Close your eyes and dance or Happy New Year

Margarita Martinez, or Colombian fellow, hands out New Year's Eve gifts

Margarita Martinez, our Colombian fellow, hands out New Year's Eve gifts

Once again, we gathered at the Lippmann House to celebrate the holidays. This time, Graciela and Gabriel shared the hosting and organizing with Margarita Martinez and her husband, Alvaro. Since all of Harvard is on break, most of the American fellows have gone home. The only Americans there were me, Ching-Ching and Kael. So

New Year’s Eve had a distinct International flavor. (Although I did make some Black eyed peas and Kael made a bread pudding – American classics). Alvaro and Margarita are from Colombia. Alvaro led us through a Colombian New Year’s Eve good luck ceremony, and Margarita gave gifts to everyone who attended the party/dinner/celebration. Again, this was a Colombian tradition. Margarita would pick the gifts out of the bowl and give them to one of the children, Manuela, Sasha or Tian Tian. They would then give the gifts to the recipient, after telling them to “Close your eyes, and dance.” Again, I assume this is a Colombian tradition. And this was before the New Years. After the clock struck midnight, Nathalie and Didier cranked up the music. A lot of French and European stuff, but slamming nonetheless. A good time was had by all and I couldn’t have dreamed of being at a better place to welcome in the new year. When I was leaving, the music was still blasting. Ironically, it was Joe Cuba’s El Pito (I’ll Never Go Back To Georgia). Hmmm.


June Erlick, Editor-in-chief, ReVista, the Harvard Review of Latin America, and Alvara, have a New Year's Eve Dance. But their eyes are open



Published in: on January 3, 2009 at 3:08 am  Leave a Comment  

Of Eartha Kitt – Catwoman

Today, the great Eartha Kitt – who rose from the South Carolina cotton fields to become a cabaret star – died at the age of 80. I was watching “The Big Bang Theory” this week when one of the nerds was ranking his favorite actresses who portrayed Catwoman. The choices of course were between Kitt, Julie Newmar, Halle Berry, Lee Merewether and Michelle Peiffer. Of course, he picked Newmar, the first woman to play Catwoman on the screen. No argument there. Well, maybe. My favorite was always the great Eartha Kitt. The second, and first black Catwoman. Kitt brought a certain danger and intense hotness to the roll of Batman’s foe/love interest of the 1960s cult classic television show. With her natural feline qualities, she was born to play Catwoman.

Eartha Kitt as Catwoman

Eartha Kitt as Catwoman

Growing up, Batman was always one of my favorite shows. And, as with many shows films in the 60s, the cast was generally all white. Which is why Eartha Kitt appealed to me. She was purrrfect for the role as the long-nailed, black unitard-wearing Catwoman. She only appeared in three episodes during the 3rd and final season of the show, but her mark was indelible. So much so that the though of Halle Berry playing Catwoman 30 years later, didn’t seem that far-fetched. (Although the movie was horrible). In fact, I can’t remember another black person to ever appear on Batman. I don’t know much about Kitt’s musical career and the only movies I remember ever seeing her in are St. Louis Blues and Boomerang. For most of my generation, she is and will always be Catwoman.

Published in: on December 26, 2008 at 12:15 am  Leave a Comment  

Twas the Night Before Christmas….

Graciela had several pots of pasta and shrimp boiling. Graciela, is a great cook and was actually the first Fellow to cook for her Sounding, earlier this year.

Graciela had several pots of pasta and shrimp boiling. Graciela, is a great cook and was actually the first Fellow to cook for her Sounding, earlier this year.

Graciela and Gabriel offer a Christmas toast

Graciela and Gabriel offer a Christmas toast

 For those of us Nieman Fellows remaining in Cambridge for the Christmas holidays, the Lippmann House was once again our place of refuge. Thanks to our Argentine Fellow, Graciela Mochkofsky. Graciela and her affiliate, Gabriel Pasquini, cooked up a fantastic meal of pasta and shrimp. Graciela says that in Argentina, they celebrate the Christmas holiday on December 24, and therefore insisted on hosting a big meal in the tradition of their country. We had a small, but lively crowd, that included me and Tangelique; Vognar; Thabo; Julie; Ronke and her two children; and Ching-Ching, her husband and her two children. We listened to some Sly & the Family Stone and ate tons of pasta.

         We actually ate in the small dining room off of the kitchen, for a more intimate, family feel. We didn’t sing any Christmas carols and instead of snow – which we have seen a lot of this week – it rained. But we had a great time. In fact, it was the perfect way to end the year.

