Cory Gardner will try to pass marijuana banking, other reforms in the Senate next week

The amendment would let cannabis businesses open bank accounts in states where they’re legal, and it would exempt legal retailers from federal prosecution.

The post Cory Gardner will try to pass marijuana banking, other reforms in the Senate next week appeared first on The Cannabist.

Deitrick Haddon talks LeBron James, Chris Paul, Usher and life in Los Angeles The pastor, actor and gospel recording artist is living his best life

When gospel singer, songwriter and pastor Deitrick Haddon moved to Los Angeles in 2012, NBA All-Star Chris Paul, then a member of the Los Angeles Clippers, was one of the first people he met.

As Haddon was walking into a restaurant, Paul called out to him from his vehicle.

“I heard someone say, ‘Deitrick Haddon?’ and it was Chris Paul. I thought to myself, Chris Paul knows who I am? We started talking, and he told me he listens to my music all the time. He doesn’t keep it a secret that he is a believer,” the Detroit native said. “You may be surprised by who actually listens to gospel music; a lot of athletes listen to gospel music before they go out and play.”

According to Haddon, Paul listens to his breakout single “Sinner’s Prayer,” released in 2002.

“Sinner’s Prayer” also resonated profoundly in Haddon’s own life. After dealing with public scrutiny surrounding his divorce from his first wife, gospel recording artist Damita Haddon, in 2011, he wanted to give up. Instead, he drew even closer to God.

For Haddon, taking on Los Angeles was his best move. He married Dominique McTyer in 2013 and made his small-screen debut that same year in Preachers of L.A., Oxygen’s reality show that followed the lives of six preachers and lasted for two seasons. He became a father of three — Destin, 6; Denver, 3; and Deitrick Jr., just shy of a year old — and started Hill City Church, a nondenominational Christian church in Compton, California.

He also scored his first No. 1 radio single in 2017, “A Billion People” featuring the Hill City Worship Camp, made up of members of his church’s praise and worship team.

Now that the NBA season has started, Haddon has a new basketball team to fan out over in Los Angeles.

“My house is no longer divided,” he said with a laugh. “I am a LeBron James fan to the core, so by default I was a big Cavaliers fan. My wife is a huge Lakers fan. She is a die-hard Kobe Bryant fan. She bleeds purple and gold. We were enemies during every basketball season! We both are supercompetitive and emotional, so in the past there was a real battle in my household.

“This is a great time for my family. My home is united now that LeBron is on the West Coast.”

Haddon, 45, is a preacher’s kid who grew up in Detroit. He was only 10 years old when he knew that, like his father, Bishop Clarence Haddon, he was called to preach.

“I was in my bedroom looking out the window and I heard what I believed was the voice of God speaking to me as loud as I am speaking to you, his audible voice saying, ‘Deitrick, I have called you to ministry and I want you to preach the Gospel and sing the Gospel,’ ” he said.

Haddon was afraid but moved and went to seek counsel from his mother, Joyce.

“I ran to my mother and told her exactly what happened,” Haddon said. “She said, ‘That is God calling you to ministry, Deitrick.’ Before I knew it, I was up preaching. … My mother brought me a robe and a little Bible and set a date, and I was up preaching in front of a whole crowd at a church called Unity Cathedral of Faith [a Full Gospel church on Detroit’s west side]. The church was packed because word had gotten out that little Deitrick Haddon was going to preach.”

Haddon will never forget the day. He sang a song to begin and noticed the crowd’s response.

“Everyone in the church started shouting and running around like I was doing something so spectacular,” he said. “Then, when it came time for me to preach, my mind went blank. I couldn’t remember anything that I had practiced or studied! I don’t even know how I got off of the podium; I think they carried me out of there. After that experience, I dedicated myself to studying even more, learning every Scripture, every Bible story, etc., so that will never happen to me again.”

Haddon intensified his biblical knowledge and eventually began teaching Sunday school. When he was 13 he became minister of music, and at 16 he was youth pastor at Unity Cathedral, preaching every other Sunday and remaining until his young adult years.

After he married Damita in 1996, the two left Detroit and moved to Orlando, Florida, where he became worship leader at Paula and Randy White’s church, Without Walls. The couple later moved to Atlanta to pursue other music projects. By that time he’d already made a name for himself as one of this generation’s most influential gospel singers with his albums Lost and Found and Crossroads.

While in Atlanta, he and Damita divorced, and he moved back to his hometown of Detroit to recover. It was there when he decided Los Angeles could give him a new start and enhance his career.

Haddon received a phone call from music producer Zaytoven and was offered the opportunity to expand his writing into other genres of music. He co-wrote three songs on Usher’s latest album, A.

“Zaytoven is my brother from another mother,” Haddon said. “He has listened to my music and all kinds of gospel music for years. He is the godfather of trap music, but he is also a church musician on Sundays, and during the week he is making hit records for all of your favorite hip-hop artists.”

Haddon said a lot of “secular artists gravitate to church musicians because they get a whole lot of practice every week.”

“Church musicians are some of the best musicians in the world,” he said. “He [Zaytoven] is out there doing it big, and he stays faithful as a church musician at his church. He called me to come in and collaborate with some of the writers on Usher’s latest project.”

When Haddon isn’t writing music or preparing for service at Hill City Church, he is all about basketball and enjoying fatherhood. His wattage intensifies when he speaks of his three young children.

“I live for this,” he said about being on “daddy duty.” “Everything that I do orbits around my family. I am very hands-on. I attend all of the parent conferences, and even grandparents day.”

His parenting skills are patterned from his father, who adopted him as a young child after marrying his mother.

“My dad was a very responsible dad,” Haddon said. “We never wanted for anything. He was very dependable, and our lives were good because of that. He instilled those qualities in me.”

Buster Douglas: I wasn’t impressed with the success Mike Tyson was having When Douglas knocked out Tyson, he was fighting for more than just a win

In this installment of Playing for Something, Buster Douglas, as told to The Undefeated’s Kelley Evans, opens up about his mother and how she motivated him in his fight with Mike Tyson, who was heavyweight champion of the world and unbeaten in 37 fights. Oddsmakers in Las Vegas gave Douglas 42-1 odds of beating Tyson.

(ESPN Films’ new 30 for 30 documentary, 42 to 1, about Douglas’ epic 1990 defeat of Tyson for the heavyweight championship of the world, premieres Tuesday at 9 p.m. EST on ESPN.)

My mother slammed me on the ground, put her knee in my chest, and said, ‘If you don’t get out there and fight that boy, you’re going to have to fight me.’

