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Black history would not be complete without the contributions of African American athletes.  Turn on any sports broadcast and you are likely to see blacks dominating the sports scene. With the exception of a few sports like hockey or some Olympic events like archery, the field of sports has opened wide for African American players during the last half of the 20th Century. 


While athletes today are known as much for landing multi-million dollar contracts and endorsement deals as for playing, their predecessors were motivated more by opportunities to play the game.  Sports fans idolize players like Chicago Bulls’ Michael Jordan (NBA), Seattle Seahawks’ Russell Wilson (NFL) and San Francisco Giants’ Barry Bonds (MLB).  However, they all stand on the shoulders of unsung heroes who literally got the ball rolling, but whose legacies have diminished over time. 


Everyone remembers Jackie Robinson for breaking the color barrier in major league baseball, but his career actually began as a football player for the UCLA Bruins.  A year before Robinson first put on a Brooklyn Dodger number 42 uniform, former Bruin team mates, Kenny Washington and Woody Strode, broke color barriers of their own. 


On March 21, 1946, Washington suited up for the Los Angeles Rams, ending the National Football League’s ban that had kept blacks from playing in the league for 13 years. Washington insisted that the Rams also sign Strode if the team wanted him on its roster.  Together, they became the first black players in the modern NFL.  Marion Motley and Bill Willis signed with the Cleveland Browns that same year.  The four remained largely the forgotten heroes of professional football.


But while they were allowed to play, Washington and Strode were often targets for bruising play on the field by opposing players as well as teammates from the Deep South, according to Ross Greenburg, the Emmy award-winning filmmaker who produced a documentary on the players.  In the end, Strode played with the Rams for just one season. Rams owner Dan Reeves objected to Strode’s interracial marriage and made it difficult for him to succeed on the field. Strode had better luck in Hollywood where he became a successful actor in such movies like “Spartacus.”


Washington ended his football career three years after breaking the color barrier when his knees finally gave out. Neither Washington nor Strode have been elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, but Motley and Willis, who had longer careers, were.


When the NBA finally formed in 1946, it did not take long for owners to recognize the skills of black players. The start of a new decade, 1950, may have been the most important year in the story of African-American players in the NBA. In a span of nine months in 1950, five black players would cross the NBA’s color barrier. Harold Hunter signed a training camp contract with the Washington Capitols; Earl Lloyd joined the Washington Capitols; Chuck Cooper joined the Boston Celtics; Nat Clifton joined the New York Knicks; and Hank DeZonie signed with the Tri-Cities Hawks. 


Today, the NBA has the highest proportion of black players than any other sport.  The number of black players in major league baseball has declined.

Black History Has a Legacy of Strength

Thursday, February 12, 2015


February 11th marked the 25th anniversary of Nelson Mandela’s release from prison in South Africa. Imprisoned 27 years for speaking out against his country’s minority white rule, he was the “Dr. Martin Luther King” of his day.  And like Dr. King, Mandela, a former lawyer, refused to allow injustice to dampen his spirit.  Finally released at age 73, he was just getting started, more determined than ever to change the culture that had imprisoned him.  Mandela would go on to become South Africa’s first black president 4 years later.


To separate African American history from African history would be nearly impossible.  We owe so much of our strength and resilience to our brothers and sisters across the Atlantic.  It is this same strength of Mandela that keeps popping up in countless lives of African Americans faced with various forms of injustice.


Whether we’re talking about black folks in America, South America, Africa or Europe, skin color, to some extent, dictates how people are viewed and treated.  What Black Americans share with other members of the African Diaspora is the legacy of strength; the unquenchable spirit that refuses to quit.


As we have been painfully reminded over the last two years, black men in particular are walking targets for abuse.  The multiple shooting deaths of unarmed black men, along with countless others who are behind bars for the least of crimes, speaks to the desperate need for more heroes and role models.


We need heroes willing to fight injustice, not just react to it.  Mandela decided he would change the corrupt Apartheid system even before his release.  Speaking to the crowds in his hometown of Soweto, he raised his clenched fist, signaling his determination to end the system of racial discrimination.  It was a turning point in South Africa’s history.


In America, as in Africa and other places, the heavy weight of racism can wear us down.  It takes faith, courage and vision to keep going when you keep getting knocked down.  What made Mandela and King different was their commitment not only to change the system, but to bring people of all races together, without violence.  It’s easy to fight back against those who fight you.  It takes real strength to keep offering the olive branch.


We need more people like Nelson Mandela as role models, no matter where in the world we live.  And there is no better time than Black History Month to practice tolerance and nonviolence.  Inner strength, self-control, commitment and courage—these are qualities that have served African descendants over the centuries.  It is what has helped them to survive slavery, discrimination, injustice, police beatings and just about every inhumane experience imaginable. 


Black History Month would be incomplete without acknowledging struggles and injustice.  At the same time, the legacy of strength and personal determination is one in which African Americans can be proud, and one that can inspire everyone regardless of race.




