Exclusive: Nzingha Stewart Talks Latest Film ‘With This Ring’

Nzingha Stewart wrote and directed the film 'With This Ring' airing on Lifetime.  (Photo Credit: Kasema Caines)

Nzingha Stewart wrote and directed the film ‘With This Ring’ airing on Lifetime.
(Photo Credit: Kasema Caines)

Nzingha Stewart is on the brink of becoming a household name. The music video director turned filmmaker and producer For Colored Girls (2010) is making her mark in the television world ‘Pretty Little Liars’, ‘The Game,’ and ‘The Fosters.’ This weekend, With This Ring debuts on Lifetime television network. Based on the novel The Vow, written by Denene Millner, Angela Burt-Murray and Mitzi Miller, the movie explores relationships between four African-American women who vow to get married within a year of attending a friend’s wedding.

Stewart, who wrote the screen adaptation and directed the film, says the movie is about more than their friendships. It’s about women waiting for the next big thing in their lives to happen in order to be happy. Executive produced by Gabrielle Union, Tracey Edmonds and Sheila Ducksworth, the bond of the women in the film is reflected in the closeness of the women working on and off-screen to get this movie made.

I caught up with Stewart, who was in Chicago conducting research for her next project, which is being co-produced by Grammy award-winner John Legend and Harpo Studios, to discuss her hopes for the film and black women’s happiness.

NB: What was it about ‘The Vow’ that made you want to make this novel into a film?

NS: When I read the novel, I thought how much I loved the friendship between the four women. There weren’t many films that had that. It’s like once every 10 years we get Waiting to Exhale or something where you can see black women being there for each other but this story was different. More than the romantic comedy aspect of it or more than just exploring male/female relationships, I like this group of women and I like to see women kind of hold the fort for each other.

NB: Your background is primarily in music video and film. Recently, you’ve been working in television on “Pretty Little Liars” and “The Fosters.” What made you decide to do this film as a television movie?

NS: We actually started out thinking of it as a TV movie. We decided to try and get this on TV because it’s so, so hard to get black movies made otherwise. We had to consider, do we want to be on this merry go round of ten years and a whole bunch of crazy notes and all of the things that make it so hard to get a black movie made when networks want and need this type of story in the TV space. We decided to go for television. I’m just as happy for people to watch movies in their homes as I am for them to watch it on the big screen. As long as they see it, I’m happy.

NB: What is about this story that speaks to audiences?

NS: There are two audiences for this film — women waiting for something to happen in their personal lives and women waiting for something to happen in their careers. I never like those movies where it feels like women’s lives are incomplete unless they’re in a relationship, but so many women feel that their lives are incomplete unless they’re in a relationship. I call this way of thinking on the carpet in this movie and examine this idea in the film. How happy are you? If this is the end goal and one out of however many black women aren’t going to have that, then are you just going to be unhappy? Is that what we’re going to agree to? What if whatever “it” is happens in 10 years? Are you going to wait 10 years to be happy? Is that a good idea?

A lot of the same things come up at work for the character played by Regina Hall. She’s not quite where she wants to be and she’s getting in trouble at work. There are some women where the career is the thing keeping them from happiness — they’re not where they want to be or not making enough money. It’s like until I achieve this benchmark, I’m not going to be happy.

It’s not something we really talk about in this way in movies. Sometimes, it’s not what we talk about with our friends in real life, but so many people just in general are waiting for that thing that’s going to change their lives before they allow themselves to just be happy in the moment and that’s really what the movie is about. I feel like everybody has had that thing they’re waiting on that’s over their head that’s like until this happens, I’m going to ride this thing out and not fully invest in this life.

WithThisRing2

NB: You mentioned Regina Hall. Tell me what the casting was like. Did you see the cast as you were writing or was there more of a traditional casting process?

