Although Iconix Brand Group attacked the hip-hop mogul’s move as a “charade,” his attorney says the AAA is now pledging to expand its roster of black arbitrators.
Jay-Z is no longer demanding a halt to an arbitration with Iconix Brand Group because of a lack of available black arbitrators at the American Arbitration Association. On Sunday, an attorney for the hip-hop mogul informed a New York judge via letter that AAA had made a newfound commitment on the diversity front.
According to the letter from Quinn Emanuel litigator Alex Spiro, who represents Jay-Z (Shawn Carter), “While the information AAA provided has confirmed that AAA lacks an appreciable number of minority (and particularly, African-American) arbitrators, AAA has indicated an openness both to an arbitrator selection process in this Arbitration that will allow for meaningful consideration of African-American arbitrators and to broader remedial measures intended to improve the diversity of the arbitrator roster for future arbitrations.”
Jay-Z is fighting with Iconix over the scope of a $200 million deal signed a decade back governing the use of the “Roc Nation” trademark on baseball caps and other merchandise.
In late November, Jay-Z brought his diversity concerns to New York Supreme Court. He said AAA was only able to provide three neutrals it identified as African-American — and one had a conflict.
“This blatant failure of the AAA to ensure a diverse slate of arbitrators for complex commercial cases is particularly shocking given the prevalence of mandatory arbitration provisions in commercial contracts across nearly all industries, which undoubtedly include minority owned and operated businesses,” wrote Spiro at the time.
Jay-Z’s motion for a temporary restraining order to halt the arbitration was granted, but it may have had as much — or even more — to do with the absence of the assigned judge than the merits of an argument that an arbitration process without African-Americans violated New York’s public policy on discrimination. (See the transcript of the Nov. 30 hearing.)
The parties were due in court on Tuesday to discuss whether the TRO would be further extended.
In the meantime, Iconix appeared in the case to attack Jay-Z’s gambit as a “charade.”
“Contrary to the Carter Parties’ tale of ‘token’ representation, the current ‘Strike List’ of AAA-presented arbitrators is composed of 25% (3 of 12) African-American candidates, selected from a National Roster consisting of at least 150 African-American arbitrators and the Carter Parties voluntarily waived participation in nominating any additional candidates by ignoring AAA deadlines and self-imposing arbitrary standards of ‘qualification,'” wrote Iconix attorney Samuel Levy at Blank Rome.
Levy said that Jay-Z had no problem arbitrating other matters in the past without raising similar race objections, and also argued against the proposition that a lack of diversity could void an arbitration provision in a contract.
The city where the legendary boxer and humanitarian grew up is proud to honor him, Mayor Greg Fischer said.
Legendary sports figure Muhammad Ali is being honored by his Kentucky home town.
On Wednesday, officials announced that Louisville International Airport will be renamed after the late boxer and humanitarian.
The new name will be Louisville Muhammad Ali International Airport, although the current three-letter code ― SDF ― will stay the same, according to the Courier-Journal.
Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer said the name change reflects the city’s pride in a local son who has “left a legacy of athleticism, of humanitarianism that has literally inspired billions of people.”
Although the airport is already planning to spend $100,000 to promote the new name, it’s not totally set in stone: The change first needs to be approved by the Federal Aviation Administration, according to local station WDRB TV.
WDRB TV reported that a related deal also needs to be finalized with an Ali family entity. But his boxer’s widow, Lonnie Ali, seems to be onboard, judging from this statement released to the press:
I am proud that the Louisville Regional Airport Authority and the City of Louisville are supportive of changing the name of the Louisville International Airport to reflect Muhammad’s impact on the city and his love for his hometown.
I am happy that visitors from far and wide who travel to Louisville will have another touch point to Muhammad and be reminded of his open and inclusive nature, which is reflective of our city. Muhammad was a global citizen, but he never forgot the city that gave him his start. It is a fitting testament to his legacy.
Ali died in 2016 after a long battle with Parkinson’s syndrome. He was 74.
Not only was he the first boxer to win the world heavyweight title three times, but Time magazine once described him as the “best-known person on the planet.”
This February 2019, in celebration of Black History Month, NBCBLK, the African-American news vertical of NBC News Digital, presents a month-long special feature recognizing the accomplishments, power and prowess of black women.
