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My Detroit Story

My Detroit Story is a collection of experiences with people, places and things uniquely Detroit but genuinely universal.

My Curly Hair by T’elay

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My Curly Hair is a web-series by T’elay Forbes. Telay is a high school student and former Mosaic Youth Theater actress. T’elay will be one of the reviewers in the Dine Drink Detroit & Detroit is Different restaurant review series. My Curly Hair was shot by T’elay and moving forward I will co-produce the series with her. She shares tips on products, techniques, and styles for hair with a curly texture.

My Detroit Story: Pastor David Bullock

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I continue my July feature of the Preacher David Alexander Bullock by sharing some of his Detroit Stories. This is a special youtube video feature that’s all of 7 minutes but fantastic! Pastor Bullock shares stories about Mayor Coleman Young vs NWA, Nelson Mandela, and the beloved Ortheia Barnes. This feature provides a closer look into the upbringing and cultural mix of Pastor Bullock. We also discuss his passion for music. As a bonus he offers an exclusive listen to his song ‘Price of Love.’

Ortheia Barnes Music Festival

Featuring performances by Khary WAE Frazier, David Bullock, Luther Keith, and Thornetta Davis. We will honor the legacy of Ortheia Barnes in spirit and song. Advance tickets are $20 and tickets at the door are $25.

Jocelyn Rainey’s My Detroit Story: Innovative, New, Creative

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Jocelyn Rainey’s journey as an artist began from a vision in her dreams. Jocelyn is a surviving victim of gun violence. Her journey to recovery and full health is a blessing. Over time she gained back her strength from paralysis. During this time her hands were the final function she gathered returning to full health. As she recovered Jocelyn dreamed more and more of using her hands to become an artist. She envisioned paints, canvassing, and easels as colors filled her mind. So naturally upon discovering her passion she was drawn to the Center for Creative Studies college in Detroit.

Jocelyn was accepted into CCS with upon her fifth attempt. There she met her inspiration in Gilda Snowden. Snowden was a professor at CCS that encouraged, inspired, and supported Jocelyn. “I knew nothing about the culture, lifestyle, and history of art. Professor Snowden introduced me to that whole world,” Rainey. Gilda Snowden passed away and joined the ancestors in 2014. Above she’s pictured with Jocelyn and her daughter Katherine Snowden Boswell. Gilda was an internationally known abstract artist. For Jocelyn, Gilda was amazing. “I was welcomed into a world of creativity by Professor Snowden,” Jocelyn.

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Jocelyn Rainey and Gilda Snowden

 

As Jocelyn questioned her purpose, role, and focus at CCS. Meeting Gilda Snowden opened her eyes to the Arts. Professor Snowden introduced her to Dale Pryor, Shirley Woodson, Sherry Washington, and many more of the people that add to Detroit’s rich African American art community. Detroit is the home of the only two formal galleries of African American art that are housed in the Detroit Institute of the Arts. Groups like Friends of African American Art collectivize a community of collectors in support of Black artists. This culture, community, and experience Jocelyn felt inspires her to share this with her students.

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Joceyln Rainey and students in China & Egypt

 

Rainey launched the ‘FML313’ project to transition urban students to world scholars. She challenged her students to ‘Find Mona Lisa.’ This challenge became a community, parent, and student driven fund raiser that took a group of Detroit students to Paris France. Rainey not only led the group of students to France, she also sold her works to support the trip as well. In 2007 she took a group of the Black male students she taught arts & culture too, to an internationally recognized home of art and culture. Rainey’s inspiration was Gilda Snowden. She is driven to share a world of creativity to students who don’t recognize or witness it.

Watch Jocelyn Rainey share her story of Finding Mona Lisa 313 at the 2010 Detroit X TED Talk

My Detroit Story: Wedding at African World Festival

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Thornetta Davis and James Cornelius Anderson became engaged to be wed in 2005. At times during her stage performance Thornetta will joke about the time it took for her to find “the right man”. If you’ve had the opportunity to witness James and Thornetta together, the impact of their bond is humbling. Thornetta is a gem of Detroit’s vocal talents. Thornetta carries a historic tradition of soul, blues, and rock divas of Detroit. James is a world class percussionist. James has performed alongside a collection of funk, reggae, and rock artists across the globe. Together their marriage is a mix of business, artistry, and spirituality built upon love.

