Black History Month 2014 – Akua Willis

Akua Willis is taking the music world by storm.  I got connected to Akua through my good friend Asheley and man, look at all she’s doing. This is her story.

Akua is a noted singer/songwriter, dancer and actress. From birth, this Dallas Texas native was destined for greatness. Akua, a Ghanaian name meaning born on a great day and will be great, has been devoted to the performing arts her whole life.

After receiving her BA in Dance and Drama from Spelman College, she’s had the privilege of working with such famed artists as Eminem, Jamie Foxx, Nikki Minaj, Stevie Wonder, Debbie Allen (Fame, 3 time Emmy winner), Allee Willis (Grammy winner & Emmy nominated songwriter; September – Earth, Wind, & Fire “I’ll Be There” – Friends Theme Song), Yolanda Adams, Miguel, Tichina Arnold (Everybody Hates Chris, Martin), Bone Thugs & Harmony, Carl Thomas, Chaz Shepard (7th Heaven, Set It Off), Gloria Gaynor, Abraham McDonald (Def Jam), and many more.

She has worked on major television shows like the X Factor, American Idol, Dancing w/ the Stars, The Grammy’s, & the NAACP awards and has graced the stage, countless times, at such venues as The House of Blues, Foxx Hole Live, & RnB Live Hollywood. This talented singer/songwriter creates a great blend of R&B/Jazz/Gospel with her unique soulful sound, that keeps audiences captivated and wanting more.

She recently released her much anticipated EP on iTunes entitled No Other Love and will be touring in a city near you.

To find out more about Akua go to www.AkuaTheGreat.com, like her on Facebook, follow her on Twitter, Instagram, or tumblr.

Black History Month 2014 – Lonnie Bush

Lonnie Bush is strength personified. Ms. Bush is quickly becoming Kansas City’s premier guru on fitness authority. This is her story.

Lonnie Bush is the owner/fitness instructor of Lonnie Bush Fitness, Author, and Founder of a Non-Profit Foundation. She is an architect of the “Total Body Workout.” She is also a breast cancer survivor. Although, she makes it her lifestyle, Lonnie strives to be a motivator and a role model to all that seek to become physically fit and live a healthy life. She also avidly advocates for breast cancer awareness, education, and the continuous quality care of life for cancer patients.

As a triple negative breast cancer survivor, Lonnie Bush is 3 years CANCER FREE. As a mother, fitness trainer, and Ford Motor Company employee she has always been an inspiration for others in more ways than one. During her battle with cancer never once did she ask “Why Me?” She said to herself and others “if it can happen to me, a person that eats healthy, works out 6 days a week, and has no history of cancer on either side of my family then it can happen to anyone”.

While fighting cancer, she decided to keep a journal of all the stages of the battle, the activities on a day to day basis, and the people who supported her during the struggle. The result of the journal is the manifestation of a book that became 26,000 words of inspiration during the fight against cancer. The title of the book is “Cancer Was My Blessing”. If you are interested in purchasing the book it can be found on Amazon.

Lonnie believes that this book will be an incredible inspiration for people that are battling cancer as well as their families & friends that seek to understand this struggle. It helps explain the different ways to deal with the daily ups and downs of the fight. She started a non-profit foundation called Celebration of Life. This foundation helps those in need of specific necessities. Upon receiving donations, the Celebration of Life Foundation goes to hospitals and clinics to pay co-pays for cancer patients discretely (Paying it forward). Also, the foundation receives and buys wigs, hats, scarves, and more to patients that lose their hair in the process of fighting cancer. Throughout the year, Lonnie sponsors many initiatives and drives which benefit cancer patients.

Lonnie would love to have people to get involved before cancer touches their family and help motivate others to keep fighting cancer. She asks, “If you know anyone who has cancer please share with them 26,000 words of inspiration, “Cancer Was My Blessing” and send them to her Gym where cancer patients get to work out for FREE.

Get tested, early detection is vital!

Inspired yet?

Check out more here.

Like the “Cancer Was My Blessing” Facebook page!

Black History Month 2014 – Shaleese Beasley-Rockett

Shaleese Beasley-Rockett has been one of my best friends since I first met her in 2002. Man, how time flies. We were from the same city (Des Moines, IA), but had never met until we went to school together at William Jewell College. We could have been unlikely friends since we both had such differing views of the city we grew up in. However, since we both love to listen and learn from others we could take our experiences and bring them together in a way that improved both of our world views. And we have been supporting and loving each other ever since. You can read a bit more about Shaleese and the awesomeness that resonates from her in the feature I did on her in 2012, here (in my blog archive).

