International Women’s Day: Soledad O’Brien Talks Life and Leadership

This post is way overdue. It  should have been posted two weeks ago during Black History Month, but since today is International Women’s Day, it still fits.

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CNN news correspondent and award-winning journalist, Soledad O’Brien delivered a keynote address at the University of Memphis to share her message of resilience and inspiration with students and the community.

Born to an Australian father and an African-American and Cuban mother, O’Brien is known most for her focus on racial identity and the untold stories of people of her heritage through her documentaries, Black in America I & II and Latino in America. Her most recent work, Pictures Don’t Lie, investigated Memphis-based Civil Rights photographer, who was revealed as a FBI informant after his death.

Dropping out of Harvard University’s pre-med program to take a job removing staples from the newsroom bulletin board, O’Brien recognized her affinity for journalism early on, and though excelling in medical studies, decided to choose passion over pay. She shared the secret to her success, advice for young journalists and what made her feel the dirtiest in her career.

“Stop listening to the noise around

you about how the (journalism) business is doing.”

How African-Americans can remain unbroken

According to O’Brien, leadership and staying resilient can keep African-Americans thriving. To live the life Dr. King spoke of his vision in his iconic “I Have a Dream” speech, we must take the initiative and create leadership opportunities, big or small, for ourselves and others.

“Leadership is a mindset Dr. King taught us — that if no one else, then it’s me,” O’Brien said. She also referred to a  quote by Dante Ali, “The hottest places in hell are held for those who, in times of moral crisis, remain in neutrality.”

How her racial identity helped to shape her career

O’Brien’s mother often told her, “Don’t let anyone tell you you’re not Black, and don’t let anyone tell you you’re not Latino.” She shared that she was passed up for two positions early on in her journalism career for the same reason: her race. Once, a managing editor told her there was only one opening for an African-American, but she wouldn’t spot well on camera because of her fair complexion. In another instance, she was wasn’t told she wasn’t a good fit and there were concerns that viewers would have trouble pronouncing her name. Those incidences influenced her wanting to have candid conversations to understand how others viewed racial identity.

On self-discovery and pivotal moments

“I had no passion for medical school,” O’Brien said. “I felt very fortunate  to recognize that not having a passion for something is really bad. I was always unafraid to step out on faith on work on it.”

Her advice for  journalists

“Stop listening to the noise around you about how the business is doing. The industry is always changing and shifting.”

On her experience reporting on Pictures Don’t Lie in Memphis

It was fascinating,” she said. “The Withers family was completely open to us. It was a lot of nuance…..to really talk about what happened. To me, a successful documentary through those grey areas. We want to dig in that and make people thing about time that’s passed.”

On social media’s impact on journalism

Though she agrees that social media sites, such as Facebook and Twitter have helped to change the means and speed of reporting, the rules of real journalism will always stand. “You have to check your facts, you have to be fair,” she said. “The basic tenets of journalism stays the same.”

Today, no matter where you are, celebrate your accomplishements and the promise of where you’re destined to go.

Happy International Women’s Day!!

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The Valentine’s Day Edition: Teedra Moses Talks Love and Music

Love Day is here, and no matter how your day is going, you can unwrap the gift of great  music from a real artist. Check out this exclusive interview.

When Teedra Moses, a New Orleans native, dropped Complex Simplicity in 2004, she became every woman’s “friend in their head.” She sings candidly about love and life in songs like her breakout single, “Be Your Girl” and fan favorite, “Backstroke.” Though she’s not on a major label, in the seven years since her debut album, she’s never left her fans waiting in the balance for music, releasing four mixtapes and several singles. From Twitter to music blogs, fans sing her praises while waiting patiently for her next album, The Lioness.

Moses released her second video for “R U 4 Real” today as the climax to her “10 Days to Valentine’s Day” promotion. For 10 days, fans submitted their best and worst Valentine’s Day stories, and Moses released new tracks, including the banger, “Fallin’ 4 U”. She talks to Because I Said So about why her fans will never go without quality music, her thoughts on love and why Valentine’s Day is just one day on the journey in love.

