It’s 25 years old: Tupac’s ‘Keep Ya Head Up’ is hip-hop’s definitive ode to black women
‘Tupac cares, if don’t nobody else care …’
3:35 PMTupac Shakur’s 1993 sophomore album, Strictly 4 My N.-.-.-.A.Z., was his last “pure” album. The project predates the cultural controversies, his sexual assault case, his incarceration, the 1994 Quad Studio shooting and the Death Row era that became his life’s final chapter. Released Feb. 16, 1993, S4MN is a fluid, aggressive, emotional and erratic project immortalized mainly for three singles: the rebellious “Holler If Ya Hear Me,” the joy-in-promiscuity classic “I Get Around” and the evergreen “Keep Ya Head Up.” Grounded by a sample from The Five Stairsteps’ 1970 “O-o-h Child,” ‘Shakur’s sentimental remake — things are gonna get easier — remains rap’s hallmark ode to black women.
Raised by women, Shakur’s soul found solace in his mother, Afeni Shakur, and close friend Jada Pinkett. “Keep Ya Head Up,” written when he was 21, not only spoke to black women, it defended them from within a genre that was and still very much is a man’s game. As his legal troubles mounted, and his demeanor toward women came under fire, Shakur’s devotion to the song never wavered. “I think the s— that I say, no one else says,” he told the Los Angeles Times in 1995. “Who was writing about black women before ‘Keep Ya Head Up?’ Now everybody got a song about black women.”
Shakur was a classic Gemini — it’s no surprise “I Get Around” and “Keep Ya Head Up” are on the same album. But the latter resonates on a far deeper level. It’s a record made for black men to inherit, hence the dedication of the song to his “godson, Elijah.” Black women are so often stereotyped, and scapegoated in hip-hop and in pop culture in general, but Shakur embraced the strength and importance of black women. Strong women fueled him. He also dedicated “Keep Ya Head Up” to a “little girl name Corin” — the daughter of Salt-N-Pepa’s Cheryl “Salt” James.
“He had this long conversation with her and, I don’t know, I guess she just struck him somehow,” James said last year. “He called me this one time and said, ‘By the way, I dedicated a song to Corin’. I never really understood why.”
“Pac had a liking and admiration for us as women, as artists,” said James’ group mate, Sandra “Pepa” Denton.
Shakur’s life ended three years after the release of “Keep Ya Head Up.” And one of those years was spent in prison for a crime he was convicted of having committed against a black woman. He denied the charges until the day he died. “I have no patience for anybody that doubts me. None at all. It’s too hard out here,” he said in a 1994 interview. “If my people don’t stand up for me, who is? I understand these white folks looking at me like that because they don’t know me. They didn’t hear ‘Keep Ya Head Up.’ That ain’t no fluke. ‘Keep Ya Head Up’ ain’t no god damn come-up. I didn’t do that for m—–f—–s to be smiling in my face to say, ‘Oh, he’s cool.’ I did that from my heart, so if they do try to put a rape charge on me my sisters can say, ‘He ain’t ’bout that.’ Now if my sisters can’t say that, you won’t hear another m—–f—ing ‘Keep Ya Head Up’ out my mouth.” Chaos in the midst of unyielding love. There are many ways to describe Tupac Amaru Shakur. But those are definitely two of them.
New York Fashion Week: Why your athlete and rapper faves are wearing Musika Frère
You’ll see their bespoke suits at All-Star weekend
8:14 PMNEW YORK — If you’re a hockey player with thighs the width of your waist, a broad-shouldered linebacker, or a 7-foot-2 basketball star, shopping off-the-rack can be a pain. Especially if you want something that won’t leave you swimming in fabric.
Plenty of menswear labels such as Ralph Lauren, Tom Ford or Brioni provide services for hard-to-fit upscale clients. Musika Frère, a bespoke menswear line started in 2014 by Aleks Musika and Davidson Petit-Frère, is quietly trying to upend the business.
They liken their suits to Ferraris: all-bespoke everything, in fine fabrics featuring traditional tailoring. But Musika Frère aspires to the upstart disruptive qualities of Harry’s Shave Club combined with the style and swagger of Ozwald Boateng. The company was born on Instagram, where Musika and Petit-Frère showcased custom dinner jackets on themselves. Interest in their designs grew through word of mouth, and into a business with an atelier in Manhattan. They’re young and hungry, offering the same services as their competitors, but with quicker turnaround and less markup. You can get a bespoke suit, made in Italy, from Musika Frère in four weeks, compared with the usual six to eight. Plenty of athletes and celebrities have noticed. Jay-Z wore Musika Frère to Clive Davis’ annual pre-Grammys dinner.
Musika and Petit-Frère like playing with color, shape, and scale and they encourage their clients to experiment. They recently dressed Nick Jonas in a windowpane check suit for the premiere of Jumanji, and they tend to push more shawl collars and broader lapels than most menswear labels. Their signature contrasting waistband has appeared in their designs from the beginning.