The series, “She Thrives: Black Women Making History Today,” will highlight 10 amazing women you should know from a variety of generations, occupations and regions. These women are leaders in their communities and truly elevating the conversation around black identity, politics and culture.
NBCBLK would love to obtain submissions and suggestions. Once submissions are compiled, editorial members throughout NBC News’ broadcast and digital platforms will make the final selections.
How it works:
Tell us in the form provided how the woman you wish to nominate is breaking barriers and dismantling stereotypes about what it means to be a Black Woman in America today. Include a link, if relevant.
• Honorees are black women who are exceptional, gifted leaders in their industry and profession.
• These women are breaking barriers and smashing stereotypes about the black community/diaspora- redefining what it means to be Black in America.
Continue onto NBCBLK to read the complete article and complete the form.
In 1947 Jackie Robinson (1919-1972) made history when he joined the Brooklyn Dodgers and became the first African-American to play Major League Baseball in the modern era.
Opening on January 31—Robinson’s 100th birthday—In the Dugout with Jackie Robinson: An Intimate Portrait of a Baseball Legend will feature 32 photographs (most of them never published), originally shot for Look magazine; rare home movies of the Robinson family; and memorabilia related to Robinson’s career.
The exhibition is presented in collaboration with the Jackie Robinson Foundation and launches the Foundation’s yearlong, national Jackie Robinson Centennial Celebration, which culminates in the opening of the Jackie Robinson Museum in New York City in December 2019. “We are honored to partner with the Jackie Robinson Museum in celebrating the legacy of a true American icon,” said Whitney Donhauser, Ronay Menschel Director and President of the Museum of the City of New York. “Robinson’s trailblazing years as a Brooklyn Dodger captivated the country and these photographs offer an intimate glimpse of a defining period in American sports history.”
Della Britton, president and CEO of the Jackie Robinson Foundation remarked, “We are thrilled to begin our year-long celebration with this showcase of photographic treasures that depict Jackie Robinson’s life and career in New York. And the beautiful Museum of the City of New York is a fitting venue, as it was in this city that our namesake paved a way for a more inclusive America.” Robinson spent only one season with the Negro Leagues’ Kansas City Monarchs before he was recruited by Brooklyn Dodgers general manager Branch Rickey. Looking to turn the tide of the much-maligned team, Rickey chose Robinson not only for his talent, but for his demeanor and courage. From the moment Robinson stepped onto Ebbets Field on April 15, 1947, he endured jeers and even physical threats from fellow players, ticket buyers, and a segregated American public.
Despite adversity, Robinson ended his first season as the winner of Major League Baseball’s inaugural “Rookie of the Year” award. He was named the National League’s Most Valuable Player two years later and went on to win six pennants in his 10 seasons with the Dodgers. Following his retirement in 1957, Robinson continued to break barriers as a vice president of Chock full o’Nuts, becoming the first African American officer of a major national corporation. He remained dedicated to civil rights and the advancement of African Americans in industry and commerce, serving on the board of the NAACP and co-founding the Freedom National Bank in Harlem, which became one of the largest black-owned banks in the country.The exhibition features photographs taken on assignment by Look staff photographers Kenneth Eide and Frank Bauman. Robinson was a frequent face in Look, where he contributed three autobiographical essays (including 1955’s “Now I Know Why They Boo Me!”) and announced his retirement.
In a move anticipated within the industry, Dungey is headed to the new home of two other former powerhouse ABCers: Shonda Rhimes and Kenya Barris.
Channing Dungey, the former head of ABC Entertainment who stepped down in November, is joining Netflix, where she will oversee original TV series alongside Cindy Holland, the company’s longtime head of originals.
The move was anticipated within the industry and reunites Dungey with two of her former showrunners, Shonda Rhimes (Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal) and Kenya Barris (Black-ish), both of whom decamped from ABC to Netflix earlier this year. At Netflix, Channing will also oversee other high-profile producers, such as the Obamas, who have a producing deal at the company; Jenji Kohan (Orange is the New Black, Glow) and Marti Noxon; as well half of the originals executive team. The other half will report to Holland.
