Saturday, May 31, 2008

next: round two

good news: i made it past round one in the jazzmobile jazz vocal competition and i'm still in the running. round two happens on june 12th at 7:30pm. i've got a little time to get it together. more details later, when i get some sleep and get more work done.

Friday, May 30, 2008

round one begins...

way too busy getting ready for the jazzmobile jazz vocal competition to blog at length here, so i did it over there. at present, i'm practicing the piano and vocalizing and trying to figure out what i'm going to wear. i haven't lost that winter weight gain yet, so nothing in my closet fits the way it's supposed to and that's pretty aggravating but whatever. not that i was going to show up in a glitter glove or anything but i'm kind of giving up on any spectacular visual effects i may have had in mind. i just want to sing my soul and go home.

it's a sunny blue sky beautiful day. there's a cafe/coffee shop near the venue that reminds me of the mission district in san francisco. i'm probably going to check in early -- interestingly enough, we will perform in the order that we arrive -- and then go have some sort of makeshift high tea at that mission district spot until show time.

i'm very much interested in hearing what the other vocalists sound like and who the judges are. as luck would have it, the mistress of ceremonies for the evening -- alyson williams, an r&b and jazz crooner who holds the distinction of being the first woman signed to def jam in the 80s -- is someone that i actually know and have worked not too long ago. we did the wiz with george faison at the arena theater in houston texas a few years back. (she was evillene. i was addapearle. it was fun.)

mostly, this will be fun. for some strange reason, i keep forgetting how much fun it is to simply sing.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

eat some peaches

this video featuring miss piggy is way too clever. and yes, there's some smutty language in there -- the name of the song is f*ck the pain away, if you need a clue -- so clear the room of children and small animals, and enjoy.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

how cool is this?

yesterday was the 125th birthday/anniversary of the brooklyn bridge. when i woke up and saw a picture-perfect sunshiny blue sky day, i thought it would be cool to be a part of that somehow, so my fiance and i took a train downtown and walked across to the brooklyn side and had lunch in an irish bar. and then we went next door and got some pretty amazing hot chocolate. the bridge was densely crowded, to say the least. of course i forgot my camera but everyone around us seemed to have one. they would stop abrubtly to snap an impromptu group shot, as though there was absolutely no one behind them or around them, and that - along with the bicycles, the baby strollers, and running children - created these sudden massive snarls that almost undid my patience.

and foreigners, foreigners everywhere! i mean, sure—in nyc, everyone is from someplace else. if you spend any time at all in the city, you get used to being surrounded by people who aren’t necessarily native speakers but this was borderline wacky. oh, well. it’s the nature of the beast. as the dollar weakens, there will be less of an incentive to skip town for a vacation and more european tourists on the scene in the most mundane moments of my nyc life.

on the way, i called my 92 year old father to tell him all about it. he told me about the waterfall in the east river. (hm. something else to check out.) at the top of the bridge, they gave away fake old timey looking certificates that declared your loyalty and love to the brooklyn bridge – i thought it would be cute to send that to my father, that he’d get a kick out of it.

there was also a brass band that played new orleans style jazz, and so inside of all the aforementioned stop and start confusion, there was a spirit of revelry and merriment, and an audience for the music – people formed a fairly thick half circle around the musicians to enjoy them and automatically created a dance floor, though only one couple actually took the bait. they were dancing like they were drunk. or high. or both. i remember the woman wore a little purple pointy “happy birthday to me” looking hat that was strapped to her head, laced with purple fringe. it was pretty obvious that they were as much a part of the show as the band was. ew. we kept it moving.

later, after pointedly deciding to take the train home, we impulsively walked back across the bridge to manhattan and found the #2 on william street.

my reward? i ran into some people i hadn’t seen in ages: ola, this really lovely african woman that everyone mistakes me for, as well as her husband and her little girl, whom i held in my arms when she was about 2 weeks old. she’s 6 now! (that kind of freaked me out…) and aisha, a harlemite/grad student who’s phone number i keep losing.

all in all, i’m glad that in some small slight way, i was a part of history. and yes, i wish i’d taken a picture of the bridge—although it was ultracool that ola’s husband took a picture of the two of us.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

reading and writing

between preparing for the jazzmobile vocal competition on 5/30, making that IMWS deadline for the millionth time on 5/21, rewriting work for submission today to a writer's residency at Atlantic Center for the Arts and organizing the home office, i've been more than just a little busy. as if all of that weren't enough, i'm working out every day so i can get my body back by my birthday in june. so far, i really love the boxing lessons and the conditioning, and yesterday i ran a 10 minute mile. i haven't done that in quite some time.