NS: We always saw Jill Scott as Vivian going into it. We originally thought about Gabrielle in the lead role as Trista, but once Mary Jane (Being Mary Jane) got started and the shooting schedule came out, both projects were literally shooting on the same days. Gabrielle was amazing and said it was a blessing to get this movie made and that it’s an opportunity to give another black actress some work, so lets go with Regina, who she’s really good friends with. I love Regina Hall, so, it was kind of a no-brainer. Lifetime brought us the idea of Eve. I love Eve and I’ve shot her music videos. She’s amazing. She’s a hard worker. She loves women. She’s awesome. Brooklyn Sudano auditioned and as soon as Brooklyn walked out, we said, so we’re done there. It was kind of easy. It just sort of came together perfectly.

NB: What are your hopes for this movie?

NS: My hope for this movie is that women see it and might examine where in their life they’re sort of holding out for happiness and realize, ‘I don’t want to do that anymore’. I’ll be really fulfilled if I get this promotion, or I’ll be really fulfilled if my career is recognized in this kind of way or I’ll be really fulfilled when I have a partner, or I’ll be really fulfilled when I buy a house — I really hope that women who are waiting to exhale realize that they have one life and need to get busy living it. I love women and I don’t want to see us doing that to ourselves anymore.

NB: What was it like working with so many dynamic women?

NS: I really love this group of women. Going into the process, you don’t know what to expect when it’s five women together, all of the time, everyday for two months. It really became the kind of thing where almost every morning, there’s a group text that goes out to somebody encouraging the women to have a great day or saying you look so pretty or how’s the baby? Almost every single morning, it was such an awesome group of women that were so supportive. They had great chemistry. They never separated and went to their trailers until the next scene because they just liked each other, so they hung out all of the time. They would stay on set, talking, and taking pictures. It was a great group of women and an amazing experience.

With this Ring premieres tonight (January 24) at 8 p.m. EST. Check local listings for channel information. #WithThisRing

This story was written by Nsenga K. Burton, Ph.D., founder and editor-in-chief of the award-winning news site The Burton Wire. Follow her on Twitter @Ntellectual.

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Mr. Cub: Baseball Legend Ernie Banks Dies

Baseball legend Ernie "Mr. Sunshine" Banks has died at 83. (Google Images)

Baseball legend Ernie “Mr. Sunshine” Banks has died at 83. (Google Images)

USA Today is reporting that baseball legend Ernie “Mr. Cub” Banks has died. Banks was an 11-time All-Star, a first-ballot Hall of Famer and won consecutive National League MVP awards in 1958-59. Banks, a beloved figure in baseball and the city of Chicago played baseball for 19 years and continued to vigorously support the Cubs despite dismal performance years . He is known for the catchphrase “Lets Play Two” which signifies his love of the game. Why play one game, when you can play two?

Like many black American trailblazers in baseball, Banks began his career in the Negro Leagues with the Kansas City Monarchs. He also served in the military before being discovered by the Chicago Cubs where he played left field, short stop and eventually first base. Born and raised in Dallas, TX, Banks became a legend in Chicago based on his commitment to the same team for 19 years, community service and sparkling personality earning him the nickname “Mr. Sunshine.”

Screen Shot 2015-01-24 at 12.00.19 PM

In 2013, Banks received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Obama, alongside former President Clinton, Oprah Winfrey and others. President Obama issued a statement about the game changer’s passing:

“Michelle and I send our condolences to the family of Ernie Banks, and to every Chicagoan and baseball fan who loved him,’ the Obamas said in a statement released early Saturday. ‘Ernie came up through the Negro Leagues, making $7 a day. He became the first African-American to play for the Chicago Cubs, and the first number the team retired.

‘Along the way, he became known as much for his 512 home runs and back-to-back National League MVPs as for his cheer, his optimism, and his love of the game. As a Hall-of-Famer, Ernie was an incredible ambassador for baseball, and for the city of Chicago. He was beloved by baseball fans everywhere, including Michelle, who, when she was a girl, used to sit with her dad and watch him play on TV.

