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25 February 1st February 28th

2010

in a city rich in shades, here is a COLOR that includes all...

Job Seeker’s Guide + 5 Fatal Mistakes + Before, During & After the Interview + Resume Guide Taking Stage + World Premier of Madame White Snake + Kenny Leon is the Leading Man in Black Theater Find your CakeLove this Valentine’s Morgan Freeman on the Madiba Magic

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Dr. Achebe is the Future of Healthcare


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2010

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Contents

Feb r u ary 2010

10 | CakeLove: How Warren Brown Found True Love

Business 5 | When Does Mentoring Work? 6 | Before, During & After the Interview 8 | Five Mistakes of Job Seekers 10 | Resume Guide for Today’s Economy

Benchmarks Entertainment

Dialogues

15 | Kenny Leon is the Leading Man in Black Theater 16 | Madame White Snake’s World Premier in Boston 18 | Morgan Freeman on Playing Nelson Mandela in Invictus

20 | On Black History Month 21 | February is Cool Like That

Lifestyle 17 | A History of African American Vintners

12 Feature

Dr. Chidi Achebe’s new Health Center is a Model for the Future of Healthcare in America

www.colormagazineusa.com february 2010

3


Welcome

From the Editor:

I

can’t even watch TV these days without analyzing the level of diversity.

I especially like examining commercials because they are telling. The content is meticulously and deliberately crafted to be widely appealing and inoffensive. They are short-lived and thus responsive and reflective of the times. (My dad swears he has seen more people of color in ads since Obama got elected.) In a recent Gillette hair products ad, they used three main actor/models: an African American, an Asian and a Caucasian. The Asian man is shown for less than two seconds, and the rest of the time is split equally between the other two. Each man has an accompanying woman, of the same race, running her fingers through their hair. Does this mean that a team of advertising executives decided they needed to cover those three demographics, that Asian’s are the least important, Latinos are completely irrelevant and that mixed-race couples are too risqué for mainstream society? Maybe. Am I paying way too much attention to commercials? Definitely. But the point is that there are reasons behind every decision made in these advertisements. The majority of McDonald’s ads now cast actors of color exclusively. Does this mean they are truly committed to embracing diversity? Not exactly, their business strategy is to target the minority fast-food market. There was a time when companies wouldn’t consider casting a person of color in a commercial. Are they doing it now because they are committed to being inclusive or because they are afraid of seeming exclusive? Are they merely trying to cash in on increasing minority buying power? In some ways, it doesn’t really matter. If advertising executives want to ride the wave of Obamamania and cast more African Americans in their commercials, that’s a good thing, even if the reason behind it isn’t. If companies want to make sure their ads include more diversity for fear of not appearing inclusive enough, that’s a good thing too. Just because the motivation is capitalistic, doesn’t mean these changes don’t reflect progress. Someday, when you are watching a commercial set in a generic office, the boss won’t be a white male with a handful of female and minority underlings. Because someday, the people at the top won’t just be old white guys. And that is progress. Michael

CONT R I BUTING W R IT E RS

In a city rich in shades here is a color that includes all… Color Magazine is the premier all-inclusive monthly magazine that highlights and promotes professionals of color. 4 Copley Place | Suite 120 Boston, MA 02116 (617) 266.6961 sales@colormagazineusa.com Publisher

Josefina Bonilla

josefina@colormagazineusa.com Editor

Michael Chin

michael@colormagazineusa.com Chief Operating Officer

Lisette Garcia

lisette@colormagazineusa.com Advisory Committee

Greg Almieda Ferdinand Alvaro, Jr. Daren Bascome Mark Conrad Kim Dukes-Rivers Beverly Edgehill Yvonne Garcia Digna Gerena Kimberly Y. Jones Samson Lee Brenda Mckenzie Juan Carlos Morales Oswald Mondejar William Moran Nereida Perez Russel Pergament Carol Sanchez John Sims Eduardo Tobon Leverett Wing Publisher

Color Media Group, LLC Distribution

GateHouse Media

Robert Amelio is the Vice President of Diversity and Talent Management at DanaFarber Cancer Institute in Boston. He has been involved with diversity work for close to 20 years.

4

Anna GiraldoKerr founded Shades of Success, a career coaching firm, to help professionals of color proactively manage their careers. In 2006, Anna’s editorial commentary on immigration and education was awarded national recognition at the First National Ethnic Media Awards.

Trond Arne Undheim is an entrepreneur, speaker and author. He lives between Boston and London, speaks six languages and has a Ph.D. in sociology. He writes frequently on wine and society.

MAGAZINE february 2010

Mimi Gonzalez is a stand-up comedian actively touring since 1998. She’ll go anywhere to make people laugh, including Iraq and Afghanistan to entertain the U.S. military. She’s also a part-time black-walnut farmer in between comedy shows and writing assignments.

Natascha F. Saunders is a certified career coach and speaker, focused on our youth. She is an Assistant Director of Undergraduate Career Services at Boston University, Adjunct Faculty for the University of Rhode Island and Education Chair of NAACP Boston.

Keiko S. Broomhead is the Vice President of Enrollment Management and Student Affairs at Wentworth Institute of Technology and Senior Consultant with Stevens Strategy. She holds an Ed.M. from Harvard University and is currently pursuing an Ed.D. from Northeastern University.

Ada Gonzalez is a Jungian Analyst in training at the C.G. Jung Institute. The focus of her work is on cross-cultural issues and psychological trauma for individuals, couples and families. She has a private practice in Cambridge, Massachusetts.


Business

When does mentoring work?

D

By Robert C. Amelio an was a vice-president

for more than 10 years when he was asked to mentor a junior employee as part of his organization’s pilot mentoring program. He enthusiastically accepted this offer, having benefited from the wisdom and guidance of many mentors throughout his career. As the mentoring program started he said, “Now I can give the same advice I got to these new people on the way up.” Indeed he did just that. In the first meeting with his mentee, Julia, he told her he was looking forward to guiding her in achieving her career goals, “just as I have done.”

As Julia discussed her goals for the mentoring program, he listened to her, asked her some questions to clarify her goals, and then said to her, “I’ve done most of the things you want to do. I will tell you exactly what I did so you can do them too.” Though Dan had good intentions, he failed to understand a basic tenet of effective mentoring: how he achieved success does not have to be the same way Julia would achieve her success. While she could learn much from his experiences, she could not repeat exactly what he had done to be successful. Julia was not Dan and had a very different style of interacting with others, approaching problem-solving and setting goals.