Salute To Young Black Entrepreneurs

Thursday, February 12, 2015


 In traditional Black History Month fashion, we often regurgitate the popular rhetoric and praise familiar faces. In loving contrast to tradition, I want to salute a couple of individuals who in their late teens have already created their own careers and the careers of over 200 others. These are my top young entrepreneurs under 21.


Excerpt From BMWK:


First up, is Jaylen Bledsoe, CEO of Bledsoe Technologies, a tech company that specializes in web design and information technology. The fact that Bledsoe Technologies is worth nearly 3.5 million dollars may not surprise you. What is truly fascinating, however, is that the company was founded four years ago by then 12-year-old Jaylen.


Since then, Bledsoe Technologies has become the number one information technology consultancy firm operated by a minor in the Mid-West. The company has grown from two employees to nearly 150 contracted workers in order to meet demand for its services.


Attending classes at his school’s gift-education program, Mr. Bledsoe developed an interest in web design, which created the motivation for starting his own company. Jaylen’s company now provides online marketing campaigns, e-commerce solutions, corporate branding, and technology consulting to small and mid-sized businesses.


The young entrepreneur’s best advice: “Keep going, move forward and always take risks.”


And the young man is just getting started. He is currently working on a new project that allows customers to check into their hotel rooms with their cell phones and use the phone as a room key. He eventually has sights set on attending Harvard University.


Excerpt from The Grio


Next on my list of young entrepreneurs is Ms. Leanna Archer. CEO of Leanna’s Hair, a line of natural hair and body care products. When she was nine years old her mother would make hair pomade using natural ingredients from Haiti and a secret recipe passed down from her great-grandmother. After getting multiple compliments on her hair, Leanna gave her friends a few samples of the pomade and from there the orders started pouring in.


After researching how to start a business online, Leanna convinced her parents it was time to start selling a line of hair and body products. After starting the business in her basement, Archer’s parents eventually quit their full-time jobs to help her mix, package and send out the products to customers.


Archer’s line includes shampoos, conditioners, lotions and more, infused with avocado, hibiscus and other natural oils. All of Archer’s products are available online. She also gives other youth the opportunity to venture into business by offering Leanna’s Inc. “Kid Rep.” spots all over the country to young people seeking to sell and distribute her products.


Now 17, Leanna earns an annual revenue of more than $100,000 per year.


There’s nothing more empowering than seeing someone who is treading new ground in the present moment. We’ve heard so many of the same stories about the same great individuals that the message begins to lose its impact.


The fact that these are young people defining for themselves, who they want to be speaks to the reality that our community is ready to balance the playing field.  We must begin implementing self-reliance themed curriculum into our schools, and begin moving with a spirit of expectation. Alexander Pop said, “Blessed is he who expects nothing, for he shall never be disappointed. Bruce Lee, to Paulo Coelho, has phrased this same ideology. It’s a seemingly popular belief that a life should be lead without expectation of anything to prevent disappointment.


Well, I challenge that belief by saying that the expectation of nothing, is nothing more than an excuse to relinquish personal responsibility. We are all interdependent upon one another, and if an individual does not live up to his potential, he places a burden on the whole. I would challenge everyone especially parents to set high expectations for their children and their families. For one, it gives your child guidance and something to strive for. And most importantly, as a parent, the expectations you place on your child or family directly relate to you as well. You force yourself to raise your sights and your efforts to ensure that you can walk the walk.


If you are reading this and wondering, what does this have to do with Inglewood? It has everything to do with our city. Our students need to see themselves in positions of importance, and position of power. It heightens their scope of what’s possible, and inspires them to want to achieve more. Big Inglewood salute to Jayden Bledsoe and Leanna Archer for their pursuit of excellence. We wish you much success.







Looks like Inglewood has scored another touchdown toward the coveted prize of an NFL stadium.  Though nothing is solid yet—except for Rams owner Stan Kroenke purchasing 60 acres of prime Inglewood property adjacent to Hollywood Park and now more than enough signatures for an 80,000-seat stadium to be put on the ballot—City of Champion Initiative insiders are moving full speed ahead. 

Less than two weeks ago, dozens of boxes with signed petitions were shipped to the Los Angeles County Registrar’s Office to be certified.  Now enough signatures have been certified in favor of the initiative. 

And while NFL Commissioner Roger Goodall has made it very clear that no football franchise will move to Inglewood/Los Angeles without NFL approval, for many that seems like a moot point. 

According to Mayor James Butts, Inglewood City Clerk Yvonne Horton received boxes of signatures from the Los Angeles County Registrar’s Office on Wednesday.  More than 16,000 signatures are likely to be good ones according to the number submitted to be certified. This would give developers more than enough signatures needed to build their stadium.

Almost as many signatures were gathered in favor of the initiative, as were all the votes for the entire mayor’s election in Nov. 2014.  “If this would have been an election, this would have been a landslide,” Butts said, adding that over 30 percent of registered voters signed the petition.

Voter turnout in Inglewood is typically low, usually between 15 and 20 percent.

