Taji Mag (TM): Nonso, as a trained doctor of pharmacy in Nigeria, how did you transition into lifestyle fashion in Toronto? CHUKWUNONSO Ezekwueche aka Dr. NONSKY) (N): Nice question. I’ve been asked this question a million times. It was not a transition per se. I have always had a flair for fashion from a young age and I came from a family of fashionistas that paved the way for what I’m doing right now. I also never dropped my Pharmacy career, I am currently in pursuit of my license to practice here in Canada.
TM: What is a signature piece that is necessary to complete your look? N: Definitely jewelry – necklaces, bracelets, watches, lapel pins, etc. I always feel incomplete without a sprinkle of accessories here and there. Accessories are like vitamins to fashion, we should all learn to use them liberally.
TM: Your tagline is, “I show men how to dress without breaking the bank.” What’s a tip for men who want to look great on a limited budget? N: First of all, I would like to let you know that you don’t really need to spend money on luxury, exorbitant designer clothes to look good or make a fashion statement. Not that I have anything against them, I have quite a few myself, but my point is you can still look your best in affordable clothes. The trick is finding your personal style, reviewing what you have in your closet, see what needs to be added or discarded, then, most importantly, mastering the act of perfect color matching and only wearing the right fit of clothes and shoes.
TM: How has fashion helped to transform your esteem? N: It’s no doubt that what you wear has a significant effect on your self-esteem and I’m certainly not left out. Putting on a beautifully designed suit elevates my spirit, extols my sense of self, and helps define me as a man to whom details matter. How I look has a lot to do with how people receive me and how I feel about myself. Fashion is my getaway place when I’m sad or depressed and shopping for new clothes for whatever purpose has a way of boosting my self-esteem.
TM: What advice do you have for rising fashion influencers? N: Consistency! It certainly won’t be easy at first. I felt like giving up a few times because I wasn’t getting the recognition I felt I deserved but I never gave up. Focus on creating excellent content that would resonate with your audience and attract new followers and sponsors to you (content is definitely king). Keep learning, there is always a learning curve. Collaborate with other fashion influencers, learn from each other, and soon you will be flying.
We breath, we move, we surrender, and we practice awareness when we do yoga. All things capable of the human body but have been manipulated in a way so that Black, brown, and yellow black bodies are excluded. Yoga means to yolk, to unite and to find union with self and others. It’s in this practice that all bodies are welcomed, all bodies are capable, and all bodies are valued. So why has there been a lack of representation in class and in front of the class? I’ll keep it simple; systematic oppression, colonialism, white supremacy, and patriarchy, just to name a few. Not to be discouraged, overtime our representation has grown. There are more yoga teachers of color and more students of color. We are decolonizing the world of wellness one yoga class at a time. Image exchanging energy with someone who navigates the world as you do, with similar experiences based on the color of our skin. The meditation will be different, the intention will be different, the overall architect of the class will be different because the teacher can relate and teach to what is needed while holding space authentically.
You don’t have to imagine this type of yoga experience. It’s available and accessible, you just have to know that it’s out there. Meet these five yoga teachers who provide just that in their yoga classes here in NYC. Yahaya, Dre, Jazmin, Angelica, and Jo all teach yoga, and other forms of fitness, in spaces that flow with diversity, inclusion, and representation. Yahaya and Jo work closely with a non-profit organization named SLAP (Self Love Affirmation and Preservation), teaching low cost and sometimes free yoga classes in and around Brooklyn for the community. Jazmin teaches at Harlem Yoga, where she can give back to the community she was raised in. Dre teaches at Y7 Studio where he offers a space for people who have experienced trauma, big or small, peace and inclusion. Angelica, who also teaches at Y7 Studio, teaches to hold space but also for body positive representation. When is the last time you’ve met a plus size female yoga teacher of color who stands at 6’2? Most likely never! But they are out there.