“The days of navy, black, and grey suits on the red carpet are kind of ancient,” Petit-Frère said. “Now it’s, ‘How can I outdo myself?’ ”
The past few years in red carpet menswear have been a parade of tiny suits and skinny lapels, popularized by stars such as Tom Hiddleston and Eddie Redmayne. But the style doesn’t work well for athletes.
“If you’re 5-8 and 120 pounds, that looks good,” Musika said. “But we make suits, especially for our bespoke clients, in proportion to their shoulder width. And the fit is not skinny. It’s made for them. It doesn’t matter how big you are. If you’re a football player that plays offensive line, we’re making a suit around your body. Stuff that’s fitted always looks better. It doesn’t matter how big you are.”
This weekend the duo is headed to Los Angeles for NBA All-Star Weekend as they work on raising their profile. They’ll be tending to clients including Russell Wilson and Travis Scott. The goal is for Musika Frère to blossom into a full-on luxury lifestyle brand, and Musika and Petit-Frère say they’re interested in bringing their model of bespoke suiting to women’s wear, too. Perhaps, one day, we’ll see Brittney Griner in one of their suits.
But for now, they’d love to dress a former president. They recalled the flak and endless memes Barack Obama got when he stepped out in a tan suit.
“He looked great!” Petit-Frère said.
“Yeah,” Musika chimed in. “We’re gonna put him in a red one.”
‘The Plug’ podcast: The Eagles are here, Stephen A. Smith is too (Episode 10)
We’re closing out the NFL season while ready to turn up with the NBA
Subscribe: Apple Podcasts | RSS | Embed
It’s All-Star Weekend … Week. It’s Black Panther Week. In other words, it’s a big week in The Undefeated’s neighborhood, so we had to bring in the big guests. The Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles are in the building and they’re still on cloud nine. And by the sound of things, don’t expect them to come down either. We also have the one and only Stephen A. Smith on board talking all things NBA. Stay long enough too, and he’ll dish out some Valentine’s Day advice for all the lovers out there.
We’re off to Los Angeles this weekend, so be ready to pull up on us next week for all of the All-Star Weekend juice. It should be common knowledge by now, but for those new to the party — subscribe to The Plug on the ESPN app!
Debi Thomas: the first black athlete to win a medal in the Winter Olympics
Figure skater earned bronze in 1988
4:51 PMDebi Thomas became the first African-American athlete to earn a medal in the Winter Olympics when she took the bronze in women’s figure skating in 1988.
Born: March 25, 1967
Her story: Thomas was born in Poughkeepsie, New York, and started skating at age 5. She won her first competition at age 9. In 1986, while representing the Los Angeles Skating Club and studying engineering at Stanford, Thomas won the senior title at U.S. Nationals after finishing second in 1985. She also won the 1986 world championship. She led all skaters heading into the long program at the 1988 Olympics in Calgary, Alberta, but Thomas missed on some jumps during her routine and finished third behind East Germany’s Katarina Witt and Canada’s Elizabeth Manley. She also took bronze at the 1988 World Championships. She later performed with Stars on Ice and was inducted into the U.S. Figure Skating Hall of Fame in 2000.
Fast fact: Thomas graduated from Northwestern Medical School and became an orthopedic surgeon. Financial troubles forced her to sell her practice, and she ended up broke and living in a trailer.
Quotable: “My mother introduced me to many different things, and figure skating was one of them,” Thomas told ABC Sports. “I just thought that it was magical having to glide across the ice. I begged my mom to let me start skating.”
The Undefeated will profile an athlete each day during Black History Month.
Antiracist center at American University to establish the Frederick Douglass 200 awards
Program will honor people who work for equality and justice
1:24 PMValentine’s Day marks the bicentennial of the birth of Frederick Douglass, and to show the famed abolitionist and statesman some love, the Antiracist Research and Policy Center at American University announced today a partnership with the Frederick Douglass Family Initiatives for “The FD200.” The effort will recognize one person for each year since Douglass’ birth who labors in the Douglass tradition for equality and justice.
“We cannot think of a better way to honor one of humanity’s greatest ancestors, one of America’s greatest ancestors, one of African-America’s greatest ancestors than by honoring 200 people whose modern-day work best reflects the living and loving legacy of Frederick Douglass,” said Ibram Kendi, founding director of the center, which launched last fall.
Kendi recounted Douglass’ work as an abolitionist, writer, entrepreneur, feminist, politician, educator and diplomat, and said the 200 honorees will fall into those seven categories.
Nominees will be solicited starting in March and will be honored, two a day, beginning on Juneteenth and culminating with an October gala and awards ceremony.
The Frederick Douglass Family Initiative, a nonprofit organization that works to prevent human trafficking, is pursuing a separate effort to distribute a million hardcover copies of the bicentennial edition of Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave to schoolchildren.
Nettie Washington Douglass, a great-great-granddaughter of Frederick Douglass and great-granddaughter of Booker T. Washington, was on hand at American University to sign books. She believes her famed great-great grandfather has a hand in moving his legacy into modern times.
