Angela Bassett and the Paradox of Color

Angela Bassett was the picture of royalty long before she put on the crown of Queen Ramonda. Thirty years ago, she took on the iconic role of Tina Turner, the Queen of Rock and Roll. The year before that, she played the role of Malcolm X’s honorable wife, Betty Shabazz.

Last Sunday evening, Ms. Bassett, draped in regal purple, was poised to receive a long-awaited Oscar. And then, she didn’t.

The contortion of Ms. Bassett’s face became a point of contention, as some believed she was a “sore loser.” I contend that it’s not her expression that we should second guess, but the Academy Awards’ treatment of Black people in general.

I could talk about the segregated circumstance in which Hattie McDaniel received her Academy Award, but I honestly don’t have to travel that far back in time. I can simply look at the lack of nominations for Viola Davis in The Woman King and Danielle Deadwyler in Till as woefully apparent examples. I used the term “indignity” in a previous review of Till, and that term holds well in the present in light of recent news.

According to reports, an anonymous male Academy Award voter dished out a vitriolic response to the lack of nominations for “Till” and “The Woman King”:

“When they get in trouble for not giving Viola Davis an award, it’s like, no, sweetheart, you didn’t deserve it. We voted, and we voted for the five we thought were best,” he finishes. “It’s not fair for you to start suddenly beating a frying pan and say [they’re] ignoring Black people. They’re really not, they’re making an effort. Maybe there was a time 10 years ago when they were, but they have, of all the high-profile things, been in the forefront of wanting to be inclusive. Viola Davis and the lady director need to sit down, shut up, and relax. You didn’t get a nomination — a lot of movies don’t get nominations. Viola, you have one or two Oscars, you’re doing fine.”

This arrogance doesn’t happen in a vacuum, as evidenced by a decided lack of diversity among Oscar voters. #OscarsSoWhite as a hashtag, or rather, a way of life, doesn’t deter the prevailing culture of the Academy Awards. Why? Theirs is a monopoly of power far more than it is a menagerie of prestige. The final indignity for someone as accomplished as Ms. Bassett, or Ms. Davis, is to expect them to consent in silence.

Color should not be a paradox, and yet, it is – everything, everywhere, all at once. Michelle Yeoh won Best Actress for her role as Evelyn Quan Wang, and some outlets noted that she was only the second “woman of color” to win Best Actress at the Academy Awards. Respectfully, that homogenizing “woman of color” tagline did some heavy lifting.

Color, diversity – pejorative terms for some – can be burdens of responsibility for Black actors while being beacons of light for other nonwhite thespians. This is not unlike the realities of America’s various civil rights movements, which see profound gains for other marginalized groups while African-Americans suffer in anti-Black policy and practices. This is not an indictment of Everything Everywhere All At Once, as it was truly a beautifully eclectic movie with familial and existential themes. It is, once again, a challenge to Hollywood’s white lights and seemingly supremacist infrastructure. 

Ironically, a pair of pugilists provided solace to Ms. Bassett. “Hey Auntie,” Michael B. Jordan said slyly, a callback to his famous line as Killmonger in “Black Panther.” 

“We love you,” added Jonathan Majors, who shared the screen with Mr. Jordan in the wildly successful third installment of Creed. Their response was in lockstep with the attitude of Black Hollywood over many decades – graciousness in the face of grating results. The snubs are countless, and the face of that disrespect might be Denzel Washington. Even his Best Actor win for “Training Day” paled in comparison to setbacks after iconic performances in “Malcolm X” and “The Hurricane.”

Of course, color was never the problem. If anything, color has accentuated silver screen productions since the invention of Kinemacolor, then Technicolor and subsequent innovations. It is unfortunately ironic, then, that Hollywood’s biggest stage remains largely colorless. Further, the industry that is at times openly critical of “superhero movies” is largely silent when it comes to film’s greatest villain – racism.

A Self-Fulfilling Prophecy

Hours before Jackson State University won its second consecutive SWAC football championship, before its celebrity coach caught a plane in the dead of night to roam with the Buffaloes of Colorado, Tiger fans joined in unison to serenade Deion Sanders with a bit of King George’s “Keep On Rollin’.” 

“If you wanna go baby, go ‘head walk out the door, one thing you gotta remember, is one monkey don’t stop no show,” many fans in attendance jeered, with a tone that sounded jovial, albeit jilted.

Depending on where one stands with Sanders’ decision to take the job as Colorado’s head coach, he’s either a savior who did all he could for Jackson State and historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs), or a sellout who used Black college football as a stepping stone to the resources (and money!) of a predominantly white institution (PWI).