Last year you released the Royal Patience Compilation on February 14, now you’ve released the “R U 4 Real” video on Valentine’s Day.  Is Valentine’s Day your favorite holiday?

Not really. It just seems like maybe it takes me a year for me to get my head wrapped around what I want to give people. I always look at it like this: Well, this year, my Valentines are the people who like my music, so I’ll extend this to them and them appreciating it  is enough to give me the “keep moving vibe.”

What are you thoughts on love?

I’m in a place right now where I think that love is one of the most beautiful things. And maybe I’m drawn to Valentine’s Day because in my heart I believe in love, and I believe that a lot of people are jaded and don’t want to love anymore  because they’ve been hurt or people have ulterior motives or people are just afraid to put themselves out there, but love is something everybody needs. I don’t care who you are, how selfish you are, every human being needs to know somebody cares, they long for that, atleast. I just feel like that’s something everybody can relate to.

For those who may not be familiar with your music, how would you describe your music?

There’s something about my life… It’s really weird to say, but it really is, in a way, a complex simplicity because there’s something very hard about it, but some kind of way, I find there’s easiness, too. I think that’s the mood I try to put off in my music. It’s something that’s easy on your ears, but its’ still beating hard enough to pull out a little bit of the swag in you.

Fans love your music because the lyrics resonate with them. How are you able to be so honest in your songwriting?

Sometimes, it’s not as honest as I would like to push out of myself. When I connect with the track, it pulls at something that’s already going on in my mind or in my heart. When I’m honest with my myself—completely honest–when you get a great freestyle going, and the words are just coming out of your mouth, you know at that moment somebody else is going to feel that, too, because it’s honest. One of the songs I did like that was “R U 4 Real.” Which was a freestyle. The words weren’t super-profound, but the feeling and the emotion and honesty of how I felt at that time really connected to me.

You maintain a great relationship with your fans via social media websites like  Facebook and Twitter. How has social media helped your career?

There’s a shift in music. Fans are reaching out for reality. It’s all in God’s timing. I feel like the impact of the Teedra Moses movement is reaching a peak right now of how hard I’ve been working because of social networking and the viral way you can move on the Internet versus three years ago.They should have never let the people be able to connect with the artist because we’re gonna keep moving. It’s getting easier.

Speaking of social media, if you read fans’ tweets about you, you’ll find they speak of a mood or a feeling your music provides. What’s your reaction?

That’s  makes me feel good that people can connect with what I feel is a representation of me  and what I’m giving at that time. I’m trying to connect with people, and even when I do put out an album, people will say, ‘Okay, she’s been consistent enough for me to deserve to go out and give my money to her.” People just assume that just because they put out music, that people are just supposed  to continue to just support them, but times have changed. People can get music for free. So, I figure if I can give some good music that you can vibe to for free, in the end when I say, ‘Hey, can you give me $10 for this album?’ people won’t have a problem doing that.

What are your favorite love songs?

Teena Marie’s “Cassonova Brown.” That’s one of my favorite love songs because she’s singing about love, but she tormented. She loved a foul ass man. She loves him so much…but her baby’s fine. He always keeps her guessing, never second-guessing. She wrote the hell out of that song. “Ribbon in the Sky.” It’s just so basic and pretty and a beautiful love song.

You get this question often, but when will the album drop?

I always give a date that I’m shooting for, so this year, I’m shooting for around August (2011), but until then, you always get music from me. My thing is this: I’m gonna keep giving music consistently, but now I’m giving visuals. I’m gonna give you visuals and music until I can make the album the way I want it, and that takes a certain amount of finances.

The fans of this music that I’m doing—I want to please you, but in order to please you, I have to really please myself enough to give it to you comfortably. […..]is never losing interaction with the fans. I continue to try to do shows, I try to continue to give away music to the fans. Before everybody was doing it, I was giving away music on mixtapes. Hopefully, this is enough for fans to understand that I’m really working hard. In order for me to get the quality of what I want to extend ,because I do care, I just need  little more help, but that’s just the unfortunate truth, and I’m not worried about because I’ve worked hard all year because of social networking and the music change.

Lastly, any words for fans on Valentine’s Day?