“In my heart, I do believe we’re being directed by Frederick Douglass,” she said. She keeps a replica of the Douglass statue that sits in the U.S. Capitol Visitor Center on her nightstand. “I have a very spiritual connection with Frederick Douglass, I can’t explain it any other way. And when I ask a question, the answers will come to me.”
Jordan Greenway is first African-American to play and score for Team USA hockey at Winter Olympics
Historic goal comes with 7:30 left in the second period
1:23 PMSlovenian goaltender Gasper Kroselj robbed Jordan Greenway, not once but twice, of making history within the first six minutes of Team USA’s opening-round hockey game.
The Boston University product is the first African-American to make the U.S. Olympic hockey team, breaking a 98-year color barrier, and Wednesday he became the first to play for the team when he took the ice. But when would he become the first to score?
Well, thanks to Kroselj’s saves of Greenway’s point-blank shots, it appeared the American’s first puck in the back of the net might not come Wednesday morning. But Greenway had other plans.
The play worked out the same as when a basketball player shoots an air ball into the hands of a teammate who’s under the basket and lays it up. Bobby Sanguinetti fired a shot on goal that he figured would result in a rebound and a chance for one of his teammates to score. Sanguinetti’s attempt hit Kroselj in his left shoulder pad, and during the scramble to find the puck, Brian O’Neill inadvertently kicked it past the defender and back to Greenway, who easily laid it in goal. See?
You can watch his historic goal here.
— USA Hockey (@usahockey) February 14, 2018
— NHL on NBC (@NHLonNBCSports) February 14, 2018
The goal gave Team USA a 2-0 lead with 7:30 left in the second period. Greenway’s historic outing would come in a loss, though, as the Americans allowed a goal almost six minutes into the final period and the equalizer with 1:37 remaining. Slovenia nabbed the game-winner 38 seconds into overtime.
The United States will play Slovakia on Thursday (10:10 p.m. EST).
‘Black Panther’ magazine covers are missing black photographers
Why that matters and 11 who should be considered
1:01 PMThe decision by Essence to publish three different covers in honor of the release of Black Panther took the internet by storm over the past 24 hours. That means five major magazines — Time, Essence, Variety, Allure and British GQ — have published cover stories on the highly anticipated film in the past few days. And all five elected not to use a black photographer to handle the representation of the all-black starring cast of Black Panther. Instead, five white men, one white woman and one Asian woman were tasked with creating the pictures, which have immediately gone viral, especially on Black Twitter. (Kwaku Alston did shoot a Black Panther cover for Entertainment Weekly last fall.)
From the Time cover shot of Chadwick Boseman, along with the supplementary photo of him and director Ryan Coogler, which were photographed by the duo Williams+Hirakawa to the Essence covers, which were all photographed by Dennis Leupold, one wonders whether anyone took a hint from Barack and Michelle Obama. The first African-American president and first lady had their images immortalized in the halls of the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery by African-American artists Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald, the first African-American artists to create presidential portraits for the gallery. In the case of the Obamas, the message behind who created the picture can be just as powerful as who is in them.
Unfortunately, this is far from the first time that magazines have missed an opportunity to make a statement with who they hire to shoot their covers. When Colin Kaepernick graced the cover of GQ magazine in December with photos inside echoing the famous photos of Muhammad Ali shot by African-American Howard Bingham, the work was done by Martin Schoeller, a white man. When you look at three of the largest magazines that write about and reflect African-American culture — Essence, Ebony and GQ — you see the lack of African-American photographers is nothing new. In 2017, between the three magazines, just 4.25 covers were made by a black photographer, and three of them were done by the same person. (The .25 comes about because a photographer shot one photo in a series for a cover image.)
At The Undefeated, we are here to throw you some options of amazing black photographers who could have been the Kehinde to Barack when it came to making a cover image for Black Panther.
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A few weeks back I had the opportunity to photograph these sensational beauties, @ajak_deng @aamito_lagum @mari_agory @nykhor @nurhellman for a piece entitled Red Hook Poetic Justice to be published in L'OFFICIEL magazine's special Africana extravaganza issue, coming to newsstands Aug. 24th. My brother @lejenke, it was an honor and a gift to collaborate with you and your team on this, my first fashion editorial. Hopefully it's the first of many. Big up to everyone who had a hand in making this happen, to @daleknows, @joimperio for the assist and to @souhi_ and @robertmeffordhair for adding some of your flavor to the pot. @lofficielparis @jedroot #blackbeauty #melanin #loveisthemessage #fashion #art #onlocation #staytuned #waynelawrence
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🎂Happy Birthday !!! 🎂@tarajiphenson … #throwback for ItalianVogue.com . Photographer- @itayshaphoto Stylist – @jasonrembert Hair – @danteblandshaw MUA – @ashuntasheriff . . . . #itayshaphoto #itayshajordan #tarajiphenson #italianvogue #lanvin #supportblackbusiness #womanphotographer #brooklynphotographer
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This week I will be sharing some of my fine art work in a series called Sublime explorations. The brilliant and talented actor @shein___ who appears in the Black Lightning television series gave me just the right of amount of quiet intensity. I appreciate the collaboration and her patience on what turned out to be a very long night. The images were inspired by a simple gold framed renaissance still life painting of some apples and a stainless steel antique teapot that was hanging on a wall in a tiny and dark cafe in the city of Old San Juan. I kept staring at the painting done by some long deceased artist, while enjoying a plate of mofongo on a red checker tablecloth with my friend Herminio Rodriguez. This was many years ago, hopefully after the horrific hurricane Maria pounded, that little restaurant survived the storm, has electrical power and that surreal painting is still up. Thanks to: Make-up Artist: @mcmakeup Crew: @beality @alishawasnthere location: @yeelengallery and creative support @monsterparty Retouch by Warren Mantooth @wdig805 Photographed with: @phaseonephoto
Five things to know about ‘SI’ cover model Danielle Herrington
Add her name to the list of Compton, California’s finest
2:43 PMLast year, Danielle Herrington was struggling to keep under wraps that she was going to be featured in the 2017 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue, her first real modeling gig.