Mentoring programs can be effective as long as the mentor is aware that the goals of mentoring are to advise, guide and challenge the mentee, but to not tell him to do everything the same way she did it. Just as with other factors of diversity, one’s individual personality, view of the world and experiences will impact how we approach situations and achieve success. While the role of the mentor is to offer advice, it needs to be given as just that, advice, which the mentee can accept or not. Often, when mentoring relationships falter, it is due to this misunderstanding. When talking with Dan, partway through this mentoring relationship, he expressed concern that Julia didn’t seem to be taking his advice and she wasn’t taking the same steps that he did to get ahead. Julia, meanwhile, felt she could not measure up to his expectations of her since his path to success was so different from hers. Both began to miss their mentoring meetings. Human Resources (HR) contacted them for their monthly “check-in” and found out what was happening – how their ability to form a vital partnership was being blocked. Through working with HR, Dan was able to understand the true purpose of mentoring, and how his expectations were creating a barrier. Dan and Julia discussed what wasn’t going well, how Julia best learned and developed, and what to do going forward. Dan asked for feedback on when he was telling her what to do as opposed to guiding her to find her own path. Though difficult at first, after a few more meetings, she was able to speak up and Dan became much more aware of how best to work with Julia as her mentor. Mentoring is most effective as part of a comprehensive development program. This might include a 360 feedback survey or the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (both are assessments that provide feedback on such things as personality style and leadership effectiveness; the MBTI is a self-assessment; a 360 includes both a self-assessment and feedback from others), and participation in a formal leadership program, among other possibilities. Effective mentoring relationships are two-way: the mentor advises the mentee according to her needs, and the mentee brings the possibility of new and different perspectives to the relationship. Working together, the mentor encourages the development of the mentee according to her unique way of experiencing the world. At the same time, the mentee offers the mentor a very rewarding experience in “generativity,” the process of giving back to others what has been learned over the course of a career. Mentoring works when each person involved understands what it is for, how best to achieve that and when both parties are aware of and use the richness of the diversity each brings to the mentoring relationship. www.colormagazineusa.com february 2010

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Business

Before, During & After the Interview B y N ata s c h a F. Sa u n d e r s

The interview is usually the first meeting you have with a prospective employer but it’s not the first impression. Your first impression was the moment they looked at your resume and called you in. Remember they called you so they are interested in you – show that confidence. Before A Roman philosopher once said, the definition of luck is when preparation meets opportunity. It is crucial that you take some time to prepare before an interview. Here are some tips to help you begin:

1. Research the company’s products, services, trends, leadership and community ventures. This is the fuel for your interview, and it demonstrates your interest in the company. 2. Know where you are going, length of time it will take you (arrive 15 minutes early, anything earlier could be interpreted as poor time management), who your interviewer is and the correct spelling and pronunciation of their name. 3. Prepare several, edited resumes and cover letters on quality paper, a portfolio (work samples, recommendations, references, pad and pen) and questions, such as, can you discuss the corporate culture? Can you describe the company’s management style?

4. Practice answers to questions you may be asked, such as why are you interested in this job and can you describe a weakness. (For example, I have been known to become very nervous when making public presentations but I’ve since joined Toastmaster’s to help improve in this area.)

5. Impress Mindtools.com says it takes 3 seconds to make a first impression. This impression is based on your dress, body language, mannerisms and your speech. So be sure to exude professionalism in all areas. That means sitting up straight, a firm handshake and eye contact. Now that you’ve prepared, stop for a moment and envision yourself at the interview. If you have a clear vision, you will attract the right strategy to succeed.

6

MAGAZINE february 2010

During

AFTER

You’ve made it, and now… lights, camera, action!

1. Ask for their business card and when you are back

1. Ask how you may address the interviewer: Mr., Mrs.,

in your car, make notes right away so you don’t forget the critical details.

Dr. or first name.

2. Treat all people you encounter with professionalism (I remember meeting a lady in the bathroom once and when I returned to the office, I found out she was the head of marketing.)

2. Send a thank you note with specific details of the interview and your qualifications, email or hand-written (more personal approach).

3. Inquire if it is okay that you take note of key points throughout the interview.

3. Follow up in 1-2 weeks if not given a specific time

4. Be prepared to demonstrate a skill you say you

4. And if you receive notice that another person was hired still send a follow-up note letting them know you thoroughly enjoyed the interview and should another, similar position open in the future, you would appreciate the opportunity to meet with them again.

have – if you say you speak Spanish, be prepared to speak Spanish.

5. Be concise with your answers, but that still includes answering your questions with details. For example, I am a team player, tell the employer a time when you’ve demonstrated that quality.

frame, as this will demonstrate your continued interest.

6. Don’t pull all your answers from one place. Use the “suitcase compartment method” – imagine you have a suitcase with five compartments and each compartment contains specific experiences. For example: 1. current job, 2. past job, 3. community service, 4. entrepreneurial experience and 5. education. Now that you’ve identified all five compartments pull your answers from each of them so your answers will not be mundane – but be honest!

7. Listen carefully to the interviewer and answer the question asked. A chief economist once said, “Most of the successful people I’ve known are the ones who do more listening than talking.” When ending the interview, ask where the company is in the hiring cycle? When may you follow-up? I also suggest you ask if they have any doubt in your ability to do the job. This would give them the opportunity to have you address any concerns. Remember, it is to be expected that you talk about your accomplishments and successes.

Now that we’ve covered Before, During and After the interview, you should be all set to go out there and get that job. Remember if you believe it you can achieve it! For more from Natascha Saunders, The Career Coach, visit: www.nataschasaunders.com.


D e c e m b e r 1 2 , 2 0 0 9 – J u ly 1 8 , 2 0 1 0

museum of fine arts, boston Museum of Fine Arts, Boston Avenue of the Arts 465 Huntington Avenue Boston, MA 02115 www.mfa.org Charles Sheeler, Six African Figures, about 1917–19. Photograph, gelatin silver print. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. The Lane Collection. © 2010 Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

WE PLAY WELL TOGETHER. childrenshospital.jobs We are an Affi rmative Action/ Equal Opportunity Employer

© 2009 NAS (Media: delete copyright notice)

Do Big Things!


Business

Allow fear, uncertainty and despair to rule – Since the employment outlook is par-

ticularly unsettling at this time, job candidates are easy prey to let frustration take over. Job seekers tend to spend a great amount of their time complaining and commiserating with others about the ugliness and unfairness of the job search. Over time, these opinions become their primary perspective about the job market. It is the typical case of self-fulfilling prophecy.

Apply for jobs only online – The Internet

is a blessing and a curse in the job search process. It facilitates the flow and access of information, and, since recruiting efforts have become automated, the first step to apply for a job usually requires candidates to upload their information online. These two factors make it easier to spend several hours in front of a screen and channel the bulk of job search efforts through the Internet.

Use the same resume for different jobs applications – Job candidates tend to

submit one version of their resume to target different job postings. They reason that since they worked so hard in crafting a resume, with powerful keywords and key accomplishments, recruiters will be impressed and call back.

Focus on one company, industry or function – This is one of the very few in-

stances when focus could work against reaching a goal. Job seekers who zealously focus on one or a couple of companies or a particular industry or job function, considerably narrow their chances to pursue job opportunities which could be a fit.

