Trailblazing black journalist Les Payne showed no fear in pursuit of the truth He’ll be remembered as an NABJ founder and Pulitzer Prize winner, and a mentor and role model to many

My friend Les Payne is dead.

During his 38-year journalism career, Les had many close encounters with death. He once escaped the Mediterranean island of Corsica just minutes ahead of the thugs whom a drug dealer sent to his hotel to “turn out his lights.”

On another occasion, Les found himself staring down the barrels of guns when a car he was riding in was stopped by soldiers of a rival guerrilla army faction in the newly created African nation of Zimbabwe. Les was held for hours and threatened with execution by an officer who mistook him for a spy.

Then, while in California trying to make contact with the Symbionese Liberation Army, a black revolutionary group that kidnapped heiress Patty Hearst, Les was confronted by a gun-wielding SLA member who ordered him into a phone booth. Les had only minutes to live, the man said, if he couldn’t get someone on the phone at Newsday, the Long Island, New York, newspaper where he spent his entire career, to prove that he was a journalist.

And there was the late-night run-in that Les had with two of Ugandan dictator Idi Amin’s secret policemen that produced another life-threatening experience for him.

But when Les Payne died Monday night at age 76, it was a heart attack that quickly snatched the life from his body as he stood on the steps of his home in Harlem — not the wrath of those who hated his fearless brand of journalism.

I can’t think of a better ending for a man who was, arguably, the most consequential American journalist of the past 50 years.

Les didn’t just report the news; he often uncovered the story behind the headlines that many journalists missed. He was a bare-knuckles reporter who braved the dangers of journalism. More often than not he worked alone, far away from stampeding herds of journalists. “Wherever you see groups of journalists milling about, there is no news. All you’ll find in places like that is the stuff that people in power want you to know, not the stuff they’re hiding from you,” he once told me.

In four decades of reporting and editing, Les found a lot of what powerful people were hiding.

In 1970, he went undercover to get an up-close look at the mistreatment of black migrant workers on a potato farm on Long Island. A native of Tuscaloosa, Alabama, Les was no stranger to that kind of labor. As a child, he picked cotton alongside his grandmother on an Alabama farm where the poorly paid black workers were expected to work from dawn to dusk — or, as the old-timers say, “from can’t see, to can’t see.” Les’ story brought improvements to the conditions under which Long Island’s migrant laborers worked.

When heroin deaths spiked in New York City during the early 1970s, Les and two fellow Newsday reporters tracked the flow of heroin, as he often said, “from the poppy fields of Turkey, through the French connection and into the veins of junkies in Harlem.” The 33-part series won them the 1974 Pulitzer Prize for public service.

The following year, Les came together with 43 other black journalists in Washington, D.C., to create the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ). They wanted to use their collective muscle to push for the hiring of more black journalists and better coverage of black communities across the nation.

But when Chuck Stone, the group’s first president, called for the drafting of bylaws, Les, who questioned the need for such organizational structure in the fight for black rights, snapped, “We don’t need bylaws. We need to kick some behinds.”

Using his journalistic voice to kick butts was something Les delighted in doing. He did it as an investigative reporter in his coverage of the black liberation movement in Africa. In reporting on the murderous rule of Amin in Uganda, Les called it “a holocaust” — which caused his encounter with Amin’s heavies.

He kicked butt in his coverage of South Africa’s Soweto uprising when he visited funeral homes throughout that black township to prove that the death toll of blacks killed by the gendarmes of that pigmentocracy was substantially higher than what the white apartheid government was telling the world.

Les kicked butt in this country too. His reporting on the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. poked holes in the government’s conclusion that James Earl Ray acted alone in taking the life of the civil rights leader. His coverage of the presidential campaign of Barack Obama also pummeled some behinds.

During the 2016 NABJ convention, Les tried to clear from Obama’s road to the White House one of black America’s political toll-takers: “Proving that he is as immune to irony as he is to shame, the Rev. Al Sharpton strutted onto the stage as a panelist for the annual W.E.B. DuBois Lecture. That most vital American scholar of the last century would likely have viewed Sharpton as a noisy answer for which there is no known question.” Ouch!

But Les was no sycophant for any politician. I remember standing with him in Denver’s Mile High Stadium on the night of Aug. 28, 2006, when Obama accepted the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination. After allowing himself to smile broadly at the end of Obama’s speech, Les turned to me, and with a tilt of his head and a stare he said: “Just remember, the job of the black journalist is to be a watchdog, not a lap dog.”

I’m proud to have been his friend of 43 years. Les guarded his friends as much as he nurtured his friendships. When Bill O’Reilly linked Randall Pinkston to jihadist terrorists because he worked for Al-Jazeera, Les wrote an open letter to the then-Fox News talk show host.

“Randall Pinkston is too much of a gentleman to answer your on-air slander against him; so I will,” he said. “You have chosen … to question the patriotism of this black journalist born in apartheid Mississippi, who desegregated the local TV station with the assistance of Medgar Evers … I’m sure Randall’s long, patriotic family struggle as African-Americans up from slavery has no meaning whatsoever for you. As the son of Irish immigrants who were extended white privileges, albeit from the dredges, you have ascended the media feeding chain with a sense of fairness as meager as your talents.”

