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Feel The Funk / Chynna Passes at 25
« on: Yesterday at 10:52:46 pm »
Thursday, 9th April 2o2o
Rapper and Model Chynna Passes at 25
by Gabrielle Chung

Rapper and model Chynna has passed away.

She was 25.

Chynna — whose full name was Chynna Rogers — paased away at her home in Philadelphia on Wednesday, her manager John Miller confirmed to PEOPLE.

At this time, her cause of death is unknown, he said.

“Chynna was deeply loved and will be sorely missed,” the young rapper’s family said in a statement provided to PEOPLE.

The upcoming star’s death comes just four months after she released the EP 'If I Die First'.

Chynna began her career as a model when she was 14 after signing with Ford Models, Pitchfork reported.

During her rise to fame, Chynna was mentored by A$AP Yams — who died in 2015 — and her association with A$AP Mob helped her first gain traction in the hip hop scene.

Her music career took off in 2013 after she released her hit track “Selfie” and “Glen Coco” in 2014.

She then released the EPs 'I’m Not Here'.

This Isn’t Happening in 2015 and Music 2 Die 2 in 2016. On her 2016 album, she addressed her struggle with opioid addiction, according to Pitchfork.

During a 2018 interview with Pitchfork, Chynna explained that her music served as an escape for her and offered a way for fans to know they are not alone.

“[It’s] for angry people with too much pride to show how angry they are,” Chynna told Pitchfork.

“I was able to just focus on getting my feelings out and treat music more like a journal,” Chynna said.

Since news of her death, a number of celebrities and fellow artists have paid tribute on Twitter.

“Chynna you were f—— hilarious bro… today was our last exchange of jokes & those I will miss the most. I can’t believe it idk how to. I love you. So very much. My heart is officially iced,” Kehlani tweeted.

Rapper Kari Faux also tweeted writing, “I love u, Chynna. Forever, my rap game Laura Croft.”

“Chynna deserved way more love. We need to make sure to give folks their flowers while they are here to see them. This hurts so bad cause I know she was f—— next man. Her music and vision was raw as f—,” Dom McLennon tweeted.

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Feel The Funk / Singer Bill Withers Passes Away At 81
« on: April 03, 2020, 12:13:40 pm »
Friday, 3rd April 2o2o
Singer Bill Withers Passes Away At 81
by Mark Kennedy

Bill Withers, who wrote and sang a string of soulful songs in the 1970s that have stood the test of time, including “ Lean On Me, ” “Lovely Day” and “Ain’t No Sunshine,” has died from heart complications, his family said in a statement to The Associated Press.

He was 81.

The three-time Grammy Award winner, who withdrew from making music in the mid-1980s, died on Monday in Los Angeles, the statement said. His death comes as the public has drawn inspiration from his music during the coronavirus pandemic, with health care workers, choirs, artists and more posting their own renditions on “Lean on Me” to help get through the difficult times.

“We are devastated by the loss of our beloved, devoted husband and father. A solitary man with a heart driven to connect to the world at large, with his poetry and music, he spoke honestly to people and connected them to each other,” the family statement read. “As private a life as he lived close to intimate family and friends, his music forever belongs to the world. In this difficult time, we pray his music offers comfort and entertainment as fans hold tight to loved ones.”

Withers’ songs during his brief career have become the soundtracks of countless engagements, weddings and backyard parties. They have powerful melodies and perfect grooves melded with a smooth voice that conveys honesty and complex emotions without vocal acrobatics.

“Lean On Me,” a paean to friendship, was performed at the inaugurations of both Barack Obama and Bill Clinton. “Ain’t No Sunshine” and “Lean on Me” are among Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.

“He’s the last African-American Everyman,” musician and band leader Questlove told Rolling Stone in 2015. “Bill Withers is the closest thing black people have to a Bruce Springsteen.”

Withers, who overcame a childhood stutter, was born the last of six children in the coal mining town of Slab Fork, West Virginia. After his parents divorced when he was 3, Withers was raised by his mother’s family in nearby Beckley.

He joined the Navy at 17 and spent nine years in the service as an aircraft mechanic installing toilets. After his discharge, he moved to Los Angeles, worked at an aircraft parts factory, bought a guitar at a pawn shop and recorded demos of his tunes in hopes of landing a recording contract.

In 1971, signed to Sussex Records, he put out his first album, “Just As I Am,” with the legendary Booker T. Jones at the helm. It had the hits “Grandma’s Hands” and “Ain’t No Sunshine,” which was inspired by the Jack Lemmon film “Days of Wine and Roses.” He was photographed on the cover, smiling and holding his lunch pail.

“Ain’t No Sunshine” was originally released as the B-side of his debut single, “Harlem.” But radio DJs flipped the disc and the song climbed to No. 3 on the Billboard charts and spent a total of 16 weeks in the top 40.