I am now proud to say that Shaleese has taken the entrepreneurial route in a way that may not seem like she’s building up a business, but building up a community. After receiving her Masters in Social Work she started a women’s group called SnAP in the fall of 2011 with the purpose being to reach underserved women within the Kansas City community and shaping each mind to become stronger. Shaleese co-facilitates this program with Ms. Sylvia Goodloe, LMSW. It is part of Reconciliation Services.

Since it’s conception, SnAP has served 75 women in the Greater Kansas City Area. Each group has 8 to 10 women and runs for 8 weeks. The sessions help participants identify distorted attitudes and alter perceptions. This process is obtained by applying awareness through journaling, narrative, self instruction, brain development activities, and imagery.

SnAP stands for Strength, eNergy, and Power. The mission statement is “to increase women’s understanding of how trauma and depression impact the mind, body, and soul.” And, with each session, Shaleese and Sylvia are definitely improving the lives of women in the Greater Kansas City Area, while inspiring their loved ones around them.

Keep it up Beaz. You’re a star.

Black History Month 2014 – Tyra Banks

When most people think of Tyra Banks they are probably thinking either Victoria’s Secret or America’s Next Top Model. You may even remember The Tyra Banks Show that ran from 2005-2010. This is really where she came onto my radar. The more I have learned about Tyra though, the more I have come to respect her.

Before we even get to her entrepreneurial feats let’s also remember that she has had plenty of feats in the “Black Firsts” category. She was the first black woman to grace the covers of GQ, the Victoria’s Secret Catalog, and the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition.

   As Tyra began moving out of the modeling world and into acting more she developed her own production company that started out as Ty Ty Baby Productions which turned into the present day Bankable Productions. This is the production company that has brought us The Tyra Banks Show and America’s Next Top Model. Bankable Productions also produced a film targeted at young women called ‘The Clique.’ I highly recommend it for parents with tweens and teens.

But where Tyra really hits my heart is her work with young women. She inspires them to be their true selves and reach for their dreams. She started a camp called TZone and it has since morphed into The Tyra Banks TZone and will have it’s permanent location in New York in partnership with The Lower East Side Girls Club.

Tyra is an entrepreneur that has put her life towards making the lives of young women a much bigger, better, and brighter place.

Black History Month 2014 – Kelli Wakili

Kelli Wakili. I met this girl in 2011 and haven’t forgotten her ever since. She is that awesome. She is talented, kind, compassionate, and beautiful (inside and out). I met Kelli at a wonderful event in Kansas City, MO called “Night of Love” where talents of all types came together to put on a show all about love. Kelli and her now husband, chief waKiL, were performing a song together and it was magic. Magic, I say. Here is her story.

Kelli is from Bowie, MD. She made her way across the big ‘ole United States and has placed her feet firmly on the ground in LA. She is a singer/songwriter/actress and more.

Her work has been featured on the E! Network. She is the writer and performer of the theme song for “Rich Kids of Beverly Hills” and has also been featured on and musically written for the E! Network programs “Total Divas” and “Eric and Jessie”. Check out the first episode of “Rich Kids of Beverly Hills” here.

On the acting side Kelli is a principal character in the upcoming independent film titled “Assassination of a Citizen” by Reflektiv Films. She has also been featured in multiple TV shows and commercials.

On an even more creative side, Kelli is currently working on publishing her body of children’s books and recording her own music project in 2014. Could she get any more awesome? Oh yes she can. Aside from all of that she is also a math tutor and spends her days teaching and mentoring everyone from troubled youth to child actors and actresses.

This woman has been inspiring me with her positive energy and all the wonderful work she is doing since I met her that cold February day. Be on the lookout for more from this soon to be household name.

Want to know more about this awesome lady? Check out her blog: kellimykelli.tumblr.com

Black History Month 2014 – Mara Brock Akil

Hello Everyone! Welcome to Black History Month 2014! I am so excited for this year because I am featuring some amazing women who are going to blow your mind. This year is all about women entrepreneurs; past, present, and building the future. As always, a big thank you goes out to my amazing friend Asheley Brown who you will learn more about later this month. Until then, enjoy the awesome and be inspired. I know I am.