Published in: on December 25, 2008 at 7:35 am  Leave a Comment  

Of Black Nationalism


Tommie Shelby, our black nationalism professor and author of "We Who Are Dark."

Tommie Shelby, our black nationalism professor and author of "We Who Are Dark."


"We Who Are Dark"

"We Who Are Dark"

What can be better than starting the semester talking about David Walker and ending it talking about Chuck D.? That is what happened in my Black Nationalism Class, taught by Professor Tommie Shelby, one of the better young profs on campus. Check out Vognar’s blog for a re-cap of the last class.
When I looked at the syllabus at the beginning of the term, I was intrigued by the fact that we would cover nationalist figures like Martin Delaney, W.E.B. Du Bois, Huey P. Newton, Frederick Douglass, Marcus Garvey and Malcolm X. I assumed that we would read their speeches, study their histories as black nationalists and call it a day. But Shelby often reminded us that he was not a historian, but a philosophy.
Check out his book, “We Who Are Dark.”
So, as the course description states, the class: “Examines the family of African American social philosophies generally classified under the broad rubric “black nationalism.” Topics to be explored include the meaning of black collective self-determination; the relationship between black identity and black solidarity; and the significance of Africa for Black Nationalist ideals.”
This was a two-hour class, held once a week.
Shelby would spend roughly the first hour lecturing and leave the second hour open for a back and forth discussion, based on the readings and lectures. Wesley and Tina always had interesting things to say in class. As did the sister from Italy and the brother from Africa.
Shelby was actually one of the first professors I met on campus. Chris Vognar, Thabo, Marv Black and I were touring the African American studies department, when we happened upon his office. He was mad cool, considering that four big dudes had literally bummed rushed his office. He told us about the class and we were all down. In fact, we all enrolled in the class – and only Marvin had to drop. (You know, professional basketball player and all).
Thabo and I are planning to take his course next semester on W.E.B. Du Bois, (surprisingly, the first course taught here at Harvard about the school’s first black Ph.D.)
On several occasions this semester, Chris, Thabo and I met Shelby for drinks and dinner. If you saw us and didn’t know he was our professor, you would have assumed it was just four guys hanging out talking about music, basketball, classes, Africa and nationalism. Which is what it was.
I think we are about the same age and with our similar backgrounds, he reminds me a lot of some of the people I went to college with – which is a good thing. Cause I went to school with a lot of good brothers. And Shelby is a good brother.

Published in: on December 20, 2008 at 3:34 am  Leave a Comment  

School’s Out – Almost

Cold Chilling - On December 15, I did my Sounding. Which was the last one of the semester.

Cold Chilling - On December 15, I did my Sounding. Which was the last one of the semester.

Harvard is a bit different than every other school in the country in terms of how semesters work. Generally, the Christmas vacation serves as the end of the semester. Here, the Christmas vacation is just a break. When we come back in early January, classes are over, but we still have a reading period, papers to turn in exams to take. The next semester starts in February. Anyway, this week marks somewhat of a halfway point for the year for us Nieman Fellows since it was the last week of classes.  Most of us spent the last week attending parties, planning vacations and saying our goodbyes to classmates and professors. Since Nieman Fellows don’t take exams, this week is the last time we would see a lot of our classmates. I met a lot of good students. Ned the rap fanatic from Boston. Alneada from Alabama, who ran for Student Council veep. Aaron, the football player. Wesley, who dresses way better than I do. Tina from Black Nationalism. Alyssa who gave me her AfAm10 notes, etc…. The year has been great so far and we are already looking forward to coming back in January. But it is also kind of sad. We are almost done.

Published in: on December 20, 2008 at 1:41 am  Leave a Comment  

Snow Day

I am not wearing a gray hat. That is the amount of snow that landed on me during my journey.

I am not wearing a gray hat. That is the amount of snow that landed on me during my journey.

Today is the day that they have been warning us about since we arrived in Cambridge. It has been freezing for weeks, but today the snow finally arrived. And it will be around for a while. The forecast is predicting that it will snow at least through the weekend, with heavy winds and highs in the low 20’s. I didn’t mind it much today, but ask me again in a month. Or a week. I grew up in Brooklyn and worked in Westchester County for a couple of winters. Even Rocky Mount and Durham had a few snowstorms, but I think up here in New England, I will endure the most intense, sustained bad weather I have ever experienced. I lost one of my gloves earlier this week, so I walked from my home on Carver to Harvard Square to get a new pair of gloves from Eastern Mountain Sports. I picked up one of those skullcaps as well. The ones that cover most of my face. Needless to say, I didn’t need a bag for either, as I wore them out of the store. The streets were pretty much desolate and stores and shops were quickly closing for the day. As I made my way through Harvard Yard on my way back home, I noticed a girl cross country skis. She was having an easier time getting across campus than I was.


