promise to make HBCUs a priority.

“I think it was important that President Gallot went so that our university can have a voice at the table. I do hope that something positive comes out of the meeting so that it can benefit our university. I’m a little on the fence about this executive order because what we see from Trump already as a president, however I want to remain optimistic and see how it goes,” said Endiah Green, the White House Initiative’s HBCU All-Star from Gambling State University.

“I think it’s really important that Gallot did go because he was trying to push for the betterment of HBCUs,” said senior Breonna Ward, 21, an elementary education major from Dallas.

“It’s important that he and other HBCU presidents went just to fight for us, let them know that we’re there and see what we can do to better ourselves fundingwise. … The things that we can do with the little money that we have is amazing, so just think of the things that we can do if we had money to actually afford to do it.”

Ward said she was aware that a lot of people opposed Gallot going to the White House. “I’d rather somebody go and hear what somebody has to say whether you agree with it or not than not go and not have a voice at all,” said Ward.

“It helps with trying to get Trump possibly on the same page and to see what his ideas were for higher education of African-Americans,” said senior Allen Mays, 23, a double major in history and mass communication from Little Rock, Arkansas. “Trump was trying to appease the people and there is no weight behind it yet.”

Howard University

Howard University President Wayne A.I. Frederick attended the White House meeting, but according to Frederick, his presence was brief.

“My schedule is driven by the university’s priorities and as such, I was only able to attend a short portion of the White House meeting and could not be present for the discussions with the Secretary of Education and the vice president,” said Frederick. “I also could not attend the congressional symposium. Consequently, I cannot report firsthand on the outcomes of those sessions.”

And while Frederick did not stay at White House during the entire duration, Howard students expressed differing views on his recent decisions to align himself with the Trump administration.

“While I understand the scope of people’s distaste about HBCU presidents meeting with Trump, one must understand that several of these schools are privately and federally funded. So establishing some type of relationship is integral in its well-being,” said Malcolm Friday, a senior electrical engineering from Richmond, Virginia.

“I don’t expect anything to come from this HBCU executive order … especially given the bigoted behavior that Trump’s presence has brought,” said Collin Scott, a junior computer engineering major from Memphis, Tennessee.

Since his private meeting visit with Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos on Feb. 9, Frederick has met with resistance from some student activists, including Concerned Students, 1867, who after DeVos’ visit released a list of six demands on Feb. 12, that included a call for Frederick and Howard to “ban” Trump from university buildings.

Recently, graffiti and vandalism were found on across campus accusing Frederick of being a “Trump Plantation Overseer” as well as claims of the HBCU initiative “coonin’ ” for Howard. HU Resist also interrupted Howard’s 150th Charter Day Convocation on March 2, making a statement on their right to protest and asking Frederick which side was he on.

“The concerned students of HU Resist are here today to deliver a message,” said a HU Resist member with a megaphone. “President Wayne Frederick, someone might have convinced you that money is more important than people. We are asking you in this moment to choose us — to take a stand for us and to do right by us.”

Here’s what others at Howard had to say:

“In terms of Howard President Frederick meeting with President Donald Trump, I feel as though it makes sense to a certain degree. Whether people agree with his methodologies and thoughts, he is our commander in chief, and we have to work to the best of our abilities to make it work to our advantage despite everything else that is going on. Furthermore, I feel like the executive order may be beneficial after further research, but it is being taken for purely face value now,” said Tariq Johnson, a junior chemical engineering major from Atlanta.

“I believe that President Frederick wasn’t wrong in meeting with President Trump. He simply wanted to listen to what Trump’s administration wanted to say/propose to HBCUs, not blatantly follow their orders. I think a couple of Howard students responded extremely to the meeting and their response is not a representation of the attitude of the Howard community,” said Bakare Awakoaiye, a junior biology major from Oakland, California.

“Obviously, it’s a volatile situation and HBCU students are caught in a difficult position. Firstly, we have to acknowledge that Trump has been openly and subtly racist in the past. But, running a university goes past being a social justice warrior, and sometime you have to make moral sacrifices for the sake of business,” said Jabarri Charles-Barnes, a junior economics and sports management double major from Trinidad and Tobago.

“As a student of an HBCU, I feel a sense of pride with the executive order to place emphasis on HBCUs and acknowledge their importance. And I therefore believe it makes sense for President Wayne Frederick to meet with President Donald Trump in order to develop pleasant relations,” said Kirsteph Cassimire, a junior chemistry major from Trinidad and Tobago.

“I don’t expect anything to come from this HBCU initiative. Especially given the bigoted behavior that Trump’s presence has brought,” said Collin Scott, a junior computer engineering major from Memphis, Tennessee.

Morgan State University

The campus erupted into debate after President David Wilson attended the meeting with Trump administration officials.

“After consulting with students, alumni, and faculty, I decided to go,” said Wilson.

“I wanted to make sure the Trump administration had an appreciation for historically black colleges and universities of this nation to make sure they knew the talent from these schools have enabled America. And I did not want any alternative facts being said,” said Wilson.

Some students questioned Trump’s intentions for the meeting.

“It was valuable for him to go, but you never know their true intention, it’s like making a deal with the devil in my eyes,” said freshman Dasia Bailey.

How would it benefit students and advance the needs of the campus?

“I don’t know what it’s going to take to get the money or representation that we deserve, but this certainly was not enough,” said senior Zanha Armstrong.

Another student was suspicious that Trump was using these distinguished black men and women just for a photo opportunity.

“Immediately, I thought it was nothing but a photo op on Trump’s end,” said senior Tramon Lucas. “I did not think at all that there was going to be anything meaningful behind it. But as far as President Wilson, to talk about the conversation, you have to go and be about the conversation.”

Said senior Lorenzo Moore, “Just them meeting with President Trump is a start of something, it’s better than nothing.”

North Carolina A&T

Spring break at N.C. A&T State University in Greensboro began last Friday.

But associate vice chancellor for university relations Todd Simmons told, “There are discussions that we need to have around resources that have typically flown to predominantly white institutions more abundantly than they have to HBCUs, so that has created inequalities over generations that have significantly disadvantaged places like this.”

Track standout Aaron Deane had an intriguing opinion regarding chancellor Harold Martin’s attendance at the HBCU presidents’ meetings. “I feel that the chancellor is furthering himself out of touch with the students he serves. First, he requests for tuition hikes for the last four years, now he’s meeting with the most opposed [person] by the black community in the 21st century.”

Deane’s teammates Ron Cubbage and Derrick Wheeler had different sentiments, however. “I feel like this is a good meeting for the president considering he may not know the importance of HBCUs and our chancellors can bring notice to him. Although we are not sure it will work, it is worth a shot,” said Wheeler. “I would like to see more funding allotted to HBCUs so that we can grow as an institution with our campuses and scholarships. Trying to give the same opportunities given at PWIs [predominantly white institutions] at our colleges.”

Cubbage, a white pole vaulter who does not support Trump, said, “I feel encouraged. We cannot let a man be a deterrent in the pursuit of equality, and academic achievement amongst all people. For the moment, we are stuck with the leader we have, and it is therefore a wise choice for those who might not benefit from his administration to show him that their cause is one of importance and the embodiment of American principles. He may be a man that seems to cause disagreement, but to ignore him is to let any existing disagreement grow into a rift that will become harder to mend over time.”