Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Why Are Black Men Like Them Rarely in the News?

As some of you may know, I host an award-winning podcast called Mental Health and Wellness Radio.  You can catch it online or on iTunes. I recently did an audio tribute/obit to the two men above, Darnell Levingston (left) and DeWitt Buckingham. They are founders of the speakers' bureau Black Men Speak. Both did a lot of work advocating for black men with mental health challenges and fighting to end mental health stigma in our community. I didn't know Darnell, but I knew DeWitt and I miss him. He came to the office where I work just about everyday. DeWitt recently received a grant to open some kind of transitional housing for men in a tough part of East Oakland. It's near 80th and MacArthur Blvd.  I believe it was to help men who were dealing with substance abuse and mental health issues.  At their memorial service, a woman spoke and said DeWitt told her that he had his housing set up in an area no one wants to be. He told her he could get robbed, or even killed in that area, but he said as long as he could help just person. Just one.The tears were flowing. 

Another woman said Darnell's straight talk helped her support her daughter through a severe mental breakdown caused by a traumatic situation. She wouldn't go into details but said it involved 8 men. She credits Darnell with saving her daughter's life. 

I see so many men of color on the news for breaking the law, but the cameras rarely come to cover men like DeWitt and Darnell.  No doubt there is a lot of ills in the black community, but there are people doing good work too. The coverage is unbalanced. We need more stories that give people hope. At the same time, we flock to bad news. I notice if I blog about something negative, I get way more comments and emails than if I write about a positive story. 

Both men had cancer and ironically died within weeks of each other. When people like these men die, I always wonder why. We need men like DeWitt and Darnell in the community. Why did God take them?  

Please listen to their stories below. They did a lot of good work in the community and I plan to continue the fight against mental health stigma. 

Monday, October 29, 2012

'Middle of Nowhere' Director Ava DuVernay and Creating Your Own Path

Ava Duvernay and Emayatzy Corinealdi sit at a panel table.
Ava DuVernay (left) with actress Emayatzy Corinealdi at Blogalicious.
 Photo by Jenee Darden. 

 Ava DuVernay didn't need a film school degree. She didn't need a big movie studio backing her up.  All Ava needed was Ava and drive.  It worked because this year she became the first black woman to win Best Director Award from Sundance. She won for her latest film "Middle of Nowhere." It's a passionate, well-written drama about a woman (Emayatzy Corinealdi) whose husband (Omari Hardwick) is incarcerated. While he's locked up, she starts dating a bus driver (David Oyelowo). I highly recommend you see this film. It's really good.

I was so excited when I discovered DuVernay would be speaking at the past Blogalicious conference. I enjoyed her first film "I Will Follow"starring Salli Richardson-Whitfield and Blair Underwood.   I appreciate her work because she writes beautiful, complex stories about African Americans. And I admire how when Hollywood closed the doors on her ideas of quality dramas starring black women, she made a way.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Hope During The Blues:
My Talk on Women and Depression at SHERO

On Saturday, November 10th I will be speaking at the nonprofit SHERO's 5th annual daylong conference on HIV Awareness and sexual empowerment. SHERO stands for Sexual Health Education Resources and Outreach. The conference begins at 10am in Oakland. It's organized by my soror and sex educator   I attended this event a few years ago and it was unforgettable. It's very progressive with a lot of discussion. I learned a lot. SHERO's symposium is not for the conservative. SHERO CEO Nichole Little keeps it real when it comes to sex. And there are some one-of-a-kind presenters. If I recall correctly, last time I attended, there was a presentation on some kind of heart and vaginal meditation. Very interesting. I was relaxed, not necessarily in the targeted lower area, LOL, but  I enjoyed it.  There will be talks on the latest news about HIV/AIDS research, how to protect yourself, sex toys and even polyamory. Not my thing, but I'll definitely listen to that presentation.  I enjoyed the conference when I went two years ago. This year, I'll be presenting on an issue related to the biggest sex organ--our brains. I'll actually be talking about women, depression and my own experiences with mental health issues. But this talk won't be a downer. The point is to explain that people can and do recover from depression.

The event is FREE. Hope to see you there!

Oak Center Cultural Center
 1243 Adeline Street
 Oakland, CA

For more info contact Nichole Little at bayareashero@yahoo.com

Friday, October 19, 2012

Sometimes I Don't Want to Hear That Sh!t

Every Friday on the Cocoa Fly Facebook page I post a "Do Something for You" note to my followers. I encourage them to treat themselves to some ME-time over the weekend because we live busy lives and often put our wellness on the backburner. Between family visiting from out of town and a memorial/life celebration for a dear colleague, I was trying to figure out what I was going to "do for me" this weekend. Then this happened…

I'm relaxing after an 11- hour workday, meetings and cramps (#womanhood). All I want to do is check my Tweets and go to sleep. My relative calls to chat. Somehow the conversation turns into complaints about the violence in Oakland and how the city feels unsafe. All of this is very true. Oakland is out of control. I hear the shots and sirens at night. And I see girls working the streets.  But this relative brings up these conversations often. I told her, respectfully, that I didn't want to hear it.  She sarcastically replied, "Just stay in your world."  She said it as if I live in a bubble. Within the last year I've been to four funerals. I recently found out that a young man who appeared on a show I produce was shot in the neck.  After 2+ years of being unemployed, I'm just starting to get on my feet again. And did I mention I have cramps?  My world is far from unicorns, Disneyland parades and rose gardens. It's just that sometimes I don't want to hear that sh!t. And tonight was one of those times.