If you’ve ever felt uncomfortable, distracted and or disconnected in yoga, consider taking a class with a teacher of color. Find a studio that is Black-owned, or search for an independent grassroots studio in your neighborhood that employs people that look like you. You may find a new passion for this practice because it feels safe, familiar, and relatable. Yoga is for every(body) and therefore everyone should be represented, in class and in front of it. Angelica wants everyone to know “that they can do yoga no matter their age, physical ability, shape, color, or flexibility level. With more teachers of color, we also see more diversity in body types. All too often we are presented with “the yoga body”; slim, white and tall. It’s all over the internet, TV, and most media platforms. If it’s not marketed to us, if we are not casted for wellness photoshoots, and if we are not in spaces teaching yoga how could anyone of color feel that it’s for them?
Start here with this article. Yoga is for you and there are yoga teachers of color out there. They are showing up to hold space because they want you to connect with your breath, your body, and your higher self. Yoga is a philosophy. It is a comprehensive system for wellbeing on all levels- physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual. It is a system of techniques meant to enrich life. Most people start yoga for the physical benefits like increased flexibility, strength, and balance but they quickly find that there is so much more; body awareness, stress reduction, and self-confidence. So, when’s your next yoga class? These teachers and many more are waiting for you.
If you didn’t attend the DC Black Film Festival this past weekend then you missed out on some really great films from some talented creatives. Hollywood still struggles to represent diversity in the industry but, with events like the DC Black Film Festival, people can enjoy quality films about people of color and not the rhetoric that Hollywood loves to repeat.
There were over 50 films shown that had me laughing, crying (I call it eye sweat, lol), and, most of all, sympathizing with some of the characters on screen that look that like me.
“People of color have a constant frustration of not being represented, or being misrepresented, and these images go around the world.” – Spike Lee
Below are some films that I loved.
We Want to Make It A film that explores the journey of young musicians (Jourdan, 14yrs old, and Tarron) as they strive to make their way from performing on the DC metro to stardom. It’s a very well done piece that shines light on Black youth doing something positive with their talents instead of becoming a statistic out on the streets.
Me Time A hilarious short, done by Iyabo Boyd, that had me laughing the whole time. This film goes into the thoughts of a young Black woman (portrayed by Adnike Thomas) who just wants to find her own peace of mind while reaching her happy place and maybe an orgasm along the way. This film has a Nutty Professor feel as the very talented actress takes on all the various roles in the film. I went from chuckling in my seat to choking on my water with laughter.
Slave Cry A film, by Jai Johnson, speaks volumes on the issue of token characters that Black people are offered in hollywood. With films like Black Panther having much success and displaying diversity in the Black community, hollywood still has a long way to go. Slave Cry was a well written film that made me feel so bad for the lead character, played by Courtney Jamison, as she learns that no matter the level of talent, the entertainment business still needs to work on diversifying characters in their projects. Thank God we have a well selected Ariel for the Little Mermaid and thank God Jai Jackson made this film artist can relate to.
Roasted A hilarious short film that has a Ferris Bueller’s Day Off feel which follows a coffee shop employee who talks about his work day dealing with customers, making coffee, putting up with his boss, working solo and enjoying time listening to music while writing. His expression and body language change from animated to annoyance as he switches his focus from the audience to the characters in the film.
Emmett One of the standout features about a boy genius (Miles Brown from Grown-ish) that deals with social issues, being a championed student of color, and adapting to change and maturity. This great film was both relatable and touching as it took me back to my days in my youth and adapting to life as an over achiever in academics. This film sets the tone as it really touches on some of the issues we’ve all dealt with.
LiME A story of a young man’s hardwork and success of achieving his goals threatened by bullies who attack him based on his lifestyle. Truly a touching story of how cruel people can be and how beautiful the human spirit can manifest surrounded by the right crowd. Creator/director, Donta Story, put together a great short.
East of the River East of the River, by Hannah Peterson, is a compelling story of how a young girl, her highschool mate, and former schoolmate now sex worker connect through exploring the streets of DC. I think this film had great chemistry amongst the actors. Their relationship was very ambivalent, because it felt a little romantic. Nonetheless, the young DC natives did an amazing job!
Una Great Movie Explores the world of a Black female screenwriter and her hopes of getting her film picked up. The film also follows the lead character in her film as the two worlds reflect the difficulties of having creative and unconventional Black love stories, as the character portrayed in the screenwriter’s film looks to rekindle an old love that is of Mexican descent. The creator and director, Jennifer Sharp, explained the difficulty in getting new and fresh content
The Call Angel Weaver’s work is a film that captures the moment when a girl receives the phone call from her brother locked up in the prison system. The film showcased the unsettling experience of receiving the call, with a hilarious beginning that shows that the call can come at any moment.
