Kells the Artist: An Epic Journey

Kells the Artist is beyond Spoken Word.  He’s a wordsmith and a Hip-Hop artist who is destined to make waves in Chicago.  I first saw this young man at Dr. Finney’s church on the South Side of Chicago and learned then he’s a member of the group Team At Ease.  Since then, he has remained a part of that spoken word group and has started his own team called EPIC. I sat down to chop it up with him about life and his upcoming project.

How long have you been writing?

  • I’ve been writing since I was about 7. I started taking it seriously when I found out I was actually kinda good at putting sentences together.

What was it like growing up for you in Chicago?

  • It was difficult at first because I grew up in the projects of the Southside
  • I spent a majority of my life as a follower. Doing what appeared to be cool. Chicago has a certain swag I felt I had to keep up with until I started thinking for myself.

Do you have a mentor?  If so, who is it and why?

  • Yes, I do have a mentor. My mentor is Jesus.  I say Jesus, because he’s the perfect example of the person I intend to be like.

What does EPIC stand for and what are your goals for the organization? 

  • Epic stands for Effectively Producing Immaculate Creativity. My goal is to cause people to believe in their own dreams enough that they actually to accomplish them.

Kells the Artist

You have a CD coming out this April 13,  what’s the title?

  • It’s called CloudTalk.

What is the motivation for the CD and what can people expect?

  • Today’s rap music is what motivated me to do it. I will not let real hip hop die, lol. People can expect a refreshing uplifting experience from start to finish, with motivating lyrics and great affirmations.

How do you stay motivated?

  • stay motivated by knowing that no matter what I can ALWAYS do better. I know where I came from and I’ll be damned if I go back!

What is something people have assumed about you that may be inaccurate?

  • Two things:  First, that I’m arrogant. I have a certain level of confidence that can be mistaken for arrogance.  Secondly, that I’m not shy! Since I’m a performer nobody believes I can be shy, lol.

After this CD, what’s next for you?

  • Book number two.  I will finally sit down and finish working on my second book.
  • Where can people find you in the social media world?
    • Facebook, Epic Fan PageSnapchat, G- Mail, YouTube, Instagram, and Twitter all @Kellstheartist.

Join Kells The Artist Friday at 2239 South Michigan for his CD Release and Birthday Party at 7PM.

EPIC Poetry

The Land of Opportunity

There was a song that I vaguely remember from my childhood and School House Rock Days.  It is titled, The Great American Melting Pot.

This song, though missing a colorful representation of African Americans and Native Americans, was the premise of which American culture was shaped and formed in some sense. There were no immigration papers, and it was an open policy for all who could merely arrive here by boat. I used to unnerve my brother when I would awake every morning and sing the National Anthem (let’s leave out the historical context of the reason this song was written; I desire to stay in my euphoric state for this blog). On Friday, a colleague shared that he had officially become an American citizen. Considering the demographic I serve, as a technologist and corporate motivator, I asked his permission to share his photo and his story. So…enjoy my colleague Armando in our Q & A.

ME: Armando, on March 29, you became an American Citizen, this is a fantastic journey. How long have you been in the US? Where are you from originally?

A: I have been in the US for almost 25 years. I’m originally from Mexico City.

ME: When and why did you come to America?

A: I came in September 1993 as a child. My father died in 1990, and my mother did not have any formal education. During this time the government started privatizing many factories because of NAFTA’s new regulations. My mother lost her job in the same year, and she had no other option but to immigrate to the US.

ME: What opportunities do you have in the US that were not available in Mexico?

A: One of the opportunities I did not have in Mexico was an education. After losing her job, my mother was not able to keep paying for both my brother’s and my education.

ME: Not looking for a right or wrong viewpoint, but what do you see as major cultural differences in the US vs. your home of origin?

A: I want to say a major change was the language. For me, it took me a few years to start communicating and adapting to American culture. Other than language, I noticed that in the United States, Americans spend more time in their profession, so much so that in some cases, work is first and second is family. Children are often raised more independently and are encouraged to be independent of their family.

ME: Do you think you will take your skills to your country origin in the future?

A. I don’t see my future back in Mexico. I have my family here, and I don’t see my wife and kids moving to Mexico.

ME: Some people frown on immigrants who are not “legalized” citizens. With Congress being inactive or slow on DACA, what do you recommend for DACA recipients who are here of many ethnicities and countries, and they’re striving for US citizenship?

A: To all DACA recipients, I want to share my personal story. After graduating from high school, I did not have many options to continue my education since I was undocumented. My only options were work in a factory like the rest of my family or go back to Mexico and try to continue my education, but neither of these two options was an alternative for me.

I wanted to go to college and pursue a higher education. I decided to attend my community college, and while attending college, I worked in a restaurant to be able to pay for my education and help my family. After four years I earned two Associate’s Degrees: one in Computer Science and the second in Arts. It was not an easy accomplishment. In 2010 I was able to fix my immigration status and started working in my field.

ME: You are graduating from college with your degree in Information Technology and have become a US Citizen in the same year, what does this mean for you and your family?

A: After fixing my immigration status I was able to go back to finish my BA. During this long journey with many sacrifices, I never lost faith in my dreams. With the support of my wife and my community, in fall of 2018, I will be finishing my BA in Computer Network Security.

This year also gave me the chance to accomplish another dream–becoming a US Citizen finally. This means so much to me. Now I want to keep helping my community and many other dreamers.

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I want to thank Armando for allowing me to share his truly inspiriational story. It is one of many and we hope and pray, there are more to come.