This is the story of their memorable wedding day, August 17th 2008, at the 26th Annual African World Festival in Detroit’s Historic Hart Plaza.

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African Drummers, James and Thornetta, and Thornetta

For the three years during their engagement James and Thornetta were consistently approached with the same question: “When and where is the wedding?” Originally the wedding was planned to take place on Belle Isle. The Detroit Grand Prix derailed that. Shortly after the Grand Prix, during a performance at Detroit’s Tastiest, Thornetta and James realized they should have been married right then and there between performance sets. “We always wanted to get married outdoors while allowing the city to join the ceremony and celebration,” said Thornetta, “So when I saw the crowd full of family and friends I felt we missed a perfect opportunity to host our wedding.”

Days after the Tastiest performance, Thornetta received a call from Njia Kai, who is an event specialist that has helped execute and produce performances at major cultural events throughout Detroit for over 25 years. Njia knew of Thornetta and James’ plan to host their wedding outdoors and before Detroit. So when Njia took the helm as the event coordinator for the 2008 African World Festival, she reached out to Thornetta with a simple offer: “I’m running the African World Festival this year and I got three days so pick a time for your wedding”. Thornetta immediately shared the news with James and planning for the wedding began.

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Bridesmaids, Kem, and Groomsmen

One of the most challenging elements of the process turned out to be the catering. Thornetta and James had planned their dream wedding. This dream was full of a mix of African, Caribbean, and Southern American foods. The director of Detroit’s Board of Health was originally not on board with the plan. Thornetta writes:

“Our caterer visited [Detroit’s Board of Health Director] a series of times and felt she was disrespectful towards her. Specifically she said she was ‘evil.’ The director of the Board of Health requested our caterer pay for an African World Festival vending permit, Hart Plaza kitchen access, and city permits. The collective costs for all this access was unreasonable. James and I talked our caterer into a final meeting with the director of the Board of Health and one fateful Friday morning we visited her office and waited. Luckily, as we waited three hours for the director of the Board of Health to arrive to work, we had the chance to fill out all the paper work needed to cater the event. So when the director of the Board of Health finally arrived to her office three hours late, and welcomed all of us [James, Thornetta, and the caterer] into her office we were ready. We sat down at her desk and she asked us: ‘so ya’ll still wanna’ do this thang?’ As angry as I was that she called my wedding a ‘thang’ I patiently responded yes. After that the director of the Board of Health continued to question us with every possible reason why a wedding at African World Festival was a bad idea … ‘where will people park?,’ ‘where will people sit?,’ ‘why do yall’ want to get married outside?,’ and finally she asked ‘what if it rains?’ I told the lady I don’t think it will rain because God got this. Immediately after I said that her whole attitude changed. She went from questioning everything I said, to helping us out. She provided clearances for kitchens, tables, chairs, and full access to Hart Plaza. Upon leaving her office that day she thanked us all for starting her day off so well.”

The stage was finally set for a wonderful occasion. Singer-Songwriter and Detroit native Kim had agreed to sing at their wedding years before, and flew in from his tour in San Fransisco to make good on his promise. The Bill Moss Jr. choir, who had performed at the Festival earlier that day, sang during the ceremony. Finally, Kenfense Cheike led a group of African percussionists and dancers who had also been featured in the African World Festival. Every element that was planned to be in the wedding of Thornetta and James came together in a harmonious celebration of culture, love, and Detroit. Thornetta remembers the honor of spending the day preparing for her wedding with her mother and daughter (Thornetta’s daughter Wanakee Davis was a fellow classmate of mine when I attended King High School from 1998-1999). The ceremony was one of the most memorable events in the history of Detroit’s African World Festival.

Today, eight years after the ceremony James and Thornetta are still approached by many Detroiters with the statement: “I was there”. “The wedding was also moving for so many people and their relationships,” said James, “Many of our friends who attended mended broken relationships and began new ones from that day forward.”

