Simone Biles: Golden Determination

What does determination get you?  For Simone Biles it gets her awards and recognition for being one of the world’s  best gymnast.  It gets her Olympic medals in Rio.  But that golden glow she exudes provides the best answer.  Fierce determination gets you the personal satisfaction and championship confidence to be exactly who you want to be.  Congratulations, Simone, for a job well done by staying true to your pulse and passion.

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James Baldwin’s Voice and Views

Author and civil rights activist James Baldwin was born 92 years ago today.  His life ended, but his voice and views live on.  The 1989 Karen Thorsen documentary, James Baldwin: The Price of the Ticket, offers a poignant personal portrait of the life, times and brilliant voice of Baldwin from his Harlem home to his global retreats. Intermixing archival footage, excerpts from major Baldwin books, and commentary from the writer and other writers of his time, the film celebrates the social critic who challenged America on racial justice, sexuality and religious issues.

Almost three decades after Baldwin’s death, in an America fueled by racial and immigration tensions and raging election rhetoric, the time is right to revisit Baldwin’s legacy and his relevance today. The Price of the Ticket is a good starting point. 

Photo Credit: Allan Warren

Say It Loud….Thoughts on “Get On Up”

“God and Nature first made us what we are, and then out of our own created genius we make ourselves what we want to be.”   Marcus Garvey

"Get On Up" with Chadwick Boseman as James Brown and Nelsan Ellis as Bobby Byrd.  Photo:  Universal Pictures

“Get On Up” with Chadwick Boseman and Nelsan Ellis.     Photo: Universal Pictures

Big hair.  Bold clothes.  Brash moves.  Loud music.  Everything about R&B legend James Brown said it loud.  His look, his music, and his moves made The Hardest Working Man in Show Business who he wanted to be—someone who controlled center stage and who commanded the center of attention.

In Get On Up, the Universal Pictures and Imagine Entertainment homage to James Brown, Chadwick Boseman commands the full screen like the legendary music-maker commanded the stage.  He has total control channeling Brown—wearing his moves like a fitted suit and mouthing his words in that raspy voice Brown owned.  It is as though the legend himself returned to relive his highs and lows from age 16 to 60 bringing all his bravado and music with him.

James Brown’s story is life as performance art.   In the early thirties, Brown lived as a motherless child in South Carolina before his father took the man-child to live with his aunt in her Georgia brothel.   His poverty and potential pushed him to flip his flaws and find a future in music.   Brown created his genius by mixing talent, hard work, hustle and the burdens of his haunting feelings.  With the insight of Bobby Byrd and the inspiration of Little Richard, Brown’s journey ignited.  His appearances flowed from church choir to chitlin circuit and concert halls to crossover pop charts and international fame.  Along the way, Brown carved fierce R&B rhythms with The Flames and JBs, and he redefined the music industry adding soul and funk to its repertoire.

Director Tate Taylor’s biopic is art imitating life.  With Jez Butterworth and John-Henry Butterworth’s screenplay, Taylor gives the audience syncopated beats and burdens of Brown’s life.   The relived life is cyclical.  Moments touch off memories. The audience scans Brown’s story through flips–back and forth–of experiences, events and emotions.  Brown was sometimes up, sometimes down, and always repetitive from his call-and-response punctuated music and magic moves to his prison to performance stage and back again life.  Ultimately, the film’s restless pacing offers those new to James Brown enough to grab and gain some insight into the complex, musical genius and for the nostalgic fans, Taylor gives us the real story we know so well.

With popular songs as the backbone, the strong cast further enhances the movie’s reality.  Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer, Jill Scott and Lennie James are on screen long enough to make lasting impressions.  The confrontation between Davis, as Brown’s long-gone mother, and Boseman personifies the emotional power of strong performances. True Blood’s Nelsan Ellis subtly exemplifies “star time” by owning his role as Bobby Byrd and playing in perfect harmony to Boseman’s every move. Dan Aykroyd quietly contributes as Brown’s longtime booking agent and confirms that Brown even managed his managers.

Timing is everything.  James Brown knew that.  It took about seventeen years to make this biopic.  Producer Brian Grazer had the rights.  Then times changed.  James Brown died.  Legal wrangles ensued.  Grazer waited.  Time waited, too.  Time waited for Tate Taylor to make The Help with Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer.  Time waited for Nelsan Ellis to do True Blood.  Time waited for Chadwick Boseman to star as Jackie Robinson in 42.  Then Mick Jagger came on as co-producer.  Legal wrangles ended.  The time was right.  And Get On Up got the feeling right.

Finding Cross-Cultural Connections versus Global Elitists

Replica of original Manzanar War Relocation si...

Replica of Original Manzanar War Relocation Sign via Wikipedia

Why travel?  Often people travel for business. Most travel to discover:  adventure, unfamiliar places, history, others or themselves in others.   For many American globetrotters, overseas travel is the only true means of building cross-cultural connections.

I have friends who refer to themselves as world travelers, internationalists or global nomads.  They travel the world.  They trek the heights of the Himalayas.  They vacation in Venezuela, Vietnam or Victoria Falls in Zambia.  They live in faraway cities, countries, continents and climates from China to Chile.  They mix comfortably with diverse cultures, are fluent in multiple languages and regularly dine on exotic foods.

What I also notice is how so few of them have traveled across the street and across a few state lines in the U.S.A. to the Deep South.  I know staunch New Yorkers—avid suitcase-toting globetrotters—who have never trotted to Alabama or Mississippi.  A former colleague, who often bikes throughout the European Union to see and learn history, had never been to Mississippi until I took her there to discover the unfamiliar and learn some U.S. history, first hand.   While she had eaten exotic ethnic foods in Marrakech, Morocco, until visiting Mississippi she had never eaten that exotic southern food—grits.

We live in a transient world.  Cross-cultural communities are everywhere from Oxford, England to Oxford, Mississippi.  Exotic foods, those foods unfamiliar to our palates, can be found everywhere.   Louisiana Cajun crawfish is as exotic to some as the Chinese delicacy fried grasshoppers is to others.   To learn the histories of different people and places, global nomads visit historical sites.   How many American globetrotters have traveled the Trail of Tears, followed the trek of the Underground Railroad or visited Manzanar National Historic Site to experience the histories of First Americans, African-Americans and Japanese Americans?

My friends from Germany, Africa, Ireland and England are eager to include visits to Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia along with their stops in New York, Pennsylvania and Washington, D.C. They want to hear, see and learn as much American history as possible. They understand that much can be discovered when elitist boundaries fall.

True cross-cultural travel begins by consciously traveling beyond familiar grounds even in familiar places.  Diverse communities exist across the street, across the country and across the continents.