Mara Brock-Akil came onto my radar when I started watching Girlfriends. That show was so much fun! At this point I really only knew her name and that she was the creator and executive producer of the series.

I have since then discovered that she is not only a producing mastermind, but she grew up in Kansas City and graduated from Raytown South. Midwest girl. Yes. She continued on to Northwestern University and is also a Delta Sigma Theta.

She broke into the business as a writer for the short-lived series South Central. She started to garner attention as a writer on Moesha and The Jamie Foxx Show. This then led to her teaming up with Kelsey Grammer for Girlfriends. The Girlfriends spin-off, The Game, has moved from the CW to BET and continued to garner fans along the way.

Ms. Brock-Akil and her husband, Salim Akil, started their own production company called Happy Camper Productions and has since then been renamed Akil Productions. Their production company has achieved much success in both television and film. Along with Girlfriends and The Game, Akil Productions has worked on the Courtney Cox comedy Cougar Town (with Mara Brock-Akil being a writer and consulting producer). Most recently Akil Productions has been the driving force behind the new BET series starring the always amazing Gabrielle Union. It is called Being Mary Jane and from what I have heard it is amazing. I can’t wait to get my hands on a DVD copy when season 1 is available.

Akil Productions has being making a Hollywood splash as well. From the romantic comedy Jumping the Broom to the musical Sparkle. Jumping the Broom stars the gorgeous Paula Patton and Laz Alonso and was directed by Salim Akil. Sparkle stars the late, great Whitney Houston and the talented Jordin Sparks. It was written by Mara Brock-Akil and directed by Salim Akil.

Needless to say Mara Brock-Akil is a powerhouse in media, production, and business. We could all do well to take a page out of her book.

Black History Month 2013 Day 8

The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air

Cultural Significance:

Fresh Prince of Bel-Air is first and foremost culturally significant for its theme song. Secondly, it is culturally significant for The Carlton. Anyone that grew up in the 90’s can give you the entire first stanza to the theme song. Plus, it is just pure genius. The Carlton, well Alfonso Ribeiro is awesome.

A couple of tidbits about this show that I found interesting were that the show was created because Will Smith was having problems financially (needed to pay back taxes and such) and so Quincy Jones helped develop the series into what we all know and love it to be. I am never and advocate for being frivolous with money, but in this instance I am a bit happy it happened.

Also, being an Iowa girl I was pleased to find that the University in the series was modeled after Upper Iowa University. The school colors (blue and white) for University Los Angeles and it’s mascot (peacock) were the same as Upper Iowa’s so the producers had to get permission from the University before using them.

This series ran for 148 episodes over 6 seasons and is still in syndication worldwide. The show won multiple awards, including Young Artist and Image Awards, and dealt with relevant issues during its run. It is still referenced culturally and will forever remain a part of our hearts.

Personal Significance:

If you know me even a little bit you know that I think Will Smith is one of the greatest people on God’s green earth. I think he is such an amazing person, role model, actor, and (from what I can tell) father. I have watched loads of interviews with him and seen almost his entire body of work. I think the man is for lack of a better phrase ‘super cool.’ 

Plus, he raps happy. First Ever Rap Grammy. Miami. Parents Just Don’t Understand. Lost & Found.

Fresh Prince of Bel-Air was the first time I had ever seen Will Smith. The show is infectious and it keeps you watching no matter how silly the story lines are. The cast is brilliant. Hilary and Carlton were such great (and ridiculous) characters, but you always loved them. No matter what. Fresh Prince could make you laugh and cry in the same episode and I always knew how much Aunt Viv and Uncle Phil loved Will even though he constantly made them crazy. Watching Jazz get tossed out of the house was always expected, but still never disappointed. I did, however, always feel bad for Geoffrey because they were mean to him. I know he was the butler, but DANG!

Fresh Prince makes me recall my childhood and represents the beginning of my love of Will Smith. However, when watching the show as an adult it still holds up as a great series that dealt with many different kinds of themes. One of the most memorable for me is when Will’s absent father comes to visit and gets his hopes up for doing lots of stuff together and that he will be around again. The emotion that comes always catches me off guard and reminds me that being loved by a parent is needed at any age, but especially for teens.

Take a look back at this wonderful series. You won’t be disappointed.

And for an added bonus, check out this Tumblr with Fresh Prince quotes.

Black History Month 2013 Day 7

Today’s feature comes to us courtesy of my good friend Marvin Dangerfield. Check out his thoughts on Imitation of Life.