After the ceremony, James and Thornetta led their percussion ensemble to the Pyramid stage in hart Plaza for her performance. In her wedding veil, Thornetta performed for Detroit, sharing the joy of her wedding day with the audience. She opened her set with “Honest Woman,” written in honor of James. This song will be featured on her upcoming album to be released this year.

James wrote a poem that was placed on the invitations, reprinted here with his permission, in honor of Thornetta.

Once upon a time in the city by the river …
There was a girl
The blues she would sing
A voice heard the world over
There was a boy
The music he would promote
For the people in the city by the river
Two people in the city by the river
Two people who share
The same hopes, dreams, aspirations
For Detroit, for music, for love,
On Sunday, August 17, 2008 at 3:30pm
At Phillip Hart Plaza
At the African World Festival
On this day of love will be fulfilled
As two unite as one in holy matrimony
A reception jam session from 7pm to 9pm
At the Nile River Jazz Club Stage
With music to share and love to give
A charmed life they will live
And all is well in the city by the river

My Detroit Story: Writing and Publishing ‘Window 2 my Soul’

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My Detroit Story is a feature in which an in-depth look into a particular event, or series of events that have impacted the life of a Detroiter or Detroit locations existence. February 2015 features ‘the Writer: Yusef ‘Bunchy’ Shakur. Yusef is an accomplished author, speaker, and community leader. He has catapulted to heights of success from the opportunities afforded to him since the release of his 2008 book ‘Window 2 my Soul.’ This is the story behind how Yusef wrote and published ‘Window 2 my Soul.’

“I never saw myself as a writer,” is what Shakur repeated to me during the phone call in early January of 2015 for this interview. Shakur’s plans to come back to Detroit changed as he was called to action. In January 2015 Yusef traveled from Rochester NY, to Baltimore MD, to New York NY, and various parts of North Carolina. Yusef was action planning with Black Panthers, and a series of community leaders. Yusef’s travels, actions, plans, and impact has blossomed within a decade. More remarkable is the fact that within two decades he was incarcerated spending the majority of his adult life to that point in prison.

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Yusef Shakur, Seven the General, and U of M students

 

Yusef Shakur spent nine years of his life in prison. While incarcerated he met his father, and transformed his life. Yusef’s Father encouraged and challenged Yusef to change mentally, physically, and spiritually. The name ‘Little Jo-Jo’ in which he embraced as a founding member of the ‘Zone 8’ gang changed to become, Yusef ‘Bunchy’ Shakur, the freedom fighter (Bunchy is in honor of the legendary LA Black Panther Bunchy Carter).  Entering prison Yusef’s skills in writing and reading were limited at best. He left prison with an unsettled passion for reading and writing that carries on today.

In prison Yusef was respected and recognized as a knowledge base for information on African traditions, Black revolution, organization, and leadership. This reputation spread throughout prisons in Michigan. The network of resourceful information travels distances as inmates write one another, transfer facilities, and share associations. Yusef’s resourcefulness as a young Black man sharing the stories of Black leadership in a place filled with the despair of so many Black men, was motivational.

As word spread about Yusef he was introduced through letter to an inmate at another prison, Kwasi Kwamu (A mutual friend of both knew the enlightenment of Yusef and Kwasi was a balance that was meant to be together. Kwasi and Yusef have strengthened a friendship that carries on today). In support of Yusef initially Kwasi suggested books, music, and information to sharpen Yusef’s skills. Yusef soaked up all that Kwasi offered, and more. Kwasi witnessed the maturation and growth of Yusef as a writer and voluntarily published Yusef in the ‘Freedom Network.’ The ‘Freedom Network’ was a newsletter produced by Kwasi and Greer Bey (Jesse Long-Bey RIP 2013) as a periodical that provided inmates with revolutionary ideas and concepts. “The Freedom Network was to all of us (inmates) what college professors think of the New York Times,” Yusef Shakur. Kwasi took an exert from a letter written by Yusef and published it in the ‘Freedom Network.’

