What is Toxicology?

Similar to Pharmacology, the field of Toxicology is centuries old and is very complex regarding the wealth and depth of information available.  It is also still evolving today.  The goal of this post is not to address every detail of the field, but instead to give readers a basic introductory understanding of the discipline.  Further details about the many aspects of Toxicology can be accessed online, or in scientific journals.

When I meet people outside of my scientific circles at career and STEM fairs, Toxicology doesn’t get confused with other disciplines the way Pharmacology and Pharmacy do – I thus won’t open with a story about misunderstandings.  I’ll simply say that Toxicology an exciting field with vast opportunities for individuals who are trained in it.  Following my principle of “Creating Ecosystems of Success”, I wanted to write an overview of the field – particularly for parents and young students who have an aptitude for science and may be interested in Toxicology as a career one day.  As you’ll see later on, Toxicology is an important component of numerous industries, and scientists with this training will never be without jobs.

“The dose makes the poison,” is the popular toxicology adage credited to the Swiss physician and alchemist Paracelsus.  Simply put, given the proper dose, even chemicals and substances considered harmless can be poisonous – too much sugar or water for example.  Dosage or the amount of a substance one is exposed to is a key component of Toxicology – keep this in mind as you read through this post.  Also keep in mind the route of exposure.  Toxicologists are always considering that an individual can be poisoned through oral ingestion, or through either dermal or inhalation exposures.

I think of Pharmacology and Toxicology as “sister” sciences – both dealing with the effects of xenobiotics on living systems.  While Pharmacology focuses more on the therapeutic effects of xenobiotics, Toxicology focuses on the harmful effects – in most cases humans but in some instances other mammalian and non-mammalian species.  These effects can occur on the molecular, cellular, tissue, and whole organism levels. While Pharmacology and Toxicology are separate disciplines, they have several overlapping principles and skill sets allowing individuals credentialed in one to work in the other.

I’ll start my discussion of why Toxicology is important with drugs.  Both biotechnology and large pharmaceutical compan9ies have to understand and report a drug’s toxicological profile to the federal government before selling it to the general public.  Many promising drugs actually never make it to market because they’re too toxic.  Some actually make it and are then recalled – Rezulin for example.

There are also both clinical and research contexts for Toxicology.  Similar to Pharmacology, all medical practitioners (Anesthesiologists, Physicians, Pharmacists, Nurses, Surgeons, etc.) must receive some toxicology training as they all need an understanding of the potential toxicities of the drugs they’ll ultimately prescribe.  They need to understand how much of a given pharmaceutical will be beneficial vs. harmful to patient – a drug’s “Therapeutic Index”.  If the patient is taking multiple medications, “Drug-Drug” interactions can result – toxicities and side effects resulting from one or more drugs being present in the body at the same time causing others be poisonous.  The patient’s current liver and kidney function are critical here as well as they will ultimately determine how long the drugs persist in the body.  In an emergency room, physicians must often determine what a patient may have been poisoned by in order make swift life-saving decisions.

Forensic Toxicologists are instrumental in solving crimes and deaths.  They’re masters of detecting chemicals in the body’s tissues and understanding how they may have led to a victim’s death.  Michael Jackson’s overdose on “Propofol” comes to mind, and is just one of many examples.

In the research context, think about experimentation in laboratory settings – well designed studies run by scientists asking questions and looking for specific answers.  Initial toxicological studies typically involve determining how a toxicant exerts its effect on the molecular and then on the tissue/organ levels – similar to how Pharmacologists identify new drug targets.  After determining a toxicant’s molecular mechanism, there is then the need to determine the toxic dose range of the chemical at the molecular, tissue and whole animal levels.  This is called a “Dose Response” – a critical tool of both Pharmacology and Toxicology where scientists look to determine if increasing the amount of the chemical in question, increases the amount of biological response.  This applies to a broad spectrum of chemicals – pharmaceuticals and industrial chemicals alike.

What am I referring to when I say industrial chemicals?  Simply look around your home at all of the products you use daily including: household cleaners, cosmetics, pesticides (Raid for example), and even additives and preservatives in some the foods we consume.  Thus when you think about Toxicology, think very broad in terms of scope.  For this reason, individuals with toxicology training will never be without jobs as everything we use must be screened for safety.  Toxicologists are currently in high demand.

Similar to Pharmacology, there are numerous sub-disciplines within Toxicology.  The following is a list of some of the major areas beyond what’s been described thus far.  These areas are heavily considered by government agencies and private sector companies who all need toxicologists to create new products, determine the safety of those products, and lastly determine the fate of those products once used:

  • Aquatic, Eco- and Environmental Toxicology: While these are distinct disciplines all in themselves, I’ve grouped them together for simplicity. They collectively consider toxicity to non-human life – aquatic, avian, other terrestrial life.  They consider what happens to ecosystems if a particular species is inadvertently killed off.  Some questions involve where the toxicant goes in our environment, how long it stays there, and if it breaks down into something else more or less toxic.
  • Computational (In silico) Toxicology: Uses computational models, to predict mammalian toxicities. “Tox21” is a current effort to minimize animal testing using computational and predictive models.
  • Entomotoxicology: Determines how a given chemical is toxic to insect species. This is very important for the creation of pesticides, and it’s also critical for Ecotoxicology as the chemical designed to control specific insects may easily kill something else unintended.

  • Food Safety Toxicology: Looks at the potential toxicity of man-made or natural ingredients intentionally added to our food. Heat formed compounds are of particular concern – acrylamide and furan are examples which can spontaneously form during the cooking of certain precursor molecules.  Lastly the ingredients in food packaging are also considered as they can be ingested through the foods they are in contact with.
  • Forensic Toxicology: As described above, deals with the solving of crimes – often determining what a victim was poisoned with.
  • In vitro Toxicology: Characterizes how a toxicant works using cell models and protein systems as opposed to whole animals.

  • Mammalian Toxicology: Studies the effects of a given toxicant on mammalian systems – traditionally using animals to model to human toxicity. Experiments can be designed over multiple dose ranges and through any of the three routes of exposure – oral, dermal or inhalation.  Time of these studies can range from hours to days, to years.  Varying indices can be studied such as life-stage sensitivity, cancer potential, or the ability to inhibit one’s immune response.  Mammalian toxicology is very important in “Regulatory” settings described below.
  • Modes of toxic action: Characterizes how toxicants exert their action on the molecular, cellular and whole animal levels. This information can be used to design chemicals to control something like a pest, or to determine how a cancer tumor-type forms.
  • Medical Toxicology: As described above, deals with the prevention of patient poisoning in medical settings.
  • Occupational Toxicology: Involves potential toxicity to workers who are in contact with a given toxicant and may get exposed through their skin or through inhalation.

  • Regulatory Toxicology (Private Sector): When the private sector creates a product, it must work with federal and state government agencies to determine the safety of that product. The products can be: drugs, pesticides, cosmetics, food additives, paints – you name it.  Regulatory Toxicologists in the private sector must understand government laws and guidelines for the products they’re creating – knowing which animal and in vitro studies to run to get their product registered in the most cost efficient way.
  • Regulatory Toxicology (Public Sector): Involves government and state agencies determining the safety of products produced by private industry. This usually consists of considering real world human exposures, and looking at any pertinent data (animal, in vitro, exposure or physical chemical) that might help model those exposures to determine levels of safety or lack thereof.
  • Toxicogenomics: Similar to Pharmacogenomics, looks at the genetics unique to individuals to determine potential increased toxicity for that individual.
  • Toxinology: Deals specifically with animal, plant and microbial toxins.
  • Toxicokinetics: Similar to the description in my Pharmacology post, Toxicokinetics deals with how the body handles toxicants in terms of absorption (entry to the body), tissue accumulation (distribution), biotransformation (metabolism) of the molecule, and excretion (elimination). I will revisit Pharmacokinetics and Toxicokinetics in greater detail in a separate post.

So have I convinced you that toxicologists are literally everywhere?  Similar to pharmacologists, toxicologists can leverage their skill sets to work in other capacities besides academia, and the public and private sectors.  When combined with other fields such as law and business, toxicologists can start their own companies – consulting for example, and in some cases they can create new health-related technologies and innovations.

There are numerous avenues by which to pursue training in Toxicology.  According the website of the Society of Toxicology, training can start as early as high school and the amount of training one pursues (Bachelors, Masters, Ph.D.) will depend upon specific career goals.  As there is tremendous overlap in skill sets of scientists in the biomedical sciences, one need not have a degree in “Toxicology” per se to work in the field in most cases. An exception is the federal government which is very stringent in terms of matching one’s academic credentials exactly with job openings regardless of one’s actual scientific training and expertise.  An individual for example with a Masters or Ph.D. in another biological science, MD, or a DVM for example can receive training in Toxicology through postdoctoral fellowship.

Toxicology also has a unique certification – the Diplomate of the American Board of Toxicology (DABT).  Earning one’s DABT allows toxicologists to be nationally certified which is particularly important in the private sector, and in capacities such as serving as expert witnesses in litigations.  The European Union has a similar certification titled “European Registered Toxicologists” (ERT).

If you are interested in learning more about the exciting field of Toxicology, I suggest that you visit the website of the Society of Toxicology (SOT) – the major professional society for Toxicology.  Click on the “Careers” tab and scroll down to the “Becoming a Toxicologist” tab.  A wealth of information is available talking about numerous aspects of the field.  Similar to Pharmacology, Toxicology has its own annual meeting hosted by SOT where scientists gather to network, discuss their results, employers seek new job prospects, and companies show their latest devices and technologies.

Thank you for taking the time to read this post, and I hope I was able to shed some light onto what Toxicology is.  A special thank you is also extended to Dr. Chester Rodriguez for his contribution to this post, and sharing the importance of earning one’s DABT.  The next posts in this series will talk about: the research aspect of Pharmacology, Drug Metabolism, Inhalation Toxicology and Regulatory Science/Risk Assessment.

If you’ve found value here and think it would benefit others, please share it and or leave a comment.  To receive all of the most up to date content from the Big Words Blog Site, subscribe using the subscription box in the right hand column in this post and throughout the site.  Lastly follow me on Twitter at @BWArePowerful.  While my main areas of focus are Education, STEM and Financial Literacy, there are other blogs/sites I endorse which can be found on that particular page of my site.