My mother, Lula Pearl Douglas, was my motivator. At 10 or 11 years old, she made me go out there and face that bully, and when I came into the house crying, she jumped on me bad. It was, like, the next day I went outside, and we were shooting basketball. I called a foul. The bully was like, ‘What?’ And I turned around and said, ‘Foul!’ And I was looking at him, fists all balled up, and he just gave me the ball. Ever since then, he never said anything else to me.

She was my world — my rock. That’s how she was with me and my brothers.

She died three weeks before my fight against Mike Tyson on Feb. 11, 1990, a day that marked my sporting life. That was my pinnacle. On that day, I was the best. I couldn’t have asked for anything more. I was blessed with the opportunity and I conquered. If you had to say, ‘This is how I want to be remembered, how I want people to know me, to look at me,’ it’s as a gentleman, a kind man who believes in himself, a humble guy who had an opportunity and took advantage of it.

Douglas fought with a heavy heart on Feb. 11, 1990.

AP Images/Sadayuki Mikami

But the person who motivated me was my mother. She visited me the week before she died on Jan. 18, 1990, to check on me as I was preparing for the fight. She was really ill at that time — I didn’t know how ill, but she mustered enough strength to get in her car and drive over to my house and ask me a few questions to see where my head was at. She was 46 years old, I was 29. It would have just been devastating, knowing that I was unable to continue because of her passing, but it just built my strength even more, in a sense.

Fighting Mike was a relief. I was like, ‘Man, I’ve got so much s— pent up in me, this is your a–.’ I mean, really, I was just at that point to where I could give a hoot about the naysayers. In my mind, I was getting ready to be a nightmare to him.

Make no mistake, I knew that if you weren’t bending steel or eating mercury, you had no chance against that man. But I knew what I could do.

I had no doubt at any time during training. I couldn’t wait for the fight. My biggest worry was something happening that would postpone or delay it — like Mike getting hurt in training. I just couldn’t wait for Feb. 11.

30 for 30 presents “42 to 1”

The thing about Mike is he’s not a trash-talker. He was a man of few words. I remember a reporter asking him how he thought the fight would go. He said the fight would be like any other fight — something like, ‘I’m going to knock him out,’ or whatever. Short and sweet.

I knew he was a talent. But I looked at the person. I looked beyond that figure in the ring, and I had to compare myself to the individual, so I wasn’t really impressed with all the success he was having. I knew he was a warrior in the ring, but I looked beyond that. That helped me a lot.

I went into the fight with a lot of confidence, and I wanted to express that. Everyone was expecting a quick, 90-second knockout, but I’m well-educated in this game. I knew what I was doing. I knew nobody gave me this opportunity; I had earned it. I fought killers to get this opportunity. Fighters who I figured would beat me, guys who lost their careers, I ended up beating and turning everything around to get a shot at the title. Even with all of that, I still wasn’t getting any respect because Mike Tyson was just a god.

“I knew it was over. He wasn’t even in the fight at that point — he was sleeping.”

When I went down late in the eighth round, I knew exactly why it happened. I got caught standing square, standing right up in front of him. That was the one time he really got me. I was angry and motivated — at the same time. I was pissed because I got caught looking. He caught me with one of those hooks, uppercuts. I hit the canvas like, ‘F—!’ When he knocked me down, I wanted to look at him, take a moment and say: ‘Come on, Mike. What do you think about this?’

I got caught because of that brief moment of reflection, when I stopped fighting. He was showing me that he was still alive. But I got up.

I knew I had to get serious after that. I dominated the ninth round and gave him a swollen left eye. Then that 10th round came, when I dropped him at one minute and 22 seconds into the round. When Mike didn’t get up, I knew I had him. I knew I had won, because when he reached for his mouthpiece, I knew he was incoherent. If he would have been coherent, he would have just gotten up, let the referee get the mouthpiece and extend the count. But when he reached for it, I knew he was hurt then. That’s when I raised my hands. I knew it was over. He wasn’t even in the fight at that point — he was sleeping.

When Tyson and promoter Don King complained about the referee’s count at the end of the eighth round, I didn’t feel disrespect, I just felt like they were crying like babies. I looked beyond all of that and realized that it was just some force trying to stop me from obtaining my goal. I knew then that I was on the right track of succeeding at my childhood dream, which started when I was 10, when my father started me in boxing.

On February 11, 1990, I was fighting for more than a win.

Cherish tonight — James and Wade are the brotherhood Jay-Z and Biggie never had the freedom to experience LeBron James and Dwyane Wade: a high-profile black male friendship that has tragic precedent

Save for his final home game in Miami next April, Dwyane Wade’s “One Last Dance” farewell tour entered its most emotional stop Monday night in Los Angeles. The three-time NBA champion and surefire first-ballot Hall of Famer squared off against his former teammate, best friend and other championship-winning banana boat crew member, LeBron James, for the final time.

It’s been a blessing to watch James and Wade do what they’ve done for the past 16 seasons.

It’s the end of a basketball journey that began at the NBA draft combine in 2003. But now, life is starkly different for the championship-winning half of the banana boat quartet, which also features Chris Paul and Carmelo Anthony. Wade’s attention to the world after basketball is already in full swing. He missed LeBron’s visit to Miami a few weeks back on paternity leave after the birth of he and wife Gabrielle Union’s daughter, Kaavia James. Whereas LeBron’s basketball career continues to ascend toward the sport’s rarefied air — with the distant possibility he could one day play in a league featuring both his son LeBron James Jr. and Wade’s oldest son, Zaire, who is already involved in the college recruitment process. But Monday night is about them and the endless memories that come with the finality of the moment.

“It’s bitter, and it’s sweet. It’s sweet and sour,” James said after the Lakers’ recent 111-88 victory over the Memphis Grizzlies. “The sweet part … is I’ve always loved being on the same floor with my brother. … And the sour part … is that this is our last time sharing the same court.”

Wade’s sentiments exactly. “Having this opportunity with ’Bron, out of everybody in the NBA, he’s the person I’ve loved playing against the most outside of Kobe [Bryant],” he told the Sun Sentinel over the weekend. “Obviously, he’s also one of my good friends, and the history we have as teammates, as well. It definitely means more than just the average last game versus a team or individual.”

There is an added incentive for both former teammates heading into Monday night’s game. James and Wade, who went to four consecutive NBA Finals from 2011-14 and won two together, are 15-15 in 30 career matchups against each other. The winner, for the rest of his life, carries a lifetime of personal bragging rights. More than anything, though, the final James vs. Wade game is an opportunity to witness history in real time — but also to appreciate the last 16 seasons, and what the duo has done to elevate a game they were both expected to, and did, revolutionize.

Their relationship calls to mind another friendship between competitive men who became all-time greats as competitive brothers. It’s one that fate ended early, and one that was recently reintroduced to the spotlight on Meek Mill’s “What’s Free” — Jay-Z flipping a lyric from The Notorious B.I.G.’s “What’s Beef.” Call it returning a favor for the late Brooklyn MC paying homage to Jay-Z 21 years later.

