Friday, January 30, 2009

Wake-up Call for Fashion Industry: Black is Beautiful

Ariel Binns is cute, smart, outgoing 6-year-old model. And she is getting jobs because she looks remarkably like first daughter Sasha Obama. This similarity has not gone unnoticed by the fashion industry. The first-grader and model Tyra Banks were cast by Harper's Bazaar magazine in a photo showing a Black family in the White House. I wonder where they got that idea? In the photo the child model from Brooklyn, New York was peeking out from under a big wooden desk.

Yes, the fashion world is realizing that there is noting like a dynamic first family to boost sales. The fashion market is finally waking up to the fact that Black is beautiful. Branding expert David Rogers predicts Black models will play a more prominent role in fashion photography as a direct result of the Obamas. At Wilhelmina Kids, a modeling agency in New York for kids and teens (which represents Ariel Binns), agents say there is increased demand for first daughter look-alikes.

The public loves the Obama girls and they are definitely marketable. After the first daughters appeared in their J.Crew outfits on Inauguration Day, the company's Web site got so many hits, it crashed.

The most visible and most exciting family in America is a beautiful Black family and the fashion industry is looking for those kinds of images. And to the surprise of the industry a lot of Americans who don’t necessarily look like them want to identify and find some sort of connection with this family.

Of course in everything there is a downside. First Lady Michelle Obama was not happy when toy manufacturer Ty Inc. came out with Black dolls named Sweet Sasha and Marvelous Malia even though the company said the dolls did not look like the Obama girls. Many famous families face similar problems and don’t want their children exposed to the public, because once the child is exposed to the public image, because then they could become owned and could be used in many different and negative ways. It also takes away from the child growing up is a relatively normal way.

And yet the celebrity of Sasha and Malia has a positive effect by presenting a positive and prominent image of young Black girls and Black children in general. And it could take diversity in the fashion industry to a whole new level.

Monday, January 26, 2009

The Great American Pilgrimage

They came on planes, train, buses and automobiles. All taking the great pilgrimage to the capitol city of the United States to see history in the making. One group of approximately 40 citizens of New York City boarded a bus in Brooklyn. The group included a 79-year old minister who led them in prayer before the trip. He was born in Harlem and was in jail in 1962 in Albany, Georgia for protesting without a permit. He was jailed with Dr. King for six days with no food. He said that he couldn’t attend the 1963 march on Washington or the Million Man March, but that this was a great opportunity for him because of his age. He said this trip for him was a fulfillment of time because he believes that Americans have achieved the goal of liberty and freedom for all. He stated that he used to have to ride the back of the bus but now he sits wherever he wants on the bus. He also said that he is still in college pursing his BA degree. He went on to say that today the battlefield of the civil rights movement is in the public schools and if we don’t help young people we won’t have future leaders.

One young woman on the bus said that she was representing her mother, her grandmother, and her great grandmother, the women that raised her. And that she had sweet sadness. They never thought they would see this in their lifetime. For them being safe and getting a good job was the best they could ask for – never being president. She said Michelle Obama reminds her of them; she appreciated her for being a strong Black woman who has made it positive for being who you are. When asked if riding to Washington on a bus had any particular significance for her, she replied, “the bus is so reflective of the people it is carrying - it breaks down and gets fixed - something always going on.” At one point the bus stopped for a mechanical failure and she commented, “The bus is like our collective experience - a little resistance - but we’re going to keep going.

One man brought along five boys on this journey to Washington and commented when asked about this trip, “I was at the million man march. I never experienced a spiritual feeling like that. I brought the boys with me because I wanted them to experience the power of this collective gathering. He said he is teaching his sons that we can no longer say that because we are Black that we can’t! He said, “This frees children of a sense of limitation.”