At the next scheduled council meeting on Feb. 24, the City will receive certified signatures from the city clerk, along with fiscal and environmental reports from experts.  Council members will also hear comments from developers and the public.  After comments, the council will either take action or review the comments and postpone action until the March 3 meeting. 

“This is a great opportunity for the public to weigh in,” Butts said.

Since Inglewood got the ball rolling on the ballot initiative, and talk began swirling about an NFL stadium, St. Louis has stepped up its game to try and keep the Rams in its hometown, offering to build a 64,000-seat open air, riverfront stadium.

Butts isn’t fazed:

“They want the public to extend bonds for the next 20 to 30 years.  They want the NFL team to put in $700 million.  They’d have to move a power plant and train tracks.  There are too many moving parts.  Kroenke’s not going for that (and) nobody in St. Louis is going to vote to bond themselves.”


Meanwhile Magic Johnson wants a place at the table if an NFL does come to the Los Angeles market.  The former Lakers star, who owns the Dodgers and the WNBA Sparks, told USA Today, “We helped the Dodgers rebound. . .We’re No. 1 in attendance in baseball; we’ve been that for the last two years. So we know how to take a franchise, elevate it and also sell it to the fans in Los Angeles.”


The public is encouraged to attend the Feb. 24th meeting, where the proposed stadium will be discussed.  The meeting starts at 7pm, Inglewood City Hall, on the ninth floor.





Storytellers of Black History

Thursday, February 12, 2015


Since the beginning of time, storytelling has been an important event in African and African American communities. Through storytelling, questions were answered, history was conveyed, and lifelong lessons were taught and learned.


The art of storytelling is deeply imbedded in African culture.  In the western country of Ghana, storytellers were called “griots.”  After dinner, villagers might hear the sound of a drum or a rattle announcing a story was soon to be told. They collected around a central fire and settled down to listen.


This ancient form of entertainment thrilled listeners, with stories about the gods and goddesses.  Griots told tales of war and battle, heroes, leaders and kings. Stories were often accompanied with music, dancing and song. There was no written language, so stories kept their history alive.


When Africans were brought to the Americas during the infamous slave trade, the slavers denied them many of the traditions they had practiced for thousands of centuries. Stripped of their name, the right to pray to their gods or speak their native language, enslaved Africans held on to their stories of the Motherland.  It was all they had.


After slaves were transplanted to America, the role of storytelling became even more important.  It was the only known way slaves had to preserve their culture and legacy.  Centuries later, prolific author Alex Haley set out to recapture the story of his ancestry, which became the best-selling book-turned-TV mini-series called Roots: The Saga of an American Family. The film aired in 1977 to a record-breaking 130 million viewers. It had great influence on awareness in the United States of African-American history and inspired a broad interest in genealogy and family history.


With a scant amount of roles going to people of color in Hollywood, African Americans have had to take control over their own narratives, or risk becoming obscure.  Being ignored by Hollywood , however, has given black filmmakers creative autonomy and helped preserve the integrity of their story lines. 


Though often made on a shoestring budget, some films have gone on to gain critical acclaim and attention rank high at the box office. Unable to sell his biopic, “Malcom X” to Hollywood executives, film maker Spike Lee, solicited funding from wealthy black celebrities.   Many felt the film was snubbed by the industry and did not get the recognition it deserved, but Lee’ said regardless, the film was too important to black people not to make.


Stories of black life may not always translate into box office dollars, but they remain sentimental favorites and form bonds between filmmakers and their African American audiences.  John Singleton’s urban movie, “Boyz ’n the Hood,” which captured the lives of young black men growing up in a gang ridden area of Los Angeles, is one example.   


Tyler Perry’s plays, films, sitcoms and TV dramas have made him an undeniable commercial hit since he came on the national scene in the 1990s.  As writer, producer, director and actor (as a male and as his female character, Madea), in his own films, Perry is known for a wide body of work which looks at black life from all sides.  As of 2014, “The Haves and the Have Nots” has given Oprah Winfrey’s OWN its highest ratings to date. The series has also been critically acclaimed as being "one of OWN's biggest success stories…”


Lee Daniels has won two Academy Awards—one for “Monster's Ball,” which he produced, and for directing “Precious.”  Acting awards went to Halle Berry and Monique for the respective films. In 2013, Daniels directed “The Butler,” a historical fiction drama featuring an ensemble cast portraying unique events on the 20th Century presidents of the United States at the White House. The Butler received positive reviews and became a box office success.  He continues to wow audiences with his latest involvement with “Empire,” the new TV drama about a hip hop musical family business


If director Marie DuVernay’s biopic, “Selma” wins the Oscar for the best film on Sunday, she will stand on the shoulders of other great black story tellers.  The 42 year-old director, who won the Best Director prize for her second feature film “Middle of Nowhere,” at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival, became the first African-American woman to win the award. For her work in “Selma,” DuVernay is the first black female director to be nominated for a Golden Globe Award. With “Selma,” she is also the first black female director to have a film nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture, though did not receive a nomination for best director.










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