instead of the usual blogging hi-jinx, i thought i'd let you read the first two pages of what may grow into my first book. i'm just writing what i know and remember and elaborating on it. i'm not sure what you'd call it -- memoirs? creative non-fiction? you tell me.

i didn't fall into writing last week, by the way. my mother taught me how to read when i was 3 years old and i started writing and storytelling very soon afterwards. i never thought about pursuing a career as a writer but somehow, writing was always with me. when i crashlanded in the city, i wrote a one act play and two one person shows. i majored in screenwriting as an undergrad at the new school. sure, i was a freelance writer here and there. and i'm seriously thinking about applying for the master's degree program in dramatic writing at NYU. but that's a whole other enchilada...

actually, this book idea came out of my earliest entries as a blogger for cafe los negroes. people kept telling me, this should be a book -- and one day, the idea stuck.


During any given Sunday morning service
when I was very small, I would cry as if on cue when our bishop would begin his sermon. One would think that the music and the prayers and the praise that went up all around me for some time beforehand would lull me into a state of grace that would leave me gazing at the gigantic kaleidoscope of a stained glass ceiling that seemed to dangle just out of reach as I reclined in my mother’s lap, but no. As our bishop opened his Bible and began to read scripture, I would speak in tears. It happened with an intensity and a regularity that was disturbing. My mother’s disapproval was an ever-present threat and yet it was not enough to quiet me. A loud hasty exit that had her dragging medown a long wide aisle and the fit of violence that ensued in the ladies room was inevitable. I could not be satisfied.

As time went on, interesting theories as to the motive for my tearful behavior were bandied about with increasing regularity amongst the congregation:

“How could she possibly know when the sermon is going to begin?”

“Where did she get those lungs? They sound like they’re bigger than she is!”

“What in the world could she possibly have to say? She just got here!”

“Is she trying to sing -- or what?

There were many who saw these weekly eruptions as a sign from God. After an especially noisy outburst, someone began to call me “The Wailing Prophetess.” Eventually, so did everyone else.

I can still see that church in my mind’s eye: the modest yet stately entrance; the vestibule that felt more like a reception area than a foyer; the stained glass windows and ceiling that caught the light so completely, it made me feel as though I were perched inside of a prism; the large piece of cloth that ushers would give every woman as she entered the sanctuary if she wasn’t wearing an ankle-length skirt; the paper fans that fluttered amongst the congregation on a hot day like a flock of cooing pigeons at rest, so carefully stapled to small wooden handles, solemnly advertising local funeral homes on one side with a rather formal photo of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. placed, inevitably, on the other; the sea of beautiful seasonally appropriate ladies’ hats that hovered head and shoulders above the congregation; the organ and the piano that mirrored each other in their placement in the sanctuary and augmented each other in sound, like clasped hands; the ladies dressed in white who looked more like elegant nurses than usherettes, my father, painfully well-dressed and dignified, a large well-worn Bible in his lap, tilting his head and making a face at me as I looked over my mother’s shoulder and caught his eye. The amen corner. The church mother. The visiting missionaries. The junior choir. The sacred alter before us. Jesus amongst us. All of us, praying as one and bound together as brothers and sisters -- in spirit and in truth, and as black folk.

In the parlance of the day, black people referred to each other as brothers and sisters and it was a heavy thing because of our collective history. In the church, it carried even more weight because it held its own spiritual significance. To this day, there are some that I know and remember fondly from this church that I still refer to in this way. Even as I pass black folk in the street, I hear myself say these words in such an effortless unaffected way. Somewhere in our collective being, we know that once upon a time, when all we had was God and each other, our unity meant everything. And although we may not have known it when I was little, it still mattered a great deal. We are a family.

All those tears. Where did they come from?