On middle-aged woman from the church that I attend drove from Texas to D.C. by herself. She tried to get someone to go with her, but couldn’t get any takers. She said that she had to be there to hear for herself was President Obama was going to say. She left the Dallas area early Saturday morning and drove until she got tired and spent the night in Tennessee and got up Sunday and arrived at a friend’s house in Baltimore Sunday evening. She said she saw about 25 accidents along the way but nothing was going to turn her back. She said she only goes to the restroom and eats when she needs gas. My family knows that sounds familiar when I drive on long trips.

I had the opportunity to witness many of the worlds’ defining moments of modern history the last few years with the help of the ever present camera; the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of Communism in Eastern Europe in 1989; the end of apartheid in South Africa and Nelson Mandela walking out of prison in 1991;, murders John Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Jr., Bobby Kennedy, Malcolm X, 911, the marches of Washington, but this moment and the days leading up to it have brought more emotion than all the others combined . I have never seen so many Black folks waving American flags. The media tries to beat down Michelle Obama for her saying that for the first time she had been proud of her country, but when the camera scanned the crowd at the National Mall and all those small American Flags were waving it left the TV commentators and myself speechless.

We all witnessed a part of history that day. And I believe that all of America woke up to what this country can truly be. We still have a ways to go, but I believe that Black people and all people have opened their minds what it truly means to be called American. Everything is possible. I will now hold President Obama to the same standards of success that I’ve held all prior Presidents. For the sake of ALL people in our nation, I wish him and want desperately for him to succeed. When he is successful, we are all, Black, White, Brown, Yellow, Red, better off and that’s really all we can expect from our President, regardless of his ethnic background.

One day soon, there will be no more first Black anything…I am just trying to think of a title where there has never been and I can think of a few just in my neighborhood and probably your too.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The Satisfied Smile on an Historic Day

Where do I began…well let me begin by saying that I made it through the day with only misty eyes; unlike the night then Senator Barack Obama had enough votes to become the Democratic Party representative for president; unlike the night he formally accepted the Democratic Party’s nomination for president; unlike the night of November 4 when he won the election for president. The were times that the tears flooded my face and I was overcome by joy as I remember being raised in Louisiana in the middle of the Jim Crow era and not realizing how hard my parents had it because they sheltered us from the overt racism of the deep south. That is until one day that when I was seven or eight years old (1959 or 1960) and inside of Morgan and Lindsey’s Department Store with my mother and this young White woman (maybe she was even an older teenager) was dressing down my mother because I happened to drink out of the wrong water fountain. My mother taught me a very valuable lesson that day. No the lesson was not to drink from the colored only fountain, but to not spend my money in a place that made differences in their facilities according to your race. She put back the clothes and other things she had and told me to never shop in that store or one like it ever. And that was her favorite store. We shopped at J. C. Penny’s from then own. And nobody we knew shopped there again.

It is with similar memories that Black people of my generation looked to January 20, 2009 with pride and sadness that people we loved did not live to see this day. I know how Jesse Jackson felt and how Congressman John Lewis felt with the tears flowing down on November 4th and how there was nothing but large smiles on yesterday. As I watched President Obama take the oath the smile on my face must have been a mile wide. Every Black person in the building that I work in had the same look on their faces. No words had to be said, it was just that knowing look and extra pep in their step.

All the tears of joy were gone; there was just the smile of pride left; the satisfied smile of knowing how far we have come.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Countdown to History: U.S. Celebrates Dr. King on Eve of Obama’s Inauguration

Less than 24 hours before he is sworn in as the 44th president of the United States President-elect Barack Obama joined thousands of others across the United States in a service day on this Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday. President-elect Obama began the day by visiting wounded troops at a military hospital and issued a call to Americans to remember Dr. King by recommitting themselves to public service. He then rolled up his sleeves to help paint a wall at a shelter for homeless and runaway teenagers. He and wife Michelle then visited a local high school and had lunch with volunteers.

In the evening, President-elect Obama sought to encourage a spirit of unity by having dinner with the man he defeated for the presidency, Senator John McCain and joking as the two stood on stage together at a downtown hotel.