Respectfully, I think most people – Sanders included – have made him the epicenter of this experiment for the last two years. Now is a good time to widen our collective gaze and look beyond Coach Prime and athletics, and into the intent and mission of HBCUs.

The mission of Black schools is a radical one within the framework of American history and politics: to educate Black children. It’s no coincidence that a host of Black schools were established in the years following Reconstruction, nor is it a coincidence that a host of Black schools have been heavily underfunded by state (and by extension, federal) governments.

In short, we can’t have a conversation about HBCUs, certainly not Black college athletics, without talking about the mutual history of underfunding and integration.

“Equal but separate,” the segregationist doctrine we commonly note as separate but equal, was always a misnomer. Black institutions – hell, Black people – would always be denied monetary resources and governmental access under a racist regime. Integration presumably, and that presumption is working double overtime, allowed Black people to engage in white spaces, or more appropriately, allowed Black folks within the proximity of resources only allowed to white people. This allowance did not change the cultural underfunding of Black spaces and Black people.

This is the crux of where Sanders’ decision to leave JSU hurts. Whether intentionally or not, Coach Prime is perpetuating the assumption that Black schools are “second-class” to PWIs. It’s not just hurtful that he will likely transport the resources from a Black school to a white school in a town with a microscopic Black population. It’s the callousness with which he is doing it, from his abruptness after winning the SWAC championship on Saturday, to the lack of care in which he addresses players at both JSU and Colorado in terms of the transfer portal.

Undoubtedly, some people will say Sanders’ move is for the culture. Sanders himself said in the coaching ranks, you’re either “elevated or terminated.” Absolutes such as those make me wonder whose “culture” is that? Capitalist culture? Football culture? Reminds me of Kendrick Lamar’s commentary on culture on “The Heart Part 5”.

Personally, I believe our perspective of culture has become far too individualistic and materialistic. That myopic view is how people can simplify Coach Prime’s decision by essentially saying it’s a matter of a pay raise. Sanders’ contract at Colorado is a product of HBCU uplift, contrary to the thoughts of those who see his presence at JSU as a one-sided benefit. Jackson State gave Sanders a place to cultivate his coaching prowess when PWIs weren’t checking for him.

When it comes to HBCUs, community has always been more important than capitalism. It is certainly the community that has sustained our beloved institutions. I appreciate this more so as the son of HBCU graduates and a proud Florida A&M alum. I think about the tireless efforts of my former academic advisor, Frances McMillon. In hindsight, she stood in the gap for my scholarship brothers and sisters, people whom I share kinship with more than 20 years later. She represents so many Black women in the HBCU space – nurturing and challenging students who will soon become professionals.

I think about those mothers, I think about foundational Black historians like Carter G. Woodson, the “father of Black history,” and I shake my head when I hear people say Sanders “doesn’t owe Jackson State or HBCUs anything.” It’s why I bristled at his perpetual criticisms of HBCU “tradition,” because they came from a place of capitalism, not a place of care. The distinction between Sanders and HBCU faculty and staff members of tenure isn’t just investment of time and tutelage over many years. It’s about trust in something bigger than yourself.

Being fair, Coach Prime made it clear that he would leave for a PWI at the first opportunity he received. I didn’t need him to make that declaration, because he said nearly 30 years ago that money would change his wardrobe, his phone number and his address.

Must be the money, he said. It was a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Who Won The Warnock-Walker Debate? Not Black Men

My sincerest prayers and condolences to anyone who watched last Friday’s political debate between Georgia senatorial candidates Raphael Warnock and Herschel Walker. Some outlets had the nerve and audacity to ask which of the two Black men “won” the dialogue, even after a photo of a badge-toting Walker went viral. 

I don’t think there’s any question about who would be the better candidate for the seat. Warnock is more sensible, politically savvy and conscientious than Walker. With that said, I can tell you definitively who LOST the debate – Black men.

During the discussion, the moderator asked both candidates if they believed that the minimum wage should be raised. Regretfully, neither candidate said it should be raised.

Walker’s stance was expected – he is, after all, a badge-carrying Republican. Warnock’s stance was disappointing, since he is the pastor of the world-famous Ebenezer Baptist Church. I’ll share a quote from one of Ebenezer’s former ministers, the Rev Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., from his last book, Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?

I am now convinced that the simplest approach will prove to be the most effective–the solution to poverty is to abolish it directly by a now widely discussed measure: the guaranteed income.