This year, the 24-year-old is on the cover.
— SI Swimsuit (@SI_Swimsuit) February 13, 2018
In being named the cover model for the 2018 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue, Herrington joins Tyra Banks (1996, 1997) and Beyoncé (2007) as the only black women to front the magazine’s most talked-about issue.
Life doesn’t move any faster than it has for Herrington, who has gone from moving to New York two years ago hoping for a break in the business to landing one of the magazine world’s most sought-after covers.
Here are five things you need to know about Herrington:
Herrington is the latest star Straight Outta Compton
Let’s go right ahead and call her one of Compton, California’s finest, reppin’ a West Coast community of fewer than 100,000 residents that overflows with talent. She joins a long list of African-American stars from the community that includes DeMar DeRozan, Russell Westbrook, Richard Sherman, James Harden, Anthony Anderson, Ava DuVernay, Kendrick Lamar, Dr. Dre and the rap group N.W.A.
Herrington has been a full-time model for three years
While she began modeling when she was 13, Herrington got serious about it three years ago. She moved to Brooklyn, New York, in 2016 intending to make the cut to appear in the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue. Within four months she had set up a meeting with the magazine, and two months later she was asked to travel to Fiji to model for the Swimsuit Issue as a member of the 2017 rookie class.
The shoot in Fiji was just her second trip outside of the United States, and her first big modeling job. “It all happened pretty quickly after moving to New York,” Herrington told CRFashionbook.com.
Herrington walked her first runway during the 2017 New York Fashion Week
She debuted during the Philipp Plein show last September and was walking the runway for the high-end German designer the night before finding out she was going to be on the Sports Illustrated cover.
Herrington was once signed by the Trump Modeling Agency
Herrington was apparently part of Trump Model Management, owned by Donald Trump, when she landed the Sports Illustrated swimsuit shoot in 2017.
But last year she was one of two-high profile departures from an agency that has been sued for helping undocumented immigrants get into the United States without work visas. Those women worked illegally in this country as models, and the conditions that the women endured were documented by Mother Jones magazine.
Herrington was gone from the agency by early last year, joining Women/360.
The Trump Modeling Agency was shuttered last April, joining Trump Steaks, Trump Airlines, Trump University and Trump Vodka.
Herrington found out about the cover from her modeling role model, Tyra Banks
Herrington was asked to come to a studio in New York on Tuesday morning to shoot a behind-the-scenes video about the virtual reality aspect of the 2018 edition of the magazine.
Herrington instead was shocked as she walked into a staged photo shoot featuring Banks, who broke the color barrier for the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit cover in 1996 (sharing that cover with Valeria Mazza before appearing solo on an iconic cover the following year).
Shocked to meet her modeling idol, Herrington was moved to tears when Banks, in an America’s Top Model-like reveal, pulled out the large replica of the 2018 Swimsuit Issue cover featuring her image. “I used to watch you all the time,” Herrington told Banks. “Thank you so much.”
Chris Rock’s first Netflix comedy special arrives sooner than you think
The wait is over!
1:01 PMRemember when Chris Rock, separate from Dave Chappelle, signed a deal rumored to be in the $40 million range with the streaming conglomerate Netflix? It turns out the wait is officially over. Well, almost. Rock’s first of two comedy specials, Chris Rock: Tamborine, releases Valentine’s Day (Feb. 14). As in Wednesday.
There’s no doubt the legendary comedian, four-time Emmy winner and three-time Grammy winner (for Roll With The New, Bigger & Blacker and Never Scared) will tackle a bevy of relevant, poignant and culturally diverse topics in ways that have solidified him as comedy royalty. This is Rock’s first time on the stage since 2008’s Kill The Messenger.
Tambourine was filmed at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.
