‘Testify!’ by Ernest Shaw Baltimore artist and educator explores the black experience and notions of blackness through his work

Ernest Shaw is the senior artist in residence at the Motor House, an arts space in Baltimore funded in part by the Robert W. Deutsch Foundation. He is an artist and educator in the Baltimore City Public Schools and is a native Baltimorean. His new exhibition, Testify!, explores themes of black masculinity, violence against women and young black men.

Below is the artist’s statement from the Testify! exhibition.

St. James on the Cross by Ernest Shaw. A portrait of James Baldwin, depicted as an ancestor with an African mask.

Courtesy Ernest Shaw

“Art has to be a kind of confession.”James Baldwin

“Testify” is my confession. I am testifying to fifty years of study that has given birth to a culmination of work that illustrates aspects of the Black experience from a historical, social and cultural perspective. By “Black” I am not referring to the popular notion of Blackness as the antithesis to Whiteness, which was established in the mid-late seventeenth century U.S. I am referencing a Black/Blackness that’s existed for thousands of years emanating from the continent of Africa and throughout the Diaspora.

Straight No Chaser by Ernest Shaw. (Thelonious Monk) Mixed Media, 2017.

Courtesy Ernest Shaw

Blackness exists and is illustrated through cultural strains that can be witnessed everywhere Black folk/Africans reside. I’m referring to notions of Blackness as observed by the works of artists such as James Baldwin, John Coltrane, Charles White, Nina Simone, John Biggers, Elizabeth Catlett, Sun Ra and Romare Bearden, all whose work has had an impact on my process. Blackness is the roux in the gumbo and the syncopation and improvisation of America’s classical music, also known as Jazz. Blackness is the wail of a mother after losing her child and a parishioner’s shout once struck during church. It’s Dogon astrology and Nile Valley cosmology. Blackness predates the Birth of the Cool, Sundiata’s Epic and The Infinite Wisdom of Ptah Hotep. It exists in all things but cannot be encompassed by any one thing.

This exhibition is a coalition of work created for three major projects: The Blackness, Manhood and Masculinity Initiative, Sorry I Didn’t Know and Too Cool for School. A number of the pieces were created during my sabbatical from Baltimore City Public Schools. These works combined serve as my testimony to Black portraiture and Black figurative artists current and past.

A work titled George Stinney Jr. Stinney, the youngest person executed in the United States, was accused of killing two white girls in South Carolina and was convicted and executed in 1944 when he was only 14 years old. The conviction was vacated posthumously.

Courtesy Ernest Shaw

The Blackness, Manhood and Masculinity Initiative is a project originally created by slam poet and writer Kenneth Morrison and me. Two-dimensional portraits and poems were inspired by interviews of approximately one hundred Black men and boys ranging in age from fourteen to seventy-five. The interviews covered topics such as death, religion, sexuality, politics, rites of passage, creativity and relationships. Part of our mission was, and is, to re-humanize the Black male image. The work created was not only inspired by the data collected from the interviews, but the experience of collecting the data itself. It was, and is, an enlightening experience to connect with so many young and older brothers. Thank you to everyone that participated thus far. The project is ongoing and is funded by The Rubys Grant sponsored by the Robert W. Deutsch Foundation.


Well into adulthood I was suddenly made aware of the historic and systemic assault on Black women and Black womanhood. I am ashamed that through the majority of adulthood that I was oblivious to the epidemic of sexual assault, abuse and molestation experienced by so many Black women and girls by known perpetrators. It was then revealed that many victims were/are coaxed to remain silent and immediately return to a facade of normalcy. The Sorry I Didn’t Know body of images is dedicated to the layers of trauma experienced by many Black women and girls. In the series I often use traditional African masks to accompany the figure. My use of the masks is dedicated to the historic abuse of the Black woman’s body physically and psychologically. The masks represent the request of Black/African women to hide their trauma and/or attempt to become something they could never be without the use of outside assistance. The aesthetic assault on Black women’s consciousness is arguably as devastating to their self-esteem/self-worth as any physical assault.

Too Cool for School is a series of works informed by my practice as an educator of mostly Black children in Baltimore City. It focuses on the intellectual assault on Black boys who are the lowest performing demographic of students nationwide. I wish to project images of Black boys in an authentic and human light, a light that allows them to maintain the dignity and freedom allotted to boys of other racial groups. My work with Black boys also inspires me to draft images of Black boys who historically never were allowed to reach manhood, if in fact it is at all possible for a Black boy to reach/attain manhood in the context of this society.

There are ties that bind the entirety of imagery of this exhibition. My concern for authentic depictions of the Black body and imagery are at the forefront of any project, mural or lesson with which I am affiliated.

This exhibition is made possible by the financial support of the Robert W. Deutsch Foundation.

Ernest Shaw poses with his work at the Motor House, an arts space in Baltimore.

André Chung for The Undefeated

‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ was snubbed in Tony nominations for best play. What a relief. Aaron Sorkin’s Broadway adaptation ignores the racist Atticus who Harper Lee described in ‘Go Set a Watchman’

Wonder of wonders, miracle of miracles: Aaron Sorkin’s adaptation of To Kill a Mockingbird was snubbed Tuesday morning in the Tony nominations for best play, thereby avoiding a disaster of Green Bookian proportions at this summer’s awards ceremony.

That sigh you hear is this writer exhaling in a mixture of both relief and schadenfreude. Since its debut in December, To Kill a Mockingbird has been showered with rapturous plaudits, suggesting it was a shoo-in for a best play nomination. Instead, the nominations went to Choir Boy, The Ferryman, Gary: A Sequel to Titus Andronicus, Ink and What the Constitution Means to Me.

Mockingbird received nominations for lighting design, sound design, scene design, costume design, score and for performances by Jeff Daniels, Gideon Glick and Celia Keenan-Bolger. Bartlett Sher was also nominated for direction. But it struck out on the big prize, and deservedly so.

This new version of Mockingbird perpetuates one of the most pernicious, seductive lies in the history of this country: That racism, and all that results from it, can be blamed on a few cartoonishly evil characters. I have a name for these characters and the lie they have come to represent. I call them TROTs: Those Racists Over There. TROTs are scapegoats for racism, and they are everywhere, but they seem to proliferate in films that get nominated for awards. There’s Daisy Werthan in Driving Miss Daisy, Hilly Holbrook in The Help, Dixon in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, and every Southern white person who is mean to Don Shirley in Green Book.

Thanks to Sorkin, the TROT takes up residence eight times a week in the Shubert Theatre. His name is Bob Ewell (Frederick Weller), the mouth-breathing bigot who rapes his daughter and falsely accuses a handicapped black man named Tom Robinson (Gbenga Akinnagbe) of attacking her.

Frederick Weller as Bob Ewell in To Kill a Mockingbird.

Julieta Cervantes

The TROT exists in a symbiotic relationship with another trope: the white savior, who relies on the TROT so that he or she may be defined as noble, principled and morally unblemished. (Or at least, not so blemished that whatever ails them can’t be remedied by the end of the story with the aid of a psychological helpmeet. In Mockingbird, whatever perspective Atticus Finch (Jeff Daniels) may be lacking, his domestic, Calpurnia (LaTanya Richardson Jackson), dryly provides.)

But the lie that white people can be divided into distinct groups of TROTs and saviors is one that Mockingbird’s original author doesn’t believe, as evidenced by the information Harper Lee introduces about her legendarily heroic country lawyer in Go Set a Watchman.

Set 20 years after the fateful summer in which 6-year-old Scout Finch witnesses her father defend Robinson, the 2015 sequel to Lee’s Pulitzer Prize-winning 1960 novel provides a complicated and less flattering picture of Atticus than the one Sorkin valorizes through Daniels. While Lee’s Mockingbird supplies a picture of a man as seen through the admiring eyes of his young daughter, her sequel removes Scout’s rose-colored glasses and subjects Atticus to the scrutiny of a grown woman realizing that her father is not a superhero after all.

Most children discover their parents are not as perfect as they once thought. But in adapting Mockingbird for the stage, Sorkin ignored Watchman. He’s still holding fast to the notion that education and liberalism somehow flush out racism in white people like a detox tea. Sorkin’s Atticus refers to the Ewells and people like them as “ignorant citizens stuck in the old ways.” They’re easy to identify, condemn and distance oneself from.

This Mockingbird reassures the Good White People that make up its audience that they are, in fact, good. Should they need to outwardly telegraph their goodness, the production offers hoodies for sale in the basement of the Shubert that simply say “TRAYVON.” More than anything, the play encourages them to see themselves in Atticus, even after the woman who created Atticus told us his goodness was a lie.


LaTanya Richardson Jackson as Calpurnia (left) and Jeff Daniels as Atticus Finch (right) in “To Kill a Mockingbird.”

Julieta Cervantes

Atticus Finch was never as perfect as Sorkin made him. Lee told us so in Go Set a Watchman. He used to be a member of the Ku Klux Klan, the same organization that Sorkin’s Finch looks down on Bob Ewell for daring to fraternize with. In Mockingbird, Lee wrote that Finch was a descendant of slave owners. In Watchman, the same man who vigorously defended Tom Robinson is also a bigot who despises the NAACP and refers to its lawyers as “buzzards.”

“The Negroes down here are still in their childhood as a people,” he says. He asks the adult Scout, who goes by Jean Louise, “Do you want Negroes by the carload in our schools and churches and theaters? Do you want them in our world?”

Sorkin, then, creates Finch from a position of willful ignorance, which proves useful for avoiding feather-ruffling and culpability. Atticus was always racist, and Watchman provides an opportunity to see how individual racism provides the building blocks for structural inequality. But Sorkin’s Mockingbird reduces structural racism to little more than a figment of the imagination. Somehow, despite the fact that Sheriff Heck Tate, Judge Taylor and Tom Robinson’s own attorney, Atticus, all seem to agree that Ewell is clearly lying, their hands are tied and Robinson is doomed. They are utterly blameless for it.

In a recent talk at the Public Theater, White Noise playwright Suzan-Lori Parks and director Oskar Eustis shared their thinly veiled opinions of Mockingbird.