“My confidence grew when I saw that I was published in the ‘Freedom Network,” Yusef Shakur (There after Yusef submitted more content to the ‘Freedom Network’ with limited content being selected). “It was tough to be published in the ‘Freedom Network.’ Kwasi and Greer were very talented and skilled writers who reviewed hundreds of writing from a collection of inmates monthly,” Yusef Shakur.

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Restoring the Neighbor Back to the Hood Rally, Yusef Shakur & HS Students

 

Leaving prison in 2003 Yusef set a goal to carry on writing and reading. In 2006 he had a chance meeting with urban novelist Michelle Moore. Yusef introduced himself to Moore, and told her he’s an aspiring author. Within months, Moore and Shakur met again. Moore asked Yusef “did you write your book?” Shakur had no answer for Moore. He had not begun writing his book. “After she asked me all those questions,  and I didn’t have an answer as to why not … I felt horrible,” Shakur.

Moore’s questioning of Yusef triggered an immediate action in him to begin writing his book. Yusef began writing in November of 2007 and finished in April of 2008. “It felt great completing the writing of my book. That’s when all the learning began,” Shakur. Yusef received mixed reviews of support from family and friends when he began acting upon moving forward with his book. Many people who committed support were hard to find when monies, editing, artwork, copyright, and other necessities were needed. A mutual friend introduced Yusef to an editor who charged him more for the editing than the printing cost. “I told her … it was the first time I was robbed without a gun. I failed to do any research, and planning and learned some very costly lessons,” Shakur.

“In the summer of 2008 I ordered 1,000 books for $2,000.00. I was laid off soon after, and seized the opportunity to sale my book. I visited Car Washes, Barbershops, Beauty Salons, and all places where I knew our people were. The first true break I had encouraged this. Soon after my lay-off I visited the Motown Museum on W Grand BLVD, not far from my Mom’s house. John Mason of ‘Mason in the Morning’ was hosting a live radio broadcast. I approached Mason, and shared my story, he was very receptive and invited me on his show the very next week. On the show I shared my story and Mason has been a supporter ever since,” Shakur.

“The toughest thing about writing, and publishing ‘Window 2 my Soul’ has been the business. I wrote the book from an anti-capitalist mind state so I’ve always given my book to people at no monetary cost. This has come at costs to me. So I’m still learning the type of entrepreneur I will be in support of my people,” Shakur.

Yusef’s brazen attitude about to build his own has been humbling and encouraging for me. Yusef opened a bookstore in his neighborhood, because other bookstores didn’t choose to carry his book. Yusef gave speeches in his neighborhood at his Mother’s house, because no one allowed him to speak at their events. As an artist, and entrepreneur I think that’s brilliant. “I remember I was trying to get my book into ‘Source Bookstore’ in Northland and I was told to come back in 1 month … I came back, then was told come back in 2 months … I came back, then was told to come back in 6 months … I opened my own bookstore,” Shakur. I find that kind of spirit and confidence to be inspirational.

“I always knew I would publish my own. It was hip-hop music that showed me you can sell product out of the trunk of your own car,” Shakur.

In closing the title of the book was inspired by a song from hip-hop group Dead Prez. The sub title was provided by the ‘Freedom Network’ editors Kwasi Kwamu and Tim Greer-Bey.

That’s the story behind the writing and publishing of Yusef ‘Bunchy’ Shakur’s “The Window 2 my Soul: My Transformation from a Zone 8 Thug to a Father & Freedom Fighter.”

February 2015 Detroit is Different

The Writer: Yusef ‘Bunchy’ Shakur

Tuesday February 10, 2015 MY DETROIT STORY: Story behind the writing and publishing of Yusef Shakur’s ‘Window 2 My Soul’

Tuesday February 17 AROUND DETROIT: Around Detroit with Yusef ‘Bunchy’ Shakur at Goodwell’s Foods

Tuesday February 24 DETROIT IS DIFFERENT PODCAST: Audio Interview of Yusef ‘Bunchy’ Shakur by Khary WAE Frazier

My Detroit Story: Getting Ready for the Stage

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As a five year old in 1987, my heroes were my father, Mr. T and Run DMC. Naturally, the coolest among them were Run, Jam Master Jay, and DMC. My big sister Dara would run to get me any time MTV and BET played one of their videos. At that age, Run DMC’s “Walk this Way” video featuring Steven Tyler and Joe Perry of Aerosmith was the closest I could get to a rap concert. Their performance during the “Walk this Way” video captured my imagination, mind, and heart. I felt then, as I do now, that witnessing an epic rap performance is one of the greatest loves of all.

