‘Insecure’ Showrunner Prentice Penny Opens Up About his New truTV Series

Prentice Penny

(Photo Credit: Justin Jackson/truTV)

Writer and producer Prentice Penny stars in the new lifestyle series Upscale with Prentice Penny, which premieres on truTV. Known for his work behind the scenes on award-winning comedy series such as Insecure, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Happy Endings, The Hustle, and Scrubs, the Hollywood showrunner is the creator and host of his latest venture.

The genesis of Upscale with Prentice Penny happened organically. Penny initially had no desire to be in front of the camera. But when Penny and his manager, who share a love for bourbon and barbecue, flew to Kansas City, rented an RV, and went on a two-week road adventure to tour various bourbon distilleries and barbecue eateries, the idea came up to film their expedition to create a YouTube series of fun-filled experiences.

Over the two-year period after their excursion, the idea snowballed into further creative discussions about forming a wide platform for what turned into a series of digital vignettes. Penny’s desire to share this project, coupled with the lifestyle shifts he was experiencing, grew into a discussion to create a broadcast series. One day, he said to his manager, “You never see people of color talk about champagne and wine and suits and cigars and travel bags on television.”

During a trip to Paris, Penny was further inspired by the many black people he saw there. “I never see anyone who looks like us or anyone who reflects our lifestyle on these programs,” he recalls telling his manager. “I only see Chef’s Table or Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown. It’s always some middle-aged white guy who’s the decider of what you should learn and experience culturally.”

Although Penny aspired to live an upscale lifestyle, he admits that there was a time when he lacked the sophistication and simply was not exposed to some of the finer things in life. Penny also had many preconceived ideas and often placed limits on himself. He recalls the many times he went to a wine and spirits shop; whenever a staff person asked if he needed help, he would say, “no,” because like many other people in his position, he was afraid to ask questions and didn’t want to feel stupid.

On Upscale with Prentice Penny, he wants his audience to know that they don’t have to be an athlete, singer, rapper, or celebrity to upgrade the quality and condition of their lives. “We [black people] used to go to the tailor; we used to go to the butcher instead of buying our meats from the supermarket; we used to go to a shoe cobbler and get our shoes resoled,” he says. “We use to go to the local sandwich shops for cold cuts, instead of the franchise establishments that exist today.”

 

Penny says one of the best parts of taping the show is going out to the different communities and meeting with shop owners and experts to get a sense of the old-school way of doing things and the many benefits they offer in enriching the lives of his viewers.

Born and raised as an only child in the Windsor Hills section of Los Angeles, Penny’s parents divorced when he was a young child. After the divorce, his mother, Brenda Penny, went on to law school and his father kept long hours on the job. After school, Penny spent a great deal of time with his grandparents on both sides of his family. It was during that time in the ‘80s that Penny developed his love for television.

Penny says he comes from a family of natural-born comedians. “My family is a lot of fun, from my dad, my mom, my grandparents, my aunts, and uncles,” he says. “Comedy was always around the house. You had to be quick. Otherwise, you would get your feelings hurt.”

In his grandparents’ household, they routinely watched Jeopardy, Wheel of Fortune and various local news stations. Not interested in their selection of programs, Penny entertained himself by writing stories. But during the networks’ primetime comedy boom of the ‘70s and ‘80s, he would tune in to such shows as The Jeffersons, Diff’rent Strokes, The Cosby Show, A Different World, Family Ties, Facts of Life, and, like many kids his age, he would sneak off and watch Eddie Murphy’s concert film Delirious. “My dad is a big Richard Pryor fan,” he confesses. “He is an old-school dad. If he was watching it on television, I had to watch it or get out. So, he didn’t care about the language; he just knew that I better not and I knew better not to repeat it.”

 

Penny’s first gig in television was as a writer on Mara Brock Akil’s groundbreaking sitcom Girlfriends. A lot has changed in television since that time, and even more since the days of The Jeffersons and The Cosby Show, but Penny remains cautiously optimistic about opportunities for people of color in television. “I’ve been around long enough to witness the trends in television,” he explains. “I hope the reign of black shows continues. We now have more platforms in the broadcast and digital space to tell our stories.”

This month, Penny begins filming the second season of Issa Rae and Larry Wilmore’s critically acclaimed HBO hit comedy series Insecure. Looking ahead, Penny has a few more projects in development under his production company, A Penny for Your Thoughts, including a family movie he describes as a dramedy. He also has a deal with HBO.

As a new face on the small screen, Penny doesn’t know exactly what to expect or how Upscale with Prentice Penny will potentially change his life. Feeling grateful and blessed, he plans to continue riding this wave of success and explore the new possibilities that come with it.

 

 

 


Gwendolyn Quinn is an award-winning media consultant with a career spanning more than 25 years. She is a contributor to BlackEnterprise.com and BE Pulse (via Medium.com), Huffington Post and EURWEB.com. Quinn is also a contributor to Souls Revealed and Handle Your Entertainment Business.

 

2017 Stellar Award Nominee Latice Crawford Shares Her #techieTips

This weekend, thousands will journey to Las Vegas with their favorite tech swag, ready to “get their praise on” as they discover the winners of the 2017 Stellar Awards.

Recently, I was able to catch up with one of this year’s Contemporary Female Vocalist of the Year Stellar Award nominees, Latice Crawford.

Who is Latice Crawford?

 

(photo credit: James Anthony)

 

Latice Crawford made her debut on the second season of reality television gospel music series Sunday Best on BET. During the show, she sang so beautifully, as if anointed by God, and her talent led her to become the second runner-up of the season.

