A discussion about class in the Black Community

“Even though it was 1968, a period of unrest for many blacks throughout the country, Great-grandmother – like the blue-veined crowd that she was proud to belong to – seemed, at times, to be totally divorced from the black anxiety and misery that we saw on TV news and in the papers.”

Every now and then I’ll venture into something social and political. I’ve been wanting to write something about ‘class’ in the black community for a while now, and Black History Month 2019 has finally presented me the opportunity to do so. Before I jump in, I want to acknowledge Rom Wills, a writer in the “Negro Manosphere” and a YouTube content creator who teaches black men about dating and becoming better versions of ourselves. I can personally say that ‘Uncle’ Rom and his content have been critical in evolution, in terms of manhood, and he’s helped me to better understand my journey – past, present and future. If you’re a black man, and you still feel lost in the dating world and in life in general, I recommend Uncle Rom’s content.

In his YouTube content, Rom Wills is very outspoken about the black community not acknowledging the role of ‘social class’ in dating and mating where it plays a major role, particularly in our bigger cities. He eloquently discusses what attracts black men and women together and why in some instances, some couples who don’t look like they should be together end up doing so. He also discusses why some men and women pass over each other – potentially good mates, specifically to get to together with someone in their social class. He emphasizes men having some sort of vision, like us getting in the gym and getting our bodies right, and the concepts of ‘select’ and ‘non-select’ men.

I first became aware of social class in high school in my hometown of Buffalo, NY. Every spring, one of our black newspapers, the Buffalo Criterion or the Challenger, presented the ‘Debutantes’ and the ‘Cotillions’. The Debutantes were young ladies in high school, usually juniors and seniors. They were associated with one of the black sororities – probably “Alpha Kappa Alpha”. The ladies were all dressed in black dresses and took lovely solo head shots and were presented as a group on the front page. One year, one of the girls was a classmate. There was also a formal event where these girls were ‘presented’ to the world.

I first heard of the term Cotillion in high school as well. I had a friend who played on the Varsity basketball team with me when we were sophomores. He stopped playing in our junior year, and a little while later, he went on and on about some of the other guys in his Cotillion when we were at a party. They were doing a ‘step routine’ of some sort, showing they were also affiliated with a ‘Black Greek’ organization. I think he later pledged “Phi Beta Sigma”.

There were two Black Greeks in my family. My eldest cousin who in Georgia pledged the sorority “Sigma Gamma Rho”, and my father was a member of one of the more prominent fraternities which is kept anonymous for everyone’s privacy. I interestingly have very little memory of him being active in his fraternity or regularly interacting with his ‘frat’ brothers. Later I found that there were reasons for this. I also later found out that this Black Greek world was in fact its own world within Black America.

Lawrence Otis Graham’s Our Kind of People: Inside America’s Black Upper-class periodically pops up in my writings. I read Member of The Club one summer, and then seeing him one night on Tavis Smiley’s show on BET debating Dr. Michael Eric Dyson, was a seminal moment for me. Highly criticized for celebrating America’s black upper-class. I It was an important work for me personally because it let those of us who didn’t grow up in that class know that it existed – something, as a black person, you encounter and must reconcile in cities like Washington, DC, where I now reside. These people were born into the upper-class through generational wealth and inheritances, while others climbed there through digging and sacrificing.

While the book discusses the afore mentioned black fraternities and sororities, it also describes other clubs, groups and organizations within this upper-class such as Jack and Jill, The Boule, and The Links. The book also points out that being in the black upper-class isn’t simply a matter a of having money, as the ‘black elite’ don’t necessarily accept ‘new money’ celebrity athletes and entertainers into their circles. Instead, there was a cultural aspect to their lives where individuals had to go to the ‘right’ schools and be a part of right clubs and families to be accepted. It might sound like a bit much to the outsider, but I find it all fascinating.