Are we losing our soft skills due to technology?

One of the principles of my blog is “Critical/Objective Thought” meaning that I usually try to see things from all angles as opposed to just one.  I might lose some readers here, but yes I do switch between CNN and Fox News when trying to understand what’s happening politically and in current events.  Recently Tucker Carlson interviewed Mike Rowe of the show “Dirty Jobs”.  I support Rowe and his messages about all jobs being necessary and important (even the dirty ones), and that our society has over glamorized college and the pursuit of white-collar jobs at the expense of trades, and blue-collar jobs.

Towards the end of their discussion, Carlson and Rowe talked about the growing use of Emojis which have become a very, very popular form of digital communication using symbols as opposed to complete or even truncated words (great vs gr8 for example).  Rowe said something very interesting which is that the use of these Emojis may be eroding the “Soft Skills” in our society – particularly for individuals seeking employment which involves talking with potential employers during face to face interviews, and where understanding the nuances and complexities of both verbal and nonverbal communication is highly advantageous.  He further said that he would encourage individuals looking for jobs these days (some for the first time) to develop their Soft Skills.

According to Investopedia, “Soft Skills” are character traits and interpersonal skills that characterize a person’s relationships with other people.  Just off the top of my head, Soft Skills involve being able to speak clearly, listen and also understand the nuances of verbal and non-verbal communication – making eye contact with other individuals, and being able to give more than one word answers for example.  It can also involve being able to read someone’s mood by the answers they give and don’t give, or simply their body language.  Again these are important on job interviews.

But a job interview is just getting your foot in the door.  What about staying at that position?  Once hired, soft skills can make all of the difference in the world in terms of excelling in that particular position and helping an organization thrive – particularly when achieving the mission involves working on teams.  In any organization there are personalities to work with and juggle which can affect the mission.  Some personalities work well together while others clash.  There are rare individuals who get along with everyone.  Personality clashes and petty bickering can cause production to grind to a screeching halt to the detriment of that organization.  Soft kills are critical in navigating interpersonal issues and conflict resolution.

Emotional Intelligence” can fall under soft skills.  According to Psychology Today, Emotional Intelligence is defined as the ability to identify and manage your own emotions and the emotions of others.  The other are explanations for it, but I tend to think of it in terms of forming alliances, and not burning bridges.  This involves awareness of self and of others – understanding what drives your colleagues, understanding current and past rivalries between colleagues, understanding who is on the fast track towards promotion, and also being more emotionally proactive and less reactive in adverse circumstances, particularly in groups – meetings for example.  A good example of Emotional Intelligence is being happy for a newly promoted colleague as opposed to being outwardly bitter – or at least not openly showing your disappointment and letting it affect your performance.

Where does one learn soft skills?  We actually learn our soft skills from a multitude of places.  Here I will defer to Dr. Ralph G. Perrino’s essay titled, “The Socialization Process and Its Impact on Children and Learning”.  In his essay Dr. Perrino, a veteran educator, describes the most profound external forces on the development of children and teens all of which have lingering effects well into adulthood:

  • The family from which one’s “Ascribed” status is derived;
  • Attendances at a public school or an exclusive, elite private school;
  • The composition of peer groups;
  • Exposure to mass culture and media;
  • Involvement in voluntary groups and;
  • Religious affiliation/spirituality.

Soft skills can further be learned and improved through reading and formal trainings.  One of my favorite trainings offered through my job is the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey.  Soft skills can also be learned through in depth discussions with mentors – particularly those in leadership positions with years and years of experience leading others.  Lastly, Soft skills can be learned just by observing others.

I’ll close by going back to Mike Rowe’s question.  Is technology negatively impacting our soft skills?  I would say that it can.  In some instances, communication over email and or text-messaging can be easily misunderstood which is particularly detrimental when there are conflicts to be worked out.  Digitally you can’t look into someone’s eyes, see their body language, or gauge the dynamics of a group in real time.  These are all things for “Millenials” and subsequent generations to be aware of.  With the new technologies that captains of industry such as Elon Musk are working on, and with the coming of Artificial Intelligence, this is something to be very cognizant of for students, educators, employees and employers alike.

Thank you for taking the time to read this post.  If you’ve found value here and think it would benefit others, please share it and or leave a comment.  To receive all of the most up to date content from the Big Words Blog Site, subscribe using the subscription box in the right hand column in this post and throughout the site.  Lastly, follow me on Twitter at @BWArePowerful.  While my main areas of focus are Education, STEM and Financial Literacy, there are other blogs/sites I endorse which can be found on that particular page of my site.

What is Pharmacology?

The field of Pharmacology is centuries old and it is very complex with respect to the wealth and depth of information available.  It is still evolving today.  The goal of this post is not to address every detail of the field, but instead to give readers a basic introductory understanding of the discipline.  Further details about the many aspects of Pharmacology can be accessed online, or in scientific journals.

I earned my Ph.D. in Pharmacology from the University of Michigan.  I admittedly didn’t understand the field initially, although I did know that it dealt with drugs and hoped that a degree in it would one day secure a position for me in the Pharmaceutical industry.  Since starting my studies in 1999, completing my degree in 2005, and starting my current career as a Regulatory Scientist, I’ve gotten the same question over and over again, “You have a background in Pharmacology?  Are you a Pharmacist?”  At Career and STEM Fairs, I get this question a lot, and thus following my principle of “Creating Ecosystems of Success“, I wanted to write a brief overview of the field – particularly for parents and young students who have an aptitude for science and may be interested in Pharmacology as a career one day.

“Simply put, Pharmacy is the study of what drugs do to man, and Pharmacology is the study of what man does to drugs,” said one of the Cancer Pharmacology faculty in our Principles of Pharmacology course during my first year of graduate school.  This statement explained in a very simple way some of the differences between the two disciplines.  Pharmacy is the study of the actual drugs administered to patients as therapeutic agents and its practitioners work at various institutions including hospitals, medical centers, and drug stores – CVS for example.  Pharmacists are health professionals, earn Doctor of Pharmacy degrees (Pharm Ds), are experts on medications, and are responsible for dispensing medicines.  Pharmacology is a basic research science that studies the mechanisms underlying the therapeutic effects of pharmaceuticals and potential drug candidates with the goal of developing and testing of new drugs.

All medical practitioners (Anesthesiologists, Physicians, Pharmacists, Nurses, Surgeons, etc.) must take Pharmacology courses as they all need some understanding of the mechanisms of the drugs they ultimately prescribe.  Pharmacologists are the actual researchers performing experiments trying to create new drugs and identify new drug targets.  They further seek to characterize how mammalian systems (in most cases human although they are also involved in developing veterinary drugs) handle molecules at the molecular, cellular, tissue and whole organism levels.  It’s a vast field with many areas of specialization that I’ll discuss in the remainder of this post.

Pharmacology classically can be divided into two parts; Pharmacokinetics, which deals with how the drug is absorbed and eliminated by the body, and Pharmacodynamics, which deals with how the drug exerts its medicinal effect mechanistically.  The following sub-disciplines within Pharmacology generally fall under one of these two umbrellas or, in most cases, are a mixture of the two.  Each of us or someone we know has taken a drug or a treatment which has been impacted by one of these areas.  Any pharmacologist reading this can easily further parse this list out into greater detail, but again this was written for a general audience:

  • ADME/Drug Metabolism: Deals with how the body handles the therapeutic molecules in terms of absorption (entry to the body), tissue accumulation (distribution), biotransformation (metabolism) of the molecule, and excretion (elimination). Another focus of ADME/Drug Metabolism is “Drug Transport” which focuses on how drugs are absorbed and effluxed from cells using membrane channels and transporters impacting their effectiveness.  I will revisit ADME/Drug Metabolism in greater detail in a separate post as me and some of my peers know it pretty well and find it to be a very exciting aspect of both Pharmacology and Toxicology.
  • Antimicrobial Pharmacology: Involves the control of bacteria, fungi, and viruses to fight off or prevent infections.
  • Autonomic Pharmacology: Deals with how the drug interacts with the Autonomic Nervous System (that part of the nervous system responsible for controlling bodily functions that are not consciously directed such as the heartbeat, breathing, and the digestive system) particularly through pathways involving epinephrine, norepinephrine, dopamine, and seratonin.
  • Cancer Pharmacology: Deals with drugs used in the treatment of cancer – usually some form of chemotherapy.
  • Cardiovascular Pharmacology: Deals with drugs used in treatment of heart disease and regulation of blood pressure.  A well-known class is the “Statins” – cholesterol lowering drugs such as “Lipitor“.
  • Endocrine and Receptor Pharmacology: Deals with how a given drug binds, interacts or even blockades a given cellular receptor, and then what the receptor does or doesn’t do to impact the homeostasis of that cell or tissue. The receptor can be membrane bound or cytosolic (many hormone receptors).
  • Drug Discovery: Typically associated with the private sector and deals with the identification of new drug entities and the identification of new drug targets. In industry, pharmacologists generally refer to drugs as either “small molecules” which are our classic drugs like Aspirin (~180 g/mol), or “large molecules” (as heavy as 150,000 g/mol) also known as “biologics” which are generally proteins which have therapeutic effects.  An example is Abbvie’sHumira”.  The units “g/mol” or grams per mole designate a chemical’s molecular weight and as you can see the size difference between the two classes is considerable.
  • Neuropharmacology: Similar to Autonomic Pharmacology but deals with all of the other parts of the nervous system such as pain responses – analgesics and anesthetics for example.
  • Pharmacogenomics: This new and exciting field looks at the genetics unique to individuals to determine the best treatments and dosages for that individual.

For each of these sub-disciplines there is a clinical side and a research side.  The clinical side is self-explanatory – it involves treating patients for various diseases as well as the prevention of illness by the above mentioned medical practitioners.  Think of the many medications you have been prescribed when you go to see medical doctors when you’re sick or for checkups, emergencies or surgeries.  But where do these medications come from originally?  Also, where will new medications come from in the future?