“There’s a piece of fiction that’s being staged uptown, and it posits that in a small Southern town in the ’50s or early ’60s, that in a small Southern town in that time, that the top lawyer in town [the white lawyer], the top judge in town and the white sheriff in town are all unbelievably enlightened and progressive on the subject of race relations,” Eustis said. “That only the poor white trash hate the black people.

“You sit there watching this critically acclaimed piece and you just go, ‘What world is this describing where the problem of racism is solely the problem of poor white people and the town’s white power structure had nothing to do with it?’ I mean, forget now. We’re talking about the South in the ’60s!”

Sorkin has been repeatedly praised for updating To Kill a Mockingbird for a modern audience, though I would question just how modern. It is the sort of play that either seems to be for white people who love Martin Luther King Jr. but who’ve never read Letter from Birmingham Jail or who cannot imagine that it is they who are being excoriated in it.

[Mockingbird] is describing the desire of people of means to point to impoverished white people as the problem,” Parks said. “This is exactly what’s happening now.”

In the 2016 documentary I Am Not Your Negro, director Raoul Peck includes a quotation from James Baldwin about the Birmingham of the 1960s clinging to Jim Crow.

“White people are astounded by Birmingham, black people aren’t,” Baldwin wrote. “They are endlessly demanding to be reassured that Birmingham is really on Mars. They don’t want to believe, still, less act on the belief, that what is happening in Birmingham is happening all over the country.”

This is the purpose of the TROT: to reinforce the delusion that the Bob Ewells of the world are Martians so that everyone else can tell themselves they are Atticus Finch (or, at least, who we thought Atticus was before the release of Watchman). The soothing blindness of works such as Sorkin’s Mockingbird, and the absolving embrace they offer to Good White People, is popular. It’s lucrative too. At the end of April, the show broke its own weekly Broadway box-office record for the fourth time. Its total grosses have topped $36 million since previews began in November.

But there is a cost to TROT art and the comforting lie it perpetuates, one that is borne by millions of real Tom Robinsons that America continues to persecute, in ways large and small, personal and structural. Good for the Tony voters for recognizing as much.

The 2019 Tony Nominations

Best Musical

Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of The Temptations

Beetlejuice

Hadestown

The Prom

Tootsie

Best Play

Choir Boy by Tarell Alvin McCraney

The Ferryman by Jez Butterworth

Gary: A Sequel to Titus Andronicus by Taylor Mac

Ink by James Graham

What the Constitution Means to Me by Heidi Schreck

Best Revival of a Musical

Kiss Me, Kate

Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma!

Best Revival of a Play

Arthur Miller’s All My Sons

The Boys in the Band by Mart Crowley

Burn This

Torch Song by Harvey Fierstein

The Waverly Gallery by Kenneth Lonergan

Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Musical

Brooks Ashmanskas, The Prom

Derrick Baskin, Ain’t Too Proud

Alex Brightman, Beetlejuice

Damon Daunno, Oklahoma!

Santino Fontana, Tootsie

Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Musical

Stephanie J. Block, The Cher Show

Caitlin Kinnunen, The Prom

Beth Leavel, The Prom

Eva Noblezada, Hadestown

Kelli O’Hara, Kiss Me, Kate

Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Play

Paddy Considine, The Ferryman

Bryan Cranston, Network

Jeff Daniels, To Kill a Mockingbird

Adam Driver, Burn This

Jeremy Pope, Choir Boy

Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Play

Annette Bening, All My Sons

Laura Donnelly, The Ferryman

Elaine May, The Waverly Gallery

Janet McTeer, Bernhardt/Hamlet

Laurie Metcalf, Hillary and Clinton

Heidi Schreck, What the Constitution Means to Me

Best Book of a Musical

Ain’t Too Proud, Dominique Morisseau

Beetlejuice, Scott Brown and Anthony King

Hadestown, Anaïs Mitchell

The Prom, Bob Martin and Chad Beguelin

Tootsie, Robert Horn

Best Original Score (Music and/or Lyrics) Written for the Theatre

Be More Chill, Joe Iconis

Beetlejuice, Eddie Perfect

Hadestown, Anaïs Mitchell

The Prom, Matthew Sklar and Chad Beguelin

To Kill a Mockingbird, Adam Guettel

Tootsie, David Yazbek

Best Direction of a Musical

Rachel Chavkin, Hadestown

Scott Ellis, Tootsie

Daniel Fish, Oklahoma!

Des McAnuff, Ain’t Too Proud

Casey Nicholaw, The Prom

Best Direction of a Play

Rupert Goold, Ink

Sam Mendes, The Ferryman

Bartlett Sher, To Kill a Mockingbird

Ivo van Hove, Network

George C. Wolfe, Gary: A Sequel to Titus Andronicus

Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role in a Musical

André De Shields, Hadestown

Andy Grotelueschen, Tootsie

Patrick Page, Hadestown

Jeremy Pope, Ain’t Too Proud

Ephraim Sykes, Ain’t Too Proud

Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Musical

Lilli Cooper, Tootsie

Amber Gray, Hadestown

Sarah Stiles, Tootsie

Ali Stroker, Oklahoma!

Mary Testa, Oklahoma!

Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role in a Play

Bertie Carvel, Ink

Robin De Jesús, The Boys in the Band

Gideon Glick, To Kill a Mockingbird

Brandon Uranowitz, Burn This

Benjamin Walker, All My Sons

Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Play

Fionnula Flanagan, The Ferryman

Celia Keenan-Bolger, To Kill a Mockingbird

Kristine Nielsen, Gary: A Sequel to Titus Andronicus

Julie White, Gary: A Sequel to Titus Andronicus

Ruth Wilson, King Lear

Best Choreography

Camille A. Brown, Choir Boy

Warren Carlyle, Kiss Me, Kate

Denis Jones, Tootsie

David Neumann, Hadestown

Sergio Trujillo, Ain’t Too Proud

Best Orchestrations

Michael Chorney and Todd Sickafoose, Hadestown

Larry Hochman, Kiss Me, Kate

Daniel Kluger, Oklahoma!

Simon Hale, Tootsie

Harold Wheeler, Ain’t Too Proud

Best Scenic Design of a Musical

Robert Brill and Peter Nigrini, Ain’t Too Proud

Peter England, King Kong

Rachel Hauck, Hadestown

Laura Jellinek, Oklahoma!

David Korins, Beetlejuice

Best Scenic Design of a Play

Miriam Buether, To Kill a Mockingbird

Bunny Christie, Ink

Rob Howell, The Ferryman

Santo Loquasto, Gary: A Sequel to Titus Andronicus

Jan Versweyveld, Network

Best Costume Design of a Musical

Michael Krass, Hadestown

William Ivey Long, Beetlejuice

William Ivey Long, Tootsie

Bob Mackie, The Cher Show

Paul Tazewell, Ain’t Too Proud

Best Costume Design of a Play

Rob Howell, The Ferryman

Toni-Leslie James, Bernhardt/Hamlet

Clint Ramos, Torch Song

Ann Roth, Gary: A Sequel to Titus Andronicus

Ann Roth, To Kill a Mockingbird

Best Sound Design of a Musical

Peter Hylenski, Beetlejuice

Peter Hylenski, King Kong

Steve Canyon Kennedy, Ain’t Too Proud

Drew Levy, Oklahoma!

Nevin Steinberg and Jessica Paz, Hadestown

Best Sound Design of a Play

Adam Cork, Ink

Scott Lehrer, To Kill a Mockingbird

Fitz Patton, Choir Boy

Nick Powell, The Ferryman

Eric Sleichim, Network

Best Lighting Design of a Musical

Kevin Adams, The Cher Show

Howell Binkley, Ain’t Too Proud

Bradley King, Hadestown

Peter Mumford, King Kong

Kenneth Posner and Peter Nigrini, Beetlejuice

Best Lighting Design of a Play

Neil Austin, Ink

Jules Fisher and Peggy Eisenhauer, Gary: A Sequel to Titus Andronicus

Peter Mumford, The Ferryman

Jennifer Tipton, To Kill a Mockingbird

Jan Versweyveld and Tal Yarden, Network

Oscars recap: ‘Green Book’s’ side-eye, Regina King and Spike Lee’s one shining moment Hollywood’s biggest night was filled with surprising winners and snubs

Call it prophetic. Call it coincidence. But whatever you do, call it black. On Feb. 24, 1999, Lauryn Hill made Grammys history by walking away with five awards, including the most prestigious for album of the year for her groundbreaking album The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. Exactly 20 years to the day, black actors, actresses and films captured a smorgasbord of awards at the 91st Academy Awards in Los Angeles.

True indeed this has been a Black History Month for the ages (not in a good way). Nevertheless, Sunday night’s Oscars presentation is worth discussing for several reasons: In an ideal world, Kendrick Lamar and SZA would’ve performed their Grammy and Oscar-nominated smash record “All The Stars.” Black Panther, Marvel Studios’ first Oscar winner, capturing best picture in the same parallel universe — which seemed all but a certainty off the strength of the mass hysteria it was causing this time last year. It was even featured in the NBA Slam Dunk Contest!

Speaking of best picture, though, that brings us to the first of three highlights of the evening’s festivities.

1. Green Book, really? Here’s the thing. Salute to Mahershala Ali — one of the great actors of his generation and unquestionably a class act. Yet, Green Book winning best picture will be one of the more debated Oscars forever. But, tied for the second most awards of the night with three, Book comes off as a shell of a winner. Especially when you take into account that Ali apologized to the family of Don Shirley (whom he portrayed in the film).

Spike Lee was reportedly so upset by the award that he stormed out of the venue, but then came back. For Lee, it likely brought back memories of Do The Right Thing not being nominated for best picture at the 1990 Oscars — the award that went to Driving Miss Daisy.

Black Panther and BlacKkKlansman were better films with decidedly better reviews and decidedly larger cultural impact. Nevertheless, this isn’t an indictment of Ali. But don’t be surprised if years down the road the now multiple-Oscar winner speaks his true feelings on the film.