Sunday, May 18, 2008

the day before the audition -- hair, hair, everywhere!

i got a call from my agent for an AT & T commercial at beth melsky casting near the flatiron building. the set-up? it was a support group and i was "susan." when she described the character as "somewhat polished," i asked if i should wear a wig and she let out this perky yet elongated yeeeeeeees that made me burst into laughter. i knew what that meant: if i wanted a shot at this one, i had to take care of business.

i washed and conditioned my hair and then i worked through it with a blow dryer -- an all day event reduced to an evening of hard labor. but it didn't stop there. i went to 125th street and decided to go with the first nice african lady that approached me. and there were quite a few. after some haggling (because you have to haggle; that's just the way things get bought and sold, and it makes what you're haggling over more valuable) she cornrows my hair so that i can put on a wig cap comfortably. now the wig i'll wear to the audition will have me looking "somewhat polished." heh. i suppose i could find some other way of putting my hair away but anything else makes it look as though i'm smuggling something on my head, and that can't possibly read well on camera.

the upshot of it all has me looking more like a nigerian graduate student or an office worker from ghana -- young and african with my own air of sophistication, and yet so desperate to fit in, to blend somehow (is that even possible?!) or at least not look like a threat to the status quo. the idea is to be the black woman that someone behind a desk thinks of as pretty. apparently when it's time to look "somewhat polished," this doesn't involve my natural hair.

should i protest by showing up with an afro and my fist in the air a la angela davis? i suppose i could -- but that's not going to get me the job, now is it. this question of "what is black beauty" is answered everyday a thousand times over whenever you look at a black woman in an any kind of an ad or album cover or whatever. how far she has to move away from what she actually looks like to encompass that ideal is your answer. shifting things in the right direction is an inside job. if cornrows and natural hair were trendy to the extreme, absolutely everyone would do it. even the white folks. especially the white folks.

in the end, preparation is everything -- not necessarily talent. who would ever guess that i would have to do all of this to my hair to audition for a commercial?

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

get a load of this...

this was a float in a recent german parade. so nice to know that the whole world is paying attention, even if we aren't.

here's a thought: what's going to happen if obama becomes president and becomes unpopular overseas? will they darken his skin and call him the "N" word and hang him in effigy in parades like this? i already know that there's an element in this country that isn't above such behavior -- they just think that they are -- but how will the world react?

Monday, May 12, 2008

another day, another audition: outback steakhouse -- "crave on"

okay. first of all, i have to say that it takes a lot of makeup in real life -- carefully and strategically applied -- to look like you're not wearing any makeup at all on camera. after all this time, i think i've finally got it down. the contouring. the shadowing. the highlighting. the layering. i can finally leave home and look made up but not really and take a photo at the audition that has me looking dewy and glowy and fresh. not powdery and caked on and fake.

truthfully, i owe it all to way bandy, that extrordinarily gifted makeup artist from the 70s. i found his book in the half-price pile at a local bookstore when i was in college in austin and read it on a lark. it's such a classic. when everyone was running to MAC counters and grabbing overpriced kevin aucoin tomes, i have clutched mr. bandy's book to my chest like a breastplate. he taught me the basics about makeup and skin care. if he only knew how much i loved him, how much his book has helped me.

i zipped over to donna deseta casting at broadway and spring for this one. they had 3 commercials going so it was a little crowded. i filled out my card, took a polaroid and settled in. as soon as i decided that i didn't know anyone there, i realized i knew someone there -- it was grace savage, the fun-lovin' nutroll i worked with on ed durante's movie jake gets paid. she was zipping around from one audition to the other and of course, she looked totally beautiful and happy. and then she was gone.

as soon as i walked in, i knew which actors belonged with which audition. there was a chase commercial that paired up chatty little black girls as sisters and a mom type, so there were all of these very-pretty-but-somewhat-thick-and-therefore-middle-aged-looking-but-
still-youngishly-attractive-in-a-weird-way black women set up with these girls who were basically grown and pretending to be children, and in so doing getting one over on the adults that were wrangling them. a little too perky and polite and knowing and smart and hip. i mean, how hip can you be if you're only 7 or 8 years old? nothing is more disconcerting or annoying or scary than a child that isn't a child.

there was a hardee's commercial. lots of attractive, generic-looking "middle america" white people. like they opened a portal to the country's breadbasket and let it out somewhere in soho.

and then there was my commercial. a good mix of young and old, supposedly everyday folk. the idea was that we were all standing around at a taxi stand (huh?) listening to someone talk about the entrees at outback steakhouse. sort of a riff on that "lean cuisine" from stouffers commercial where everyone is salivating over a description of the food. we went into the room in groups, depending on who had been seen and when they had been called and we reacted to what the speaker was saying or whatever. easy, right?

just when i was comfortable readjusting and reacting in oh-so-small ways to what was being said, the casting person asked me if i wanted to read it. i couldn't say no to that one but i'm not so sure i was ready to say yes. and of course, the next thing i knew, it was over and i was walking up broadway towards the N/R and wondering what really happened...