Corey Creator/director/actor, Steven St. Pierre, put together a touching film about a Black man that has a difficult relationship with his wife, who has a drug addiction, and is raising his daughter while shielding her from the ugly truth about her mom. By the end of the film, the audience discovers why Corey works hard to keep his emotions together and his daughter safe emotionally.
The Right Swipe A show about two female friends that start a business helping men find matches on a dating app by curating their profiles. Although I have had little experience on dating apps, I found the pilot interesting and humorous. When I asked co-creator and Maryland native, Kyra Jones, about the show, she explained, “Through our research, we found that Black women and Asian men are less likely to get different matches. Even the cast is diverse, we wanted to make sure that we brought Black love to the forefront of the show. The show discusses how complex and how difficult it is to find romantic partners.” Watch the pilot here!
Together This film was one of the moving films of the festival. The story of Black love between an older married couple as they hold true to their vows through sickness and health. The film left me and those in attendance in tears as we saw the astonishing acting of EFE (2019 DC Black Films Best Actress) and her co-star show love at its best. There is talks of this being developed into a full feature film and I can’t wait to see it.
Having the Peele Appeal Night at the table and Dog Person are films from the film festival that had a Jordan Peele feel to them. It’s no surprise that the creatives of the films are inspired by Jordan Peele.
Night at the table A horror film that had definitely gave me a chill, from start to finish, as the film introduces a normal Black family that is more than just that. The director was inspired by the film Hereditary and even coached the lead actress to channel the mother of the film Hereditary. The multi-talented creative describes her films as being consequential pain in two words.
Dog Person If you loved watching the film Us by Peele or Tusk then you have to see this short film by Justin Fairweather. It’s a little disturbing in some parts but entertaining nonetheless. With a good performance by Jordanna Hernandez, Dog Person left me wanting to see what more films from Fairweather and hopefully a feature that have audiences everywhere entertained.
Who is Kevin Sampson?
Kevin Sampson is the BrainChild behind the DC Black Film Festival. He said it all started when Think Like a Man 2 came out and he was a little upset while he watched it because it was less about Black love and more of the Kevin Hart show. He explained that “We (Black people) only get a few movies per year and this is how we wasted it and maybe sometimes we need that.”
He then wrote an open letter to creatives everywhere explaining that black creatives have to do better. Many people including some hollywood actors commented on it. This inspired him to start a kickstarter for a documentary about Black Hollywood. The Kickstarter wasn’t successful but that led Kevin to create the DC Black Film festival. A place where Black people can showcase their talent and love for Black people.
Fast Facts About Kevin Sampson:
Graduated from American University Film school with a MFA in Film & Electronic Media
Created Picture Lock, an entertainment website, radio show/podcast, and hour long film review TV show.
Director of the Rosebud Film Festival since 2013.
Created Picture Lock PR to represent independent films.
The DC Black Film Festival was an amazing event and a success in it’s third year. It is important that we have events like these to not only show people of color on screen or Black culture but the diversity within the Black community. I think the DC Black Film festival will continue to grow to inspire young creatives and encourage people to watch quality films.
Winners From the Festival:
DC Best Film“ We Want to Make It”
Best Student Film “Masks”
Best Web Series“The History of White People in America”
Best Short Film“East of the River”
Best Experimental Film“Here”
Best Documentary Feature“Owned: The Tale of Two Americas”
High schooler, Luce (Kelvin Harrison Jr.), overcame a nightmarish past as a child soldier in Eritrea to become the definition of the All-American teenager. As a valedictorian, track star, and all-around popular kid, his life seems set until he suddenly finds himself at odds with an overbearing teacher, Ms. Wilson (Octavia Spencer). When his loving adoptive parents, played by Naomi Watts and Tim Roth, become entangled in the suspicions of this teacher, complex questions of prejudice suddenly bubble to the surface, threatening to expose the ugly truths about all involved. (Tribeca Film Festival)
Luce is a captivating thriller that challenges views on parenting and prejudice surrounding adoptive interracial families. The film really kept me ambivalent as to what the motives of each character really was. The talented cast peeled back the layers of their respective characters, especially rising star, Kelvin Harris Jr., who portrays Luce as a cunning, charming, and an innocent teenager. The parents did well at convincing us of juggling raising Luce and keeping their marriage together. Octavia Spencer, once again, portrayed a phemonal role as the teacher that has concerns about Luce that may derail his path to a successful college career.