Withers went on to generate more hits a year later with the inspirational “Lean On Me,” the menacing “Who Is He (and What Is He to You)” and the slinky “Use Me” on his second album, “Still Bill.”

Later would come the striking “ Lovely Day,” co-written with Skip Scarborough and featuring Withers holding the word “day” for almost 19 seconds, and “Just The Two Of Us,” co-written with Ralph MacDonald and William Salter. His “Live at Carnegie Hall” in 1973 made Rolling Stone’s 50 Greatest Live Albums of All Time.

“The hardest thing in songwriting is to be simple and yet profound. And Bill seemed to understand, intrinsically and instinctively, how to do that,” Sting said in “Still Bill,” a 2010 documentary of Withers.

But Withers’ career when Sussex Records went bankrupt and he was scooped up by Columbia Records. He no longer had complete control over his music and chaffed when it was suggested he do an Elvis cover. His new executives found Withers difficult.

None of his Columbia albums reached the Top 40 except for 1977’s “Menagerie,” which produced “Lovely Day.” (His hit duet with Grover Washington Jr. “Just the Two of Us” was on Washington’s label). Withers’ last album was 1985′s “Watching You Watching Me.”

Though his songs often dealt with relationships, Withers also wrote ones with social commentary, including “Better Off Dead” about an alcoholic’s suicide, and “I Can’t Write Left-Handed,” about an injured Vietnam War veteran.

He was awarded Grammys as a songwriter for “Ain’t No Sunshine” in 1971 and for “Just The Two Of Us” in 1981. In 1987, Bill received his ninth Grammy nomination and third Grammy as a songwriter for the re-recording of the 1972 hit “ Lean On Me” by Club Nouveau.

He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2015 by Stevie Wonder.

Withers thanked his wife as well as the R&B pioneers who helped his career like Ray Jackson, Al Bell and Booker T. Jones. He also got in a few jabs at the record industry, saying A&R stood for “antagonistic and redundant.”

His music has been sampled and covered by such artists as BlackStreet’s “No Diggity,” Will Smith’s version of “ Just The Two Of Us, ” Black Eyed Peas’ “Bridging The Gap” and Twista’s “Sunshine.” The song “Lean on Me” was the title theme of a 1989 movie starring Morgan Freeman.

“I’m not a virtuoso, but I was able to write songs that people could identify with. I don’t think I’ve done bad for a guy from Slab Fork, West Virginia,” Withers told Rolling Stone in 2015.

He is survived by his wife, Marcia, and children, Todd and Kori.

Feel The Funk / Manu DiBango Passes Away At 86
« on: March 24, 2020, 10:05:02 am »
Tuesday, 24th March 2o2o
Afro-jazz legend Manu Dibango passes after contracting Covid-19
by Aljazeera

Renowned Afro-jazz star Manu Dibango has died after contracting Covid-19, his representatives and official Fakebook page have announced.

The 86-year-old Cameroonian, best known for the 1972 hit, Soul Makossa, is one of the first worldwide stars to die as a result of COVID-19.

"He died early this morning in a hospital in the Paris region," his music publisher Thierry Durepaire said.

A message on his official Fakebook page confirmed that his death had come after he contracted COVID-19.

"His funeral service will be held in strict privacy, and a tribute to his memory will be organized when possible," the message said.

Funerals in France have been limited to 20 people who are in the closest circle of the deceased because of a lockdown to try to slow the spread of Covid-19.

The saxophonist was one of the pioneers of Afro-jazz and also fused funk with traditional Cameroonian music.

His biggest hit was the B-side of a song to support the Cameroon football team in the African Cup of Nations but was picked up and popularised by New York DJs.

Health / How Many Caught A Case Of Covid-19?
« on: March 06, 2020, 06:20:42 pm »
Elections have consequences. 

When poor, rich & greedy uninformed voters choose stupidity over experience in American politics... this is the result.
A topic of DEFCON level proportions!
I call it, How Many Caught A Case of Covid-19?

Can't have pandemonium without a pandemic, eh?  O.K.?   Here goes...

Friday, 6th March 2o2o
Death toll from Covid-19 rises to 14 in the United States

New York, Washington and Maryland declare state of emergencies as death toll in the United States rises to 14.

Other Comics / Heavy Metal Adds Joseph Illidge as Managing Editor
« on: March 06, 2020, 12:16:43 pm »
Friday, 6th March 2o2o
Comics Publisher Heavy Metal Adds Joseph Illidge as Managing Editor
by Graeme McMillan

The industry veteran will work as managing editor alongside longtime editor Ricardo Llarena, newly promoted.

Following the hire of David Erwin as publisher, Heavy Metal is continuing to staff up with the addition of comic book veteran Joseph Illidge as co-managing editor for the company.