The Five Mistakes of Job Seekers (and How to Avoid Them)

A

b y A nna G i ra l d o - K e rr

8

s a career coach who advocates for positive thinking and strength-based coaching, I found it challenging to highlight the ways job hunters undermine their efforts. My decision to use a more radical, attention-grabbing approach comes from the many discussions I have had with job seekers during the past year. Here are (in no particular order) the five most common errors job hunters make.

MAGAZINE february 2010

Underutilize new freedom and flexibility – Full-time work gives structure to our

daily routines. When out of work, job seekers’ lifestyles shift to a completely unstructured pattern which could be stressful to manage. The void of “having nothing to do” consumes many job seekers who spend their time without a clear action plan. In the spirit of assertiveness and learning, let me suggest ways to counteract these mistakes and maximize your job search efforts.

Develop a plan of action that includes venting time – It is therapeutic to

acknowledge negative emotions. The catch is not to let those be your dominant state of mind.


If you must let your frustration out, honor what you feel but give it a limited amount of time and move on. Create a plan of action for your job search to minimize the feeling of helplessness. Surround yourself with friends and acquaintances who are supportive and can help you stay positive and engaged.

Diversify job search and application strategies – Continue to use online

tools as one of the several methods to look for work. But understand that submitting your resume to a job or company website is only the first step. Recruiters find it convenient to have your information in their database, but be assured that they do not go through every resume received. Search for contacts in your network or through professional organizations that could introduce you to decision makers or recruiters in person.

Customize your resume to the job – Develop a master resume that holds

all your professional accomplishments and milestones. Create a customized version, based on the master, that highlights topics, functions and requirements of the job for which you are applying.

Expand your search to related industries and functions – Identify

two related industries to your primary target to broaden your search. Consider temporary or contract work as a way to explore and develop experience in new industries and functions.

workexcellencelife MGH – Rich with Opportunities to Fulfill Your Greatest Potential Because employees who strive for excellence are always reaching for more, the MGH Training and Workforce Development office develops and promotes innovative employee education and training initiatives. Programs include: College/Career Fair: An annual event providing employees with one-stop-shopping to explore programs at local colleges and universities. MGH Leadership Academy: Continuing education and training for MGH managers that balances theory with practical application. Support Services Employees Grant Program: Provides eligible support services employees with up to $1,500 in up-front, financial assistance to advance their education, clinical, technical, service, or administrative skills. Spanish at MGH: An on-site Spanish language and cross-cultural competency program for MGH employees designed to enhance service to Spanish-speaking patients and family members. “Steps to Success” Workshops: Assists adult learners with goal setting and implementing a plan for education or training. Tuition Assistance Program: Benefits eligible employees can receive up to $2000 per year.

Be intentional about the use of your time – Take advantage of the oppor-

tunity to be your own time manager. Devise a schedule that allows you to explore new career paths, build your network and develop new skills while still looking for work. Free workshops for job seekers abound, courtesy of your local library or professional associations. Transforming the way you approach the job search process is not as difficult as it may appear. The key to transitioning from job hunter to job holder lies in your ability to respond to the challenges ahead assertively, deliberately and proactively.

Join us. MGH offers career opportunities in all areas of patient care, research, administration and operations. To see a complete list of our current opportunities and learn more about our benefits, please visit our website.

www.mghfordiversity.org

For more career advice visit: www.shadesofsuccess.net.

By embracing diverse skills, perspectives and ideas, we choose to lead: EOE.


Business

Resume Guide These Days, Employers Value Experience and Love Brevity By Keiko S. Broomhead Getting hired is extremely tough in our current economic times – fewer jobs means more applicants per job, more applicants means less time reviewing each candidate. According to a December 2009 article on CareerBuilder.com, for each open position last year, 25 percent of hiring employers said that, on average, they received more than 75 resumes and 42 percent received more than 50 resumes. Also, 38 percent of employers reported spending one to two minutes reviewing a new

resume and 17 percent spent less than one minute!  Busy employers have to scan dozens of resumes per position and quickly determine if they should place each one in the stack labeled, “Not Qualified,” “Maybe” or “Invite for Interview.” Now more than ever, you need to stand out and sell your services, skills, abilities, attitude, experience and education. To develop an effective resume, examine your resume from the perspective of an employer. Evaluate your background and

education, and design your resume so that you highlight what the employer values. Carefully review the position description, the employer and the industry that you are applying for and determine how you can strategically present your education and skills in the context. Anne Gill, Vice President of Human Resources at Wentworth Institute of Technology, advises, “Job seekers are better off highlighting their accomplishments as opposed to their educational backgrounds. More and

more employers want to know what you have done not what you think you can do. I advise people to focus on the specific skills they bring to a job – the skills honed by experience.” So, if your educational background gives your candidacy a distinct advantage, draw attention to the training, certification or degree in your resume. During the interview, when presenting your education, be specific and promote the value of your background

benchmarks

Baked Love B y M i c h e l l e Mc K e n z i e

Y

(Joshua Cogan)

10

MAGAZINE february 2010

ou know Warren Brown loves you when he brings flours. They’ll be mixed with butter, sugar, eggs, spices and possibly covered in a rich buttercream or chocolatey ganache, but there will be no doubt about his passion. Brown, the founder and owner of the CakeLove bakery chain based in the Washington, D.C.-area and author of a book by the same name, is surrounded by love these days. Business is good, a new book is due in April, two more shops are slated to open in the spring and best of all, he’ll get to share it all with a new daughter, who was expected to arrive in late January. “The thing that’s curious about it is,

they tell you that if you do what you love, things will come at the time you need it and it really has worked out that way,” he said. Brown was a health educator and a lawyer before accidentally finding his passion. He turned to baking by chance about a decade ago, looking for ways to fill his time. Now with seven outlets in the greater D.C. area, including Love Café, and two more on the way, it was obviously time well spent. “I had been cooking since I was a kid, and I was comfortable in the kitchen,” he said. “I wasn’t a baker, but I was a foodie. I couldn’t talk the talk. I wanted to reconcile that.” As he did, making cakes for colleagues and family, he found out he had to feed his soul. “I think we all have something inside us at some point that tells us this is what we should be doing,” said Brown, who hosted Sugar Rush for Food

Network and also has regular speaking engagements. “Whether it’s a voice or a feeling, it’s a very real sincere way to express that. If we don’t at some point listen to these voices, it will come out somehow anyway. “I was just telling a group of high school kids; what I really have a passion for is building things and sharing,” he added. “I like to build things from scratch. When I was a kid, I built a lot of models. When you’re making a cake, there are a lot of different parts to put together.


and skills to the employer. If you are interviewing for a position that requires a bachelor’s degree, go beyond stating that you have earned a bachelor’s degree from X College with a major in Y – so did your competition. Along with having a similar degree and major, many of the other candidates will also have comparable professional backgrounds. To stand out when describing your achievements, include tangible and quantifiable details. You should draw from your educational or professional experience but cus-

tomize by presenting projects, activities, accomplishments or coursework that demonstrate you have significant and relevant experience. Just remember, as Gill cautions, be careful to not cross the line between highlighting and embellishing the extent of accomplishments. With so many job seekers for fewer positions, your job search may take longer than you anticipate. Be positive and consider the opportunities. The process of reviewing your resume itself may make you more aware of what you need to strengthen and improve your candidacy. You may even decide to obtain additional experiences, education or training so that your resume ends up in the right stack.