Imitation of Life (1934/1959 film)

First, let me say that I’ve copied lots of information from Wikipedia and I guess it could have been easy for me to say just go to Wiki and read about this, but since I wanted to add a few words of my own (my 3 cents) in between that of what I copied from Wiki, I will ask for your attention and beg that you read on and then after you’ve digested my 3 cents, then go to Wiki and maybe even youtube and read about and watch the movie. Thank you and now let’s begin.

My 3 cents:

As you can grasp from the title of the film there is some type of soul searching going on here, somebody is living in a lie or a fantasy. Well yes, that is true, but not exactly a Hollywood or Bollywood type fantasy of today, no CGI or special effects going on here, just true to life despair, put on the big screen, not once but twice. The original film was made in the 1930’s (no joke!) and the remake was made in the 1950’s (again no joke). You’re like that is old, how in the heck can this film be relevant today or worthy of discussion?

Well the movie was based on a novel written by Fannie Hurst (a Jewish novelist), so why did I mention Jewish and what does that have to do with the “imitation of Life”. Ok, here we go. The story has too many plots, but several sub plots all wrapped together tightly and the actors and actresses who performed in the film did Academy Award nominee level work.

Plot 1: A White lady and a Black lady become friends back when this was not really cool to do. The Black lady works as a servant, but by choice to help the White lady (strange but true in the movie.) They both have daughters who grow up together in the same house and are like sisters. (strange but true in the movie)

The White lady becomes a movie star, but the Black lady still plays the role of maid, but is a true friend to the white lady and the white lady never treats her bad because she loves her friend.

Plot 2: The Black lady’s daughter is very very very light skinned. She basically she looks white and unless she told someone she was black, they would never guess it. So now we are getting there. Since this little Black girl looks White and grows up like a little white girl, she decides to hide the fact that she is Black and let’s everyone think that she is related to the rich White lady and not the daughter of the Black lady servant. This is the deepest part of the “Imitation of life”, Black girl looks white, has a dark skinned mom, but runs away from her so that no one will know that she is really black and she breaks her moms heart, to the point of illness and and then death of a broken heart.

Plot 3: The White lady’s daughter hardly knew her mommy growing up as she was busy becoming a star, so they have no real mommy daughter connection. The White daughter falls in love with mommy’s BF and stirs up a lot of mess.

Now can you feel me?! A Jewish lady born back in the old old old days comes up with this story of a black girl hiding the fact that she is black, a rich white girl hating mommy for not being there, when she needed her… all this going on back in the 30’s SAY WHAT!? The 30’s then again in the 50’s, when American was basically White washed and Blacks lived with Blacks unless they were servants and nothing bad ever crept into the basic White washed American world.

So, that is why I think this story was historical and should have won more acclaim back in the day, but remember America was White washed back then. If we had made this story in the 60’s or even the 70’s it would have opened many eyes.

Think about the plots and tell me that this is not real, not deep, not something to think about and then think about when the film was made. WOW!! End of my present 3 cents.

I hated Troy Donahue after I saw this movie, but I guess that is a compliment to his acting. He was the BF of the light skinned black girl who pretended to be white. He was a joke and a ‘letter man” and when he found out the truth, he beat the crap out of the girl, that’s why I hated him. All the actors and actresses were great in the movie!!

Well I will say that this was one of the most heart breaking movies, I’ve ever watched and it changed my life completely. I, being of very light skin, remember when I was young wishing I was darker, like my mom and my brothers and sisters and feeling out of place. I kinda understood that the black girl wanted to blend in. But I decided, I’d never try to blend in, I’d always be me and represent my ethnic heritage.

It also opened my eyes to the fact that a black person could love a white person and visa versa, skin color is only that and true love lies within our hearts and minds.

As for the other plot of lack of communication with the mother and daughter, I make every effort to communicate and educate my children as much as possible. Even when I am extremely busy, I will listen to them and make sure they know I love them.

In the movie there is a sad ending, but also a ray of light, in that the black girl decided not to pretend to black anymore and to live her life as a black woman and the little white girl and mom were able to mend bridges and start communicating.

It is such a sad and enlightening movie and story that was written well before its time. Go to wiki and read about this and then go to youtube and watch the movie. (See the embedded video below.)

Peace out!
Marvin

Black History Month 2013 Day 6

Major Payne/Undercover Brother

Cultural Significance:

Again today’s features are films that are not Oscar winners, but they are absolutely amazing.

