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Black History Month Spotlight: Ryan Coogler

Director and writer Ryan Coogler’s introduction to the public left a profound impact that is still found in his work today. Coogler grew up as one of three brothers to a community organizer and probation counselor. Originally born and raised in Oakland, CA, he spent much of his adolescence in Richmond, where ran track and played football. His sports prowess won him a football scholarship to St. Mary’s College.

While at St. Mary’s, the seeds for his film careers were sowed as he took a creative writing course. He eventually transferred to Sacramento State, where he took multiple film courses. After earning his bachelor’s degree, Coogler enrolled in the master’s program of USC School of Cinematic Arts. During his tenure at the school, the filmmaker creates a series of short films that prestigious student film awards such as TIFF’s Dana and Albert Broccoli Award for Filmmaking Excellence, the HBO Short Film Competition, the DGA Student Film Award, and the Jack Nicholson Award for Achievement in Directing.

As a USC student, the shooting of Oakland native Oscar Grant greatly affected Coogler. He put together a script by interviewing Grant’s family and attorney. Eventually, a chance meeting with Oscar winner Forest Whittaker led to the film Fruitvale Station. The film went on to be a critically-acclaimed sleeper hit, scoring multiple nominations for Coogler and frequent collaborator Michael B. Jordan. After the film’s success, he and Jordan teamed up with Sylvester Stallone to bring Creed to the big screen. The seventh installment in the Rocky franchise proved to a success – critically and commercially.

After helming two successful films in a row, Coogler was tapped to direct an all-star cast in Marvel Studio’s first MCU film with a Black lead – Black Panther. Released in February 2018, the film went on to become the highest-grossing film by a Black director. It garnered multiple award nominations, including an Oscar nomination for Best Picture. The hit film will be followed up with a sequel in 2022. Along with the Black Panther sequel, he will write and direct Wrong Answer, another film with Michael B. Jordan as well as Space Jam: A New Legacy with Lebron James. The director recently signed a deal with Disney+, which includes a drama based on Wakanda.

As a screenwriter, there are very few creators in the entertainment industry so inspire me more than the man I just profiled. I have admired his efforts to push stories of the Black diaspora. He spotlights many aspects of Black culture over different continents along socioeconomic, class, and racial lines. He (as well as a few other Black creators) have front Black cinema back into the mainstream conversation, and for that, I want to say thank to Ryan Coogler for pushing creative like myself to highlight all facets of my culture.

To recognize yourself in a character onscreen, and to connect with them, you gotta recognize their flaws; they gotta feel like a real person.

– Ryan Coogler

Black History Month Spotlight: Issa Rae

Multihyphenated content creator Issa Rae grew from a YouTube content creator to one of Hollywood’s most powerful Black voices. Rae grew up as one of four siblings to a Senegalese doctor and Black American educator whose careers took the family across different continents. Originally born in Los Angeles, CA, she lived in Senegal and Maryland before settling in California. It wasn’t until Rae entered high school that found her passion and voice – acting and writing.

After graduating from high school in Los Angeles, Rae went to Stanford University, where she received a BA in African and African American Studies. The seeds for her first series The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl were planted as she met her producer Tracy Oliver. The two eventually took classes at the New York Film Academy after Rae completed a theatre fellowship in New York City. Her confidence in having an entertainment career wavered as she contemplated between law and medical school before Awkward Black Girl took off.

After contemplating quitting her career, she had her breakthrough moment as Season 1 of The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl took off on YouTube. The series gained recognition through word of mouth and coverage online before the mainstream media picked up the series. This attention led to renowned music producer Pharrell to helping produce the second season. Rae even went on develop other successful YouTube series such as Black Actress, The Choir and First. She ended up scoring a development deal through Shonda Rhimes’ Shondaland with host and comedian Larry Wilmore helping to develop a comedy series.

Despite the deal not working out, the series she developed with Wilmore led to a pilot for HBO. This deal eventually led to the acclaimed hit Insecure. Her work on Insecure has led to multiple award nominations as both an actor and writer. The series’ success helped to secure Rae an HBO development deal, leading to projects such as Rap Sh*t and A Black Lady Sketch Show. The creator continues to produce film and television projects through her production outlets Issa Rae Productions and ColorCreative. The success has translated to a big screen career as both a performer and producer with hit films such as The Hate U Give, Little, Hair Love, and The Lovebirds.