Armando is a technologist for a major educational institution in Chicago, IL.

 

 

Frozen

It feels like months

Where have I traveled?

A place of mystery and uncertainty

I can’t believe I am here

In this place, at this moment

Thinking, relishing, questioning

My purpose, my call, my existence

Surrounded but alone

Clinging to hope yet untethered

Trapped in the crevices of thought

I’ve traveled here before

It’s uncomfortable, that face, the reflection

Its shadow reaching out to hug me

Whispers of I love you, you have a purpose

You exist for a reason

I don’t embrace it

I turn off the light

Tears run down the mirror

I’ve been here before, it hasn’t been days

It’s been hours

In front of an empty table

Food cold, coffee bland, water lukewarm

Depression says hello

 

End of the Year 2017…Time Flies

Well folks, it has been a year.  So many downs and so many more ups.  Yet, I thought I’d end the year on some greatness and what I have done so far.

    • I set out to lose 25 pounds; I lost 10.2.  That’s major yal! I lost half a size in my neck.  18.5 to 18.
    • Completed six songs on my album and looking forward to working with one of Tupac’s producers in 2018.
    • Spit an ill flow on my man Double G.’s album for the song “Ambassador”.
    • Conducted some of the greatest young adult conversations on Christian living at my church.
    • Another year with my CHAMPS mentees and POET family.
    • I was promoted to Director of Information Technology in May of this year.  Major career move.  Growing and still searching for a mentor.  Until then, The Lord is guiding as He see fits.  Not sure what’s next for me but hanging tough.
    • Had a very successful year at NIU.  The journey towards my bachelors degree continues.
    • Fell completely in love with https://beautybeyondbones.com/ blog.  She really is my drive for consistency and creativity as a blogger.  Keep me moving beautiful and thanks for sharing your heart and experiences.
    • I dropped my first single, Soul Restoration, and video with the fabulous Restore. A whopping 48 copies sold, yet, I don’t despise small beginnings.
    • I completed a pretty dope class on Fatherhood and it’s challenged me to be a more intentional parent, father, and husband.
    • I will be writing for rapremnant.com in 2018.

No resolutions for 2018.  I am learning to live, love, and laugh at 47 years of age.  I’m putting fear in front of me as a stepping stool to faith and trust in Yeshua. I’m realizing the Creator has no boundaries.  I’m fighting against depression with lots of Joy, Love, and Prayer and of course counseling because I’m unashamed.  I can’t hope the best for 2018, I have to be the best for my family, my church, my job, my ministry work, my community work, and the young people and young adults I mentor.  I look forward to this year. I look forward to the journey. I look forward to sharing it with you all.

Blessings and Happy New Year.

Yours truly,

Tony Briscoe

 

The Journey to Godly Fathering

I am not a perfect dad.  If the cameras where rolling in my house last week, even while in a class led by a good friend on godly fathering, you may have even questioned my day to day life.  It was one of those moments when a father reacts in emotion and not under the guise of the Holy Spirit.  Yet, a few hours later I apologized to my wonderful, beautiful, and intelligent daughter.  12 year-olds know how to push buttons.
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Our final class was a couple of days later. “So brothers, how did it go last week?”  To which I confessed, “I blew it but I grew it”.  That translates to, I blew what I learned the previous week but grew in what I learned the previous week also.  One of the things we discussed on being Godly Father’s was owning our mistakes with our children.

Our theme scripture comes from Ephesians 6:4, which translates in The Message Bible, “Fathers, don’t exasperate your children by coming down hard on them.  Take them by the hand an lea them in the way of the Master”. In conjunction with the previous text, Proverbs 22:6 (train up a child) and I Timothy 3:4-5 where key scriptures in our development and training process.  The three goals of the class are as follows:

  1. Educate men on the distinction between a “good father” and a “godly father”
  2. Provide practical principles that define godly character and development
  3. Create an apparatus where men can commit to being a godly father
    1. Culminate this apparatus with a Commitment Letter to our families addressed to the wife and children of each represented household.

My cousin Arlene raised her two children along with my brother and me.  Years before she passed on to Glory we had a heart to heart and with tears in her eyes said, “I messed up with you all, especially you, and I’m sorry”.  (Had to pause after crying a little myself while typing this).  Ownership is so key on journey of becoming great parents.  So, we’ve begun an intentional journey together as fathers.  6 men with 15 children between us have vowed to share our trials, our successes, our failures, and our financial planning for their future, with several other strategic commitments with a focus on seven developmental areas.

7 Practical Principles: A Guide to Train and Point my Child in the Direction of the Lord

by Elder Marlon Medious

  • Imparting principles of life:  Forgiveness, apologizing, mercy, truth, and the living the Fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5)
  • Teaching godly habits
  • Protecting against moral dangers through appropriate discipline
  • Instilling daily prayer
  • Leading Bible Study at least once a month in the home
  • Engaging in interactive church participation
  • Explaining how decisions are made regarding their lives and choices

Proverbs 20:7 (AMP) reads, The righteous man who walks in integrity and lives life in accord with his [godly] beliefs–How blessed [happy and spiritually secure] are his children after him [who have his example to follow].”

As I close out this blog, I will share what we have in place now and will end with an image of the Commitment Letter to my wife and daughter.  If you would like a template to draft your own please email me.

We are not looking at this as consecutive weeks because we realize that life and family aligns with life and family situations.  However, we will be intentional in our sharing, our cause, our purpose, and our growth.

A major thanks to my brother Marlon Medious for pulling us together for this phenomenal training.  He is a true friend, confidant, and brother in the Gospel.