Why is this important? Well, as I discussed in my previous piece entitled, Who should or shouldn’t be in the African American History Museum?, there are numerous real divisions within the black race which are often overlooked. One of the big ones is social class. If you weren’t in the right circles in smaller cities like Buffalo, you didn’t really know debutantes and cotillions existed, or the opportunities offered through participation in them. Since ascending in education and living in Washington, DC where the Congressional Black Caucus Annual Legislative Conference takes place every year, and attending the affluent church that I attend, you can see the delineations in social class.

And as Rom Wills, whom I discussed above states, you often see it in the dating arena. Men and women in some instances pick each other based upon their educational and social pedigrees and backgrounds. Likewise, if you’re not from those types of families with certain types of training, it’s important to understand how to socially mingle and carry yourself in certain circles when those instances arise.

I’m going to close this by saying that I didn’t really have a concept of ‘economic class’ until my brother commented amongst our friends when we were younger that we were ‘lower middle class’. Economic class is typically delineated by household income, healthcare and overall quality of life. Both my parents were college educated, they both worked and I grew up in a house as opposed to the housing projects. We weren’t poor, but we also weren’t rich either and this does influence social class.

All of this is interesting to me because it suggests that we’re all different, despite being grouped together based upon skin color. It also explains much of what we see now in terms of variability in our personal natures, how we navigate the world, available opportunities for advancement and political agendas. We’re seeing many of these class divisions bubble to the surface now in politics. That said, skin color does factor in as well, and once you throw ‘Colorism’ into this discussion, this all gets further complicated.

What’s also fascinating is we aren’t restricted by our social or economic class and don’t necessarily stay in them. There are instances where individuals in the upper-social classes have affinities for individuals in the lower classes in terms of dating and friendships. Also, individuals who have ascended into higher economic classes in terms of salary may still have the behavioral inclinations and vices from those in the lower-classes.

In writing this post, I am in no way complaining about my upbringing as I’m very grateful for it. One cousin recently actually told me that both my brother and myself had ‘privilege’ that she didn’t have growing up. Again, keep in mind that we weren’t rich, and we were raised by a single parent most of the year. The take home message here is that there are also delineations in privilege within a race even though we tend to think of privilege solely in terms of white vs. black.

The opening quote for this piece came from chapter one of Our Kind of People – a fitting opening to this piece. I’m going to close by saying that social and economic class are real dynamics that affect everything from our quality of life, to dating/mating, to politics. These are just some of my thoughts on class. It’s something that I think we need to pay more attention to and acknowledge, and the sooner we do, I think the better off we’ll be.

The original title for this piece was, A Black History Month discussion about race in the black community. I shortened it because this is a discussion that shouldn’t be restricted to one month. I want to thank Rom Wills and another YouTube content creator named “Black Gnostics Speaks” for their work, and for helping many of us who needed the teaching to become better and wiser men. Many of us didn’t understand the roles of social and economic class in our lives aside from the contexts of color, racism and prejudice.

Thank you for taking the time to read this blog post. If you enjoyed this, you might also enjoy:

Whose job is it to teach black history?
Who should and shouldn’t be in the African American History Museum and who shouldn’t?
Are you Cooning? Thoughts on Black America’s new favorite racial slur, critical thought, and groupthink
A Black History Month reflection on Percy Julian
A Black History Month interview with Dr. Vernon Morris part one
A Black History Month look at West Indian Archie: A story of wasted scientific potential

If you’ve found value here and think it would benefit others, please share it and/or leave a comment. I’ve recently started a YouTube channel, so please visit me at Big Discussions76. To receive all 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, or add my RSS feed to your feedreader. You can follow me on the Big Words Blog Site Facebook page, and Twitter at @BWArePowerful. Lastly, you can follow me on Instagram at @anwaryusef76. 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.

Who should be in the African American History Museum and who shouldn’t?

“The white man ain’t the devil I promise, you want to see the devil, take a look at Clarence Thomas…….”