Luce at Tribeca
At the Tribeca Film Festival, I was able to talk to the writer, director, and producer, Julius Ohna, on the red carpet who explained, “ I want people to ask real questions about the way they perceive things like privilege. We live in these multicultural societies, where the ways that we look at each other can have a real impact on the way people’s lives are led and if we are asking questions that are beyond our blind spots and not looking past them, I think there’s a real change that can come.”
The red carpet interviews and the showing were followed by a Q&A with the director and cast. I felt there was going to be tension in the room as the film depicted issues that society as a whole tends to leave unanswered.
The host of the Q&A – writer, director, and radio producer, Rebecca Carroll –asked thought-provoking questions. Those very same questions caused a lot of the audience members to leave the building due to the sensitive topic. One of the more difficult questions asked was about how does the white couple feel raising a young black teenager? A question that only Onley could answer since he wrote the film.
Tim Roth and other castmates could only approach the question as concerned parents, nothing more. Boasting a revelatory central performance by Harrison (who also appears this year in Gully) and nuanced work from an electrifying ensemble, director and co-writer Julius Onah twists this tale (adapted with JC Lee from his own play) into unexpected shapes, forcing the audience to examine the characters from every imaginable angle. Tension pulls at the screen, allegiances shift, and the viewer’s own biases are used to deepen the storytelling in masterful ways. —Loren Hammonds
Takaways from the film?
Mental health is still a significant issue that needs to be addressed for people of color, especially the child soldiers, like Luce, who suffer from a tremendous amount of stress and mental manipulation.
Caring for family with extreme mental health conditions is a difficult job. The Wilson sisters in the film, portrayed by Octavia Spencer and Marsha Stephanie Blake, gave an in-depth look at how this situation requires patience and a lot of energy.
People still don’t want to have an uncomfortable conversation when it comes to racism. While watching this film and attending the Q&A after the Tribeca premiere, I noticed how the characters in the film and people in the audience avoided the issue of racism.
Immigrants are not evil and they are not novelties. In the film, it is shown that Luce is sort of a token character and he plays the role to a tee to fit his needs. Although it is just a film, it can show how, in some cases, children in this situation can be championed in comparison to another teens who come from a background with non-adoptive parents who happen to be Black.
Trials and tribulations have no bias. The film does a great job of displaying the temptations and issues that the teenagers in the suburbs deal with that are similar to teens living in the inner city. The teens come from different backgrounds but still face life challenges.
Nonetheless, Luce is a great, thrilling film that properly addresses mental health, social and racial issues. If you’re looking for a film that is thought provoking and filled with many plot twists, you should definitely check it out.
Luce is in theaters now. It stars Kelvin Harris Jr., Octavia Spencer, Tim Roth, Naomi Watts, Andrea Bang, and Marsha Stephanie Blake.
Just Announced! Five-time Grammy award-winning artist Missy Elliott will receive the prestigious Michael Jackson Video Vanguard Award at the 2019 MTV Video Music Awards! There is sure to be a great tribute to her and the hip hop pioneer herself will perform on stage! This will be a special treat for fans everywhere since she hasn’t performed at the MTV VMA’s since 2003. Fans will be looking forward to the performance of her hits “ Get Ur Freak On”, “ Work It” and “The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly)”
Missy has had an amazing year thus far from being inducted into the SongWriters Hall of Fame to receiving an honorary doctorate at the Berklee College of Music.
In honor of Missy, MTV and Pepsi have partnered together to host a fan pop up event entitled MTV and Pepsi Celebrate the Museum of Missy Elliot. The pop-up event will be in New York from August 24th-25th highlighting the career and work of the multi-talented, transcending musician.
Several people on Twitter congratuatled the artist and Missy responded back with the following tweet:
Missy will join the likes of Beyonce, Rihanna, and Jennifer Lopez. Tune in Monday, August 26, 2019 at 8pm EDT live from the Prudential Center in Newark, NJ.