Blessings.

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Lecrae: Why They Hate Him

The racial divide in Christianity is so real and a recent comparison between Lecrae and NF, in a premierechristianity.com blog, in my opinion, further perpetuates why young African-Americans are drifting away from Christianity and church “as usual”. I find it very divisive though it clearly remains unbiased in its approach to both artists. My concern is how the headline “occurs” for others. I’ve already witnessed the racial tension in a Christian Rap group on Facebook.  Lecrae has done more for Hip Hop and Christian Hip Hop than most. For years he has endured attacks from within and without. Let me be clear. This isn’t a knock of Premier Christianity, a media voice for Christian thought and issues throughout the UK and the Christian world.

The blog mentions that sales of Creasy’s most recent release are down in comparison to his previous products. That may be the case, however, it is not due to his lack of lyrical skills, his verbal prowess, or his love and dedication to the Lord. When Lecrae started talking about social issues, police brutality, immigration, and issues that are culturally destroying the fabric of the “American Dream”, his white evangelical fan-base turned on him. He was told to stick to rapping about Jesus. And for those reasons he has lost a ton of support, a ton of white support. How is it you can be a Christian actor, cuss up a storm, get nude on the big screen, and there is minimal chatter and character assassination?

This is the hypocrisy of some white evangelicals. These same evangelicals go to church every week and lift their hands to what they have believed is a white-blue eyed savior, but who indeed is a Jewish man of color who would not be allowed to stay in America as a DACA recipient.

Lecrae is not without controversy. Even I am not sure why he has chosen to do music with certain artists but he is my brother. He has tried to be a Light in Dark spaces. Have any of you witnessed to Chief Keef? Have you repped Jesus in a BET Cypher heard by millions?  Lecrae is my brother in Yeshua. Some Christian rappers have rightfully challenged Lecrae dude to his perceived pride and he has shared how he was called out regarding his thoughtless characterization of Christian rappers having the same sound and how it lead to him issuing an apology. Yet, he is human. As a Black Christian I have to fight battles within my own race regarding the roots of my faith, American imperialism, colonialism, it’s man-made slavery connections and Babylonian rules of Hammurabi. I have to be an apologist and defend my faith externally often in this anti-religious age. The last thing we need is the constant divide within.  If you haven’t listened to his latest album then clearly you will not understand the journey of his life as a man, a black man, an artist, or a Christian.  This album has met me in my dreams, my depression, childhood, my triumphs, my failures, my success, and so much more.  It’s so timely and I appreciate his craft.  If you want it “Come Get Me”!

NF is my dude. Lecrae is my dude. He is a man of God who I met years ago ministering at the House on the west side of Chicago. As a local to Chicago Christian rapper, it is hard for us. We are not accepted by most churches, because after all, God can speak only through a donkey, He can’t speak through hip hop. Every form of art has free reign, liturgical dance, acting, comedy, country, African, reggae, jazz, rock, heavy metal, mime, orchestra’s but when it comes to rap it’s at the bottom of the food chain.

It’s unfortunate that an article titled as such could be twisted and used to divide two brothers, NF and Lecrae. It’s unfortunate that it paints a portrait, as it occurs to me, to say who is the better Christian, the WHITE rapper or the BLACK rapper. You can view the comments in social media yourself and see why Christianity in American is suffering at its own hand, how we are ushering in a cultural phenomenon of post-modernism and separatism.

Maybe whites have simply found a Rapper (who by the way doesn’t call or paint himself as a Christian rapper, which Lecrae has been heavily blasted for), who will simply make them feel good about being white and never having to involve themselves in real authentic issues regarding race and class.  Cleary, no Christian would ever talk about these issues and especially a Black one of influence.  It’s simply not the Jesus thing to do…

“All these feelings of depression and doubt, you have to tell them go away” ~ Lecrae

Find The Endurer’s first single: Soul Restoration Featuring Restore on iTunes: Purchase here.

FireKeeper: A Voice for All Generations

Her name is Loretta Hawkins.  The People of Extraordinary Talent, to which she is a member, and Chicago’s poetry scene know her as FIREKEEPER.  Tonight I have the honor of capturing her event that will surely be a photo experience.

I met Loretta Hawkins 2 years ago when she joined the P.O.E.T family.  Her voice is second to none.  She holds her own weight, embodying the spirit of Harriett Tubman in “These Shoes”.  Her voice, hard, subtle, strong, melodious, and powerful.  She doesn’t have to work at grabbing the attention of any audience, it’s simply a gift that comes with her anointing.  She is a retired teacher but she has never stopped educating.

Tonight, at Gallery Guichard, located 436 E. 47th Street in Chicago’s historic Bronzeville community, she will have a 3 Genres Book Signing.  This is a culminating event for her recent A Taste of Theater Award for her play “Of Quiet Birds”.

Loretta Hawkins is determined to utilize her remaining time on this earth to release books, poetry, plays, and inspire a young generation to embrace their heritage, their ancestry, their melanin, their history and their future.  Chicago’s best kept secret is no more and her work here is not done.  Today we celebrate a legend and I am honored to know that a fire of passion for life brews in all of us and FireKeeper is part of that Great Flame!

The Endurer
Photocred goes to the producer of the flyer for Loretta Hawkins.

We Speak for Ourselves: The Kaepernick Syndrome

What is Kapernick Syndrome? It’s when you decide to speak up for the rights of your people in protest and suffer life changing, career-ending backlash by your employer, conservatives, and yes, white people. To be fair, I ain’t with you on the no voting thing, but I get it.