Dr. King wrote that in 1967, and we are here 55 years later watching two Black men discuss their reluctance to slightly bump the minimum wage. It is a familiar approach by Black folks in politics – making reformist suggestions, if any suggestions at all, instead of radical ones.

This approach, which lacks courage, certainly hurts Black people, the working class, and poor people overall. When Black men are the faces of such an approach in politics, it flies in the face of the realities which face brothas overall.

The outcomes that we face in education, healthcare and employment require us to be bold. The Black women in politics are reflective of educated sistas – upwardly mobile. Their politics can be similarly conservative at times, but there is cohesion and charisma with the likes of Stacey Abrams and others.

We see none of that with Warnock and Walker – and that is part of the reason why this race is so close. There needs to be a radically political uprising among Black men, one that responds to the perpetual disrespect we face in this society. This doesn’t mean we should run to the Republican Party – far from it. We need to craft our own local political movements and unify in a way that demands the attention of states and the nation overall. 

Anything less will leave us at the mercy of bad politics, and those politics are mercilessly emasculating Black men.

Revenge and Tradition

When you hear the names Deion Sanders and Eddie Robinson, you think about the absolute best that Black college football has to offer. What the two men offered after last Saturday’s homecoming game between Jackson State and Alabama State was high-quality beef.

According to reports and viral video, there was some hand fighting between the two during the post-game handshake. Personally, I preferred the moves at the line during the Orange Blossom Classic between Chad Ochocinco and Coach Prime, but I’m a Rattler. The real excitement could be found in the postgame commentaries from Robinson (not related to thee Eddie Robinson) and Prime:

“(Prime) ain’t SWAC. I’m SWAC, he ain’t SWAC. He’s in the conference, doing a great job, can’t knock that, got a great team, his son should be up for the Heisman Trophy, I love Shedeur, great player, I love what he’s doing for the conference. …But you’re not going to come here and disrespect me and my team and my school and then want a bro hug. Shake my hand and get the hell off.”

Prime’s response?

“I’m not one to come back the next day and you going to pick up the phone and you going to apologize and we straight,” he said. “No, not whatsoever. You meant that mess. And one of the comments that kind of disturbed me out of all the comments, that I’m not SWAC. Who is? I got time today. Who is SWAC if I ain’t SWAC? Who is SWAC if I ain’t SWAC?”

Whether Coach Sanders is SWAC or not is as ironic as it is unimportant. Employing exclusivity against a man whose nickname is Prime is intriguing and yes, petty. With that said, I like to think that Black folks are much more adept at being familial than we are at gatekeeping, and what makes HBCUs a safe haven for all Black folks is that such institutions do more to welcome all people instead of warding them off. It’s not a perfect practice, but it fits our sense of hospitality.

With that said, there’s no disputing the spotlight that Prime’s brand has placed on HBCU football, which is a good thing. At the same time, Prime’s brand is a reflection of the man himself. He’s never been humble, only noble. I mean that in the elitist sense. Must be the money, yes? Is he at Jackson in the spirit of uplift, or the spirit of nepotism? Why bring in Barstool, a reported racist entity, to cover a potential revival in Black college sports, instead of a historically Black outlet? These are the tough questions that I asked quietly when Prime was hired, because I wanted his presence at Jackson to be about more than his brand. I knew that Black colleges were in crisis and that our fate is larger than football.

I think about our fate when I hear terms like “money game” and when folks derisively speak about HBCUs as being lesser. Black pride is a beautiful thing. It’s also an understandably sensitive thing. When you make comments such as those Prime made at halftime of the JSU-Grambling matchup and those before the Bama State game, conflict is inevitable, either spoken or unspoken.

Again, Black pride is a beautiful thing, because it is the start of Black power. We love greatness. We manufacture it, even if we aren’t always able to monetize it. In the current tone and lexicon of being “him,” we are THEM. And we’ve always been seen as them, even in this hellhole of a country.

I was reminded of that when a white man who spent the better part of his life exploiting young Black male collegiate athletes had the nerve to speak on reparations the same day as The Handshake. The unspoken part of Tommy Tuberville’s comments are that there are former and present coaches who share those same sentiments, not just about reparations, but about Black people. It’s why I resent respectability politics, whether it’s “bootstraps” gibberish or taking a proud logo off of a helmet as symbolism. Our morality shouldn’t be based on the white gaze or white supremacy. The souls of Black folk represent the soul and conscience of America.