Interestingly, sources toldThe Hollywood Reporter that Dungey, a TV veteran who had been at ABC since 2004, will also have a direct line of communication with Netflix’s content chief Ted Sarandos. Like other executives whom Netflix has poached from traditional entertainment companies, such as Scott Stuber, who heads Netflix’s original film division, Dungey brings experience working with talent and nurturing projects as the company invests more heavily in its own content–and begins to operate more like a traditional studio. In contrast, Holland was promoted to oversee originals in 2012, when Netflix first began making its own shows. She started at the company in DVD acquisitions and then took over domestic TV licensing.
Dungey’s exit from ABC came as its parent company, the Walt Disney Company, was preparing to merge with 21st Century Fox. The new arrangement would have united Dungey with her formal rival at Fox, Dana Walden, who was named in October as incoming Disney TV Studios chairman. Her departure also marked the end of a dramatic year at ABC. After green-lighting a remake of Roseanne that became one of the network’s biggest hits, Dungey swiftly fired the show’s star, Roseanne Barr, after she made a racist slur on Twitter. The show continued production as a spin-off (The Conners) without Barr, but has faired less spectacularly in the ratings.
When Patricio Manuel steps through the ropes and into the boxing ring just after 6 p.m. Saturday, few in the crowd at the Fantasy Springs Resort Casino in Indio will know what a long and torturous trek he made to get there.
They won’t know about the resistance overcome or the months of physical rehab endured. They won’t know how hard it was to get those chiseled biceps atop a super featherweight’s thin frame. They may not even know that, at 33, an age when undefeated champions Rocky Marciano and Andre Ward had already retired, Manuel will be making his pro debut.
And if they don’t know any of that, they surely won’t know that Patricio used to be Patricia — he was a she — and in the four-round bout against Hugo Aguilar, a journeyman boxer from Mexico, Manuel will make history as the first transgender male to fight professionally in the U.S.
“It feels like a long time coming,” said Manuel, who fought for the last time as a female in the 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials. “But I’m still like, ‘Wow, we’re finally here. Finally at this point.’
“I just feel incredibly fortunate to be in this position. To be able to enjoy all the sacrifice, all the work, all the doubt that came through over the years to really be here in this moment.”
If you feel like you’ve read this story before, it may be because you have. Fifteen months ago, after losing his coach, getting kicked out of a gym and seeing his dream of fighting as a man stymied by bureaucracy — no one was quite sure how to license a transgender boxer — Manuel split two amateur bouts and was set to turn pro before suffering a broken bone and torn ligament in his rightthumb.
Eric Gomez also read that story and as president of Golden Boy, Oscar de la Hoya’s boxing promotion company, he was uniquely positioned to help.
“It really inspired me,” he said. “This is a story that is bigger than boxing. It’s a very tough sport. You compound that with what Pat went through. The inner struggles, the process of transition and to keep wanting to fight?
“Just that drive is impressive. It’s very different than any athlete I’ve met. And I’ve been doing this for 20 years.”
So Gomez — along with a number of politicians, including state assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon and Dean Grafilo, director of the California Department of Consumer Affairs — cut through the red tape to help get Manuel licensed. Golden Boy then arranged a bout, matching Manuel against the winless Aguilar (0-5) on an eight-fight card topped by a super featherweight world championship elimination bout matching Rene Alvarado of Nicaragua against Carlos Morales of Los Angeles.
“We haven’t talked about doing any more fights,” Gomez said. “His dream was to debut as a professional fighter. Everybody has a right to follow their dreams. Just to be part of this is special for me.”
Manuel, whose ancestry is Irish, Mexican and black, never really knew his father. But his mother, Loretta Butler, and grandmother Patricia Jean Butler were never far away, supporting Manuel through childhood in Gardena and a boxing career that included almost as many injuries as bouts.
And all the while, they sensed something was different about young Patricia, who was named for her grandmother. She preferred boys’ clothes to dresses, kept her hair short and played with action figures rather than Barbie dolls.
“Every Christmas I would be buying toys at Toys ‘R’ Us and everybody would say, ‘Boys at home, huh?’” Loretta Butler remembered.
So one winter Manuel’s grandmother got creative with her gift-giving, buying Patricia a boxing club membership. Although female fighters were rare, Manuel took to the sport and its hyper-masculine ambience quickly, moving to the Commerce Boxing Club and spending long hours working with Roberto Luna, who trained three Olympians.