 

The quickest way to rile up Republicans, conversations, and white Christians is to to paint the illusion of disrespecting veterans. Tomi, not worth saying her last name, is such an individual what would try to pimp her biased journalism by using veterans to draw emotion. Well, take some notes Tomi about your foolish discussions on the anthem thing since that’s your platform:

 

  1. Kapernick wasn’t protesting the anthem or flag, he stated what he was protesting. Apparently you never understood that.
  2. My people have fought for this country. We were put out in the cold so German prisoners of war could ride in luxury.
  3. We stood for the anthem during the olympics and Jesse Owens couldn’t come home and eat in a restaurant at a white establishment.
  4. We stood for the anthem while the government was injecting black men with syphilis.
  5. We stood for the anthem when black men were only allowed to be cooks and could only sit down in 8 while white soldiers filled the galley hall.
  6. We pledged allegiance to the flag in school while learning from the same books from generation to generation.
  7. We stood for the flag when American’s murdered Martin, Malcolm, Medgar, Rebb, JFK, Bobby K.

 

Veterans can speak for themselves Tomi, all of us. We don’t need your help or your speaking from a place of privilege. After all, many women stood for the anthem for the one you voted in office. We are not the land of the free, we are the land of %*ssy grabbers. Hope you are wearing a chastity belt because Fox News is allegedly known for being about the %*ssy grabbing.END…A Veteran Speaks

Father’s Day

Today is Father’s Day. It doesn’t garner the attention of Mother’s Day. Restaurants don’t sell out, theaters are not packed, and Facebook post say “Happy Father’s Day” to those single mothers that had to raise the males in the family. It can be said that many fathers have failed in their responsibility and people would often be justified. Yet, it’s always easier to celebrate negativity rather than champion excellent fathers. I thought I’d share part of the story about my biological father and what he meant to my life before his transition into eternity.

I buried my dad in 2015. I eulogized his funeral. I paid the expenses until my sister covered the cost with insurance money. He had a stroke a few before his death and that was what crushed me. He had no memory of me. It reminded me of the time I ran into him in 1996 in a Burger King and he didn’t even recognize who I was. We’d spent the last few years building a relationship. In a heated argument one day he told me he didn’t owe me an explanation for why he left. He chose to live his life the way he wanted to and that he didn’t owe anyone an apology. It hurt but those words were true. Outside of giving me life, he had nothing to do with the man I’d become, or did he? When my wife took ill it was the first time he called me almost every day, short on words, “How’s my daughter doing?” When she was well, his calls stopped. I wasn’t mad, it was his way of saying, “I care”.

Because of my Christian Faith, I am bound by scripture to honor my mother and my father. It doesn’t say honor them based on how they treated you. Equally, they can be categorized as deadbeat parents that never did anything, except, they did, they gave me life. They couldn’t handle the journey of parents and as unfortunate as that maybe they still played a role in my existence. I loved my day and honored him until the day he died. Losing him was a normal part of life, but his stroke broke me in ways I couldn’t imagine. After years of missing him, when we finally got together he lost his memory. I’m glad I got to know him. I’m glad I got to spend time with him. I’m proud to call him my dad. I honored him in life, I honored him in death. We both wore white sweat socks with dress shoes and slacks. We had similar thoughts on religious views and it was amazing to know that after years of separation that there was a ground to mend our relationship by finding commonalities one within the other.

I miss him! I wish I had another opportunity to “Dance with my Father again”.

Men, enjoy your Father’s Day. Let’ go of the past and look forward to the future. Live life, enjoy the journey, be there for your children. Raise the bar.

Happy Father’s Day.

Solace Soul Relationship Panel

I was asked to share closing words from a relationship panel I was on with my Solace Soul Poetry family in Chicago:

“1. Is your communication clear enough where there is no doubt what you desire in a relationship? – Your Actions, Your Behaviors, Your consistency.”
“2. What are you willing to give up?”
“3. What are you willing to tolerate?”
“4. Is your communication clear enough where you can understand what your significant other wants?”
“5. Are you happy, settled, or joyous?”
“6. Are you a situational or circumstantial partner?”
“7. What’s a deal breaker that puts you in the category of situational or circumstantial?”
“8. What type of ear do you listen to critical feedback? Defensive – Emotional – Clear”
“9. In every relationship, there is compromise and change. The 8 inches you love could be hit with a severe case of prostate cancer and become impotent. The big breast you love could be hit and stricken with a critical case of cancer, and you may have a wife with a full radical mastectomy.”
“10. If love covers a multitude of sin, how much love do you have for the one you want to spend the rest of your life with?”

The Endurer

 

Thoughts and Conversations – This USA!

I received a call from a former coworker who works for someone what we both used to work with at another company. She has seen his comments about President Obama and is fearful for her job because she doesn’t want to say anything to him about his post, yet she’s discouraged. She’s of Mexican descent. `He’s her boss, he’s white, and a Trump supporter. I let her know I see the same post, not only from him but, from people I attended a professional development training session with from February to October of this year. I encouraged her to stay optimistic, open up a safe dialogue, and don’t cut off your nose to spite your face. Meaning, keep your job and if you’re that uncomfortable find a new one.