As a hip-hop fan I’ve been fortunate enough to have experienced great shows: Jay-Z, at the height of his success from “Big Pimping”, with Joe Louis Arena rapping every lyric with him, KRS-One at the Pyramid Club in NYC–where the basement floor shook from the crowd jumping throughout “South Bronx” and “Step into the World”–and Big Daddy Kane at the Shelter, where he passed the microphone to me and Finale to rap along with him for “Warm it up Kane”. Those performances stand out amongst the commercially successful hip-hop artists I’ve seen, but my favorite performers all are artists based in Detroit. Proof (RIP) was the best performer I’ve ever seen. He selected my favorite acts to join him on his Iron Fist record label: Kaunn, Supa Emcee, and the Woof Pac (Moe Dirdee, Hostyle, and J-Kidd). Leaf Erickson, Nick Speed, Jigsaw & the SSP, Quest McCody, Phat Kat, Danny Brown, and Royce 5’9 are all great acts to see perform, and they’ve been kept on their toes by a roster of hungry young acts that are amazing: Royce Fann, Early Mac, Clear Soul Forces, Milla Boy, Steven B the Great, and Kafre.

Personally, I’ve challenged myself over time to be able to perform with any band, any music, and in any venue. It’s been a journey of highs and lows. My best performances are when I prepare myself to share my joy and creativity through hip-hop with an audience. To achieve my goal of reaching an experiential performance, I’ve developed a process. As I prepare for my performance tonight with Alex White and the Family (a jazz band led by drummer Alex White, featuring bassist Ben Rolston, pianist Michael Jellick, and saxophonist Rafael Statin),  I will share this process with you.

Tonight I’ll be performing at the Jam Handy in Detroit’s New Center District (2900 E. Grand BLVD Detroit, MI 48202 between I-75 and Woodward at 8PM).

So as I prepare for my Mind Fusion performance with Alex White and the Family, I welcome you into my process of readying myself for a rap show:

 

 


 

8:00 AM – Wake Up and Rap Along:
Rap music utilizes a variety of ways to deliver, annunciate, and slur words. I find rapping along with Notorious BIG and/or Ice Cube strengthens my abilities more than most. This morning I’ll rap along with “Victory”, “Everyday Struggle”, and “Respect”, performed by the Notorious BIG.

9:00AM – Breathe Easy Tea:
I like to drink a cup of “Breathe Easy Tea” to open my diaphragm. I’ve found this really adds to the mix of tonality I can use while performing.

10:00 AM – Man in the Mirror:
Next, I’ll freestyle to the bathroom mirror for 10 – 15 minutes non-stop (freestyle rap is the improvisational style of performing hip-hop vocals). Performing in front of a mirror is the best practice to create an awareness of the words, gestures, and demeanor I carry during my performance. I believe this is the most important step to prepare for any show!

11:00 AM – Miles to Run:
That being done, I’ll head to the Olympic track at Northwestern HS (where I graduated class of 2001), on Detroit’s Westside and run two miles. The cardio helps build my endurance to complete a show with the same spirit in which I begin.

12:00PM – Power Lifting:
Bench press, curl, push-ups, chin-ups, and pull-ups all are great exercises that keep my heart rate active and deliver better results from my two mile run.

1:00PM – Rock Em’ Sock Em’:
Along with weights, my home gym has a heavy bag and a speed bag. I find the heavy bag to be a great way to calm down my thought process and focus in physically. Resting my mind builds my confidence and spirit to perform.