As human beings, we should know that February 13, 14, 15,  no matter what day is, it’s a precious day. We should be grateful for it, even if we’re celebrating someone ele’s love or thinking about a past love, or looking to the future to say, ‘When I have a Valentine..’  Those are the sort of things I do because I haven’t had a Valentine, you know? I don’t really get caught up with the fact of not having a Valentine. You know what I think?:  If I had a Valentine, this is what I would do, and I when I get a Valentine’s this what I’m gonna do.

You just have to be optimistic, and understand what we want. Once we understand what we want, maybe we can understand how to get what we want. First thing is, you want more than just a damn Valentine. You just want that real thing. Don’t get caught up in the whole Valentine’s thing because you have to know that it’s going to come. It’s a blessing.

Visit http://www.teedramoses.netto check out her new video, “R U 4Real,” information on shows and other music downloads.

Happy Valentine’s Day!!

Sex and the City 2: The Evolution

“And there, in the same city where they met as girls, four New York women entered the next phase of their lives dressed head to toe in love.”

-Carrie Bradshaw, Sex and the City (I)

Well, the girls have grown up, and you can’t say you weren’t warned.

They’re still in the city and they still have sex (Hello, Samantha!), but there’s something different this time around. For years, we have been hypnotized by their adventures in finding love, coupled with sexcapades and relationship drama, but this movie answers the question: What happens after you find the love you were always searching for? How does life work then? Is youth and the chase more alluring than age and comfort?

I purposely did not read any reviews of the movie until I saw it, though you should check out Sex and the City Psychology and Belle for two different perspectives. I’d heard that a few industry reviews were less than stellar, and I was a little worried. I couldn’t believe that the girls wouldn’t be able to pull it off like they always do. (I had this overwhelming fuzzy feeling after I watched the first one. I wanted to hug my mama and call all of my besties near and far to tell them I loved them. I watch it every time it comes on and cry over the JOP wedding scene. See 4:18)

To those who never watched the Sex and the City series (I didn’t know they existed.), on the outside it seemed to be a fairytale about women who have lives that most will never attain. (The average woman doesn’t snag Manolo Blaniks and Prada bags on a whim, nor rock them to the corner market just for kicks.) To put it bluntly, a follower on Twitter said, “Why is everybody going to watch four rich white girls talk about sex and money? Why? I think they just four old sluts looking for love.”

I pointed out that for most women, sex, money and beautiful clothes are universal themes that, though we may not have them all at the same time, in a perfect world, we would. Life would be so boring without fantasy, and that’s why Sex and the City is a hit. Beyond that, SATC 2 shows the evolution of the four women who have come full circle since their early 30s, some trading in their sky-high libidos for hot flashes, others finally finding the balance between work and family.

There were several themes in the movie that stood out: (1) Compromise: Even after two years of marriage to Big, Carrie seemed to be stuck between her old life of VIP nights and excitement and her new life as a married woman destined to eat takeout forever. Big was caught up, too. Is it possible to take the spark of our old lives with us to our new lives? (2) Perfection: No person or their life is perfect. Period. It’s okay to be less than a Stepford Wife (3) Life Cycles: When Jay said he wanted to be “Forever Young,” he was referring to a state of mind, not the state of the body. (Again, hello, Samantha!) (4) Womanhood: The need to be heard and feel beautiful is innate in all women, even those who aren’t as “free” as us American women. (5) Friendship: This is what had women making plans and getting glam for movie premieres. Through hectic schedules and ex-boyfriend pop-ups, friendship never goes out of style.

Aside from the consistent themes, The girls changed, but they’d stayed the same, too. Samantha was always on point to provide the crass comic relief, while Miranda was her usual type-A self and Charlotte was the voice of reason (annoying at times to me). Carrie, the Golden Girl, purposely, was the one with internal conflict–trying so hard to find peace in herself and the relationship she waited so long to get.

Did it measure up to the usual standards? Yes, but in different terms. Movie-goers who expected to see the ladies clad in Gucci, partying it up in the clubs with one-night stands to follow only might have been let down. Sex and the City is a theme, not a permanent way of life, and this installment showed that. They’re in their 40s with the exception of Samantha, who’s “fifty-fucking-two years old.” Does life outside of your 20s and 30s stop? Of course not, but it does take a different turn.