This is the reality that we, as people of color, face every day under every president. I know and have experienced what it’s like to sit in meetings and accused of being the “Angry Black Man” while my white counterparts can throw profanity and yell across the table and its considered “how we conduct business.” I know what it’s like to experience people bypassing your position to go directly to your white boss because they don’t respect your intelligence, drive, commitment, or vision. I know what it’s like to be working and getting along with doctors in a hospital and delivering A+ service until one asks what college you attended and you tell them zero. You are treated differently. Everything you do is judged and scrutinized. But as my boss said to him, “If Tony says it can’t be done that way and he has an alternative solution then I’m going with his alternative recommendation.” I know what it’s like for my boss to be superseded for supporting me. We both laughed when something was implemented by an outside consultant for $7K, and I could have had it done in less time with a $200 investment. That’s what we’re used to. You’d rather spend money than trust what you deemed uneducated. My path in life was only different, and I’m in school now chasing what I’ll never find, a place of acceptance.

After sharing my experience with her I told her, she has a unique opportunity to get his views, opinions, and thoughts but at the end of the day, he’s a white executive and has a level of privilege and access that we will never have. It’s just the way America is, and it was built.

I also know what it’s like to be supported by whites. The civil rights movement wouldn’t have survived without our white brothers and sisters who were called “Nigger Lovers.” Our lives are linked to theirs, and for those that realized this, it was their sad duty, as James Rebb, to be murdered for supporting his black brother. I know what it’s like to be a non-degreed professional and given the opportunity to rise to the occasion. I know what it’s like to be hugged by men like Gary DeVore at Camp Rosenthal during the most painful experiences of my childhood. I know what it’s like to have keys and access codes to bank accounts and home to fix technology issues while my doctors were serving patients. It wasn’t because they had nothing to lose, it’s because they trusted me with their children, their homes, and their money.

I live in an America that can break hearts and mend souls. I live in an America where I know no politician is perfect because they are human just like me and I am not perfect. I have no issues with President-Elect Trump. He is who he is. He’s a marketing genius who just pulled off the biggest advertisement in American History. His genius has overtones of sexism, misogyny, racism, bigotry, and hatred. It’s not President-Elect Trump people are hurt or upset with; it’s those that support him. It’s those that scream “Hilary is a Bitch” at his rallies. It’s those that shout “Obama is a Nigger” at his rallies. It’s those that assaulted a young black woman at a Trump rally while thousands cheered. It’s those who’s children chant “Build a wall” in a school with undocumented Latino children. It’s those that line up with a man who is openly supported by the Ku Klux Klan. It’s those who say they are called to touch, move, and inspire, yet line up with an individual who has insulted veterans, women, the disabled, countries, and people. It’s those that snatch off hijabs from our Muslim daughters. It’s those that scribble on walls, “send those black fuckers back to Africa.” This is our disappointment in the humanity of a nation that would choose to support such a presidency. We missed an opportunity for change with Bernie Sanders; we missed and opportunity of hope with Hilary Clinton, but we missed and opportunity of love and acceptance, not by President-Elect Trump, but by those who support what he stands for today.

Open the dialogue, have the conversation in a peaceful manner. Hate will never trump love. Evil will never trump hope. Violence will never trump peace. Racism will never trump unity. Good luck President-Elect Trump, my prayers are with you in your decision making. The next four years will be the Celebrity Apprentice Live, 24/7. Grab your coffee, sip your beer, enjoy the ride! After all, this is the Republic for which we stand!

A Man of Passion: A Student Champion and Leader

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Vondale Singleton is a soul on a mission.  He is an associate minister at an active church on the south side of Chicago and has his hands embedded in the community.  He is an assistant principal of operations and community relations at a major charter school network in Chicago.  I meet him four years ago on a school visit as he was making his transition from Oklahoma to ChiTown.  He is a stellar husband and a glowing father of two, but his fatherhood extends way beyond his home.  Many of the young men he mentors in the city of Chicago look to him for guidance and instruction.  Whether he’s recruiting students for Gary Comer College Prep, A Noble Network Charter school and 2015 Broad Prize recipient, or running the C.H.A.M.P.S (Culturally Helping and Making Positive Success) Male Mentoring Program Vondale is committed to changing the culture of Chicago.  He’s beyond someone you should know.  He’s a man this city should invest in.  A few weeks ago he received what he perceived as a prank call.  It was king of the crossover, Chicago’s own Tim Hardaway.  “I heard what you’re doing and I want to help in anyway that I can.”  I asked my brother some very poised questions about what he envisions for Chicago.