Imagine if Wade never played again after capturing Finals MVP in 2006. Or if LeBron, after the “48 special” he unleashed on the Detroit Pistons in 2007, were no longer in the game. Alternate realities that bring a tidal wave of grief and despair, just at the mere thought.


The success, the worldwide fame, the marriage to Beyoncé, the friendships with Barack Obama and LeBron James, the No. 1 albums, the Grammys — none of it can ever be enough to mute the voice in Jay-Z’s head. That nasal laugh and unperturbed voice that helped make Brooklyn a cultural zenith. Jay-Z will always remember the excitement in Biggie’s voice. The pain, too. The reality is one he’s never been able to escape, and never will: Jay-Z was one of the last people to talk to The Notorious B.I.G.

The music from the VIBE after-party for the Soul Train Awards at Los Angeles’ Petersen Automotive Museum was loud. “Where you at, playboy?!” Biggie yelled for Jay over the phone.

Not exactly the group chat LeBron and D-Wade use to keep tabs on each other, but a competitive and, at its core, respectful GPS nonetheless.

Only two weeks before the release of his album Life After Death, Biggie wanted Jay with him to celebrate. Not just his success, but theirs. They’d survived New York City during the eras of Mayor Rudy Giuliani, Reaganomics and crack cocaine — and had lived to craft graphic street soundtracks of it all. The worst of the East Coast-West Coast rivalry seemed behind them, and the rest of their lives were in front.

At least, that’s the way it should’ve been. Minutes later, Biggie was gunned down in a drive-by shooting. He was 24 years old.

Jay was supposed to be with Biggie in L.A. on March 9 but had other commitments. According to an 1997 interview with MTV, he had, however, planned to fly to Los Angeles the next day to chop it up with B.I.G. The two had known of each other since high school, but it was rarely more than a dap here, a dap there and seeing each other around Brooklyn before Brooklyn was gentrified. And before Marcy Projects became an amusement park.

Hustling on street corners was a part of their lives, while music would elevate them beyond the long arm of the law. B.I.G., of course, found success first with the release of his 1994 landmark Ready To Die. During Biggie’s rise to superstardom, Jay’s rap acumen was growing. DJ Clark Kent constantly told Biggie about this cat from Marcy Projects who was nice. B.I.G., initially, didn’t take the nudge seriously.

“Aight, aight!” Kent recalled Biggie saying on The Juan Epstein Show in 2014. “Yeah, Clark. He’s good.”

Biggie’s walls of resistance began to erode after hearing Jay’s “Dead Presidents” — then an undeniable New York underground smash in the pre-Reasonable Doubt days. “Yo, man,” Big said. “Ya mans is mad nice.” But even then, he still wasn’t ready to give in. This was apparently due to Kent’s insistence that Jay was just as dope as Biggie — a claim, recounted in interviews and documentaries over the past two decades, that agitated Biggie so much that he recorded the second verse of “Who Shot Ya?” as proof to Kent that Jay wasn’t “harder” than him on the mic.

History remembers the record as a line in the sand that divided Biggie and Tupac and watermarked a bicoastal feud — but, according to Kent, “Who Shot Ya?” was Biggie proving to him that no one from Brooklyn could out-rap him, including Jay-Z. The wheels of competition were in full rotation after this. Jay, per Roc-A-Fella Records co-founder Kareem “Biggs” Burke, was so inspired by Biggie’s move that, days later, he recorded three songs that would later become benchmarks in his catalog: “Can’t Knock the Hustle,” “D’Evils” and “Can I Live.” Not exactly the group chat LeBron and D-Wade use to keep tabs on each other, but a competitive and, at its core, respectful GPS nonetheless.

Competition brought Biggie and Jay closer and closer together, but it was fate that kindled a friendship. B.I.G. heard the “Brooklyn’s Finest” beat and wanted it for himself.

“You always giving this [guy] everything!” Biggie responded. Clark Kent was Biggie’s DJ, but Kent was also in A&R at Atlantic and was trying to sign Jay-Z. If Big couldn’t have the record, as legend has it, he was going to jump on the record. There was initial hesitation about bringing B.I.G. into the studio, not because Jay-Z didn’t want him on there but because doing so meant doing paperwork with Sean “Puffy” Combs — something Kent remembers then-Roc-A-Fella CEO Damon Dash being against.

“If you can make it happen,” Jay said at the studio session, “it’s all good.”

Meanwhile, Biggie waited nearby in a car for Kent’s call to come inside. People in the studio looked at Kent funny, knowing he had set the meeting up. But the meeting between Biggie and Jay produced instant dividends. There had always been respect between the two — and now they were meeting face-to-face again. Chemistry was immediate. They laughed and dapped countless times, and the lyrical Olympics the two entered into became a story for all time. It was also during the session that Biggie saw Jay record his verses off the top of his head.

“You ready?” Jay asked Biggie from the booth.

“I told you,” Kent said to Biggie, “he don’t write no rhymes.”

Jay and Big were always competitors, but now they were friends. By the end of Biggie’s life, there were serious talks of the two doing a joint album — the original Watch The Throne, if you will, and by far one of the most gut-wrenching what-if scenarios in rap history.

The world kept moving, but his world, the world he and Biggie were supposed to take over together, was crumbling.

The two Brooklyn bombers, part of a collective then known as “The Commission,” officially released only three songs: “Brooklyn’s Finest,” “I Love the Dough” on Biggie’s Life After Death and “Young G’s” from Puffy’s No Way Out. They all were, as Kent has explained, inseparable.

It was a fast-break-like excitement that Wade and James would display nearly 20 years later on and off the court. They were two greats who knew they were great — but at the same time had no clue how powerful their voices would be in American pop cultural history. Both knew the climate of rap in the mid-’90s, how dangerous just existing in rap had become. But they couldn’t have thought it’d come to a head in the early morning hours of March 9, 1997. The end wasn’t supposed to be like this.

Seeing Jay tour the world, release meaningful projects at nearly 50 years old, is mind-numbing. Life goes on, and memories take up residency in the past. But pain travels. Jay was emotionally detached after Big’s death. He had been to only two funerals at that point in his life. The world kept moving, but his world, the world he and Biggie were supposed to take over together, was crumbling. “I remember the first time going out … in the car,” Jay-Z said months after Biggie’s murder. “I wasn’t driving. I was just looking out the window. Everybody was moving … and happy. That’s when I got angry.”