The beauty of it, though, is the girls continue to find their way through life’s inevitable changes with style, and as they always have–dressed in love.

A Talk With Phylicia Rashad

Today I took part in a lifestyle blogger conference call with the ever so talented and fabulous, Phylicia Rashad (Yes, that one! **Swoon**). She was everything I imagined her to be–eloquent, funny and real. She discussed her role as co-star Common’s mother, Ella McKnight, in the upcoming film, Just Wright, how she selects acting roles, fashion and her love for hip-hop.

How she prepared for her role as a basketball mother

People always ask about the Claire Huxtable character in everything that is done. How does she compare to me as a person? How is she different from this particular mother? The thing about being a mother is just being a mother. For me, it isn’t rocket science. Being a mother is heartfelt, whether you are a good one, or a bad one. (In Just Wright) the mother understands that the son is a man, and he’s still the son. I can say that for myself: My son is a grown man, but he’s still my child. Mothers just feel that way. It doesn’t change.

Why you should see Just Wright

This was a great film to be apart of. The chemistry of all the people who worked on this film transferred onto the screen. It’s a film that satisfies so many people, and you can take anybody in your family to see it.

Her feelings about hip hop after working with Queen Latifah and Common

Oh, I like em! (Queen Latifah and Common) …..(On hip-hop) I don’t like crass language. It says to me that someone is without poetry. If you want to hear poetry, go back and listen to the blues. ‘My baby done left me.’ Aww, baby, now I like that. I like the musicality (of hip-hop). I think we need to offer our young people musical instruction. And how the rest of the world rejoices in it (hip-hop) is really something to see. You see people in Japan wearing their hats backwards and pants down. Don’t tell me people don’t have influence. People have influence. Young people are influential.

On how she selects acting projects

I look to see if there’s truth in it, you know. I look to see if there’s something that resonates with me. If it isn’t in the characters themselves, it might be in the form of whatever work that is–the genre. Also, I look at with whom I will be working. And sometimes I work with people I have not worked with before, and it’s always exciting.

Her first thoughts about her character, Lena Younger, in the screen adaptation of A Raisin in the Sun.

I didn’t see that character in a woman. Does that make sense? A woman–the woman. The woman who loves a man in every way a woman can–and only that one man…what that means. It’s hidden in the writing, but with Kenny Leon, the director, I was allowed to explore that. And that’s why he wanted me to play the role because he said I’d do something different.

How she keeps her signature youthful glow

Sleep is your best friend–sleep and water. I don’t drink and I don’t smoke. Products? I use Spahtika!

On First Lady Michelle Obama

She is so completely comfortable in her skin. There are a great number of people who look at her with appreciation and respect. I think she represents our country very well. The American woman is about intelligence–about mother and wife. She is woman and she is that so naturally.

Her style and why she’s not a shopaholic

I look at the way a garment makes me feel. I’m big on comfort. It’s not about being pinched up and pulled together–feeling like a truffed up turkey. Oh no, that will never do. I like garments that are extremely feminine. I like things that just grab you and say, “Ooh, take me!” I see garment and think, ‘I’m never gonna see that again. I’m gonna get that.’

I don’t go shopping every month, or every week. Sometimes I don’t go shopping for a whole year because I’m not that kind of person and because I have so many lovely things that I can interchange them. I like to create a look. I like to take something from here and over there and back yonder, and put it together. That’s fun.

Reflections on the late singer/actress/activist Lena Horne

She was an amazing human being. She was as fiery as she was beautiful, and that fire was a fire of intellect–very keen intellect. She thought deeply about everything she did, and she felt deeply about everything she did. She was a person who was very loyal and devoted in her friendships. She loved her family deeply. She was a woman who endured more than we’ll ever know. I consider myself very privileged to have met her and to have spent time just talking with her.

Be sure to check Ms. Rashad out along with Queen Latifah, Common and Paula Patton in Just Wright, May 15.

*Photo courtesy of 42 West PR