What I couldn’t do with models, and what I can do with cakes, is share them. It’s a great bonus when you spend all this time making something and people are happy to have it.” His next book, “United Cakes of America,” which will be available in April, is a collection of cake recipes from every state. He says some are based on tradition; some are just totally made up but catch the essence of the state. Inspired again by a childhood love of geography and fascination with maps, input for the recipes came from family, chefs he met while hosting Sugar Rush and research. Because he came to baking “late in life” as he puts it, his approach to creating recipes is different, and Brown’s passion for flavor and experimentation is evident. “My first experi-

ence with flavors was through cooking; herbs and spices in savory dishes,” he noted. “So when I’m creating cake recipes, maybe I do approach it differently. I didn’t know what was ‘normal,’ so using cayenne pepper (an ingredient in his Sassy Crunchy Feet pound cake bites), was applicable.” One of Brown’s key messages is to do what you love and be honest about it. “There are a lot of people who have this expectation that I have loved baking all my life and they’re really disappointed when they find out that’s just not the case,” he said. “Probably about half the people I speak to are kids. I tell them to dream big for sure; think broadly and be open to being open. You have to be able to see more of what’s outside of your own world. It’s the only way dream.”

Boston Medical Center is proud to support Black History Month. As a central component of the greater Boston area, our commitment to serving individuals with various cultural, ethnic and religious backgrounds is an essential part of who we are at Boston Medical Center. We know that by bringing together differences — a rich variety of traditions and viewpoints — we can remain truly engaged in providing the utmost service to our community. In fact, we offer our patient population on-site, person-to-person interpretation services in more than 30 languages, 24-hours-a-day. This same commitment to diversity encompasses our careers. Within our strong, all-inclusive workforce, you have the opportunity to discover the full potential of your own personal and professional strengths. You belong with the best. At Boston Medical Center (BMC), you can join a team of individuals who don’t simply strive for excellence – they set the standard for it. Visit our website to discover opportunities and enjoy an exceptional career at BMC – The Exceptional Choice: www.bmc.org/hr/taleo

True diversity knows no exceptions: EOE.


lll

The

People’s Doctor By Bridgit Brown

l

P HOTOS B Y LOLITA PA R K E R , J R .

“I used to always say to my family,” recounts Dr. Chidi Achebe, “why is it that when you go to clinics in the wealthy neighborhoods, like Wellesley, they have labs? Why don’t we have that here in Dorchester?”1

S

tanding in front of the door that leads to the

pect from a hospital.” Down the stairs, and in the main lobby of the health newly installed laboratory at Harvard Street Neighborhood center, he looks around, smiles and says, “This building has had many lives.” Health Center, located in the Dorchester neighborhood of Looking up at the ceiling and around the room, he continues, “Believe it or Boston, Achebe turns the knob, opens the door and enters not, it used to be a Volkswagen lot 42 years ago, and that’s about how old the lab with his arms spread wide open. Harvard Street Health Center is.” “I don’t ask that question anymore,” he says. “If it’s not in Wellesley, But it has only been since Achebe – who has battled healthcare inequithen I don’t want it here. I just want the same standards, since we’re in ties throughout his career, including the HIV/AIDS Pandemic in Africa the same country.” – took the job and hired an outstanding team of medical workers, that The newly developed, state-of-the-art lab is decked out with several Harvard Street Health Center has received, what he calls, a facelift. computers, microphones, freezers and fancy machinery that can conduct urine analyses, blood work and other tests that, less than two years ago, lll had to be sent to an off-site lab. The Center has historically concentrated on primary care but with a “In a recession we’ve been very blessed,” says Achebe who took on the posi- difference – according to Achebe, they are open to people with criminal tion as executive director of Harvard Street Health Center 18 months ago. records who are being released on parole. The lab was a gift of the University of Massachusetts Memorial Labs, “I am a black male, and I think that one of the things that we are suffering one of the largest and growing lab companies in the New England region. from in our community is the fact that our men have not gotten the kind “They pumped close to four hundred thousand dollars into the center, of health care that they deserve. They’re not able to function in the family with facilities galore so that we can provide our patients with the best of unit to lift the whole family, and one of the things that we want to remind standards.” the men is, that if the pathology is yours, then it’s going to be ours as a “A lot of this came through pleading,” he says proudly. “You go and you community, because people look at themselves as silos. But if the men are say to them, ‘Listen, please!’ And it’s amazing how powerful the word not taking care of themselves, and it’s all about the women taking care of please can be. It really does a lot.” the kids, then the balance isn’t there.” Leading the way out of the lab and into the Dental Department, Achebe To him, it’s not about being married but about the children. points into a room where an empty, bright orange dental chair sits cocked “I’m not here to preach to you about how the structure of your relationup and ready for the next patient. ship is, but I am here to remind you that if you do not play your role as “We’re very proud of the dental section. The facilities here are first-rate, a black male in the community the children will suffer and so we have and we have a director who trains fellows, which is unique for any dental another generation of pathology.” department. We have five residents from Boston University that rotate The Center also has a food pantry that is conspicuously tucked away through, and we are able give them the kind of education one would ex- in its basement.

1. Wellesley – one of the richest towns in Massachusetts – has two colleges, elite public schools and is 85 percent white, 10 percent Asian or Pacific Islander, 3 percent Latino or Hispanic and 2 percent Black (U.S Census 2007 estimates). Dorchester has a reputation as one of the toughest and poorest neighborhoods in Boston, and is 36 percent Black, 32 percent White, 12 percent Hispanic or Latino and 11 percent Asian or Pacific Islander (Boston Neighborhood Development Data 2006).