Now, with two successful albums in her discography, which have charted within the Top 25 Gospel Albums on Billboard. In 2014, Crawford’s debut self-titled album ranked on four Billboard charts, peaking at No. 12 on the Gospel Albums chart. Likewise, the 2016 project that has earned Crawford her 2017 Stellar Award nomination, Diary of a Church Girl, debuted at No. 15 on Billboard‘s Top Gospel Albums chart.

Diary of a Church Girl—an autobiographical, five-track EP—provides a glimpse into Crawford’s personal life, as it navigates through human experiences of joy, struggle, and victory, from the believer’s perspective.

One of the songs listeners connect with most is from the Diary of a Church Girl is “Choose Me.” Here is a glimpse of the soul stirring lyrics:

Choose me
Use me
I know on the outside I don’t look like much
But with your touch, I’ll be better if you
Choose me Lord
Send me

 

 

Crawford and I chatted about her first award nomination and, of course, tech. Below, she shares a few of her favorite #techieTips that have been essential to helping to cultivate her rich music career:

 

On File Sharing Platforms, Such as Dropbox, WeTransfer, Hightail:

 

“Sharing information on-the-go has become the norm across members of my team. This isn’t just basic information that can be shared in a text, email, or post, but gigabytes of data in the form of music tracks, multimedia files, and so on, which we can now share almost instantly, [even while working] remotely.”

“Quite frankly, the production my latest project wouldn’t have been completed without these platforms. The recording and engineering of my project occurred across five states [with multiple] people, who never met one another. How? With file sharing!”

 

On AtVenue:

 

“As a touring artist, one of my must important revenue streams come from the on-site sales of CDs and other promotional merchandise. In order for those sales to actually ‘count’ toward the numbers that the industry pays attention to for metrics, such as Billboard charts, the information has to make it to Soundscan. Until recently, logging and sending this info was a manual, paper-driven process. Thanks to the AtVenue platform and its trusty mobile app, we can report venue sales in real-time to Soundscan—WINNING!!”

 

On Social Media:

 

“Connect, connect, connect! Social media is where my team and I often make our first connection with fans, promoters, and potential business ventures. The vast majority of my marketing and gig opportunities are driven by platforms like Instagram and Facebook. We even utilize social media as a research and development [source for] new ideas, music content, imagery—you name it.  I’m on all major platforms, but Instagram is by far my favorite and where I get the most traffic, interaction, and so on.”

 

On the Importance of Websites With Online Booking and Content Sharing Capabilities:

 

“Believe it or not, websites are still very important. Social media is great for informal or initial exchanges, but potential business partners will look for artists to have a professional website—it adds to your legitimacy. Your website is a one-stop shop for all info about you, and it’s the one platform where you can control all aspects of your content.”

 

Check out more about Latice Crawford at her website: www.laticecrawfordonline.com. Also, be sure to watch your social media feeds for announcements from this year’s Stellar Awards.

YA Novel About Police Brutality is Getting Plenty Praise

novel Angie Thomas. Photo Credit: Anissa Hidouk

 

“The truth casts a shadow over the kitchen—people like us in situations like this become hashtags, but they rarely get justice. I think we all wait for that one time though, that one time when it ends right. Maybe this can be it.”

This is not a line from a political activist or a politician in the wake of yet another police shooting or another systematic injustice, but from author, Angie Thomas, whose debut Young Adult novel, The Hate U Give, has soared to success quite rapidly.

It is currently occupying the No. 1 spot on The New York Times Young Adult Hardcover Best Seller list, reaching that peak position just one week after publication and maintaining it for two weeks so far. But its success doesn’t stop there. In addition to landing the coveted top spot on a list that is largely dominated by fantasy or teenage romance novels, a movie version is already in the works. According to the author’s website, film rights have been optioned by Fox 2000 with Hunger Games actress Amandla Stenberg starring as the lead, and George Tillman directing.

 

(Photo Credit: AngieThomas.com)

 

Published in February by Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins after a 13-house auction, The Hate U Give,’ named after a Tupac song, tells an all-too-familiar story of police brutality that Americans have become used to hearing about. The plot revolves around a 16-year-old girl named Starr Carter who navigates daily between two worlds, living in a predominantly black and poor neighborhood, while attending a suburban, predominantly white prep school. Her life gets even more complicated when she is the sole witness to the fatal shooting of an unarmed childhood best friend at the hands of a police officer. Thomas told various media outlets that she was inspired by the 2009 shooting of Oscar Grant in Oakland and the Black Lives Matter movement.

In a recent interview with New York Magazine, Thomas stated that it was important for her to write this book because, “in so many cases where unarmed black people lost their lives, the victims were young. Trayvon Martin was 17. Tamir Rice was 12. Michael Brown was 18. When young people see that, they’re affected by it.”

She added that she wrote it from the perspective of a 16-year-old girl because she might have a better chance of reaching people who may take issue with the phrase “black lives matter.”

“If I presented it from the perspective of this innocent teenage woman, they might be able to understand,” she told New York Magazine.

The novel’s reception has been nothing short of welcoming, with many readers lauding it as an honest and thoughtful account of the injustices that have been occurring in the U.S. against black and brown bodies. It has also received plenty of praise from acclaimed outlets. Salon.com called it “required reading.” The Huffington Post echoed that sentiment, calling it a masterpiece.

Toyota USA: Giving Back to the Community

Toyota (Fleet of 2017 Toyotas, ready to take us on our Black History Month Tour)

 

The phrase ‘Giving Back’ is often bandied about by many who want to exclaim their commitment to one cause or another, and it frequently implies philanthropy in some form. For the Japanese brand Toyota, it’s part of their commitment to diversity.