This is where the research side come comes into play.  At institutions like my alma mater, and in the private sector, there are scientists working year round on research projects asking questions about current medications in addition to trying to unlock the secrets of nature to create new therapeutics.  The investigations they perform involve testing molecules using whole animal models, cellular models, and in vitro systems to ask questions at the molecular level (proteins, lipids, DNA and RNA) about what the compound does.  It’s this research that can get very esoteric to the general public and that is published in academic journals including: Drug Metabolism and Disposition, the Journal of Pharmaceutical and Experimental Therapeutics, and Molecular Pharmacology.

Pharmaceutical companies like Merck and Pfizer conduct research as well but instead of doing it strictly to find new knowledge, it’s to create new drugs that they can sell.  The same is true for smaller Biotech companies like Biogen.  Both need scientists with backgrounds in Pharmacology.  The Federal Government also employs scientists with backgrounds in Pharmacology to determine the safety of new drugs before they can be prescribed to the general public.  The same is true for food products and chemicals used in those products, so Pharmacologists are literally everywhere.

Pharmacologists generally receive their training at major research universities.  While undergraduates can get training in Pharmacology – nursing students for example, degrees in Pharmacology are usually conferred at the Masters and Ph.D. levels and support for the student’s educational expenses as well as a modest salary are provided.  Upon attaining these degrees, scientists then determine which sector they want to pursue – academia, the private or public sectors, or nontraditional careers.  With the skills obtained in graduate school, scientists with these backgrounds have the flexibility to combine their knowledge sets with other disciplines to go into a wide variety of areas in addition to drug discovery in pharmaceutical companies and biotechs including: consulting, Toxicology, patent law and even starting their own companies.

If you are interested in learning more about the exciting field of Pharmacology, I suggest that you visit the website of the American Society for Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics (ASPET).  You can then click on the link on Education near the top of the page and once there, click on “What is Pharmacology” on the left side of the page.  In the last paragraph on that page, there is a link to a brochure entitled “Explore Pharmacology”, that provides a great deal of interesting information.  Speaking of ASPET, all scientific disciplines have their own professional societies with annual meetings that rotate cities every year, and where scientists congregate to show their results, and network.  The two major professional societies for pharmacologists are ASPET, and the International Society for the Study of Xenobiotics (ISSX).

Thank you for taking the time to read this post, and I hope I was able to shed some light onto what Pharmacology is.  A special thank you is also extended to Dr. Paul Hollenberg, Chair of the Department of Pharmacology at The University of Michigan when I was a student, who graciously looked at this post and gave feedback prior my publishing it.  The next posts in this series will talk about: the research aspect of Pharmacology, Drug Metabolism, Toxicology, Inhalation Toxicology and Regulatory Science/Risk Assessment.

If you’ve found value here and think it would benefit others, please share it and or leave a comment.  To receive all of the most up to date content from the Big Words Blog Site, subscribe using the subscription box in the right hand column in this post and throughout the site.  Lastly follow me on Twitter at @BWArePowerful.  While my main areas of focus are Education, STEM and Financial Literacy, there are other blogs/sites I endorse which can be found on that particular page of my site.

A review of Marvel’s Spider-Man: Homecoming

I recently wrote a review of the Tupac biopic All Eyez on Me.  Prior to that, shortly after starting my blog, I co-wrote movie reviews with my brother Amahl Dunbar for Marvel’s Dr. Strange and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story – both of the Super Hero and Science Fiction genres.  We followed those two films up with a review of Hidden Figures which had a more historical focus.  In this review we’re returning to the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) with a review of their latest offering, Spider-Man: Homecoming starring Tom Holland (Spider-Man/Peter Parker), Robert Downey, Jr. (Iron Man/Tony Stark), and Michael Keaton (The Vulture).

Amahl Dunbar:  This latest version of Spider-Man was designed to fit neatly into the MCU.  For that reason I feel the script was too safe.  It had a couple of twists I didn’t expect, but I felt the biggest surprises were the explanations of his powers for this version of the character which differed from the previous versions.  As an inventor myself, I really enjoyed the winged flight suit worn by Spidey’s villain, the Vulture, portrayed by Michael Keaton.  Whenever the Vulture suit was on screen, I was almost taking notes in my head regarding designs and how something like that might work in the real world.

Anwar Dunbar:  I think Spider-Man: Homecoming was well worth the wait and anticipation.  I won’t give an overview of the whole movie so as not to ruin it for anyone who hasn’t seen it yet.  Instead I’ll just touch upon what stood out to me.  Spider-Man: Homecoming tells the story of the Tom Holland’s Spider-Man who has had two previous incarnations (Toby Maguire and Andrew Garfield).  As Amahl stated, the story was now intentionally told as a part of the MCU.

I think Tom Holland played very well as Spider-Man/Peter Parker albeit slightly younger than Maguire’s and Garfield’s renditions.  What stood out to me though was how the writers modified the story in comparison to the previous versions where a key thread was the murder of Peter’s Uncle Ben, and his subsequent tending to his elderly Aunt Mae.  In this version, Aunt Mae (Marissa Tomei) is much younger, and there is no mention of Uncle Ben up to this point.  There were other slight changes to some of the other characters – specifically a more ethnically diverse cast.

In Uncle Ben’s absence, Peter Parker’s mentor has become Tony Stark/Iron Man which we first saw in Captain America: Civil War.  It creates a much different dynamic but it causes Spider-Man to contemplate joining the Avengers – a major underlying thread of the story.  Speaking of the Avengers, the writers and director did a masterful job weaving the Spider-Man: Homecoming story into the events of Captain America: Civil War and remind us that Peter’s journey is not happening in isolation.  The same is true for Michael Keaton’s character the Vulture.  His story is also not happening in isolation and instead is a part of the Avengers story arc.

The ending surprised me in numerous ways but mostly in terms of the characters.  As Amahl discussed about the Vulture’s suit, I thought the technology was very impressive, particularly the Stark Industries version of the Spider-Man suit and all it could do.  I really enjoy how the Marvel writers weave science into their stories in general.  Overall I thought the movie was a lot fun and kept the trademark humor and whit of the Spider-Man franchise.  Spider-Man: Homecoming does a good job keeping our MCU stomachs full while we wait for Thor: Ragnarok, Black Panther, and Avengers: Infinity War.

Thank you for taking the time to read our review.  Our Twitter handles are @amahldunbar and @BWArePowerful.  If you liked this review, please do click the “like” button, leave comments, and share it.  If you’ve found value here and think it would benefit others, please share it and or leave a comment.  To receive all of the most up to date content from the Big Words Blog Site, subscribe using the subscription box in the right hand column in this post and throughout the site.  While my main areas of focus are Education, STEM and Financial Literacy, there are other blogs/sites I endorse which can be found on that particular page of my site.

Kaep steps away: discussions on Colin Kaepernick’s early retirement from the NFL

While the main areas of my blog are Education, STEM and Financial Literacy, I will occasionally comment on Social and Political topics where I see it appropriate – especially when they relate to principles of my blog – in this case critical thought, and empowering others.  This particular topic has the potential to get people fired up due its polarizing nature but I’ve decided to reach my hand into the fire nonetheless.  In writing this I’m not seeking to give an opinion that everyone should follow – just to capture the main points and questions from the discussions that have ensued.  I have to give credit where it is due in that I decided to write something about this after listening to the YouTube channels of Minister Jap, and Oshay Duke Jackson who weighed in heavily on this – both receiving agreement and backlash from their listeners.

A very recent and interesting story is former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s retirement. I won’t go far into who Colin Kaepernick is as his background is available online via a simple Google search.  The entire timeline surrounding his retirement is actually captured in an article written by Dan Wetzel of Yahoo Sports titled, “Colin Kaepernick is making his choice: Activism over the NFL”.  It was graciously shared by a Facebook friend.

Put simply Colin Kaepernick was a very electric player in the NFL at the quarterback position who had about three great years with the San Francisco 49ers before his career bottomed out into mediocrity. With his combination of size, quickness, mobility and a strong arm, the tattooed signal caller looked like the future of his position.  With his good looks and a unique image/persona, he was also destined to clean up money-wise on endorsements, modeling and in the media off the field.

His ascension sputtered though when his brilliance on the field seemed to stagnate and regress which for me was surprising. His decline was mostly due to defenses adapting to his skill set which hadn’t yet evolved to make him more of pocket passer.  The departure of Head Coach Jim Harbaugh back to my alma mater also didn’t help, nor did the dismantling of the roster that surrounded him when the 49ers made their run to Super Bowl XLVII.  All in all, in the last year or so, even though he signed a $126 million-dollar contract, it wasn’t clear if he still had the skills to play in the league.

As all of the police shootings of black men were caught on tape within the last two to three years (Philando Castile, Alton Sterling, and Walter Scott for example), Kaepernick’s focus seemed to shift from returning to the All-Pro quarterback he had been, to becoming more of a vocal “Social Justice Warrior” championing the causes of police-brutalized African Americans who seemed to be victimized more and more. During the 2016 season, he made the bold protest at the beginning of 49ers’ games at first sitting during our national anthem, and then later on opting to famously take a knee.  The reactions to his protests were mixed everywhere.  In the league, some players and teammates disagreed with the protest, while others supported him and joined in.  Kaepernick further did other things like vocally showing little confidence in our voting/electoral process which makes me wonder in hindsight if his example impacted the 2016 Presidential Election.  Many people actually do follow the examples and leadership of celebrities/pro-athletes, and a low voter turnout on the Democratic side was actually said to have helped Donald Trump win the presidency.  In another instance Kaepernick took it a step further by wearing socks to practice depicting the police as pigs – perhaps inspired the “Pigs in blanket: fry em like bacon,” chant by Black Lives Matter in Minnesota in 2015.

In my circle of friends, the question came up as to whether or not Kaepernick should’ve been focusing strictly on football and getting back to where he was a couple of seasons ago. It came up a lot actually.  The other question was whether or not he was being a distraction to his team and organization, and if he was permanently burning his bridges in the NFL – a traditionally conservative organization which didn’t like controversies and always sought to, “Protect the shield,” as talk show host Jim Rome always says.