  • You spent a great deal of time in Oklahoma working for KIPP, a great position building and solidifying their network infrastructure at the school you were located, why did you come back to your native Chicago? Although, I had a wonderful opportunity serving the city of Tulsa, and working at a great organization at KIPP Tulsa for 5 years, I was always called to come back to Chicago, because I always knew that my destiny was in my hometown.  When I would come back home to visit family and friends, I would hear of the gun-violence and stories about how the youth were off-the-chain, and I knew that God apprehended me to go back and be a light in the dark world of the inner-city of Chicago.
  • Mr. Singleton, you have spent an inhumane amount of hours with grieving families impacted by the violence in Chicago, what do you say to them?  It is appalling to know that we are leading the nation in murders. Furthermore, we see the majority of murders are from school-aged Black and Latino Males and often males without fathers in the home.  The thing that grieves me the most is instantaneous lost of 2 lives though 1 incident.  The victim and the murderer.  The victim’s family has to prepare a funeral, and the murderer family has to now visit them in prison.  These are both lose-lose situations, but the biggest lost is when a family has to deal with the reality of not getting their loved one back.  I realize that at any point it could be me or my family in this situation, so I never become desensitized to the fact of a family grieving and want them to know that they have me in their corner and I am willing to walk with them through this tumultuous process of bereavement.
  • The CHAMPS Male Mentoring Program has received national acclaim with being honored as a 2015 White House Film Festival awardee.  Kelly Wright of Fox News also came out and interviewed several students and staff members, why is this type of media coverage significant for Chicago? I want to dispel the narrative that all Black and Brown boys are gang-members, thugs, and cynical.  I decided that though the CHAMPS 3 E’s; Education, Empowerment, and Exposure, we wanted to show that through our own positive media, that we can compete with any people group anywhere on the planet in any academic arena, and that we have something great to offer the world.  Our young men deserve to turn on the TV and see themselves as important, powerful, and celebrated.  
  • Why is the June 4, Born 2 Win conference so important? I believe that this conference will help kick our summer off the right way, by involving the young men that it need the most.  This should be something that the whole world is behind.  I figured that if we can get 500 young men that will go into there respective communities, schools, and groups of influence then we can help empower a movement that will spark a necessary change our city and this nation needs.  
  • It’s not summer, Chicago has experienced more deaths than days of the year at current, how can hope be brought to the hopeless? There are three things I share with our young men. When we have facilities, resources, and finances then we are able to empower our community with a sense of hope.   We realize that part of the hopelessness is the institutionalized systems of racism and poverty.  When a man has a legal job, and is able to provide for his family it lessens the need to have to rob another man, it also occupies his time so that he isn’t left be the idle mind that bends towards evil.  We need more men stepping into the roles of fathers, and modeling how to overcome the negative influences of the streets, by capitalizing on opportunities.  Education is the greatest equalizer, with it you can go in any room and compete.  

Chicago is my kind of town.  When it’s violent we hear of the west or south sides of the city.  When it’s celebratory we hear of downtown.  Vondale is not only committed to changing the culture, he’s committed to changing the perception of African-American and Latino American students. He’s more than someone we should know, he’s someone we should be.

If you’d like to make a contribution to the C.H.A.M.P.S Born 2 Win conference, please email vsingleton@noblentwork.org or visit the Noble Network website to make a donation electronically and reference Born2Win-2016.

The Legacy, The Icon…Blaq Ice

He is an activist, writer, poet, artist, motivator, coach, entrepreneur, and father.  De’Andre Hawthorne, known as Blaq Ice, has been on the arts scene in Chicago since rapping and entertaining in his early days as a student at Simeon High School located on the south side of Chicago.  He is the founder of the award-winning International Spoken Word group named P.O.E.T (People of Extraordinary Talent).  Founded in 1990, P.O.E.T does various community service projects throughout the city and external of Chicago including chapters in Minneapolis, Detroit, Michigan City, and Las Vegas. P.O.E.T visits battered-women shelters, public schools, hospitals, parades, community rallies, and various other community events as part of their call to heal the world “one word at a time.”  Their membership includes people from all walks of life and religious beliefs.  Their focus on community, mentoring, and social equity drives them.

Under his leadership, many poets and spoken word artist have become published authors, have released music, and gained local notoriety.  The annual A.C.E Tech High School sleep over held on May 14, 2016, was a major success.  But as always with recognition comes trials, ups, and down.  I chopped it up with the P.O.E.T CEO, entrepreneur, and community activist this morning to engage the mind of one of Chicago’s own.

1.  Why is P.O.E.T so important to Chicago and beyond?

As you know, over the years, Chicago has increased in gun violence, so much so that we have as many murders as of May 2016 as there are days in the year so far. What P.O.E.T brings to the table inspires teens to make positive choices and decisions. Not only have are mentorship programs been effective in Chicago, but all across this nation. When you see those whom we have mentored become mentors, at that moment our mission and motto become complete. Our Motto is “Changing The World, One Heart, One Mind, One Word At A Time.”

2.  There seemed a time in 2012-2015 there was a lot of tensions amongst poets and groups with a lot of that social media hostility directed towards you.  How were and are you able to maintain, still be you, and not retaliate?

I war not against flesh and blood, but principalities and powers and spiritual wickedness in high places. There will always be those who hate what they don’t understand.  Jesus had haters so you know I’m not exempt. However, in order to be a leader you have to love those whom you lead more than they hate themselves. I don’t retaliate because as a leader I have to be the example, besides, my city (Chicago) has a problem, so my fight and my war is against the violence on my people by my people.

3.  What do you think is lacking from African-Americans with all the violence in our communities?

My people are destroyed by lack of knowledge. The knowledge of God and our true identity (Israel) has caused so-called African-Americans to carry the label of MADE IN AMERICA. God created us, but America made niggers. So as many young people as we can reach and teach the truth to, it will enable us to help to save the future generations to come.

4.  I have seen you on Fox News often addressing some of the issues with violence.  Why is local community activism a must narrative for African-Americans?

People are tired of talk, that’s why activism is important. The root of the word activism is ACT and actions speak louder than words. Our youth wants to know that they are loved and appreciated. Spending time, sharing what connects us (our stories) with them, allows them to feel comfortable opening up, releasing that buried hurt and pain. Once they release, we can replace the hurt and dirt with positive spirits.

5.  30 years, 19 albums, 4 published volumes of poetry, business owner; what’s next for Blaq Ice?

I love art, entertainment, and poetry.  If my existence on this earth doesn’t help change or save lives, then my living is in vain. Yes, I will release more albums and books, but the entertainment platform allows me to use a bigger stage to reach more people. It’s all about developing programs that will continue to exist beyond our own existence.