‘Somewhere, the sun is shining, the air is fresh, his team’s behind him, and Mr. Class – ‘Mr. Cub’ – is ready to play two.'”

Ernie Banks was 83.

Read more at USA Today or Chicago Tribune.

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AfroPoP: The Ultimate Cultural Exchange Premieres Tonight

Actress Yaya Dacosta, Hostess of AfroPop: The Ultimate Exchange. (Photo Credit: AfroPop.tv)

Actress Yaya Dacosta, Hostess of AfroPop: The Ultimate Exchange.
(Photo Credit: AfroPop.tv)

The National Black  Programming Consortium (NBPC)‘s world premiere of the one of a kind public television series AfroPop: The Ultimate Cultural Exchange, will air tonight at 8pm ET/10PM PT on the World Channel. The show is co-presented by American Public Television (APT).

Actress/model Yaya DaCosta, who has been in the news recently for her portrayal of legendary singer Whitney Houston in the Lifetime biopic, will host the 7th season of AfroPop as it documents life, art, and culture in the African Diaspora. DaCosta joins an elite ensemble of AfroPop’s past hosts, which includes Idris Elba, Anika Noni Rose, Wyatt Cenac, Gabourey Sidibe, and Anthony Mackie. The season will air every Monday night and run weekly through February 16. NBPC Executive Director Leslie Fields-Cruz says:

“This season of AfroPoP takes viewers to far-flung corners of the world: where men and women of African descent are taking the lead in human rights and public health issues; where others are pushing women in new directions; and where a new generation of top artists are being given a voice.”

Season 7 of AfroPop opens with The Carrier, directed by Maggie Betts. Betts takes viewers on a journey to a Zambian community and a family beset by AIDS. Twenty-eight-year-old Mutinta Mweemba has married a handsome man, only to discover he is already married. Begrudgingly she becomes wife #2. A third wife brings drama soon overshadowed by the spread of AIDS throughout the family. When Mutinta discovers she is pregnant, she begins a courageous quest to ensure the virus isn’t passed on to the next generation. The Carrier is, ultimately, an uplifting tale of how an individual—and a community—can stare down the faceless terror of AIDS and, against all odds, prevail.

Fields-Cruz adds:

Maggie’s timely film challenges the prevailing notion of complacency and incompetence of African people in the face of deadly disease. Instead it captures the effective mobilization of individuals and the community to protect themselves despite serious obstacles, offering hope to those embroiled in the battle against Ebola.”

This season of AfroPop will also feature Ladie’s Turn, Sounds of Torture, AFROPUNK Presents the Triptych, and The Abominable Crime.

New episodes of AfroPoP premiere each Monday, from January 19 through February 16. The second film in the series is Hélène Harder’s Ladies’ Turn (January 26), which shows the lengths to which young women in Senegal will go to compete as soccer players despite the misogynic attitudes that threaten to stop them. Next is Keren Shayo’s Sound of Torture (February 2), which follows Eritrean radio host and Swedish resident Meron Estefanos as she broadcasts the heartbreaking calls of kidnapped Eritrean refugees desperately trying to raise ransom funds to secure their release from torture camps in the Sinai desert.

Terence Nance and Barron Claiborne’s AFROPUNK presents The Triptych (February 9) captures the intimate reflections of three of today’s celebrated visual artists: interdisciplinary artist Sanford Biggers, multimedia artist and sculptor Wangechi Mutu and photographer Barron Claiborne. (The Sanford Biggers and Wangechi Mutu segments will air on public television; the Barron Claiborne segment will air online at PBS.org and blackpublicmedia.org.)

The final episode, Micah Fink’s The Abominable Crime (February 16), shines the spotlight on homophobia in Jamaica from the view of a lesbian single mother, seeking asylum after being shot because of her sexual orientation, and a Jamaican human rights activist who is forced to flee the country because of death threats after being outed.