History should not be allowed to forget Les, as it has so many other blacks who championed the race. We owe it to him not only to thank him for his service but also to emulate his determination to be a truth-teller in a profession that more than ever before needs a Les Payne.

Penny Hardaway reveals his plans for the team as University of Memphis head coach ‘Everything I do, I do it for the city’

Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway wants to see fans back in the stands at basketball games to cheer on his alma mater, the University of Memphis. And that’s one of his goals as the new head coach of the team, as he explained after addressing hundreds of attendees at Tuesday’s news conference in Memphis, Tennessee.

“The city raised me,” Hardaway told The Undefeated. “I’ve been very successful at basketball, and everything I do, I do it for the city, and I’m just excited to be in this position. I look forward to the fans coming back to the FedExForum, packing the house like we did in the Coliseum and in the Pyramid. I’m looking forward to those days coming back. I’m excited. I hope that everybody’s riding the waves, and I hope that I can put Memphis back on the map.”

The Mid-South Coliseum was home to the Tigers from 1966-91. The team moved to The Memphis Pyramid once it was built. It remained the home of Tigers basketball from 1991 until 2004, when the FedExForum opened.

Hardaway assumed the position vacated by Tubby Smith on the cusp of a three-peat victory with his East High School Mustangs. As the high school’s head coach, the NBA legend and local Memphis icon won his third straight state title (2016, 2017 and 2018) in Murfreesboro on March 17 at the Class AAA State Championship game. Hardaway focused on his team’s competition, never confirming plans to take on a new role until the school’s announcement on Monday.

Memphis Tigers cheerleaders handed out souvenirs celebrating their new head coach at a news conference and rally announcing Penny Hardaway’s new role for the University of Memphis men’s basketball team.

For many fans, Hardaway has returned home — a place he holds dear to his heart. It’s the same place where his hoop dreams became a reality that thrust him into NBA stardom, a place where fans cheered him on, teammates urged him to play harder and his former coach, the late Larry Finch, who was also once a player at the then-Memphis State University, believed that he would do great things in life.

For Hardaway, his job as Memphis’ new head coach is divine intervention.

“God ordained this whole process into being what it is today …,” Hardaway said. “I believe in all of that. The timing is perfect right now. The city needs it, and the city is responding. I feel great.”

Hardaway has a high level of respect for Smith and his coaching history. Smith’s two-season stint ended in his firing after closing out the 2017-18 season with a declining attendance for the sixth straight year, ultimately contributing to the need for a new plan. The announced average was 6,211 fans through 18 home games toward the close of the 2017-18 season at the FedExForum, which holds 18,119.

According to The Commercial Appeal, the school averaged more than 16,000 fans and ranked among the top 10 in the country in average attendance just four years ago. During former coach Josh Pastner’s final season, the announced team average was 12,028 (2015-16).

Hardaway’s success with Team Penny, his AAU program, gives him exemplary knowledge of new recruits and their talents. Although he has no college coaching experience, his passion for basketball lends a level of confidence for a hopeful resurgence of the Memphis basketball program.

Penny Hardaway hugs Vickie Finch, the widow of former University of Memphis player and head coach Larry Finch, after a news conference and rally announcing Hardaway’s new role as head coach for the University of Memphis men’s basketball team.

Hardaway said the hardest part of his upcoming journey is learning the NCAA rules and regulations.

“I have to make sure I don’t have any infractions or break any rules,” Hardaway said. “I have my compliance people on speed dial to make sure. I think that will be the hardest part. I’m focused, and there are so many rules and regulations.”

Hardaway is the university’s 19th coach and the third Tiger alum named head coach for the program, after Wayne Yates (1974-79) and Finch (1986-97).

Elliot Perry, Hardaway’s friend and former Tigers player and director of player support for the Memphis Grizzlies, thinks this is one of the biggest hires the program has made in its history.

“I’m in love with the hire,” Perry said. “I played for Coach Finch, one of the best players to ever play there. And the impact that he made and how much he poured into my life he’s poured into Penny’s life as well, and Penny will do the same thing for his players. You’re talking about a guy who played high school here and played in college at Memphis. [He’s] certainly one of the best players to ever play in our program, and now he’s the head coach. He will run the program, orchestrate the program, curate the program like it’s his own child. That’s why it’s so significant.”

Hardaway told the crowd of more than 100 at the news conference that his passion for Memphis basketball is what encouraged him to accept the position.

“You know it wasn’t easy to bring me here because of my experience with college basketball,” he said. “But I told everyone all I had to do was have the Memphis blood in me and the heart and the passion for winning basketball. As a coach, my style, we’re going to get after them. I know that’s what we love. We’re going to play hard-nosed basketball, running, jumping, pressing everywhere and winning games. Losing is not an option for us. I really want to hit the ground running. I know people are saying to be patient and to do this first and to do that first, but I’m not wired that way. I go all or nothing.”