2. One time for Spike. Consider it one of those “wait … what?” black history facts. Like Shaquille O’Neal only having one MVP award. Or Tupac Shakur, Biggie Smalls and Jimi Hendrix having a combined zero Grammys. But before Sunday night, legendary filmmaker Lee had never won an Oscar. (And, yes, Malcolm X never winning an Oscar is Hollywood’s equivalent of Roy Jones Jr. being robbed of a gold medal in the 1988 Olympics — which Lee ironically did a documentary all about and through.)

Lee’s BlacKkKlansman won best adapted screenplay and he accepted it dressed in purple in honor of Prince and rocking LOVE and HATE knuckle rings in remembrance of the late Bill Nunn’s Radio Raheem character from Do The Right Thing. Lee launched into an emotional acceptance speech — he paid homage to his enslaved ancestors, his grandmother and even indigenous tribes who had their land stripped out from under them. In other words, it was Spike Lee going full Spike Lee. And to be quite honest, he deserved that moment.

3. And one time for Regina King. Maybe it’s because my introduction to her was Iesha in 1993’s Poetic Justice. Or maybe it’s because her pulling double duty in one of the truly impactful series of our time in The Boondocks. Whatever the case, King winning awards and being lathered with exorbitant amounts of praise is the sort of black history we could all stand to bask in. She won best supporting actress Sunday night for her role in If Beale Street Could Talk — a victory made all the more impressive given the loaded field of Amy Adams (Vice), Rachel Weisz (The Favourite) Marina de Tavira (Roma) and Emma Stone (The Favourite). With the award, King became the eighth black woman to be bestowed with the honor, and it’s one she didn’t take lightly. Her emotionally charged acceptance speech thanked the late James Baldwin, whose book inspired the Barry Jenkins-directed masterpiece (which was noticeably absent from the best picture category … but that’s another debate for another time). “I feel like I’ve had so many women that paved the way, are paving the way,” King said. “I feel like I walk in their light, and I also am creating my own light, and there are young women who will walk in the light that I’m continuing to shine and expand from those women before me.” She’s a generational talent spanning multiple generations with range perhaps best described as embarrassingly dynamic. Give King all the awards. Because it’s not like she doesn’t deserve them anyway.

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4. HBCU connect. Morehouse College’s own Lee made sure to pay homage to his Spelman College-educated grandmother in that long-awaited academy speech. And Hampton University’s Ruth Carter became the first black person to win the Oscar for best costume design. Saying it felt like homecoming is a reach. But historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) played a role in stomping the yard at Sunday night’s show.

Oscar-winning director of ‘If Beale Street Could Talk’ was a prep running back who went to FSU — as a film student Barry Jenkins loves his Liberty City, Florida, high school

Don’t be fooled by director Barry Jenkins’s 5-foot-8-inch frame and nerdy, bespectacled appearance. Once upon a time, the Oscar winning-director of the new and already critically acclaimed If Beale Street Could Talk was a pretty good football player — he had skills. And he competed with and against some of the best in the state of Florida. Guys who made it to the NFL.

Before Jenkins collected his gold trophy in 2017 for his coming-of-age story Moonlight, he was putting in work at Miami’s famed Miami Northwestern Senior High School as a running back. The school and its surrounding neighborhood, Liberty City, produce more NFL talent than anywhere else: wide receivers Antonio Bryant and Amari Cooper, linebackers Marvin Jones and Khalil Jones, and so many more. There’s even a LeBron James co-produced (with Luther Campbell and Maverick Carter) docuseries, Starz’s Warriors of Liberty City, that debuted Sept. 16. It’s focused on the Miami neighborhood — and on football. Jenkins has fond memories of his hometown, and his high school, where he ran track besides playing football.

“When you go to FSU, you see what actual athletes look like, and it’s like, Yeah. OK. Cool.”

“I played with people who were really, really, really good,” said Jenkins. “I was decent, but I was not as talented as those cats. There were three running backs on my team at Northwestern, and two of them made it to the NFL — the other one is me.”

But don’t cry for Jenkins. He’s done quite well by his life choices. At the age of 39, he’s earned an impressive list of nominations and wins for 2008’s Medicine for Melancholy and, of course, 2016’s Oscar-winning Moonlight, which also picked up wins from the Independent Spirit Awards and Los Angeles Film Critics Association, a Writers Guild of America award and a New York Film Critics Circle award. And surely there are more wins on the way.

For Jenkins, football beyond high school was nonexistent. His grades were excellent and he earned an academic scholarship to football powerhouse Florida State University, where he saw former schoolmates suit up for games. Jenkins knew he made the right choice. “When you go to FSU, you see what actual athletes look like,” he said, deadpan, “and it’s like … Yeah. OK. Cool.” The Florida State Seminoles won one of their three national championships in 1999. Jenkins’s high school has won at least five Class 6A state championships.

“The most concrete examples of nurturing, of tutelage, especially as far as black men were concerned, was in my athletic endeavors.”

Track wasn’t the wave either. “I was a good hurdler, but the hurdles get higher in college and I’m like 5-8, so there’s no way. And it was just one of those things that was fated, because there just happened to be a film school at Florida State, and I kinda stumbled into it.”

That stumble proved fruitful, but Jenkins didn’t abandon sports altogether. It’s clear the writer and director has a love affair with athletics; sports somehow show up in nuanced and overt ways in his work. In Beale Street, which was adapted from James Baldwin’s novel and is already a front-runner for the coming awards season, there’s a line whispering of Muhammad Ali’s greatness. But it’s Jenkins’s background as an athlete that he works through when he’s creating his art.

“When you demystify the process of making films, when you’re actually on a film set, it is a very immersive physical endeavor,” said Jenkins. “And it is like the director or producers are like football coaches or GMs [general managers], in a certain way. Because I’m not the one who’s setting up the lights. I’m not the one giving the performance, doing the acting. I’m just calling the plays and, hopefully, helping people bring out the best in themselves.”

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He said that when he got into film school, his only experience in a similar collaborative environment was in athletics. “It always just seemed like the two things were related in a certain way,” he said. “The most concrete examples of nurturing, of tutelage, especially as far as black men were concerned, was in my athletic endeavors, to be honest. Even though I didn’t pursue a life in athletics, I think so much of what I do now, whether it’s the operation of a company or the operation of my film sets, is dictated by the things I learned while an athlete.”

Much of that is evident in Beale Street. In it, he coaches new film actor KiKi Layne (this is her first film role) into what is already an award-worthy performance. So far, she’s earned a nomination for breakthrough actor at the Gotham Independent Film Awards, which were held Monday night in New York.

Beale Street is a story of white supremacy and blackness in 1970s Harlem — and, eerily enough, the same type of story that dominates today’s headlines. It’s narrated via the voice of Layne’s character. She’s facing an uphill battle against an unfriendly system.

“I wanted to make a film about high school football at some point that really challenged what high school football is like in a place like Miami.”

This is how Jenkins’s art works: as activism. In Moonlight, he delivered a black, gay, coming-of-age story unlike anything audiences had ever seen. In Beale Street, a relatable lack of social justice, presented through the experiences of a black woman.

“I’m just trying to tell these stories in the way they demand to be told,” said Jenkins. “It’s really important for me to use my … visual voice … to do things with the work that takes it and extends it to a whole place beyond. … So now, visually, artistically, what is it about this image? Is it about the way these actors’ skin looks? Skin tones? What is it about the way two black men can sit in silence and sit with this trauma that they were doing to each other? What is it about that? And the themes that Mr. Baldwin is working at, they take [the cinematic characters] to a new place.”

The film is visually stunning. Perhaps even overriding the trauma laid out in the story is simply how beautiful the characters look on film. Embedded in the horror of black skin being criminalized for being black is a magnificently shot story of young, black love. It’s reminiscent of the way Jenkins received acclaim for how gorgeous his shots were in Moonlight while bathing his characters in pain and hurt.

Looking past this film — and all that’s sure to come with it, considering the early hoopla and cheers for it — Jenkins may be bringing this same brilliant aesthetic to a sports story. At some point.

“The first script I ever wrote was a high school football movie,” he said. “I’d seen the feature film Friday Night Lights, the [2004] one by Peter Berg, and it bothered me how, after the big game at the end, the big, black school … how they didn’t show respect to the small, prairie-town school. As an athlete, I was like, ‘That don’t make no sense!’ ”

It left a bitter taste in his mouth.

“There were three running backs on my [high school] team, and two of them made it to the NFL. The other one is me.”

“I was like, ‘No, I wanna tell the story of Friday Night Lights from the perspective of that team.’ And that was what the script was,” Jenkins said. “I wanted to make a film about high school football at some point that really challenged what high school football is like in a place like Miami. When you see stories of athletics, they’re always small-town Texas. And it’s like, well, yeah, the city with the highest per capita players in the NFL is Miami, Florida.”

And specifically Liberty City?

Jenkins laughs before speaking again, clearly beaming with pride as he said: “Specifically Liberty City! Exactly!”

If only black America could work together as well as the NBA champion Warriors Yet, professor Michael Eric Dyson says, ‘black folks are a league, not a team’

The Golden State Warriors will hold their victory parade in Oakland, California, Tuesday, celebrating the franchise’s third NBA title in four years.

This season’s accomplishment was heralded as the triumph of a great team and teamwork.

The Warriors are a team of stars, superstars, young players, veteran players, strong personalities and unique talents.

After the final game June 8, a few players hinted that internal pressures and undisclosed distractions had made 2017-2018 a particularly vexing campaign. Yet, the Warriors survived to win their third title since the 2015-2016 season.

As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of tumultuous 1968, I find myself wondering whether far-flung black America could use the Warriors’ brand of teamwork to achieve a championship in an atmosphere of clickbait self-centeredness and narcissism.

The civil rights movement was a testament to the bravery of little and the concerted action of many. Just as the Warriors had their issues, there were tensions and rivalries with the movement but the brutality and persistence of white supremacy were often enough to force alliances.

“We’ve always had disagreements and scuffles,” professor Michael Eric Dyson said. “We’re going to have skirmishes. All black people don’t have to agree with all black people in order for black people to succeed.”