In Black America, points of view varied as they normally do with all things political and socioeconomic. The Pro-Black Activists and the “Stay Woke” folks vocally and fervently supported Kaepernick.  Others questioned his motives and newfound interest in Civil Rights issues – particularly because he was bi-racial, raised in a white family and never openly took an interest in such issues before – black on black crime for example which some would argue is responsible for more black deaths.  As a result of his protest, many also rallied behind the uncovered origins of the Star-Spangled Banner and rejected our national anthem.  Something I interestingly missed but that a mentor pointed out, was that our traditionally liberal US Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader-Ginsburg even disapproved of Kaepernick’s protest which was surprising.

But what would be the outcome of Kaepernick’s protests? What good would come of them?  He may have been, “Following is heart,” as said by a cousin on Facebook, but were his actions the best thing for him and people he was looking to help?  Some felt that Kaepernick had “won” because he had gotten people talking about him and his protests.  Whether or not they would affect real change remained to be seen.

Fast forward to this summer of 2017 – Kaepernick, now a free agent had one tryout with the Seattle Seahawks who ultimately didn’t sign him leading to his retirement announcement. I heard about his retirement on the above mentioned shows where the discussions got very heated.  Some of Minister Jap’s listeners for example called him all kinds of names like, “Klansman”, in addition to today’s en vogue black on black slur, “Coon”.  The comments in both shows were surprisingly split down the middle in rebuke of Kaepernick vs. rebuking the hosts.

Whatever happens to Colin Kaepernick, I hope that he lands on his feet somewhere and there is a happy ending to his story unlike what some others are predicting. A couple of points stand out to me from Kaepernick’s retirement and the discussions I’ve listened to surrounding it.  They are:

  • For all the younger people witnessing this, think about the long-term effect on your life and job prospects when seeking to make political/social statements. Ask yourself if it is really worth it in the end? Is it the appropriate time? In other words there are consequences to our actions.  My former stepfather once told me that a particular black activist back in Buffalo made quite a few blacks in the city “self-destruct” and self-sabotage their careers. In a way the title of the above mentioned Yahoo Sports article is deceptive in that it sounds as though Kaepernick is highly coveted and doesn’t want to play anymore, versus not being wanted by any of the NFL’s 32 franchises.
  • Change and power in the United States is economic and only minimally impacted by protests and marches. If Kaepernick will no longer command a million-dollar salary and endorsements in addition to his former platform, how will he now effect meaningful change for those he wants to help? One of the arguments on the above mentioned shows was that he could’ve used his salary to build businesses and employ other blacks to make real change – similar to Magic Johnson who has done quite well since his playing days.
  • Not all black people think alike on anything. Issues over politics and race divide and fragment the race a whole. The fallout and name calling whenever there are differences of opinion are always striking to me.
  • Lastly even in 2017, there is a genuine distrust of bi-racial blacks by other blacks – particularly those raised in predominantly white households, who then take pro-black stances when it appears to be convenient.

One of the talk show hosts stated that at some point reality will crash down hard on Colin Kaepernick – if and when his resources are depleted, he’ll be forgotten – similar to what happened to MC Hammer once all of his resources were spent. Likewise, the same people he is seeking to help will eventually turn their backs on him even after some of his gestures of generosity such as giving suits to felons.  Again, my hope is that he has thought all of this out, and will have a productive life after football.  For that stretch of two to three years, #7 was definitely great one in my opinion.

Thank you for taking the time to read this post. If you’ve found value here and think it would benefit others, please share it and or leave a comment.  To receive all of the most up to date content from the Big Words Blog Site, subscribe using the subscription box in the right hand column in this post and throughout the site.  Lastly follow me on Twitter at @BWArePowerful.  While my main areas of focus are Education, STEM and Financial Literacy, there are other blogs/sites I endorse which can be found on that particular page of my site.

A review of All Eyez on Me

I was originally going to write my next movie review on Spider-Man: Homecoming, but All Eyez on Me came out of nowhere.  I first saw the trailer a couple of weeks ago, when going to see Alien: Covenant.  I saw the movie shortly after it was released, and subsequently felt compelled to write something about it.  

All Eyez on Me starred Demetrius Shipp Jr. who played the late and legendary Hip Hop recording artist/actor Tupac Shakur.  I immediately thought Shipp was a spitting image of Shakur when I first saw the trailer, and he didn’t disappoint in the film.  Shipp masterfully captured Tupac not only in terms of looks, but also in terms of verbal and non-verbal communication, and even in the way Shakur bobbed around dancing in his music videos, and in the recording studios. 

Similar to Straight Outta Compton, the movie tracked Shakur’s early life – going back to his pre-teen years starting with his mother’s membership in the Black Panther Party.  It further showed his family’s move to Baltimore, and then his initial move to the west coast.  It touched upon his friendship with Jada Pinkett-Smith – a source of controversy as Pinkett-Smith subsequently released a statement saying that the movie wasn’t entirely factual content-wise. 

All Eyez on Me further chronicled Tupac’s ascension to stardom first in music and then on the movie screen in addition to the problems that riddled his life and career.  Similar to many Hip Hop artists, his career was mired by money issues in addition to violence which ultimately ended his life in 1996 while signed with Suge Knight’s Death Row Records.  Similar to most artistic geniuses, he was taken from the world early just as he was on the cusp of going to his next creative level and expanding into other areas; record label ownership and screenwriting projects similar to Ice Cube.

While my favorite all time Hip Hop group is Gang-Starr, my interest in Tupac changed over the years.  I was very much a fan of Digital Underground as a young teen and didn’t know he was actually a part of that group until he released “Brenda’s Got a Baby” – a more socially conscious track than most of what the Underground had produced.  I took a liking to his track “If My Homie Calls”, and even bought a copy of his record “Strictly 4 My NIGGAZ”.  I followed him from a distance as he blew up in movies, and then started to hear about his run ins with the police, the rape charge which put him in jail, and finally when he got swept up into the center of the East Coast-West Coast Feud which arguably took down both him and the Notorious BIG

Simply put, Tupac was genius.  His music embodied the anti-police and black power themes of the Black Panther Party while at the same time telling the stories of young black men in the inner cities.  He released conflicting tracks like: “I Get Around”, “Keep Ya Head Up”, and then “Dear Momma” – a source of jokes at the time.  The track that really grabbed me though was the solemn and dark, “So Many Tears” which he released when he was in jail and reflecting on his life.  He used a double in the video who wore his signature bandana and loose fitting clothing.  My favorite track he created once he joined Death Row Records was “Gangsta Party” where he teamed up with Snoop Dogg.

In the mid-1990s as an undergraduate, I interestingly took a liking to Smooth Jazz.  As a whole I pulled back from the Hip Hop scene.  A bit of a bookworm at the time, I didn’t particularly understand Tupac’s glorification of the “THUG” lifestyle and what it represented though I still respected his articstic brilliance and felt the pain and loss of his death – still unsolved to this day similar to that of the Notorious BIG who was also murdered shortly afterwards.

I would recommend seeing All Eyez on Me.  The movie embodied a couple of the principles of my blog; empowering others and teaching others how to succeed – sometimes by teaching what not to do.  The movie showed the complexity of Tupac’s life, and similar to Straight Outta Compton, it showed the importance of choices, and being in control of one’s financial destiny – something many recording artists of that era grappled with.  Also similar to Straight Outta Compton, if you listened to Hip Hop music in the early 1990s, you’ll find yourself singing along, nodding you’re head, and bouncing your arms up and down in the theater.  You’ll also recognize signature scenes from movies like Juice, and Above the Rim which Tupac starred in.  Hill Harper plays a prominent role in the film, interviewing Tupac from jail.  Interestingly, the actor who played Notorious BIG (Jamal Woolard) in the movie Notorious, reprised his role in this film, though all new actors were used for the prominent members of Death Row Records.  There was also a cameo by NFL wide receiver Desean Jackson.

Thank you for taking the time to read this post. If you’ve found value here and think it would benefit others, please share it and or leave a comment.  To receive all of the most up to date content from the Big Words Blog Site, subscribe using the subscription box in the right hand column in this post and throughout the site.  Lastly follow me on Twitter at @BWArePowerful.  While my main areas of focus are Education, STEM and Financial Literacy, there are other blogs/sites I endorse which can be found on that particular page of my site.

 

Father’s Day 2017: reflections on some of Dad’s money and life lessons

Last month I wrote a piece in celebration of Mother’s Day, so it’s only fitting that I write something in celebration of Father’s Day as well.  The Mother’s Day post was about a specific piece of advice my mother gave me about my engagement and looming marriage a couple of years ago.  As jokingly stated in that post, Dad didn’t give me much advice in that particular instance.  He did give me lots of guidance throughout my life though.  Over on my “Heroes and Quotes” page, his is the first quote which was some advice he gave me at a young age about how to succeed academically.

There was much more though, particularly in way of advice about money, women and other things – lots about money and women.  He sometimes consciously taught me things, and some things I learned simply from observation.  With two of the key principles of my blog being “Creating Ecosystems of Success”, and “Empowering Others”, I’m going to reflect on some of his money lessons and some of their deeper and associated life meanings/significances – some of which I had to question.  As in most cases, I didn’t understand everything that was being said then as I do now.

As I go through some of this stuff, keep in mind that fathers are important – biological, step-, or mentors of all sorts.  According to data from Kid’s Count in 2015, 66% of African American kids were raised by a single-parent while the national average was 35%.  My parents divorced when I was three-years old and I thus grew up in a single-parent household for the majority of my childhood.  While I’ve sometimes looked back and wondered what it would’ve been like to have my father in the house, the blessing was that while he wasn’t physically there, it was important for him to be as visible and accessible as possible.

“Always make sure your children know who you are.”  He tried hard to keep up with the words of his own father who died during his teens.  It sounds like a simple thing, but as I grew into adulthood myself, went through college and even started dating, I realized that not every father did this, especially in the black community.  The results often times were catastrophic with long lasting ramifications, especially in dating or ‘pair-bonding’ – a separate topic all in itself.