Slam dunk: LeBron James to produce reboot of the classic ‘House Party’
‘Atlanta’ screenwriters Stephen Glover and Jamal Olori will write
10:37 AMLeBron James has a lot on his mind — free agency, NBA All-Star Weekend and the second half of the NBA season — but there’s more. He and his SpringHill Entertainment partner, Maverick Carter, are producing a new House Party. The plan is to not just revive but to reinvent the franchise that starred Martin Lawrence, Kid ’n Play, Tisha Campbell and Full Force. It launched in 1990, and sequels followed in 1991 and 1994. Stephen Glover and Jamal Olori, Atlanta‘s screenwriters, will write it. “This is definitely not a reboot. It’s an entirely new look for a classic movie,” James told The Hollywood Reporter in an exclusive. More to come.
Kehinde Wiley, Amy Sherald are the first black artists to paint first black presidential portraits
Black-on-black art: Former first couple humbled by their stunning new portraits
1:20 PMAs if Barack and Michelle Obama weren’t already immortal in so many ways, the world’s most famous couple is now forever embedded within the fabric of the nation’s capital with the unveiling of their official portraits. The special unveiling was held at the National Portrait Gallery on Monday morning.
Distinguished guests — Steven Spielberg, former vice president Joe Biden, Gayle King, former attorney general Eric Holder and Michelle Obama’s brother, Craig Robinson, to name a few — and media packed the gallery for the event. The Obamas are obviously the first black presidential couple to have their portraits painted. But the moment was also special because of the minds behind the brushes. Amy Sherald and Kehinde Wiley painted Michelle Obama’s and Barack Obama’s portraits, respectively. The duo became the first black artists to paint official presidential portraits. That moment wasn’t lost on anyone in attendance.
Both Obamas talked about the process of deciding on Sherald and Wiley. The final step involved face-to-face meetings with both artists at the Oval Office. After the decision, Michelle Obama and Sherald established what the first lady described as a “sista-girl” bond. Sherald echoed Michelle Obama’s sentiments, saying, “The experience of painting Michelle will stay with me forever. … The portrait is a … defining milestone in my life’s work.” Ever the comedian, Barack Obama joked that the only portrait he’s had done before this one was for his high school yearbook. He and Wiley bonded over his suggestions — less gray hair, smaller ears — that Wiley ultimately ignored.
“What Barack Obama wanted was [to be portrayed as] a man of the people, that sense of access,” Wiley told reporters after the ceremony. “The unbuttoned collar. The relaxed pose. In the end, what I think we got was a grand sense of celebration.”
Perhaps the morning’s most cruel yet comforting moment came when Barack Obama approached the podium. “We miss you guys,” he said. The crowd moaned. A collective sigh swept through the makeshift auditorium. Faint cries of “We miss you too” and “Please come back” fluttered.
For a faint moment, for many in attendance, having Barack and Michelle Obama back in the capital was a needed flashback. The only solace: Now, regardless of circumstance, everyone can always see them in Washington, D.C.
Celtics’ Jaylen Brown to host ‘Tech Hustle’ during All-Star Weekend
Private event will include people from sports, business and entertainment
1:08 PMBoston Celtics forward Jaylen Brown wants to help his fellow NBA players off the court during NBA All-Star Weekend.
Brown told The Undefeated that he is hosting “Tech Hustle,” a technology and networking lunch, with the Base Ventures and the National Basketball Players Association on Saturday in Los Angeles. The private event during All-Star Weekend will include people from the sports, business and entertainment worlds who will be speaking about their experiences and offering words of wisdom. Attendees are expected to include NBA players, entertainers, venture capitalists and startups.
“My thought process is to just educate athletes and people around you about what is really going on, especially basketball players,” Brown said. “A lot of people wait until the end of their careers to really get things going. I thought it would be more beneficial to start early, put your foot in the door and start educating yourself, because technology investments are where the real money is at.”
Brown is only in his second year in the NBA, but the outside-the-box thinker also hosted a mentoring and fellowship event during the Vegas Summer League last July. Speakers at “Tech Hustle” are expected to include Brown’s mentor and former NBA star Isiah Thomas, former NBA star Dominique Wilkins, Uber’s Bozoma St. John, Beyond Meat’s Ethan Brown, Google Ventures’ David Krause, Empire Distribution’s Ghazi Shami, Spotify’s Troy Carter, rapper Too $hort, Blavity’s Morgan DeBaun and Base Ventures’ Erik Moore. Brown will also be playing for Team USA in the Rising Stars Challenge on Friday.
“A lot of people are real excited about ‘Tech Hustle,’ ” Brown said. “I already have 150 to 200 RSVPs. It’s just something to educate. I thought it would be dope to put together an event like that so not only I can network, but put myself, other athletes and whoever finds it interesting in an avenue to network. I have a Rolodex for it. Whoever shows up, it will be great for them.
“I can’t wait. I’m super excited not only to be hustling in sports but besides sports as well. The theme is education through technology, but also hustle.”
Bowie State QB Amir Hall named Black College Football Player of the Year
He was honored as part of the Black College Hall of Fame induction ceremonies
11:22 AMSophomore year will go down as one to remember for Bowie State quarterback Amir Hall. Actually, make that sophomore and junior years. Hall, the Bowie, Maryland, native who was selected as the 2017 recipient of the Black College Football Player of the Year, is basking in the glow and already thinking about a three-peat, adding more memories to a college career that’s on quite the trajectory.