Mr. Illidge has enjoyed a long career across a number of different publishers, including serving as executive editor for Valiant Entertainment, senior editor for Lion Forge Comics and editor for DC, Milestone Media and Archaia.

He will commence to work alongside Heavy Metal veteran Ricardo Llarena, previously senior editor and now co-managing editor.

"Working with the great team at Heavy Metal has been a bucket list experience! The company's name and brand symbolizes the innovation of genre storytelling and the collection of distinctive veteran and new talents,” Illidge said Thursday in a statement to The Hollywood Reporter about his new position.

“It's an honor to be part of a team dedicated to igniting the company, bringing top-notch creators from around the globe to the Heavy Metal landscape, and paving the way for a new era as the true leader in sequential storytelling for science fiction, fantasy, and horror."

Added Heavy Metal CEO Matt Medney:

"When David [Erwin] introduced me to Joseph, I was enamored by his attitude and spark. Most times you don't come across people like Joseph. His talents go far beyond editing and his spirit provides an infectious smile across the whole company. From Batman to Taarna, I am confident that Joseph will bring a quality of work to Heavy Metal that the brand deserves and needs."

Llarena also provided a statement on his promotion, saying,

“You know you’re living a dream when excitement for your job increases every day. It is a really exciting time at Heavy Metal under Matt's tutelage between bringing in David and really focusing our efforts on quality stories, it's a fun time to be here. To victory!”

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Books / 'Welcome To The Party' by Gabrielle Union
« on: March 06, 2020, 10:05:27 am »
Friday, 6th March 2o2o
Gabrielle Union Authors First Children’s 'Book Welcome to the Party'
by Veronica Wells

Gabrielle Union, the New York Times best-selling author of her memoir We Need More Wine:

Stories That Are Funny, Complicated, and True, is turning her talent to the world of children’s books.

Her new book Welcome to the Party, illustrated by Ashley Evans, is inspired by the birth of her daughter Kaavia James and what her arrival meant to their family.

Union told PEOPLE,

“I’m so excited to be releasing my first children’s book,” Union says.

“Since the birth of my daughter … I’ve been even more inspired to create stories that are not only representative of the cultural melting pot we live in, but also celebrate life and the fun, teachable lessons that come at every age.”

As we’ve reported earlier, Union’s husband Dwyane Wade used a surrogate to birth Kaavia in November in 2018.

Luana Horry, editor of Harper Collins Children’s Books, shared her excitement about working with Union on this project.

“When I heard about the arrival of Kaavia James, I was touched by the beautiful and loving way her parents introduced her to the public. To work with Gabrielle Union on her unique celebration of parenthood was more than an honor — it was such an enjoyable experience.”

This is not the first creative project Kaavia’s birth has inspired.

Last year, Union launched a clothing line for infants from 0-24 months with New York & Company.

Union shared the announcement of the book on her Instagram page.

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Acting / Ja'net Dubois, 'Good Times' Star, passes at 74
« on: February 18, 2020, 04:44:42 pm »
Tuesday, February 18th 2o2o
Ja'net Dubois, 'Good Times' Star, passes at 74
by Reid Nakamura

"Good Times" star Ja'net Dubois has passed away at the age of 74.

Dubois was found dead at her home in Glendale on Tuesday morning, according to TMZ.

Her representatives did not immediately respond to a request for comment from TheWrap.

The actress starred on the CBS sitcom "Good Times" for five years from 1974 to 1979 as Willona Woods, the gossipy divorcee and next-door neighbor of the Evans family.

She went on to appear in a number of film and TV projects, including voicing one of the main characters on the stop-motion animated series "The PJs."

Dubois's work on "The PJs" earned her two Emmys for Outstanding Voice-Over Performance in 1999 and 2001.

She also earned a NAACP Image Award nomination in 1998 for a guest appearance on "Touched by an Angel."

Her other credits include "I'm Gonna Git You Sucka," "Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle," Moesha," "Sanford and Son," "The Facts of Life," "The Steve Harvey Show," "A Different World" and "Everybody Loves Raymond."

In addition to acting, Dubois also co-wrote and sang the "Jeffersons" theme song, "Movin' on Up."

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Acting / Nikita Pearl Waligwa Passes Away At 15
« on: February 16, 2020, 03:59:51 pm »
Sunday, 16th February 2o2o
Nikita Pearl Waligwa, Actor in Disney’s ‘Queen of Katwe,’ Passes away at 15
by Jordan Moreau

Nikita Pearl Waligwa, an actor who appeared in Disney’s biographical drama “Queen of Katwe,” has died, according to BBC and the Ugandan newspaper Daily Monitor.

She was 15.

Waligwa had been diagnosed with a brain tumor in 2016 and seemed to recover a year later.

However, in 2019, another tumor was found.

“Queen of Katwe” director Mira Nair helped organize efforts to fund Waligwa’s treatment during filming, according to BBC.

The young actor played a girl named Gloria in “Queen of Katwe.”