Manuel was to be his fourth. But in the 2012 women’s Olympic Trials, Manuel had to withdraw after one bout — a one-sided lightweight loss to Florida’s Tiara Brown — because of a shoulder injury.
Even before the trials, Manuel had thought of transitioning to male, but the hope of representing the U.S. in the first Olympic boxing tournament for women held him back. After the trials, there was no reason to wait. On the trip home, Manuel told Butler that her daughter would soon become her son — then waited for the response.
It was one not of surprise but relief.
“Pat has always been a male,” his mother says. “It’s just Pat was not assigned properly at birth.”
As expected, the name is derived from both the book and the film, which stars Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, and Janelle Monáe. Chairman Phil Mendelson introduced the legislation in September “to honor the historic women scientist and mathematicians who contributed to NASA’s mission.”
“Despite facing segregation and adversity, these women computers played an integral role in the development of aeronautical and aerospace research during turning points in our nation’s history, including World War II and the development of the Space Task Force,” Mendelsen said, according to NBC Washington.
The mission Mendelson is referencing is the Space Race competition, which took place between 1957 and 1975. During that time, different nations competed against each other to send astronauts into space. Johnson, Vaughan, and Jackson were part of the team who helped Glenn become the first American to orbit Earth, but they were still overlooked, ignored, and demeaned as depicted in the film and book.
Now that the bill received preliminary approval this week, the act will have to be reviewed in the upcoming weeks and voted on for a second time. Upon acquiring the appropriate number of votes, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser will sign the bill, ensuring the trio will always be remembered for their historic achievements.
Ryan Murphy’s groundbreaking FX series — which features five transgender actresses as series regulars — was nominated for best drama TV series, while star Billy Porter received an acting nomination.
Ryan Murphy and FX made history when they put together the team behind Pose, the cable network’s stylish drama about New York’s ballroom culture in the 1980s. Murphy hired an exceptional amount of LGBTQ talent, including five transgender women of color in series regular roles — an unprecedented number for a scripted show.
The prolific creator’s efforts were acknowledged when the 2019 Golden Globes nominations were announced. Pose is breaking ground as the first TV series with a mostly trans cast — including leading ladies Mj Rodriguez, Dominique Jackson, Indya Moore, Angelica Ross and Hailie Sahar — to be nominated in any category for the Hollywood Foreign Press Association’s annual ceremony.
Though none of the trans women in the cast were nominated in acting categories, star Billy Porter — who plays Pray Tell, Pose’s exuberant ballroom emcee and fashion designer — was nominated for best actor in a drama TV series. He stands alongside fellow nominees Matthew Rhys (The Americans), Richard Madden (Bodyguard), Stephan James (Homecoming) and Jason Bateman (Ozark).
Last month, Porter opened up about his role in the show — which highlights the discrimination against gay and trans folk amid the HIV/AIDS epidemic of the late ’80s — in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter.
“I lived through the HIV/AIDS crisis. So, Ryan and the rest of the team entrusted me with telling a very specific story,” said Porter, whose character eventually discovers he is HIV-positive. He recalled, “It was ugly, and it was scary. Many of my friends didn’t make it. As a survivor of that era, I feel honored to tell this story. Everyone I lost, I felt their spirits with me the entire way.”
For as long as ballet has existed, it has been an art form that prizes uniformity. For just as long, the tights and pointe shoes that have given ballet dancers that uniformity — to achieve the seamless line from the top of the leg to the tip of the toe — have remained a pale hue called “European pink.”
It’s a shade that’s left out dancers with darker skin tones. To blend in, ballet dancers of color have long had to take extra, expensive and painstaking steps.
Cira Robinson, a ballet dancer with the company Ballet Black, has been painting her shoes to match her skin for the better part of her career. “In order to get the ‘line’ that ballet required, as far as the brown tights and brown shoes to match my upper brown body, it was difficult because people sold nude but it wasn’t necessarily my nude,” she tells NPR’s Scott Simon.
Only recently, some shoe companies have grown more inclusive. In 2016, U.S. manufacturer Gaynor Minden introduced three new colors for darker skin tones. Last month, Freed of London, one of the largest suppliers of dance shoes, followed suit. In addition to its “ballet pink” shade, Freed now sells “ballet brown” and “ballet bronze” — a welcome development for professional and student dancers in an industry that’s struggled to diversify.