If you look at research conducted by IHS Markit, Toyota and their luxury brand Lexus are favorites among African, Hispanic, Asian and Native American consumers. This fact was awarded when Toyota was honored for their diversity efforts at the Annual Diversity Volume Leadership Awards (DVL) at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. The DVL Awards are presented by the National Association of Minority Automobile Dealers and IHS Markit. Instead of taking this enormous cultural brand equity for granted, Toyota has demonstrated its desire to become an even more integral part of the colorful fabric of America.

For Black History Month 2017, Toyota Motor Sales, USA, showed a small group of journalists, through a four-day tour of historic African American sites that they do indeed give back to multicultural communities through charitable donations and a strong sense of community.

The tour started in New York State, where we drove a fleet of 2017 Toyota sedans and SUVs to Villa Lewaro in Irvington, New York, the estate of the first American female and African American female millionaire, Madame C.J. Walker. We received a guided tour from Senior Field Officer Brent Leggs, with the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Leggs shared the rich history of the woman and the estate she built.

 

(Toyota Avalon meets Villa Lewaro)

 

Madame Walker was renowned for her keen entrepreneurial sense, having developed haircare products for black women.

The name Villa Lewaro was coined by using the first two letters in the first, middle and last names of her daughter, Leila Walker Robinson, who later changed her name to A’Lelia Walker. The estate was designed and built by black architect Vertner Tandy.

 

(Grand Foyer – Villa Lewaro)

 

Walker used the 34 room mansion as a meeting place to discuss race relations. Upon her death, just about a year after moving in, the estate was bequeathed to her daughter A’Lelia Walker, who owned the home until her death in 1931. After her death, Villa Lewaro was bequeathed to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). The NAACP sold the home the same day it took ownership, and the proceeds from the sale of Villa Lewaro were a financial savior to the NAACP, which at the time was on the verge of bankruptcy. In 1993, Villa Lewaro was sold to Harold Doley, former U.S. Ambassador to the Ivory Coast and owner of the oldest African American-owned investment-banking firm, Doley Securities L.L.C. The house became a National Historic Landmark in 1976, and Toyota has supported the restoration of the home through generous donations to the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Ambassador Doley and his wife Helena painstakingly restored Villa Lewaro over a 20-year period.

From the Walker Estate, I drove the 2017 Toyota Avalon to Harlem in Manhattan, New York. The Avalon is the flagship sedan for Toyota, and Harlem was the flagship community for black writers, singers, musicians, athletes, poets and religious and community leaders in the early to late 1900s. It was in Harlem that we took a walking tour of The Harlem Renaissance, conducted by Neil Shoemaker, who refers to himself as ‘Mr. Harlem.’ Shoemaker discussed significant figures and places in Harlem’s history, such as Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali, Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, the Apollo Theater, the Cotton Club, the Audubon Theater, Joe Frazier’s Gym, and many more. Harlem’s history is well documented, and it felt like we had gone back to those glorious days of its cultural peak during the walking tour. We capped off the Harlem tour with a night of dining and jazz at legendary Minton’s Jazz and Supper Club.

 

(Malcolm Shabazz Multi-Purpose Cultural Center. Harlem Mosque where Malcolm X inspired many)

 

The next morning, I drove a 2017 Toyota Highlander from New York to Philadelphia to learn about more black history. The Toyota Highlander is a superb SUV, capable of toting large families and their gear safely and comfortably. I was impressed with the more than 30 highway mpg achieved during the two-hour drive to ‘Philly.’

Our first stop in Philadelphia was the Mother Bethel A.M.E. Church, located just a few blocks from Independence Hall. At the Church, Docent Peggy McGraw recalled the rich history of Mother A.M.E. Bethel, and the impact it has had on African American lives for hundreds of years.

 

(Mother Bethel A.M.E. Church)

 

Mother Bethel A.M.E Church was founded in 1794 by Bishop Richard Allen, born a slave in 1760. After buying his freedom, Allen began preaching and that led to the construction of three churches prior to the construction of the current sanctuary dedicated in October 1890. Mother Bethel continues to serve as an active participant in the spiritual, social, and civic causes germane to African Americans and people of color. Mother Bethel A.M.E. is the oldest continuously black-owned property in the United States.

 

(Historic Mother Bethel A.M.E. Sanctuary)

 

Our next stop on our Black History Month tour was the Belmont Mansion in the suburbs of Philadelphia. Now on the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places, the Belmont Mansion was a stop on the ‘Underground Railroad,’ which was neither a railroad or underground, but a series of trails and safe houses used by ‘Conductors’ to guide scores of slaves from the south to free states north and even into Canada. Harriet Tubman was the most famous Conductor to have stopped at the Belmont Mansion as she guided her people to freedom.

 

(Underground Railroad Museum at Belmont Mansion)

 

In June 2007, the Underground Railroad Museum was opened at the historic mansion. Displays include numerous historical artifacts and documents, including an emotion-inducing slave Bill of Sale.

 

(Slave Bill of Sale – Underground Railroad Museum)

 

After a great cheesesteak lunch in South Philly, I took the wheel of a 2017 Toyota Camry for the final legs of our powerful, educational journey. The 2017 Camry is one of Toyota’s best-selling cars for good reason—it does everything well and was the perfect vehicle for travel to our last stop: The Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) in Washington, D.C.

Before we visited the NMAAHC, we were present as Toyota Motor Sales, USA, presented a check for $10,000 to the National Trust for Historic Preservation, an organization dedicated to preserving our Nation’s historic treasures, like Villa Lewaro.