She was a close friend of main character Phiona Mutesi (Madina Nalwanga), and taught her how to play chess.

The film told the real-life story of Mutesi who is one of Uganda’s most successful chess players.

She won three Ugandan Women’s Junior Championship and has represented the country at four international chess Olympiads.

Lupita Nyong’o and David Oyelowo also starred in the film.

They played Mutesi’s mother and chess teacher.

Waligwa was in her senior year at Gayaza High School at the time of her death.

Nikita Pearl Waligwa

2005 - 2020

Thursday, 30th January 2020
Comedy Central's ‘Awkwafina Is Nora From Queens’ Writers on the Power of a Mostly Female Writers’ Room
by Nicole Bitette

Day one in the writers’ room for the upcoming Comedy Central series 'Awkwafina is Nora From Queens' was an emotional experience.

For many of the women in the nearly all-female room, it was their first time being in the majority when writing for a series.

Executive producer Lucia Aniello, who previously served as an executive producer, writer, and director on Broad City, which featured a mostly-female staff, says she took her past experiences for granted, realizing on the first day that working with mostly women (there are eight women and one man on staff) was uncommon.

“There were a handful of women who were actually a bit emotional because they had never been in a room where they weren’t just one of two women in the room,” she said.

“It’s not the norm.”

Earlier this month, series creator Awkwafina (known to those in her personal life by her birth name, Nora Lum), became the first Asian-American woman to win a Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Comedy or Musical.

With her first Comedy Central series, which premiered on January 22nd, she wanted to create an opportunity for women and fellow Asian-Americans, to have a seat at the (writing) table.

After her breakout role in 'Crazy Rich Asians' in 2018, Awkwafina told Variety that representation starts “both in front of and behind the camera.”

“I think a big reason there aren’t a lot of our stories reflected is people don’t know how to write for us or think they can’t write for us,” she said.

“So I think for any minority group, you need to have writers who can reflect those stories and tell them honestly. It’s important to give people a chance. Take a chance on opening up roles, even leads, for actors of color.”

The ViacomCBS Newsroom spoke to a few of the women who worked on the comedy—which is now in the writing stage for season 2 — on what it’s like to write for Awkwafina, their fashion-adjacent Instagram account, Writer Fits, and how the room’s diversity contributes to the show’s humor and impact.

Here’s what they had to say:

[an excerpt]

Awkwafina’s role in the writing process:

Teresa Hsiao (executive producer) We talk all the time as to what we want for the show, and so we had an idea going into the writers’ room of what the show was going to be. Nora was in-and-out for the first few weeks, then she was off on Jumanji. I was always keeping her up-to-date with what was going on in the room and she would send in notes. She was very involved.

Lucia Aniello (executive producer): She was in the room a lot. A lot of the stories came from experiences in her life and stories about her. I love working with her. I find her so easy to work with, she’s so funny. She improvises things that you can never dream up in a million years. She’s an awesome mix of somebody who is very silly, but also hyper-intelligent. She can improvise stuff you could have never written and I think that people will probably feel that when you watch the show. You can never say this is someone you’ve seen on TV before. She’s so uniquely her, such a rare voice. I love her, I love Nora.

Karey Dornetto (executive producer):  This year, I don’t think we’ll have her [in the room] as much. We already started. We basically map out what this season’s going to be with Nora , and then we bring the other writers in and fill the rest out. She has a hand in all the scripts as well, making sure the voice is right so you know it’s her.

How they hope viewers will react:

Teresa Hsiao (executive producer): The show is really important. There are so few Asian-American shows, and even fewer Asian-American shows from Asian-American creators. We really want to emphasize the fact that we made this show to not bear the burden, not representing all of Asian-American culture, we made the show really to represent Nora’s authentic life, and the funny things that happen to her. The byproduct of it obviously is that it is an Asian-American cast. We’re really proud of it and we had so much fun doing it. We’re excited for people to see it.

Lucia Aniello (executive producer):  The show is funny first, that’s really important. I mean it’s really laugh-out-loud funny. Lori Tan Chinn is unbelievable on the show. I can’t wait for people to see it. I think that it’s the kind of thing where you’re like “Oh my God so funny” and then it also has some moments of real heart because it’s centered around family. You come away from it from laughing for 21 minutes and it felt good, too, outside of the laugh.

Karey Dornetto (executive producer): I definitely think the female perspective is a big deal, especially because we have so many female writers. The predominantly Asian cast is going to resonate with a lot of people who haven’t seen that before. We tried to make the room reflect what the show is.

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Writing / Juliet Gilkes Romero - 'The Whip'
« on: January 27, 2020, 07:39:47 am »
Monday, 27th January 2020
The scandal of the £20bn bailout to slave-owning British
by David Jay

In 1833, Britain took out a loan to compensate slave owners – only recently paid off.