Friday, May 09, 2008

racial profiling, leonardo blair and the NYPD

i don't understand how any thinking american can possibly believe that we live in a democracy, that the system in place is fair and just (if we have the same level of education and experience, shouldn't we all get paid equally?) or that white privilege and racial profiling don't exist. i don't think there's any way that we can fix the problems in this country if we aren't willing to acknowledge them.

i know plenty of black men that have had this happen to them. for the sake of the entire NYPD, they'd better hope and pray that it never happens to me.


'NY Post' Reporter's Racial Profiling Suit Counters 'Post' Editorial
By Joe Strupp

Published: May 07, 2008 3:32 PM ET

On the same day that a New York Post editorial claimed racial profiling was not a growing problem, one of the Post's own reporters filed suit against the city claiming to be a victim of such profiling. Leonardo Blair, 28, a Post staffer since May 2007, filed the lawsuit in U.S District Court in Manhattan, according to a copy provided by the New York Civil Liberties Union. The complaint claims Blair was subjected to racial profiling while walking from his car to his home in the Bronx on Nov. 28, 2007.

A Jamaican immigrant and graduate of the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia University, Blair claims he was harassed by police while walking along the street with his then-fiancee. In the lawsuit, he alleges that Officer William Castillo, one of several defendants the reporter names, stopped him due to his dark skin color and without cause. "Officer Castillo angrily demanded of Mr. Blair whether he spoke English," the suit stated. "Mr. Blair, surprised by Officer Castillo's mocking tone, replied under his breath in Spanish that he did not."

Eventually, after being frisked, Blair was arrested, the complaint states. "Mr. Blair was not engaged in any illegal or improper activity, and nothing in his behavior or conduct would provide the basis for reasonable suspicion that he was engaging in any wrongdoing," the lawsuit contends. “Leo Blair was handcuffed and hauled to a precinct house for simply walking down the street,” said Donna Lieberman, NYCLU executive director. “Walking while black is not a crime, and yet every year hundreds of thousands of innocent New Yorkers are stopped, searched and interrogated by the police for doing just that. For justice in our city to be truly just, the NYPD needs to start treating all New Yorkers fairly, regardless of the color of their skin.”

Blair said in a statement: “The only reason why I declared to these officers that I was a reporter for the New York Post, that I was a graduate of Columbia University, is because I wanted it to end. I should not have to pull on cards to be respected as an individual.” Blair was issued two summonses, one alleging he disobeyed a lawful order and the other alleging he made “unreasonable noise.” A judge dismissed both summonses on Feb. 8, NYCLU stated. The NYCLU, in a statement, said it "is asking the court to issue a declaratory judgment that the defendants violated Blair’s constitutional rights under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments. It also is asking that all records of Blair’s arrest, including those entered in the NYPD’s massive stop-and-frisk database, be sealed or expunged."

A New York Police Department Public Affairs spokesperson said the department does not comment on lawsuits. Ironically, the lawsuit was filed the same day that the Post editorialized in defense of police who have come under fire for alleged racial profiling. The issue was recently raised again after statistics released earlier this week revealed that New York City police stopped more people on the streets during the first three months of 2008 than during any quarter in the six years the police department has reported such data.

"Police overreach? Well, consider this: Last week, a killer said to be wearing a 'Team Fresh' gang T-shirt fatally stabbed an 18-year-old who was standing his own front porch. Isn't it a pity that the killer didn't encounter a stop-and-frisk team on his way to the scene of the crime?" the Post editorial said, in part. "Taken another way: How many young men didn't fall victim to weapons confiscated by the teams? A lot, we'd guess. If cops stand down, as critics demand, it'll be welcome back crime and chaos. And good-bye, peaceful New York."