For Robinson, 32, it’s progress that couldn’t have come sooner. Robinson says it wasn’t until she was 15 — seven years into starting ballet — during a summer program with the Dance Theater of Harlem that she was required to wear flesh-toned tights. “That, to me, was the first time that I realized that the tights that I was wearing were intended to match my complexion,” she says. “It was the very first realization of the racial aspect of ballet for me.”
So she scrambled, experimented with dying her tights, and eventually found brown tights and spray paint (“a pain” that “made the shoes crunchy,” she says) in a Cincinnati theatrical shop.
When Robinson officially joined the Dance Theater three years later, she traded in the spray paint for foundation and began to pick up techniques from her peers of color, many of whom had been “pancaking” their shoes for years — as the practice of sponging makeup onto one’s shoes is known in the ballet world. “It’s tedious. It’s a bit messy because it is brown foundation. It gets everywhere,” Robinson says.
And it’s time consuming. “I would apply makeup to my pointe shoes and spray it down, which would be about a two- to six-hour process,” says Lenai Wilkerson, a ballet dancer with the University of Southern California’s Glorya Kaufman School of Dance.
The staple pink ballet shoes are also a reminder of ballet’s lack of diversity, according to Robinson. “Since the beginning, [ballet] has been white,” Robinson says.
Continue on to NPR.com to read the complete article.
You know her best from directing A Wrinkle In Time, Selma, and the documentary 13th, but uber talented director/producer/documentarian Ava DuVernay is moving into TV in a big way. Deadline reports that DuVernay just landed a $100 million television deal with Warner Brothers. Other high-profile creators like Shonda Rhimes and Ryan Murphy have made a splash with insane Netflix overall deals, but DuVernay chose to stick with Warner Bros., with whom she produced the critically acclaimed OWN series Queen Sugar in association with Warner TV.
So what is the multi-hyphenate creator planning to do with her crazy new deal? She’s currently working with Greg Berlanti on a Warner-produced series for CBS called Red Linethat follows the aftermath of the accidental killing of a black doctor by a white cop. She also has a forthcoming HBO series called Battle of Versailles about the 1973 Palace of Versailles fashion show, a D.C. Comics-based New Gods movie for Warner Brothers, a Prince documentary, and a docuseries about the Central Park Five (the latter two for Netflix). Phew. And all this was announced before she landed the Warner Brothers deal. We can’t even imagine what other good content is to come our way.
DuVernay told Deadline that she was thrilled about the partnership and said that “Warner Bros. is a terrific partner about matters of visibility and belonging for all kinds and cultures of people, which is our mission at Forward Movement. I couldn’t be happier to call Warner Bros. TV my production home.”
Adrian Beltre’s baseball career began as a teenager, a skinny third baseman for the Los Angeles Dodgers who made his debut in the summer of Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire.
Two decades later, Beltre’s major league career has ended – with a final stop coming, in Cooperstown.
Beltre, 39, announced his retirement Tuesday morning, concluding a 21-year career in which he amassed 477 home runs and 3,166 hits, establishing himself as the greatest third baseman of his era.
He’s the lone third baseman in major league history with at least 3,000 hits and 400 home runs.
In an announcement through the Texas Rangers, his team for the final eight years of his career, Beltre said his decision came after “careful consideration and many sleepless nights.”
His retirement leaves Rangers teammate Bartolo Colon, 45, as the last remaining player who began his career in the 1990s.
Beltre left an impact on all four franchises for which he played, producing the second-greatest home run season in Dodgers history with 48 in 2004, capping a seven-season run there in which he hit 147 home runs. He struggled offensively during five seasons in Seattle, but emerged as a two-time Gold Glove winner.
He spent just one season – 2010 – in Boston, but it was a year that charted a new course in his career: Beltre hit an American League-best 49 doubles, boosted his OPS to .919, made his first All-Star team and hit the free agent market a third time, entering his age 32 season.
Beltre’s decision – Los Angeles Angels or Texas Rangers? – would alter the fate of the AL West for years to come.
He opted for Texas, signing a five-year, $80 million deal, and neither club nor player were ever the same.
For the next six seasons, he’d finish in the top 15 in MVP voting, and the Rangers flourished – coming one out away from their first World Series championship in his first season, 2011. They made the playoffs in four of his first six seasons in Arlington – and the world got to know what a sublime and entertaining player he was.