What the deal playboy, just rest your soul
I be holding it down yo, still love the dough …

Got the whole world on lock down you know how we flow
Don’t worry about Brooklyn, I continue to flame
Therefore a world with amnesia won’t forget your name
You held it down long enough, let me take those reins …

— Jay-Z “The City Is Mine” (1997)

LeBron and Wade’s head-to-head battles have produced a world of classics, while their time together as teammates, along with fellow future Hall of Famer Chris Bosh, forever reconfigured basketball’s power structure. With Monday night’s final LeBron James vs. Dwyane Wade matchup, there’s a completion there that Biggie and Jay-Z were never afforded.

Jay-Z’s verse on Meek Mill’s “What’s Free” is proof that as the elder statesman Biggie never got to be, Jay-Z still holds the game hostage, and B.I.G.’s spirit has been an ever-present theme in Jay’s music — often seeming like a kite sent to a fallen friend. Even Biggie’s mother, Voletta Wallace, says Jay honors her son to this present day. Biggie shouted out Jay on 1997’s “What’s Beef,” and 21 years later, the only homage Jay could return to his friend was lyric of his that he flipped. Hahaha, check out this bizarre / Rapping style used by me/ The H-O-V. It’s beautiful and tragic — a reminder of what was, and what should have been.

There’s real pain in that lyric. Not just because the world lost a great artist but also because Shawn Carter lost a friend. The success he’s had was supposed to happen with Biggie alive and well in the arena. Big never had the chance to work with Pharrell or rap over Soul-Sample Kanye beats or rap alongside young legends like Kendrick Lamar and Drake. Nor was he given much of a chance to see how fatherhood and the gift of maturity would have changed his approach to music and the world around him.

Wade, the greatest shooting guard not named Jordan or Bryant to ever live, and James — arguably the greatest, period, to ever set foot on an NBA court — likely don’t see themselves as Jay-Z and Biggie. At their apex, though, Wade and James’ chemistry calls to mind the Brooklyn tag team: the respect, the gamesmanship, the joy with which they dominated. Not to mention the unforgettable highlights. It’s been a blessing to watch James and Wade do what they’ve done for the past 16 seasons. There’s no stone unturned or anything they could’ve done differently to make Monday night’s moment any sweeter.

“I’m not going to sit here and tell you, ‘Oh, it’s another one of 82 [games].’ Not it’s not. Not for me,” Wade said. “It’s a game where I get to play against not only one of my best friends but one of the game’s greatest players for the last time. I want to win as a team, but I want to savor the opportunities.”

Cherish Monday night. James and Wade are the brotherhood Jay-Z and Biggie never had the freedom to experience. It’s always been more than a game.

Sixers assistant coach Monty Williams: ‘God makes me look much better than I deserve’ Athletes believe they can overcome anything, he says, but that’s not the case

A look at the intersection of sports, faith and religion

Monty Williams was hesitant. He instinctively shied away from an exchange that would turn his personal thoughts on faith into a “glorified modesty-type thing.”

“I always tell people God makes me look much better than I deserve, and that’s just where it is for me,” said the Philadelphia 76ers assistant coach. “I don’t like coming off with the fake humility stuff.”

Less than an hour had passed since he’d finished practice at the team’s training complex in Camden, New Jersey. Now, he was talking not so much about basketball but about those times that faith kept him afloat.

“There’s a lot of times within the faith, as a Christian, that most people think we walk around like we have it together, and I just got to be straight with you,” said Williams, 47. “The longer you’re walking with the Lord, it’s the exact opposite. It’s like way on the other end. I need the Lord because I don’t have it together. I am broken. I am flawed no matter how I’m viewed.”

Williams’ initial introduction to faith came through his grandfather, James Williams Sr., who was a pastor at Cleveland Avenue Christian Church in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. He still plays an integral role in his grandson’s life.

As a child, Williams regularly attended vacation Bible school during the summer, and every Sunday morning he was alert and ready for Sunday school. As he matured, he realized there was a lot more to faith than going to church.

“There was a relationship involved with God that allowed me to delve deeper into some heavy questions and ask myself what did I believe even before I knew what to believe,” he said. “I had to figure some things out, and then you realize you can’t figure it out. It’s all about faith.”

As his career path changed from player to coach, he leaned more on his faith.

“Whether it’s winning or losing or getting a contract or not getting signed by a team and all the in-between, my faith allows me to hopefully have something to hold onto that’s much bigger than sports,” Williams said.

“You realize you’re not the cat’s meow. Most athletes, we feel like we can overcome and withstand anything. There’s been a few times in my career where I couldn’t change the consequences with lifting more weights or getting more shots or whatever the case may have been. And that’s when you realize how small you are and how much you need a relationship with God. And I felt like that was where I started to grow.”

A 6-foot-8-inch small forward, Williams averaged 30 points and 16 rebounds as a high school senior at Potomac High School in the Washington, D.C., suburbs. He went on to play for Notre Dame, averaging 22 points and eight rebounds as a senior. He was selected by the New York Knicks in the first round of the 1994 NBA draft. He married his college sweetheart, Ingrid, after his rookie season.

Over his nine-year NBA career, he played in 456 games and averaged 6.3 points while suiting up for the Knicks, San Antonio Spurs, Denver Nuggets, Orlando Magic and Philadelphia 76ers. His coaching career includes time with the Portland Trail Blazers, New Orleans Hornets/Pelicans, Oklahoma City Thunder and 76ers.

Five children (Janna, Micah, Faith, Lael and Elijah, now ranging in age from 8 to 20), eight cities and 26 years of marriage make up the triad that represents his life with Ingrid. The couple wrote a faith-based book in 2010 with another couple, Dave and Kaci Bullis. Called Look Again 52, which refers to the number of weeks in a year, the book provides scriptural readings for every day of the year.

His faith has evolved over time.

“I had the idea that because I was faith-based, things would work out well for me,” he said. “I thought that being a man of faith, that was a byproduct of that. Having been around a little bit, I’ve come to realize that my faith is something I can hang on to in the good and not-so-good times, and it allows me to deal with both the success and the failures and the in-between. It’s not a good-luck charm.”

The hardest time in his life came in February 2016, when Ingrid died from injuries she suffered in a car accident in Oklahoma City.

“Nobody’s strong enough to get through that, not on their own, and I certainly did not,” Williams said. “I had a lot of people praying for me. If not for the grace of God, I probably would have been more frustrated than I was. …

“She was the greatest example of faith that I’ve ever been around because she was my best friend. It was what attracted me to her when I first met her. So to lose her to a senseless car accident was by far the toughest thing I’ve ever had to deal with and am still dealing with. That’s something that I’ll never be able to explain or rationalize. I just have to trust God that he’s going to get us through it all, and he has.