There’s a lot at stake for Black folks as it relates to our colleges, and the role of athletics and communications within that framework. Thee Eddie Robinson understood that:

THEE Eddie Robinson.

Hard times are here, and we should be more courageous, if not outright radical. Six students at FAMU are suing the State of Florida in the name of land-grant “reparations,” a gesture that should be matched by every land-grant HBCU in the country. 

Turning pride into power in this way eliminates “HBCU level” and “money game” rhetoric because it challenges the status quo of college disparities. Truly, this effort is bigger than “winning and losing” because it not only holds oppressive forces to account, it encourages Black people to organize.

When people talk about Black colleges, this is my expectation. And when it comes to protecting and preserving Black schools, I’m of the mind of legendary FAMU coach Jake Gaither – be “mobile, hostile and agile.”

In Appreciation of Cam Newton

The flamboyant QB’s return to Charlotte brings back good memories

by Ken J. Makin

A single throw sold me on the prospect of Cam Newton being drafted by the Carolina Panthers — a fourth-down, fourth-quarter rope during the 2010 Iron Bowl.

It was a throw that Newton wasn’t supposed to be able to make. He was only a running quarterback, they said. Newton’s throw to Darvin Adams — a sidearmed dart toward the sideline where only the receiver could grab it — suggested something entirely different.

I’d seen a season full of highlights, and win or lose, I didn’t need to see anything else. It was big Terrell Owens energy after that — “that’s my quarterback.”

Of course, Newton led Auburn to an improbable 28-27 win over rival Alabama, having turned a 24-0 deficit into dust. Just over a decade later, Newton is back for a second stint with the Panthers, after a previous nine-year run that included an MVP award, a Super Bowl run and undeniable status as the franchise’s greatest quarterback.

Back in 2011, the decision on whom the Panthers should draft was easy. Andrew Luck decided to stay at Stanford. Jake Locker? Blaine Gabbert? They didn’t have Newton’s ceiling or credentials.

I knew what a Black quarterback would mean for the Carolinas. I watched as the city of Atlanta rallied around Michael Vick, and how he seemed to always be a step ahead of my Panthers. Now, it was our turn. Thankfully, the Cats picked Newton. There was inexplicable talk about how Cam wouldn’t be able to get it done as a passer, an assessment that was shattered in his first two NFL starts. He threw for 422 yards against the Arizona Cardinals, which broke the rookie opening day record set by Peyton Manning. He outdid himself with a 432-yard passing effort the following week against defending Super Bowl champion Green Bay.

Newton’s partnership with wideout Steve Smith was electric, and he won various awards, to include Rookie of the Year. It’s tough to compare that Cam with the injury-riddled player who struggled to get the ball downfield during the 2019 season.

I can appreciate Newton getting a second shot — largely because of his willingness to get the COVID vaccination shot. However one interprets Cam’s fashion sense or media presentations, one thing is indisputable — his love for the game of football.

That love extended to his play on the field. For all of the touchdown balls given to children in the stands, the play that I believe captured Cam’s essence happened in the 2016 NFC championship game.

Seven years prior, the Cardinals came to Charlotte and ruined a 12-4 season. Then-Panthers quarterback Jake Delhomme turned the ball over six times in a 33-13 season-ending loss

Things went differently for Cam and the Cats.

Up 27-7 late in the third quarter, Newton turned the corner and had a sure touchdown. And then, he went full Superman, dived over his offensive lineman and somersaulted into the end zone.

It was the type of play that some might deem “reckless.” A more choice word would be exuberant, or headstrong. 

That’s how Cam plays the game — flamboyantly and fearlessly, with a warmth extending to young fans and casual onlookers. He was a superhero of sorts, at times, less Superman than Meteor Man, where even as his powers waned, he remained true to himself.

At his best, he was a trash-talking savant who would run you over just as fast as he would flick a dart down the field. It didn’t matter whom he had as teammates, either. Newton had to do more with less, and that was a problem that led to some of his prime years being wasted. 

That 2015 year was special, though. It wasn’t just about the 15-1 regular season mark. It was about Cam’s candor, how he made it known that he was an “African-American QB that may scare a lot of people.” It was a statement as complex as Cam — loud in its delivery, yet subtle because in the case of how the NFL has historically treated Black quarterbacks, what’s understood doesn’t need to be explained.

Cam pulled back on some of those comments after the Super Bowl loss, which should be attributed to political influences within the Panthers organization. Still, with the rising influence of Colin Kaepernick, Newton looked to be lesser than as it related to social justice issues.