Penny Hardaway speaks at a news conference and rally announcing his new role as head coach of the University of Memphis men’s basketball team.

Andrea Morales for The Undefeated

The two-time All-American and four-time NBA All-Star inherits a 40-26 record accumulated during the past two seasons under Smith. This season, the Tigers finished 21-13 after a American Athletic Conference Championship semifinal loss to top-seeded Cincinnati.

“I’m not just coming here to be a face,” Hardaway said at the news conference. “I’m coming here to make a difference, with the help of getting the fans back in the stands like it was back in the old-school days. I am dedicated to this team that just finished this season. Like I told those kids in the locker room, it was kind of unfair a little bit to them that nobody really showed up, but those days are gone. Also bringing some really good talent here that the city of Memphis would love to see on a nightly basis.”

Hardaway’s ongoing support of the University of Memphis is evident in his $1 million donation in 2008 to the Penny Hardaway Hall of Fame Building, which opened in August 2011. He graduated from college in May 2003 with a bachelor’s degree in professional studies.

Fans line the second-floor balcony at a news conference and rally announcing Penny Hardaway’s new role as head coach for the University of Memphis men’s basketball team. Photos of Hardaway line the balcony.

Hardaway was picked third in the 1993 NBA draft by the Golden State Warriors but was traded to the Orlando Magic for the rights to Chris Webber, the draft’s top overall pick.

The 6-foot-7 point guard played in the NBA from 1993 to 2008 with the Magic, Phoenix Suns, New York Knicks and Miami Heat.

Hardaway’s notoriety goes back to his senior year in 1990 at Treadwell High School in Memphis, where he averaged 36.6 points and 10.1 rebounds. His time at Memphis State University is in the books. He spent two seasons with the Tigers and led the team to two NCAA tournament appearances, including the Elite Eight in 1992. His achievements include two career triple-doubles, and he ranks 17th in scoring. Hardaway won a gold medal with the 1996 U.S. Olympic team in Atlanta.

The woman behind CoverGirl’s ‘I am what I make up’ marketing campaign Ukonwa Ojo added Ayesha Curry and Issa Rae as brand ambassadors

When Ukonwa Ojo left Nigeria for the United States to attend the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, she had no clue she’d eventually become global senior vice president for Coty Inc.’s CoverGirl brand, but she knew she had a dream.

“My parents were gutsy enough to let me move to America by myself to follow my dream,” said Ojo. “I always knew that I wanted to work in business, and America was like the nirvana of business.”

Fast-forward to the present day, where that same bravery kicked in when Ojo, who joined CoverGirl in the fall of 2016, gave the brand a makeover by changing its slogan, “Easy, Breezy, Beautiful CoverGirl,” to “I Am What I Make Up” after just a year at the company. Ojo and her team added more brand ambassadors to round out their roster. Along with singer Katy Perry, the new CoverGirl ambassadors included chef and author Ayesha Curry, who is half of a power couple with NBA All-Star Stephen Curry; Issa Rae, the creator of HBO’s Insecure; fitness guru Massy Arias; 69-year-old model Maye Musk; and professional motorcycle racer Shelina Moreda.

It wasn’t an easy decision, but the feedback has been incredible and allowed CoverGirl to bring a lot of innovation to market with bolder colors, deeper tones and glitter with a spring collection that will launch 114 new products.

Making tough decisions isn’t new for Ojo, who decided to change her career after working nearly six years in the finance department at paper company MeadWestvaco. A finance and accounting major in college, she was good at math but realized that she wasn’t in love with it and couldn’t see herself doing it for the rest of her life. Then she heard about brand management.

“I realized that what I didn’t like about finance was that I worked alone most of the time. But with brand management, I’m constantly collaborating and building together with so many departments,” said Ojo. “I’m a classic extrovert, so I get energy from other people.”

Ojo earned an MBA at Northwestern University and, while there, interned at General Mills, where she spent seven years. She handled marketing for brands such as Betty Crocker, Honey Nut Cheerios and Progresso from 2004-11. Later, she worked on branding for the French’s mustard portfolio, as well as Durex and K-Y in London for the British multinational consumer goods company Reckitt Benckiser until 2015. She stayed in London and joined Unilever as senior global director for Knorr, the food and beverage brand, before moving to New York as a CoverGirl senior vice president. With more than 20 years of marketing and brand management experience, she now oversees the cosmetic brand’s global strategy, advertising and communications.

The Undefeated visited Ojo at Coty’s offices in the Empire State Building to learn more about CoverGirl’s evolution, how she exemplifies why “you are what you make up” and why she lives by her Instagram bio, “working hard, playing harder and praying hardest.”

What is a typical day like for you?

There is no typical day, which is one of the things I love about this job and the beauty industry: It’s so fast-paced. I can be looking over the innovation within production operations, presenting to our board of directors or the executive committee, reviewing a pitch from our media partners who may have an amazing idea to meeting with our sales team on how we’re going to drive growth for that quarter. The scope of my role is so broad that it keeps things interesting and my brain challenged.