Editor Col Allan and Editorial Page Editor Bob McManus did not immediately return calls from E&P seeking comment.
Joe Strupp ( is a senior editor at E&P.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

sean bell protests start at 3pm today!

for interactive map, click here!

i don't know if you're aware of it or not, but there are pray-in protests scheduled at 3pm today in 6 strategic pockets in the city, led by al sharpton and sean bell supporters, as well as mr. bell's friends and family. the intent is to create enough of a furor peacefully to get the federal government to prosecute the police for violating sean bell's civil rights. ideally, the streets will be flooded with people in prayer from harlem to brooklyn -- but i'm not sure how viable that is when the police can arrest you if you are in a group without a permit or if you do not disperse when you are told to do so.

after the nonviolent protests of the 60s and 70s, the state, federal and local authorities know how to deal with this kind of outrage. they know how to process it through the jails and the court systems. and they have laws in place to prosecute them -- for nonviolent protesting. people who aren't involved and who could care less will inevitably feel beset upon -- because if people gather anywhere near the numbers that they're anticipating, it will bring rush hour traffic to a screeching halt.

i think the only way left to protest something like this is to write a song about it that everyone will want to hear and sing along to -- something that is so innocuous, they won't even know what they are singing about, until it's too late.

still and all, i think a pray-in protest is a noble gesture. and at least someone somewhere is doing something -- because dying in a hail of bullets is the last thing that sean bell deserved.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

jimi hendrix sex tape?

here's the question of the moment: does the-one-and-only guitarist/rock and roll icon jimi hendrix have a sex tape?

evidently, we'll find out today. porn giant vivid entertainment is releasing 45 minutes of grainy 40 year old footage that contains what they're describing as jimi hendrix having his way with not one but two brunettes, on a special website. the jimi hendrix estate says its a hoax. (and why wouldn't they?) so does jimi's longtime girlfriend kathy etchingham, whose remark about the man in question on the video -- "his nose is too broad" -- made one friend of mine say, maybe she doesn't remember how black jimi actually looked. heh.

she also said he was "too shy" to do something like this. well, maybe he had those moments with her -- but he certainly wasn't "too shy" to let two girls backstage inbetween shows to work him up enough to make a plaster of his junk.

clearly, cynthia plaster caster says it is jimi. and truth be told, so does the plaster cast mold that she and her assistant made of his erect, um, instrument. interestingly enough, pamela des barres, who romped around with everyone back in the day, says that's jimi.

what's disturbing is how much money this company is probably going to make from this video. what could be more exploitative than taking advantage of a famous dead person and wrecking a name and a reputation that they can't defend?

here's the real kicker: what if those brunettes step forward and authenticate the video? where are they? i wonder what they'll look like, if they're still alive? they're probably church-going grandmas by now.

can you imagine, sitting down and explaining what you were doing in that video to your kids and your grandkids?

i don't know if there's lots of porn out there of famous people. but i know for sure that there will never be an end to the people who will stand up and say that they have access to that porn, and for X amount of money, they'll gladly let you see it. the porn that marilyn monroe supposedly did as a starlet was a total hoax -- but now that the information has circled the globe that she's a porn star, who's going to believe that she's not?

and that's the real harm that's being done to mr. hendrix.

Monday, May 05, 2008

did "Sex and the City" ruin New York City?

in a word: YES!

how any thinking person that resides in any borough of the city can seriously imagine otherwise is laughable.

i grew up on a steady diet of scorsese films and gritty urban cop tv shows on one hand and a father who survived the great migration north as a resident of brooklyn in the early part of the 20th century on the other -- so when i decided that i would move to new york city from the south, i had absolutely no illusions of grandeur. i knew that the rats and roaches would meet me at the airport, that it would be a filth hole beyond anything i could possibly imagine -- with crime everywhere, a rude sullen embittered poverty-stricken populace and an unholy stench that would rise to meet me every single day. i knew this because my father promised me that it was all one gigantic toilet, a cesspool of idiocy, because why would anyone pay what amounts to the cost of a home mortgage every month to live in a tiny apartment?

was it that bad when i got here? almost.

i lived in the ghetto of west harlem before this latest wave of gentrification, the one that's got hipster white people leaving the lower east side and moving uptown to buy and rent property because this area feels a lot like their old neighborhood did in the 90s: a strong mix of latin cultures, working class black folk and artists. mostly, there's an element of danger, set firmly in place to remind them that they're in new york city -- not the suburbs.

more and more, the city feels like surburbia. it's cleaner and quieter than ever, with more of a police presence on the streets, to make white people and tourists feel safe (because blacks and hispanics certainly don't).

do people believe that new york city is just like an episode of "sex and the city"? truth be told, there is a steady stream of white people from God knows where who are basically hipsters in training -- dilletantes for the most part who are willing to sacrifice their youth to affect a trendy urban lifestyle for the sake of cool and some semblance of culture that they probably never had. in the meantime, the things that really are cool about the city -- mom and pop stores and shops and eateries and the like, and the ethnic diversity of the populace that made this city what it is -- are vanishing. there's a starbucks on every corner. there's a crate and barrel in every neighborhood. african americans are moving south in droves. it's over.