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MAGAZINE february 2010


Dr. Achebe in front of the Patient’s Bill of Rights at the Harvard Street Health Center in Dorchester, Mass.

www.colormagazineusa.com february 2010

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“This is a big secret,” says Achebe. “One of the reasons why this pantry is arranged this way is to give our patients the respect that they deserve. We want to make it possible for people to come here and leave without drawing any undue attention to the fact that they are here picking up food.” lll Outside of the building, several feet away, is the metal skeleton of a structure that Achebe says is the Center’s dream. “We want to move into the new building – which is 10,000 square feet, and we are hoping that if everything goes well with that building, we will have space for radiology, eye care, hematology and other special services. The idea being that you walk into the building, you see your doctor, visit the pharmacy, and then you go home without having to be referred out to anywhere.” Achebe calls this the money saving model. “I can deliver the same services at a fifth of the cost of a fancy hospital with doctors that are just as well-trained.” Taking a moment to mention a handful of the doctors that he has on staff, Achebe continues, “We have been blessed with fantastic physicians who are committed to the community. My commitment to them is to work as hard as I can to help keep the standards similar to what you would expect in a mainstream hospital so that these well-trained doctors don’t feel like they’re slumming. You want them to know that they are working in our community and it’s not so bad. That’s why we’re trying to get into this building next door, and if we get everything else that we’re dreaming of then guess what? It’s in Dorchester!” With seven major health clinics located throughout the neighborhood, there has never been a plan to have so much compacted into just one of the centers in Dorchester. The strategy, says Achebe, is to be the first. “I spent two years getting an MBA from Yale University and one of the things that I loved the most about the time was a course that I took on strategy. Getting to the finish line first is a humongous strategic advantage because you get to announce, ‘Hey, I’m here!’ Anyone else who is getting there behind you looks like a copy-cat.” lll When asked to suggest some strategic approaches to the national healthcare crisis, Achebe cited a unique trend taking place in hospitals throughout the city of Boston, which involves hiring doctors who can run hospitals – like himself. “A lot of these doctors can be productive towards the bottom line because they can see patients. I’m in clinic part of the week, so even though I have an MBA and I can speak the business language, I am also contributing to the bottom line as opposed to some figure that is clearly getting a big salary. Clinicians, physician assistants, nurse practitioners, any one of these people, with an MBA and the experience, can run a clinical setting. All of the major and tertiary hospitals in Boston are run by medical doctors and I think that is the future.” The Center is open twelve hours per day on weekdays. “That’s part of what the federal government wants; to move the health care model away from nine to five, making it convenient for working people. In the past, people would end up in the emergency room and that drove up the cost of health care because there was nowhere else to go and it was so expensive to go to the emergency room. But if you know that

Eden Bedaso at the new Dental Department at Harvard Street Health Center

your doctor is there until eight, then you don’t have to go to the ER, and the cost comes down.” Targeted medical care is another area that can be useful when dealing with the healthcare crisis, according Achebe. “There is a statistic out of Oklahoma that says that there is an area where there is one doctor per every 10,000 patients. We can’t have that in America. We don’t need another doctor to go to Massachusetts General Hospital. What we do need are more doctors in Dorchester, Oklahoma, Appalachia and other places. And it’s not about race at all, it’s about need. Targeted medical care will be very useful in making sure that all Americans get a certain quality of care, and that’s what we need to begin to look at.” He also says that there needs to be an open dialogue where more information is provided to the population about why healthcare is important and how that impacts everyone. “What happens in Dorchester, will eventually impact everywhere. Let’s just say that there’s an outbreak of some dreaded disease because they’ve had terrible healthcare. Do you think it will not come to your community? It will. It should be our selfish motivation to make sure that everyone gets good health care because it protects us all.” Achebe is the son of acclaimed Nigerian novelist Chinua Achebe2 whom he says is his greatest role model. “I’ve learned a lot from him, and I call him every night. He’s the reason why I call the community of Dorchester my own, because he broke through the myth. You are me and I am you. James Baldwin said to my dad before he died, ‘You are my brother that I have not seen in four hundred years.’ That was so deep. We have to begin, as people with shared histories, to understand what that means and where we fit in it.”

2. Chinua Achebe is most famous for the hugely influential novel, “Things Fall Apart” (1958).

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entertainment

Tak i ng S tag e

Kenny Leon is Directing The Future of Black Theater

K

B y J o h n B l ack

enny Leon is a man on a mission. He wants to celebrate African-American artists and culture on the stage and he wants to do it in a way that not only gets people to buy tickets to see the shows, but inspires the young people in the audience to find their own voice and bring it to the stage for future generations. “Ask the average theatergoer to name a classic AfricanAmerican play and nine out of 10 of them will tell you ‘A Raisin in the Sun.’ That’s a beautiful answer; the problem is that most of those same people can’t name another play,” Leon said in an interview with Color Magazine. “There’s such a rich tradition of Black Theater that people just aren’t actively aware of – James Baldwin, August Wilson, Toni Morrison. It’s a tradition that is still alive today. It’s exciting, vibrant work that needs to be seen.” Leon helped change people’s perception of Black Theatre in 2004 by taking a revival of Lorraine Hansberry’s classic, Raisin, to Broadway with a modern twist that changed the way people thought of the play and about theater: He cast rapper/entrepreneur Sean ‘Diddy’ Combs to play the lead. “I love being the engineer behind the scenes working with actors to make them bigger than they are, to help them stretch and create something that nobody thought they could do, not even themselves,” Leon said. “People have no idea how hard Sean worked to play that part, how dedicated he was to making it work. It was thrilling to be part of that and to stand in the back of the theater opening night and just feel the electricity coming off that stage.” Raisin won three Tony Awards – Best Revival, Best Actress (Phylicia Rashad), Best Featured Actress (Audra MacDonald) – as well as a Drama Desk Award nomination for Outstanding Director of a Play. It also made a lot of money thanks to night after night of sold-out shows. “Having a hit show on Broadway is a great thing,” Leon said, “but nothing beats having a young kid come up to you on his way out and tell you it was his first time at a theater and that he had a fantastic time. That’s the future, right there. That’s one of the reasons I do it.” Leon, who also has a thriving career as an actor, will be taking on two new theater challenges this spring, staging the New England premiere of Stick Fly at the Huntington Theatre in Boston, then going south to Broadway to direct a revival of August Wilson’s Fences starring Denzel Washington. Stick Fly, written by Lydia R. Diamond, is the moving and funny portrait of what happens as race and privilege intersect when the two young brothers bring their new

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MAGAZINE february 2010

Before Denzel Washington became a Hollywood Star (shown here in The Book of Eli), he was a “Broadway Baby”

girlfriends home to Martha’s Vineyard to meet their AfricanAmerican parents. Fences, which Leon directed for the Huntington Theatre last season, is the Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award-winning sixth chapter in Wilson’s groundbreaking ten-play cycle of the 20th Century African-American experience, telling the story of a man whose dreams were stalled by racial prejudice. “I love doing shows at the Huntington because the audiences are very familiar with my work after doing five shows with the company, so they not only know what to expect, but are very vocal about letting me know if I’ve met or hopefully gone beyond those expectations,” he said. “Any artist needs that, and I think the play that Lydia has written will give them a great night of theater with a lot to think about on the way home.” As for working with a Hollywood superstar like Washington, Leon says he can’t wait to see what the two of them can do. “A lot of people may not know this, but Denzel’s a Broadway baby and worked on the stage for a long time before he started making movies,” he said. “His passion for acting is still there, and as a director, the great thing about working with Denzel, or any actor as passionate as he is about his craft, is doing whatever you can to channel that energy and that passion into the work and help them create something special.”

INFO

Lydia R. Diamond’s Stick Fly will show at the Huntington Theater February 19 - March 21. For tickets and more information, visit www. huntingtontheatre.org.