He wasn’t. He was a man trying to do it his way while figuring out the way to go. He regained his footing in 2018, when the Panthers started out 6-2 and Newton found some of that MVP SuperCam magic. Then a big hit from T.J. Watt in a blowout loss to the Steelers on a Thursday night led to a nagging shoulder injury. Just like that, the Black Cat mojo was gone. He became the Prince of a Thousand Enemies, some merited, some unmerited. 

But what a wild ride it was.

Newton’s journey is a cautionary tale. In the short term, it’s a call to get vaccinated. COVID largely derailed Cam’s career as a New England Patriot. From a long-term perspective, Cam’s time up North offered an unfortunate refrain — the thoughts of doubters who nitpicked his personality and his playing style.

Newton has always responded to those doubters with confidence, and I sense he will do the same now that he is back in Charlotte. Maybe this time, the franchise and certain Charlotte outlets will appreciate him. Perhaps once more as a heir to McNair, with his own flair, Newton will press his fists together, then move them away from each other in a show of strength. Here’s to Cam continuing to show people what he’s made of — pure heart.

Bonfire For The Vanities

Ken Makin

Before Wednesday’s inauguration, nearly 200,000 flags were placed to represent the hundreds of thousands of people who wanted to attend the presidential event, but could not because of COVID-19.

With respect to the laborers and the tremendous effort involved, twice as many flags should have been placed.

The morning before the inauguration, more than 400,000 lives had been claimed by the coronavirus — and the country’s mishandling of the pandemic. Two Wednesdays ago, the unthinkable happened — a storming of the Capitol by rabid Trump supporters who wanted to overturn the election.

And yet, here were our heroes for an inauguration — with pomp and circumstance, performance and grandstanding, because it takes a lot of imbalance to stand on the bodies of over 400,000 people.

What are we celebrating again?

During the course of King Solomon’s biblical lament, he remarked there is a time for everything — a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn and a time to dance. But what are we celebrating, again? Did hell turn to heaven that fast?

Are we celebrating the end of Trump’s term? Ding dong, the witch is dead, they said. 

And yet the spell remains — the witchcraft of white supremacy, which certain predates the wicked witch. It can be seen in burning crosses and hoods with holes cut in them, and so much more. It is so potent, so pungent that even among the self-serving parade, Washington was a city at war. Even among the soldiers, one could not tell what each individual fought for.

Compromised? Compromise! Yes, that’s the word of the day. But you won’t hear it like that. You’ll hear the words “unity” and “bipartisanship.” We will forget that they have the power to reverse the policy of the last four years and the last four hundred years. This is what they campaigned on when they asked us to turn red into blue.

The sky is purple now, filled with the haze of hatred and hegemony. We laugh at sports teams from Georgia when they inexplicably craft losses out of sure victory. Yet here are the Dems, fresh off of recapturing the Senate, handing out concessions to a party that cosigned a coup.

The old man did say “nothing would fundamentally change.” And what a juxtaposition from that other old man who sat a few yards away with his arms folded. 

That old man wanted healthcare for all. He wanted to cancel select debts. He too, had a sizable lead.

And then the Secession State, with its oppressive history, stepped in. It remembered how much the old man loved that segregationist Strom Thurmond. And it lifted him as only this wicked country can.

The AUDACITY when that former president said only the old man could have beaten the wicked witch. Ah, bipartisanship! Cue the choir! And the choir director agreed to a selection of Lift Every Voice And Sing.

It wasn’t always this vain. There was the summer of lambs. Of George, Breonna and Ahmaud. And many more lambs. The world burned for a bit — no more singing. Just singed.

The cleansing fire threatened to reveal the truths of this “republic,” and expose the deceptions of this “democracy” and capitalism. 

But Black Lives Sold. As they did since the beginning. And those lives died in vain.

Surely the blood of the lambs should have given us more than a prince of prisons and a chief prosecutor? Our memories can’t possibly be this short!

They are.

The names change, but the game, it remains the same. We have been felled by fist bumps and fashion, by flowing robes and flowery rhetoric. We root for everybody Black — even if that “blackness” is a masterful caricature.

Former President Barack Obama greets Vice President-elect Kamala Harris ahead of President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration, Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021, at the U.S. Capitol in Washington. (Jonathan Ernst/Pool Photo via AP)

And while they drip, we drown.

We celebrate them having everything while they lead us closer to having nothing. Two thousand becomes 1,400 which was never enough in the first place and HAVEN’T WE HAD ENOUGH?

No. Hell no! Strike up the Black bands. Play the imperial march. And keep throwing in the dollar bills. And the dead bodies. So the bonfire can keep burning.