the problem is, it's still new york city -- it's just as foul as it ever was. maybe even more so, because people aren't taking it as seriously as they should.

don't believe me? wander down ludlow street on any given saturday night after 1 am. i haven't seen that many fully trashed expensively well-dressed white people staggering down sidewalks since i went to the university of texas at austin and lived in west campus, surrounded by frat houses. is it really smart to get drunk and bar hop in new york?

lest we forget, there have been several high-profile murders of white females lately who were at play in the city: imette st. guillen from boston, whose friends left her drunk at the pioneer bar because she wanted to barhop through soho; jennifer moore from harrington park nj who, along with her best friend, went barhopping in chelsea (both of them were minors); and last but not least nicole du fresne from minnesota, who was drunk enough (at 3:15am in the lower east side) to berate a mugger with a gun pointed at her by saying, "what are you going to do, shoot us?"

the bottom line is, people believe what they see in the movies and on tv. as an artist, i want to make art that's impactful but it's fairly obvious at this point that if i want to change the world, making music or taking broadway by storm isn't the way to go about it. everyone watches television. you wanna change the world? write/produce a sit-com.


'Sex and the City' cast: Not our fault


Cynthia Nixon, Kristen Davis and Sarah Jessica Parker star in 'Sex in the City.' (handout)

The decade since "Sex and the City" premiered saw the transformation of New York into a real-life set for the show, with gaggles of cosmo-swigging young women chasing the lifestyle it depicts.

The city now teems with glass tower condos and swank shops that have displaced affordable apartments as well as small businesses that cater to longtime New Yorkers.

So is it the show's fault that your corner diner was knocked down for a condo and places like Third Avenue in Murray Hill are overrun with Samantha clones? No way, says the actor Chris Noth, who plays Mr. Big on the show and in its big-screen treatment, which premieres May 30.

"Look, there's always been plenty of fashion in New York, and it's never going to die," Noth said yesterday at a roundtable discussion with the film's cast and director at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel. "But this show didn't create 40-story tall buildings and it doesn't negate [that] either."

Cast members yesterday conceded that they were familiar with the critique that "Sex and the City" helped launch these changes by drawing out-of-towners hell bent on living the life at all cost.

High-priced designer labels and extravagant lifestyles have been as much a part of the series as its four female stars -- Sarah Jessica Parker, Kim Cattrall, Kristin Davis and Cynthia Nixon.

Nixon, for her part, is all too familiar with these bright-eyed girls.

"When people come up to me on the street and say, 'I just got here from Iowa two weeks ago. Your show made me come. I'm like, 'Oh no,'" said Nixon, who plays reprising Miranda Hobbes. "People do come here looking for love, but what do they find?"

Quite possibly bad luck in love, cramped apartments, shopping trips that don't include Fifth Avenue and life in a borough other than Manhattan.

In contrast to Miranda's experience where a cab driver wouldn't even cross the Brooklyn Bridge, that is not the case any more. And what was Miranda's unthinkable move to that "other" borough is now the norm for many 20- and 30-somethings.

In a city facing relentless neighborhood gentrification, Noth says he is a strong advocate of old New York. The actor mentioned his support of a movement to keep the 13th Street Repertory Theater and other city mainstays alive.

"We're losing a lot of our stoops and coffee shops and things like that," Noth said. "These are places to come together. It's hard to get together under the shadow of a 40-story building."

Michael Patrick King, writer and director of the film, said fans should keep in mind that the series and film don't exactly reflect reality. They should, in a sense, watch with a shaded view -- even if those shades are Gucci.

"I think the movie reflects your life but with a really big budget," King said. "It is a fantastical reflection of the lives of women around the world."