 

(Toyota donates to National Trust for Historic Preservation)

 

There is so much to say about my experience at the NMAAHC, it would take several more stories to complete. You start your journey there by descending by elevator into displays about the early days of the slave trade. As you descend, lights dim and you see a timeline on the walls denoting key years in the journey from slavery to freedom.

 

(Smithsonian NMAAHC)

 

Over many thousands of displays, documents, photographs, video and movie presentations; and actual artifacts; the story of African Americans is told in a truly superb way. The remains from slave ships, including wood from a sunken ship and the recovered shackles used to bind adults and babies; an original, unrestored slave cabin; a Southern Railways rail car; an airplane flown by Tuskegee Airmen; a reproduction of a lunch counter where you can interactively feel what it was like not to be served because of your color; and so much more.

 

(Slave shackles recovered from wreck of slave ship Sao Jose)

 

There are displays on war, politics, culture, music, sports, and all facets of black history. It’s truly a heart wrenching, yet remarkable experience designed to educate and enlighten.

 

(Slave Cabin at NMAAHC)

 

Our trip with Toyota was an experience of a lifetime. It should be noted that Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A. donated more than $3 million to the NMAAHC, another prime example of how Toyota gives back to the community. Thank you, Toyota.

 

Lynn Whitfield Opens Up About Starring on Oprah Winfrey’s ‘Greenleaf’

Lynn Whitfield

(Image: Lynn Whitfield, Photo Credit Cedric Terrell)

 

With one of the most respected careers in entertainment, Lynn Whitfield is one of a few African American actresses who has successfully achieved longevity in film, television, and theater. An Emmy Award winner and a Golden Globe nominee, Whitfield is the embodiment of grace, beauty, style, and Southern charm. Starring as Lady Mae Greenleaf in the critically acclaimed original drama series Greenleaf on Oprah Winfrey’s OWN TV Network, Whitfield plays the wife of a megachurch pastor, Bishop James Greenleaf, whose family lives in a perpetual state of upheaval riddled with scandal, secrets, lies and betrayal. Greenleaf is set in an affluent suburb of Memphis, Tennessee.

Greenleaf co-stars the brilliant Keith David, Merle Dandridge, Gregory Alan Williams, Oprah Winfrey, Lamman Rucker, Kim Hawthorne, Deborah Joy Winans, Tye White, Desiree Ross, and Lovie Simone. Created by showrunner and executive producer Craig Wright (Lost, Six Feet Under), and executive producers Clement Virgo (The Book of Negroes), and Winfrey, Greenleaf premiered as the No. 1 series in the network’s history and was the No. 1 cable series for women. After building audiences worldwide, the show’s second season will broadcast 16 new episodes. The first season is available on Netflix.

Winfrey handpicked Whitfield for the role of Lady Mae Greenleaf. In promos, Winfrey recalled that when she read the script, she heard Whitfield’s voice and, at the 2016 Tribeca Film Festival, said that Whitfield was the only person she thought of for the role. Winfrey knows firsthand of Whitfield’s depth and talent as an actress. In 1989, Whitfield played the role of Lucielia “Ciel” Turner in Winfrey’s ABC miniseries of Gloria Naylor’s The Women of Brewster’s Place. Nearly 10 years later, Whitfield starred in Winfrey’s ABC miniseries The Wedding, based on Dorothy West’s novel. Whitfield also achieved global prominence for her award-winning role as Josephine Baker in HBO’s The Josephine Baker Story.

 

(Image: Merle Dandridge and Lynn Whitfield)

 

Whitfield, a master of character development, recalls how challenging it was to get Lady Mae going in the beginning. “If my characters are not complicated, I make them complicated,” says Whitfield. “Complex people are far more interesting to play. Lady Mae was described in the original script as the stern matriarch of the Greenleaf family. I was like, wait a minute; I don’t know, who is that? I don’t recognize her. We just started building this woman.”

Whitfield is honored that Winfrey selected her for the role. She promises that during this season, audiences will see some of Lady Mae’s flaws and get a peek at the chink in her armor. “I like her, she’s got a lot to learn,” she explains. “As a black woman in America, I feel that Lady Mae is one of those women who have been a backbone for America. She’s of the same prototype as the Julia Purnell [former President of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc.]. She’s the president of the Deltas [Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc.], and the Links [The Links, Incorporated]. She’s a part of the same spirit, but not in the political sense. She has a strong point of view, like a Barbara Jordan or a Shirley Chisholm, as many of these socially conscious and social butterfly women have had. The black women that pushed forward a lot of important things in this country. At the end of the day, at the center of everything, family is very important to her.”

Once the show goes into production on site in Atlanta, Whitfield says that executive producer Virgo is on the ground daily. “Clement is very involved in helping us to shape our characters and keeping it close to the bone,” she continues. “He’s the litmus test for truth; not the flamboyance of these people, but the true entitlement of these people to be who they are. We’re blessed to have him.”

Born Lynn Smith to an upper-middle-class family in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Whitfield says her parents were advocates for arts and culture and exposed their four children to their various forms. Her mother, Jean Smith, was an amateur musician and was employed full-time as an officer at the Louisiana Housing Finance Agency. Her father, Valerian Smith, was a dentist who gave his daughter her first introduction to theater and the performing arts by forming the Baton Rouge Community Chorus.

“At the time, culturally, there weren’t a lot of venues or institutions for black people to go to the theater, to experience the orchestra and all of that,” she says. “It instilled in me a sense of art being service. He took art to the people. I think that stuck with me.”