MTV is the leading global youth media brand in 180 countries, reaching 450 million households in nearly 30 different languages across every platform. A unit of Viacom Inc. (NASDAQ: VIAB, VIA), MTV operations span cable and mobile networks, live events, theatrical films and MTV Studios.
As the school year is getting underway, I am reminded of a conversation I had with a classmate pursuing a Bachelor’s in Education with a focus on History. The conversation was centered around how Black and brown people shouldn’t be forcing intersectionality on a movement that is exclusively about LGBT concerns. The topic was about adding black and brown stripes to the flag expressing LGBT identity more specifically and how oppression caused by race and sexual orientation are different. What made this conversation frustrating was having it with a white cis gendered heterosexual male, who identified as an “ally”. He made the argument that we should not combine the two because it is historically inaccurate and bad for both the growth of LGBT youth and teaching the movement. I responded to the notion that race and sexuality have no connection in this conversation with the following: “There is no such thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not live single-issue lives.” – Audre Lorde. I identify as a non-binary Black gay person. These identities are not separate for me… There is not a core-identity that separates my race from my sexuality because for me they intersect. The racism I experience is often sexualized and the homophobia I experience is often racialized.
His position on this topic alarmed me mostly due to his track in being an educator. He will be responsible for shaping the minds of children and teaching them accurate information. Teaching things like “oppression due to race doesn’t affect oppression due to sexuality” can be more damaging than not having access to education at all. A teacher is also someone who students should be able to confide in and see as a safe space. Having an understanding of how important intersectionality is in relation to the lives of the children we teach is detrimental to the future growth of our students. This also has the potential of leading to trauma or re-traumatization of LGBT youth of color. His response is best described with this: “The dual identities of yours probably don’t have a “standard core identity” because the concepts are disparate (and I’m sure you understand that), no matter how much you associate the both together in your mind”. A white cis-gendered heterosexual male told me, a Black gay non-binary person, that my identities have nothing to do with one another and that any issues stemming from them are not linked. This is something that all queer persons of color deal with. Having a teacher who expresses these ideas knowingly to a member of the community is not someone I would want to teach my children.
Let me be clear, my thoughts are not due to him being a hetero-cis gendered male, they are centered on his ideology and the fear of it influencing him teaching children, more specifically LGBT children, who can be traumatized as a result of his teachings. I offer a few suggestions for those wanting to work with the children in an educational environment, especially LGBT youth of color: 1) Be aware of the issues that the community faces and survey their needs as described. 2) understand personal positions on topics should not hinder your ability to accurately teach and engage students of a marginalized population.
As for more societal takeaways: If you call yourself an “ally,” learn your place. Speaking for others and/or out of place is toxic and does nothing but cloud narratives. It was not his place, especially as an “ally,” to tell me, a member of the communities being discussed, that my race has nothing to do with my sexuality. The next is by not considering intersectionality when discussing issues of gender, race, sexuality, religion, etc. has effects not only on individuals but all members in the respective community. One final takeaway is that if you are going to make an argument about something, ensure you have researched it well. When my classmate said that race and sexuality have nothing to do with the movement it shook me because the movement he is referring to is the Gay rights movement. The gay rights movement was started by Marsha P Johnson… a Black… Gay… Transwomen who threw the first brick at the stonewall riots which marked the start of the gay rights movement. Understanding history is important, especially if you want to be a history teacher…
Release Sep 7 2019 | Vol20 of Taji is packed full of Black Beauty & Culture fulfilling its theme of #SlayBells! This Big Book volume’s cover features the #SlayBells of model Funmi Okusi Gracing the pages are the Editor’s Pick, Olympian Keturah Orji who created a mentorship program for young girls; our Community Spotlight on rising actress Jenasha Roy; our highlighted Hair Feature, Intl I Love Braids Day – Braid Love Celebration 2019; “Solo Travel: Blackness Abroad” by dCarrie; “Atum Manifest” by Jashua Sa’Ra; “Back to Natural” Documentary by Gillian Scott Ward; “Black Excellence is Not Hyperbole” by Janelle Naomi; Our Vol 20 theme “#SlayBells” collective photo stories; our Fitness Feature Ase Boogie; Vegan Fun with Delliz the Chef; Featured art piece by Will Focus; Must Have Graphic Novel: “Marassa” Book 2 by Greg Anderson Elysee; “Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am” by Dapper Dr. Feel; The Celestine Collection Has the Body Butter Scents of the Season; Black Business Highlights; Forensic Toxicologist, Tamykah Anthony of Xanthines Cafe, is Inspiring the Next Generation; “Yoga For Every(body)” by Jo Murdock; Frances Vicioso Gets Real About Mental Health; Thoughts on the Abortion Ban from Podcaster Lineh; Naturalz Salon in Atlanta is Pure Good Vibes; Pharaonic Brand Reminds Us of Our Greatness; BMORE DREAM BIG is Uplifting the Community; Nonso Shows Men How to Dress Without Breaking the Bank; and more!!
