A New Standard: How Viola Davis and “Moonlight” Flipped the Script

JENKINS AND MCCRANEY-LIBERTY CITY
The playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney, left, and the director Barry Jenkins teamed up to make the film “Moonlight.” NEW YORK TIMES

“Moonlight” won best picture and Viola Davis won best supporting actress. No one can deny the powerful cast and brilliance of Moonlight. Having grown up in Allapattah, a neighborhood some 20 blocks south of Liberty City, where the movie was set, gives me an even deeper appreciation for the film’s accolades and accomplishments. When “Moonlight” is celebrated, everyone who grew up in Black Miami celebrates. Black Miami has never existed outside of those of us who grew up there; on the other side of the bridge. Miami has always been perceived as a one night stand between “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas” and  “Havana Nights.” I’m glad the cameras and stars took their talents to the hood this time; look at what they were able to create . 

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Viola Davis JEFF LIPSKAY/ A.M.PA.S PHOTO

The beauty, grace and talent of Viola Davis is undeniable. She continues to make history as a woman of color in film, but particularly as a dark-skinned black woman. Hollywood has always had a problem with colorism. America has a problem with colorism. Hell, the black community has a problem with colorism. White or anything associated with whiteness has always been the gold standard. So for Viola to be so successful in an industry driven by imagery and whiteness is extraordinary. With what she has had to overcome as a woman, a black woman, a dark-skinned black woman at that, might essentially make her the most talented actor that Hollywood has ever seen. 

While many will see the accomplishments of “Moonlight” and Viola’s Oscar-winning performances as monumental achievements for black actors and actresses, still, I am torn. On one hand, I realize that The Oscars is Hollywood’s Super Bowl. It’s the highest honor that any director, producer, film writer or actor could ever be bestowed with. However, The Oscars still represents an old American, patriarchy. According to a report written in 2016, 94% of the members of the Academy are white (The Economist). Ironically, this same group has the power and privilege to curate what art, beauty and the black experience is, from a white male perspective. And their perspective is golden? I have to be critical under those circumstances. I am genuinely happy for all the winners and nominees nonetheless. To have your life’s work and craft celebrated among your peers and fans must be a great honor.

In the same breath, Hollywood is also just as responsible for much of the social stereotypes and misconceptions of the black experience as any other American institution. The seemingly improbable journeys of the virtually all black cast and crew of “Moonlight,”along with Viola Davis’s personal triumphs, is what makes their achievements greater than the Oscars themselves. 

I shake my head at the the Oscars, for the many who were snubbed or pegged into subservient roles in order to be recognized. Black actors and actresses do not need the Oscars, if anything, the Oscars needs more diversity and representation. 

A New Year: One Day at a Time

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On Marcus Garvey Avenue. Photo by Anthony Dickens 

Approaching the new year is always a complicated process for me. I try to treat it like any other day, but it’s more than that. As a person who constantly self-reflects; how can I view the turning of a new calendar year as something simple or trivial?

As someone who loves history, dates and timelines are very important. Knowing when something happened in relation to other significant events, creates a sense of context and relevance in which all things are connected. For example, I was born in 1980. That’s the same year that Ronald Reagan was elected, the U.S. boycotted the summer Olympics, the Mariel boatlift resulted in the arrival of over one hundred thousand Cubans into Miami and my neighborhood of Liberty City (Miami)  burned for nearly a week after the McDuffie riots; one of the worst riots in the city’s history. Each year is shaped by the events that take place within them. Some years stand out more than others, as a result of the impact of those events. 2016 will be remembered for all the celebrity deaths and the election of Donald Trump. What will 2017 be remembered for?

Usually a few days before January 1st I hunker down to jot all the awesome feats that I plan to accomplish in the upcoming year. The list can become quite ambitious some years, while fluffy in other years. Open-ended goals like read more, exercise more and saving more, never actually seem attainable. Furthermore, if I don’t get started right away, then I probably won’t start at all, giving up on my resolutions before Valentine’s Day. This year I already read a status on social media that said, “I already messed up this year, but I’m ready for 2018.” We’re not even out of the first week of January for crying out loud.