What’s the most rewarding and challenging part of your job?

The brand means so much because of the impact it has on culture, and that creates such a rewarding feeling for us. The challenge derives from that same responsibility of running such an iconic brand. Whatever you do, you know you’re standing on the shoulders of giants and that you’re pushing culture forward through the brand and the business.

What was behind the decision to change CoverGirl’s slogan from “Easy, Breezy, Beautiful CoverGirl” to “I Am What I Make Up”?

The decision came from really listening to people. I learned how makeup is so much more than cosmetic, and every day when they stand in front of the mirror with their makeup bag they are actually creating who they wanted to be that day. Women play so many different roles in society, and our makeup changes based on those roles because it’s a form of self-expression, and there’s a story behind each look. We realized that some of these looks weren’t so easy, breezy, and in some ways that was limiting us to go on that journey with her to create whoever she wanted to be that day.

How has CoverGirl evolved in how it chooses ambassadors?

It’s never easy picking a CoverGirl because of the legacy and history of what it stood for. It’s one of the hardest things we do as a team because it’s far more than just beauty that meets the eye. We’ve historically always stood for inclusiveness and diversity, but it was primarily limited to ethnicity. We wanted to continue to celebrate ethnic diversity but also the beauty that comes in all ages and vocations. A lot of our CoverGirls usually come from the entertainment industry as models and actresses, but we thought, ‘How awesome would it be to show women in various roles that are pushing society forward?’

Why did you choose Ayesha Curry, Issa Rae, Massy Arias, Maye Musk and Shelina Moreda?

We loved that Ayesha Curry was a chef, entrepreneur, a mom and a wife and was playing these roles in such an inspiring way. Massy Arias, a fitness sensation that could kick anyone’s butt at any time, is balancing that with brand-new motherhood and the ups and downs that come with that and was still thriving on that journey. And then we have Issa Rae, who we loved because she was really pushing the boundaries in Hollywood about what entertainment should look and feel like. She’s a director, producer, writer, actress and just a strong role model for women. [Model] Maye Musk exemplifies how even at 69 years old you can still do what you love and inspire at that same time. Shelina Moreda is the first woman to have raced at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and at the Zhuhai International Circuit in China.

We just wanted to show all of the different ways that women really thrive in society and have that be an inspiration to us and other women out there.

How can we increase diversity in managing advertising and brand campaigns?

I believe it’s a combination of not knowing that this is a career path and how there’s still a long ways to go on representation on all levels in this field. That’s why I try to be visible in my role, whether that’s with mentoring, participating on panels and speaking engagements so African-Americans not only know but see that this is a path here for them too. Brands, especially those that impact culture, have to have diversity in front and behind the camera to authentically push diversity and inclusivity. I’m very intentional at building a strong and diverse team.

Is it better to be feared or loved as a leader?

I don’t subscribe to fear and would never want to generate that on my team. If I had to pick a word, it would be respect, and I would choose that over being loved. As a leader, you’re going to make decisions that people aren’t always going to love, but if they respect you and you’re transparent, then they’ll recognize that your intent is right.

What is your advice to young women who don’t feel beautiful because they compare themselves to what they see on social media and in Hollywood?

Beauty really does come in every shape, size, ethnicity and vocation. It’s so important that we champion that and show how beauty is confidence. People try to water it down to an idealized vision of beauty. But at the end of the day it is confidence, and when you learn to accept who you are, you will automatically perfect beauty into the world.

What would be your personal theme song and why?

“Live Your Life” by T.I. featuring Rihanna, because I believe in writing your own rules. People could have statistically said where I should end up or what a senior executive should look or lead like. I love challenging those notions. Like our slogan says, ‘you are what you make up,’ and you can become whoever you want to be.

Two for Tuesday: WNBA great Swin Cash and activist Coretta Scott King Recognizing women of accomplishment during Women’s History Month

During National Women’s History Month, The Undefeated will recognize two women every Tuesday. This week’s Two for Tuesday features basketball Olympic gold medalist Swin Cash and civil rights activist Coretta Scott King.

Swin Cash

Jennifer Pottheiser/NBAE via Getty Images

WNBA star Swin Cash retired from the game in June 2016 after completing her third season with the New York Liberty. Cash, who became one of the most influential players in the league, had a 15-year pro basketball career that included many titles, accolades and high scores that made history. Now she is director of franchise development for the Liberty, a post she’s held since 2017.

The McKeesport, Pennsylvania, native led the University of Connecticut women’s basketball team to national titles (2000 and 2002). She led two teams to three WNBA championships (Detroit Shock 2003 and 2006, Seattle Storm 2010). The 38-year-old boasts two Olympic gold medals (2004 Athens Games and 2012 London Games). Cash’s days on the hardwood included 5,119 points (15th in league history) and 2,521 rebounds (10th) in regular-season WNBA action.