AfroPop: The Ultimate Cultural Exchange is produced by Angela Tucker and directed by Duana Butler.

For more info on AfroPop visit The National Black Programming Consortium.

This post was written by Reginald Calhoun, editorial assistant for The Burton Wire. He is a junior Mass Media Arts major at Clark Atlanta University. Follow him on Twitter @IRMarsean.

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MLK Day: Find a Service Project and Celebrate Dr. King

The memorial to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in Washinton, DC.  (Google Images)

The memorial to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in Washinton, DC.
(Google Images)

Today is a national holiday in the U.S. celebrating the life of civil rights icon Dr. Martin Luther, King, Jr. In 1983, Congress voted to create a federal holiday to honor the Nobel Peace Prize winning activist. While many like to have selective memory and pretend that the passage of MLK Day, which is also a national day of service, was an overwhelming slam dunk, the opposite is true.

It was a very contentious debate and a long time in the making. In fact, current senators John McCain (R-Ariz), Richard Shelby (R-Ala), Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) voted against the federal holiday in 1983. On the state level, numerous politicians have voted against recognizing the holiday like New House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, a Republican from Louisiana who voted against the state version of the holiday twice. GOP members that voted for the holiday include former Vice-President and Wyoming Senator Dick Cheney, former Sen. Bob Dole (R-Kansas) and Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-SC).

Is there any wonder that the first Hollywood film featuring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as a lead protagonist in a feature film occurred in 2014? Ava DuVernay’s groundbreaking film is one of many films that have reflected the peace philosophy of Dr. King which included nonviolence, judging people based on their content of their character, not the color of their skin and being of service to all of humankind.

Although many people will be participating in community service projects today, for many it will be business as usual.  Instead of passing judgment, we have decided to pass on some information that might be useful to you. Do you want or need to find a service project?

Check out Serve.gov which allows you to enter your zip code and find service projects in your area. If you are actually hosting a fantastic service project, you can also register it there so that people can find you. You can also Tweet @MLKDay with info about MLK Day projects and events.

If you happen to live in Atlanta, Ga, then check out The King Center for Nonviolent Social Change  also known as ‘The King Center.’ Established in 1968 by Coretta Scott King, civil rights activist and wife of Dr. King, the King Center is a global destination, resource center and community institution for over twenty-five years. Nearly a million people each year make pilgrimage to the National Historic Site to learn, be inspired and pay their respects to Dr. King’s legacy.

The new National Center for Civil Rights and Human Rights in Atlanta can also be visited. Much of the collection is dedicated to the civil rights movement in Atlanta, yet also includes information about other states in the United States. There is also an exhibit  sponsored by Dr. King’s alma mater, Morehouse College entitled, “Voice to the Voiceless,” featuring pieces from the Morehouse College King Collection. The museum also has an exhibit, “Strategies of the Civil Rights Movement” which features handwritten notes from Dr. King’s speech on Selma, 1965, Dr. King’s Diary from Albany Jail, 1962, a letter from President Lyndon Johnson to Dr. King, 1963 and Dr. King’s address on the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

For those traveling to or near Washington, DC, a visit to the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. memorial featuring a stone statue of the civil rights icon and clergyman would be amazing. Sculpted by renowned artist Master Lei Yixin, the stunning statue captures the peace activist in a moment of reflective thought. Why not go there and reflect on Dr. King’s philosophies and how they apply to your everyday life?

There are a ton of activities for kids at community centers throughout the country. Boston is a city near and dear to the legacy of Dr. King. It was at Boston University where Martin Luther King, Jr. earned a Ph.D. in systematic theology in 1955. Under the guidance of Dean Howard Thurman, Dr. King was introduced to the teachings of Mohandas Gandhi and his ideas on nonviolent protest. Boston University refers to Dr. King as their “greatest alumnus” and houses thousands of his personal papers and correspondence, which he personally delivered to the university before his death.