Published in: on December 20, 2008 at 1:11 am  Leave a Comment  

What do you think?

Some of you might have seen the commercial for the One Laptop Per Child Foundation ad. This is the program that provides basic laptops to poor children around the word. A few weeks ago, Nicholas Negroponte, the founder of the foundation, came to speak with us. He actually showed us this ad, as well as a second one that sparked a lot of discussion among the Fellows. I am not sure how much we had to do with it, but Negroponte, has decided to run the provocative ad online only. Check out this recent article in the Boston Globe about the ad. And check out the ad.

Thousands of kids, mostly from Third World countries, have received the inexpensive computers from the One Laptop Per Child Foundation

Thousands of kids, mostly from Third World countries, have received the inexpensive computers from the One Laptop Per Child Foundation

Published in: on December 15, 2008 at 5:43 am  Comments (1)  

How ABBA jacked the Nieman Foundation Christmas Party


Rosita found what she was looking for when we played U2

On Thursday, the Nieman Foundation held our annual holiday party at the Lippmann House. It actually took a while to plan because none of us were sure about what kind of party we wanted. Catered? Pot-luck? Go to a party that another group of Harvard fellows were having? Have a talent show? When. We finally settled on a pot-luck on December 11. It would be cheaper and everyone would be able to attend.

For events like this, we are on our own. The Foundation provides us with wine, but the we are responsible for the food, set up and clean up. Food was aplenty. Everybody brought foods from their own countries. Kalpana Jain made a bean soup. Sapiet Dakhshukaeva made a rice dish from Russia. Jae Hyun Choi brought some alcohol from Korea. I brought egg nog. Alfredo Corchado, who works in the Mexico bureau for The Dallas Morning News, was in charge of music. Alfredo was in charge because he had the iPod and the Bose sound system. But after we had all eaten, Alfredo was having a hard time getting the party started. Alfredo loves to dance and is supposedly an accomplished Salsa dancer. But the salsa music wasn’t moving the crowd to the dance floor. I plugged my iPod in and set it for hip hop. That didn’t work either. I guess everyone was tired of hip hop after Wednesday’s master class on the genre. At that point I figured that music was not gonna happen. Then Karin, the wife of Fellow Peter Wolodarski, discovered that Alfredo had some ABBA on his iPod. For those of you who don’t know, ABBA is a Swedish, pop band who dominated international music in the 70s and 80s. Why Alfredo had a collection of ABBA songs on his iPod, I didn’t ask.

Did I mention that Karin and Peter are Swedish? Karin pumped up “Dancing Queen,” the dance floor suddenly got very busy. Andrei Zolotov, one of the more straight laced Niemans, even got on the floor. Along with is wife, Katya and their daughter. They are Russian. I am not sure how many times they played, “Dancing Queen,” but it seemed like a lot. Some more European pop followed. More dancing. At this point, Alfredo had totally lost control of the music. Katya and Karin now had the power. Katya asked me if I had some Michael Jackson and I told her yes. So she plugged my iPod back in and hunted for MJ. That was better, but it was the later, good Michael Jackson – Remember the Time & In the Closet. Not the great stuff from Thriller and Bad, although I “Smooth Criminal,” made an appearance, much to the delight of NPR’s Guy Raz. Katya then asked for George Michael. Then more ABBA. And more ABBA.  As the party died down and folks started going home, I was finally able to restore some sort of order. As we began to clean up I put on some James Brown. I put it on shuffle, but started with an opening fanfare from one of his live concerts. As fate would have it the iPod shuffled to a lot of his live performances, which was kind of cool. Someone eventually switched over to some Marvin Gaye and that was cool too. By now, all of the Europeans had gone home – except for Rosita Boland, who is from Ireland. Alfredo played “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,” for her, before shutting down the music. It was raining so hard when I walked home that I didn’t even bother to put my iPod on. I just walking home in the freezing rain, humming “Dancing Queen.”katya