The wife, mother and league executive was selected by the Shock in the 2002 WNBA draft, and she spent six seasons with that team. Besides playing with the Storm and Liberty, she spent time on the floor with the Chicago Sky and the Atlanta Dream.

Coretta Scott King (1927-2006)

Wally McNamee/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images

Activist, mother and civil rights worker Coretta Scott King owns many titles. Widely known for working alongside her husband, Martin Luther King Jr., in the 1960s, she labored for peace and justice organizations and fought for social and economic change before her death in 2006.

After the murder of her husband on April 4, 1968, in Memphis, Tennessee, King continued the fight on behalf of equal pay for sanitation workers and led her husband’s planned march through Memphis.

King founded and served as president and CEO of the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change. She participated in demonstrations against apartheid in South Africa and fought for 15 years to formally recognize King’s birthday as a federal holiday.

Born on April 27, 1927, in Marion, Alabama, King received her bachelor of arts in voice and music from the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston in 1954. She was a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority. The couple had four children: Yolanda (1955-2007), Martin Luther III, Dexter and Bernice. The surviving siblings are activists and manage the King Center and their father’s estate.

Ava DuVernay to be honored by Gordon Parks Foundation The group also will fete Ronald O. Perelman, Ta-Nehisi Coates and Sherrilyn Ifill

Ava DuVernay will soon be toasted by the Gordon Parks Foundation in late May, the group announced on Tuesday. The group’s annual dinner happens May 22 and it honors individuals who make strides in performing and visual arts as well as humanitarianism.

The A Wrinkle In Time filmmaker will be joined by businessman and philanthropist Ronald O. Perelman, author Ta-Nehisi Coates, civil rights attorney Sherrilyn Ifill, photographer Sally Mann and documentary photographer Jamel Shabazz, all who also will be honored at New York staple Cipriani 42nd Street. The night will be co-chaired by Karl Lagerfeld, Kendrick Lamar, Valerie Jarrett, Alicia Keys, Kasseem Dean (megaproducer Swizz Beatz), Usher Raymond, Janelle Monáe, Common, Henry Louis Gates Jr., Kenneth and Kathryn Chenault, Judy and Leonard Lauder, and Alexander Soros.

Previous honorees include: U.S. Rep. John Lewis of Georgia, entertainer Janelle Monáe and photographer Annie Leibovitz.

DuVernay’s honor comes on the heels of good recent news: last week it was announced that DC Comics tapped her to direct the superhero film The New Gods for Warner Bros., which makes her the first woman of color to tackle a DC Comics film.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Instagram Photo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Courtesy of DJ Akisanya

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

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

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

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

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

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

Instagram Photo

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

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

Step into the ring at an underground fight club We are breaking the first rule of fight club

It’s 10 o’clock on a cold Friday night in an industrial area of the Bronx, New York. A line of people gathers in front of an auto body shop, where a towering bouncer asks for tickets and lets in groups of three at a time to be screened and searched for weapons.

Inside the body shop is an octagonal ring made of crowd control barricades and gym mats. Roughly 200 people have purchased tickets and try to claim a spot with an unobstructed view. The promoter refused to disclose ticket prices. This is the fourth fight night of the Bronx’s newest underground fight club, Rumble in the Bronx.

Each night has been held at a different location, and attendees learn the venue’s address only hours before the fights begin. The third fight night was held inside the trailer of an 18-wheeler and was limited to 60 spectators.

So far, each night has had about 10 bouts. The rules are simple: No kicking, biting or shots below the belt. Sixteen-ounce gloves are provided, but fighters are allowed to bring their own. The fights last three three-minute rounds, and the winners are determined by cheers from the crowd. In the event of a draw, a fourth round is fought. A cut man, an off-duty emergency medical technician, monitors the safety of the fighters and tends to wounds. Under state law, anyone involved with an unlicensed boxing match can be charged with a misdemeanor. Everyone from the promoter to the card girls could be punished with up to a year in jail.

Killa Mike, the founder of Rumble in the Bronx, was once a fighter for another underground group called BX Fight Club. After BX stopped holding fights and he received the blessings of its founders, he created Rumble in the Bronx.

Flipper (left) and CJ are the first to fight in the warriors-themed night of the fight club. After two rounds, Flipper was winded and could not continue. CJ took the win.

David 'Dee' Delgado for The Undefeated

The club is “a place to kill beef and release aggressions,” said Killa Mike. He attempts to arrange fights in which both parties have a dispute and can settle their differences before guns become a part of the equation — all while still being entertaining. Killa Mike is proud of an early match that involved an ex-husband and the new boyfriend. The two men’s problems had escalated to the point of death threats toward each other on social media. The two men walked out of the ring with a mutual respect, he says, and the threats and bickering have ceased.