“We’ve always had disagreements and scuffles,” professor Michael Eric Dyson said during a recent conversation. “We’re going to have skirmishes. All black people don’t have to agree with all black people in order for black people to succeed.”

We were discussing Dyson’s new book, What Truth Sounds Like: Robert F. Kennedy, James Baldwin, and Our Unfinished Conversation About Race in America. The book centers on a 1963 conversation between Robert F. Kennedy and a group of handpicked black celebrities and activists about the smoldering racial tensions in America. Kennedy became annoyed when his guests offered a no-holds-barred assessment of racism, including the Kennedys’ culpability.

The book’s overarching themes were the need to speak truth to (white) power and the need for white power to listen.

I told Dyson that I felt African-Americans spend far too much time persuading the white power structure to listen. I used a sports-team analogy, suggesting it was like Tyronn Lue, the Cleveland Cavaliers coach, going to the Golden State locker room before a game and asking Warriors coach Steve Kerr to take his foot off the Cavaliers’ neck.

Why should he? They are opponents.

Just as Lue worked tirelessly — and ultimately unsuccessfully — to devise a strategy to defeat the Warriors, more time and energy is needed to get our own locker room, the black team’s locker room, committed to winning. That’s because racism is deeply rooted and an omnipresent opponent.

We must do everything it takes to achieve victory: prison reform, police accountability and economic justice. We must be as committed to the proposition of teamwork toward this end.

Dyson accepted the metaphor of the black team but argued that African-Americans are far too diverse and varied to be a single team.

“Black folks are a league, not a team,” he said.

On top of that, he argued, you have to figure out who’s on your team. Everybody who is your color isn’t on your team.

Regardless, great teams bolster the NBA. The majority of franchises are in disarray. Some teams are talent-laden yet never win. Some, such as the New York Knicks, the NBA’s most valuable franchise, don’t have to win to turn a profit. Some black “teams” are like that as well, where individual success is valued over collective success.

The beauty of Golden State, and before that a franchise like San Antonio, is understanding the vision of collective gain vs. individual gain.

I raised the issue of teamwork and great teams with David West, the Warriors’ 37-year-old veteran forward. West is a veteran of 15 NBA seasons. He came into the league in 2003. West has been with four teams, has been in the playoffs but did not win a title until he joined Golden State.

David West of the Golden State Warriors poses for a portrait with the Larry O’Brien NBA Championship Trophy after defeating the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 4 of the 2018 NBA Finals on June 8.

Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images

He has won two titles with Golden State.

West said the most important element for Golden State this season — and for successful teams in general — was “the ability to put aside personal agendas for the time that we are together. When we go to practice, guys aren’t bringing their issues into practice. Guys aren’t bringing their own ‘I’m going to do it my way’ into the group environment.”

West mentioned the Warriors’ morning music locker-room playlist as a small but poignant example of the give-and-take that forms the backbone of a successful team.

“Usually, wherever you go, the young guys rule the music,” said West, who played with New Orleans, Charlotte, San Antonio and Indiana before joining Golden State.

At Golden State, the distribution of music is generationally diverse, from Gordon Bell, the 23-year-old center, to West. The music is a thread that connects generations and sensibilities.

“You might hear Earth Wind & Fire and Kool & the Gang one morning. You hear Michael Jackson another morning, and you might hear Kodak Black the next morning,” said West.

The tone is set from veteran players Stephen Curry or Kevin Durant or Draymond Green; it’s set for everything from music to free-flowing, no-holds-barred conversation in the locker room.

“In terms of what we talk about, nothing is out of bounds,” West said.

Talent matters and continuity matters. But there are teams that have talent and continuity that do not win.

On the team or in the movement, teamwork requires selflessness and sacrifice that might mean putting oneself in danger or at risk to achieve a greater good.

Each generation, of players or activists, must decide what is that greater good. What is the connective thread? The common denominator?

On the sports team, the thread is winning. On the black team, the thread varies from generation to generation.

In his book, Exchanging Our Country Marks: The Transformation of African Identities in the Colonial and Antebellum South, historian Michael Gomez writes about Denmark Vesey’s insurrection of 1822 when people of African descent “born in either Africa or the Americas, coalesced for the purposes of realizing a common objective.”

Gomez pointed out that even free blacks cast their lot with those in legal bondage “after sober assessment revealed that their own status was precarious if not illusory.”

In Vesey’s failed rebellion, the unifying element was religion, though that ultimately was not enough to overcome social and ethnic differences. In 1968, we were unified by the brutality of a deeply racist system determined to sustain itself.

In 2018, sports and high-profile sports stars making statements and taking stands have become a unifying thread. The NFL champions Philadelphia Eagles, largely because of the protest of black players, did not go to visit the White House. The Warriors twice have said they would not attend if invited.

West said social consciousness seeped into the Golden State locker room where there were several conversations over the last two seasons about whether to protest during the playing of the national anthem. There were agreements and disagreements, but nothing got in the way of the ultimate quest to win a third NBA title.

“Black people have to give up the notion that we have to be unified in order for us to have progress,” said Dyson. “We do not.”

Commitment is more crucial than consensus.

Whether achieving an NBA title or the endless quest for freedom and justice, there must be a commitment to achieve collective victories.

The Warriors’ parade Tuesday, their third in four years, is a testament to dedication, vision and the power of teamwork.

‘Pose’ on FX: an earnest, romantic family drama about gay and trans people of color Marrying art and politics is never easy, but Ryan Murphy’s show hits the sweet spot

This, as promised by the headline, will be an essay about Pose. But first, we have to get something out of the way: Stonewall is the worst film I have ever seen.

The 2015 film from Independence Day director Roland Emmerich was ostensibly about the Stonewall riots. But it found so many ways to be terrible that if you told me now that it was an elaborate exercise in trolling, my response would be OK, that makes sense.

Stonewall needlessly rewrote queer history, shoehorning in a made-up white ingenue from Middle America to drive its story while sidelining the tales of real-life trans women of color such as Marsha P. Johnson who were instrumental to the fateful Christopher Street revolt. It billed itself as the definitive, celebratory story of the start of the modern gay rights movement, but instead it was self-indulgent and meandering with bargain bin production values.

Schlock like Stonewall is why audiences have learned to temper their expectations when it comes to fictive narratives about queer people of color. Even in the queer cultural canon, people of color and trans people are largely missing from stage or screen, especially as central characters. This spring has offered renewed celebration of The Boys in the Band and Angels in America, pivotal works both, on Broadway. When it comes to television, Showtime broke serious ground with Queer as Folk and The L Word, making way for HBO’s Looking years later. Films such as Milk, The Normal Heart, The Kids Are All Right, Brokeback Mountain, Dallas Buyers Club, But I’m A Cheerleader, and Transamerica netted high praise and told valued stories about what it means to be queer — if you are white. And if you aren’t, better luck finding yourself within the pages of James Baldwin, Audre Lorde, Alice Walker, or the staged works of Tarell Alvin McCraney, whose play provided the source material for Moonlight. As for television with a majority-minority queer cast, there’s Noah’s Arc and … Noah’s Arc.

Now there’s Pose, a new FX drama from Ryan Murphy about New York’s 1980s drag ball culture, which premiered Sunday night. Pose debuted a mere three nights into June, which marks the start of Pride season in America because it’s the month the Stonewall riots began. Pose is Paris is Burning come to life, mixed with a dollop or two of Fame. It is the sort of thing that makes you offer up prayers of hope to Mother Ru: Please don’t let this be another Stonewall-sized Hindenburg.

In the queer cultural canon of Angels in America and Brokeback Mountain, people of color and trans people are largely missing from stage or screen, especially as central characters.

Before anyone had seen a minute of television, it was clear that Murphy and FX had paid attention to the politics of the production. At the Television Critics Association press tour in January, Murphy and co-creator Brad Falchuk were saying all the right things about listening and humbling themselves as architects of a closed-off world in which they had little to no expertise. FX made sure journalists knew that the show’s cast was composed of trans actresses of color. The word “intersectionality” came up a lot.

“The writers’ room is a very intimate space, so no question is off-limits,” Pose writer and activist Janet Mock told me at the press tour. “There’s a stripping away of ego because we’re all on the same level.

“There were a lot of conversations about blackness, about colorism, about hair textures — that’s why you see the girls all with naturals. It was through the conversation we had about what it means to be a person of color, but then a person of color in the ’80s, who’s a woman, who’s also a trans woman, who’s also poor. All of that stuff comes in and so you have to break it down to the very basic elements, and then not make it too conscious that we’re in the 2000s writing about the 1980s.”

But what about the show itself? I’ve watched the first four episodes, and I found it earnest, romantic, heartbreaking, and instantly addictive. It’s clear that the discussions of the politics of the show were merely a foundation from which an engaging, unique family drama could emerge. Pose is lush and expensive in a way that few stories about queer people of color are, and its audience took notice.

Murphy is no stranger to telling the stories of gay characters. He gave the world The Assassination of Gianni Versace and before that, Kurt Hummel (Chris Colfer) and Wade “Unique” Adams (Alex Newell) in Glee. But in his enthusiasm to portray the torture of being a gay outcast in high school, Murphy could sometimes forget the trauma stirred up by watching a kid get thrown into a dumpster or slushied, week after week after week. And Glee was contemporary. How would those inclinations show up in a period piece like Pose, set in 1987, with the AIDS crisis raging through New York, but still worlds away from the activism of Larry Kramer and a nascent ACT UP? It wasn’t just commonplace to hear Donna Summer on the radio, it was commonplace to hear schoolchildren taunting each other with anti-gay slurs. The cruelty of 1987 was arguably far more cutting than anything in 2010, when Glee began airing. But Pose is balanced. It doesn’t shy away from how awful anti-gay parents could be toward their gay children, as viewers see when Damon (Ryan Jamaal Swain) is kicked out of the house with only a backpack and coat for having a gay flesh magazine under his mattress. But Pose’s characters are not defined by their suffering.