2:00PM – Reading is FUNdamental:
Reading after going rounds with my heavy bag is a form of mediation for me. It’s one of the best ways I relax to be prepared for whatever I could face in life. Currently I’m reading Dr. Seuss & Mr. Geisel. It’s a biography about the life of Dr. Seuss, born Ted Giesel. I enjoy autobiographies and biographies most for pleasure reading. It helps me to relate to the life’s journey of people I am interested in. Dr. Seuss developed an ability to deliver poignant messages to people of all ages with only a few easily understood words. I find that to be one of the most skillful talents anyone can develop, so I am enamored with Dr. Seuss.

3:00PM – Power Nap:
A power nap of 20 – 30 minutes finally closes out the calm before my show.

4:00PM – Listen to my Love:
Having refreshed my mind, I’ll play my music and listen. I listen for the errors and improvisations. The process of recording music is an art form of many steps. During the process of creating the lyrics in mind, writing the lyrics to paper, recording the lyrics, and mixing the music, much of the original intentions change. As the author of my words, I try to rewind this process to the inception of the song and grab that spirit. As part of my process to make my performances as experiential as possible, I think of the audience, venue, and microphone as an incubator. In order to hatch something that’s great, I must be in the spirit of the creation, and not the result. For this show, I’ll listen to my songs “Old School Chevy” & “I Oh My” from my 2009 album release Notes of an Artist and Activist (both songs are available on i-Tunes and Amazon, visit the sites and add to your song catalog and give me some money).

5:00PM – Make Notes:
Now focused, I’ll jot down a series of notes to start lyrics, speak with the audience, and have fun.

6:00PM – Look Good, Feel Good, All Good:
Hall of Fame NFL Cornerback Deion Sanders was one of my childhood idols. Following his career was easy. His charismatic attitude engaged me. Years ago he stated before games he’d lay out his uniform, football gear, and accessories on the locker room floor before all big games. I loved the concept and have followed suit for my wardrobe before every big performance I have.

7:00PM – Mic Check One Two … One Two:
Arrive at the Jam Handy for a quick sound check.

8:00PM – It’s Showtime!!!

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My Detroit Story: Day with Congressman Conyers

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Contrary to the current political pulse of what’s happening in Detroit, it has stood as one of the anchors for Black political leadership in America. The storied tradition of Black political leadership from Detroit (from my understanding) begins with the architect for international diplomacy, Ralphe Bunche. Throughout the Civil Rights and Labor movements this scope expands to include legends of the likes of Judge George Crockett & Claudia Morcom, Mayor Coleman Young, Council members Erma Henderson & Ken Cockrel Sr., and County Commissioner Deloris Bennett. Bridging the gap between the Civil Rights & Labor movements till today is one political figure, Congressman John Conyers.

I believe Congressman Conyers is a politically polarizing figure. For Congressman Conyers perspective towards leadership, change, engagement, and political action helped develop the blueprint for the way Detroit, Michigan, and American politics are handled. Thus arguments can be made about the effectiveness to reach all political constituents this way. Albeit, before Congressman Conyers Black Detroit had very limited access to any US representative to engage our community, church, and social agenda.

Congressman Conyers personable attitude, and ear to any and everyone who approaches him is something that I believe he’s built his career upon. For in 1965 when John Conyers was first elected to congress Black people in America were extremely oppressed and suppressed. He was elected in 1965. 1965 is the year the Voting Rights Act passed. The Voting Rights Act granted voting rights to Black people beyond the racial discrimination that legally existed in this country. So John Conyers demeanor to meet, greet, listen to, and speak with all people, and especially Black people, is something that didn’t exist before him. I’m humbled by his commitment to engage everyone he meets. With that being said, here’s my story of my day with Congressman Conyers.

Voting Rights Act signing President Lyndon B Johnson, Congressman John Conyers
Voting Rights Act signing President Lyndon B Johnson, Congressman John Conyers

Congressman Conyers and I shared a mutual friend in Chokwe Lumumba (RIP). So when Chokwe Lumumba ran for City Council in Jackson MS he asked a favor of me to record a promo spot of John Conyers. I gladly accepted the task.