“The problem is what you see on TV is usually painted a certain way, so I was probably painted stronger than I really am. The reality is it’s been a struggle to deal with something like that, and to not only deal with it but have to raise five kids in the process. That part no one can do on their own. If it wasn’t for the grace of God and him putting really good people around me and helping me, I wouldn’t be here today for sure.”

Williams continues to provide a faith-based household for his children, and he encourages them to establish their own relationship with God.

“My older girls know, and they’ve known since they were teenagers, that they can’t live on my faith,” he said. “Earlier, when we were doing devotions at home, we would go to church and we would go to different faith-based activities. They’ve reached an age where I have to be straight with them, like, ‘This is my faith. You have to have your own faith.’ ”

Williams and his family are nondenominational Christians and attend Fellowship Alliance Chapel in Medford, New Jersey, outside Philadelphia.

He uses the Holy Bible app daily and has friended other family members, coaches and NBA players.

“I use it every day because I like the Bible plans that they have on there,” he said. “They’re pretty encouraging, and sometimes they punch you in the mouth. But I learn more about the Lord, I learn a lot about myself. It’s a really cool way to connect with other believers and other people in general who are just like me, just trying to live this thing out in a real way, but do it in a way that would glorify God without being offensive or goofy to other people.”

Penny Hardaway on the time Michael Jordan wore Air Flight Ones over his own Concord 11s It’s the only time that Jordan wore another player’s shoe in an NBA game

Michael Jordan had a nickname for Anfernee Hardaway — and it wasn’t Penny.

“He called me ‘Kid,’ ” said Hardaway, at 47 the head coach of the University of Memphis men’s basketball team. It’s been 25 years since Hardaway decided to forgo his senior year at the school — where he’d emerged as a consensus first-team All-American, averaging 22.8 points, 8.5 rebounds, 6.4 assists and 2.4 steals a game as a junior — to declare for the 1993 NBA draft. The 6-foot-7, silky smooth point guard had game like Magic Johnson’s, but with far more athleticism. He was taken at No. 3 overall by the Golden State Warriors, a pick that was traded to the Orlando Magic on draft night in a blockbuster deal for the top overall selection, Chris Webber.

Alongside a young and dominant big man in Shaquille O’Neal, Hardaway became the floor general of the future in Orlando. But during the 1993-94 season, his first year in the NBA, he never got a chance to lace ’em up against the greatest hooper on the planet. That’s because on Oct. 6, 1993, a month before Hardaway’s rookie debut, Jordan announced his (first) retirement from the game of basketball to mourn the tragic murder of his father, James Jordan, and pursue a major league baseball career. As Jordan grinded in the minors with a bat and cleats, the 22-year-old Hardaway caught his attention on the hardwood.

Michael Jordan wearing Penny Hardaway’s Nike Air Flight Ones during Game 3 of the 1995 Eastern Conference semifinals. The game marked the first and only time in Jordan’s career that he wore another player’s shoe.

Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

“Michael expressed to a lot of people that he had the utmost respect for my game,” Hardaway remembered, “ … and kind of deemed me the next kid coming up in the league.” Eventually, the greatest of all time and the prodigy would meet on the huge stage of the 1995 NBA playoffs. That’s when, for the first and only time in an NBA game during his career, Jordan wore another player’s sneakers. They were Hardaway’s — and this is that story.


Jordan wore them on one condition — without Hardaway’s “1 Cent” on the heel tab of each shoe.

It all began during Hardaway’s rookie season, when all you had to do was look at his feet to know that he had the ultimate co-sign from His Airness. Hardaway, who was signed to Nike, asked if the brand would make him custom pairs of Air Jordan 9s. Jordan obliged, which made the Magic point guard one of the first players in the NBA (outside of Jordan himself) to wear player-exclusive (PE) Air Jordans. Remember — it wasn’t until 1997 that Nike officially launched the Jordan Brand, and Jordan hand-picked the first five players to endorse his products. Hardaway received pairs of Jordan 9 PEs, in black and white, accented with Magic blue and his No. 1 stitched on the heel of each shoe.

“I really liked the shoe,” Hardaway said from his team’s practice facility in Memphis, Tennessee, where he still has one of the original pairs of PEs in the attic of his house. “I liked the look. So I’d asked if I could start getting those with my number. It was pretty cool, actually.” Come Hardaway’s second year in the league, he was the face of the Nike Air Flight One, as the brand crafted his first signature shoe, the Air Max Penny 1, which wouldn’t debut until late 1995.

In March of that year, Jordan returned to the NBA after a 17-month retirement to once again play for the Chicago Bulls. Yet by then, there had been two big changes in the culture of the league. First, Jordan had switched from No. 23 to No. 45, which he wore while playing in the minors. And the Bulls were no longer the beast in the East. The Magic, led by the player Jordan knew was next up, emerged as the conference’s top seed heading into the 1995 playoffs.

“How many pairs do you need? Do you need mine?’ It was like, ‘That’s Michael Jordan … wearing MY shoes.’ ”

The fifth-seeded Bulls advanced to face the Magic during the Eastern Conference semifinals that postseason. And Game 1 on May 7, 1995, yielded one of the most iconic sneaker debuts: Jordan broke out the “Concord” Air Jordan 11s — the first shoe in basketball history to incorporate patent leather. The Concords would ultimately become the culture’s grail after they first dropped at retail in November 1995. But Hardaway got his hands on them early.

“I remember asking for a pair right before that series started,” Hardaway said of the Concords, which the Jordan Brand rereleases Saturday — with the No. 45 on the heels for the first time. “I got some and wore them to games throughout the whole series. … I was in awe of how great the shoe looked. The patent leather on there was unreal. It was futuristic, you know? That shoe was phenomenal.”

During his 1993-94 rookie season, Penny Hardaway wore player exclusive editions of the Air Jordan 9 — including in this game between the Orlando Magic and Washington Bullets on Jan. 29, 1994.

Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images

Hardaway recalls wearing his Concords (which had No. 23 on the heels, not No. 45 like Jordan’s pair) in practice during the series, but he said he never considered rocking them in a game. “It wouldn’t have felt right,” he said. Perhaps that’s because there was some drama surrounding the shoe. After debuting them in Chicago’s 94-91 loss to Orlando in Game 1, Jordan wore the Concords again in Game 2. But this time with his No. 23 jersey, to which he’d returned, likely in response to the shade heard ’round the basketball world — “No. 45 is not No. 23.” — delivered by Orlando’s Nick Anderson in the locker room after the series opener.

“You kind of thought that was gonna happen. We whispered things like, ‘At some point during the playoffs, he’s gonna come out in 23’ — and he did,” Hardaway said. “Nick and I have never talked about his comments. But M.J. doesn’t miss anything. He’ll use anything as motivation. … It was about … ‘This is who I am. I’m not No. 45. That was baseball. Now I’m back to being who I am: No. 23.’ And he had a monster game in Game 2.” Jordan dropped 38 points, with 7 rebounds, 3 assists, 4 steals and 4 blocks, propelling Chicago to even the series at 1-1.