Boston embraces Dr. King’s legacy and creates many events around his memory throughout the year, but especially on MLK Day. Events for kids are being held all over the city. There’s ‘Story Hour and Art Activities’ at the Museum of Fine Arts, children can build a Community Art Mobile at The Children’s Museum in Easton, there’s storytelling and music at Faneuil Hall sponsored by the Mayor’s office, a play at Providence Children’s Museum and a performance by the Boston Children’s Chorus to name a few.

Do a quick Google search and find a MLK Day event to attend with the family. For those who have to work, check out NPR for MLK Day programming. Find out why the feelings of some people are more negative towards African-Americans on MLK Day and how teachers approach MLK Day.

Of course, there’s this little film out now called Selma, which is the first Hollywood feature film with the character of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as the lead protagonist. David Oyelowo plays the lead character brilliantly along with strong performances by Carmen Ejogo (Coretta Scott King) and Lorraine Toussaint (Amelia Boynton Robinson). See if your city offers free tickets for high school students and take your teen to see the game-changing film.

For those who don’t want to or cannot venture out of the house, check out a film or two about the era or Dr. King specifically. The award-winning documentaries Eyes on the Prize (1987), Freedom on My Mind (1994) or Spike Lee’s 4 Little Girls (1997) . If documentaries aren’t your thing, then check out fictional films like To Kill a Mockingbird (1962) starring legendary actors Gregory Peck and Brock Peters,  King (1978) starring the late, great thespian Paul Winfield,  Gandhi (1982) starring Ben Kingsley who won the Best Actor Academy Award for his performance in the film and Boycott (2001), starring stellar actors Jeffrey Wright and Carmen Ejogo.

There’s a ton of programming on television today. MTV will be broadcasting for 12 hours  in black and white in an effort to spark conversation about racial disparities in the U.S. The programming will examine issues of race and feature vignettes by prominent pop cultural figures discussing their views on race.

On MLK Day, there are a lot of opportunities to honor, remember and discuss the man who symbolizes peace, social change and social justice.

This post was written by Nsenga K. Burton, Ph.D., founder & editor-in-chief of the award-winning new site The Burton Wire. Follow her on Twitter @Ntellectual.

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Boko Haram Continues Attack on Survivors; Hear Children’s Stories

Young children are many of the victims and survivors of the Boko Haram attacks throughout Nigeria and neighboring countries. (Google Images)

Young children are many of the victims and survivors of the Boko Haram attacks throughout Nigeria and neighboring countries. (Google Images)

CNN‘s Nic Robertson has been covering the Boko Haram crisis in Nigeria and neighboring countries. Boko Haram’s terror across the country has continued with an invasion of Cameroon over the weekend. Boko Haram took nearly 80 people captive, most of whom were children. The BBC is reporting that 20 of the captives have been freed, in what is being reported as one of the largest kidnappings outside of Nigeria. Many fear that the extremist group is expanding its reach with little to no military intervention.

CNN‘s Nic Robertson sat down and interviewed some of the youngest survivors of the Boko Haram attacks in Nigeria, many of whom have been orphaned and witnesses to violence. They are experiencing nightmares, have little to no food to eat and are terrorized by the daily attacks by Boko Haram. Many have fled into the mountains of Jas, but Boko Haram follows and kills them. Robertson is reporting that the Nigerian military and government is ill-equipped to fight the extremist group.

Watch Robertson’s exclusive video on CNN here.

Read more at CNN, BBC and Naij News.

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Nigeria: Boko Haram Still Holding Women and Children Hostage at School

The Nigerian Islamist group Boko Haram has imprisoned hundreds of women and children in a school in Baja. (Google Images)

The Nigerian Islamist group Boko Haram has imprisoned hundreds of women and children in a school in Baja. (Google Images)

Alexander Smith of NBC News is reporting that Boko Haram has rounded up hundreds of women and children and imprisoned them in a school following what appears to be its deadliest attack, survivors and a local official said.