Taji Mag is the epitome of the positive Black experience – elevating Black brands, narratives, and imagery. We embody the traditional and modern royalty of Pan-African people via our quarterly digital and print publication and live events.
International I Love Braids Day (IILBD) 2019 was all things braided godliness! This July 27th, the Queens came to make a statement, and that they did! From traditional styles with ancestral meaning to modern spins on staple techniques, these hairstyles left everyone in awe. They proved that braids can be worn by anyone for all occasions, at all ages and stages in life. Your royal can be clean and simple or adorned with cowry shells and jewels, whatever makes you strut and walk with your head held high. This inaugural celebration made history.
International I Love Braids Day received it’s official Proclamation on July 21, 2017, by the Brooklyn borough president’s office to the founder of IILBD, master hair braider Debra Hare Bey. Debra has been styling natural hair for over 30 years in Brooklyn. Her current salon, OMhh Beauty Oasis, is located at 407 Lewis Avenue, Brooklyn, New York. At the salon, she services clients with a multitude of natural hairstyles, but she specializes in braids. Debra is the originator of the style Nu Locs, most popularly worn by “Maxine Shaw” on the television series Living Single. Go ahead, question it. You thought Erika Alexander was rocking locs back then? Nope, those were yarn braids done by Debra. Debra also has a line of nourishing vegan hair and body care products that smell so good you’ll never want to stop using them. Fall in love with all things Debra Hare Bey and OMhh at www.OhMyHeavenlyHair.com.
Some of the other participating stylists were Jennifer Lord of Natural Hollywood, Nu Wave Kultural Kreations, Ayana Card of Kinky Rootz, Ngone Sow of Soween, Ms Hair and Humor, and Thema Taylor.
If you slacked in your mackin’ and slipped in your pimpin’, check the images here to see what you missed. Be sure to mark your calendar for July 29th next year for International I Love Braids day and follow @internationalilovebraidsdayblc on IG to be notified of the #BraidLoveBK celebration for 2020!
As I interviewed Gbenga Akinnagbe on the red carpet at the Tribeca Film Festival premiere of Luce, I began to think of how his career and activist work reminded me of Harry Belafonte – without the singing voice of course. They were both born in the United States and have parents native to outside of the United States. Harry Belafonte’s parents were Jamaican and Gbenga Akinnagbe’s parents were Ghanaian. Besides both being talented actors in both TV and theater, they both have served as advocates for not only the rights of African Americans but for others who have had their rights constantly threatened.
To catch his attention I inquired about his article published in the New York Times, My Left Foot: The High Costs of Fallen Arches. “Well, I was getting my feet cut up and I was thinking that this was an interesting journey,” Gbenga said about his informative article for the Washington Post. “I wanted to write something for The Times and they were open to it so far as I wrote about the whole journey of a double calcaneal osteotomy, which is the process where they cut your heels and move them over. The whole surgery was wild!” he added.
When I asked him about the importance of diversity in the entertainment industry he caught me off guard by saying “I’m not for it all, I think there are too many Black people and shit!” After gathering myself and wiping off the ‘you for real?’ look off my face he chuckled and responded with “I think it’s great and I think it’s necessary to what people have been calling for a long time in the industry. I think the industry is beginning to finally crack open and embrace diversity. It’s not a new day yet but it’s the beginning of a new day.”