Catching up with Congressman Conyers is tough. We finally met on a Sunday afternoon at his Detroit Congressional office. I lugged in all my recording equipment. Too bad for me that’s not where we recorded the promotional spot for Chokwe Lumumba’s campaign (it was against Congressional rules to record a political spot there). Congressman Conyers asked me to record the political spot before his next engagement. I accepted. So for an hour I sat in Congressman Conyer’s office and watched him work. First Congressman Conyers drafted a speech on a legal pad, then he made some phone calls, decided which tie to wear, all while having a conversation with me about Chokwe Lumumba, Hip-hip, & Jazz. Finally he told his staff to leave. He decided that he would ride with me (in my car) to his next engagement. John Conyers next engagement was to the Teamsters Union in Detroit. It was for a mayoral campaign rally. Then Detroit City Councilmember Ken Cockrel Jr. was campaigning against Dave Bing for Mayor of Detroit.

Nothing’s cooler than cruising around Detroit with a Congressman riding shotgun while playing your own mix-tape. Add that to your bucket-list.

We arrived to the Teamsters Union and were greeted by Isaac Robinson. Isaac showed me where I can record the commercial. Soon after within minutes the Teamsters Union was packed with people and media. I double parked to load out my equipment. Congressman Conyers drafted three different commercial spots as I set-up the recording equipment. We then recorded each commercial two times. Between commercial takes Congressman Conyers was delegating his staff, talking to Isaac Robinson, talking to Ken Cockrel Jr., and shaking hands with the rally attendants. In the matter of two hours Congressman Conyers did more than I did that weekend.

Congressman Conyers delivered his speech in support of Ken Cockrel Jr. speaking to facts about his Cockrel Sr., Dave Bing not being a Detroit resident (kind of like the current Detroit Mayor as well), and Cockrel Jr.’s political experience. As Conyer’s speech closed the rally Conyer’s was given a list of two more events to attend. He asked me to join him. It was a fundraiser at the Roostertail Restaurant, and a meeting at Wayne State University. I declined and told the Congressman I had plans that night. What I never expected was for Congressman Conyers to ask “what are your plans young man?” I actually did have plans. I was going to be on Minced Meat Radio with hip-hop producer Nick Speed in Windsor Canada. Congressman Conyers response floored me. “Let me be on that interview with you,” Congressman Conyers. At this point I had to explain a lot to Congressman Conyers. Imagine explaining underground hip-hop to a senior citizen or US representative. Now imagine explaining to both.

Emily Copeland, Nick Speed, Teamsters Hall
Emily Copeland, Nick Speed, Teamsters Hall

Minced Meat is an Underground hip-hop show hosted by Emily Copeland on 99.1fm CJAM. Emily is a promoter and supporter of Windsor & Ontario Canada’s hip-hop scene. Minced Meat mixes many underground hip-hop artists interviews, music, and acapella performances into one show. Minced Meat conceptually is a hip-hop mix-tape that is produced and aired as a radio show live. I explained that to Congressman Conyers. He not only understood, he stood his ground about being a guest for my interview (he also explained that my music he listened on the ride over to the Teamsters Union from his office has ties to Jazz, and the mix-tape concept isn’t as innovative as I described it to be … not much is new under the Sun). So I agreed to give Congressman Conyers a call from the radio station when I was being interviewed.

Picking up Nick Speed to drive over to Canada I told him about my day with Congressman Conyers. Nick Speed kept telling me “that’s so Detroit, and that’s so WAE (my hip-hop title).” Finally I told him Congressman Conyers requested to be a part of the interview on Minced Meat Live. Nick Speed laughed out loud and said we have to do it.

So we arrived to the station and told Emily the story about my day with Congressman Conyers as well. Her reaction was similar to Nick Speed’s reaction too, laughing and exclaiming we have to! So Emily’s producer pulled up the longest biography on Congressman Conyers from the internet. I told Emily I’d introduce Congressman Conyers and not to worry about it. I called Congressman Conyers from the radio station and surprisingly he was ready for the interview. After his introduction Congressman Conyers spoke about improvisational ties between hip-hop and Jazz. Nick Speed and Emily spoke about their favorite Blue Note artists (Blue Note is a famous record label to release Jazz). It was an interview about music.