The current undefeated heavyweight champ of Rumble in the Bronx is a 6-foot-2, 240-plus-pound 21-year-old known as Big Country. All of his fights have been won by TKO or KO, and none reached the third round. After his first win, Killa Mike helped Big Country find a job with him at a construction site. Big Country’s fourth fight was the most important to him because he was fighting to end the beef between his neighborhood and that of his opponent, Big Pun. Their fight, the final one of the night, ended early in the second round as Big Pun was winded and tapped out. By the end of the night, people from both neighborhoods were posing for pictures with Big Country. Asked whether he would ever consider going pro, his response is quick: “I never train. I’m too lazy. When I get home from work, I just want to lay down. I’ve always loved combat sports, but this is only a hobby for me.”

Crowds fill the stands awaiting the first fight of the night.

David 'Dee' Delgado for The Undefeated

CJ (left) and Flipper (right), with referee Frank White, are the first to fight in the warriors-themed night of the underground fight club. After two rounds, Flipper was winded and could not continue. CJ took the win.

David 'Dee' Delgado for The Undefeated

Flipper ducks a punch from CJ during their match.

David 'Dee' Delgado for The Undefeated

Counterfeit tickets were discovered during the fight night.

David 'Dee' Delgado for The Undefeated

Desmond begins to get winded after the first round.

David 'Dee' Delgado for The Undefeated

Card girl Kayla Basic entertains between rounds during the match between TyTy and Andre, the second fight of the night.

David 'Dee' Delgado for The Undefeated

Lulu (left) moves in to throw a punch against Ashley during a fight that wasn’t on the card but was instead the result of a callout by Ashley. This fight was to settle some differences between the two onetime friends over Ashley’s ex.

David 'Dee' Delgado for The Undefeated

Lulu (left) takes a punch to the face from Ashley during a fight that wasn’t on the card but was the result of a callout by Ashley. This fight was to settle some differences between the two onetime friends over Ashley’s ex.

David 'Dee' Delgado for The Undefeated

Loso received a callout from Desmond between the second and third rounds. It looked as if Loso didn’t have enough to go back out and finish the fight.

David 'Dee' Delgado for The Undefeated

Desmond collapses on the floor after the breakup of a clinch during the third round, finding it difficult to breathe.

David 'Dee' Delgado for The Undefeated

Don (right) gets fighting instructions from a friend.

David 'Dee' Delgado for The Undefeated

The crowd watches the match between TyTy (left) and Andre.

David 'Dee' Delgado for The Undefeated

Loso officially wins the match after Desmond could not continue. Loso was 0-3 at the Rumble in the Bronx until this win over Desmond.

David 'Dee' Delgado for The Undefeated

Two for Tuesday: Hall of Famer Cheryl Miller and journalist Ida B. Wells Recognizing women of accomplishment during Women’s History Month

During National Women’s History Month, The Undefeated will recognize two women every Tuesday. This week’s Two for Tuesday features basketball Olympic gold medalist Cheryl Miller and writer and journalist Ida B. Wells.

Cheryl Miller

Miller was born and raised in Riverside, California, the third of five children. She and her younger brother, Hall of Famer Reggie Miller, became basketball stars. Now the youngest women’s basketball coach at Cal State Los Angeles, Miller has carved a name for herself in basketball history.

During high school, she was celebrated for scoring 3,405 points overall and averaging nearly 37 points per game, and for setting a California high school record with 105 points in one game. A four-time All-American, Miller attended USC, where she led her team to NCAA championships in 1983 and 1984.

After graduating, the 6-foot-2 Miller was drafted by several pro leagues, including the United States Basketball League, a men’s league. She was a key component of the 1984 U.S. Olympic women’s basketball team that won a gold medal. She got her first head coaching job in 1993 at her alma mater.

She has also been an NBA sideline reporter and was head coach and general manager of the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury. In 2014, Miller was named the women’s basketball coach at Langston University. She was enshrined in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1995 and in 1999 was inducted into the inaugural class of the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame. In 2010, Miller was also inducted into the FIBA Hall of Fame for her success in international play.

Ida B. Wells (1862-1931)

Lynching was at an all-time high in the United States in the 1890s when journalist and activist Ida B. Wells launched an anti-lynching crusade that helped lead to a mass exodus from the South to the Midwest.

Living and working in Memphis, Tennessee, as a journalist, Wells’ friend was one of three black men murdered during a lynching in the city in 1892. Wells responded with an editorial in the Free Speech.

“There is therefore only one thing left that we can do; save our money and leave a town which will neither protect our lives and property, nor give us a fair trial in the courts, but takes us out and murders us in cold blood when accused by white persons,” she wrote.

After an array of public protests, black citizens began to leave Memphis. According to, “about 20 percent of the city’s black population (approximately 6,000 people) left. Following death threats and the destruction of the Free Speech‘s offices, Wells herself was among those who exited Memphis.”

Wells was traveling to New York when the Free Speech’s offices were destroyed. Receiving a message that she would be killed if she returned to Memphis, she remained in New York working as a journalist while bringing light to the evils of lynching and other injustices faced by blacks in the South.