Gbenga Akinnagbe’s Debut
The DC native had his directorial debut in George Pelecanos’ DC Noir; a series of four short films that come from stories written by Pelecanos centered around the Washington, D.C. area in Noir fashion. Gbenga explained that the noir style was explored a little in the Wire but, with this project, it fully unboxes the genre. The series also featured creatives and actors from the Washington, D.C area.
The stories are all emotional, poetic, dark, realistic, and definitely magnify the social issues that saturate the media. More notably, they focus on the relationships between civilians and police. There is an interesting perspective of police in the episode directed by Gbenga where you have a hard working a detective with integrity and an officer the polar opposite with intentions that are self-driven.
Gbenga Akinnagbe described DC Noir as such: “With the noir genre, you can tell a lot of different stories, especially darker stories that usually involve things that I am very interested in highlighting. So being able to use this genre to highlight social injustice in the D.C., Maryland, and Virginia area is important to me. We are all from the area.”
In the short, “String Music,” directed by Gbenga Akinnagbe, star rapper, Wale, cousin of Gbenga, put on a good and convincing performance. Wale definitely added flair to the role. Gbenga went on to mention, “I did cast Wale as my antagonist in the film, I got to cast the actors for my piece and I was lucky to be able to get him in my film with his busy schedule and all. I gave him as much acting tips as I could, as an actor, as his director. He has a natural talent, he is a creative as you can tell from his music and it translates on screen.”
During an early Sunday morning phone interview with Gbenga Akinnagbe, I realized that although he had similarities with Belafonte, he is carving his own place in entertainment and activism using his platform. An inspiration to people of all ages, especially the young Black men in the DMV, Gbenga is making waves from TEDtalks to protests outside of his creative career. The young Nigerian boy from Silver Spring, MD has grown to be a gifted artist and humanitarian who isn’t afraid to put energy into the things and people he loves.
His passion for politics came at a young age. “I’ve always been interested in government systems that people live in and how some of social groups operate in the system as well. Maybe it’s the Nigerian in me that loves to talk about international themes and politics. I didn’t know what that was when I was younger, I just knew I had an interest in it.”
This is the reason he enjoys taking on projects like “To Kill a Mockingbird,” a stage play written by Aaron Sorkin based of the book of the same name in which Gbenga plays Tom Robinson and co-stars with Jeff Daniels who plays Atticus Finch.
Gbenga’s inspiration for his role on Broadway comes from his own life. “I think my whole existence as a Black man in the United States is what I brought to portray the character in To Kill a Mockingbird. We also had good writing to be our guide from both the playwright and the book. My experience influenced how I saw Tom’s life, how people interacted with him, it was a relevant piece when it was written and a relevant piece now.” Gbenga explained.
“When I accepted the part, it was exhilarating. I was prepared for the long hours, the conversations dissecting race and class, and what the role would demand of me. I loved the work. I still do. What I did not anticipate was how deeply it would affect me — how wearing it would be to play a part that makes me the daily object of racist invective and racial violence for a majority-white audience.” – Gbenga Akinnagbe from the Washington Post article Every night, racists kill me. Then I leave the theater for a world of danger.
Gbenga explained that he often thought about the lives of people like Tamir Rice, Trayvon Martin, and Saundra Bland, that were victims that were unjustly killed. He mentioned that he has known Sybrina Fulton (Trayvon Martin’s mother) for years now and it was a tragedy when Trayvon was taken. “Once you meet them (parents/family of the unjustly killed men and women) and you see their work, their work is more personal. I can’t see how people can play this role and not think of the Black and brown people that have lost their life that way.” Gbenga said.
We also talked about his clothing line, Liberated People, which is dedicated to making political statements and support through fashion. Some of the proceeds go to selected foundations. He explained “I have been a part of protest around the world and in the streets with people from different backgrounds and languages, but everyone was out there for the same thing, which was human and democratic rights. We felt that we were in this struggle alone in our own subgroups and relating to others going through the same struggle. After seeing this I wanted to make something that highlights the struggle, the liberation is something that we have in common and if we recognize the struggle for liberation as sisters and brothers in different locations around the world, we can unify as a stronger impact.”
I asked Gbenga what were other writing projects he had in mind and he said “I am working on something right now, some books and scripts. I enjoy writing a great deal and I want to continue to develop as a writer.”