*  *  *

“You just did something I don’t like.  You didn’t count your change.  How do you know that the cashier gave you the correct change?”  I was an early teen when this discussion took place.  I had just paid for something, took the change the cashier gave me and immediately stuffed it into my pocket.  A stern man, his words, “You just did something I don’t like,” stopped me dead in my tracks.  I didn’t think he was paying attention, but sure enough he was – in general Dad was always paying attention to the most minute details even when you thought he wasn’t.  He also remembered things long after you forgot them and would bring them back up when you least expected it.

When I discovered what he was unhappy about, it made sense to me and I started counting my change.  I even started calculating in my mind the change I was supposed to get back from cashiers before they gave it to me.  The lesson here was to be careful with my money, and to trust no one.  Years later he observed that I was in fact careful with my money.  I told him that I had gotten the behavior from him.  He replied saying something very profound, “Well son, when you have to make child support payments, you have to be very careful with your money.”

“You always keep your receipt because you never know when you’re going to have to return something.”  I don’t know which came first, this lesson or the change counting lesson, but they weren’t far apart.  His father had gotten on him about this when he was younger.  He had allegedly gone into lower Manhattan to buy some underwear and returned home without the receipt resulting in his getting scolded.

“When you get paid, you want to account for all of your expenses.”  This was an early lesson about budgeting.  We didn’t sit down and do one right then and there, and I wouldn’t master it until at least ten years later, but I always remembered the discussion.

“You always pay yourself first.”  This lesson came shortly after I started working, though again as a teen, I didn’t grasp the power of this advice until later.  It had tremendous implications in one’s prime earning years where diligent individuals save for both emergencies and investments and build wealth while others spend all of their income.

“You don’t quit your job unless you have another one to go to.”  Dad gave me this sage wisdom between my junior and senior years of high school after quitting my very first job at the Denny’s Restaurant, near the Buffalo airport.  I lasted three months at that job which consisted of washing dishes, cleaning up the restaurant, and taking out the garbage.  I didn’t last long enough to have to shovel snow in the winter.  The place where I really wanted to work for my first job was McDonald’s.  At the time it looked fun to me.  I was happy to have an income, but after a while I grew tired of working at Denny’s – coming home sweaty, greasy, and exhausted.  Without talking to anyone, I quit that job right there on the spot with no other job to go to.  It was then that I came to the understanding that I had no more cash flow – a sign of immaturity.  The only positive thing about that situation was that I was still in high school and wasn’t required to contribute to any of my mother’s household bills.  Some adults quit their job without having a replacement and put themselves in a pickle; often burdening those around them.

“You always keep money in the bank because you never know when an emergency is going to arise.”  There’s a very funny story behind this lesson and it involves a woman – something very dramatic and stressful according to Dad.  For my own safety, I’ll just stick to the lesson.  At an early age, Dad stressed the importance of having money in the bank due to unforeseen emergencies which inevitably happen to you, or to someone around you.  In this particular quagmire he had gotten into, having some money in the bank helped him get out of it.  He also regretted once not having $5,000 available for a mortgage down payment on a house he was renting.

“You can keep dating her if you want to.  You might have to miss your electric bill.”  This sobering advice came during my first year in graduate school in my mid-twenties.  It was one of my first experiences learning something that Dad had talked about for most of my childhood – women and money.  At least most of the ones we knew came with a price tag, and wanted to be wined and dined.

I had, unfortunately, taken a liking to someone whom I dated for one to two months who openly admitted she was needy, which I didn’t understand at the time as she had already started her own career.  Inexperienced at dating, she grew frustrated with my meager finances and my lack of understanding of what was expected of me.  Dad’s advice here, which came in a hurtful and mocking tone, was simply communicating that I needed to determine whether or not I could afford this particular female.  I decided that I couldn’t.

It’s an important set of questions for all men to ask themselves when meeting a potential partner.  Can I afford her?  Does she line up with my priorities?  Will she tank my finances?  This was also one of the first times I could personally feel the pain, the scars, and the poor fortune my father experienced in the dating jungle after he and my mother split – as there was lots of despair, and little hope or encouragement in his words.

“When you have to make child support payments, it forces you to be very careful with your money.”  I have to be very careful here as this is a sensitive topic, and my mother generally proof-reads my articles.  Throughout my childhood, Dad sometimes lamented about making child support payments – not because he didn’t want to support his children, but because I think he had a hard time making ends meet on his own end.  During my childhood, he eventually took a second job in the military to pay the bills.  It’s a sensitive topic because while he felt maxed out, my mother felt as though he wasn’t doing enough.  And I’ll stop there, but suffice it to say that in many instances men and women see money (and life) differently.  In some instances, as the ones being asked to provide, it can seem like your best is never enough – a hard pill to swallow.  He and I talked about this a lot as I got older and I started experiencing my own scrapes and bruises with the opposite sex.

“The bank is going to want to look at all of your bank statements when you apply for a mortgage, and $2,000 isn’t any money,” Dad scoffed at me, making me feel five feet tall.  I was still living with the big guy during my Postdoctoral fellowship.  I had started reading Robert Kiyosaki’s Rich Dad Poor Dad series and had joined my local Real Estate Investment Club.  I wanted to make an ambitious move and get my first investment property – a duplex which I would live in and eventually rent out for “Passive” income.  I needed some help with the closing costs and associated expenses, so I asked him for a loan.  It was one of the worst experiences of my life.

Instead of a nice teachable discussion about the ups, the downs, and the ins, and outs of trying such a thing – it turned into him putting me in a proverbial headlock.  It dragged on for days and days as he mulled over it, and asked me random pointed questions about it – his analysis and communication styles.  After a while I just wanted to drop the whole thing, and I concluded that I never wanted to be in a position to ask his help for anything money-related, though I did once more, and returned to the same conclusion.

In hindsight while it was smart to want to create a passive income stream, it wasn’t a good idea in that particular instance.  I wasn’t going to stay in that area long-term, and I wasn’t experienced enough, and didn’t have enough money to manage a property from a long-distance.  What was funny was that many people don’t even have $2,000 in the bank they can access quickly.  That said, he was right in that it wasn’t a substantial amount of money.  He was also right in that prior to qualifying you for a mortgage, the banks do want to know everything about your financial history.

Dad was also jaded in terms of being a landlord from a prior experience, as he once had a tenant in his lower unit – an older woman.  According to him, he went downstairs to collect the rent one day, and the woman transformed into a malevolent, ominous, and demon-possessed state.  It scared him at the time and forever soured him on being a landlord.

“I wouldn’t invest in the Stock Market if I were you.”  This bit of advice was given to me in my 30s when I expressed that I wanted to buy some stock by the end of that particular year.  Because of his own life experiences, Dad was averse to losing money.  Coincidentally, one of our closest cousins recommended I get in the game and buy stock, and even today experts like Dr. Boyce Watkins, strongly advocate blacks getting into the Stock Market.  So who was right in this case?  Who was to be believed and trusted?

This gets back to one of the points I made in my 2017 Mother’s Day post.  As we grow into adulthood, I think we all get to a point where everything our parents tell us can’t be taken as the gospel and in some instances must be questioned and or pondered critically.  In this particular instance, yes investing in stocks does involve potential loss.  An important consideration going in though is whether or not you understand that there is a potential for the loss, and whether or not you can absorb the loss.  In other words, do you have emergency money in the bank, and is the amount to be invested allocated for that reason?  Can it be easily replaced for another round?  This is a much different thought process than simply stating, “You’re going to lose your money if you do that.”

*  *  *

If the tone of this blog post was in part melancholy and mixed, then it reflects our father-son relationship which has been full of contradictions and mystery.  When I look back at my youth many of my childhood experiences were marked by concerns over money.  I’m not saying that I grew up in poverty because I didn’t by any means.  I don’t really remember my mother, whom I spent the majority of my childhood with, talking about money a lot, but I think she shielded my brother and me from some things – sheltering us, as one of my aunts often said.  I did look around at peers, such as my best friend and realized that I didn’t have Air Jordans, Starter Jackets, Karl Kani, or any of the trendiest apparel of our cohort.

Most of the money-related talks as I grew up actually came from my father and as you might have gathered from this post, many of them had some sort of pain associated with them.  As I’ve gotten older, I understand things much better now.  As we get older we start to see that our parents are people who make mistakes themselves, and are not perfect though at one point we may have thought they were.  In some instances we start to understand their pains and struggles.

Over the years our father-son relationship has gone through a lot of changes – some good and some bad with multiple ups and downs.  Overall I’m grateful for everything my father has done for me, and I tell him that every time I see him now (my mother too).  That said, as I think President Obama said years ago, for children whose biological fathers are missing, there can be other fathers too.  And even if a child’s father isn’t a good one, or can’t supply everything needed, there can again be other fathers to fill in those gaps.  I certainly have many.

There are a lot of podcasts and men’s stations on places like YouTube these days – many talking about the importance of fathers.  My favorite in this current station of my life is Paul Elam’sA Voice for Men” – content I would recommend for any man still figuring things out in our society – personal values, dating and marriage, and finally gender/societal roles.  Fathers are very important if for no other reason than to lend a balanced perspective on the world.  This is true for both boys and girls who themselves will eventually both grow into men and women.

Thank you for taking the time to read this post. If you’ve found value here and think it would benefit others, please share it and or leave a comment.  To receive all of the most up to date content from the Big Words Blog Site, subscribe using the subscription box in the right hand column in this post and throughout the site.  While my main areas of focus are Education, STEM and Financial Literacy, there are other blogs/sites I endorse which can be found on that particular page of my site.

Simone Griffin of HomeFree-USA discusses homeownership and the African American community part three

This is the conclusion of my interview of Simone Griffin of HomeFree-USA regarding Homeownership and the African American Community.  In part two of our discussion, we talked about some of the impediments of Black homeownership, some things our youth can start learning at an early age regarding financial literacy, and finally, the effect of the housing market boom and crash on African American wealth.  In part three of our discussion, we talked about Reverse Mortgages, and general recommendations and considerations for first time African American homebuyers.  This entire interview addresses all of the principles of my blog recently added to the site.

Anwar Dunbar:  What is a Reverse Mortgage and why are they bad products?