As a screenwriter, there are very few creators in the entertainment industry so inspire me more than the woman I just profiled. While I did catch a few episodes of Awkward Black Girl on YouTube, it was her efforts to push other underrepresented and marginalized creators that made her a source of inspiration. She managed to turn an acclaimed, poignant web series into a multimedia brand spanning television, streaming and the web. She (as well as a few other Black creators) helped to bring the Black experience back into primetime after a drought of Black television content, and for that, I want to say thank to Issa Rae for pushing creative like myself to highlight all facets of my culture.

My confidence comes from doing what I love to be honest, like to be able to create something from the ground up and to be able to… kind of walk in your purpose is a great feeling.

– Issa Rae

Black History Month Spotlight: Walter Dean Myers

Children’s book and young adult author Walter Dean Myers managed to merge Black youth culture with literature. Myers experienced a rough childhood growing up in New York. At age two, he was given to his foster parent Herbert and Florence Dean after his mother’s death. Adopting the middle name “Dean” to honor the love and affection the Deans showed him. His life revolved around his neighborhood and church.

Their love was needed as Myers’ speech impediment lead to some trouble at school. But a turning point came when his teacher suggested using writing to channel his frustration. He continued writing short stories and poetry into high school before quitting at age 17 to join the military. Upon being discharged, he went from job to job trying to find his voice until reading “Sonny’s Blues” by James Baldwin.

Soon, he began writing for various publications before winning a contest, which leads to his first children’s book. Much of his work channeled his troubled teenage years and growing up in Harlem, New York. His exploration of Black young culture was unprecedented in children’s and young adult literature. He went to published best-selling titles such as Fast Sam, Cool Clyde, and StuffFallen AngelsMonsterHoops, and Scorpions. During his lifetime, Myers was a five-time Coretta Scott King Award winner along with being a Newbery Medal, Hans Christian Anderson, and National Book Award finalist. From 2012 to 2013, he served as National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, becoming the first Black person to be granted this honor.

In his later years, Myers continued to write children’s books and young adult literature with his son Christopher doing the illustrations. He passed away on July 1, 2014, after a brief illness. Even after his death, his work continued to be published with his last book, Frederick Douglass: The Lion Who Wrote History, and the short story, “Sometimes a Dream Needs a Push,” coming out in 2017.

As a Black teenage male, I had very few authors who appealed to me outside of the few Black authors that were required reading. Discovering Walter Dean Myers’ works in junior high made me feel seen and heard in a way I had never felt before. He captured the experience of Black youth without pandering or being outdated. He made me strive to be better than some of the circumstances he wrote in his novels, and for that, I want to say thank to Walter Dean Myers for shaping my adolescence and wanting to highlight my culture.

Books transmit values. They explore Our common humanity. What is the message when some people are not represented in those books?

– Walter Dean Myers

Black History Month Spotlight: Toni Morrison

Author and educator Toni Morrison set the tone for many Black writers of today. Morrison grew up as the second of four children in a working-class African American family in Lorain, Ohio. Her love for reading and her heritage was stimulated by her parents telling of African-American folktales and ghost stories.

She turned her love for reading into her passion as she received her BA in English from Howard University followed an MA from Cornell University. She taught at Texas Southern University and Howard before getting Random House subsidiary L.W. Singer. While at Random House, Morrison became the first Black female senior editor, giving chances to many upcoming Black writers such as Wole Soyinka, Chinua Achebe, Toni Cade Bambara, Angela Davis, Huey Newton and Gayl Jones.

Soon, she began writing herself leading to some African American literature’s most celebrated works like The Bluest Eyes, Song of Solomon and Beloved. Her storytelling and celebration of Black culture sent a precedent for African American literature. With Beloved, Morrison became the first Black woman to win the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1993. In 1997, she became the second female and first Black fiction writer to grace the cover of Time Magazine.

In her later years, Morrison continued to thrive as a professor at both Cornell and Princeton University. She released her final work of fiction, God Help the Child, in 2015. She passed away on August 5, 2019, after a battle with pneumonia.

Some may not acknowledge this fact, but Toni Morrison is basically the turning point for African American literature. Her foresight and sense of awareness was able to push Black writers and stories to the mainstream in a way no one before her had even tried. Her contributions as a writer and editor aren’t celebrated enough, but for that, I say thank Ms. Morrison for all you did to create a space for Black voices.

If there is a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, you must be the one to write it.