Hundreds of thousands of visitors streamed into Washington for inaugural festivities, which comes back-to-back with Monday's federal holiday honoring Dr. King, has added to the deep symbolism of a Black person receiving the keys to the White House, which was built largely on the labor of Black slaves. The inauguration of Barack Obama will mark a milestone in America's vicious history of race relations. It will come more than four decades after the height of the civil rights movement led by Dr. King, who preached racial harmony and was murdered in 1968.

A record crowd is expected for this inauguration, with more than a million people likely to fill the National Mall, a huge green area surrounded by museums and monuments, and more than 300 thousands more lined up along a parade route to the White House. An unprecedented security operation is also already under way, including patrols on ground, air and water.

Parties, concerts and seminars marking Barack Obama's inauguration were launched over the weekend and will hit full stride after Tuesday's ceremony.

As we look forward to this historic moment, we must remember that this is just the beginning and not the end. It is a time of reflection on where we as Black people have come from over the last forty years. It is also a time to look forward to what the future holds for our children and grandchildren holds. Now when we look at our newborn baby, we will truly believe that they can be anything they set their minds to be.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

How Does a New President Get Moved into the White House?

We know President-elect Barack Obama and his family will move into the White House on January 20, but how exactly will the president-elect get all his belongings into his new home?

The president-elect is responsible for arranging transportation for his furniture, clothes, and personal effects from Chicago to a White House storage facility in Maryland (where they also keep antiques, Easter decorations, paintings, etc.). The Secret Service oversees the whole process, which usually happens the week before the inauguration. It provides an escort for the moving vehicles and screens all items (books, desks, chairs) before they enter the facility. But the new president has to cover the transportation costs, either with personal funds or money raised for his campaign or transition.

Once the incoming president's stuff is on White House grounds, the residence staff takes custody of his possessions. The chief usher, who coordinates move-in day, provides the staff with White House floor plans and photos that indicate where each item goes. (The first time President-elect Obama visited the White House post-election, he and the chief usher discussed furniture arrangements, food preferences, and other logistical issues.)

The Inauguration Day move-in takes about six hours. It starts at 10:30 a.m., when the sitting president and the first lady have a traditional tea with the president-elect before heading over to Capitol Hill for the swearing-in. Once they leave, the 93-person staff shifts into high gear. (They don't hire outside help for security reasons as well as privacy.) The operations personnel does the heavy lifting while a housekeeping detail helps prepare the bedrooms, curators make sure the furnishings and d├ęcor perfect, florists worry about bouquet arrangements, and the chefs prepare the post-inauguration dinner. At the same time, the staff moves the ex-president out. Items get loaded into boxes, which get loaded into vans and then military cargo planes that carry everything to the former president's new residence. Must be organized chaos with only two elevators.

Who pays for all this? Congress draws up an annual executive residence budget, which gets a little extra funding every four years to cover move-in costs, (wonder if they get it if a president is reelected) such as packing equipment and overtime for staff members. The first family also gets a redecoration fund to cover draperies, carpets, paintings, and other costs.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Colorado Now Has Two Black Legislative Leaders

Sharecropper's grandson Terrance Carroll was chosen Wednesday as speaker of Colorado's House of Representatives, making the state the first in the nation where Blacks lead both chambers of its Legislature. Carroll and Senate President Peter Groff, who was elected to his leadership position a year ago. The milestone is even more remarkable when you consider they are the only Blacks among the state's 100 legislators and the state has a Black population of only 4 percent.

Carroll told his colleagues that in these difficult times, "Americans have sent a clear message to their political leaders: We don't care where you come from, what color your skin is, or what party you belong to. We care only how you can move us forward."

Carroll credits his late mother for his success. She was 51 when he was born and raised him on her own while earning a living as a domestic worker in Washington, D.C. Carroll said his mother, the granddaughter of a slave, only reached the third grade but urged him to take advantage of free public education. He graduated from Morehouse College and the Iliff School of Theology, and then attended the University Of Denver School Of Law while serving in the legislature. "I think it's a testament of what you can do and what a child can do when they're loved, cared for and encouraged," he said of his mother.