After two games in the Concords, Jordan was slapped with a $5,000 fine by the NBA for wearing the primarily white shoes, which violated the league’s uniform guidelines by not conforming to his team’s jerseys or footwear. So before Game 3, Jordan had a decision to make. With a primarily black version of the Air Jordan 11 not yet available to him, which sneakers would he wear? Jordan could’ve returned to the Air Jordan 10 or any of his other iconic silhouettes. But instead, Jordan paid homage to the kid — taking the court for Game 3 at Chicago’s United Center in a pair of Hardaway’s Nike Air Flight Ones.

“It was very weird,” Hardaway said.

All you had to do was look at Hardaway’s feet during his rookie season to know he had the ultimate co-sign from His Airness.

The story of Jordan and the Air Flight Ones has often been chronicled — but the tales contrast. Some say he borrowed a pair of Hardaway’s personal shoes. Others detail an agreement between Jordan and Hardaway for the greatest of all time to wear the youngster’s kicks. The question is, how did Jordan actually get a pair of the Air Flight Ones — especially on such short notice?

“He’s Michael Jordan. He was the man. He didn’t ask me for them. He just told Nike to give them to him,” Hardaway said. “He said, ‘Hey, man, give me some of the kid’s shoes.’ I thought, Of course … how many pairs do you need? Do you need mine? It was like, ‘That’s Michael Jordan … wearing MY shoes.’ ”

Jordan apparently wore them on one condition — without Hardaway’s “1 Cent” on the heel tab of each shoe, which he allegedly cut off before playing. Yet to this day, Hardaway can’t confirm that part of the story. “I didn’t notice he cut the 1 Cent tab off,” he said. “I haven’t noticed it’s gone in the older pictures. I just notice the shoe … but maybe he did.”

With Hardaway’s shoes on his feet, Jordan dazzled in Game 3 with a series-high 40 points. And on that night, he made sneaker history in another player’s shoes — which would never happen again in Jordan’s career. It’s a moment Hardaway says he’ll always cherish. “We all know that Michael Jordan is one of the fiercest competitors ever. He’s not gonna wear just anybody’s shoe … he wouldn’t do that for a lot of people,” Hardaway said. “For him to do that for me, it was the ultimate level of respect.”

Black artists get the noms, but not necessarily the trophies at Grammy Awards Kendrick Lamar, Cardi B and their fans shouldn’t get hopes up if Grammys history is any indication

The nominations for the Grammy Awards are in, and there’s historic news: Of the eight nominees for the prestigious album of the year Grammy, six are hip-hop/rhythm and blues.

The nominees are: Invasion of Privacy from Cardi B, By The Way, I Forgive You from Brandi Carlile, Scorpion from Drake, H.E.R. from H.E.R., Beerbongs & Bentleys from Post Malone, Dirty Computer from Janelle Monáe, Golden Hour from Kacey Musgraves, Black Panther: The Album, Music From And Inspired By from “Various Artists,” but truly a Kendrick Lamar-curated project on which he appears a great deal.

Simply not winning these awards would be travesty enough for black artists, but the way the shows are promoted only add to the insult.

Lamar leads all artists with eight nominations with Drake right behind him at seven. Cardi B and H.E.R. each earned five nominations. Social media is already abuzz about the representation of black performers and women of color in the nominations this year.

However, this type of enthusiasm occurs every time nominations come out, and it often gives way to a letdown on awards night. It’s hard to imagine, despite the odds, that this year will be any different, thanks to the Grammy Awards’ decades-long history of shortchanging black acts even as these same artists’ performances are promoted for TV ratings. So yes, while the unprecedented three women of color being nominated for album of the year Friday is causing excitement among their fans and black fans in general, it’s probably best to tempter expectations. Because if the history of this show is any indication, we’re only setting ourselves up for disappointment in February.

And here’s why …

There have been very few cultural moments like the one that happened on April 23, 2016, for the epic music video/HBO movie premiere/album release for Beyoncé’s Lemonade. It marked a singular moment of social media togetherness to and for the consumption of black women full of empowerment, healing, hurt, twirled bats and sexiness. For one hour, the entire music world was captivated by Beyoncé’s work of genius, at one point writing an open letter to her cheating husband (the also megapopular nigh-billionaire Jay-Z, of course) and soothing over the generational scabs America has inflicted on black women all while putting together one of her most complete works of art to date.

As soon as the movie was over and Beyhive (we were all members of the Beyhive that night) flocked to our respective streaming sites of choice to find the album, I sent out a tweet about an article I’d have to write in a few months. “Working on Think Piece #6,” I wrote in reference to all of the fodder for literary thought I got from Lemonade. “Why Adele shouldn’t have won the 2017 Album Of The Year Grammy over Beyoncé.”

Of course, we know what eventually happened. Beyoncé was nominated for nine Grammys related to Lemonade in 2017 and won only two: best music video for “Formation” and best urban contemporary album. Adele, meanwhile, won the big awards, including album of the year — tearfully accepting it while bemoaning the fact that she herself believed Beyoncé should have won: “I can’t possibly accept this award, and I’m very humbled, and I’m very grateful and gracious, but the artist of my life is Beyoncé.”

No, it didn’t take a supernatural soothsaying ability for me to predict what would happen at the 2017 Grammys. But, as often is the case, history is greatest fortune-teller. And history tells us that black artists get relegated to minor awards and categories reserved for black or “urban” artists while everyone else gets to enjoy the biggest trophies for the night.

Photo by Dan MacMedan/WireImage

The three biggest Grammy Award categories are album, record and song of the year and the black win-loss record in these categories is strikingly abysmal.

Pharrell’s record of the year win with Daft Punk in 2014 for “Get Lucky” and Beyoncé’s 2010 win for song of the year for “Single Ladies” are the only black award winners in any of the three top categories since 2006. There have only been three projects from black artists to win album of the year in the 21st century. Only one of those albums, Outkast’s Speakerboxxx/The Love Below is from black people under the age of 65. The other two being Herbie Hancock’s 2008 award for River: The Joni Letters and Ray Charles’ 2005 album Genius Loves Company. Lauryn Hill is the last black woman to win a Grammy for album of the year for Miseducation of Lauryn Hill in 1999.