Simone Griffin:  They aren’t necessarily bad.  It is about the type of reverse mortgage you get and what you need it for.  A Reverse Mortgage is for people 65 years and older who wish to borrow against the equity in their home. This is a loan which has to be repaid when the homeowner dies. The homeowner still has to maintain the property, and pay property taxes and homeowners insurance.

Reverse Mortgages can come with high fees, so they should really only be utilized if there are no heirs to the house, or if the homeowner truly has no other money to live on.  Let’s say you own your home outright and have no other ways to pay your bills.  If you get a reverse mortgage and there’s nobody who can step in and pay that loan off when you die, the only way to get it paid off is by selling the house.  You’ve lost way more than you’ve gained.  Your family and future generations have just lost a piece of property that they could have lived in.

Consider Brooklyn, NY, where the difference between the average income and the cost of a home is astronomical.  Imagine a Black family who bought a home in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood, who may have come in through the great migration from the south and bought a home in the 1960s or 1970s – now those Brownstones are going for well over a million dollars.

In 2010 Grandpa took out a reverse mortgage for $300,000, plus fees.  He died last year, and now the family can’t come up with the amount owed to the bank, so the only thing they can do is sell the house.  That’s a million-dollar house which they could never afford today, and $700,000 in equity has gone to the bank.

This is why we have to train our people in their working years about how to afford retirement. Aside for a reverse mortgage you can’t borrow for it.  If you don’t have anyone to leave the home to and you need the money, then it’s fine.  However, it should be a choice, not something you do because you didn’t plan well for retirement; especially if you have kids and grandkids who can utilize that property.

AD:  Redlining.  Are you seeing a lot of that in DC?

SG:  After the housing, boom shady investors went door to door saying, ‘We want to buy your house. We’ll offer you $300,000 cash if you move tomorrow, and we’ll take care of all of the repairs.’  Except that the house is actually worth $500,000.  When you’re paying cash for a house, an appraisal is not required.  So people didn’t bother to spend the money on one, they just took the $300,000 and ran.  If the homeowner had the property appraised, they could have sold it for a much higher amount.  Or they could have kept it. Unfortunately, many of the same people in DC with parents or grandparents who purchased houses for $30,000 or $40,000 sold them at the wrong time.  Now the neighborhoods are turning and they’re saying, ‘I want to move back,’ but they can no longer afford to.

AD: I used a first time homebuyer’s 3% down program with cash back at closing when I bought my condo.  That came with several caveats and nuances that I didn’t understand – I just saw that it was 3% down with cash back at closing.  I also bought into the sentiment that I was wasting money by renting and making someone else rich – a common motivation for first time homebuyers.  What advice would you give first time African American home buyers who are looking to purchase a home?  What things should they stay away from and what would you encourage?

SG:  I would encourage them to stay away from Adjustable Rate Mortgages (ARMS) and creative financing.  A 3% down payment is fine.  Right now those the 3% down loans are often an FHA product, which means you have to pay Private Mortgage Insurance (PMI), around 1% of the total loan until you have about 20% equity.  There are also 5% and 10% down products that don’t require PMI but the additional down payment may delay your purchase.  Using an organization like HomeFree-USA will help you leverage the home buying opportunity since we’re familiar with many different products, as well as different loan officers.

Lenders are now starting to understand the drawbacks that requiring 20% down or PMI brings. As a result, more are offering lower down payment products. Our job at HomeFree-USA is to be aware of these products, and marry them with local, state and federal funds that will help decrease the cost of homeownership for the buyer.  Now is a very good time to buy.  But don’t fret if you can’t find a product right now – we know where they are.

If there is any way to pay down your debts as much as possible, you should do that.  I know this is easier said than done, but if you can do it, it’s incredibly important to your peace of mind and  for affordability.  People get intimidated by their debt pay down process and what they have to sacrifice.  They’ll say, ‘Well it’s two whole years,’ and then I flip it and I say, ‘It’s only two years.’  In the grand scheme of life, the money you can earn from saving or investing the money you’re paying in debt is substantial.

Let’s say you’re paying $200 in student loans every month, and you’re able to get that paid off in one or two years.  If you put that $200 into a Mutual Fund, that money will grow over time.  You’re paying interest while in debt, so it’s worth it to just drop out of life for two years, or however long it takes, and say, ‘I want this over.  I’m paying off these debts and moving forward with life.’  Then you can take the money you’ve saved and use it towards a down payment on a house and avoid things like financing cars by paying cash.

People assume that they have to finance a car and that’s not the case.  I’ve never financed a car.  I only buy used cars, and each one is better than the last. But many Americans do not take the time to say, ‘I’m willing to put off something that I really want for the greater good (delaying gratification), so I don’t have to spend money financing a car.’  I recommended this to a friend.  She didn’t do it and is still not at the level that she wants to be financially. I thought to myself, ‘If she’d taken the year I suggested to not have a car, her company would have paid for transportation to and from meetings, she could have walked, gotten rides, taken the Metro or Lyft, and after only a year would’ve been in a much better position in life.’

She lives in the center of the city.  It’s an entirely different situation if you live in Odenton and have to drive to DC every day.  But when you live in the city and work in the city, and the metro is only 10 minutes away, there is some leverage.  It’s just a matter of being slightly inconvenienced for now in order to get to a greater position later (delayed gratification).  And many Americans don’t feel comfortable doing that, but the problem is Black Americans have fewer options than non-Hispanic whites.

AD:  That’s absolutely right.  I personally have some higher financial goals and decided to get rid of my car for numerous reasons in 2012; living right next to the metro being one of the main ones.  Some people just can’t fathom the idea of not owning a car.  But I aspire to do things like growing my net worth, and attaining some assets (stocks and eventually real estate, for example).

SG:  My father has a condo in the U Street Corridor.  I was there this week helping him, and it’s very hard to find parking. The metro, and a bike stand, are both 2 blocks away.  There are three grocery stores in the neighborhood and numerous restaurants.  Why would you need a car if you lived there?  If you live someplace that’s not far from the metro, why not take the opportunity do this for yourself so that you can eventually drive whatever you want?  Like Dave Ramsey says, ‘We’re going to live like no one else, so later we can live like no one else.’  Take that opportunity now.  But many people just don’t see it as an opportunity which is unfortunate, because where Black people are concerned, we don’t have as much to fall back on.

AD:  That’s right.  So a lot of this is in how you’re perceiving things, what you know, and what you’re willing to do.

SG:  Exactly.

AD:  Well, Simone, that was awesome.  A lot of people are going to benefit from reading this.  Do you have any parting comments or do you want to introduce HomeFree-USA one more time?

SG: To learn more about HomeFree-USA, go to www.homefreeusa.org. My financial blog is www.moneymagnet.homefreeusa.org.  If they have any questions they can reach out to me at moneymagnet@homefreeusa.org. If your readers are ready to start the homeownership experience, they can contact us at 301-891-8400.  They don’t have to talk to me for that.

We have a free class at our Riverdale, MD office every other Thursday, “Five Home Buying Secrets Everyone Ought to Know”.  HomeFree-USA is judged by the number of successful and sustainable home owners we produce, not just the number of clients we see.  That’s the key difference.

AD:  Okay, well Simone, that’s all I’ve got.  Once again thank you for this interview and for sharing your expertise and your experiences.  If we can do a follow up piece in the future, that’s something I would be very interested in.

SG:  Okay, thank you Anwar.

Thank you for taking the time to read this post.  If you’ve found value here and think it would benefit others, please share it and or leave a comment.  To receive all of the most up to date content from the Big Words Blog Site, subscribe using the subscription box in the right hand column in this post and throughout the site.  While my main areas of focus are Education, STEM and Financial Literacy, Health & Wellness are very, very important as well.  I therefore encourage my readers to visit Positive Health Wellness for valuable and up to date information regarding: diet, fitness and lifestyle.

Mother’s Day 2017: one of my mother’s greatest gifts, getting engaged, and avoiding my own personal fiscal cliff

A couple of years ago when still writing for the Examiner, I wrote a sentimental tribute piece about my mother for Mother’s Day discussing everything she did for my brother and me.  In short she put being a mother first above all else.  Looking back at my youth I don’t remember her really partying aside from holiday celebrations at her places of employment.  There were always lots of home cooked meals, togetherness, and church on Sundays, though I didn’t appreciate it at the time.  There was also a lot of love and positive affirmation in our home.

Her motherly guidance continued well into my adulthood.  One of her greatest gifts was given to me a couple of years ago, and I can guarantee that it isn’t a gift that you the reader would expect.  It was a lifesaving gift – one that impacted our immediate family, and that helped stop me from going over my own personal “Fiscal Cliff” and falling to my demise.  I’m sharing this story because I think about it often, but also so that it might help save someone else.  This post will probably likewise touch someone, and maybe draw a laugh or two, or three, or four.

Many of you remember the term “Fiscal Cliff” from one of President Barrack Obama’s earliest showdowns with Republicans regarding the financial future of the United States – at the time a potential massive increase in taxes and broad spending cuts.  There are also be personal fiscal cliffs – situations in which a particular set of financial factors causes or threatens sudden and severe economic decline.  While the sizes and scales are different, they both involve needs, wants, how items in question are going to get paid for, and the after effects.

Only those really close to me know that I was engaged to be married two or three years ago.  Not being one to post my personal business all over Facebook, I initially told only a trusted few.  My former fiancée will remain anonymous, and my challenge likewise will be to tell this story in the fairest way possible, without demonizing and piling on her, as it would show very little class, so wish me luck.  Instead, I will focus on something my mother shared with me, and how it stayed with me as my brief engagement unfolded.  There were actually a couple of quotes that stuck with me but hers was special.

*  *  *

“You know it’s the custom for the bride’s father and/or family to pay for the wedding,” my mother told me shortly after my fiancée accepted my proposal (which I botched by not doing the getting on one knee ritual).  I didn’t know the first thing about weddings and in the previous year had to learn quickly about the “Four Cs” for picking out engagement rings: Cut, Clarity, Carat size, and Color.  Depending on the woman, rings can be a really, really big deal – perhaps too big a deal in the grand scheme of things.  That’s a separate discussion.