The rejection Damon faces ends up being necessary emotional grounding for the show, and to understanding ball culture. Beneath the wigs and furs, there is community and refuge for people rejected by polite society. Set against the backdrop of ‘80s ball and drag culture is a show about how so many people like Damon relied on their “chosen” families to keep them alive.

The storylines and conflicts are connected by Pray Tell, Pose’s master of ceremonies played by Tony winner Billy Porter, a veteran who brings effortless magnetism to a show full of new and promising talent. Dominique Jackson, the actress who plays house mother Elektra Abundance, offers the sort of withering reads, with every syllable articulated, that would make Dorian Corey proud.

I hope Pose catches fire. It is a gem and it’s clear that Murphy, 52, has his eye on how he and his work will be remembered.

“He talked about legacy building in the sense of bringing other people in that he could help develop,” Mock said, explaining why Murphy approached her to work on Pose when she’d never written for television before.

So often, Murphy’s leading ladies have been straight cisgender women deployed as high camp. It was as though he kept birthing new characters with the expectation that they be re-created in the latest drag revues. And that’s fine. But in Pose, Murphy has tapped something else: the sort of heartfelt stories and honest emotion that result from going straight to the source.

Lena Waithe: ‘Your art is stunted when you’re trying to pretend to be something you aren’t’ The actor/producer and Emmy-winning writer is in love, in ‘Ready Player One’ and in the business of kicking down doors

Before my conversation with Lena Waithe begins, I issue a warning. She is, after all, the creator of Showtime’s excellent The Chi, a fictional series about Chicago’s South Side.

“Nothing better ever happen to Papa! I mean it, Lena!”

Waithe laughs mightily at my plea to keep the innocent and charismatic Papa free of harm. Charmingly portrayed by Shamon Brown Jr., he’s one of the three preteen black boys through which we see the neighborhood.

“Look, man,” the Emmy winner says with a giggle, “no one stays safe in The Chi. Even the children.”

What Waithe has done is create characters so tangible they feel like family. She gives an episodic answer to the “What about Chicago?” crowd. In The Chi, Waithe gives us family that you want to protect, support, and keep safe and sound. Her series takes much of what we loved about HBO’s groundbreaking The Wire and shifts focus to spotlight the very real people behind the very real headlines that we see — or don’t see enough. The Chi just ended its inaugural season’s run, but it’ll be back for a second season soon. But Waithe? She’s just beginning. Like for real, for real.

Lena Waithe turns 34 soon. She’s been working steadily in Hollywood since graduating from Chicago’s Columbia College in 2006, and she’s worked for some of the most prominent black female directors in the business — Ava DuVernay and Gina Prince-Bythewood have both been bosses — and in 2011, the S— Black Girls Say video series went viral. The much-debated sensation was written by Waithe.

And by 2018? On the eve of the Oscars, Waithe was feted by Essence at its Black Women in Hollywood luncheon, where she was honored by Angela Bassett, Justin Simien and Steven Spielberg. “Here’s the thing,” she said. “I tend to be really rounded … and I think that’s because I’ve paid a lot of dues. I genuinely love this business, this industry. I love what I do. And also, my lady, my fiancée, keeps me really grounded.”

So much of Waithe’s story stems from her own personal life — on her willingness to live out loud and stand in her own truth as a black lesbian. Last year, she became the first black woman to win an Emmy for outstanding writing for a comedy series for her work on Master of None; the “Thanksgiving” episode of that series mirrored her own experience coming out to her mom.

And despite her rocketing fame — she was featured, solo, on the cover of Vanity Fair last week — she’s unbothered. “It’s commerce, it’s exchange,” she said. “It’s like you’re hot right now, someone else will be hot next year. What happens to some people — we’ve seen it, when they get all caught up — they start to think, ‘Oh, ain’t I grand?’ There are a lot of us who are talented and gifted and great … and I see this with Donald [Glover] too, where at the end of the day we’re like, ‘Look, man. We’re pretty good at what we do, but there’s always folks coming up after us.’ There’s always [people] nipping after you. People should never get comfortable … you just have to always be a student, you have to always be humble, and you’ve got to always know that the business loves a new, shiny toy.”

But Waithe is not just talent. She’s a creator, someone who is passionate about representation and progression. And she has heavy hitters in her corner, like Spielberg, the legendary director who hired her for her most recent role, as Aech/Helen in Ready Player One.

“I’m probably going to stumble, I’ll fall, I’ll mess up, and I think that’s when you get a real sense of where you stand.”

“I don’t know if he’s ever stood back to think about, ‘Oh, how are people receiving me?’ Or, ‘Where’s my legacy?’ He’s like, I just want to make things that I’m passionate about, and I think that’s my mission,” she said of Spielberg. And of herself she says, “I figure that as long as I do that, I’ll be on the right track. I’m probably going to stumble, I’ll fall, I’ll mess up, and I think that’s when you get a real sense of where you stand. But my hope is that folks will just rock with me and go on this journey with me.”

Much of her journey is about inclusion. In this season of The Chi, the series introduces us to one of the families on the South Side that is made up of two mothers, a teen daughter and a preteen son. It was subtle, and it quietly helped normalize a nuclear family that’s headed up by two lesbians in love; it wasn’t that episode’s central focus. It just was. And that’s important to Waithe.

“It’s the thing that’s on my heart,” she said. “Everybody has a cause, a thing that is … a thorn in their side, and that’s one for me.” Then she gets into the complex subject of being black and gay and out and verbal about it all — in Hollywood. “I’m so confused by it,” she said. “Maybe I shouldn’t be, because I can somewhat understand why some people want to keep their sexual orientation private — typically African-American people who are in the public eye. I guess to some extent, but I think that our children are literally killing themselves. Our queer children are thinking that they’re less than. Are thinking that they’ll never be loved. Are thinking that they’ll never have a normal, happy life. … No. Their lives are priceless.”

Waithe said something very similar and poignant to that room at the Essence luncheon earlier this month. It pierced the crowd and resounded loudly to a group of mostly black women, who were already emotionally laid out by the electrifying speech on beauty and acceptance that Black Panther’s Danai Gurira, who also was honored, had delivered earlier that day.

“The reason why people are closeted,” she continued, “is because they’re afraid, particularly in Hollywood. They’re afraid of losing a fan base. They’re afraid of losing people — lost endorsement deals and roles, things like that. [But] if they walk away from you once they figure out who you really are, like, why are we even dealing with that?”

“We keep hearing the story of the white girl and her mom. We keep seeing the story about this old white man on the mountain. There’s so many other narratives that we should be exploring.”

Waithe wants everyone to experience the authenticity she’s living right now. You can’t create a moment like the Thanksgiving coming-out episode inside of a black family unit, she says, without a willingness to be vulnerable.

“I think your art is stunted when you’re trying to pretend to be something you aren’t. You can’t be as happy,” she said. “If I was in the closet, I would not be a happy camper. I just wouldn’t be. I’m a real b—-. I’m a truth-teller. I can’t sit here and act like I don’t have a phenomenal woman at home, with an engagement ring on her finger that I bought as a token of my love.”

There’s of course a long history of gay people in Hollywood performing heterosexuality. Waithe takes a moment to remind. “[People] literally have partners and wives and husbands, and like — because of what? They want to protect the facade. It’s like you’re preventing your art from being as great as it can be, and that’s because you’re not being completely honest with the public. And I think it’s bulls—. If James Baldwin can be out and proud and effeminate … in Harlem and in Paris and walking around and all that kind of stuff, so can we.”

Waithe can’t say enough about this idea of unveiling and revealing. Because she doesn’t want to be out here alone. She doesn’t want to be the only revolutionary out here with a megaphone. It’s lonely.

“I see these cats all the time, out and about, they hug me and say, ‘I’m so proud of you. You’re out! You’re doing it!’ And I want to look at them and go, ‘Why aren’t you?’ Why do I have to be out here on the diving board by myself?’ ”

Lena Waithe as Helen in Warner Bros. Pictures’ Ready Player One.

Jaap Buitendijk

And now we have Lena Waithe the actor.

It’s not a space that she had designs on. But she’s being asked to come in and read for parts, as with Ready Player One, and being cast in shows like NBC’s emotionally gripping This Is Us. Casting directors are calling her people and asking for her as front-facing talent. She has, in fact, a seat at the table. All of the tables.

“That’s what I’ve always wanted to be, a television writer. When you have a presence in front of the camera, the business treats you differently. You get a little bit more of a red carpet rollout. If you send somebody an email, they respond right away. It’s just that weird caste that we have in this town.”

But she’s using her newfound power for good. And her mission is clear: help writers of color. She’s making sure a diverse group of writers has access to writing classes, and she’s all about making connections.

“People look at me and Donald and Issa [Rae] and Justin and Barry [Jenkins] and … I’m like, there’s so many phenomenal writers of color that are just dope. And not just black, but Native American, Latino and members of the queer community. People who live with disabilities. From the trans community. People who are nonbinary,” she said. “We keep hearing the story of the white girl and her mom. We keep seeing the story about this old white man on the mountain. There’s so many other narratives that we should be exploring that are interesting. We haven’t even scratched the surface.”

Waithe is already thinking ahead to the next season of The Chi. Common executive produces, and Ayanna Floyd Davis has signed on for season two as executive producer and showrunner. The show will go back into production later this year.

“We’re going to really step it up. It’s going to be blacker. The women are going to have a lot more to do. And I just have a lot more power this go-around,” Waithe said. “It’s only going to get better. For Atlanta season two, I feel like it’s a little more lived in, and Donald’s a little more confident in what he’s doing, and he’s taking a few more risks, which is really cool. And I want our season two to kind of feel like what season two of Atlanta feels like. Just a little more seasoned.”

And she has more on the way: a pilot order for TBS with Simien, with whom she last teamed up for Dear White People. “I get to be back in the saddle again,” Waithe said, “and to tell a story about a queer black girl and her two straight best friends. And them navigating life in Los Angeles, and what that looks like.”

Because telling stories, stories that don’t often get told, is what Waithe does best.

So long as Papa survives. Please?