Friday, May 02, 2008

a national boycott

i got this email a few days ago. it seriously piqued my interest. after i sent it to all the black folk i know, i thought about it for a long time.

when it comes to buying power (also referred to as disposable income), we have a lot more financial muscle than we think. current stats say $892 billion, projected at more than $1.1 trillion by 2012. our total income after taxes increased from $318 billion in 1990 to $688 billion in 2002. in 18 years, we have increased our buying power by 189% -- as opposed to 128% for the buying power of white people. if you combine this with the buying power of hispanics (frankly, i thought they were black like me -- but that's another conversation), we are formidable.

here's the kicker: affluent (with an average income of $122K) african-americans make up only 17% of all black households but account for 45% of the buying power. the marketing pundits are stymied by us -- they are scrambling to figure out how to sell us things. in the meantime, we are making our great migration back to the south, we refuse to shop online for the most part, we shop at beauty supply stores 3x more than anyone else, and we buy/collect black art.

i wonder how many african-americans know these stats?

when i got this email notice, i couldn't stop thinking about the montgomery bus boycott -- 42,000 black folk simply refusing to take the bus. this happened four days after rosa parks refused to give up her seat on the front of a bus and was summarily arrested. the entire black community convened in their churches, strategized, decided on a plan of action, spread the word amongst themselves and that was it. they walked some pretty vicious hostile streets. they carpooled. they rode bicycles. they took taxis. whatever it took to stay off of that bus, that's what they did. it took more than a year -- 381 days! -- but it broke the system, not just in montgomery but nationwide.

think of it: each one of those 42,000 participants changed national policy, changed the law, changed the world -- by refusing a bus ride. they are all civil rights heroes. what a beautiful legacy to give to your children.

if my not spending any money for a week can in some small way contribute to encouraging some sort of conversation on a national level about police brutality against black and hispanic people, then whatever sacrifice i make will be worth it. i can go a week and not spend money. i'll ride my bike everywhere. i'll pack a sack lunch. it's the folks out there that gas up every other day to commute to work or get around their cities that are going to struggle with this.

looks like i'll be shopping for groceries sooner rather than later.


There are approximately 23 days left to the NATIONAL BOYCOTT (May 19 - 23). As many of you may know, the NYPD detectives in the Sean Bell murder trial were acquitted on all charges. The judge in the case had made his decision based on the fact that the demeanor and background of Mr. Bell and his friends had warranted the detectives to shoot over 50 times. This judicial decision cannot go unanswered. Go back to the 80's with the death of Micheal Stewart and Eleanor Bumpers to name a few. Go back even further to a time when it was legal to lynch African Americans. For too long we have sat idlely by while we let the 'establishment' shoot our leaders (Malcolm/Martin/Medgar) and our young black/hispanic men (Stewart/Baez/Bell) and have done NOTHING about it.

Now is the time to move to action. We must make this stand because if we do not, they will continue to just kill our leaders and young men when it suits them knowing they will not be held to the same judicial consequences as the average citizens. We can no longer turn a blind eye, because it may happen to us. The only thing that the establishment understands is the almighty dollar.

So remember, do all necessary shopping prior to the MAY 19th (May 17 & 18). Buy no gas; fill up before. Do grocery shopping before. Carpool to work, if possible ride a bike or walk to work. Bring bagged lunch to work or leftovers. Spend not one penny that week. Make a donation of at least $5.00 to a Black/Hispanic organization. God Bless.


Thursday, May 01, 2008

Rezoning Harlem

it's all over -- but as a friend told me recently, this war was fought and lost a long time ago.

the city council has opened the floodgates to real estate developers and retailers to turn 125th street into a strip mall, complete with hotels and the like. they've already got east harlem. and they've already got a 17 acre chunk of my neighborhood, thanks to columbia university's campus expansion. (can you say eminent domain? evidently, if it involves black folks and our neighborhoods, the local and state government can say it very easily.) harlem's main street -- a thoroughfare that was named one of the nation's top 10 last year -- will lose all of its character, just like almost every other neighborhood in the city. in a few years, it will be virtually unrecognizable and poor people won't have affordable housing. this, coupled with the fact that according to the latest pre-census records, african-americans are leaving the city in record numbers for the south means that soon enough, the historic capitol of black america will be no more.

you know what? they'll never take chinatown.

san francisco's chinatown was the first, but new york city has the biggest one in the world -- and in fact, it's growing. and why shouldn't it? chinese people live, work and shop in chinatown, and they also raise children there -- just as we do in all parts of harlem. the big fear is that chinatown will overtake what's left of little italy eventually, in part because very few italians are there anymore. let's face it: if you want to go to the real "little italy," try bensonhurst.

there are a myriad of reasons as to why chinatown won't fall the way harlem has collapsed. there is the language barrier, of course. but you can't underestimate the fact that the chinese have always looked out for their own, in part because assimilation is not an option.

here's a question: why do you suppose white middle americans love to come to the city and traipse through ethnic ghettos -- ghettos that are there because of a history of racism and bigotry and white privilege, all of which are still intact and in place and very much alive in our american way of life?