Living in two different cities, there were a lot of details my fiancée and I had to work out besides the wedding itself.  We loosely mutually agreed that the ceremony should be held out in the city she was from on the Pacific coast.  I think it was around that time a ballpark number for how much we would spend on the wedding emerged; $18,000 which quickly got rounded up to $20,000.  The funny thing is I think I threw the number out there – not because I had dreamt of spending that amount, but because I had heard two friends say that they had spent that amount on their wedding with some help from their folks I believe.

After she accepted the proposal, things went fast.  Within a week, a close friend sent her a “How to Get Married” book with all of the planning and steps.  There were also plans to go dress shopping in New York City just like the show Say Yes to the Dress.  There is a lot I could say about what all happened next, but for the sake of keeping this focused, I’ll just say that there was a lot of deliberation over the amount to be spent.  While I wanted to keep it at $20,000 or below, my fiancée lobbied to push the number upwards.

“You’re probably going to end up spending a little bit over what you set the budget at,” my mother said, which didn’t make me feel any better.

“How many people are you all inviting?  The dollar amount is going to grow exponentially with the number of guests you’re inviting because you’re going to be feeding all of those people,” a close friend and fellow University of Michigan alumnus said, who had gotten married while we were all still in school.  He and his wife spent a little over $10,000 of their graduate school stipends – a tremendous feat.

It’s the custom for the bride’s father or family to pay for the wedding, my mother’s words continued to roll around in my head.  But whose custom was this?  And what if the bride’s father or family didn’t have any money?  Then what?

Eventually I started to ponder the enormity of spending $20,000 on our big day.  I started thinking that it wasn’t a smart idea even though I was a federal employee with a, “good government job.”  I had only recently gotten rid of my revolving consumer debt and didn’t have a substantial emergency fund in the bank, and neither did she.  I had also only recently started getting the 5% matching contribution on my government Thrift Savings Plan retirement account.  Furthermore, I had my eyes on buying stock, and moving into the wealthy class.

It’s the custom for the bride’s father or family to pay for the wedding.  What can one do with $20,000?  One can use it as a down payment on a home (depending on the market).  One can purchase a brand new car.  One can invest that money and grow it.  One can donate to charities and scholarship funds for needy kids.  It can also simply be put away for an emergency fund for life’s inevitable calamities.  It can be used to start a business of some sort.  In this case it could also be spent on a one-day bonanza for friends and family who would go back to their lives afterwards.

“What you all need to do is live off of one of your incomes for a year and save the other one,” one of my mentors said when I told him that I was thinking about making the big plunge months earlier.  He was an experienced entrepreneur several years my senior and had seen a lot in his life’s journey.  “You all need to save $50,000 in the bank – actually black people need to have $100,000 in the bank,” he continued.  “Whenever we’re jobless it takes us longer to get hired.”

We need to save $50,000 in the bank?  We need to save $100,000 in the bank?  In addition to my mother’s words about the bride’s family paying for the wedding, my mentor’s words also bounced around in my head.  Was such a thing even possible?  With proper planning and prioritization, and agreeing in a relationship context, absolutely it was possible.  While I could see the power in doing such a thing however, I wondered how realistic it was for the particular set of circumstances I was in.  My fiancée and I didn’t reside on the same planet money-wise, and in several other key ways, which gets to the being ‘equally yoked’ principal that’s often discussed when long-term relationships come up.  This living off of one income for the first year advice actually wasn’t new.  It was just my first time hearing it.

I found out something else highly relevant to this discussion by chance in the Washington PostIt was shared by Michelle Singletary to whom I have to give the credit for citing it in her “Color of Money” column.  In an article discussing finance-related topics couples should discuss before getting serious (credit scores/history for example), she cited a study by Emory Professors Andrew Francis and Hugo Mialon titled A Diamond is Forever’ and Other Fairy Tales: The Relationship between Wedding Expenses and Marriage Duration.  They found that couples who spent greater than $20,000 on a wedding and associated costs are 3.5 times more likely to get divorced than couples who spent $5,000 and $10,000.  CNN and PBS covered this as well.

“You know Anwar, $20,000 is actually the low end for the amount spent on a wedding,” another close friend and Michigan alumnus said in the aftermath of the whole thing.  That may have been true, but the question in my mind once again centered around whose role it was to pay for all of it.  Was it the couple or the bride’s family?  Both families?  And what were the long-term consequences?  Furthermore, was it sane for a couple with no inheritances, and collectively no assets, to invest that type of money in something like that?

My gut told me no, but there is something sentimental, warm and fuzzy when it comes to women, engagements, weddings and shows like Say Yes to the Dress – something that defies all logic and reason.  As a man, you can easily get swept up in it all because well – it’s what many women like and what many women want to do.  Many have dreamt about their ‘Big Day’ since they were little.

As alluded to earlier, it wasn’t exactly a stable partnership and life’s many circumstances caused the whole thing to implode.  It was actually biblical in magnitude – something made for TV.  I thus didn’t have to proceed down the path that was unfolding in front of me which I saw leading me over the edge of my own personal fiscal cliff onto the rocks below.  No, I never got the ring back.  I got that question a lot – mostly from females I shared the story with, and from one guy – a cunning salesman who was trying to get me to purchase one of his insurance products in a coffee shop one morning.  I gladly told everyone no, as it paled in comparison to the money that I would’ve spent had the whole thing gone forward.

About a year after my engagement imploded, a close friend got married – a Pakistani woman.  I was blessed to be invited to one of the three days of their weekend long wedding celebration/ceremony.  That’s right, it was three days in accordance with Pakistani culture – they do it big.  The ceremony I attended was at a beautiful hall and had all the trimmings.  My coworker and her husband, who was also Pakistani, were both dressed in the most immaculate costumes in accordance with their culture.  He actually rode in on a pony.  I looked around in amazement as all of us guests were treated like royalty.

She shared with me that her parents and the groom’s parents paid in the ballpark of $30,000 for the whole thing – that’s right $30,000.  Coming from the eastside of Buffalo, that’s a lot of money, and afterwards I pondered over and over again that their parents paid for it.  It was their culture and the norm in their community.  They also had an abundance of stable families where their parents actually had the funds to put into that type of thing – perhaps a demonstration of Pakistani privilege.

I continued to ponder their wedding weekend.  Because their parents footed the bill, they as a young couple didn’t take a huge financial hit.  They were able to just continue on with their lives and build – saving into their retirement accounts, planning vacations, pondering purchasing a home, etc.  They were able to start in a good place.  The same was true for another friend.  She and her spouse came from two stable families and themselves didn’t personally make huge investments on their big day.  The bride’s diamond ring was not purchased at some extravagant store like on TV, but instead, it was passed down through the generations in the groom’s family – again a benefit of coming from a stable family.

*  *  *

“Weddings are a big waste of money,” said a professor on my thesis committee at the University of Michigan with a look of disgust on his face.  He was kind of conservative, and had homes in both Ann Arbor and Jackson Hole, Wyo.  He had been around a while and had seen a lot of stuff.  I didn’t understand any of it at the time so I thought he might’ve just been being an old curmudgeon.  He was probably thinking that there were better things that could be done with the tens of thousands of dollars spent on weddings.

Are weddings, engagement rings, and all of the associated costs a waste of money?  As with most things it depends on your point of view.  That said, as a couple, before dumping tens of thousands of dollars into something like that, I think it’s important that both agree on it and ask each other several key questions.  Are you going into debt for it?  Have you already started building wealth individually?  Can your relatives afford to kick in?  Where will you two be after the festivities once everyone else has gone home?  Is spending an astronomical amount of money a need or a want?

“It’s the custom for the bride’s father and or family to pay for the wedding.”  I don’t know that my mother knew that her words would stay in my mind as they did.  The words made more and more sense to me as I thought about them.  From a logical standpoint, if I as a man have just saved for an engagement ring – a month’s salary or more, does it now make sense to dump more money into a one-day extravaganza leaving us financially exposed?  For me at the time, no, it didn’t make any sense.  By the way, this wasn’t the only advice my mother gave me.  As a spiritual woman, there was much more.  My father?  He didn’t give me much of anything advice-wise.  His greatest anxiety/concern was having to fly out to the west coast to attend the ceremony.

Everyone has to decide for themselves what’s right as families and cultures are different.  As mentioned earlier, after a life of making financial mistakes out of ignorance, and only recently discovering some of the key secrets to wealth building such as knowing what a Net Worth was, my focus was more on savings and investments.  Furthermore, having been bailed out of a couple of jams by one of my uncles for example, asking him for more money at that time felt unacceptable.  The same was true for my father of whom I also decided it was unacceptable to ask for financial support of any kind at my current station in life.

For any men reading this and thinking about taking the plunge, this stuff is a big deal.  Many of the ladies (not all) dream about their wedding and will even critique and mock each other over them, as I witnessed a couple of high income-professional ladies do about a peer who paid for her wedding expenses out of pocket.  To cut costs, she and her fiancé wisely did things like cater their reception.  He was a master chef and put in some sweat equity of his own on the food.  I think they spent ~ $10,000 on the wedding, maybe a little less.  Also, some ladies think a spectacular ring is owed them, and will make them feel better during those inevitable rough marital patches.  Some will concede the wedding for a $20,000 or ring.

Think about your life, your goals and the long-term ramifications if you’re paying out of pocket.   Be real with yourself and your partner.  Determine whether or not you’re dealing in needs or wants and where you’ll be on the back end of the wedding.  If the two of you can’t agree there then that should, ‘give you pause,’ as my mother would say.  Interestingly my father’s second wife felt that past a certain age, there shouldn’t be any expectations for families to help pay for anything, and that’s assuming again that you had parents and families who had the means to begin with.

“My friend’s father told her that he would give her a $10,000 gift if she and her fiancé eloped,” a woman in my former lab said at a recent science conference.  Her friend’s father had clearly done the math in his head and projected what a wedding would cost him, and determined that $10,000 would be a fraction of that cost.