When black people do win Grammys, it is in separate-but-equal categories that signify the awards are essentially for black artists. Beyoncé has won 22 Grammys in her career, including as part of Destiny’s Child, and only four of those Grammy Awards don’t have the words “R&B” or “Urban” (or both) in them. She has come away empty-handed on the 21 other nominations that don’t have those words. Neither Jay-Z, Kanye West, Lil Wayne nor Drake have won any awards outside of the “Rap” category. 2Pac, The Notorious B.I.G., Nas, Snoop Dogg, Ice Cube, and Public Enemy have never won Grammys in any category.

The award shows owe their popularity, ratings and attention to the black artists who end up with just participation trophies in the end.

Simply not winning these awards would be travesty enough for black artists, but the way the shows are promoted only add to the insult. Every year, black artists, boosted by their high nomination totals, are given prominent performance spots in the show, only to get shut out of the big awards.

In 2018, Lamar was the buzz artist with seven nominations for his DAMN. album. He was marketed ahead of time as the performer to open the Grammys. He stole the show but only won Grammys for rap categories, which was similar to 2016, when he was nominated 11 times and didn’t win anything but rap performances despite another electrifying performance.

Black artists such as Lamar, Beyoncé, Jay-Z and West have either outright led or tied for the most nominations every year since 2012 (Eminem led with 10 in 2011), have been championed for those accomplishments, put on monumental performances under the auspices that this could be their year, only to be ignored when it was time to hand out the major trophies.

The award shows owe their popularity, ratings and attention to the black artists who end up with just participation trophies in the end. And that begs the question: Why do black artists even bother with the Grammys? I’m not the first to ask this question, as some have flirted with boycotting the program for decades. Will Smith and DJ Jazzy Jeff led a boycott of the 1989 Grammys when it was announced that no rap awards would be televised. “You go to school for 12 years,” Smith said at the time. “They give you your diploma, and they deny you that walk down the aisle.”

In 1991, as M.C. Hammer was winning a Grammy for best rap album, Public Enemy was choosing to boycott for the same reasons Smith and Jeff did two years before. In 1999, Jay-Z began a boycott of the awards for DMX’s It’s Dark And Hell Is Hot not getting nominated. In 2014, Macklemore posted a public apology via text message to Lamar for preposterously beating the Compton, California, MC for best rap album.

And finally, a few months ago, Jay-Z seemed to send out a hint that he would be reigniting his disdain to the Grammys: “f— that 0 for 8 s—,” in response to him getting shut out this year. Maybe his statement is the beginning of a sentiment that he nor Beyoncé need the awards. And he’d be absolutely right. Because the truth is evident: Neither black people nor black art needs the Grammys.

Lemonade is a transcendent piece of art that gives black women in particular the type of joy and affirmation that only black art can give them. Her self-titled album from 2013 revolutionized the way artists put out music. Lamar’s first three albums are the type of consciously-aware rap music fans dreamed could top the charts one day.

Jay-Z is one of the greatest songwriters. Ever. West has produced the soundtracks to the 21st century. Have you seen an Essence Festival crowd sing along to Mary J. Blige? Have you seen entire stadiums and clubs explode when Drake’s music comes on? Do you understand 2-Pac and Biggie’s legacies? These artists have impacted the culture, and most specifically black culture, in ways that surpass the validation the Grammys provide.

I understand the desire to be recognized for your art on the same level as counterparts, especially white counterparts. But history tells us that it’s all a waste of time to persuade these voters to give black art its just due. If black people stopped caring about the Grammys, the effect it would have on the legitimacy of the awards would do far more damage than the loss of legitimacy felt from not winning year in and year out. Beyoncé losing out to Adele doesn’t harm Beyoncé’s career. It just makes the Grammys look silly because the black artists and culture that follow them hold the power of public opinion over an increasingly archaic award.

So feel free to be happy that Lamar, Drake or Cardi B have the potential to win a ton of awards in February, or that we may get our first black woman this century to hold up an album of the year award to close the show. But just know that it’s also OK to accept the brilliant art for what it is without giving increasingly meaningless awards the time of day. It deserves your attention less and less after every unjustifiable snub.

Suzan-Lori Parks collects the Steinberg prize for playwriting Anointed by James Baldwin himself, Parks continues to mischievously break boundaries

NEW YORK — Honored for a career of audacious, one-of-a-kind work Monday night, playwright Suzan-Lori Parks thanked her creative writing professor from Mount Holyoke College, the late James Baldwin.

“Suzan-Lori,” Baldwin had written on Parks’ evaluation, “is an astonishing and beautiful creature who may become one of the most valuable artists of our time.”

“I’ve been working all these years to prove him right because I don’t have the heart to prove him wrong,” Parks told a roomful of theater luminaries who had gathered to see her presented with the Steinberg Distinguished Playwright Award, the second-most prestigious playwriting award after the Pulitzer Prize. Of course, Parks, 55, has already won the Pulitzer. She got it in 2002 for Topdog/Underdog, becoming the first black woman to win the award for playwriting.

“I won a Pulitzer a looong time ago,” Parks told me. “It was 2002. It’s like the Buddhists say: After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. Meaning after the great thing happens, what do you do? You go back to your daily work.”

Her acceptance speech was loaded with her trademark mirth — Parks dabbed when she recounted being chosen for Baldwin’s creative writing class. She also recalled how his approval provided more than emotional support. When she first moved to New York as an unknown playwright, there were no reviews of earlier work to send to the press with the announcement of her new work. But she had an endorsement from the nation’s most incisive and elegant writer on race: Baldwin. So the quote from his evaluation of her college work was put in the press packet.

Playwright and honoree Suzan-Lori Parks (left) and her husband, Christian Konopka, perform at the 2018 Steinberg Playwright Awards at Lincoln Center Theater.

Bennett Raglin/Getty Images for Steinberg Playwright Awards

Parks’ work, as Public Theater artistic director Oskar Eustis described it, is “nuts.” Eustis was specifically referring to Parks’ decision in 2002-03 to write 365 plays in 365 days, which the Public later agreed to mount. Some were only a page long; one of Parks’ producers informed me that Parks had decided that for a play to be a play, the production really only needed a door. Besides her stunning, yearlong creative marathon, Parks also has written in the lobby of the Public Theater, even holding workshops with other writers — sort of a playwriting twist on the Marina Abramović work The Artist is Present. It’s as much a performance piece as any of her plays, and she titled the enterprise Watch Me Work.

“Her boundary-breaking is joyous and mischievous,” Eustis said.

In the Newhouse Theater on Monday evening, actors Amari Cheatom, Brandon J. Dirden, Crystal Dickinson and Roslyn Ruff read excerpts from Topdog/Underdog (1999), Getting Mother’s Body (a 2003 novel), The Book of Grace (2010) and Parks’ latest work, White Noise, which will debut at the Public Theater in 2019.