24 books for white people to read beyond Black History Month These great reads will help any reader discover the rich range of the African-American experience

For many years I was a clueless white guy. I suffered from one-ness. What I really needed was two-ness, and maybe three-ness and four-ness. I came to see my whiteness not as privilege but as insufficiency, thanks to W. E. B. Du Bois and his 1903 book The Souls of Black Folk.

In a remarkable passage, the great scholar, author and activist described the Negro as “a sort of seventh son, born with a veil, and gifted with second-sight in this American world, — a world which yields him no true self-consciousness, but only lets him see himself through the revelation of the other world. It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eye of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity. One ever feels his two-ness, — an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideas in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder.”

Here is the good news. I am not there yet, but I am gaining on two-ness. My white skin is no longer a prison of cluelessness. With the help of African-American friends and colleagues, I am beginning to see America through the eyes of not the Other but others. Through their generosity, I have been invited to ask questions. I heard or saw things I didn’t understand. I did not yet know how to learn, nor did I have the courage to ask a question that might come off as racist. My fear was met by encouragement from the likes of Rev. Kenny Irby, DeWayne Wickham, Dr. Karen Dunlap, Keith Woods, Dr. Lillian Dunlap. “Don’t worry,” they indicated by one means or another. “Ask away. No one is going to leave the room or show you the door.”

Some of my clueless questions:

“When I see a police car, unless I am speeding, I think protection. Tell me why when you see a cop car you may think oppression?”

“I don’t get the absence of so many black fathers in the lives of their children. What is up with that?”

“I have learned to hate the N-word. When I hear it from black rappers, should I be offended?”

“I keep running into this idea of ‘good hair’ vs. ‘bad hair.’ As someone with very bad hair, I think that anyone with any kind of hair has good hair. What am I missing?”

There came a time during these interrogations when I felt a little fatigue setting in from my colleagues. And then Karen Dunlap, my boss and president of the Poynter Institute, made it explicit. It gets tiring, she explained, bearing the burden of white people’s ignorance about black people and African-American culture. “You know,” she gave me a Sunday school teacher look, “you could read something.”

Read something. Yes, read something!

And so I have. Over the past two decades I have developed quite a nice collection of what I might generally describe as African-American literature, some of it written by white journalists or scholars but most of it created by black poets, playwrights, scholars, novelists, essayists and critics. My collection is now large enough to be displayed, and I recently did just that in the library of the Poynter Institute.

I am not claiming this to be an expert collection of works, and certainly not a model one. But it is my collection, and I believe it has made me a better friend, colleague, parent, citizen and human being. I offer this list, with brief annotations, at the END of Black History Month to encourage readers not to limit their learning to the shortest month of the year.

So please learn, grow — and enjoy.


  • My Soul Is Rested: The Story of the Civil Rights Movement in the Deep South, by Howell Raines. A superb oral history of the key moments and key figures of the struggle.
  • The Color of Water: A Black Man’s Tribute to His White Mother, by James McBride. “What color is God?” a dark-skinned boy asks his light-skinned mother. “God is the color of water.”
  • Reporting Civil Rights (Parts One and Two) Library of America edition of great American journalism on race and social justice, 1941-1973.
  • The Authentic Voice: The Best Reporting on Race and Ethnicity, edited by Arlene Morgan, Alice Pifer and Keith Woods. Rich examples reveal the power of inclusiveness in all the stories we tell.
  • The Sound of Freedom: Marian Anderson, the Lincoln Memorial, and the Concert That Awakened America, by Raymond Arsenault. A great biography of a great American artist by the historian who also gave us Freedom Riders: 1961 and the Struggle for Racial Justice.
  • Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice, by Phillip Hoose. Before Rosa Parks became an American icon, a young teenage girl, Claudette Colvin, refused to give up her seat on a bus. Written for young readers, but important for all.
  • The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, by Michelle Alexander. First came slavery, then came segregation, then came mass incarceration.
  • Between the World and Me, by Ta-Nehisi Coates. Framed as a letter to his adolescent son, the author digs down to consequences of the continuing exploitation of black people in America. By the author who has made the most eloquent case in favor of reparations for continuing effects of slavery.
  • Beloved, by Toni Morrison, winner of the Nobel Prize for literature. “Stares unflinchingly into the abyss of slavery.” Another must-read is The Bluest Eye, a terrifying novel about cultural definitions of beauty and the tragedy of self-hatred.
  • Fences, by August Wilson. Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for drama, this play depicts what it means for a father to love his son — even at times when he doesn’t like him.
  • Woodholme: A Black Man’s Story of Growing Up Alone, by DeWayne Wickham. An orphan, black and poor, grows up to be one of America’s most prominent newspaper columnists.
  • Crossing the Danger Water: Three Hundred Years of African-American Writing, edited by Deirdre Mullane. If I had to recommend a single volume, this anthology would be it: more than 700 pages of history, literature and insight.
  • In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens, by Alice Walker. Glowing essays expressed in what the author of The Color Purple calls “Womanist Prose.”
  • March (Books One, Two and Three), a trilogy, graphic-novel style, on the life and times of congressman John Lewis, with Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell. A work for adults and young readers.
  • Extraordinary, Ordinary People: A Memoir of Family, by Condoleezza Rice. This family memoir by the former U.S. secretary of state carries us back to when she was 8 years old and her young friends were murdered in the bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama.
  • Parting the Waters: America in the King Years 1954-63, by Taylor Branch. Widely hailed by critics of all races as “a vivid tapestry of America.”
  • Race Matters, by Cornel West. From W. E. B. Du Bois to Cornel West, African-American intellectuals have helped Americans of all colors understand the sources of racism and the need for change.
  • The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man, James Weldon Johnson. The 1912 short novel narrates what it means for a person of mixed race to “pass for white” within the system of American apartheid.
  • The Race Beat: The Press, the Civil Rights Struggle, and the Awakening of a Nation, by Gene Roberts and Hank Klibanoff. Winner of a Pulitzer Prize. The stories behind the stories of civil rights, including the inspirational courage and leadership of African-American journalists and publishers.
  • On the Bus with Rosa Parks, by Rita Dove. Winner of the Pulitzer Prize, her poetry captures a unique vision of the love and spirit of those who struggled against segregation.
  • Soul on Ice, by Eldridge Cleaver. Bought this as a college student in 1968 along with Look Out, Whitey! Black Power’s Gon’ Get Your Mama! by Julius Lester. Written from a California state prison by a key figure in the Black Panther movement.
  • Black and White Styles in Conflict, by Thomas Kochman. Are black people and white people the same — or different? Turns out, the answer is “both,” according to the white sociologist who drills down into American culture to reveal the sources of our misunderstanding.
  • The Fire Next Time, by James Baldwin. Framed as a letter to his young nephew on the 100th anniversary of emancipation. A searing call for justice.
  • The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes. The poet was black a black man in a white world, a gay man in a straight world. His experience of two-ness created, I would argue, one of the most impressive bodies of poetry in American history. Were there not an unofficial color line in the Pulitzer Prize judging, he would have won — and more than once.

In building this list, I emphasize again that it is only special in that it is mine, and in that it has led me to a place I wanted and needed to be. There are countless worthy works not on my list, and countless more that are soon to be written. If I may borrow a phrase from the late Julius Lester: Look out, Whitey! Read some of these books and, who knows, you may get a clue. May there be two-ness in your future — and more.

New documentary shows us that Lorraine Hansberry of ‘A Raisin in the Sun’ was one tough-minded woman ‘Sighted Eyes/Feeling Heart’ portrays a ‘left-wing radical’ who spoke truth to power

Here’s a phrase I bet you thought you’d never read: Be prepared to fangirl over Lorraine Hansberry.

Told ya.

Friday at 9 p.m., PBS is airing Sighted Eyes/Feeling Heart, a documentary on Hansberry, whose life story has been collapsed into a criminally incomplete Black History Month tidbit. She wrote A Raisin in the Sun, and then Sidney Poitier and Ruby Dee starred in the movie adaptation. At some point you watched it in middle school one February and didn’t pay much attention because it was in black and white. Or someone in your class cracked a joke about Poitier always being ashy.

But Hansberry was so much more. As Dee says in an interview in Sighted Eyes, “She seemed to know something about everything. She was a profound thinker.”

Thank goodness for director Tracy Heather Strain, who committed years to research and gathering the funds and archival footage necessary to make Sighted Eyes. The film transforms the memory of Hansberry from that polite woman who wrote one really important play to, as Hansberry’s friend Douglas Turner Ward deemed her, a “left-wing radical.”

I first saw Sighted Eyes at the Toronto International Film Festival last year, and about 20 minutes into it I scribbled in my notebook, “I think I love this woman.”

Hansberry had a wit that would have fit perfectly in today’s times, examining the traps of respectability politics and sending them up. Toward the end of her life, she bought a bucolic compound in a predominantly white area of upstate New York and winkingly named it Chitterling Heights. It was a nod, I think, to the efforts of her father to integrate Chicago’s then-white neighborhood of Woodlawn when she was 7. One of the formative experiences in Hansberry’s life was when a crowd gathered outside the Hansberry house in Woodlawn and someone threw a piece of mortar through their front window that just missed her head. What better way to throw a middle finger to white supremacy than to move into a neighborhood and give your house the blackest name you could think of?

Lorraine Hansberry surrounded by clapping African-American teens at Camp Minisink in upstate New York.

Courtesy of Gin Briggs/Lorraine Hansberry Properties Trust

Let’s not disregard the significance of A Raisin in the Sun. Hansberry crafted a play in 1959 about a family living on the South Side of Chicago that dared to show black people as, well, people and not buffoons, and she wrote it by drawing from her own experiences. But Hansberry was also a fearless agitator for civil rights, a feminist inspired by Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex, which she said “might very well be the most important work of this century,” a nervy woman who had mapped out a plan for her life by the age of 23 and miraculously stuck to it. She was privately queer and unapologetically black, and undoubtedly someone who would have transformed American culture even more had she lived past the age of 34 (she died of pancreatic cancer). Hansberry married Robert Nemiroff, a producer and champion of her work, in 1953. He left his white wife to be with her, and he was so devoted to her and in awe of her that even though they divorced in 1962, Nemiroff publicly served as Hansberry’s beard for many years.