Now, what I won’t do is declare my fate on the results of my annual to-do list. I also won’t pretend as if this isn’t a great opportunity to refocus and recharge. This New Year I’m just going to go for it. I’m going to remain committed to chasing my dreams. Your dreams don’t change from year to year; just your commitment to them do. Sometimes life changes our trajectory, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t still pursue your passion.

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Laughter is a good thing. Photo by Anthony Dickens

As far as I know, you only get one chance at life. Why not give it your all? Just before the new year, I received word that one of my football players was diagnosed with leukemia. His name is Tariq and he’s a very gifted athlete. The news shocked all the coaches. Tariq had an amazing season, as one of the best players in the city. After suffering from severe chronic headaches, he eventually went to see his doctor. When the results of his blood-work came back, he was asked to return to the hospital and hasn’t left since.

Just imagine, at the age of 17 years old, having your entire life ahead of you and the next day being told that you have cancer. Though I’ve only known Tariq for a few months, we have always had a mutual respect for each other. I’d give him a few tips here and there and sometimes cover him practice. I had to go by the hospital and show my support; especially at a time like this. As I visited with him I couldn’t help but admire his courage and strength. He’s a fighter on the field and a fighter in life.

Some of his friends and teammates had also come by to see him. You could see the concern and fear in their eyes. One of the young men begin to shed tears as the time passed. From his hospital bed, with tubes in his arms, Tariq calmly and confidently said, “Don’t cry…” The young man looked up at Tariq and nodded his head.

Each day is a blessing and every year is a milestone. I pray that Tariq pulls through and that he gets the chance to celebrate many more New Years to come. In the meantime I am committed to living my best life, one day at a time.

 

Guns and the City

Guns and the City
guns, pistols, rifle, revolvers, and ammunition

The second amendment gives U.S. citizens the right bare arms. This was essential during the American Revolutionary Era, when the British and Native Americans posed a realistic threat to invading our newly formed United States. However, hundreds of years later, we may have to revisit the amendment. It was originally intended to protect us from our foreign enemies, but now it seems as if  guns are  actually killing our nation from within. I wonder if the risk is worth the reward?

Over the past week in my hometown of Miami, Florida, there have been several fatal shooting deaths of children.  The most recent and probably the most tragic was the loss of of 8 year-old Jada Page. She was too young to have done anything to warrant such an untimely and unnecessary death. And even month before, because of the recent rash of gun violence in Miami, I had my  7th grade students in Brooklyn, write letters to students at Holmes Elementary in Liberty City, in show of support and encouragement, as they lead a protest against gone violence because they no longer felt safe enough to play outside, due to the constant threat of shootings in their neighborhood.

When 6 year old King Carter’s life was stricken down by a stray bullet, I, like many others had hoped that we would see a change or some type of reduction of senseless killing, but it seems as if our hopes have been dashed again. I prayed that these so called “revenge-seekers” would have more dignity and honor when it came to settling their beefs. But it is plain to see that there are far too many cowards with guns in Miami and around our nation for that matter, because it is not just a Miami thing. Gun violence is running rampant all over America.

But when I received the phone call from my sister, I was no longer simply reading about these killings in the newspaper or watching the reports from a screen. This time it was my family. My little cousin Christopher (19 years-old) was shot and killed last Friday. He was my cousin Rosita’s youngest son. She had already lost her only daughter Precious, to cancer 8 years ago. And now this? When I think of Chris, all I can think of is his infectious smile, his wit, his humor and good nature. I remember a bright and talented young man. Now he is gone. Days later, I am still in denial. You often read about this happening to someone else, but you never think it will happen in your own family.