Whitfield’s early memories of acting started in the fourth grade at her Seventh Day Adventist School, where she was crowned with the title role of Spring. “That experience was a big deal for me,” she continues. “It felt like this is what I need to do forever. It was a joy; I happened to be one of the blessed people to have known what I wanted to do for a long time. Even now, I consider acting to be a service to the audience. When you build a character, you’re building a whole person. A person with great qualities and human frailty and flaws. If you do it well enough and people attach to that person, then you have the ability to serve as a mirror. Acting is a service job.”

Whitfield is a third generation BFA graduate of Howard University. It was in Washington, D.C., while attending the historic black college that she joined the D.C. Black Repertory Theatre Company and met her first husband, co-founder, playwright, director and actor Vantile Whitfield, now deceased. It was during those early days that she further developed her craft in theater.

“It was an amazing time at the D.C. Black Repertory Company,” says Whitfield. “It was a sister company to The Negro Ensemble Company in New York. Robert Hooks was involved in starting both companies. Experimental theater was a big deal. We were part of a movement. At the same time, it was so intimate, and we worked so hard. We had acting classes until midnight. We would be involved in building the sets and making the costumes. It’s when I developed my love of costume design. The D.C. Black Repertory Company was where Sweet Honey in the Rock was founded. I was at their first performance with Carol Maillard and Louise Robinson. Bernice Johnson Reagon was teaching the vocal work to the acting company. Bernice plucked her first voices to be in the original company of Sweet Honey. It was a fantastic time. A time of renaissance.”

After college, Whitfield moved to New York, where she appeared in several off-Broadway productions, including The Great MacDaddy and Showdown before landing a lead role in the groundbreaking national tour of Ntozake Shange’s Tony Award-nominated For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When The Rainbow Is Enuf, which featured co-stars Alfre Woodard and Mary Alice.

Whitfield made her big-screen debut in the Dan Aykroyd film Doctor Detroit, in a small role as a lady of the evening, and made her small-screen debut as Jill Thomas in NBC’s Hill Street Blues. From theater to film, Whitfield charted a successful course across multiple platforms early in her career. During the late ‘70s and ‘80s, most women, especially African American women, did not have many opportunities to play roles in different mediums.

A mega talent who sometimes did not get the roles she deserved, Whitfield has been fortunate to sustain her career during the dark and scarce times for African American actors. Her performance in Greenleaf is further testament to her brilliance as an actress and the reason she stands taller than ever.

 

 


Gwendolyn Quinn is an award-winning media consultant with a career spanning more than 25 years. She is a contributor to BlackEnterprise.com and BE Pulse (via Medium.com), Huffington Post and EURWEB.com. Quinn is also a contributor to Souls Revealed and Handle Your Entertainment Business.

 

 

‘Little Ballers Indiana’ Docuseries From WNBA Star Skylar Diggins to Premiere on Nickelodeon’s Nicktoons Channel

WNBA All-star Skylar Diggins of The Dallas Wings is behind a three-part docuseries, Little Ballers Indiana, which premieres Friday, March 3, 2017, at 9 p.m. (ET/PT), on Nickelodeon’s Nicktoons cable TV network channel, during the NickSports primetime block. The program aims to prove that girls are among the best basketball players in the country.

 

What to Expect From Little Ballers Indiana

 

Little Ballers Indiana tells the story of a diverse group of six, young, female basketball players in Diggins’ hometown of South Bend, Indiana. The series also features interviews with current and former WNBA players, including Lisa Leslie, Tamika Catchings, Elena Delle Donne, Candice Wiggins, Niele Ivey, and Chamique Holdsclaw.

 

About WNBA All-Star Skylar Diggins

 

According to the press release, “Diggins is a five-time USA Basketball gold medalist; two-time WNBA All-star starter;  a 2015 ESPY winner; 2014’s WNBA Most Improved Player;  and a four-time college All-American.” While playing for Notre Dame, Diggins was ranked first in points and steals and led her team to a record of 35-2. Now a point guard for the Dallas Wings, Diggins considers herself to be a fitness guru and growing fashion icon. She aspires to be a role model for young women and girls, proving that “it’s possible to be a strong woman in the spotlight.”

As executive producer of Little Ballers Indiana, an NAACP Image Award nominee, Diggins teamed up with Lupe Fiasco, Amar’e Stoudemire, and Crystal McCrary, the creator and director of the critically-acclaimed BET docuseries Leading Women and Leading Men, to bring the series to fruition.

 

Championing for Black Girls

 

“As a content creator, it is extremely challenging to get programming on television that shows young black girls and their positive relationships with their fathers—depictions that are not caricatures or rooted in comedy,” says Crystal McCrary, director of Little Ballers Indiana, in a released statement.

“One of my goals in making the Little Ballers series was to show the strength and complexity of black families. It was also important to be a champion for our girls, to celebrate their strength, their differences, their brilliance: Strong girls, unapologetic girls, conscientious girls, deaf girls, girls with vitiligo, mixed girls, girls who don’t back down, black young girls who love their hair, their skin, their bodies, their fathers, their mothers, their families, their communities,” she adds.

 

Catch the Little Ballers Indiana Premiere 

 

According to a press release, Little Ballers Indiana joins the NickSports primetime TV block, which airs on Nickelodeon’s Nicktoons cable network channel every Friday night from 9 p.m. to 11 p.m. (ET/PT) and features a lineup of sports themed content, including series, specials, and documentaries from professional leagues and key athletes.

The Little Ballers Indiana premiere will kick-off the NickSports lineup on Friday, March 3, 2017, at 9 p.m. (ET/PT)—you won’t want to miss it!

Buckets of Kindness: Remembering Natalie Cole

Kindness

Everyone has dreams. Everyone has goals. What sets you apart from others is the level of dedication, passion, kindness, and commitment you have toward turning those goals and dreams into accomplishments. Remember, nothing ever worth having comes easy. In short, have faith, believe in the power of YOU, and watch the magic unfold.