Published in: on December 14, 2008 at 5:50 pm  Leave a Comment  

Hip Hop at Lippmann

On Wednesday, Chris Vognar and I hosted a seminar for the Niemans on Hip Hop. Yes, hip hop. For many of us, hip hop is a mysterious genre of music, barely understood. Hopefully, Chris and I shed some light on the meaning and true essence of the music.
We each lectured for three sections. I focused on the origins of hip hop; women in hip hop; and political rap and hip hop.
Chris focused on sampling and mixing; gangsta rap; and rappers rapping about rapping – I rap, therefore I am.
The seminar ran a bit long, so I had to cut out a section on Biggie & Tupac, commercialism in rap, Lil Wayne and the Roots.
While Chris cut out his section on humor in rap.
We used an ample amount of video and played tons of music, from Rapper’s Delight to Eric B. is President to everything in between. One of the highlights of the evening was the poetry reading of “Fight the Power,” where each fellow recited one line, before we watched the video. I think it went over well. After the former presentation, Alvin Carter III, the program director for the Harvard University Hip Hop Archive, joined us onstage for a rousing Q&A.
Here is the section that I cut out, along with some videos.
Part IV
Earlier, I played Self-Destruction ( for you and Chris played part of the Chris Rock Video on rap ( Chris also talked about gangsta rap, which was very strong on the West Coast, while I have focused on a lot of East Coast Rap – and origins.
I want to now talk about what happens when East meets West.
Lets start out West.
This is Tupac Shakur. Although he was born in Harlem, the son of a former Black Panther, Pac moved to Cali and became the face of West Coast rap with songs like California Love, I Get Around and How Do You Want It. But several of his songs – like Brenda’s Got a Baby and Dear Mama – were about growing up amid violence and hardship in ghettos, racism, problems in society and conflicts with other rappers.
(Play Brenda’s Gotta baby)
•Now, lets fly back east and meet Biggie Smalls.
•Big, or Notorious BIG started rapping at 17 and quickly hooked up with a budding producer named Puffy Combs. Big practically became a legend after the release of his first album, Ready to Die in 1994, with singles, Juicy, Big Poppa and One More Chance. Life after Death followed in 1997 with “Mo Money, Mo Problems,” Hynotize.
(Play Big Poppa)
So you would think that with success would come some sort of friendship. And for a while, there was a friendship. But the friendship faded.
The reasons for their fallings out are many and vague.
•Some say it was steeply rooted in the coastal rivalries. Pac was down with Shug Knights Death Row Records and Big with Combs lable Bad Boy. Both labels were fighting for industry dominance.
•Another claim is that Pac slept with Biggie’s wife, Faith Evans.
•Then, on the night of November 30, 1994, the day before the verdict in his sexual abuse trial was to be announced, Shakur was shot five times and robbed after entering the lobby of Quad Recording Studios in Manhattan by two armed men in army fatigues. He would later accuse Sean Combs, Andre Harrell, and Biggie Smalls — whom he saw after the shooting — of setting him up.
•Although denying any role in the shooting, Biggie would later record “Who Shot Ya,” which many believed was a diss of Pac, mocking the shooting.
Pac came back with “Hit Em Up,” which featured the lyric, “you claim to be a player, but I fucked your wife.”
So the rivalry intensified until Sept. 7, 1996, Tupac was gunned down on the Las Vegas strip after attending a Mike Tyson fight. The immediate response was that the East Coast, or at least Big and Puff had something to do with it.
Six months later on March 9, 1997, Biggie was leaving a party in Las angeles, when he was gunned down in a similar fashion. 15 days after his death, his second album, Life after death, was released – featuring a song called, “You are nobody, till somebody kills you
No one was ever charged in any of the shootings and the deaths remain unsolved.
In the wake of the deaths, the rivaly died down, while rap and hip hop became a billion dollar, global industry.
•Aside from music, Diddy would become a clothing and television and social mogul. In 2006 his estimated worth was US $346 million, making him one of the richest people in the hip hop entertainment business.
•Russell Simmons, who started Def Jam would also drift into cloths, as well as with the multi-million dollar company phat farm. mong his community activism and charitable organizations are the Hip Hop Summit Action Network, the Rush Philanthropic organization and the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding.
•50 Cent reportedly made 150 million in 2008, part of which from his investnment in Vitamin Water
•And Jay-Z is a part owner of the New Jersey Nets.
Their success spawned an era of excess and rap music that glorified materialism and opulance
(Play Big – I Just Wanna Love U (Give It 2 Me)
other rappers who came out during this time
•Kanye West
•Mos Def
•Wu Tang
Rap has also escaped the strict confines of the East and West Coasts and expanded to other areas of the country. Arguably, the best rap right now is coming out of the South – the epicenter being Atlanta, which has produced such artists as:
Young Jeezy,
The Goodie Mob
Jermaine DuPri
And of course Outkast, which has changed the face, mood and tempo of Rap Music. And I think that if there was ever an instance or group that completely captured the America, it was Outkast and their 2003 release Speakerboxxx/The Love Below. The double album, debuted at number one on the charts and was a mixture of funk and Dirty South with elements of jazz, electronic music, and R&B.[1] The album eventually shipped more than 11 million units, and included the singles, “The Way You Move” and André 3000’s “Hey Ya!” Speakerboxxx/The Love Below won the Grammy Award for the 2004 Album of the Year, becoming only the second rap album to ever receive the honor (the first being The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill by Lauryn Hill in 1999). The group would go on to star in movies and cartoons.
(Play Hey Ya)
But the face of rap music today, might be this guy.
Show pic of Lil Wayne
Dubbing himself the best rapper alive, Lil Wayne made a name for himself by appearing on dozens of mixtapes and singles of other artists. Tha Carter III was released on June 10, 2008, selling more than a million copies in its first week of release.The first single “Lollipop”, became the rapper’s most commercially successful song at that point.
(Play A Milli)
I wanted to end on Kalpana’s favorite group and who I think represent the true essence of Hip Hop, the Roots. Coming from Philly, the Roots kind of go back to the roots of hip hop, with risky sampling, important messages, dope lyrics and perfecting the root of hip hop – the live performance. For my final video I want to show their, “What they Do,” which satirizes the excess in rap.