Since receiving the news, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about my cousin Rosita  and the pain she must be experiencing. I think of the hundreds of the other parents around the nation who have had to bury their children. I think of Trayvon Martin, Mike Brown and Tamir Rice’s mothers. I think of parents who have children in the military, who receive that call from the U.S. government relaying the message that their child died, while serving their country in some foreign land. I think about the families of police officers who wake up to hear that their loved ones never made it home. And I think of the parents of the hundreds of children all around the nation in cities like New Orleans, Chicago, Boston and Brooklyn, just to name a few. I think about the yellow crime scene tape, the body bags and the visits the the morgue to identify the bodies. I think about the doctors, first-respondents and good Samaritans that did all they could do to stop the bleeding, but to no avail.

When it is all said and done, there is no coming back from death. There are no words to comfort a grieving mother or father who has to continue living beyond the years of their own children. Life is not supposed to be this way. It is an unnatural process, that no one is built nor prepared for. Furthermore, to add more stress to grief, is the economic burden of burying a child. When an adult dies, there is a chance that they may have an insurance policy that will cover the funeral costs. But when a child dies, the family has to come up with the cash or borrow money. And it most be done in a timely manner.

It is going to be a difficult road ahead for my family. And an especially difficult road for my cousin Rosita. What is the lesson learned here? What is the moral in the shooting death of another black boy in America? There is none. None at all. But this is why we have to revisit our policies around gun laws. This is why we have to take care of our communities. We must look out for each other. We have to raise up our children to love each other, not to fear and hate each other. For only love, can conquer hate. I will continue to pray and continue to hope for a better future and take action towards a better tomorrow.

Christopher

If you would like to support, please visit Christopher’s Go Fund Me Page

 

 

 

 

 

The Haitian Mother

I was the first person in my family to graduate from college. My parents migrated to Miami, Florida from Haiti in the early 1970s to escape the notorious Duvalier regime. In those days Duvalier ruled Haiti with an iron fist and terrorized anyone who would dare oppose him. He and his tan tan makout left Haitians living in constant fear, from Port au Prince (Haiti’s capitol) to Port de Paix (My father’s hometown in Northwest Haiti). Like millions of immigrants before them, they came to the shores of the United States in search of a better life for themselves and their family. Since I can remember, they had always instilled in us the importance of education.

Every morning my mother woke us up at the crack of dawn. We did not attend our neighborhood schools because they were some of the worst schools in Miami. Our parents sent us to school in the white and Hispanic suburb of Miami Springs, from elementary to high school. This meant we had to wake up extra early to make sure we made it to school on time.

From day one, education was a priority in my household. There was only one thing greater than education, and that was God. There was zero tolerance for doing poorly in school and even less tolerance for heathenism. As a result I received numerous perfect attendance awards throughout elementary school. Ironically, I probably traveled further than any of my classmates each day. Most of the students at my elementary school lived within in the school’s boundary however, my siblings and I lived about 6 or 7 miles away in a neighborhood known as Allapattah. Mommy would drop us off on her way to work or she would leave bus fare for us to catch the MTA (Metro Transit Authority).

School started at 8:30 a.m., and our commute was about 30 minutes by car and about 45 minutes by bus. Not only did we get to school on time, but we arrived at least thirty minutes early in order to take advantage of the free breakfast.  Therefore, Mommy would wake us up each morning at 6 a.m. She’d first knock on our door like a drill sergeant, as if we were new cadets in basic training. Then she would flip the light switch and yell out to us in Haitian Creole, Leve’, leve’, leve’, li le pou nou al lekol (Wake up, wake up, wake up, it’s time for school).

From kindergarten to my senior year of high school, Mommy was my alarm clock. Even when she stopped barging into the room at the crack of dawn, I could still hear her floating through the house, washing up and making her daily cup of Bustello Café’. This was our morning ritual and we never missed a beat, we were always in school.

Today, I still have a long commute, but I do not let that stop me from being there and on time for my students each day.

Like all cultures, the importance of parental guidance and support is crucial in ones development. I was blessed to have two parents and my mother was a true disciplinarian. The portrait above demonstrates the unbroken strength of Haitian mothers.