Major Payne was a film loosely based on the film The Private War of Major Benson starring Charlton Heston. (Which was news to me while I was researching this.) Now this movie was panned by critics, but the thing that made this movie pop out as culturally significant to me is that Major Benson’s character would have fit any actor profile. When you watch this film I feel that it was cast colorlessly. Damon Wayans was obviously the best choice, but only for his comedic qualities. The script relied on funny jokes that had nothing to do with race. Looking back on it now it is a breath of fresh air to know that it was that way, especially in 1995.

Undercover Brother is one of the best spoof films I have ever seen. It makes fun of blaxploitation films from the 70s and spy films (such as James Bond). It also walks a fine line of completely making the viewer guffaw at the ridiculousness of racial inequalities. This movie is brilliant. It makes dumb jokes and pokes a lot of fun, but underneath it all there is a lot of heart and realism. This movie was actually praised by critics for these very things that I have discussed above.

Personal Significance:

These two movies help define two parts of my life. Major Payne was a movie that we used to watch as a family, a lot. It was my first experience with Damon Wayans and my first time seeing Karyn Parsons outside of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. It is also one of the most ridiculous/funny films I can remember. It is a movie that my dad can quote front to back along with my brother and I. I will say that is not a cinematic masterpiece, but any comedy fan I have ever met has told me that this movie is hilarious and is up there on their list of favorites.

One of my favorite scenes in the whole movie is when he decides to tell the young ones a bedtime story. It is classic Damon Wayans and an absolutely hilarious way to tell ‘The Little Engine That Could.’

My father is also a retired Marine so this movie was a way for him to connect with his kids through watching something related to the Corps that wasn’t too violent.

Undercover Brother on the other hand helps me define my college experience. It is a movie that we would all sit around watching together when we were supposed to be studying. (Shh…that’s our secret.) Now, my friends Ferg and Sherm would quote this constantly which would lead to the three of us in hysterics from laughing so hard. Our friend Staci would sit and roll her eyes because she believed the movie to be ridiculous which would lead us to quote it even more. It was such a fun way for us to then lead into more serious discussions about race relations and our thoughts on ‘The Man.’ It will not only make me laugh from the content, but also from the images of friends quoting it in my head.

These two movies will always go down in my personal history book as greatness. If not for amazing social commentary then non-stop laughs. Do yourself a favor and check them both out. You won’t be disappointed.

Black History Month 2013 Day 5

Remember the Titans:

Cultural Significance:

Remember the Titans sprung from the true story about the 1971 T.C. Williams High School football team in Alexandria, VA. Coach Herman Boone was given the job of head coach over a more popular coach from Alexandria, Coach Bill Yoast. The movie loosely follows their rise to State Champions. It is a powerful story that has affected audiences worldwide. It had a worldwide gross of $136.7 million and has a 73% critics approval rating on Rottentomatoes.com and a 91% audience rating.

Most people will call this a fun, inspirational and exciting football film that makes anyone smile when they watch it. Although the film follows the real story loosely and changes details to make the story flow you can still get a feel for the times this community was living in and the struggles that children can go through even when it is something that they may not fully understand. I think it deals with the struggle that children face when influenced by their parents thinking in a way that is organic and natural. It also shows that at our core we are all human beings that have the same emotions as anyone else and I believe this story will transcend the test of time to inspire generations to come.

Personal Significance:

This movie. Well, let me start off by saying that I have probably watched this movie about a hundred times. I’m a sucker for sports films, based on a true story films, and race-relations films. This was a movie that had them all rolled into one. I was in heaven. Plus, it has a killer soundtrack that I have nearly memorized. Plus, it stars Denzel Washington and (Des Moines, IA native) Greg Alan Williams. It can’t get much better than that.

One of the other reasons I love this movie so much is that it really shows how love and friendship is just that: love and friendship. It is simple and it doesn’t need to have all these restrictions surrounding it. Coach Boone was able to take these kids and show them that they were all just people working towards the same goal. He was also able to help them realize that they could be real friends that watch out for each other and love each other.

I have friends from all over the world and I know these lessons to be true. You are my friend because you are nice and I like you. It’s as simple as that.

When I was a student at William Jewell College (WJC) I had the opportunity to meet the real Coach Boone when he gave a lecture at WJC. It was really inspiring to hear from a person who really changed people’s lives with such simple lessons. He is definitely an example I’d like to follow.