Ken Makin is the host of the Makin’ A Difference show and a freelance columnist.

Courage Under COVID-19

Second-generation public servant learning and leading on the fly

ALBANY, Ga. — Politics and public service aren’t just about responsibility for Commissioner Demetrius Young. They’re also about family legacy.

Young, the Ward 6 Commissioner for the City of Albany, is the son of two civic-minded parents. His late mother, Mary Young-Cummings, was the first Black city commissioner in Albany, as well as a civil rights attorney. 

Young won in a runoff in December, and surely expected to have a grace period to familiarize himself with his constituents’ needs and concerns.

Then COVID-19 happened.

It hit Albany especially hard, and at one point, the city with a population of 153,000 people had the third-highest death per capita rate due to COVID-19 in the world, according to the New York Times.

The Makin’ A Difference show reached out to Commissioner Young about the challenges of being a leader in the midst of the pandemic:

Makin’ A Difference: There are various reports about how Albany, Ga., became one of the hotspots for COVID-19 cases. Can you tell us about some of the vectors based on the information you have been presented?

Commissioner Young: There were two events that took place here in Albany that were associated with the initial spread of the coronavirus in our city. There was a funeral on Saturday, February 29th, and a second homegoing service on the following Saturday. While we are aware that there was a marathon attended by thousands of international and national runners, currently, none of the infections have been traced back to the marathon. That was the information we received from health officials and the epidemiologist who came to Albany. What the officials have told us is that the majority of the infections were associated with the two funerals, and were traced back to individuals who had attended those two funerals. The original individual who was infected was from Atlanta and was actually the first death associated with the coronavirus here in Georgia. He attended the first funeral, and the virus spread through those individuals to the second funeral. It even spread into our court system via a juror who had attended the funeral. I understand that my community is feeling some type of way, and rightly so, because many people are seeking to place blame rather than help people and find solutions. To date, we do not have any evidence that ties the infections back to the marathon.

MAD: What are your immediate concerns about the Governor’s attempts to “re-open” Georgia?

Young: My immediate concern about Governor Brian Kemp’s “reopening” of Georgia is that he did not give local officials the power to do what is necessary to protect their citizens based on their local situation with COVID-19. His reasoning was very conflicted and contradictory. Initially, he said that he was giving power to local officials to do what is necessary for their community. Later, he said that he wanted uniformity regarding a statewide “reopening” — even as the virus begin to proliferate through the state. This was especially frustrating given the data that we were seeing here in Albany, and even more puzzling because it conflicted with the guidelines coming from the Trump administration as well. Adding fuel to the fire was the fact that the businesses he sought to open up were businesses where it would be most difficult to adhere to the social distancing recommendations. It would also be challenging for business owners to protect their workers and customers. We also know that these are businesses that are frequented by African-Americans, and African-Americans have been especially hit hard. We have suffered the lion’s share of the deaths from the virus. This is why so many in our community from celebrities, down to the man on the street wondered if the Governor was placing us in harm’s way intentionally. As of right now, we know cases are on the rise in Georgia. As more testing is being made available, what I think you will see is a more accurate picture of how widespread the infections are throughout Georgia. We know it is not safe here in Albany to reopen businesses, and thankfully, for a large majority of the restaurants, barbershops and hair salons, they have chosen not to open.

MAD: As a “freshman” in politics, there really hasn’t been a “grace period” for you in terms of being in office. Everything is happening really fast, especially with the pandemic. How are you dealing with everything?

Young: Things are happening really fast, so I haven’t had a chance to assess how I’m doing. Right now I’m just doing, which is my general mindset. It was already enough to learn the ins and outs of being a public official. Many say it’s like trying to drink from a fire hose your first six months. Thankfully, politics has been my love for a long time — even before I really knew what politics was. Right now, I am in my element, just learning everyday. I am trying to better the conditions for my city, my ward, and Black folks in general. There are a lot of things that I had planned to do that have now taken a backseat, but in this “new normal,” we will all have to adjust. I do think there is an opportunity for us to rebuild struggling pockets of our communities through this pandemic. All of the conditions and the systemic ills that we have faced have been laid bare and have proved to be deadly for impoverished communities. If we in government do not recognize now that we have to do more to change our conditions, then we can’t say that’s what we want. In many ways, the situation here in Albany is so dire that I don’t have time for people who want to simply stand in the way because of ideology or playing politics. People are dying. Government must come to the aid of people who have signed a social contract with their lives.