I closed the interview asking Congressman Conyers about his declaration in Congress about Jazz being America’s first art form. He shared the process and how it all came about. I then boldly challenged him to make hip-hop America’s next art form. In true fashion he counter challenged me to draft up the documents to do so. I have yet to work on that but one day will.

This day with Congressman Conyers took place years ago. Since then we’ve crossed paths numerous times. Moving forward I will always remember his humility and tenacity.

My Detroit Story: Kwanzaa

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Kwanzaa is a celebration of African traditions and values. Dr Maulana Karenga introduced Kwanzaa to the world in 1966. The culmination of Dr. Karenga’s collective studies, travels, and understandings of African culture created Kwanzaa. Kwanzaa takes place during the last seven days of a closing the year while beginning the next (December 26 – January 1).

As a child my family celebrated the tradition by defining and conceptualizing the principles of Kwanzaa. Each day of Kwanzaa recognizes one of seven principles, which make up the Nguzo Saba. The seven principles are: Umoja for Unity; Kujichagulia for Self Determination; Ujima for Collective Work and Responsibility; Ujamaa for Cooperative Economics; Nia for Purpose; Kuumba for Creativity; and Imani for Faith. I believe Dr Karenga recognized these African traditions as most empowering for African American people during the 1960’s moving forward.

The beauty of Kwanzaa I’ve always found was that the principles are also strong values of character for all people.

In 2007 I began hosting Kwanzaa celebrations for Detroit. My original wish for the celebration was for it to become a reasoning to support Black restaurants and cultural entrepreneurs (clothing stores, art dealers, etc) for the seven days of the celebration. The first Kwanzaa event I hosted was at the Woodward restaurant in the Compuware building of Downtown Detroit. Owner William Cartwright welcomed the event. It was very well attended. It began a series of intergenerational events I’ve become synonymous with producing today.

Last year marked the fourth Kwanzaa celebration I co-produced with the Charles H Wright Museum of African American History. Museum coordinator and education advisor Yolanda Jack has worked with me to help honor the tradition overtime. Participants have included my cousin Reverend Mayowa Reynolds of Fellowship Chapel, my godmother the honorable JoAnn Watson, Elizabeth Whittaker of Nsoroma Institute, Claretha PEACE Bell, Detroit NAACP Executive Director Donnell White, Sterling Toles, Eddie Connor, and the late Brenda McGhee.

This year will mark my fifth year co-producing the celebration with the museum. One of my strongest supporters of Kwanzaa celebration, and mentor Judge Claudia Morcom passed away in the summer of 2014. In honor of her legacy I plan to recognize her for this year’s celebration. We met in 2007, and upon my invite, she attended my first Kwanzaa celebration. She also helped produce my 2009 Kwanzaa event with Yusef Shakur at the Renaissance Club.

Judge Morcom also hosted a series of Kwanzaa celebrations herself. Kwanzaa’s relationship to Detroit and Detroiter’s runs deep. Elder Paul Taylor and the Inner City Sub Center hosts one of the longest running Kwanzaa celebrations in the world. Today he collaborates with Marvis Coefield and Mama Sara at the Alkebulan Village. Also resident Detroiter and Aisha Shule/ WEB DuBios Prepartory founder Imani Humphery wrote the book “First Fruits” which is recognized by all as the most accurate text on the celebration, tradition, and foundation of Kwanzaa. Also another one of my mentors who passed away this year Chokwe Lumumba and the Malcolm X Grassroots Organization have celebrated Kwanzaa in Detroit since the 1970’s.

This year’s celebration at the Charles H Wright Museum of African American History will welcome a series of days full of activity, interaction, and engagement for all ages. The Shrine of the Black Madonna, Nsoroma Institute, and the Malcolm X Grassroots Association will all host Kwanzaa celebrations at the museum. I will co-produce my celebration for Kuumba on December 31 2014. If you and your family are interested I welcome you all to join me for this year’s Kwanzaa event.

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