August Wilson’s Fences starring Denzel Washington, is expected to debut on Broadway late spring 2010.


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entertainment

Acclaimed soprano Ying Huang to perform the title role in Madame White Snake

Tak i ng S tag e

Madame White Snake makes World Debut in Boston

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B y J o h n B l ack ing Huang has had her fair share of success in her career as an opera singer, including a world premiere at the Vienna Festival, winning acclaim in her film debut as Cio-Cio San in Frédéric Mitterrand’s acclaimed version of Madame Butterfly and making her Metropolitan Opera debut in an English-language version of Mozart’s The Magic Flute, which was simulcast live to movie theaters across the United States and the United Kingdom. None of her past achievements, however, has the talented soprano as excited as her upcoming title role in Madame White Snake, a new opera based on a beloved ancient Chinese legend, created by composer Zhou Long and librettist Cerise Lim Jacobs. The opera, co-commissioned by Opera Boston and the Beijing Music Festival, makes its world premiere Feb. 26 at the Cutler Majestic Theatre. “The story of Madame White Snake is such an important part of Chinese culture. It’s a story we all know from hearing it as children,” she said. “The idea of it being turned into an opera is very exciting to me because it’s a chance to introduce the

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MAGAZINE february 2010

INFO

Madame White Snake will have three performances (Feb. 26, 28, and March 2, 2010) at the Cutler Majestic Theatre in Boston. For tickets and more information, visit www. operaboston.org.

story to Western audiences who may not be familiar with it, while at the same time telling it to Chinese audiences in a way they may never have experienced before, as a fully staged western-style opera. It really makes me feel like a cultural ambassador.” A classical transformation myth, Madame White Snake is the story of a powerful white snake demon who transforms into a beautiful woman to experience love. She meets her true love, Xu Xian (tenor Peter Tantsits), at the Broken Bridge on the West Lake in Hangzhou, and marries him. So widely celebrated is their love that a curious Abbot (bass Dong-Jian Gong) investigates and sees through her human form. When the Abbot learns that Madame White Snake is pregnant, he is horrified by what he considers a violation of all of the traditional taboos of race and religion, the divine and the profane. He decides to intervene and confronts her husband, who betrays Madame White Snake, and, in the moment of betrayal, she is tragically transformed back into a snake. Madame White Snake will have three performances at the Cutler Majestic Theatre and then two performances in Beijing in October 2010. After, they plan to tour several Chinese cities; the proposed tour is the first by an American opera company in China since San Francisco’s Western Opera Company in 1987. In preparing for the role, Huang said she has worked very closely with the composer to make sure they are on the same page, so to speak, on how the role should be sung. She is working equally hard on the acting required to bring the legendary story to life. “There was a time when the acting wasn’t considered as important as the singing in an opera, and singers would often just stand still on the stage and sing no matter what the characters were doing. They called it park and bark,” Huang said with a laugh. “Audiences won’t stand for that these days. They expect a singer to become the character they are playing and make it a complete performance. And to be honest, the acting is something I truly enjoy. It not only makes me a better singer to emotionally feel what the character feels, but makes it a better experience for the audience.”


Lifestyle

A Short History of African American Winemakers

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b y Tr o n d A rn e Un d h e i m t the moment, African Americans drink less wine than the United States average. But in the next three years African Americans will see their collective buying power increase from $913 billion in 2008, to $1.2 trillion in 2013, a 31 percent increase, according to a 2008 study by the Selig Center. The wine industry is beginning to take notice. In late 2002, a handful of vintners created the The Association of African American Vintners (AAAV), the core idea being mutual support and “getting more African Americans to drink wine.” Sticking together seems to work. As Californian small-scale production wines without distributors across the country, vintners rely on direct orders. Shipping to consumers in Massachusetts is not allowed, which makes some wish they lived in New Hampshire where they live free or die. The average bottle produced by AAAV members is about $30, such as the 2007 Pinot Noirs from Vision Cellars ($30) made by E.G. “Mac” McDonald, the son of a Texas Moonshine maker. In the current climate, not all black vintners are happy with being tagged minority vintners. Iris Rideau, who is of Creole heritage, was the first African-American female winery owner in the United States. She is a serial entrepreneur who, in 1997, started Rideau Vineyards in the Santa Ynez Valley, the heart of the Santa Barbara wine country. Rideau is careful not to brand herself exclusively as an ethnic vintner. Her Reserve Viognier ($10) and Syrah Rose ($14) instead “aim to capture the feel of New Orleans.” Doctors seem to make good wine. Black Coyote 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve Napa Valley ($85), made by Dr. Ernest A. Bates, an African American neurosurgeon, just won double gold in the Sand Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition. I asked partner, Vanessa Robledo, how they do it, “We work with a combination of climate, soil, the ideal cabernet clones with a touch of passion and unconditional love for wine.” Dr. Bates added, “Truthfully, I have found the world of wine to be a refreshing break from my years as a practicing neurosurgeon and businessman. I believe it is important to nurture and support African American wine makers as well as introduce the African American community to the joys of wine.” Another doctor, Patriarch Bassett Brown acquired

Trond’s Picks Divas Uncorked Chardonnay (2006, $13, 87/100) The fresh, frosty bouquet of apples has a surprisingly subdued floral character, but opens up to some lychee and pears as well. It shows only minor traces of oak, not surprising since it was mainly fermented in stainless steel tanks, with oak blended in. This dry wine is a bit like a first date in the 60s – it has a short, clean finish – which might make you feel unfulfilled, but often hungry for more.

450-acres in Chiles Valley (on the northeast side of Napa Valley) in 1981, after abandoning their initial thoughts of farming in Bassett’s native Jamaica. The first years they sold all the fruit, but in 1996 the first vintage of Brown Estate Zinfandel ($33) emerged. Wine is being made in the South. Lauren and Jerry Bias’s Sugarleaf Vineyards in Charlottesville, Virginia, opened in 2006. Sugarleaf wins high accolades for their Cabernet Franc ($28) and Chardonnay ($24). Jerry, a partner in a New York hedge fund and Lauren, a mortgage banker and fashion model, still live and work in New York City but dream of doing wine full time from Virginia. Divas Uncorked is a Boston-based group formed by ten African American women who want the wine industry to pay more attention to women and people of color. They host the annual Martha’s Vineyard Wine & Food Festival, host educational wine dinners, have been featured in prominent media and have their own wine label. For now, few African Americans make wine. In fact, less than five percent of the 6,000 or so wineries in the United States are black owned. All of them are small. Most wines are expensive. However, African Americans are waking up to wine as a branded commodity. Dave Roberts, former outfielder for of the Boston Red Sox, is launching his label, Red Stitch, this spring. When will we see Will Smith or JayZ’s wine labels? I should find out which wines President Obama serves for dinner in the White House. Stay tuned.