“You’re gonna see a lot of that senior swag this year,” Hall told HBCU Gameday on Feb. 10 in Atlanta moments before receiving the Deacon Jones Award, named after the football legend and inaugural Black College Football Hall of Fame inductee.
Hall, who played quarterback at Riverdale Baptist High School in Upper Marlboro, Maryland, but didn’t have the gaudy numbers to garner interest from the nation’s top Division I schools, told The Undefeated in November that he learned to be patient, even while frustrations grew as the phone didn’t ring.
The nation’s loss became Bowie State’s gain, as the 6-foot-4 quarterback accounted for 45 touchdowns and a 9-1 record as sophomore. He outdid himself as a junior with a 9-2 regular-season record and a Division II playoff appearance, throwing for 3,519 yards and 41 touchdown passes in 11 games. Hall threw for at least 300 yards in a game seven times and surpassed 400 yards twice.
“Shoutout to everyone back in Bowie for believing in me,” added Hall, who was also named the 2017 SBN Doug Williams Offensive Player of the Year. “This trophy is for them and my family.”
Hall beat out an impressive field of finalists, including running back Trenton Cannon (Virginia State), quarterback DeVante Kincade (Grambling State) and quarterback Lamar Raynard (North Carolina A&T State).
“This was an outstanding group of finalists this year,” said James “Shack” Harris, who himself had a stellar career at Grambling, which he led to three Southwestern Athletic Conference championships in the late 1960s, and is among the Black College Football Hall of Fame trustees who also include Mel Blount, Art Shell and Doug Williams. “Amir had one of the most prolific seasons for a quarterback in CIAA history, and we congratulate him on winning this prestigious award.”
Never missing an opportunity to tout her league, CIAA commissioner Jacqie McWilliams congratulated Hall, lifting him up as exemplary. “Amir exemplifies all that Bowie State, Division II and the CIAA stands for as a student-athlete,” said McWilliams, who is counting down to the CIAA tournament in Charlotte, North Carolina, Feb. 27 to March 3. “He is part of a unique and honorable class that represents significant history and leadership, and we are blessed to have him in the CIAA family.”
While grateful for the accolades, Hall knows the grind never stops — particularly since he’s looking to make his senior year epic.
“I’m working on getting in the weight room,” he said, “trying to eat a lot more and doing what I’ve been doing, and getting in the film room.”
We’ll be watching.
Wake up! It’s the 30th anniversary of Spike Lee’s ‘School Daze’
In this #BlackLivesMatter era, the ’80s film is still very relevant
She’d just run into director and eventual cultural purveyor Spike Lee. She first met him back in 1979, when she was a high school senior and he was a senior at Morehouse College who was directing the coronation at the school where she danced. Back then, he was telling folks that he planned to go to film school and had aspirations of being a director — although, at the time, Guy wasn’t entirely sure what that meant.
Spike had some news for her. “I just finished my first movie, you’ve got to see it,” she remembers Lee telling her. He was talking about 1986’s She’s Gotta Have It, which is now of course a lauded Netflix series of the same name. She saw the movie and was mesmerized by the very contemporary piece that was in black and white and dealt with sex, relationships and intimacy. She’d never seen anything like it before. With black people. And she was impressed.
She ran into him again on those New York streets, and this was the time that he added a new word to her lexicon. “I’m doing another movie, and you’re going to be in it, so send me your headshot. You’re going to be a wannabe.” She was confused. “You know how you all are,” she remembers Lee saying. She had no idea what he was talking about. Wannabe.
But she soon learned. As did everyone else who would consume Lee’s epic portrayal of a fictional historically black college in School Daze, a movie that altered how we publicly talked about blackness and historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs). For the uninitiated, the idea of a “wannabe” was a caricature of (for the most part) a high-yellow, lighter-skinned woman with long hair whose physical attributes look more European than African. “Wannabe” was also an attitude: Wannabe better than me.
School Daze. It’s been three decades to the day since theaters were lit up with a historically black campus waking up — this was when Nelson Mandela was still locked up, and students called for divestment from South Africa. Three decades since Lee brought us a story of conflict, of when students pledging fictional Greek fraternities were pitted against those who desired global and local social change. The Gamma dogs. The Gamma Rays. The Fellas. The Wannabes. The Jiggaboos — oh, yes, the Jiggaboos. School Daze was about the tensions between light-skinned black folks and dark-skinned black folks.
Everything was right there on a 50-foot screen. No escaping it. We had to consume it. And address it. “It was like, ‘Wow, this guy’s really going to go there,’ ” said renowned director Kasi Lemmons, whose first film role was in School Daze. “He’s really going to explore these issues. It occurred to me, when I saw it, how important it was because it explored so many things that you just hadn’t seen.”