– Toni Morrison

Writing, Elections and Other Drugs!

After a busy few weeks, I’m back! Happy New Year! Merry Christmas! And all those good things. 2020 was a year of mixed blessings for me. But recent developments have left me optimistic in 2021.

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For me, 2020 was mentally, emotionally and spiritually taxing for me. I witnessed Black body after Black body become viral sensations as the American mainstream finally recognized (not accepted) how racist the US truly is. COVID-19 decided no one was going to have any fun in the first year of this new decade. I experienced an overwhelming depression that led me to channel my feelings into overeating. I also felt isolated from my family for months. Thank God for Christmas (don’t worry I took all safety guidelines and protocols). Of course, my car accident left me messed up for quite some time. While I still deal with the mental and emotional scars, I’m finally done with medical with still in legal limbo.

The brightest moment of 2021 has been the Orange Man leaving the White House. Congratulations to President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris! Of course, he had to go out the way he came in (chaos and coded language). One thing led to an insurrection, and BOOM! He became the first president to be impeached TWICE!

Photo by Ketut Subiyanto on Pexels.com

Despite all this turmoil, my creativity will be my main focus as I work my personal projects. Hopefully, I can start sharing more work in 2021.

Since taking my break, my freelance work has increased as more and more contract work continues to come in. While it can be overwhelming at times, I won’t want it any other way. I love being busy. I’m putting more focus on building my brand in 2021 as I make some necessary changes (be on the lookout for some changes on this site).

On the school front, I’m still waiting to hear about my assignments for the Fall 2021 semester. Hopefully, by Fall 2021, the American school system will know how to deal with the “new normal.”

Watch this space for more on my writing journey.

A Writer’s Prayer for 2021

As we inch towards New Year’s Day, we get to leave the mess that was 2020. Some of 2020 may filter over to 2021, but next year will not only my year but your year as well. As writers and creatives, we all need a little help to get through the next year. So, here’s a prayer for writers from The Steve Laube Agency:

As I sit before this keyboard, my desire is to honor you and give great glory to your name. May the words I type be acceptable to you.

As I sit and write today, I think about all the other things I should be doing and I wonder why you gave me this desire to write. Clear my mind and heart so what I write can be used by you.

Your creativity is endless, timeless, boundless and downright amazing. While I run out of ideas, you never do. You are God and I am not, but take my words as an offering of praise.

Hopefully, this helps you to make your 2021 a bright and fruitful one.

Enjoy These Blassics for Christmas

Much like Thanksgiving, this year Christmas is hitting a little different. Dad, Grandpas, and Uncles screaming at the same football game over Zoom. Mama, Grandmas, and Aunties are fixing dinners just for their families as everyone is social distancing. All the kids are Facetiming each other to the latest TikTok dances and doing Insta Videos on the Gram.

This doesn’t mean people are tossing aside the holiday festivities (Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa). Having a small circle of (COVID-free) friends or immediate family over is still a slim possibility with social distancing and Zoom.

This year, you can tap into the Black experience by enjoying times where family and friends could gather before social distancing. So, here are some Christmas Blassics for you to enjoy this holiday season.

This Christmas

This recent Christmas Blassic is based on the classic Donny Hathaway song of the same name. The film centers on the Whitfield family as the eldest son (played by Idris Elba) comes home for the first time in four years. But he’s return is only the tip of the iceberg as the family has to overcome secrets as Christmas approaches. Along with Elba, the film stars acting legends Loretta Devine, Delroy Lindo and Regina King as well as Lauren London, Chris Brown, Sharon Leal, Columbus Short and Laz Alonso.

Almost Christmas

Just like This Christmas, this modern Christmas Blassic centers on a dysfunctional family coming together during the Christmas season. The film follows the Meyers family as they come together for the first time since losing their matriarch. As Christmas approaches, secrets are revealed and hijinks ensue just in time for the holidays. The film stars Kimberly Elise, Mo’Nique, Nicole Ari Parker, Gabrielle Union, Keri Hilson, Jessie Usher, Danny Glover, Omar Epps, John Michael Higgins, D. C. Young Fly, and Romany Malco.