Hansberry began her writing career as a journalist for the black newspaper Freedom, which was founded by Paul Robeson. She began writing about racism, sexism, poverty and imperialism, which caught the negative attention of one J. Edgar Hoover. Even as civil rights agitators were being identified and surveilled by the FBI, they persisted in their work, and Hansberry was one of them.

She bought a bucolic compound in a predominantly white area of upstate New York and winkingly named it Chitterling Heights.

Lorraine Hansberry holds hands and sings with singer Nina Simone and other activists at a pre-benefit gathering for the Student NonViolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in June 1963 in the home of activist/singer/actor Theodore Bikel.

Courtesy of Lorraine Hansberry Properties Trust

A group of black activists and artists assembled by James Baldwin to meet with Attorney General Bobby Kennedy included Hansberry, Harry Belafonte and Lena Horne. The May 1963 meeting was meant to pressure the Kennedy administration on civil rights or, at the very least, gain its sympathy.

Baldwin wrote about how frustrating the meeting was because rather than listen to what black Americans were enduring, particularly in the South, Kennedy became defensive, insisting that the Justice Department supported the civil rights movement. There was an undercurrent to his words intimating that those gathered who did not agree with him were ungrateful for the administration’s (frankly, rather meager) efforts.

Jerome Smith, a CORE activist who had been attacked and thrown in jail for protesting in Mississippi, bitterly recounted his experiences and refused to dress them up for the attorney general. He decried the Justice Department’s lack of action as activists were being beaten, arrested or worse.

“Mr. Kennedy, I want you to understand I don’t care anything about you and your brother,” Smith said. “I don’t know what I’m doing here, listening to all this cocktail party patter.”

Hansberry also refused to cower before the face of the American government. She didn’t worry about alienating what the group hoped could be its most powerful ally. Instead, Sighted Eyes recounts, she, too, gave Kennedy a piece of her mind.

“You’ve got a great many very, very accomplished people in this room, Mr. Attorney General,” Hansberry told Kennedy. “But the only man who should be listened to is that man over there,” she said, referring to Smith.

“I don’t know what I’m doing here, listening to all this cocktail party patter.”

Sighted Eyes is part of a trifecta of recent documentaries that have given us colorful new insights into the lives of those we often see in black and white. With What Happened, Miss Simone? and I Am Not Your Negro, about Baldwin, directors Raoul Peck and Liz Garbus produced chapters of an anthology about black intellectuals and artists who were contemporaries and friends. These directors give us insight into how the lives of Hansberry, Baldwin and Simone bled into each other, how their friendships provided solace and comfort to each other, how they lived as members of a community and not just as singular figures. They come alive.

Hansberry’s experiences, often told in her own words, come to life in Sighted Eyes thanks to voiceover from actress Anika Noni Rose reading from Hansberry’s journals and other archival material.

Strain, an experienced documentary filmmaker (I’ll Make Me a World, Race: The Power of an Illusion) and professor at Northeastern University became interested in Hansberry after seeing a community theater production of Hansberry’s play To Be Young, Gifted and Black in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. The play, assembled from Hansberry’s own words after her death, shares its name with the Nina Simone song, which Hansberry inspired Simone to write.

With Sighted Eyes/Feeling Heart, Strain has created a portrait of Hansberry that’s as complete and well-rounded as the portrait of black family life that Hansberry captured in A Raisin in the Sun. In doing so, she’s transformed Hansberry from more than just a pretty young playwright who died tragically young. She’s rightfully preserved her place in American history.

This is what happens when a black cop calls out racism in her own department

Lt. Yulanda Williams The truth teller 27 years in uniform

“I’m black and I will never be blue enough. I will never be able to prove to some that I deserve to wear the same uniform as they do.”“I’m black and I will never be blue enough. I will never be able to prove to some that I deserve to wear the same uniform as they do.”

Black and Blue: Meet San Francisco PD’s Lt. Yulanda Williams

On her day of reckoning, Sgt. Yulanda Williams did not wear the blue. Stomach churning, too nervous to eat much breakfast, she drove across the Bay Bridge into the city. Her mother had pleaded with her to reconsider, but she had given her word: She was going to tell the world about the racism in the San Francisco Police Department.

Williams entered the massive white stone library on Larkin Street, within sight of City Hall. A blue-ribbon panel organized by the district attorney was investigating a shocking string of racist text messages exchanged by 14 officers. Williams would be the only black police officer to testify in public. Others were too afraid.

Waiting to speak, Williams, 61, thought about the years of struggle between black and blue in San Francisco. About promotions denied, slurs hurled, disparate discipline. About complaints filed by the black Officers for Justice organization, and warnings to keep quiet from the police officers union, which wielded considerable influence inside the department. About the text messages from fellow officers that called her a n—– b—-.

Then Williams told her truth: The police force suffered from systemic and institutionalized racism. Not all cops are racist, she said, but the culture of the department allowed racism to fester, to corrupt, and sometimes to explode.

“I’m black, and I will never be blue enough,” she testified. “I will never be able to prove to some that I deserve to wear the same uniform as they do.”

The date was Jan. 14, 2016. Within weeks, the president of the police union all but branded her a traitor in a public letter, making Williams fear for her safety on the job. Internal affairs investigators accused her of several questionable violations, including wearing her uniform while shopping off-duty in a Walmart. Someone broke into her house and stole her laptop, but ignored her jewelry and six guns.

As the problems mounted, Williams took the lieutenant’s exam in late 2016 and scored ninth out of 145 candidates. That should have made her a lock for advancement — but officers cannot be promoted with unresolved disciplinary actions.

“Blue is a profession and a career. Blue pays my bills. Blue is my retirement,” Williams said over the summer as she waited for a decision on her promotion. “However, when I sleep, I don’t sleep in blue, I sleep in black, with black, and I know I am black and I’m reminded of that when I’m not in blue.

“Blue is a color,” she said. “Black is my self, my skin. And that cannot change.”

No more than a toehold

San Francisco’s black neighborhoods are in the southeast corner of the city, against the shipyards and docks that in the 1940s and ‘50s attracted refugees from the Jim Crow South. But unlike other urban endpoints of the Great Migration, African-Americans never secured more than a toehold inside San Francisco’s city limits. In the 1960s, even as the city’s reputation for liberalism and tolerance grew, African-Americans were segregated into the Bayview, Hunters Point and Potrero Hill neighborhoods.

Conditions there were so oppressive that famed essayist and novelist James Baldwin said during a 1963 trip to the city that “there is no moral distance, which is to say no distance, between the facts of life in San Francisco and the facts of life in Birmingham.” In 1966, Hunters Point residents rioted for three days after a white cop shot an unarmed teen running from a stolen car. The city’s black population peaked at 13 percent in 1970, then steadily declined to its current 6 percent.

Williams grew up with three siblings in a two-story home in Potrero Hill that her father, a city plumber and assistant church pastor, built himself. Her mother, now 95, still lives there. Williams attended the University of California, Berkeley and worked her way up to a position as regional credit manager for Holiday Inn. In the late ’80s, divorced with two young daughters, she bought her first home, near the corner of Third Street and Newcomb Avenue in the Bayview.

This was the height of the crack epidemic. The drug traffic on her corner was crazy, and the police seemed ineffective. Williams sent her daughters to stay with her mother and helped organize a “take back our streets” march along Third Street that drew hundreds of citizens, clergy and politicians.

Williams speaks with a young man who approached her on the streets of San Francisco.

After the march, she began working with the local police and met several members of Officers for Justice, which had successfully sued the city in 1973 to increase diversity on the force. They urged Williams to sign up.

“I didn’t want to lose my feminine qualities by doing something I considered was primarily a man’s job,” she recalled during an interview at the OFJ headquarters while wearing large hoop earrings, a tiny diamond nose stud, eight rings, nine bracelets, and long, glittery nails with pointed white tips.

The pay was about the same as her hotel position, but the benefits were better. “I told [OFJ] I was not willing to cut my hair, I was not willing to not wear makeup, I wasn’t willing to give up my manicures and my pedicures.” She hit the Bayview streets on foot patrol in June 1990, with her hair pinned up in a bun beneath her cap.

Williams loved being able to help her people. The drug trade persisted, of course, and some nights she had to leave her house wearing a robe and carrying her gun to talk to the boys on Third Street. But everyone knew she cared, and she earned the street nickname “Auntie.”

Black and Blue: San Francisco’s Bayview neighborhood

The OFJ headquarters was four blocks down Third from Williams’ home. When she first joined the force, she thought OFJ had already won the battle for equality. In 1965, only 55 of 1,726 officers were black, three were Asian-American, and almost every police chief since the start of the century had been a white, Catholic man. The OFJ’s lawsuit changed that. The 2,200-member department is now 50 percent white, 16 percent Hispanic, 10 percent black, 6 percent Filipino and 17 percent other Asian.

Williams figured everything was kumbaya. Soon, though, she started to notice things.

On patrol, she saw cops targeting African-Americans. White officers seemed to get lighter discipline — especially if they had gone to high school at Archbishop Riordan, Sacred Heart or St. Ignatius, the source of generations of the city’s cops. She heard of a lieutenant who told a black officer wearing gold chains, “What are you doing wearing that n—– jewelry?” When tests were administered for promotions, black officers rarely advanced. After taking the lieutenant’s exam, she wondered whether she would be another casualty of the system.

Williams put in 11 years on the street, then moved on to work as an academy instructor, field training officer, precinct captain’s assistant and school resource officer. She sold her house in the Bayview and moved to a four-bedroom home in a suburban East Bay neighborhood. She made sergeant in 2012 after placing 46th out of 382 officers who took the exam. She was elected vice president and then president of Officers for Justice and also served on the board of the police union.

Police in uber-expensive San Francisco are among the highest-paid in the country, and Williams’ annual base pay reached $144,000. She indulged her passion for Mercedes automobiles, eventually collecting five used but pristine Benzes. She remarried, enjoyed her six grandchildren, continued to advocate for officers of color and prepared to retire on a pension that will provide 95 percent of her salary for the rest of her life.