In so many ways, School Daze was an extension of what was happening on campuses. It tapped into activations that were happening in the mid-1980s, and after it was released, it inspired and engaged other students, amplifying the work that was already taking place.
Darryl Bell — who was one of the “big brothers” in School Daze, his first role — was quite active as a real-life student at Syracuse University. He attended rallies where black and Latino students were mobilizing, much in the same way that Laurence Fishburne’s Dap did on Lee’s fictional campus of Mission College. In real life, Bell pledged Alpha Phi Alpha.
“I wanted to know more about these Alpha fellas,” said Bell. He remembers seeing them at rallies. “The idea that Alpha men were involved in, and on the forefront of talking about, issues that mattered — the divesting of South Africa — it encouraged me to be part of student government. All of these things … my experience at Syracuse, you saw in the film. … We were engaged in voter registration. We put on a fashion show to raise money to give scholarships to high school students. … That was the life I was living. That’s why I was so desperate to be in the movie. … ‘This is all about me and what I’m living every day.’ It was an extraordinary example of art imitating life.”
The film was more than entertainment; even before A Different World, it really illuminated HBCU campus life. It shed a light on colorism, one of the most uncomfortable and unspoken issues among black folks — something we’d been battling for generations and, in a lot of ways, still are.
“There was … division between the men and women,” said Joie Lee, who portrayed Lizzie Life in the film, “in terms of what constitutes beauty. I wasn’t ‘fine.’ I wasn’t considered that. I did not fit that standard of beauty, perhaps because I was brown-skinned. Perhaps because my hair was nappy, and natural. The women that are considered fine … were light-skinned or had ‘good hair’ — I’m using that term loosely. Those were some of the issues that [we were] grappling with.”
Thirty years later, the film still holds up. Replace School Daze’s international concerns with the Black Lives Matter movement and the activism, especially in this current political climate, most certainly feels familiar. “It does have a relevance to what’s going on today,” said Kirk Taylor, who portrayed one of the Gammas. “In terms of the look, in terms of the content, in terms of the final message about waking up … we need to wake up as much now as we did then — and stay awake. It’s easy to be lulled into a false sense of security, or false peace, and not be aware that things still need to be addressed. Things still need to be changed.”
Stay woke, indeed.
Three takeaways from Serena Williams’ return
She’s still the top draw in women’s tennis
9:18 AMASHEVILLE, North Carolina — What’s happened in the world of Serena Williams since she won the 2017 Australian Open while pregnant:
- She gave birth to a daughter, Alexis Olympia Ohanian Jr., in September.
- She battled postpregnancy complications, including life-threatening blood clots.
- She got married last November to Alexis Ohanian, a tech entrepreneur and co-founder of Reddit.
Williams made her return to tennis over the weekend, playing doubles in the Fed Cup opener against the Netherlands at the U.S. Cellular Center. The United States won the opening-round series, 3-1, on the strength of two wins by Venus Williams, who clinched the trip to the Fed Cup semifinals with a 7-5, 6-1 win over Richèl Hogenkamp.
While Venus Williams was the star, Serena was the attraction despite the fact that she’s clearly not ready to compete in competitive singles.
Here are three takeaways from Serena Williams’ weekend in Asheville:
- She is still the top draw in women’s tennis: The event sold out within days of the announcement that the Williams sisters would play. Tickets initially went on sale in November.
You might say the sisters drew the crowd. Yes, the two are tennis legends.
But here’s the difference: Venus attracts crowds. Serena can sell out an arena.
That’s no disrespect to Venus Williams, who ranks as one of the great players in the history of women’s tennis. But just like the reason people came out to see Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and the Chicago Bulls, it’s clear who the main attraction is when Williams comes to town.
- Alexis Olympia Ohanian Jr. is adorable: Did you see the 5-month-old sporting a blue-and-white striped USA shirt and a red-and-white striped headband? Alexis took in the action while being held by her father.
Don’t expect Williams to compete for a Grand Slam anytime soon: There were reports at the end of last year that Williams would be in Melbourne, Australia, to defend her Australian Open title, but she pulled out of the event in early January.
On the eve of the Fed Cup, Williams couldn’t even commit to playing in the remaining Grand Slam tournaments this year. “Right now, I’m focused on this weekend,” she said Feb. 9. “After that I’ll figure out what it might be.”
Based on what Williams showed over the weekend, it might not be anytime soon. She’s still getting back into playing shape, and her agility and ability to hit precision shots is off. And she didn’t appear to be completely sure of herself, and watching her freeze on occasion during the match was a sign that she had lost her muscle memory.
Williams said she has yet to learn to adequately manage her time and new responsibilities. “It’s an incredible learning experience,” she said. “I’m going to try to do better.”
At times Williams looked to be facing the dilemma that many 50-something basketball players face: Her mind was relaying a message that her body had no clue how to comprehend.
But unlike a 50-something Saturday morning hooper, the 36-year-old Williams has age and time on her side. At some point she’s going to get more comfortable leaving her daughter with a sitter or a nanny, freeing herself up to get more hours on the court to refine her game. At that point, the aura of Serena Williams will return.