MAD: You’re a second-generation public servant. What does your family legacy and your parents’ service mean to you personally and how you service your constituents?

Young: My family’s legacy in politics and public service is obviously something that I’m proud of. What I’m more thankful for is the way my parents left the simple legacy of treating people with dignity, fairness and love. That’s what our legacy truly is about. It’s something that I don’t take for granted and definitely don’t want to squander. I think for all of us who are blessed with a legacy of good parents, we should do our best to be good people. We should pass on what they did so that our children and generations after them will have a legacy that they can benefit from in terms of how they are treated and thought of in the community and society at-large.

Voices From The Frontline

Black labor, white privilege.

It is the untold story of the COVID-19 pandemic that ravages our country and our world. We’ve heard about the disproportionate cases and deaths of African-Americans with the coronavirus, but what we haven’t heard are the stories of the laborers who are on the frontline of this pandemic.

Until now.

Verses and Tiles, through the viewpoint of the Makin’ A Difference show, has reached out to Black workers throughout the country to gain first-person perspectives of working conditions. This is an ongoing commentary, which means that if you are on the frontline, you too can send your experience(s) to

The participants are anonymous out of the very real understanding that these stories may draw ire from companies and corporations. Here are their stories:

Trucker/Independent Insurance Broker

One of my Medicare clients reached out to me because she was in need. She is poor and doesn’t have a car. I took her five bags of groceries because the food bank ran out of food. I can’t eat when I know other people are hungry. My wife, who works with me, is still going on Medicare appointments to help seniors and social disability beneficiaries with Medicare prescription drug plans. It can be challenging because 80 percent of our clients are below the Georgia poverty level. We also help people pay their Medicare part B premiums, which are $144/month. People still need help and we’re going to help them. 

As far as trucking, it’s been a little tough because I’d rather be home with my family. At the same time, I know the country needs us to work, so I’m proudly fulfilling my duties to make sure I do my part to keep this country moving. Trucking has also been a little difficult because we don’t have the luxuries we used to have with all the closures, but we’re doing our profession with a sense of duty. 

One thing that makes me upset is people with resources are stockpiling while poor people can’t even get the basics. People need to be mindful of those who go without during situations like this.


First, my job doesn’t supply my coworkers and I with masks or sanitizer, even though thousands of (coughing and sneezing) folks are coming in and out of the store all day. I see other jobs getting two more dollars an hour, and we only got a one-time $300 bonus, with part-time folks only getting $150. I don’t blame my store manager, I blame the company. They only care about the dollar bill. They’re hiring temporary workers now, only to keep us from getting overtime, and they’re going to cut everyone’s hours as well.

Department Supervisor

During an average eight-hour shift, you’re dealing with customers all day long. Customers come from different background and have differing attitudes. You come in and try to replenish the shelves as much as you can. A major change in terms of what I do is the concern(s) about safety. Some employees are either scared to have too much contact with customers, or are scared to cough because they are afraid of how customers may respond. Everyday, we come to work and risk the chance of bringing “The Rona” home to our families and children. The morale, which wasn’t great to begin with, has dropped because management is complaining along with the labor force. Management wants to see the store shut down and protections for employees. We were told that we don’t have to close because we sell “essential” goods. I can tell you personally, nothing out there is essential. A few weeks ago we did over $1 million in sales, and $200K of that was in the garden center alone. Home decorations did $68,000. Why were we really open? That’s not even 10 percent of the sales. As a result, you have an environment of people just not coming to work, which puts added pressure on the folks who are coming to work. There are arguments because employees are on edge, and customers will be customers, which is to say they are impatient. Because I’m in management, I’m supposed to “educate” the employees. I’m supposed to tell folks that “things aren’t that serious” and “to be safe” with a bunch of fancy words. I call that the “corporate sprinkles.”


I’ve actually had a reasonably positive experience. The clinic that I work at has been on a soft lockdown for the last 2 weeks. Anyone entering the building, staff included, is stopped at the door and screened for COVID-19 symptoms. Only new HIV intakes, emergency visits and lab appointments are allowed in the building. The clinic director and other decision makers cut down staff significantly, allowing most providers (doctors and nurse practitioners) to work from home using our telemedicine capabilities . The only physician present in the building usually is the clinic director. The pharmacy has switched to mostly mail order. Our staff was cut significantly, also.  Considering we were NOT prepared for this at all, I think it’s working relatively well.