Then Sgt. Ian Furminger got arrested for robbing drug dealers.

A horrifying exchange

“My [wife’s] friend is over with their kids and her husband is black!” Furminger texted another cop. “[He is] an Attorney but should I be worried?”

“Get ur pocket gun. Keep it available in case the monkey returns to his roots … not against the law to put an animal down,” was the response.

“Well said!” Furminger texted back.

“You may have to kill the half-breeds too. Don’t worry. Their (sic) an abomination of nature anyway,” his fellow officer responded.

Those were some of the milder bigoted messages exchanged by 14 San Francisco Police Department officers on their personal phones over nine months in 2011 and 2012. Equally horrifying was that so many references to N-words, savages and cross-burnings remained under wraps for years, only coming to light in 2015 because of an appeals court filing in Furminger’s conviction.

The case scandalized famously diverse and progressive San Francisco. How could the police department’s culture allow such virulent racism to persist?

To find out, District Attorney George Gascon, who had briefly been chief of the Police Department, formed the Blue Ribbon Panel on Transparency, Accountability, and Fairness in Law Enforcement. Denied city funding for an exhaustive investigation, Gascon secured the pro bono services of judges, law firms and law schools and started gathering evidence.

His every step was resisted by the San Francisco Police Officers Association.

“I feel pride right now in knowing that I gave it my all and when I needed to be tested, instead of just whimpering down and going off and huddle away from everyone, I instead just decided to stand my ground.”“I feel pride right now in knowing that I gave it my all and when I needed to be tested, instead of just whimpering down and going off and huddle away from everyone, I instead just decided to stand my ground.”

Blurred lines

When Williams testified about institutional racism, she fired a direct shot at a historic foe.

The officers’ union fought the 1973 lawsuit to end discriminatory hiring practices. As far as the union was concerned, any lack of minority representation was the result of a lack of ability among the minorities themselves. “Our attornies (sic) are confident they can refute all charges,” soon-to-be union president Bob Barry wrote in the June 1978 issue of the union newspaper.

Police unions across the country serve as a combination guard dog, priest and defense attorney for cops. Circling the wagons is the default. In San Francisco, the union fought case after case in which African-Americans were slain by police under questionable circumstances, from George Baskett in 1968 to Aaron Williams in 1997 to Mario Woods in 2016. Recently, the union beat back reforms such as more access to police disciplinary records, stricter use-of-force guidelines, and rules to prevent officers from watching body camera footage before writing arrest reports.

In 2016, union consultant and former president Gary Delagnes complained on Facebook about officers reporting another cop’s offensive racial remarks: “Officers are now being encouraged to be trained snitches. … This officer did nothing wrong other than making an ill-advised statement and now they want to hang him and then brag about it to the media. Disgusting!”

The San Francisco Police Department is run by the police chief, who is chosen by the mayor. But the union represents officers up to the rank of captain, giving it a huge amount of influence over promotions, work assignments and the culture of the department.

“The lines were blurred between the department itself and the union,” said Gascon, the district attorney and former chief. “They became so blurred, they were basically working in concert.”

The San Francisco police union does many good deeds, including giving money to officers in need, donating to organizations in minority communities, paying the expenses of tourists struck by tragedy in the city and sponsoring a trip to Africa for black youths.

But its primary function is to defend cops.

From the start of the Blue Ribbon Panel’s work, the association told its members not to talk without a union lawyer present — even though they were not under criminal investigation, according to the panel’s executive director, Anand Subramanian. Except for Williams, he said, no officers of color would testify on the record: “They felt like their career advancement and day-to-day interaction was threatened and jeopardized by public participation in this process.”

“I have never seen so much resistance to reform in a police department as I’ve seen in San Francisco,” said LaDoris H. Cordell, a retired California Superior Court judge who has worked on police oversight cases nationwide and served on the Blue Ribbon Panel.

Union president Martin Halloran did not respond to phone calls and emails for this story. Last year, he told the San Francisco Chronicle that the union isn’t opposed to reform: “Any time there is a little bit of pushback from the POA … the perception according to certain politicians is that we’re the elephant in the room, that we’re the obstructionists. We’re not. We just want to make sure this is done right.”

But his combative views are clear in acidic union newspaper editorials and frequent public letters — such as his response to Colin Kaepernick’s protest.

In August 2016, the then-San Francisco 49ers quarterback cited police killings and cops “getting paid leave and getting away with murder” as a reason he would not stand for the national anthem. Halloran’s response sent to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell accused Kaepernick of pushing “a false narrative and misinformation that lacks any factual basis.”

“Perhaps he could lend his commentary to the over 8,000 murders that African Americans inflicted on one another in 2015,” Halloran wrote.

Williams doesn’t follow sports, but she noticed Kaepernick’s protest and the movement that now engulfs the NFL. She didn’t take Kaepernick’s protest personally: “I know he’s not talking about me.” She saw his stance as speaking up for the voiceless in the black community, and she was delighted when NFL players responded to President Donald Trump’s profane insult by increasing their protests.

The parallels to her own faceoff with the union were inescapable.

“I felt a kinship with Kaepernick because of the fact that, here’s a man who had the conviction to stand for something he believed in. Whether it was right or wrong, it was his belief, and it was his feelings and he expressed them, and he explained why. I did the same thing, and then look what happens to us,” Williams said.

“I felt like he was a whistleblower for what he was talking about, and I was a whistleblower. And the whistleblowers unfortunately seem to never win. They seem to be ostracized, and people try and fight against them and shut them down.”

Worried about her safety

The worst part of her ordeal, Williams said, came from the letter Halloran published in the union newspaper about her testimony, characterizing her statements as “uninformed, inflammatory and disparaging” and insisting there was no evidence of widespread racism in the department.

“Yolanda,” Halloran wrote, not only addressing the 61-year-old officer by her first name but misspelling it, “the references to you in the text messages were disgusting. However, I find your testimony to the Panel to be largely self-centered and grossly unfair.”

She resigned from the union, and her decision was plastered on precinct fliers. She had to explain to her subordinates that she hadn’t called them racists. She feared that if she needed backup, other officers would not respond.

“When you work with someone in this type of environment, your life’s on the line every day,” she said. “You expect people to come for backup. … You trust them with your life. You depend on them for your life.”

As the Blue Ribbon Panel investigation proceeded, cellphone footage of the shooting of Mario Woods fueled national outrage. Three months later, another batch of racist texts was discovered, from a separate set of officers.

In February 2016, the Department of Justice announced a review of the department. On May 19, police killed an unarmed black woman in a stolen car in the Bayview. Hours after that shooting, Police Chief Greg Suhr lost his job — despite strong support from the union.

In July 2016, the Blue Ribbon Panel released its final report. It concluded that the Police Department lacked transparency and oversight, needed to rebuild community trust and should pay greater attention to the potential for racial bias. The report noted that black and Hispanic people were more likely to be searched without consent but were less likely to be found with contraband than other ethnic and racial groups.

“Blue pays my bills. Blue is my retirement. However, when I sleep, I don’t sleep in blue, I sleep in black, with black, and I know I am black and I’m reminded of that when I’m not in blue.”“Blue pays my bills. Blue is my retirement. However, when I sleep, I don’t sleep in blue, I sleep in black, with black, and I know I am black and I’m reminded of that when I’m not in blue.”

In October 2016, the Justice Department released its report, recommending 272 changes designed to correct “deficiencies in every operational area assessed: use of force; bias; community policing practices; accountability measures; and recruitment, hiring, and promotion practices.” The report also identified “numerous indicators of implicit and institutionalized bias against minority groups” — exactly what Williams had testified about seven months earlier.

But vindication in the Justice Department’s 414-page document was cold comfort. A decision on Williams’ promotion was still pending.

After Suhr’s departure, the union urged Mayor Ed Lee to replace him with interim chief Toney Chaplin, a black career San Francisco officer. Instead, Lee chose an outsider: William Scott, the highest-ranking African-American in the Los Angeles Police Department. Scott pledged to fulfill the recommendations of the Justice Department report. In an email to union members, Halloran said the mayor had “turned his back on the rank and file police officers.”

On Sept. 25, Williams learned that Scott would promote her to lieutenant.

Williams’ work in the community ranges from meeting residents to mentoring youths to trying to open a dialogue between the police force and residents.

A new lieutenant at last

On a brilliant Saturday in October, the soon-to-be Lt. Williams left her house for a community event in the Bayview, her old neighborhood. She chose her black 2006 Mercedes S430 sedan with YOOLOGY plates and the glass tinted dark. She calls the car Black Beauty.

Sipping a smoothie behind the wheel, nails cut short because of a new departmental directive requiring them to be no more than an eighth of an inch long — she refers to it as the “Yulanda Rule” — Williams reflected on her journey.

“It feels a little victorious. I don’t want to claim that there’s nothing else to be done,” she said. “I feel pride right now in knowing that I gave it my all and when I needed to be tested, instead of just whimpering down and going off and huddle away from everyone, I instead just decided to stand my ground.”

She parked outside the Bayview Opera House, where several dozen community organizations and a lively crowd had gathered for Neighborfest. Williams’ old house was across the street, within sight of the corner where drug drama pushed her into policing almost 30 years ago. She kept her gun in her purse.

People inquired about her mother and congratulated her on the promotion. She spoke briefly to the crowd, urging everyone to consider a career with the police department. The band played Sly and the Family Stone.

“Auntie!” cried Vincent Tally, known as Tally-Ho. He used to roam the corner drunk, loud and disorderly. Williams would send him home, but she never arrested him. Now he’s been sober for two years.

“She loves everybody. She treats everybody the same. She doesn’t discriminate,” Tally-Ho said. He kissed Williams’ hand. “One thing she will do, though. She see you out of pocket? You in trouble!”

Two weeks later, Williams and two other black sergeants were sworn in and received the gold collar bars of a lieutenant. Three black lieutenants were elevated to captain.

There are now 19 black officers in leadership positions — the most in the 168-year history of the San Francisco Police Department.