The Best Man Holiday

The Christmas Blassic reunites the cast of another Blassic The Best Man over a decade later. The film sees the gang back together again as Mia Sullivan (played by Monica Calhoun) sends the letters asking them to spend Christmas with her and her husband Lance. New and old issues come up between the friends as a tragic secret looms over the gathering. Along with Calhoun, the film stars Morris Chestnut, Taye Diggs, Regina Hall, Terrence Howard, Sanaa Lathan, Nia Long, Harold Perrineau, and Melissa De Sousa

Black Nativity

This modern Christmas Blassic is based on a stage musical retelling of the Nativity by celebrated Harlem Renaissance writer Langston Hughes. The film follows a teenaged boy (played by Jacob Latimore) as he is reunited with his estranged pastor grandparents. Through a series of musical numbers and Christmas festivities, the two generations comes together in the holiday spirit. Along with Latimore, the film stars acting legends Forest Whitaker, Angela Bassett, and Vondie Curtis-Hall as well as Tyrese Gibson, Jennifer Hudson, Mary J. Blige, and Nas.

The Preacher’s Wife

This 1996 Christmas Blassic is remake of the 1947 film The Bishop’s Wife. The film follows an angel Dudley (played by Oscar winner Denzel Washington) as he tries to help a struggling pastor save his church as well as his family. Conflict ensues as Dudley begins getting closer to and falling for the pastor’s wife (played by the late Whitney Houston). Along with Washington and Houston, the film stars Courtney B. Vance, Loretta Devine, Gregory Hines, and Jenifer Lewis.

The Kid Who Loved Christmas

This 1990 TV film follows an adoptive father and son who fight to stay together during the Christmas season. The small family is torn apart after the tragic death of the adoptive mother. The entire family gathers to support them as the father fights Social Services to keep the little boy. The film stars Cicely Tyson, Michael Warren, Sammy Davis Jr. Sideman, Gilbert Lewis, Charles Q. Murphy, Ken Page, Ray Parker Jr., Della Reese, Esther Rolle, Ben Vereen. and Vanessa Williams.

While eating your dinner this holiday season, why not watch and reminisce over these amazing films.

Pivoting and Growing During Trying Times

2020 has been a year of change for me (as well as many others). This year, I decided to put my career as a creative first. I wanted to turn my love and passion into a business. Unfortunately, I decided to pivot and grow in a year where chaos and uncertainty started to dictate the rules. But this year shown me what I’m really capable of.

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For me, I pivoted before the pandemic. Working a dead-end nine-to-five was killing my creativity as I tried carving out my career. I needed a change. The change was necessary as my workplace became toxic to me – physically, mentally, and emotionally. When you feel like the only adult in the room, and you’re not management – it’s a problem.

My change started taking shape in 2019, as I gained more and more traction in freelance writing. My moment came when I became an assistant professor. I found my way out of the retail rat race. I could finally breathe and be my person away from the public.

I do admit I struggled for a few months as the economy took a downturn. But eventually, things started to fall in place as contract work started to pick up and my business became official. At this point, I have found a sense of happiness.

I have to admit that sometimes it can be overwhelming and daunting being a self-employed artist. While the work is varied, I feel from time to time that my personal life is suffering as my workaholic ways take over. As I gain more and more traction in my career, my time has become more precious. But honestly, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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With so much work ahead of me, I feel like Christmas break will be the perfect time to do some personal work. As 2020 draws to a close, I hope to find more time for me. There are many things I want to write.

When it comes to my position as a professor, the finish line for Fall 2020 is just days away. But it will be more of the same as Spring 2020; I’m teaching online once more. Like every school year, there were the usual ups and downs before the pandemic took it to another level. Here’s to hoping 2021 is a better year for everyone all around!


Watch this space for more on my writing journey.

Don’t be a stranger! Leave a comment below.

Black Media You Should Be Grateful for This Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is usually a time of togetherness. Dad, Grandpas, and Uncles screaming at the TV as his team misses another touchdown. Mama, Grandmas, and Aunties chastising the kids for nibbling on the sides. All the kids – oldest to youngest – teaching each other the latest TikTok dances and posting filtered selfies on the Gram. But this year’s circumstances eliminated any possible cheek-pinching and sloppy kisses from the fam.

This doesn’t mean people are tossing aside turkey (or chicken) and all those wonderful side dishes. Having a small circle of (COVID-free) friends or immediate family over is still a slim possibility with social distancing and Zoom.

This year, you can tap into the Black experience by being appreciative of outstanding Black media of all shapes and sizes. With that said, I decided to highlight some outlets keeping us informed and entertained on Turkey Day.

Black News Organizations and Publications

These publications and websites provide news and views without all the shade (maybe only in small doses).