Smith writes:

Fighters from the sect drove into the bush and rounded up the victims, who were fleeing an assault on the fishing town of Baga last week, witnesses told the human rights group Amnesty International.

‘Boko Haram took around 300 women and kept us in a school in Baga,’ a woman who was detained for four days told Amnesty. ‘They released the older women, mothers and most of the children after four days but are still keeping the younger women.’

Boko Haram violence in Nigeria, now in its sixth year, has displaced 1.5 million people, according to the U.N. The highest-profile attack was the kidnapping of almost 300 schoolgirls last year, which inspired the #BringBackOurGirls campaign.

At least 3,700 buildings were razed in the Baga attack. About 2,000 people were left missing, and thousands more were forced to flee their homes.”

The mass detention was confirmed to NBC News on Friday by Sen. Ahmed Zanna, a lawmaker from Borno state, where the attack took place.

This story is developing.

Read more on NBC News.

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N. Miami Beach Police Use Mug Shots of Black Men as Shooting Targets

N. Miami Beach police use black male mugshots for target practice. (Google Images)

N. Miami Beach police use black male mugshots for target practice. (Google Images)

The blogosphere is ablaze with reports that North Miami Beach police officers actually use mug shots of black men as shooting targets. McNelly Torres and Willard Shepard of NBC Miami report that the practice was discovered at a shooting range by the family member of one of the men on whose mugshot was being used for target practice for an arrest more than 15 years ago. Torres and Shepard write:

“It was an ordinary Saturday morning last month when Sgt. Valerie Deant arrived at the shooting range in Medley, or so she thought.

Deant, who plays clarinet with the Florida Army National Guard’s 13th Army Band, and her fellow soldiers were at the shooting range for their annual weapons qualifications training.

What the soldiers discovered when they entered the range made them angry: mug shots of African American men apparently used as targets by North Miami Beach Police snipers, who had used the range before the Guardsmen.

Even more startling for Deant, one of the images was her brother. It was Woody Deant’s mug shot that taken 15 years ago, after he was arrested in connection to a drag race in 2000 that left two people dead. His mug shot was among the pictures of five minorities used as targets by North Miami Beach police, all of them riddled by bullets.

‘I was like why is my brother being used for target practice?’ Deant asked.”

The facility stated that they own the property, not the targets used by the North Miami Beach police force that practice there.

Read more at NBC Miami.

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‘SELMA for Students': Black Business Community Offers Free Tix for Teens

Google Images.

Google Images.

UPDATE:

(January 16, 2015) – An additional 12 locations have joined the growing movement lead by African-American business leaders to raise funds for students across the country to see the Academy Award®-nominated film “SELMA,” expanding the first-of-its-kind campaign to 25 locations nationwide.

Due to the generous contributions by so many of the country’s most prominent African-American business leaders, more than 275,000 middle and high school students across the U.S. will experience the critically acclaimed film for free at participating theaters while supplies last.

The new locations joining the movement are Atlanta, Austin, Baltimore, Central Florida/Orlando, Connecticut, Detroit, Los Angeles, Memphis, Miami, Montgomery, Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill, and St. Louis.

“Paramount Pictures is extremely proud of this film, which is so clearly resonating with audiences young and old,” said Megan Colligan, President, Worldwide Distribution and Marketing, Paramount Pictures. “It’s a testament to the extraordinary talents of Ava DuVernay, David Oyelowo and the entire cast and crew that ‘SELMA’ is being celebrated by communities all over the country.”

The business leaders who are leading the efforts in the new locations are:

Dr. Meria Carstarphen, Superintendents, Atlanta Public Schools; Dr. Michael Lomax, President & CEO, United Negro College Fund; Hala Moddelmog, President & CEO, Metro Atlanta Chamber; and Dr. John Silvanus Wilson, President, Morehouse College, in Atlanta.