When will that happen? The French Open will be upon us quickly (May 27), so perhaps next year.
But it will happen. Reaching No. 25, the all-time record for Grand Slam titles, is too important to Williams.
Right now she stands at 23, just one behind Margaret Court.
Williams, through hard work and determination, is determined to get there.
“I always want to improve on everything,” Williams said. “If I walk out there with low expectations, then I need to stop doing what I do.
“So that’s never going to happen for me. I’m always going to have the best and highest expectations for myself.”
What offseason? Jo Adell goes back to school
Outfielder wants to work in media after he’s done playing
7:23 AMWhen we last visited Jordon “Jo” Adell, the recent high school graduate was training just outside of Miami on the eve of the 2017 MLB draft. Adell eventually was selected by the Los Angeles Angels with the 10th pick, received a signing bonus worth $4.3 million and had a successful first year of professional baseball, batting a combined .325 as an outfielder in the Arizona and Pioneer leagues.
Adell could have coasted during his offseason, which comes to an end as players begin reporting to spring training this week. Instead Adell, who last year graduated from Ballard High School in Louisville, Kentucky, decided to go back to school.
When his baseball career is over, Adell wants to transition into a career along the path of Shaquille O’Neal, Jalen Rose and Michael Strahan: former athletes who are successful in the media. So he took an Introduction to Communications class at the University of Louisville, one of the many schools that recruited him out of high school.
“Everyone in my family is college-educated: My dad went to North Carolina State, my mom went to North Carolina and my sister at Louisville,” Adell said. “Education for me is important. I wanted to be as well-rounded as possible.”
Adell took the class online, learning about the basics of the discipline. He plans to use some of his downtime each year to take more classes (paid for by MLB) that he hopes will prepare him for his career after baseball.
“I want to have a television show one day, or be in a position where I’m doing postgame interviews for a network,” he said. “Athletes play professional sports for as long as they can, and we all have to hang up our cleats one day. To have a plan beyond baseball is motivation for me.”
Adell’s father had a piece of advice before his son took the class: Don’t overdo it. “He really didn’t want me to be in a position where school was first and baseball was secondary,” Adell said. “I’m just trying to take a load each year that I can handle.”
And he’s gotten a lot of support, especially from his mother, who has been a school principal in Louisville for the past 10 years. “Everyone’s been really supportive,” Adell said. “It’s really been a group effort to help me, and it’s been great.”
Now it’s back to baseball. Pitchers and catchers report to Angels spring training in Tempe, Arizona, on Feb. 13, while position players will be in camp on Feb. 19.
“I’m excited about this season,” Adell said. “This is such a great organization, and I just want to continue to grow so I can reach my full potential.”
Richard Ewell: the first black skater to win a national title in singles and pairs
Famed coach Mabel Fairbanks helped launch another career
Born: 1951 or 1952
His story: Ewell grew up in Los Angeles and began skating in 1963. He trained with Fairbanks in Culver City, California. He first qualified for the U.S. Figure Skating Championships in 1969 in the junior division and took home the national title in 1970. Ewell also was training in pair skating, teaming with fellow African-American Michelle McCladdie in 1968. They earned a bronze medal at nationals in 1971 before winning the junior pairs crown in 1972. They turned pro after winning nationals and toured with the Ice Capades.
Fast fact: Ewell’s doubles partner, McCladdie, was a fair-skinned black woman with blond hair and green eyes. “My looks contradict my origins,” she told Ebony magazine in 1972. “But then, black comes in many different shades and I’m proud of it. Maybe it’ll bury a few stereotypes.”
Quotable: Ewell told Ebony Jr.! magazine in 1977 that he would like to help get more blacks interested in ice skating. “I’d really love to see at least one black get into Winter Olympic competition.”
The Undefeated will profile an athlete each day during Black History Month.
Atoy Wilson: the first black skater to win a national title
His first coach was Mabel Fairbanks
8:48 AMAtoy Wilson is the first African-American to win a national title in figure skating.
Born: 1951 or 1952
His story: Wilson, who started in gymnastics, turned to figure skating after seeing the Ice Follies when he was 8 years old. His first coach was Mabel Fairbanks, who helped him become the first black member of the Los Angeles Skating Club. In 1965, a 13-year-old Wilson became the first black skater to compete in the U.S. Figure Skating Championships, placing second in the novice men’s division. He returned to the competition the following year, and this time he won the men’s novice division to become the first black skater to earn a national championship. Wilson turned pro after he finished high school, touring with Holiday on Ice and the same Ice Follies that fueled his interest in the sport.
Fast fact: Wilson worked in production accounting in the television industry after retiring as a performer.
Quotable: “Mabel was the one that fought in the back rooms, getting this little, black, talented kid skater out there,” Wilson told icenetwork.com. “I was impervious to it because I was skating. I had to learn the jumps — the Lutz, the flips, the double Salchows and the Axels — and I had to learn the figures. My mind was wrapped around that.”
The Undefeated will profile an athlete each day during Black History Month.