While the majority of this story was about me I’m going to close out by going back to my mother as this post is in celebration of Mother’s Day.  It was her words that stayed with me throughout this whole experience.  That being said, one of the challenges to growing up is having the discernment to reconcile your parent’s experiences/beliefs and words of wisdom with your own situation as the two don’t always go together.  Sometimes you do inevitably deviate from what they recommend for any number of reasons – sometimes disappointing them and even going through the hardship they tried to protect you from, and sometimes not.

Thank you for taking the time to read this post. If you’ve found value here and think it would benefit others, please share it and or leave a comment.  To receive all of the most up to date content from the Big Words Blog Site, subscribe using the subscription box in the right hand column in this post and throughout the site.  While my main areas of focus are Education, STEM and Financial Literacy, there are other blogs/sites I endorse which can be found on that particular page of my site.

 

Michael I-Zayah discusses new single release and the music industry

One of my goals for starting the Big Words Blog Site was to provide exposure for other talented individuals around me looking to launch their own unique endeavors.  One of my first interviews was with the Swamp Media Group, the creators of the Space Detective Movie, which has grown in international exposure.  Another up and coming artist is vocalist Michael I-Zayah who hails out of Atlanta, GA.  He has been working on perfecting his craft over the past several years and is looking to get signed by a music label sometime soon.  His latest single and video are titled, ‘New Panties’ (see the YouTube link below).  In this short interview, Michael I-Zayah talks about his background, his influences, his new single and his career goals.

Anwar Dunbar:  First of all, Michael, thank you for agreeing to do this interview.  We’re actually cousins and as such, I know how hard you’ve been working on your music career.  I’m honored to help you get exposure for your art.  For all artists and creators of things, exposure is definitely critical.  Now I may know who you are (laughing), but let’s start off by telling the readers a little bit about yourself and your background.  Where are you from and how did you decide to get involved in music?

Michael I-Zayah: I was raised in Atlanta, but I also represent Buff-City because much of my family is from there.  If anyone doesn’t know, that’s Buffalo, NY.

AD:  Do you go by the name Michael I-Zayah?  Or just by I-Zayah?

MI:  I go by Michael I-Zayah.  At one time I did go by just I-Zayah, but after dealing with so many stage names, I decided to go with Michael I-Zayah.  My middle name is Isaiah, like the prophet in the Bible, but I re-created it as “I-Zayah” because it has a unique look to it.

AD:  So you created this yourself and it’s spelled I-ZAYAH and sounds like Isaiah?

MI:  Yes.

AD:  That is very unique.  How did you get interested in music?

MI:  Ever since I was a kid I’ve always been interested in music.  When I was a baby, my mother would tell me that every time we were in the car listening to music, I would dance to it and move my head around.  I also always liked to play with my toy microphone, and I always had dreams of music and acting.  I was going through a lot of stuff in my teens and I just didn’t have the drive to pursue it, so I had to put it on hold.  Music and acting are my main passions.  That’s what I love to do.

AD:  So you’ve always been interested in the arts, and you’re in your mid-20s now.  Who are some of your influences?  Who did you listen to when you were coming up?

MI:  I listened to a lot of music from the 90s like Jodeci, Ginuwine, and Boyz II Men, just naming a few.  I can go on all day, but I just like to tell people that I was really influenced by the 90s R&B era.  It was my favorite time.  He’s not from the 90s, but I always get comparisons to Barry White because of my baritone voice, and to The Weekend because of my background melodies.

AD:  Yes, that was a great time for Hip Hop and R&B – one of my favorites too.  Much of today’s music sounds strange to me.  As I told you once, it took me a minute to catch on to Fetty Wap and appreciate his unique vocal sound.  Today’s stuff is cool when I’m out, but when I’m alone or at the gym working out, I usually go back to the 80s and 90s sounds, though it could be just because I have personal attachments to those eras similar to you and the 90s.

As an artist yourself, how would you describe the changes in Hip Hop and R&B from then to now?  Has it become more about making one hit?  Is it more for the club?  Has it become more about image?

MI:  You know what, I would say that it’s honestly all of the above.  I would also say that not all of the R&B music in this era is the same.  You have different sections and categories, and you have different sounds.  The younger generation of R&B is more popping now, but there are some artists who still turn out music like that from the 90s like Jodeci – they just released a record in 2015.

AD:  Do you like any of the music pre-1990 or that you heard you mother listening to?

MI:  My mother loved listening to Marvin Gaye, Chaka Khan, and Maze featuring Franky Beverly.  Some legendary heavy hitters I’d like to work with one day if I could, are Rodney ‘Darkchild’ Jerkins and Kenny ‘Babyface’ Edmonds.  Darkchild produced for groups like Destiny’s Child (Say My Name) and artists like Brandy and Monica (The Boy Is Mine).  I remember that prior to Babyface going solo, he was in the group ‘The Deele’; they made hits like ‘Two Occasions’ and ‘Sweet November’.  I’m also a fan of Barry White.

AD:  How would you describe your style?  Is it R&B, or would it be more like music for the club?  Talk about your musical style and genre.

MI:  That’s a good question because in terms of my style, I do R&B, R&B Soul and R&B Pop.  As far as my flavor, when people see me – how I dress and how I look, some people wonder if I’m a rapper and that’s not the case.  I do have an urban look, but I can also dress classy.

AD:  You just released a new single and it’s called ‘New Panties’.  When I first saw the image for the single, I wasn’t sure if this was good for the brand I’m trying to build (laughing), but when I heard the song and saw the video I thought it was pretty hot.  It’s a track that I can envision nodding my head to slowly while sipping a drink at happy hour at a club or a lounge like The Park at 14th here in DC on a Friday evening.  You can keep playing it over and over again and start feeling nice.  It definitely has a modern sound to it in terms of the way you’re delivering the lyrics rhythmically and the sound of the beat – the keyboards in the background and the drum beat.  It’s also very sexual (laughing), so exotic dancers could also use it.  What’s it about and where did it come from?

MI:  Well honestly (laughing), that was my songwriter’s story, and I want to send a shout to Carlos, aka Mr. Nine Dimensional.  He was telling me about an incident that he and some other people had experienced.  He had it stuck in his head and he told me about it.  So we tried to figure out how we could make it into a song.  In terms of the hook, we talked a lot about how it should sound.  He told me what the words were and I worked on coming up with the rhythm, added some more stuff in there and voila – it turned into the song and the rest is history.

To see the “New Panties” video, click the following link:

AD:  Who created the track – the instrumental you’re singing over?

MI:  It was a producer named DK and I’d like to send a shout out to him as well.  He’s an up and coming producer and he created the beat.

AD:  Have you guys approached any DJs or nightclub promoters about putting it in rotation during an event?  If not, you definitely should.

MI:   It’s been played at clubs and events, and I’m going to try to get it on the radio very soon.

AD:  So you have a video to go with the single as well.  How many singles  have you released?

MI:  I have three tracks.  My initial goal is to have at least three to six tracks.  All of them are going to have a unique sound and flavor.  Besides DK, I’m also working with Four Front Beats – shout out to them.  I’m working with BricksDaMane.  I’m also working with Frank Bank who is a producer, an artist and a CEO from California – shout out to him.  I want to send a shout out to Tony Sway.  BricksDaMane has a lot of heavy connections in the music business and industry.  I’ve known him since 2013 and I found out that he either produced or engineered Drake’s last album.  He also produced or engineered one of Young Thug’s projects.  These are the people I’ve been working with and producing my singles with.

AD:  So what are the next steps for your career?  What can we expect next from Michael I-Zayah?

MI:  You can expect to watch me grow, to go through my journey – the good and the bad times.  Lord knows I’ve been going through a lot when it comes to my music career, and I’m literally now just getting things back on track.  I’m going to be getting my name back out there, doing performances, going to radio stations, talking to the media, magazines, etc.  I have a lot going on and God is blessing me so I’m just trying to stay focused.

AD:  Where can people go and find some more of your music?

MI:  Well, I have some of my older music.  People can find it on YouTube or on SoundCloud.  I want to show people the type of work that I’ve done in my past compared to now.  What people don’t know is that even though I do Hip Hop, I’m transitioning more over to R&B.  I feel like I have a lot more to offer on that side.  It’s not that I can’t make music with my hip hop, but a lot of people haven’t seen me do R&B and I want to show people that side of me.

AD:  So when you say Hip Hop do you mean working with rappers or doing more club tracks?

MI:  I’m just referring to when I did some rap in the past.

AD:  Okay, yes.  I remember that when you first started you were rapping.  Okay, Michael, what have you learned about the music industry so far since being in it?

MI:  Wow (laughing).  What I’ve learned – what I’ve learned is that there are pros and cons to the music industry.  People have to realize that there is a difference between the Music Industry and the Music Business.  The Music Industry can be very cut throat.  A lot of people can have ulterior motives to get what they want out of you and as soon as they’re done, they don’t want to deal with you anymore.  A lot of people only care about themselves, and if it’s not all about them then they don’t care.  For me personally, I’d rather just stay in my lane and mind my business and just worry about me.  I feel like whoever I have a genuine connection to in the business and the industry, then it’s cool, and that’ll be a blessing.  All you have is you at the end of the day.

AD:  So the last question is how can the readers and listeners purchase “New Panties” if they want a copy of the track for their collection?  And in terms of social media, how can they connect with you?  You’re on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.  Are you on any other Social Media?

MI:  They can download my track on iTunes, Amazon or Google Play.  In terms of Social Media, I have all of those.  I have Snapchat, Tumblr, YouTube, Linkedin – I have a whole bunch of social media sites where people can reach out and find me.

AD:  Okay, I’m not as familiar with Sound Cloud.  Is that something people can just go to and type your name in, and your music will come up?

MI:  Yes, I’m on SoundCloud too.  Oh by the way, I want to say that I was in BET’s The Quad and Oprah’s Greenleaf both as a casting extra.

AD:  Okay that’s all I’ve got.  Thank you for talking about your new single and your budding career.  As you pump out more material, perhaps we can do some future update pieces.

MI:  Okay, cool.

Thank you for taking the time to read this interview.  If you want to hear more of Michael I-Zayah’s music, look him up as described above.  If you liked this interview, please share it and or leave a comment.  To receive all of the most up to date content from the Big Words Blog Site, subscribe using the subscription box in the right hand column in this post and throughout the site