Generally speaking, people have many minor and major goals and dreams. Have you ever taken the time to realize the importance of having a bucket list in life? Yes, that’s right, a bucket list! A bucket list is simply a very selective list of the grandest dreams and goals you aspire to accomplish before you leave this side of your journey.

For me, my bucket list isn’t exceptionally long, but its length certainly doesn’t mean my items are any less valuable. A significant amount of love and passion has gone into crafting my list. I try to keep the items I place on my list attainable. Although they will take quite some time and hustle to accomplish, I want to keep my list realistic.

Many of the things on my bucket list are people-related. I love meeting people who are artistic, creative, and kind, because I love to hear the history behind how they became who they are. You see, we are molded by our DNA, as well as our environment, and I find it fascinating to see how much comes from each. Is it equal? Maybe someday I’ll do a study.

Flashback a few years ago, I never realized I even had a bucket list, until I met the person I only dreamt I would meet—the infamous, very beautiful, and extremely kind, Ms. Natalie Cole. The date was Monday, September 17, 2014, when my life was impacted in a remarkably positive way for eternity. I vividly remember this iconic moment in my life, and all of the events leading up to it, as if it was yesterday.

The backstory here is that Caroline Clarke Graves had written and launched a book, called Postcards From Cookie, just a few days prior to me coming to speak at a BLACK ENTERPRISE conference in Chicago. Caroline was the moderator on my panel.

After I got finished speaking, Caroline handed me her book, she said, “Here Lisa—this is a gift for you.” I was so thrilled, grateful for the gift, as well as proud of Caroline for telling her story, as she is is so smart, talented, warm, and kind. You will meet many people in life, kind and unkind, but I promise you this—you will always remember the kind ones most. Why? Because they will touch your heart in such a beautiful, indescribable way that will forever positively influence how you conduct business and navigate through life.

Now, back to the story, Caroline’s book was so riveting, that I literally wanted to sit in the airport and finish the entire book before boarding my flight from Chicago back home. Ironically, the flight I was about to take to fly back to New Jersey was overbooked. At first, I was disappointed, but that feeling didn’t last too long, as an announcement was made quickly after. The announcement explained that if anyone was willing to wait patiently for the next flight out, they would receive a free round-trip flight to compensate for the delay. I immediately seized that opportunity—it was a win-win in my mind. Now, I could stay at the airport and finish Caroline’s book. Yes, the ticket was a bonus, however, finishing the book, my gift, was a blessing in disguise.

The following day, I was compelled to call Caroline to tell her how incredible her book was. I learned so much about her; one of the biggest revelations being that Caroline was adopted, and later found out that she was actually the niece of Natalie Cole, and the granddaughter of Nat King Cole.

This was all simply remarkable to me—it was like I was reading a movie script. When I told Caroline that Natalie Cole was, by far, my favorite singer, she asked me if I wanted to meet her! The truth is, I thought I was going to pass out when she asked me that question, but I stayed as calm and cool as I could. Of course, my response was a resounding yes. She told me to stand by and that she would call me back.

A few minutes later, Caroline called me back and invited me to join her and Natalie Cole to a Spence Chapin benefit dinner, where Caroline would be hosting and speaking on the topic of adoption. It was one of the most incredible evenings of my life. Not only did I meet Natalie Cole, but I sat with her, and we had a fantastic conversation about so many things, including her music and her love of designing clothing. We even talked about me bringing her line to QVC—what a blessing she was.

Natalie was so kind and warm the entire evening, it felt like I was in a dream. I also felt as if I had known her forever. You see, I was about 15-years-old when I first discovered Natalie’s music. I knew every song she sang, and I owned every album that she made; from Inseparable, to “I Got Love on My Mind,” and the list goes on. I sang her songs with my makeshift microphone-hair brush, belting out her tunes like I owned them. By the way, I did get to share that story with Natalie, and she laughed genuinely and thanked me for sharing.

As I sat andlistened to her speak, I reflected back on how many times I thought to myself how I would feel and what I would say, if I ever had the opportunity to meet her. Everything I thought I would say went out the window. How can one prepare for a moment like this? I still pinch myself when I think about how God aligned all of the elements that took place, which lead up to me meeting Natalie; from speaking at the BLACK ENTERPRISE conference, with Caroline as the moderator; to receiving the book from Caroline; then finally, getting stuck at the airport just so that I could finish the book. I call that divine intervention.

Anyway, listening to Natalie speak was so refreshing, she was talented, artistic, creative, smart, and kind beyond words. She spoke about how proud she was of Caroline, and how blessed she was to be a part of her family. Her personality was so warm, so sincere, and all together, she was a delightful person to spend time with. As much as I wanted to ask her to sing to me, I refrained, (though, I almost sang to her).

The point of all my rambing is to share with you the gift of kindness and generosity; the same kindness that Caroline so graciously offered me. The kindness that led me to unexpectedly meet Natalie, a gift I will never forget and will be eternally grateful for. She didn’t have to do that—or anything at all, for that matter—but she did, without hesitation. Caroline’s selflessness is contagious and has surely impacted my life in a very positive way.

That experience reminds me every day to be conscious of how easy it is to change a person’s attitude and outlook on life, just by offering a simple gesture of kindness. And after all, kindness is free. It doesn’t cost a dime! Imagine that.

Sadly, Natalie Cole went home one year ago, passing away on December 31, 2016. She is missed by so many who loved and adored her, and will never be forgotten. She left us with her music, her beautiful smile, and a warm spirit, which will live on forever.