Juliet Gilkes Romero reveals the shameful history that inspired her play 'The Whip'.

"This gives me goosebumps,” says playwright Juliet Gilkes Romero.

We’re looking at a sign offering a two-guinea reward for Peter, a runaway “negro manservant”.

Gilkes Romero marvels at this lost figure from the 19th century, whose plight is chronicled in the Museum of London Docklands.

“Who was Peter?” she says.

“Where did he go?”

Gilkes Romero’s work pursues the history that falls through the cracks.

After exploring the first world war’s Caribbean soldiers (At the Gates of Gaza) and Mexican disappearances (Day of the Living), her new play for the Royal Shakespeare Company excavates the messy alliances that produced Britain’s slavery abolition legislation in the early 19th century, in particular a bill compensating slave owners for their loss of human property.

The Whip dramatises competing ideas about how to end an immoral trade.

The title inevitably suggests slavery’s cruelties but it actually describes the protagonist, a government whip charged with keeping parliament onside, even as the compromises rankle with his own progressive principles.

Alexander Boyd – like all the characters, an amalgam of various figures – is often wrongfooted, particularly by two firebrand women:

his northern housekeeper, who lost a daughter to the cotton mills; and Mercy, a former slave and rousing public speaker.

“In order to compromise, you lose bits of yourself,” says the playwright.

“Boyd gets the job done, but at what cost?”

Gilkes Romero was already researching this story when, in 2018, the Treasury tweeted – and quickly deleted – a startling fact.

The loan taken out in 1833 to compensate British slave owners was only paid off in 2015.

“That was when we – you and me, our tax money – that’s when we finished paying off what was originally a £20m loan. In today’s terms, it was around £20bn. That added urgency to what I was already seeing.”

She hit the Commons library, burrowing into Victorian editions of Hansard and the select committee reports to follow history forming on the hoof.

“I sometimes use the Brexit analogy – who knows what is on the other side? [In 1833], they spent 40% of the country’s budget to pay back slave owners for their lost property. That’s a huge debt which could have bankrupted the country – they mortgaged our futures.”

“I have skin in this game,” she adds, soberly.

Her ancestors were on the sharp end of this history. She recounts her own first encounter with this material, in her Suffolk village.

“I was the only black girl in the school, and remember the history book showing a print of slaves in the hull of a ship. It was the moment I realised that I was a real political animal.”

Her parents encouraged her curiosity, and also introduced her to theatre via Brecht’s daunting epic, Galileo.

“They didn’t mess about,” she smiles.

“That opened up my mind to what theatre can be and how important it is to debate.”

The twists of individual choice at moments of cultural ferment inflect her own work, especially in The Whip.

“I believe in being objective – but it’s personal. This is me looking at my history.”

She had previously investigated the contemporary sugar trade as a BBC journalist.

“I went to the Dominican Republic and Haiti, and filmed children as young as five or six cutting cane. I felt as if I’d been transported back 400 years. I’d never seen such miserable conditions. They lived in these concrete barracks, and the perimeter was patrolled by armed men. If anyone was abused there was no one to hold to account. That was when the penny dropped – this was what my forefathers had to do.”

Also in the mix are Victorian attempts to reform the political system and the fearsome cotton mills.

“It’s not a single-issue play by any stretch of the imagination,” the playwright insists.

Fear of violence at home and abroad focused British politicians’ minds.

“They compromised, and it was flawed, especially with the apprenticeships” – this was a scheme mandating slaves to work without payment for six years after abolition, which she describes as “slavery by another name. But in the United States, they were unable to compromise and are still experiencing the fallout and bitterness from that: 600,000 people died in the civil war because the US was unable to be as pragmatic as the British. That needs consideration.

As we pace the galleries of the museum, Gilkes Romero’s warm concern brings history to life.

She says that, last October, she was

“tasked with cutting 30 pages out of the script. That was painful. The framework is historical, but I had to walk away from it, to create characters who could fight and love and punch each other.”

She still smarts to recall the producer who compared an early draft of her Gaza play to a Panorama documentary, and exclaims:

“I want to write challenging pieces on big stages. I don’t particularly try to be safe – what is the point?”

Recently she caught up with the musical Hamilton, which swaggeringly reboots the founding fathers:

“You could have heard my bottom jaw clang on the floor. If I wasn’t rehearsing in Stratford, I’d be there every night.”

Particularly resonant was the refrain, “who lives, who dies, who tells your story”.

“I’m in the business of unravelling what has been buried,” she argues.

“But I’m not giving a history lesson. Journalism is very much about facts, but literature is also about truth – we have to have the courage to go there.”

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Books / Moving Forward by Karine Jean-Pierre
« on: January 17, 2020, 01:45:20 pm »
Friday, 17th January 2020
Moving Forward: A Story of Hope, Hard Work, and the Promise of America
by Karine Jean-Pierre

Author and senior advisor at, Karine Jean-Pierre, talks about her life's path in her new book 'Moving Forward.'