We are already seeing other poetry groups follow our lead, doing the very things that P.O.E.T was once criticized about in arts, entertainment, and social activism. We have already inspired others who are recreating what we are doing and have done. I believe the programs I have created such as the P.O.E T, the A.C.T.I.O.N Mentorship program, P.O.E.T RADIO, The TYRONE HAWTHORNE CANCER Scholarship, The P.O.E.T TEEN IDOL, Stand Up, and The Legends of Chicago Hip Hop will continue to exist in some form or fashion even after I’m gone.

Surely Chicago will see more of one of its greatest entertainers.   To reach out to P.O.E.T and learn more about the organization please visit their website.

Life After a Mastermind Group

I spent six months in an extraordinary Mastermind Group this year. Lead by one of the most critical thinkers I know, Desiree Adaway, a group of men decided to take the challenge of bringing order to chaos, dreams to vision, passion and influence to fruition.

The Challenges Presented:
1. Cut out the B.S.
a. Who are you blaming for you not getting things done?
b. Who are you listening to that’s telling you, “you’re not good enough”?
c. Why are you refusing to follow your God-given destiny?
d. What are you willing to give up?
2. What do you want to Accomplish?
a. Dreams
b. Businesses
c. Books

Over six months we delved into the what-if’s on the positive side. What if you actually have a great idea? What if it actually succeeds? What if you invested in yourself as much as you invested in your job? What if you actually lived life as you were important? All of these are great what-if’s but the challenge I found was facing the man in the mirror. How do you overcome years of being the underdog? Years of self-doubt and wrestling with self-inadequacy? Simply put, how do you write the vision and make it plan. And where does one even start? I still don’t have all the answers but I know this, until I put it down on paper I didn’t have a clue. It’s been a little over 6 months and my poetry book is almost complete. A few more edits and wow, it’s almost ready for publishing within the next 3 months.

There’s no way to tackle everything and the Mastermind group wasn’t designed to tackle everything, it was designed to get me to realize that my potential is limitless as long as I make good use of my limited time in this realm. Mastermind pushed my thoughts from darkness to light in regards to the existence of Tony Briscoe – The Endurer. It’s a fight everyday to get up, step out into the world and be surrounded by some of the most incredible thinkers I know and say to myself, “You’re one of those great thinkers”.

Not one person in my group had a desire to do business solely for sake of self. We all wanted to change the world through writing, through traveling, through philanthropy, through change and organizational management. Are you stuck? Are you stagnated? Are you fearful of success? Then maybe, just maybe, a Mastermind group should be in your future to challenge the greatness inside of you and the power that keeps you pushing everyday to excel beyond your position, your title, and your organization to become the hope you are destined to be. Focus on you for a period. A little motivational selfishness will foster a life of selflessness. Ask yourself those questions above and decide to do something about it. I dare you to dream again…

Tragedy Strikes ~ The Heart of Home: Emanuel A.M.E Church

This is a station identification break. Originally I had scheduled a young hip-hop artist and recent Columbia University graduate for my next blog post but after the recent shooting in Charleston I had to digress. Selah…..

Tragedy strikes ~ The Heart of Home

As a kid, a black kid, or African American kid, or colored kid…you get the point….like every other child I loved the Dukes of Hazard. There was never an inkling of the flag on the roof of the car, affectionately known as The General Lee, was a symbol of hate, slavery, racism, socio-economic injustice, oppression, inequality, and the lowest form of humanity to strike at the heart of human dignity. No thought of chattel slavery, Jim Crow, lynching or discrimination entered our minds. After all, Bob and Luke Duke were just some “good ole boys never meaning any harm”.

However, we are no longer in the ignorance of our youth. We have parents, educators, social activists and the longstanding forms of artistic expression through blues, hip-hop and spoken word to enlighten a generation that seemingly cares more about twerking than social justice. What happened in Charleston is a travesty.  It’s domestic terrorism.  It’s a strike at the core of the Church. Not the “Black Church or Negro Church, or African-American Church, but the Church and a body of believers called Christians. The calculated, malicious, methodical, planned, known, senseless attack executed in brazen form was learned demonism and hatred breed by upbringing and association. For him, it was nature. His matriculation of having “black friends” was simply to further syncopate his level of disdain for a race of people that he simply didn’t know. He used the depiction of blacks on Fox News, AllStarHipHop, Mediatakeout, Facebook, and other media outlets to stiffen his resolve of murder. But something strange happened; he didn’t look to the lowest form of depravity to plan his execution, he chose the peaceful, he chose the standard, he chose Black Christians.  He didn’t go into a community where drug dealers and gang bangers would have easily exchanged shot for shot. He entered into a church.  He probably thought of Jesus as being white and the savior of the white race only. He pulled out his birthday gift to himself and massacred nine of God’s people. He murdered nine saints of God. He murdered the leader of a flock of people that have one of the hardest calls on this earth and that is to forgive. He went to a sacred place of worship because he realized the thugs and the gang bangers and the drug dealers are not the real threat. It’s the peaceful ones he targeted.

I don’t have statistics for you. I don’t have live data. I have heart and filtered emotion. I don’t love this young man. I don’t have remorse for this young man. I don’t feel any empathy for his family because I simply don’t have to extend that type of attention to him. I have a responsibility to speak honesty that I am of a faith that requires me to forgive him. With that responsibility comes a great amount of mental anguish because I loathe his deplorable actions.  “Hate the sin love the sinner”.  Whatever!  I despise his upbringing. I question why a kid so young used birthday money to purchase a 45 caliber weapon that only serves one purpose.…seek and destroy. In the eyes of some he’s a hero; that is the sadness of America. Yet, there is a symbol of hate that is stronger than the face of a young punk, it is the flag of the confederacy battlefield. This young man is depicted in a picture waving a confederate flag while burning the US Flag (I’ll save my opinions on that for another day).   A flag that until this incident I thought had a right to honor even the fallen soldiers. Then I started to remember the blood of my ancestors, the rape of my ancestral mothers, the murder of my ancestral fathers and realize municipal or federal government institutions should never support a symbol that is supported individually.