Parks writes black characters who face racism and poverty but also demand joy for themselves. They are equal parts crafty and sentimental, like Billy Beede, the pregnant, 16-year-old heroine of Getting Mother’s Body, Parks’ take on William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying, which is told through the eyes of a black Texas family.

Parks opened the evening with a performance. Her husband, Christian Konopka, accompanied her on guitar as she strummed her own and sang a folk tune she’d written for 2015’s Father Comes Home From the Wars (Parts 1, 2, & 3). Parks had shed her purple velvet platform sandals, walked up to the center of the stage in bare feet and performed in a black dress with a sheer overlay of purple and yellow pansies. Her locs hung down to her waist. The couple lives in a one-bedroom apartment in New York with their 7-year-old son, who, Parks told the audience, “loves pie.”

The evening was a celebration of artsy black girl brilliance. Parks explained that when she moved to New York, she crashed with Laurie Carlos, the actress who originated the role of Woman in Blue in Ntozake Shange’s for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf. Shange was only the second black woman after Lorraine Hansberry to have a work mounted on Broadway.

Honoree Suzan-Lori Parks (left) and Lee Daniels attend the 2018 Steinberg Playwright Awards at Lincoln Center Theater.

Slaven Vlasic/Getty Images for Steinberg Playwright Awards

“What impacted me most was Topdog/Underdog,” The Butler director Lee Daniels told me. “That just sent my head spinning.” Topdog/Underdog bubbles with improbable hilarity: Its two main characters are black brothers named Lincoln and Booth. Lincoln makes his living as an Abraham Lincoln impersonator who will gladly take money from anyone who wants to pretend to shoot him in the head.

Daniels is now collaborating with Parks (who also wrote the screenplay for Spike Lee’s Girl 6) on a new film, The United States vs. Billie Holiday. Parks wrote the screenplay, and Daniels is directing.

“It’s been a great working experience,” Daniels said. “I flew out from Los Angeles just to see her get this award because I’m so honored to be working with her.

“As a woman and as a black person, she brings the American experience to the world.”

New film star KiKi Layne of ‘Beale Street’? Yes, we love her In this film, the innocence of black love in some ways counters the criminalization of blackness

As you likely know by now, KiKi Layne turned in a most excellent performance in Barry JenkinsIf Beale Street Could Talk. Folks are in awe of her dramatic delivery as lead character Tish, and even more so considering the fact that this is her first film.

Layne, 26, already has earned her first awards show nomination at the Gotham Awards last month, and surely there are more on the way. Much of what Layne is going through right now feels like what Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o experienced in the wake of her performance in Steve McQueen’s gripping 12 Years A Slave (2013). In Layne, we’re introduced to another young actor who brings emotionally layered context to a part of the black experience in a way that stays with you long after the credits roll.

“I’m just trying to soak it all in and take it one day at a time, because it can get overwhelming,” said the Cincinnati native. “There’s just so many new things happening so fast. … Even when people keep talking about awards season … I’m just like, ‘Well, right now, in this moment, and on today, this is what I’m taking care of.’ ”

Instagram Photo

That game plan appears to be working out nicely. Beale Street, an adaptation of James Baldwin’s 1974 book of the same name, is finally out in limited release after much anticipation. The hype is merited — it’s already critically acclaimed, and even though it’s a ’70s story of a black man wrongly accused of a heinous crime, it’s eerily contemporary. Layne landed the role last fall after besting more than 300 women whom Jenkins auditioned for the part. He was blown away by Layne’s reading.

“It doesn’t matter if you’re the most experienced actress or least experienced. If you give an audition or performance that shows me the character, then we’re gonna go down the road. And with KiKi, she just had this duality, where she could be very young, innocent,” Jenkins said. “So many of the things in the film she’s experiencing for the first time, and yet [the character] still often speaks, especially in the voice-over, with this voice of a woman, someone who’s evolved because of these experiences.”

Much of the storyline feels like it was written to reflect the headlines that dominate today’s news cycle. It’s one of the reasons the film resonates the way it does — and one of the reasons that, quite frankly, the film is so piercing and just gut-punches moviegoers the way that it does. But what overrides the trauma of being persecuted just for being black is an intensely gorgeous love story of a young black couple. In this film, the innocence of black love in some ways counters the criminalization of blackness.

“The way that James Baldwin is able to think about injustice and issues in the world and in the black community … it’s so special,” said Layne. “But then to see the way that he could talk about love, and that the love isn’t lost even though you see these people going through these really tragic circumstances, that is what stood out to me and made me like, ‘Oh, I’ve got to be a part of this film.’ ”


Layne attended performing arts school in Cincinnati, starting when she was 7. She headed to Chicago to attend DePaul University and studied acting there. She had her family’s blessing from early on, and it mattered. “It’s cute to be doing it in elementary and high school,” said Layne, “but when you’re talking about spending thousands of dollars to do it, now hold on!”

Layne paid careful attention to Angela Bassett, Will Smith and, because she was obsessed with Brandy Norwood, Moesha. Seeing a young brown girl live out her performing arts dreams was inspirational. It let her know there might be space for her out there. Representation matters.

“I remember when everything was first happening for Lupita, what it meant to see someone who looked like me doing this on the level that I’d always dreamt of doing it,” Layne said. “And especially coming out and being a romantic lead, playing a character who is loved that much, for a black actress with my complexion doesn’t happen very often. … [As] Barry said at one of our Q&As recently, ‘It’s not lost on us, the power of the image of these two, young, chocolate people loving each other.’ ”

She noted that her hair is out in this film, that she barely has on any makeup in the film. “It’s not lost on me that there are black girls out there that are going to see that, and I hope they recognize that they deserve to be loved that hard.”

And like Nyong’o, she’s being well-received by a fashion world historically unkind to black women — and dark-skinned black women in particular. “That still is definitely something that wows me. Every single time I wear some of these designers, I’m like, ‘What? Do they know who I am? OK, cool.’ It’s not lost on me the lack of images of black women who look like me being in these types of gowns and living in them and living in ourselves.”

And Beale Street isn’t the only project she has on deck. In 2019 comes Native Son, from beloved scribe Richard Wright. It’ll be a modern reimagining of the much-studied novel. That film is done and will premiere at the Sundance Film Festival in January. “The thing most important to me,” said Layne, “is just trying to broaden my audience, because definitely Beale Street and Native Son speak to basically the same audience. I want a career that’s filled with variety, all types of roles, because that’s the fun of acting.”

In truth, there’s no real way to prepare for going from obscurity to overnight marvel, but Layne is on top of it. “The thing that I’m getting reminded of by family, friends, supporters, cast members, is that if I wasn’t supposed to be here, then I wouldn’t be here. If God hadn’t blessed me, equipped me with the things that I needed to succeed on this level, then I wouldn’t be here,” she says. “I am where I am prepared to be.”