ORIGINAL POST APPEARS BELOW:

As part of the ‘Selma for Students’ initiative, Black businesspeople across the country have banded together to buy tens of thousands of tickets so that high school students can see Ava DuVernay’s historic film Selma for free. Selma is Hollywood’s first motion picture featuring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as the lead protagonist.

Shia Kapos of Crain’s Chicago Business is reporting that iconic businesswoman Mellody Hobson, George Lucas, and other business executives raised $100,000 (US) to cover 10,000 tickets for teens. Kapos reports:

“’What took place 50 years ago in Selma is key to understanding much about the civil rights movement, race, equality and democracy,’ Hobson, president of Chicago-based Ariel Investments and chair of After School Matters, said in a statement. After School Matters is coordinating efforts to get teens in the nonprofit program to see the movie.”

Similar initiatives are taking place throughout the country including Washington, DC, Prince Georges County, MD and Orlando.  Emma Brown of the Washington Post reports:

“The ‘Selma for Students’ effort started in New York, where more than two dozen black business leaders raised money to ensure that 27,000 students in seventh, eighth and ninth grades would be able to see the film at no cost. The tickets were taken almost immediately.

Now business leaders and nonprofit organizations in a dozen cities, including Philadelphia, Boston and New Orleans, are working together to underwrite students’ tickets to the movie.

In the District, the March on Washington Film Festival has raised more than $75,000 toward a $100,000 goal. D.C. Public Schools is developing lesson plans to guide classroom discussions about the film.”

Read more at Crain’s Chicago, The Washington Post or at Selma for Students.

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STEM: The White House’s Dr. John P. Holdren Visits Spelman’s Spelbots

Dr. John Holdren meets with members of Spelman College's Spelbots team. Photo Credit: Spelman College

Dr. John P. Holdren meets with members of Spelman College’s Spelbots team.
Photo Credit: Spelman College

President Obama’s Science and Technology Advisor, Dr. John P. Holdren, gets excited anytime he interacts with youth from underrepresented populations that are passionate about pursuing opportunities in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).

The welcoming, mild-mannered Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy recently visited Spelman College to tour the campus’ Innovation Lab and meet with selected faculty.

He also connected with a few engineering students about some of the research, activities and projects relating to robotics and coding on which the students are currently working. Like President Obama, Dr. Holdren firmly believes that practical, hands-on experience is what motivates young people to consider how fun STEM education can be.

“What is being demonstrated here is that kids learn so much faster and retain so much more when they’re actually able to do things with science,” says Dr. Holdren, who taught at UC Berkeley for 23 years and Harvard for an additional 13 years. “Having access is important for engagement.”

Dr. Holdren pointed out that the diversity among his students at both academic institutions was second nature to him.

“What I’ve found in those 36 years of teaching was the talent pool in this country is very diverse,” he says. “There are lots of folks that have the talent to succeed in science, math, and engineering in the African American community, Hispanic community and Asian community among others.”

In years prior to Dr. Holdren’s arrival at Spelman, the enthusiastic MacArthur Fellow had only made trips to Atlanta to visit the Center for Disease Control (CDC). He stood in admiration, taking a personal panoramic view of a re-purposed computer lab equipped with a maker’s lab, laser cutter and 3D printer.

What’s clear from the moment Dr. Holdren entered the Innovation Lab and went around the room to introduce himself is that he loves science. “Science is about understanding ourselves and the world around us,” urges Dr. Holdren.

“The universe is really the basis of much of the progress that we’ve been able to make as a society. If you look at what’s driving the economic growth, what has improved public health and biomedicine and what keeps us secure, it’s largely been investments in discoveries about science, engineering and mathematics.”

Dr. Holdren, one of America’s premier scientists and academics, told a few funny stories about causing a few explosions with his first chemistry set. The adviser to President Clinton also paraphrased a few of his chats with President Obama about how to make STEM education and opportunities accessible to minorities.

The recipient of numerous accolades such as the John Heinz Prize and the Tyler Prize for Environmental Achievement, Dr. Holdren really perked up when he fidgeted with a lens attached to a square of plywood that enables students to take pictures of what’s under a microscope with their smartphones.