•Show video – What they do


Published in: on December 14, 2008 at 5:32 pm  Comments (2)  

Of Bishop Tutu

Last Friday, Callie Crossley, the Nieman Program’s Seminar Program Manager, left us a cryptic message. “There is a possibility that next Tuesday (November 18) evening you MAY have a chance to interact with someone pretty special.” Notice the MAY is capitalized. We all spent the weekend speculating – Barack? Michelle? Condi Rice? Bill Russell. Several of us had plans Tuesday night. Chris Vognar, Alfredo and I had plans to attend an event at the Kirkland House, the Harvard dorm we are assigned to. I had been looking forward to it for a while, since I want to become fully involved in the House. (I’ll explain the House system later.) By Tuesday morning we heard nothing from Callie, so I made mental plans to go to Kirkland. At 11:15, Bob Giles, the Nieman Curator sent us a note, informing us who the mystery guest would be, Bishop Desmond Tutu, the South African cleric and activist who so valiantly fought against apartheid in the 1980s. He won a Nobel Peace Prize in 1984. I can’t recall ever seeing Bishop Tutu speak in person and I definitely have never met him. So I was excited. So was everyone else in the class. The visit was programmed and set up like one of our regular weekly seminars, but we actually went to his hotel to meet him. A mini road trip from Cambridge to Boston. When he entered the small ballroom/dining room for the meeting, he was so full of grace. Dressed modestly in black, with a simple black sweater, he smiled and greeted all of us. He had an extensive conversation with Thabo, our South African Fellow. (Interestingly, South Africans represent the largest segment of the Nieman Program’s International alums). He spoke for about 30 minutes about his perceptions of journalism and his relationship with the media. He talked about Obama. The War. Mandela. He answered questions for another 30 minutes, giving us deep insight with a touch of humor. (Again, these are off the record, so no details.) You might notice there is no picture of Tutu and me on this posting. For the first time all year, I didn’t have my camera. Don’t ask. So today’s photo is courtesy of my buddy Carla Broyles of the Washington Post. After Tutu left and we gathered ourselves together to get ready to go, I slipped out of the room for a quick tour of the hotel. Tutu was in one of the corridors of the hotel. A group of Africans, perhaps tipped off that he was staying at the hotel, stopped him for a quick chat and laugh. I made eye contact with him and thanked him once again for speaking to the Niemans. I reached out to shake his hand and instead of a standard shake, Bishop Desmond Tutu gave me a Soul Shake. Brothers know what I am talking about. What can be better than that? Thanks Callie, you hooked it up.


Bishop Tutu and the Niemans. Callie, the sister in red on the left, was the mastermind behind the event.

Bishop Tutu and the Niemans. Callie, the sister in red on the left, was the mastermind behind the event.


Published in: on November 19, 2008 at 2:53 pm  Comments (2)