Council Approves Rezoning of 125th Street, Over Loud Protests of Some Spectators

Published: May 1, 2008

The boos and cries of “sellout” and “liar” came so loudly and persistently that the entire audience was removed. But in the end, the City Council overwhelmingly approved a plan on Wednesday to rezone 125th Street in Harlem.

The Council approval augurs the most significant change to the avenue in nearly half a century, one that supporters say will bring new businesses and housing, and that opponents say will forever alter Harlem’s character for the worse by ushering in a new wave of gentrification.

“When I came into office, we promised to stimulate economic growth and strengthen neighborhoods across the city, and our plan for the area around Harlem’s famed 125th Street is the latest example of how were doing it,” Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said in a statement. “Not only does the plan lay the foundation for economic growth on Harlem’s Main Street, but also it preserves its noted brownstones and reinforces its arts and culture heritage.”

The 47-to-2 vote came after months of political and legal squabbling that has divided Harlem among those who believe the rezoning will lead to an improvement in the quality of stores and the availability of services in the neighborhood, and those who believe the changes will turn 125th Street into a generic Manhattan thoroughfare lined with skyscrapers, chain stores and a new set of wealthy residents.

On Wednesday, members of those two groups sat side by side in the City Council chambers, some clapping politely in support of the plan, the others angrily denouncing Harlem’s three Council representatives — Inez E. Dickens, Robert Jackson and Melissa Mark-Viverito — who all supported the rezoning.

After a series of disruptions, in which audience members shouted “sellout” and “liar” and booed loudly as Ms. Dickens tried to explain why the rezoning was an important step forward for Harlem, the Council speaker, Christine C. Quinn, and the city’s public advocate, Betsy Gotbaum, asked that the chamber’s balcony, where the audience was sitting, be cleared of spectators by police officers.

But Councilman Charles Barron brokered an agreement with the officers and City Council security, and only a few of the 100 spectators were ejected.

Once the meeting was back in session, however, the shouting and catcalls resumed during remarks by Mr. Jackson. After Ms. Quinn and Ms. Gotbaum, who was presiding, asked again for the room to be cleared, police officers and City Council security escorted everyone outside the building. As they left, they sang, “We Shall Overcome.”

The meeting was interrupted for about 30 minutes, and the vote was eventually held in the Council chambers with only council members, council staff members, law enforcement personnel and reporters present. Council and administration officials said they could not recall another meeting in which the chambers were cleared of spectators.

Councilwoman Helen Diane Foster, who voted for the rezoning, said she was concerned that the audience was treated harshly because its members were predominantly black and Latino.

“We had more officers in here than we’ve had in the chambers ever before,” she said. “I hope we did it across the board and not based on color.”

Ms. Dickens said that her recent discussions with the Bloomberg administration had vastly improved the proposal, and she said the rezoning was supported by a broad cross-section of Harlem. “I need no one to document my commitment to my community,” she said. “I was born in Harlem.”

The vote itself had become a formality after Ms. Dickens, Mr. Jackson and Ms. Mark-Viverito agreed to the rezoning last month in exchange for pledges from the Bloomberg administration that included additional units of moderately priced housing, government loans for 71 businesses that may be displaced, and about $5.8 million in improvements for Marcus Garvey Park.

Including the 125th Street plan, the Bloomberg administration has now rezoned more than 6,000 blocks since 2002 as part of its effort to revamp the city’s zoning laws, many of which had not changed since 1961.

City officials said none of the other plans had been as hotly contested as the rezoning of 125th Street, which is far more modest in size than previous rezonings, but which threatens to transform what has long been the symbolic center of African-American cultural life.

The plan calls for 24 blocks of Harlem to be rezoned, stretching from Broadway east to Second Avenue, and from 124th to 126th Street. The Bloomberg administration said its intent was to remake 125th Street, now dominated by four- and five-story buildings with small businesses on the first floors, into a regional business hub with 19-story office towers and more than 2,000 new market-rate condominiums. The plan includes incentives for arts- and entertainment-related businesses.

The Bloomberg administration and Ms. Dickens have said that an agreement they negotiated reserves 46 percent, or 1,758, of the 3,858 total new residential units that would be permitted to be built in the rezoned area as moderately priced housing.

But according to the formal agreement, signed on April 15 by Deputy Mayor Robert C. Lieber, only about 5 percent of the housing — or about 200 units — would be affordable for families earning $30,750 or less.