“In sports, we don’t lecture kids for 12 years about football before we let them pick up a football,” says Dr. Holdren picking up a few other lab-produced prototypes. “What we’ve learned in science and technology as well is if you let kids get their hands on equipment and do interesting things, they’re gonna become the scientists, discoverers, inventors and entrepreneurs of the future.”

Since the Stanford and MIT alumnus became the leader of the initiative in 2009, Dr. Holdren, along with President Obama, has developed a range of programs such as science fairs, symposiums, conferences and workshops to attract primarily students of color.

Those activities, Dr. Holdren says, empowers diverse pools of students, especially girls and young women. “One of the unfortunate impressions that people sometimes get from watching TV programs is that just about everybody doing science, math or engineering is a white male,” says Dr. Holdren.

“There are lots of successful examples from diverse communities, so we need to get those together with young people so that they see that these opportunities are open to them.”

Once Dr. Holdren made his way upstairs from the Innovation Lab, the esteemed educator met and chatted with Spelman’s robotics team, SpelBots, about their recent travels to Brazil and a mobile app they developed to control a robotic car.

Standing adjacent to the blue polo-clad ladies with his hands on his chin, Dr. Holdren stared in awe at the history making female ensemble program as a robot grooved to Pharrell Williams’ “Happy.” The ladies filled in the Co-Chair of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology on their mentorship program that attracts young girls.

SpelBots discuss with the young girls the joy of science and even host campus tours for the girls. The SpelBots, Dr. Holdren believes, lead by example. They are role models who look like the young women and ethnic minorities he hopes will see the possibilities in STEM.

Dr. Holdren is also an advocate for youth becoming oriented with STEM as early as possible in their learning. “Kids’ impressions about what’s possible and exciting for them gets developed early,” suggests Dr. Holdren immediately following the SpelBots’ presentation.

“The more we learn about these things, the earlier it seems to be that kids get a better understanding on what they can do and want to do get found.” Dr. Holdren also had Georgia Tech on his itinerary after he departed from Spelman.

Still overjoyed, he uttered that he couldn’t wait to get back to President Obama to share with him the level of productivity occurring on Spelman’s campus. He’s proud that he stopped by because the school’s culture aligns with the President’s Educate to Innovate campaign, which has become a primary focal point of his two terms in the White House.

“Spelman is tapping more and more into the full talent base in our society to help educate and train the future,” proclaims Dr. Holdren. “The kind of work that’s going on here is totally important. If you give folks equal opportunity to access tools and the excitement of science, then they will succeed. They will do it.”

This post was written by Christopher A. Daniel, pop cultural critic and music editor for The Burton Wire. He is also a contributing writer for Urban Lux Magazine and Blues & Soul Magazine. Follow Christopher @Journalistorian on Twitter.

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2015 Golden Globes Speeches: Gina Rodriguez,Common and John Legend

2015 Golden Globe winners Gina Rodriguez and Common and John Legend. (Google Images)

2015 Golden Globe winners Gina Rodriguez and Common and John Legend. (Google Images)

The 2015 Golden Globe Awards aired last night. Winners included Common and John Legend for Best Song “Glory” for the film Selma and Best Performance by an actress in a television series (comedy or musical) went to Gina Rodriguez for Jane the Virgin (CW). While many are talking about Common’s moving remarks, some are overlooking the beautiful acceptance speech given by breakout star Rodriguez. Not only is this a first-time win for Rodriguez, but it is also a first-time Golden Globe win for the CW network, which is historic.

The first-time nominee beat out Lena Dunham (Girls), Edie Falco (Nurse Jackie), Julia Louis-Dreyfus (Veep), and Taylor Schilling (Orange Is the New Black) for the honor.

Check out Rodriguez and Common’s amazing acceptance speeches below:

Check out the complete list of winners at Deadline.com.

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