This is why I don’t care about this lost soul. May he find mercy in the arms of God but may he find the electric chair, or needle, or death by firing squad at the hand of justice. The symbol of the confederate should die along with all those that execute innocent people on its behalf. He should no longer breathe fresh air. Let him find and breathe rotten piss at the bottom of a cell where many innocent men have been falsely imprisoned. May he find redemption in the arms of the Lord but find swift and painful justice in the arms of the law. A law that took him to Burger King, a law that peacefully arrested an armed murderer. Hmmm, maybe it is then the deceased that shall find no justice. He is not an actor, he is neither Bo nor Luke Duke, but he clearly serves the spirit of General Lee and he clearly is a good-ole boy that meant to do harm.

I do want to thank him for bringing the seeds of hatred and race to the forefront. I thank him for not sparking a race war but for the broadcasting of a church service that will draw more souls to Christ based on the love of the people at Emanuel A.M.E. Church. I thank him for encouraging white pastors to now get in front of the race discussion. I hope he realizes through Biblical research that Jesus is not white and the same Nazi-type hate he lives in opens his eyes to know that the founder of the Christian Faith is a Jew with a far from white skin tone who died for the since of man.

My thoughts, my ramblings, my opinion but had to share it nonetheless.

Online Success for Adult Learners

I was asked by my cousin (we actually met on Facebook) to give her keys to success as she continues her collegiate career in an online environment.  I was excited she decided to continue on to a Gradate program after completing her Bachelors’ within the same year.  She’s starting an online journey so I thought I’d share “best practices” that have lead to my success as an online student.

90 percent of my Associates’ Degree is from online classes.  Here are a few thoughts/practices I use as templates for success.  As working professionals, it’s very important for us to use judgement and wisdom when engaging in online classes.

  • Finding the right class.
    • Ensure your class is not a hybrid where there is a split portion between online and onsite requirement
    • Ensure the class(es) you take line up with your particular goals and degree.
    • Utilize your academic advisor.  I would have saved about 12 credit hours early on if I had done this.
    • Find out your professor in advance and do research on their teaching style.  I wouldn’t put a lot of stock into professor rating sites.   However, the particular link has not led me astray.
    • Find out what book you need but wait for a final word from your professor, which is why I recommend finding out your instructor and emailing them in advance.
      • Use Amazon to rent books.  Way more cost effective!
    • Download your syllabus and print it out immediately.
      • Cross off your assignment as they happen
      • Ensure you put all your deadlines on your calendar immediately and setup reminders
      • Syllabus’ can shift often so ensure you keep a tight look on your professors announcements
    • Balance your family, your job, and your education
      • Be intentional in your communication. Even though you are online and not in a classroom, your home is your classroom.
    • If you’re utilizing Blackboard at your Learning Management System (LMS), download the Mobile Learn App.
    • Subscribe to all discussions.  Email can be a bit cumbersome when people are updating but I find it valuable so I know when to respond to post
    • If your class has exams, ensure you find out if there is a webcam requirement.  If so, you’ll have to pay for the software monitoring system at your own cost, typically $54 – $75
    • Take what you can handle.  Adult Learning is a life journey not a quickie.  If you are working and have a family I don’t recommend taking more than 2 classes.  Ensure you adjust to the demands of your family, your job, and other responsibilities you may have.

You will either be your own best friend or own your worst enemy with online classes.  You have to be disciplined.  You are the professor, the teacher, the student, and the leader of your own success.  I’ve had great success and I am only stressed when I don’t follow 100% of the playbook I listed above.

These are a few tips I shared with my cousin.  Feel free to comment and add more.

Trials of the Endurer

I released a freestyle video that you will see below in a link. I’m often criticized for my “darkness” in my poetry, raps, and Spoken Word ministry and performances. I am asked, “Why do you leave people in darkness?” “Can you write a rebuttal to that piece?” I have often wondered, why is there a rush to dismiss the plight of human beings.

Maybe you have heard:

  1. Get over it
  2. When did that happen
  3. Are you still on that
  4. Why don’t you just get over it

I believe the Lord has something for everyone. Those who tell of the Light and those who speak of the Dark that leads to the life. I am not a man without flaws. Things I’m done, people I’ve hurt, lives I’m changed, those I have encouraged, I lay it all down on the line. There should be one person (preferably a significant other) who you trust that you can share every aspect of your life. I have two people that have that, my wife and my life long friend Mutee. No surprises, all unashamed, unadulterated, unfiltered, unshackled truth.

Keeping it 💯, my life has not been all 😭. I have been blessed😀 beyond measure. Issues with 😡, blowing off 😤, breaking 💔, great friends, feeling the laughter of 😈, knowing the love of 😇 has all been apart of my life’s journey. Pain is real but it doesn’t have to be the 💀 of you. Being 💩 is real but it doesn’t have to change your life. Think will😱 you, people who you love will 😘 then betray you. People will 👏🏽 you know and 🔪 you in the back later. You get to a place where you realize you hold the 🗝 to your destiny. Stress will lead you to 🚬, 💉, ⚰️ but if you stay 🔌 into the Lord. If you 🗜 down and realize that you were fearfully andwonderfully made there is nothing that stop you from being great.

Embrace your past, welcome your pain and look forward to your future.