What readers may find most compelling about 'Moving Forward' is the author's confession to reluctant feelings of wanting to take her life.

"I tried to take my life when I was very young. At the time I didn't feel like I had anyone to talk to. It was hard to write about in #MovingForward, but I felt like being honest and sharing my story could help save someone's life today." ~ Karine Jean-Pierre

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Books / Breathe: A Letter To My Sons by Dr. Imani Perry
« on: November 27, 2019, 05:56:24 am »
'Breathe: A Letter To My Sons' written by Dr. Imani Perry

Emotionally raw and deeply reflective, Imani Perry issues an unflinching challenge to society to see Black children as deserving of humanity.

She admits fear and frustration for her African American sons in a society that is increasingly racist and at times seems irredeemable.

However, as a mother, feminist, writer, and intellectual, Perry offers an unfettered expression of love—finding beauty and possibility in life—and she exhorts her children and their peers to find the courage to chart their own paths and find steady footing and inspiration in Black tradition.

Perry draws upon the ideas of figures such as James Baldwin, W. E. B. DuBois, Emily Dickinson, Toni Morrison, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Ida B. Wells.

She shares vulnerabilities and insight from her own life and from encounters in places as varied as the West Side of Chicago; Birmingham, Alabama; and New England prep schools.

With original art for the cover by Ekua Holmes, Breathe offers a broader meditation on race, gender, and the meaning of a life well lived and is also an unforgettable lesson in Black resistance and resilience.

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Books / IMPEACH: The Case Against Donald Trump by Neal Katyal
« on: November 24, 2019, 08:33:03 pm »
Sunday, 24th November 2019
IMPEACH: The Case Against Donald Trump
by Neal Katyal

A veteran Supreme Court lawyer presents the case for impeachment in a manner that adheres to the facts and the law without engaging in political spin.

Writing with Koppelman, Katyal, the former acting solicitor general of the U.S., calls himself “an extreme centrist” and insists,

“I am not a partisan.”

He has “argued more United States Supreme Court cases than just about anyone (39 and counting).”

He has also taught frequent seminars on impeachment that demonstrate the seriousness of the procedure and why it has been taken so infrequently.

Nonetheless, he insists that “we have no choice but to impeach and remove President Trump” based on the charges resulting from a whistleblower’s alert to a phone conversation with Ukrainian officials.

Others—particularly Republicans—believe otherwise, that this was a minor matter blown way out of proportion.

This book proceeds methodically to build a step-by-step case for the jury of the American reading public.

Katyal maintains that “this is as simple a case as you will find” and that “the facts are clear.”

Those facts are that Trump asked the president of Ukraine to investigate Hunter Biden, the son of a political rival and candidate for the presidency, before the U.S. would resume aid to that country, that this constituted both bribery and solicitation of foreign interference, and that he then attempted a coverup and obstruction of justice.

Each of these elements, argues the author convincingly, qualifies under the “high crimes and misdemeanors” that impeachment requires.

Furthermore, Katyal contends that such intervention before the 2020 presidential election is necessary because the charges show the president’s willingness to subvert that process.

He hopes that “impeachment could bring out the best of America” as the public weighs the facts of the case and forces its elected representatives to do the same.

Not all will agree that the case is as cut and dried as the author makes it, but he provides both a framework and foundation for discussion—and plenty of facts to support his powerful case.

Essential reading for a key moment in our (currently) democratic nation.

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Books / Healthy Holly by Catherine Pugh
« on: November 20, 2019, 07:29:55 am »
Wednesday, 20th November 2019
Former Baltimore Mayor Pugh charged with 11 counts of fraud, tax evasion in ‘Healthy Holly’ book scandal

by Luke Broadwater and Kevin Rector

Federal prosecutors have charged former Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh with 11 counts of fraud, tax evasion and conspiracy in what they allege was a corrupt scheme involving her sales of a self-published children’s book series.

In a grand jury indictment made public Wednesday, prosecutors allege Pugh defrauded area businesses and nonprofit organizations with nearly $800,000 in sales of her “Healthy Holly” books to unlawfully enrich herself, promote her political career and illegally fund her campaign for mayor.

Though her customers ordered more than 100,000 copies of the books, the indictment says Pugh failed to print thousands of copies, double-sold others and took some to use for self-promotion.

Pugh, 69, used the profits to buy a house, pay down debt, and make illegal straw donations to her campaign, prosecutors allege.

At the same time, prosecutors said, she was evading taxes.

In 2016, for instance, when she was a state senator and ran for mayor, she told the Internal Revenue Service she had made just $31,000.

In fact, her income was more than $322,000 that year ― meaning she shorted the federal government of about $100,000 in taxes, according to the U.S. attorney’s office.