Continue onto USA Today to read the complete article.
Inside the rapper’s strategy to bring new life to the community where he grew up.
Not long ago, Clifford Joseph Harris Jr.–the rapper, actor, and fashion impresario who’s better known as T.I.–took a hard look at the once-vibrant neighborhood he grew up in. By the age of 14, he’d been arrested several times on drug charges. To flip the script for kids like him, in 2017 he founded Buy Back the Block, a real estate venture that reimagines his old neighborhood one building at a time. –As told to Sheila Marikar
I grew up in the 1980s and ’90s in the Center Hill section of Atlanta, just off Bankhead Highway. Back then, that part of town was considered the lower end of the middle class. After the crack era, the community stalled, and from 1994 to 2012, it became an extremely desolate area for business. There’s no major grocery store chain. There’s no fresh produce. There’s no CVS. There are liquor stores.
Now, with the BeltLine and Mercedes-Benz Stadium a stone’s throw away, there’s an incentive to redevelop. But I didn’t want it to be one of those situations where luxury condos go up, and people who are native are pushed out to the fringes because they can’t afford to live there. I wanted to provide development that would allow people from the area, who love the community, to be able to afford to stay.
I partnered with [Atlanta rapper] Killer Mike and other developers to purchase the Bankhead Seafood building. There is a corner where I have an assemblage of lots that I acquired with another partner. There’s another, bigger lot that I am acquiring on my own. I’ve gone in on six buildings and spent more than $2 million. I don’t have private equity financing or anything like that. It’s my personal finances and sweat equity.
The cornerstone of wealth is home ownership. It does something for the psyche of a person to know that all of the work they do comes back to this. A lot of the buildings I’ve bought, we’re turning into mixed-use housing. One of the smaller residential projects will hopefully be ready by the end of 2019. We’re aiming to complete a larger development–more than 100 units–around the same time. I’m working with a seasoned real estate agent, Krystal Peterson, to ensure prices are within the range of what people who live in the neighborhood can pay. I’m constantly out there, on the ground, talking to people. They are very pleased to see that I’m involved, that I’m taking steps to have ownership within the community–they know I’m a product of it. But they also wonder what’s going to happen.
Green spaces and gardens are incredibly important. We want a movie theater, bowling, laser tag–stuff I didn’t have. I’m trying to build a community where the people within it can be proud. If they’re proud, they’ll have more of a sense of wanting to maintain it. I’d love to see children walk and play and live in green spaces. I want to see senior citizens excited about the next generation. The only way to do that is to invest. Why wait for someone else to come into a community where I went to elementary school, where I rode my bike and played?
So many times, our answer to fixing things is “I’m gonna make some money and leave all these people behind.” There’s rarely an intent to get rich and make where you came from better for generations to come. It’s extremely ambitious, but I’ve worked myself to a place where I should be the one leading the charge. In my mind, that’s what it means to be king.
Rebuilding the Block
Following successes in the arts and as co-founder of fashion brand AKOO, T.I. has spent about $2.7 million since 2017 to buy six properties and plots of land in Center Hill, where he grew up. (One is a former Kmart where he’d bought toys.) “What [Under Armour founder] Kevin Plank and his Sagamore Development Company are doing to revitalize Baltimore has been a nice example,” T.I. says. He was also on Atlanta mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms’s transition team, working on job creation and economic development issues.
W. Kamau Bell, most renowned as the Emmy-winning socio-political commentator on CNN’s United Shades of America, has been characterized in many ways.
TV host. Director. Radio personality. Author. Stand-up comedian. Provocateur. Game-changer.
You might be surprised by how he sees his professional life.
“I think of my work as Sesame Street,” said the 45-year-old, also known for his critically acclaimed podcasts, an FX series called Totally Biased with W. Kamau Bell, and his 2017 book, The Awkward Thoughts of W. Kamau Bell: Tales of a 6’4”, African-American, Heterosexual, Cisgender, Left-Leaning, Asthmatic, Black and Proud Blerd, Mama’s Boy, Dad, and Stand-Up Comedian.
“I’m a 21st century Mister Rogers,” he said.
Bell, as thoughtful as he is quick-witted, is interested in facilitating conversations, sans all the hollering and trolling going on in America, circa 2018.