Groff is the son of former state legislator Regis Groff, credits the West's openness to people with good ideas, regardless of their background. He pointed to the election of a woman as governor of Arizona, and President-elect Barack Obama's election victory in Colorado. Obama was only the third Democrat since 1948 to win Colorado's presidential vote.

He is a former assistant to Denver's only Black mayor, Wellington Webb. He was elected Senate president in 2007 after the chamber's first female leader stepped down to pursue a bid for Congress.

Groff and Carroll are longtime friends who live 10 blocks from each other and initially didn't realize they would be making national history, but the National Conference of State Legislatures has confirmed that they are. The two have teamed on legislation supporting charter schools, concerned that urban schools are failing minority students. That's sometimes put them at odds with other Democrats.

Colorado doesn't have the same racial legacy as some states in the South or East. But the Ku Klux Klan did dominate state politics in the mid-1920s, and Klan members once sat in the Capitol chamber where Carroll will wield the gavel. One floor below, Klan member Clarence Morley occupied the governor's office.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Obama Brings Firsts for Black Media

Barack Obama’s election as president is generating major changes in the nation’s Black press, ushering in a series of firsts that editors say will reshape print, Internet, radio and television coverage aimed at Black audiences.

Essence, the top-selling magazine among Black women, will have a full-time White House reporter for the first time. Ebony magazine will add a White House reporter, either full time or as needed. Its sister publication, Jet magazine, will have a weekly two-page Washington report in every issue. BET is scrapping its usual program of videos and sitcoms for a four-hour live broadcast of Obama’s swearing-in. BET did the same thing for both party conventions last summer, and on Election Day. TV One will do the same, airing 21 hours of inauguration coverage throughout the day.

The moves mark a return to a time when the Black press, particularly magazines, was newsier. Jet first published photos of the battered and swollen body of Emmett Till in 1955, sparking outrage and galvanizing a still-young civil rights movement.

What took so long? Katrina happened under Bush, Rwanda happened under Clinton. If more reporters of color were there, maybe those issues would have gained more attention. The addition of Black reporters could mean more focus on the urban agenda, failing schools, crime, job loss, poor health care.

The latest issue of Essence, which reaches 8.5 million readers a month, has two different covers, Barack on one and Michelle on the other, and features famous Black Americans, reflecting on the moment. Ebony named a person of the year for the first time in its 63-year history, dedicating its entire January issue to the president-elect. The Obama watch section is one of the most popular features on the Essence website. For Ebony, the nation’s oldest Black magazine with a monthly readership of 12 million, the coverage paid off — the Chicago-based magazine landed Obama’s first post-election interview.

But all the coverage won’t and can’t be like that. Black folks will be interested in education, unemployment, AIDS, housing, health, crime, etc. The unemployment rate in our community is double the national average. And 95 percent of black children go to public schools. These are the kinds of things Black people are going to be interested in seeing improvements in.

Maybe the Black media is returning to the time when something that was happening in our community, it hit the Black press long before it hit the mainstream. The newsier turn in the Black media is due, at least in part, to the Black brain drain from mainstream publications because of massive industry buyouts and layoffs. And Black publications like Ebony and Essence have reaped the rewards, landing reporters and editors from such top newspapers as the Baltimore Sun, Newsday and the Boston Globe and such organizations as the former Knight Ridder chain.

BET, which will host an inaugural ball for the first time in the network’s history, ran 10 hours of Election Night coverage and reached 10.7 million viewers, topping CNBC’s coverage. Correspondents, who were spread out in cities across the country, had a responsibility to give the information but also say what it felt like and what it meant to our community. They were our storytellers and not just reporters.

BET has long been criticized for running too many booty-shaking music videos, but is in the process of expanding its news coverage beyond the current 25 hours a month. TV one offers more middle of the road programming, but is not offered in all areas of the country. Don’t expect “Meet the Press” or a nightly news-style broadcast from either yet.
But the Black media realizes that Black people are demanding change and accountability and they want to know what’s happening and they want people who they trust to break it down and help them understand it.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Michelle Obama and Daughters Arrive in Washington, D.C.