The charges Pugh faces carry potential sentences totaling 175 years in prison.

Prosecutors are seeking to seize $769,688 of her profits, along with her current home in Ashburton, which they allege she bought and renovated with fraudulently obtained funds.

The former Democratic mayor is expected to appear Thursday in U.S. District Court in downtown Baltimore.

“Our elected officials must place the interests of the citizens above their own,” U.S. Attorney Robert K. Hur said in a statement.

“Corrupt public employees rip off the taxpayers and undermine everyone’s faith in government."

Two of Pugh’s associates ― longtime aide Gary Brown Jr. and Roslyn Wedington, the director of a nonprofit Pugh championed ― have agreed to plead guilty in the investigation, according to just-unsealed agreements.

Brown, 38, an aide to Pugh as a state senator and mayor, pleaded guilty earlier this month to four counts:

one for conspiracy to commit wire fraud, one for filing a false tax return, and two for conspiring to defraud the United States.

Of the latter two charges, one is related to his work with Pugh, while the other is related to his work with Wedington, the director of the nonprofit training center for which Pugh served as board chairwoman.

Wedington, 50, pleaded guilty in September to one count of conspiracy to defraud the United States and five counts of filing false tax returns.

According to her plea deal, she “knowingly filed false tax returns" each year from 2013 to 2017, with Brown’s help.

Prosecutors declined to say whether Brown and Wedington are cooperating with investigators.

Brandon Mead, an attorney for Wedington, said she regrets her actions.

“Ms. Wedington has been an incredibly hard worker. She unfortunately got put in a situation that many Americans face today, where she was behind on student loans, behind on health care debt, and she unfortunately made some wrong decisions,” he said.

The charges against Pugh, who rose from the City Council to a leadership position in the Maryland Senate before becoming Baltimore’s 50th mayor in 2016, come more than six months after she resigned amid scandal.

“The people of Maryland expect elected officials to make decisions based on the public’s best interests, not to abuse their office for personal gain,” Jennifer Boone, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Baltimore division, said in a statement.

“The indictment alleges that Catherine Pugh betrayed the public’s trust."

Criminal charges against the former mayor are the latest blow to a city plagued by relentless violence, persistent poverty and decades of population loss.

Pugh was once seen as a more ethical option for voters in a city with a history of wrongdoing by politicians.

But her political career came to an end this spring amid public outcry over the “Healthy Holly” book deals.

Those sales were revealed in a series of articles in The Baltimore Sun that began March 13th.

Pugh collected $500,000 over several years selling the books in a no-bid deal with the medical system, where she was on the board of directors.

She later resigned from the board and as mayor amid multiple investigations into her finances and the book sales, including to other entities doing business with the city.

Pugh said she sold the clumsily published books — they contain grammatical and spelling errors, such as a main character’s name being spelled two different ways and the word “vegetable” appearing as “vegetale” — to the medical system to distribute to city schoolchildren.

School officials, however, said they hadn’t asked for the books, never used them for instruction, and had thousands sitting unread in a warehouse.

As some in city and state government blasted what they called self-dealing, Pugh was unrepentant — and called inquiries into her deals with UMMS a

“witch hunt.”         

"Where have I heard this before?"

But her side of the story evolved.

She acknowledged the medical system paid her more than she had initially acknowledged.

And she later said she hadn’t produced thousands of the ordered books and gave back $100,000 to the hospital network.

Then it came out that ― despite Pugh saying she had sold only to UMMS ― she’d collected at least another $300,000 from other entities.

The Sun revealed health insurer Kaiser Permanente and Associated Black Charities bought a total of roughly 30,000 copies of Pugh’s books, paying her nearly $200,000.

Pugh voted in 2017 to approve a $48 million contract for Kaiser Permanente to provide insurance to city employees.

Associated Black Charities has a deal with the city to manage a $13 million fund that makes grants to groups that help children.

And Columbia businessman J.P. Grant — whose Grant Capital Management has long done business with the city — said his company cut a check for $100,000 to Pugh’s Healthy Holly LLC in 2016.

He received a sample copy of a book, but no documentation of how his money would be used, Grant said.

After being hospitalized amid the emerging scandal for pneumonia, Pugh apologized for the UMMS sales at a March 28 news conference at City Hall.

But at the same event, she disclosed that some 40,000 books UMMS paid for were never produced.

And in a bizarre twist, the still seriously ill mayor showed off a line of “Healthy Holly” baby clothes.

Pressure mounted on Pugh to resign, with the City Council, the governor and the city’s delegation to the General Assembly calling on her to step down.

While she went on leave in April, citing health reasons, she refused to leave office until after investigators raided City Hall, her homes and other locations connected with her in May.

She apologized to the public in a resignation letter read her attorney, Steven Silverman.

“I’m sorry for the harm that I have caused to the image of the city of Baltimore and the credibility of the office of the mayor,” Pugh said in the statement.