Especially awkward conversations.
Humor is key. It disarms, de-escalates, he says.
“Laughter is power,” he said. “When somebody laughs, they’re giving up control.”
Shades is an adventure and a social experiment. Bell has featured, among others, the Gullah people of the South Carolina sea island, practitioners of the Sikh religion, and Historically Black Colleges and Universities.
“It’s about the people who need to speak and haven’t been heard before,” Bell said.
It’s also about shining a light on groups such as the Ku Klux Klan, which Bell did in perhaps the most famous Shades episode. He said he feared for his life when he joined the Klansmen for a cross burning in a field in the backwoods of Arkansas, but again, humor helped him.
“If I can go there and them to laugh, they’re not thinking about killing me,” he said.
There was a bigger picture: Those inclined toward hate took offense at their perception that Bell was mocking the KKK. Other viewers found themselves uncomfortable at the sight of the hooded men, but something strange happened: Many laughed, maybe to keep from crying and maybe because racism—costumed in goofy hats and creepy masks—is absurd.
In Bell’s Private School Negro, a comedy special that first aired on Netflix in June this year, Bell riffs about important and not-so-important things: parenting in the Trump era, woke children’s TV, his fear of going off the grid.
Always, it seems, he is winking at himself and chuckling at the absurdities in life.
Almost as telling is what he doesn’t do: lecture, preach, or scream, even when tackling the touchiest of topics.
Bell was raised in Alabama, Boston, and Chicago by his mother, an author and businesswoman, and father, who started as a bank teller and worked his way up to CEO of a Fortune 500 company.
His father’s motto was, “Nobody’s going to outwork me and I’m not going to take no for an answer.”
Bell graduated from the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools, then started his career in standup. His talent was undeniable, and so was his work ethic.
He has starred in the hit podcasts: “Kamau Right Now!”; “Politically Re-Active”; and “Denzel Washington is The Greatest Actor of All Time Period.” He continues to host his San-Francisco-based radio show (“Kamau Right Now!”), and in summer 2018, he directed the A & E comedy special: “Culture Shock: Bring Back the Pain with Chris Rock.”
He won an Emmy for Shades, winning another in September for Outstanding Unstructured Reality Program. He’s been nominated for NAACP awards, a GLAD award, a TCA award, and more.
An activist for most of his adult life, Bell is on the advisory board of Hollaback!, the National Advisory Council for Donors Choose, and is the ACLU Celebrity Ambassador for Racial Justice.
Bell doesn’t provoke awkward conversations for the fun of it, although he does seem to be having a good time. He’s after deeper, better thinking that tackles the complexity of human beings and doesn’t default to oversimplifications and stereotypes.
Why was everyone shocked by Kanye West’s support of the president—and ludicrous take on slavery—earlier this year?
“Every black person knows that guy,” Bell said. “We’re not a monolith. I know black Democrats, Republicans, socialists, anarchists, and those who don’t and won’t vote.”
Why are folks stunned by the current president and his support system?
Bell’s not, and neither are most African Americans, he said.
“When the right feels threatened, it just declares it is going to invent a time machine to take the country back so that America can be ‘great’ again,” Bell chuckled.
Behind Bell’s easy smile and blerd—black nerd—appearance is a man in the business of improving communities by improving communications in one of the most divisive times in America’s history.
Where there are impediments to social and economic equality and empowerment, especially for African Americans, Bell is there, not as a hammer but as an ambassador.
No name-calling, no trolling.
“If I yell, then you yell, that’s not a conversation,” he says.
It takes a ton of restraint and humor to not yell, because there is plenty to yell about, but it’s not Bell’s style. He’s not just a comedian; he’s a pragmatist. He’s also highly skilled at indirect attacks on social ills.
During the KKK episode of Shades, we see Bell talking with the imperial wizard of the international keystone knights of the KKK on a moonless night on a dirt road in the Deep South, and he’s having some fun with the ultra-serious, uber-uptight wizard: How about the KKK redesign its head-wear to include a mouth-hole? That way people could understand what the heck they’re saying. Muffled speech is as ruinous to communication as screaming at each other.
The wizard gives in.
“That might be a possibility,” he says.
“One step at a time,” Bell says, with a shrug and a smile.
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