Thus far as I have been fortunate to work with George Pelecanos, David Simon and Ed Burns in my early 20’s. Reading their scripts from The Wire, and the Duece and just having them around as mentors has been super helpful. I also enjoy books from Don Ridley, Stephen King, and just recently I have been reading Ta-Nahsi Coates. I don’t read as much as I used to.
Gbenga at the Luce premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival. (Photo by William Baldon.)
Gbenga has a promising future ahead of him in both the political and entertainment worlds, but has no interest in running for politics because he never has been attracted to it due to its practice in this country. He further explained that “The money game is really not for the people but of the people. I don’t want to contribute to that. I’m already taking part in activities that help make changes for the better.”
Gbenga Akinnagbe will continue his put out quality projects and actively fight the good fight. Here’s to hoping he will be valued as much as impactful Black creatives like Nina Simone, Dick Gregory, and yes, Harry Belafonte.
JAE Black hails from Asheboro, North Carolina. He reigns as the Founder, Owner, CEO, and Artist on his independent Label, Illcapone Records LLC.
Best Advice Given JAE receieved the best advice from his friend of 15 years, Emery. They were hanging out at JAE’s house back during their high school days, making a beat and structuring a song for their rap group at the time, which was called “yung gin.” Emery looks at JAE and says, “yo dog, out of everybody I know in my life and out if everybody in the group, you got it… you’re going to make it… never stop this music thing ’til God allows you to go no further.” He’s had people share that same enthusiasm ever since that moment, but it was something about that day that made him believe it!
Being able to be diverse in the game is critical and that’s why JAE Black believes that he is both a MC and a Lyricst. Why? He makes great music as an artist and, from a technician’s, stand point he paints pictures out of real life that people can relate to.
Popular Artist most likely to perform with: Drake.
To create this recent album, he was inspired by things that he went through between the release and the few months prior. He experienced a wave of hate, betrayal, jealousy, greed, and even the doubt from loved ones because they couldn’t understand his goals. The Penalty of Leadership is for those individuals who do things out the norm which scare people into only following. It doesn’t bother him to step out of the norm and he doesn’t think it should bother anyone else either; be great no matter who’s against it! The reason for the release date is due to his great grandmother’s birthday. Her passing has given him a focus and drive like he’s never had before.
The Penalty of Leadership dropped on JUNE 9th 2019 on all music platforms.
Where it all started…
His mom dated this guy named Al Luck for four years and, when JAE Black was in 5th grade, Al Luck and his son, Marquese, moved in with JAE and his mom. Marquese and Jae became close like brothers and remain the same to this day. They looped music from the wrestling video game they recieved for N64 and then they recorded it off of a tape recorder. He had the tape recorder from the Home Alone movie and they would play the beat back from the radio while they rapped over it.
They got to the point where they would take two plastic sticks from toy golf clubs, a couple of empty soda bottles, and other objects to create beats. Marquese would do the drumming and JAE was the MC. It’s funny for JAE to think about it now but that’s where his love for music began.
JAE Black has written his own music since he was 10 years old and has yet to collaborate with anyone but in the future it could be a possibility. Yet, as he ventures through new levels with his music, he finds that he enjoys the creativity behind each of his songs more and more. He doesn’t have a favorite song but the song that he is most proud of would be: Trust Issues from his recent album.
He’s proud of that song because he took a risk and tried something new. Listen to it and you will understand why. His most memorable performance was when he performed a track in downtown, Greensboro in 2015. A guy in the music industry was given JAE’s music when he came down to visit North Carloina and he liked what he heard. He invited Jae to New York to perform at a music festival called “The Gathering.” It was his first and only experience. In his first song he fumbled and messed up the lyrics so bad that he just went straight to the next song and from that day forward he always told himself to be prepared. Shortly after that, he took a 3 year break because of life. Now his focus and drive are much different.
NEXT STEPS FOR THE FUTURE
The Penalty Of Leadership dropped on June 9th. Some music videos to some joints from it were released but then it’s get back to the studio to work on another project. He has tracks for another project that he is working on but currently JAE is focused on promoting The Penalty Of Leadership and putting more momentum behind the ball.