Foxbrook Cabernet (2005, $6, 78/100) If you want a pleasant, easy drinking table wine of no particular complexity, look no further than Foxbrook Cabernet, one of many cleverly branded, bulk wines from the controversial Bronco Wine Company. Seldom reviewed by wine snobs, this wine has a velvety, caramel opening with soft tannins and undefined fruitiness. If you push your palate, you might discover some scant, floral characteristics, a bunch of plums and possibly some spice on the finish. Not bad at all, and no fuss. Tenuta Delle Terre Guardiola (2004, $40, 92/100) The wine opens with some tart, tannic volcanic ash, evidence of its origin in a mineral rich soil. The Guardiola is a small site planted with old vines, 3,000 feet above sea level in Sicily. Blueberry, cherry and spearmint slowly evolve into a fragrant and vanilla velvety mouth feel as you explore its structure. I had it with Korean Kalbi beef, but as far as food or cheese, anything foreign goes. Almost as sensually energetic as a good Burgundy, this wine gave me an irresistible desire to make love.

The African-American Wine Scene l

A Color of Grape Wine Tours: www.acolorofgrape.com l Association of African American Vintners: www.aaavintners.org l Bon Vivant Wine Club: www.bonvivantwine.net l Branch Cellars: www.branchcellars.com l Brown Estate: www. brownestate.com Divas Uncorked: www.divasuncorked.com l Esterlina Vineyards: www.esterlinavineyards.com l Heritage Link Brands LLC: www.heritagelinkbrands.com Rideau Vineyards: www.rideauvineyard.com l Running Tigers: www.runningtigerswine.com l Sharp Cellars: www.sharpcellars.com l Vision Cellars: www.visioncellars.com Black Coyote Chateau: www.blackcoyotewines.com

www.colormagazineusa.com february 2010

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entertainment

Capturing the Madiba Magic Morgan Freeman on his Acclaimed Portrayal of Nelson Mendella in Invictus

E

B y J o h n B l ack very actor wants to be honored for the work they do, whether it’s in the form of an award, a big paycheck or big numbers at the box office where the fans cast their vote of support. When it comes to making a biopic, however, particularly if it’s a film about a world-famous person who is still with us, the actor also hopes to get the blessing of the person they’ll be portraying, both because they want to get it right and because they want the project to have good karma.

INVICTUS Just what does it mean? Until you’ve seen the movie, and heard Nelson Mandela (as played by Morgan Freeman) explain it in the movie, you may not know what the title, Invictus, means. Well, when looking for a way to inspire the South African rugby team, The Springboks, as they battled to win the World Cup, Mandela copied down a poem that inspired him during his 27-years of imprisonment on Robben Island and gave it to team captain Francois Pienaar to read to the team. Here is the complete poem.

INVICTUS Out of the night that covers me, Black as the Pit from pole to pole, I thank whatever gods may be For my unconquerable soul. In the fell clutch of circumstance I have not winced nor cried aloud. Under the bludgeonings of chance My head is bloody, but unbowed. Beyond this place of wrath and tears Looms but the Horror of the shade, And yet the menace of the years Finds and shall find me unafraid. It matters not how strait the gate, How charged with punishments the scroll, I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul. William Ernest Henley

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MAGAZINE february 2010

Long before the start of production for the film Invictus, Morgan Freeman was given the greatest blessing any actor about to undertake such a film could have, the personal endorsement of the subject, Nelson Mandela. “Madiba was once asked who he would want to play him in a movie, and he said, ‘Morgan Freeman,’” the actor said, using the familiar nickname that followers and friends use for the world-renowned former President of South Africa. “When I first met him years ago, I told him I was honored that he had mentioned me to portray him. “The entire project was like magnets coming together – right people, right time, right place, right issue,” Freeman said of the film, for which he received a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actor in a Drama. “Everything just clicked into place, which doesn’t happen very often. But when it does, it’s like destiny.” Invictus tells the story of the 1995 World Cup Final, an event that was, to most people around the world, little more than a thrilling rugby match. But to the people of South Africa, it was a turning point in their history – a shared experience that helped to heal the wounds of the past even as it gave new hope for the future. The architect of this benchmark event was the nation’s president, Nelson Mandela. Its builders were the members of South Africa’s rugby team, the Springboks, led by their captain, Francois Pienaar. Invictus chronicles how President Mandela and Francois Pienaar joined forces to turn their individual hopes – the president, to unite his country; the captain, to lead the nation’s team to World Cup glory – into one shared goal with the motto, “One team, one country.” “This is an important story about a world-shaking event that too few people know about,” Freeman said. “I cannot think of any moment in history when a nation coalesced so suddenly and so completely. I was proud to have the opportunity to tell this story. And when you have the chance to tell it with Clint Eastwood’s abilities...it’s something you just have to do.” Although confident about working with Eastwood as a director (the two have worked on several past movies, including Million Dollar Baby and Unforgiven, both Oscar winners), Freeman, who has spent time with Mandela over the years and considers him a friend, admitted he was nervous about taking the role. “I wanted to avoid acting like him; I needed to be him and that was the biggest challenge,” he said. “When you meet Mandela, you know you are in the presence of greatness, but it is something that just emanates from him. He moves people for the better; that is his calling in life. Some call it the Madiba magic. I’m not sure that magic can be explained.” One of the keys to his discovering the way to bring a living hero to life on the screen, Freeman said, was to let the land and people of modern day South Africa, and the way it has been shaped by Mandela, seep under his skin. “The first time I went to South Africa, (more than a decade ago) when Mandela was president, there was electricity crackling in the air; there was a feeling of excitement and potential all around,” he said. “But this time, everything was just moving along – no strain, no pressure – and that was great. It was fabulous to see that what was started then had become the status quo.”


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Dialogues

On Black History Month By Ada Gonzalez

What would America be without Black culture? During the 1960s, the black movement emerged in the United States. It was a decade of change in the way Black people were viewed in this country. The idea that “Black is beautiful,” began to bring a new meaning to the consciousness of the culture. The idea was new to many who had been marginalized and ostracized for centuries and resulted in solidarity and connectedness among Blacks. The strength of the African heritage began to be expressed publicly. Africa is renowned for the value its people place on relationships. Africans are the experts in socialization and humanization. It’s not just the socialization that happens on a day-to-day basis when people live within the same environment. It is the mutual support, the communication, the circle of participation that makes and recognizes each person for who we are. That is a very profound aspect that is often misunderstood. The sayings, “It takes a village to raise a child,” and ubuntu (I am because you are) are emblematic and mean that every human being is part of every other one. Given that perspective, what we do to ourselves is the same as what we do to the other. If we care for ourselves,

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then in the same way, we care for others. Raising children, as an example, is a joint effort of a community. It is a matter of heart. In the United States, long-term, systemic, economic inequity was sustained through the idea that Blacks were less human than others. Even our judicial system enforced the idea that Blacks were less than human in order to ensure a free supply of labor to white landowners, enriching them in the process. To maintain the dignity within them, the psyches of Black people took them in another direction and drove them to search for a sense of worth and to higher achievement. In the United States, achievement is a means to connectedness. When you achieve something through your own efforts, you are held in acclaim by the culture. The concept of achieving and foreseeing the future is a European concept that came here with the pilgrims. What a contrast

with the Black upbringing and repression during slavery. It has taken centuries for the culture at large to acknowledge the value that Africa brings to America and the resilience and persevering spirit of Black people in this country. The initial message, that “Black is beautiful,” began to change the heart of the beaten African, whose body served another without the possibility of protest. The singing of other Africans about injustice is a lullaby to the ears of a new-born, cross-cultural person. The heartbeat of the drum or the swing of the music, which people of African heritage have invented in this country in spite of so much suffering, is a symbol of hope – crystallized by Maya Angelou in her poem, Still I Rise. Somehow the African learned the lesson of the Caucasian by developing leadership in the areas of science, education, history, arts and politics to begin to achieve equality in the country, areas that were developed

We can say that we project onto the other the separated parts of our own identity. These are the two ways that racism emerges.