In closing, I ask all of you readers to come and join me at my upcoming conference, where we will be sharing the gift of kindness, love, warmth, and networking. The Association of Women Inventors and Entrepreneurs strives each and every day to bridge the gap between ambition and success, all while lifting each other up—two hands at a time. At our Women’s Business Conference, we will honor many great women who have passed before us, as well as those who grab the torch and continue to be trailblazers for others who will follow. Women who open doors make it possible for us to accomplish anything that we set our sights on, so join me in saying thank you to these great women in history!

 

 

(Image: Natalie Cole and Lisa Ascolese)

 

To learn more about my nonprofit and our upcoming March 18, 2017 Women’s Business Conference, please visit www.aowie.com. You can also email me at info@inventingatoz.com or Asktheinventress@gmail.com.

Moonlight Co-Creator Opens Up About His Academy Award Winning Film

Moonlight

Moonlight, a drama about the coming of age of a young, black, gay man, was named best picture of 2016 after some confusion when the wrong winner, LaLa Land, was announced. Moonlight had garnered eight Oscar nominations, walking away also with Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Supporting Actor wins. The critically acclaimed film by writer-director Barry Jenkins is the first LGBTQ film to take the top prize at the Academy Awards and only the second black-themed film to win Best Picture—12 Years a Slave captured that honor in 2014.

Moonlight’s highly cinematic story is told in three distinct acts, with three different actors playing the main character named Chiron. It is based on the semi-autobiographical play by Tarell Alvin McCraney, In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue. McCraney, 36, is the incoming chair of playwriting at the Yale School of Drama, effective July 1, 2017. BlackEnterprise.com caught up with him to discuss his Academy Award winning inspired story.

What is the origin behind Moonlight?
The original script In The Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue was written in June 2003. I had written a couple of pieces at the time. I began to try to put it together as a film or a TV show. I really didn’t know what I wanted to do with it. I was really trying to figure out my life. I had just graduated from DePaul University. I was going to grad school [Yale University School of Drama]. I had just lost my mother. I wanted to reconstruct my life in a visual sense on page through the only medium I knew how to speak. I am very much like the character Chiron. I don’t always know how to express myself. My art has always been the way. I was trying to write how I felt and put it into a narrative. Ten years later the script ended up in the hands of some friends of mine… a small company that produces shorts and films made by people in Miami about Miami. They were already working with Barry [Jenkins] and they wanted him to look at the script. Even though we grew up about three blocks from each other [Liberty Square housing projects], we had never met. He reconstructed the script into a screenplay [for a feature film] that became Moonlight.

How much is Chiron’s story similar to your life story?
It is probably one of the few pieces that I have written that has a great deal of my life in it. To that end, the film is definitely a hybrid between Barry and myself [Jenkins is straight, McCraney is gay]. A good two-thirds of it are actual events that happened to me. Barry constructed an incredible third act that is really powerful. Both of us grew up with mothers  addicted to crack Cocaine. Both of us dealt with the kind of poverty and rough neighborhood [depicted in the film].

Was Juan, the drug dealer and surrogate father to Chiron, based on someone in your life?
Yes, the character Juan is based on a man named Blue who was in my life as a child. In talking to people of color who live in urban, particularly poor, neighborhoods, more often than not they say that they know that person [someone like Juan]. We know men like that, we know men who may have been to prison who still have a good heart. There are good people who do [bad] things. The foundation, my own understanding of what is a good man and what it is means to be a man, is a man who can show vulnerability, sensitivity and nourish a young kid in need. You sacrifice, show love, or extreme generosity to someone who is the weakest among us. What Mahershala does in this film so incredibly is he shows all of the trappings of what it looks like to have bravado  but at the same time he helps this kid.

Was bullying a big part of your story and did you ever have to defend against an attacker?
You always have that moment where you have to figure out is it smarter to fight back or to run. When you do fight back oftentimes the systems are not put in place to ensure that entire narrative is being shared. [Teachers and administrators] are not watching who has been bullied for how long and for what. They are mostly just looking at who is fighting when [it happens] and not the thread. This is LBGTQ students for sure, but kids in general are dealing with this kind of excessive bullying that leads to retaliation. We see what happens to Chiron when he stands up to bullies and the toll it takes on his life.

What were you hoping audiences walked away with from this film?
We are having some incredible conversations now. This is a piece that I think allows us to start the journey towards some healing but we have talk about real important and heavy [issues] around masculinity, femininity, misogyny, sexual assault on women, drug addiction, femmephobia, intersection of poverty, stigmatizing and the oppression of LGBT people of color.

Moonlight Co-Creator Opens Up About His Academy Award Winning Film

Moonlight

Moonlight, a drama about the coming of age of a young, black, gay man, was named best picture of 2016 after some confusion when the wrong winner, LaLa Land, was announced. Moonlight had garnered eight Oscar nominations, walking away also with Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Supporting Actor wins. The critically acclaimed film by writer-director Barry Jenkins is the first LGBTQ film to take the top prize at the Academy Awards and only the second black-themed film to win Best Picture—12 Years a Slave captured that honor in 2014.

Moonlight’s highly cinematic story is told in three distinct acts, with three different actors playing the main character named Chiron. It is based on the semi-autobiographical play by Tarell Alvin McCraney, In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue. McCraney, 36, is the incoming chair of playwriting at the Yale School of Drama, effective July 1, 2017. BlackEnterprise.com caught up with him to discuss his Academy Award winning inspired story.