Complaining can be a good thing. Hell, I'm doing it now. Sometimes you have to get stuff off of your chest. I understand it can be therapeutic. I was just talking about this with a colleague today. She said she tries not to complain when things get tough. I say it's okay to complain sometimes and get your stuff out.  But eventually figure out a way to make things better if possible.  Complaining and not taking action to change the situation keeps you stuck.  Or after complaining, try to look at the good in your life.

Now, for the one listening to the complaining, sometimes they just don't want to hear that sh!t. And that's okay too. Tonight, I didn't want to hear it for my own mental wellness and peace. I had a long day and needed to relax.  I've complained on and on about things and sometimes I could tell the "listener" didn't want to hear my sh!t.  It hurt, but I got over it and called someone else who would listen. Or I vented in my journal.  Also, there have been times when I didn't want to hear the sh!t someone was complaining about, but because they were a friend I listened. 

I don't want to talk politics this weekend. I don't want to hear about so-and-so's crazy-cheating husband that she knew was a crazy cheater before she married him. I don't want to hear about the same family drama that's been going on since I was a fetus, yet no one tries to resolve it. I don't want to hear about his dramatic baby's mama that he knew was a hot mess before having unprotected sex with her. I don't want to know who is messing with who at church, at school, at their work. I don't want to hear how you can't find a man when you never leave the house. And I don't shive a git what she wore and how her hair looked.  I don't want to hear any of that sh!t this weekend.

So do something for you. If you don't feel like hearing the sh!t, close your ears and move along the conversation. Or if things aren't going right, spend time this weekend strategizing how to possibly make things work out.

This weekend I won't be listening to any sh!t I'm not in the mood to hear.  I'm going to see Ava DuVernay's film "Middle of Nowhere."  I'm planning to enjoy spending time with my sister, while celebrating the life of an mental health advocate. He was a colleague who would probably understand where I'm coming from in this post. A girl's gotta take care of her wellness.

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Nicole Beharie Should Be
a Household Name:
A Review of 'My Last Day Without You'

Nichole Beharie is a phenomenal actress. The first time I saw her perform was in American Violet. She played a poor mother turned activist wrongfully arrested in a Texas drug raid. It's based on a true story. She held her own with co-star Alfre Woodard.  In "My Last Day Without You" Beharie shines an aspiring musician who falls in love with a handsome, German businessman.  Beharie has such range in her acting. She can go from playing an activist taking on the Texas court systems to a pretty girl next door in New York with music dreams.

"My Last Day Without You" is about a German business executive named Niklas, played by Ken Duken, who is sent to the U.S. for a short 12-hour trip to lay off all of the people in the company's New York office. It just so happens Leticia (Beharie's character), a receptionist at the company gets the pink slip. Niklas drops the ax before Leticia arrives to work. Her termination could not have come at worse time. She just moved into her own apartment and has dreams of her music making it big.

Here's where it gets juicy. Niklas and Leticia meet on the streets of New York.  They start to vibe and hang out for the rest of the day. She tells him she got laid off. Niklas figures out she worked at his company but doesn't tell her he told people to pack up. Niklas is arrogant and ignorant. I did not like him at first.  He doesn't realize he's the company's puppet and thinks he can get the panties easily because he makes a lot of money. Leticia doesn't settle for that. She's hopeful, driven and sweet. Just don't get on her bad side.

"My Last Day Without You" is a sweet, fresh romance.  It's a tender story about fate and chance in love.  I really enjoyed the relationship between Leticia and her father Pastor Lestor Johnson, played by Reg E. Cathy. Thankfully he wasn't the typical, Baptist preacher that we always see in movies. He was just a regular guy who loved his daughter and had trouble moving on from the death of his wife.

I was surprised the film had quite a bit of comedy. I expected the film to be a romantic drama but it's more of a romantic dramedy.  Speaking of comedy, Niklas' driver was hilarious. Actor Laith Nakli made me chuckle a few times.

My only complaint about the film is that it was too short. It was only 90 minutes. But, I know independent films are on tight budgets. I'm on the fence about the steam factor. It gets a little hot and heavy in one scene. One one hand, I wanted more steam between the two characters. Nicole Beharie and Ken Duken had great chemistry. On the other hand, that might have taken away from the story. 

This film was released Spring 2011 and there are people who still want to see it in theatres and at film festivals. I'll reach out to the filmmakers to see if it's going to be on DVD anytime soon. Stefan Schaefer and Christoph Silber did a great job on the script. There were a few surprises in the film and at times I didn't know what was going to happen next. 

Films like this make me wish our world was different. Nicole Beharie should be a household name by now. She's just as talented, if not better, as the same actresses we see over and over again in big-budget movies. Plus, she can sing too. She performs in the film.
Also, with all of the so-so rom-coms big movie studios put out yearly, I don't understand why this really good movie hasn't played at AMC, Regal, etc.

But, I'm thankful for the internet which is how I found about "My Last Day Without You," and the indie filmmakers who can bring us these great stories.


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