MAGAZINE february 2010

in Africa centuries ago that were not acknowledged. This absorption of a new learning began to incorporate a new paradigm about who the African is in America. The achievements measure the value of the leading culture in the United States. What translations have been done in terms of imagining the other? How can we imagine a new way of living with the African (other) in a new century? What can the Caucasian learn from the African? This is still a challenge. Are we able to deal with the sense of community that the African brought to the country?

In his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, President Obama talked about the need to develop “moral imagination.” That is, not to be prejudiced in our own perspective, but to imagine possibilities of engagement and change. With positive imagination we change our role from victim to leader. The problem that remains is in the heart of the people. We have lived for centuries believing on one side that we are different and apart, and on the other that we are connected but not recognized. So we have lived through what we call “dissociation.” We are separated, dissociated in our bodies and minds. We want something, but we practice something different. We might say that we don’t believe in prejudice until the moment that our daughter wants to marry a dark-skinned person. We separate what we don’t like

about the other and then criticize it, making it more distant or we don’t connect with the other. We can say that we project onto the other the separated parts of our own identity. These are the two ways that racism emerges. Dissociation has been the living ghost in our environments. We blame, don’t value and don’t recognize. America without Black culture could not have developed the consciousness to see it’s own dark side –the greed and injustice that is also part of a country striving to be free and just. What is left is to value and recognize it, internalize it and change it, so as not to project it onto the other and forever be blind.


February is Cool Like That by Mimi Gonzalez

I

t’s February and that means most of us are seeing red. Candy hearts, red lace covered chocolate boxes, Valentine cards. Store displays have been driving us to drop a dollar on the next season’s reason since New Year’s. As a Color Magazine reader, you’re surely attuned to February’s other color: Black History Month – an annual observation that makes some people see through crimson eyes.

As a comedian, I’ve heard plenty of jokes wondering why African-Americans got stuck with the shortest month. As if that somehow proves the country’s unwillingness to acknowledge the blood, sweat and tears of the people forced to build it – America can only manage the most diminutive of the months? Well at least there’s a bonus

for anyone counting crumbs; there’s an extra day every four years! Truth be told, it was Black historian Carter G. Woodson who chose the second week of February in 1926 to mark “Negro History Week,” since that was the week bearing both Lincoln’s and Frederick Douglass’s birthdays. Fifty years later, during the Bicentennial celebrations of 1976, the observance was extended to a month. At that rate, it’ll only take 550 more years before every day can be considered a celebration of Black history. Is it time to do away with the annual acknowledgment of

the significance of African-American contributions? Morgan Freeman planted this seed in 2005 when he told Mike Wallace during a 60 Minutes interview, “I don’t want a Black History Month. Black history is American history.” Indeed it is. Where would we be without elevators? I learned the meaning of the real McCoy at the Civil Rights Museum in Birmingham, Alabama. Elijah McCoy was born to fugitive slaves in Canada, was educated in Scotland and became a mechanical

engineer. He worked for the railroad in Michigan, saw a need and invented a machine to keep the wheels and axels of locomotives lubricated. It cut down accidents and improved productivity. In true American fashion, it was copied. But none ever worked as well as “the real McCoy.” The contributions of Black culture to American culture can’t be separated, for one is as intrinsic to the other as two hands clapping. It took the blues to clear the path through the forest so

American musical expression. Our nation is transported on a Soul Train of music speaking the one language everyone understands: rhythm and beat. America’s representation on the world stage bestows the cache of cool on all Americans by virtue of affiliation with “our” culture. Which is really a shared culture. What is packaged, exported, exhorted and celebrated as American blossoms from the ever-absorbing, allinclusive panorama that is the United States – an environment that’s been moving to the grooves Black Americans have been making for hundreds of years. February isn’t the

The contributions of Black culture to American culture can’t be separated, for one is as intrinsic to the other as two hands clapping. the beat could roll on through. The path’s grown as wide as a b-boy’s baggie pants with room for so many more stops along the way. “Rock and roll is the preacher and Jazz is the teacher.” That came from the mouth of one hard-rocking, bass-playing Jewish woman. Jazz. Rock-n-roll. Hip-hop. Most popular music is distinctly derivative of the African-

coldest and shortest month, it’s the coolest month because it’s Black History Month. Proclaiming February for that distinction is actually paying homage! It’s America’s way of saying “thank you” to African-Americans for making us cool. Even that use of the word “cool” comes from Black American culture. America’s most precious commodity, our chief export to the rest of the world is the culture of “cool.” Having entertained the U.S. military abroad, I’ve seen Japanese teens in skinny-legged black pants and orangedyed hair; graffiti proclaiming “2PAC” on the side of a house in bomb-scarred Croatia; an Iraqi national – sell-

ing lighters encrusted with rhinestones at the base’s market – who beckoned, “Miss, look. Bling-bling!” He grasped that notion of hip shorthand, used it to make a connection, then closed the deal for the dollar. I wondered if it took him as long to understand the concept as it did for me to deconstruct what “flossing my ice” meant. I had to enlist the help of a Baltimore sistah to understand it meant showing off one’s diamonds. So many words born from AfricanAmerican culture take root and define the American cultural landscape. Ideas expressed in pithy terms bearing the cultural freight of a people who regularly define what is contemporary, trendy and happening. I recently stopped mid-sip at a sports bar and stared with mouth agape at a CNN announcer who used the term “dis” within his reporting vernacular. He was a white guy in his early thirties and the word was as much a part of his vocabulary as his last name. The election of our first Black President signals a point in American history where we collectively stepped towards the promised land of real equality and freedom. When President Obama accepted the Nobel Peace prize after two months in office, he accepted it on behalf of the citizens of this country. By finally electing a man of African heritage to represent the United States, we’ve shown the world and ourselves we can overcome the chains of history that bind us, rise up and fulfill the great promise that is America.

www.colormagazineusa.com february 2010

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Color Magazine - February 2010 - Edition 25 - Black History Month