“Baltimore deserves a mayor who can move our great city forward."

The Sun’s series of investigative stories resulted in major change at the medical system, a network of hospitals in the state.

The medical system accepted the resignations of CEO Robert A. Chrencik and four other executives.

The General Assembly passed sweeping legislation that demanded the resignation of the entire board of directors.

In the indictment, prosecutors say Pugh’s scheme began in December 2010 when she persuaded the medical system to pay her $100,000 to purchase 20,000 copies of her first “Healthy Holly” book to donate to Baltimore’s schools.

Because the book contained “various grammatical and spelling errors," a school system staffer copy edited the books, and then-CEO Andres Alonso ultimately decided they couldn’t be used for instruction, but would be donated to students, prosecutors said.

Then a state senator, Pugh had about 20,000 copies of the books delivered to the school system, and those copies were stored in a warehouse.

However, Pugh and Brown, who worked as her legislative aide, arranged for thousands of the books to be removed for their “personal use and benefit,” prosecutors say.

Over the years, Pugh re-upped the sales to the hospital network four more times, but never told medical officials she had not used the books as intended, according to prosecutors.

Instead, the mayor stored thousands of copies of the books at her house, the mayor’s office at City Hall, her legislative offices, the War Memorial Building, a public storage locker used by Pugh’s mayoral campaign, her and Brown’s vehicles and the vehicles of other aides.

Meanwhile, Brown, who runs several limited liability companies out of his house, helped Pugh manage her book publishing business, including overseeing “the transportation and storage of the books, drafted invoices, and corresponded with purchasers" while on the clock as "Pugh’s legislative aide and mayoral staff member,” prosecutors say.

During her successful mayoral campaign, Pugh and Brown decided to inflate her campaign finance report through illegal means by using money from the books, prosecutors allege.

On November 8th, 2016, prosecutors say Pugh and Brown decided to “secretly” donate book-sale money to the campaign ― an action that could have been done legally under Maryland law, because candidates may contribute an unlimited amount of their own campaigns.

But because Pugh and Brown believed “that if the voters learned that Pugh had injected her own money into the campaign, she would appear desperate" they decided to make “contributions to her campaign in other people’s names, i.e., to use straw donors, which is a violation of Maryland’s election laws,” according to the indictment.

“Instead of depositing the checks into a bank account, Brown took the checks to the bank where Healthy Holly’s account was located and cashed them at the teller’s window, thereby acquiring untraceable cash to fund the straw donations," prosecutors allege.

Brown later came under investigation from the Maryland State Prosecutor’s office, which questioned the source of funds for some of the straw donations.

To hide the Healthy Holly proceeds as the source, the indictment says Pugh had asked Brown to create a fake independent contractor agreement and business ledger that misrepresented the checks as payments for promotional services rendered by Brown’s company.

Also at Pugh’s urging, prosecutors say, Brown created bogus invoices and backdated them.

In total, Brown and Pugh cashed out approximately $62,100 in Healthy Holly money during 2016, all of which went to straw donors or Pugh, prosecutors say.

The FBI said it had been investigating Pugh since 2016, when her campaign that year for mayor came under scrutiny.

In 2017, Brown was found guilty of violating state election laws for funneling cash to Pugh’s campaign through relatives.

Pugh kept Brown working at City Hall after the conviction.

His home was among those the FBI raided this spring.

According to federal prosecutors, Pugh said she would return the money illegally donated to her campaign, but according to the federal indictment she instead sent it to Brown to pay for his legal defense.

Brown did not cooperate with the earlier state prosecution, and the new federal indictment says the State Prosecutor wasn’t able to identify Healthy Holly as the source of the straw donation funds.

Meanwhile, prosecutors say, Pugh and Brown also defrauded the IRS by falsely representing Healthy Holly checks to Brown as payments for services and therefore deductible business expenses.

Brown’s deductions included fictitious expenses such as fake labor costs for nonexistent employees, prosecutors allege.

When not working as a staff member for Pugh, Brown worked as a part-time freelance tax preparer and included materially false information in all of those tax returns to obtain larger refunds ― totaling more than $100,000 ― for his customers, prosecutors say.

Pugh became the second Baltimore mayor in a decade to quit in connection with a criminal investigation; Democratic Mayor Sheila Dixon resigned in 2010.

In the wake of Pugh’s resignation, Democratic Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young, then City Council president, ascended to Baltimore’s top job for the duration of her term.

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Friday, 18th October 2019
Free Cyntoia: My Search for Redemption in the American Prison System

Cyntoia Brown-Long is a guest on The Breakfast Club dissecting pieces of her life she bravely shared in her new book, 'Free Cyntoia'.

The former prisoner takes us through her darkest moments in life from serving time convicted to murder to her brightest by finding refuge through faith, persistence and love.

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