What is the origin behind Moonlight?
The original script In The Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue was written in June 2003. I had written a couple of pieces at the time. I began to try to put it together as a film or a TV show. I really didn’t know what I wanted to do with it. I was really trying to figure out my life. I had just graduated from DePaul University. I was going to grad school [Yale University School of Drama]. I had just lost my mother. I wanted to reconstruct my life in a visual sense on page through the only medium I knew how to speak. I am very much like the character Chiron. I don’t always know how to express myself. My art has always been the way. I was trying to write how I felt and put it into a narrative. Ten years later the script ended up in the hands of some friends of mine… a small company that produces shorts and films made by people in Miami about Miami. They were already working with Barry [Jenkins] and they wanted him to look at the script. Even though we grew up about three blocks from each other [Liberty Square housing projects], we had never met. He reconstructed the script into a screenplay [for a feature film] that became Moonlight.

How much is Chiron’s story similar to your life story?
It is probably one of the few pieces that I have written that has a great deal of my life in it. To that end, the film is definitely a hybrid between Barry and myself [Jenkins is straight, McCraney is gay]. A good two-thirds of it are actual events that happened to me. Barry constructed an incredible third act that is really powerful. Both of us grew up with mothers  addicted to crack Cocaine. Both of us dealt with the kind of poverty and rough neighborhood [depicted in the film].

Was Juan, the drug dealer and surrogate father to Chiron, based on someone in your life?
Yes, the character Juan is based on a man named Blue who was in my life as a child. In talking to people of color who live in urban, particularly poor, neighborhoods, more often than not they say that they know that person [someone like Juan]. We know men like that, we know men who may have been to prison who still have a good heart. There are good people who do [bad] things. The foundation, my own understanding of what is a good man and what it is means to be a man, is a man who can show vulnerability, sensitivity and nourish a young kid in need. You sacrifice, show love, or extreme generosity to someone who is the weakest among us. What Mahershala does in this film so incredibly is he shows all of the trappings of what it looks like to have bravado  but at the same time he helps this kid.

Was bullying a big part of your story and did you ever have to defend against an attacker?
You always have that moment where you have to figure out is it smarter to fight back or to run. When you do fight back oftentimes the systems are not put in place to ensure that entire narrative is being shared. [Teachers and administrators] are not watching who has been bullied for how long and for what. They are mostly just looking at who is fighting when [it happens] and not the thread. This is LBGTQ students for sure, but kids in general are dealing with this kind of excessive bullying that leads to retaliation. We see what happens to Chiron when he stands up to bullies and the toll it takes on his life.

What were you hoping audiences walked away with from this film?
We are having some incredible conversations now. This is a piece that I think allows us to start the journey towards some healing but we have talk about real important and heavy [issues] around masculinity, femininity, misogyny, sexual assault on women, drug addiction, femmephobia, intersection of poverty, stigmatizing and the oppression of LGBT people of color.

Robin Givens and Ashleigh Murray Open Up About Starring on ‘Riverdale’

Robin Givens

Published since the 1940s, the primary setting featured in Archie Comics is the fictional town of Riverdale; the home of protagonist Archie Andrews—a charismatic teenage redhead caught in a perpetual love triangle with his two best female confidants—and his friends. However, on Riverdale, the CW’s new TV drama based on Archie Comics, the Riverdale of today is depicted as fully gentrified and home to a much more diverse cast of characters.

One of the most striking differences between the original comics and Riverdale is that Josie and the Pussycats—the iconic, all-girl, cartoon rock group originally featured in Archie Comics as a trio of two white and one black girl—is made up of all black girls, headed by actress Ashleigh Murray. And, because you can never have too much #BlackGirlMagic, Josie’s mom, Sierra McCoy, the mayor of Riverdale, is played by legendary actress Robin Givens.

Here’s what Ashleigh and Robin had to say about their experience and roles on Riverdale:

 

Ashleigh Murray on Her Interpretation of Josie:

 

“What I really love about Josie is her confidence. One of the reasons I relate to her is because she has big dreams, and she’s a powerhouse in her own right. I feel like, if you’re that determined to succeed that early in life, then you need to have some sort of confidence, and you need to have some sort of resistance to things that get in the way of that success.”

 

(Image: Actress Ashleigh Murray)

 

Ashleigh Murray on Josie’s Relationship With Her Mother:

 

“Josie does her best to fall in line with what her mom believes is right, but sometimes you see her push back, which [is what] normally happens in parent-child relationships. But, Josie understands that her mother is coming from a place of love. Her mom is very smart about making sure Josie understands that she can be who she needs to be, but she must also love who she is—and Josie takes that to heart.”

 


 

Robin Givens on Her Role as Mayor McCoy:

 

“Every so often, a role comes along that really touches you personally. I grew up with Archie and Josie and the Pussycats, so every time I even think about it, I just start blushing. The mayor could have been anybody; I’m honored that I was chosen.”

 

Robin Givens (Image: Robin Givens)

 

Robin Givens on Sierra and Josie’s Mother-Daughter Dynamic:

 

“When one of the Pussycats leaves to do something with Archie, the mayor is like, ‘Find somebody to replace her. Just make sure she’s not as good as you—not as thin, not as pretty, and doesn’t sing as well—and make sure it’s another woman of color.’ Josie knows her mom has her back, and I think she actually feels protected.”

 

Robin Givens on the Diversity of the Riverdale Cast:

 

“To be part of a show with such diversity makes me feel proud. The writers and showrunners have chosen to represent this era in a certain way, where anyone watching the show can see themselves. You name it, you’re represented. That makes me proud. Also, the fact that Josie and the Pussycats are beautiful, and different shades, and sexy is just fabulous for black women.”

 

Catch Riverdale on the CW, every Thursday night at 9 p.m. EST/ 8 p.m. CST.