Blavity – grabs you all things Black media-related from news to beauty to tech

Mogul Millennial – supplies Black entrepreneurs with news, views, and resources

The Grio – gives you news of the day through the lens of Black America

Atlanta Black Star – gives daily news for Black America across different platforms

Rolling Out – speaks on Black news and culture with a Hip Hop slant

CRWNMAG – taps into the Black lifestyle and hair culture

Watch the Yard – speaks to the HBCU culture and experience

Essence – gives a voice to Black women across all lifestyles and perspectives

For more Black voices still in traditional print, here is a directory of different Black publications nationwide. For anyone looking to break into publication, here is news of a new fund supporting Black writers and journalists.

Black Podcasts

These podcasts are just as diverse as the diaspora itself.

Still Processing

Black Men Can’t Jump [in Hollywood]

Code Switch

The Read

Back Issue

Okay Now, Listen

Melanin Animated

The Black Film Space Podcast

Jemele Hill is Unbothered

Strong Black Lead

Black N’ Animated

Toon Lore Done Right

For more Black voices in the podcasting space, here is a list of podcasts covering all the different facets of Black culture.

Black Film and TV Platforms

These platforms provide much-needed outlets for Black creatives.

aspireTV

kweliTV

UMC (Urban Movie Channel)

Blacktag

While eating your dinner this Thanksgiving, why not watch, read, and listen to some of these Black media outlets.

Mixed Feelings Over a Creative Future

As 2020 barrels toward an unpredictable ending, being a Black writer has been a rollercoaster of emotions. Angry. Sad. Anxious. Joyous. Depressing. Exciting. Frustrating. But recent developments have been made me hesitantly optimistic.

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My creativity as a writer has been tested so many times this year. For me, 2020 was supposed to be my year, but God has other plans (not only for me but the world in general). I’ve witnessed Black body after Black body become viral sensations as the American mainstream finally recognized (not accepted) how racist the US truly is. So many times, I wanted to scream at the top of my lungs in frustration and angry. I tried to write about it, but my mind and spirit wouldn’t let me. It was too tiring to use my words to educate or express my thoughts on the Black American experience.

Along with America finally (if only superficially) addressing racism, COVID-19 decided no one was going to have any fun in the first year of this new decade. Again, my thoughts and feelings couldn’t come together to speak on the fun destroyer. I experienced an overwhelming depression that led me to channel my feelings into overeating. Despite being an introvert, I found lockdown to be isolating and anxiety-filled as this pandemic brought this never-ending cycle of openings and shut downs. I’ve been isolated from my family for months with social media and phone calls being the only form of contact. Despite writing for months, I’ve felt no motivation to tend to my personal writing. I hope to change that in the near future.

But the past few weeks have taken the cake. Between the clusterfuck known as the presidential election and an unexpected car accident, I have been having a hard time. Watching this country be divided between red and blue, Black and White, and men and women has been surprising yet typical after the election. Seeing the Orange Man defeated after four years of nonsense was bittersweet. Part of me was joyous to return to a bit of normalcy while the other part of me knew udder chaos was bond to break out. The social media meltdowns were better than primetime television.

On the other end, my car accident left me with mental, emotional, and physical pain I will have to deal with you a while. Despite having an attorney and an orthopedist, the process hasn’t been easy. I still have to deal with things that out of my control. My frustration and annoyance has been on an all-time high.

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Despite all this turmoil, my creativity has never stopped. My mind is constantly filled with ideas of pieces I want to write. Hopefully, my plans for the rest of the year will pan out. Screenwriting is definitely in my sight as I plan on revising quite a bit over Thanksgiving and Christmas break. Working on Valarie, Brothas, and the untitled action adventure will be my main focus before 2020 ends. I feel inspired to work on a piece or two (one fiction and one nonfiction). I will see more coming from me in 2021.

Since taking my break, my freelance work has increased as more and more contract work continues to come in. While it can be overwhelming at times, I won’t want it any other way. I love being busy. I might even have even more work around the corner if some connections work out.

On the school front, the Fall semester is coming to an uncertain close. Dealing with COVID-19’s impact on education has made everyone involved feeling overwhelmed, despondent, and anxious. If recent news and emails are anything to go by, these circumstances won’t be going away any time soon. Hopefully, by Fall 2021, school will have dealt with the “new normal.”

Watch this space for more on my writing journey.

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