Born into slavery in 1862 in Holly Springs, Mississippi, Wells moved to Memphis after her parents died of yellow fever. She later attended Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee. After facing many of her own experiences with social injustice, she returned to Memphis and started writing about race and politics under the pen name of “Iola.” Wells later published the Memphis Free Speech and Headlight newspapers. She also worked as a schoolteacher in Memphis.

She joined forces with poet and author Frances Harper and national civil rights activist Mary Church Terrell to form the National Association of Colored Women in 1896.

Craig Mack, Bad Boy Records’ foundational artist, dies at 46 The ‘Flava In Ya Ear’ MC was in a long battle with heart disease

Hailing from Long Island, New York, Craig Mack was actually the first star of Sean “Diddy” Combs’ Bad Boy Records. The news was confirmed late Monday that Mack, 46, died after a long battle with heart failure. Lesser known to some, Mack, with his distinctive, gravelly voice, predated the label’s grandest star, The Notorious B.I.G.

The creative and innovative “B.I.G. Mack” marketing campaign, fueled by Combs, gave the label undeniable steam in the early ’90s. And it was the remix of Mack’s 1994 “Flava In Ya Ear” and “Get Down (Remix)” that became his lasting calling card. The former features a classic opening 16 bars from The Notorious B.I.G. While The Notorious B.I.G. of course skyrocketed to crossover fame during his short life, Mack (who’d found some success with his debut Project: Funk da World) eventually left the public eye altogether. He dedicated his life to church, with rumors of him joining a religious cult surfacing online several years back.

You won’t be around next year / My rap’s too severe / Kicking mad flava in ya ear … The odyssey of Combs, Notorious B.I.G. and Bad Boy have become an undeniable hip-hop curriculum. Mack, though? “Nobody got to understand his story,” said close friend and producer Alvin Toney. “I wanted the world to know the talent he had. It was something I wanted people to enjoy, but it was cut short because he was very religious and wanted to go to church.” Mack’s death comes less than a week after the 21st anniversary of The Notorious B.I.G.’s 1997 murder in Los Angeles.

Former Nike designer focuses on youths with launch of new footwear line Jason Mayden walked away from his 14-year-career to invest in what really matters to him

Designer Jason Mayden had his dream job.

As the lead designer at Nike’s Jordan Brand, Mayden spent long days and nights researching and designing some of the brand’s top shoes for its most popular athletes. But 13½ years into his tenure, Mayden decided it was time to serve a much larger purpose — and a brand of his own. After walking away from a fruitful career at Nike, it was time to direct his attention to and invest in today’s youths. Mayden put his own skills to use as CEO of Super Heroic, a comfortable and affordable footwear line designed to inspire children “to discover new places and hold on to that invincible feeling of play.” Mayden was determined to design shoes that were not only comfortable for children but also unleash creativity and inspire physical movement and imaginative play.

“The response [to Super Heroic] has been exceptionally well,” Mayden said. “Everyone says, ‘Hey, my kids love the shoes.’ They’re so comfortable. We get a lot of videos and photos of kids running and declaring that they’re superheroes and parents smiling and laughing and interacting. That’s exactly what we designed the product to do.”

The inspiration for the brand stemmed from not only Mayden’s love for superheroes but also Mayden’s son, who struggled with his own body image issues. One night, Mayden returned home to his wife and kids after a long work trip, only to discover his son sulking in the bathroom. There he stood staring at himself in the mirror, shirtless and crying.

“He hated his body. He hated who he was and didn’t want to go to school the next day,” Mayden said.

Right then and there, Mayden’s decision was made. As much as he loved his job and working with athletes, Mayden believed his family needed him more.

“There’s no way in hell I’d be able to go into work tomorrow and not feel some type of way about [my son’s situation],” Mayden said. “I walked through the door the next day and I quit. The most important job for me is to be a good father and a good husband.”

Although Super Heroic has opened many more opportunities for Mayden, the knowledge, wisdom and skills the 37-year-old learned during his time at Nike have been essential to the success of his own business.

Mayden always had a knack for art and innovation. By the time he was 7, Mayden was airbrushing, drawing names in bubble letters, imagining his own designs and sketching pictures of cartoon characters. An avid reader of comic books, Mayden was drawn to Lucius Fox, who supported his friend and ally Batman through many of his daily activities, including designing and supplying gadgets and technology for the superhero. Mayden likened himself to Fox, in a way.

“My whole career of wanting to work with athletes was driven by me wanting to design products for Batman,” Mayden said. “So, of course, the closest one to me [growing up in Chicago] at that time was Michael Jordan.”

But Mayden and his family weren’t exactly sure he’d live long enough to see that dream come to fruition.

When Mayden was 7, he experienced symptoms of a common cold, or perhaps the flu. The family couldn’t be sure since the diagnosis changed with every doctor’s visit. Each time, Mayden and his parents were sent home. Each time, Mayden grew more ill.

“When they finally rushed me to the hospital and identified what it was, it was at a critical point. I remember drifting in and out of consciousness and listening to these discussions [of my situation].”