My job is big on sales, which means we won’t be closing any time soon. I don’t even think the customers are that worried about it, being that they’ve been in the store every day from the time we open to the time we close. Basically, it’s been like Black Friday everyday. I’m not sure if the managers or people above them are that committed or focused about our safety. They have gave us a little bit of breathing room, saying we can call out if we feel sick or have symptoms but we would need to go to a doctor for that excuse. Overall, I think just because of the name and success of the company, the incentives could be way more considering we’re putting our health at risk. I won’t complain. I will continue to do what I can for myself to make sure I’m not affected by the virus and staying safe as possible while continuing coming to work until or if we do close down anytime soon.

The Best Team You’ve Never Seen

North Augusta High School’s girls basketball team posed with the coaching staff, cheerleaders and others after they won their first state title in 2017. They have since won two more titles in a row and will play for a fourth straight championship this Saturday.

I’m sure you’ve heard about the girls’ basketball team over at North Augusta High School. The Lady Jackets, winners of three straight state titles, will play for a fourth this Saturday in Columbia, S.C.

That probably isn’t news to you. Again, you’ve heard about the Lady Jackets. But have you seen them?

You meant to go see them after they won the first title. Then, they went back-to-back, and you missed out again. Honest mistake. It’s two years later, and these young ladies just can’t lose.

Still, you haven’t seen them. Hell, I haven’t seen them either. The last time I saw them, they rolled Wilson High School 61-37 in the state championship. I’ll never forget that game because one of the young ladies from my home church heaved the ball toward the basket as time expired.

It went in. 

I was on the baseline for that game. In fact, I was in prime position to get that last-second shot. I didn’t, because, in that moment, I became a fan. 

I was a fan of my church member. I was a fan of what these young ladies and a team from our area accomplished. I was a fan stuck in that moment — so shocked that I didn’t even take the picture of the last few seconds.

It wasn’t just a fresh feeling — the feeling of seeing a team win its first title. It was, unfortunately, a fleeting feeling.

I spoke to then-coach Crystal Cummings, the architect of this dominant run, a few weeks later. Her approach to basketball wasn’t only about the physical nature of the game. It was also about her psychological approach to the game.

North Augusta’s mascot was perfect for Cummings’ pressing, man-to-man (excuse me, woman-to-woman) defensive style, and to say they swarmed their opponents would be an understatement.

That should have clinched it for me — and us. It didn’t.

Our collective failure to appreciate this program and its accomplishments has turned into a literal sign of disrespect. Upon entrance of North Augusta’s city limits, there is a sign that commemorates the Lady Jackets’ three consecutive championships. The sign itself hasn’t changed, just a few of the numbers, which have literally been glossed over the last two years.

Remember when the sign read, “’17”? Then, “’17-18”? Now, it reads “’17, ’18, ’19.” The numbers are all scrunched together. Not even our local and state governments give these young ladies they respect they deserve.

It’s a clear indication that we aren’t as forward-thinking and progressive as we pretend to be — and I’m saying this as a fan of women’s basketball and sports in general. Part of the tragedy of Kobe and Gianna Bryant’s deaths were the impact that they had on women’s sports, and specifically basketball. We hailed Kobe as a champion for women’s sports and Gianna as the future, yet our mourning was about the Bryant surname more than it was about women’s sports.

Just to be clear, this isn’t so much a rebuke, as it is a challenge. Think about it — how does the city of North Augusta, and virtually any city in the state of South Carolina respond to a championship football team? There are high school programs that haven’t won a football title in decades, and those teams are celebrated as conquering heroes. 

Here’s the thing — we SHOULD celebrate those accomplishments. We should likewise celebrate the UCONN-type run that our own Lady Jackets are currently enjoying.

What’s exciting in this moment is that it only takes a singular action to change the narrative of these Lady Jackets from the best team never seen to the best team ever seen. They’ll take on an understandably vengeful and challenging South Pointe High School team this Saturday at 5:30 p.m. at Colonial Life Arena. 

It’s worth mentioning that Colonial Life is the home arena of the top-ranked women’s basketball team in the country — the University of South Carolina. The Lady Gamecocks won the title in 2016-17, which was the same season that the Lady Jackets won their crown. What’s remarkable is that the Lady Jackets haven’t relinquished their title since.

There’s been a petition going around on social media to give the Lady Jackets a real celebration. With respect to that petition, the biggest endorsement we can give these young ladies is to drive up to Columbia on Saturday and cheer them on, win or lose. Oh, and keep cheering next year, and the year after that.

And speaking of petitions and signing, can we get these young ladies a new sign? Hope that’s not too much to ask.