Michelle Obama and her two daughters arrived Saturday at their temporary home at the Hay-Adams Hotel in Washington, ahead of President-elect Barack Obama who is expected to make the trip tomorrow. The Obamas moved early so their daughters — 7-year-old Sasha and 10-year-old Malia — could start classes on Monday at their new school, Sidwell Friends School. Other children of well-known politicians to attend the school include Al Gore III, Chelsea Clinton and Vice President-elect Joe Biden's grandson.

The Obamas are staying at the storied Hay-Adams because Blair House, the government's official guest residence, was booked through January 15. Blair House is located across Pennsylvania Avenue from the White House and has previously housed presidents-elect before taking the oath of office. The Obamas will relocate there on January 15, the normal date for incoming presidents, and stay until the inauguration on January 20.

The scene outside the hotel was quiet Saturday night, except for two news vans hoping to get film of Michelle Obama and her daughters going in and out. But, security will intensify for President-elect Barack Obama's arrival on tomorrow. The district's government is shutting down several streets near the hotel to traffic and there will be no street parking nearby from 1 a.m. Sunday morning until midnight on January 15.

The famous hotel opened in 1928, and sits across Lafayette Square from the White House. Its name comes from two historical figures who lived on the site: John Hay, the private assistant to President Abraham Lincoln and later secretary of state, and Henry Adams, an author and descendant of Presidents John Adams and John Quincy Adams. The Hay-Adams has 145 rooms of which 21 are suites, featuring marble bathrooms, intricately carved plaster ceilings and ornamental fireplaces and balconies with views of the White House, Lafayette Square and St. John's Church. Room amenities include custom Italian bed linens and towels, goose down duvets and pillows (hypoallergenic pillows are available; Malia has allergies), plush microfiber bathrobes and slippers for adults and kids, Bose music systems, exclusive Etro toiletries, complimentary Fiji bottled water and a nightly turndown service.

After it opening, the hotel quickly attracted prominent Washingtonians and other elites, including aviators Charles Lindbergh and Amelia Earhart, author Sinclair Lewis and actress Ethel Barrymore. Its restaurant is a top destination for "power dining" and is a regular meeting place for White House officials.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Cuba Gooding Jr. To Play Dr. Ben Carson In 'Gifted Hands'

Oscar winner Cuba Gooding Jr. has been cast to play Dr. Benjamin S. Carson in the new TNT Original movie 'GIFTED HANDS: THE BEN CARSON STORY'. The movie, based on Carson's inspirational memoir, that will trace his journey from frustrated inner-city kid to director of pediatric neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins University Hospital.

Carson's memoir describes his life as a child on the mean streets of Detroit. Carson faced difficulties early on, when his father abandoned the family. "All that I am or ever hope to be, I owe to my mother," Carson wrote. Carson's mother pushed her son to become the best he could be through education. Carson recalled her saying over and over to him, "Bennie, if you can read, honey, you can learn just about anything you want to know. The doors of the world are open to people who can read."

With a new pair of glasses and encouragement to spend time at his local library, Carson dove into the world of books. His scholastic performance improved dramatically. He went on to college and medical school, refusing to give up on the dream he and his mother had for his future, even when prejudice and negative peer pressure threatened to stand in his way. Carson is now a best-selling author and director of pediatric neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins University Hospital, where he pours everything he has into helping young people overcome their medical limitations and fulfill their own dreams.

Carson was recently named a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom. President George W. Bush bestowed the honor on him at a ceremony in June. In the White House announcement, Carson was honored for working throughout his career "to improve the lives of those suffering from neurological disorders. His groundbreaking contributions to medicine and his inspiring efforts to help America's youth fulfill their potential have strengthened our nation."

There are concerns that Cuba Gooding, Jr. is not up to such a dramatic role, but if you saw him is "Men of Honor" you know he will be able to handle. People get accustomed to seing actors in certain roles that they don't give them a chance to branch out and expand their talents.