The official diagnosis was confirmed. Mayden was battling septicemia, a bacterial infection that sends bacteria and toxins into the bloodstream and through the entire body if left untreated. Because the infection was misdiagnosed so many times, doctors moved swiftly to do what they could to save Mayden. Treatments had begun, but at such a critical stage, there was no guarantee that any of the medications would help. Aware of how serious the situation was, the 7-year-old Mayden seemed to be the only calm one through it all. Death may have been imminent, but there were things far more important than the fight for his life.

“Honestly, I was at peace with whatever the outcome would be,” Mayden said. “Would I be able to go to school tomorrow to get my Easter candy? That’s all I was focused on: seeing my friends and getting Easter candy. I needed to get my gummy bears.”

Fortunately for Mayden, treatments were working. Doctors began seeing progress, and he was eventually discharged from the hospital. The situation, as scary as it was, inspired Mayden’s response to life’s challenges — one he continues to live by.

“At 7 years old, I realized my life wasn’t finished,” Mayden said. “When I was in the hospital and I heard people discussing my mortality — if I could make it, if I would be alive, if I would be OK — I knew that I would not let my life be defined by if because it’s always will. I will be OK, I will get to Nike, I will persist, I will achieve my goals and dreams. It was the decision I made to never let an if determine my outcome. My parents always joke that I became an adult in that moment. I’ve been moving at a thousand miles per hour since then.”

Mayden continued to grow stronger and fall even deeper into his own creativity. He knew he loved to draw, and he entertained the idea of making a career of it. Becoming a designer wasn’t a thought that crossed his mind, only because he didn’t know much about the industry.

“I was an artist and a creative, but I didn’t know that I wanted to be a designer,” Mayden said. “I’d never heard that word. I knew nothing about industrial design. It just really came to a head when I went to an auto show and I saw these products that people made. I wondered how they did that. It was my senior year in high school when I learned about industrial design. It changed my life when I heard that phrase.”

Mayden went on to study industrial design at College for Creative Studies in Detroit. While there, Mayden began forming a master plan to get to Nike. He advocated for himself. He wrote letters and called 800 numbers that were printed to the backs of shoeboxes. He found names from newspaper clippings and dialed the customer service lines pretending to be their relatives. Although he didn’t get a job offer, he did receive free stickers and posters. Eventually, he lucked up and found a recruiter during his freshman year in college. She informed him that internship requests were received all the time and encouraged him to keep applying. Mayden took her advice and submitted his application and portfolio and kept in touch, only to be rejected twice.

“When people tell me no, I just take it to mean yes,” Mayden said. “It just means no, not right now, not no forever. And my grandmother always taught me that delayed doesn’t mean denied. Even during those dark moments, it was my family and my faith in God that kept me going. Even when Nike rejected me, I told them I’d be back.”

Mayden kept applying, and on his third try, the then-19-year-old was accepted into a rotational program where his first job was to design branding, logos and graphics for Virginia Tech football phenom Michael Vick. Mayden’s work with Vick and the Nike Air Monarchs gained the attention and respect of higher-ups who wanted to keep the young designer on board.

Two years later, with the help of Nike senior designer Wilson Smith, Mayden was brought on as a member of the Jordan Brand and thrown his first project: designing a shoe for New York Yankees legend Derek Jeter.

“Derek Jeter was my real-life Batman,” Mayden said. “I’m a kid who was given the responsibility to design a shoe for one of my heroes. I was so nervous. He was the ultimate gentleman, the ultimate coach, and encouraged me to try my best and have fun.

“We would walk to restaurants and he would stop and sign every autograph of every person and take every picture. He would say hello to everyone — from the hot dog vendor to the person selling newspapers. I’d never seen anything like it.”

Studying the interactions of Jeter and other athletes allowed Mayden to be more creative and give their shoes more personality. Mayden also kept consumers and fans in mind during the process.

“I care about the first time a person experiences my products, and that’s why that unboxing experience is so unique because somewhere, somebody is opening that package for the first time,” Mayden said. “I want to make sure it’s magical and amazing, and I want it to live up to the hype.

“I value storytelling and how people interact. Spending time and watching athletes and how they prepare is a lot of my process. I’m constantly consuming information and challenging my own way of thinking. If I can assess my weaknesses while leaning on my strengths, I can prepare for what’s next.”

The experiences from Nike and now Super Heroic are what drive Mayden to keep going. Making a difference in the lives of kids and parents across the country remains the goal — even when things can be a bit overwhelming. “There are times I feel tired and feeling like I need a mental break, then I’m reminded quickly that what we do really does matter,” Mayden said. “People have been very supportive and very encouraging.”

Mayden hopes that anyone who becomes frustrated along life’s journey continues to keep pushing. In the end, it’s all worth it.

“To anyone who feels their dreams are invalid or impossible, I encourage them to just keep going because no one can do anything great in life by doubting themselves because of their experiences,” Mayden said. “Who you are, where you come from, what you look like, your gender, your age, your sexual orientation — none of that matters. Your dreams are valid.”