My second piece for Black History Month 2019 may emotionally ‘trigger’ some people, but once again, it’s a question worth asking and it falls under my principles of “Creative” and “Critical” thought. If you have a reaction, please respectfully leave a comment below and share your thoughts after you’ve read this piece. I got the idea to write this blog post shortly after my piece entitled, Whose job is it to teach Black History? The seeds for it were sewn one to two years ago though, shortly after the Smithsonian’s new National Museum of African American History and Culture was opened in Washington, DC.

I was perusing social media one day, Twitter perhaps, when a group discussed whether figures like Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas should have a place in the new museum. Dr. Ben Carson’s name may have come up too. It was an excellent and thought-provoking question. I can’t recall if anyone in that discussion felt that Justice Thomas deserved a place in the museum, but I can tell you that most people vehemently felt that he didn’t. I chose to simply be a ‘fly on the wall’ – like someone slipping into a college seminar, standing in the back momentarily and then stepping out after getting the gist of the discussion. The consensus in this group gave a fascinating insight into what being ‘black’ means in the United States in 2019.

Who should be in the National Museum of African American History and Culture and who shouldn’t? That depends on how complete you want history to be. What’s incredibly clear in 2019 is that while we as black people may be seen as one homogenous group by other races and ethnicities, we clearly aren’t. How do we differ? Well just pick the way that you want to slice us up.

Starting with politics, there are liberal blacks, conservative blacks, and independent blacks. There are black people who believe in Jesus Christ and who regularly attend some form of church, and there are black people who believe in Allah and worship at mosques. There are Black Jews and Hebrew Israelites. There are also atheists.

In terms of social class, there are ‘Old Guard’ upper-class black people. There are also middle- and lower-class black people. All three groups have distinct values and opinions of the other classes. There are numerous books just on class; two that come to mind are Our Kind of People, by Lawrence Otis Graham, and Code of The Streets, by Elijah Anderson.

You have ‘bougie’ black people, and ‘street’ black people. There are other black people don’t fall into either extreme, but instead lay somewhere in the middle. In the black ‘zeitgeist’, many of us, myself included, consider ourselves to be ‘other’.

Back to my original question, who should and shouldn’t be in the new African American History Museum? Of the many distinctions in the previous paragraph, the most polarizing may be that of liberal and conservative. Since the Civil Rights Era, the Democratic party has in large part been the party for black people. Right now, we’re seeing a bit of a shift in the landscape, but traditionally that’s how it’s been since I’ve been alive.

Likewise, the Republican party has been the party of racists who are perceived to not care anything about black people. We’re slowly seeing a shift there as well. In any case, any black person who has associated with the Republican party has been seen as being against the race and something ‘other’ than black.

Regarding the two figures I mentioned earlier in this piece, President George H.W. Bush’s filling of Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall’s seat with Clarence Thomas was a seen as a blatant slap in the face not only on Justice Marshall’s legacy, but also towards black people in general. Dr. Ben Carson’s participation in the Trump administration has all but erased his brilliant career as a neurosurgeon, and his miraculous emergence from poverty in inner-city Detroit – to liberal black people that is.

I’ve only visited the new African American History Museum once since it’s opening, and I only got halfway through it. If you plan on going, I’d recommend planning to make multiple trips. Both Justice Thomas and Dr. Carson are in there which I think is the right thing to do. To not have them in there is to give an incomplete historical account. But that’s just me, and I don’t believe we should all think the same way as described in my piece about ‘Cooning’.

Your opinion about whether they and others like them should be in there will depend on whether you still consider them to be a part of the black race. That leads to the question of whether a person’s political affiliation and core beliefs dictates their level of blackness. I personally don’t think it does, but I’m just one person, and as of now, I’m not making decisions about whose history gets told in that museum.

The opening quote for this piece is a lyric from one hip hop artist KRS-One’s tracks. I think it’s from his self-titled album, or maybe “Return of the Boom-Bap”. I opened my last black history last piece with a rap lyric and decided to do it again. As mentioned in that piece, while our parents thought it was just noise, hip hop/rap music in the 1980s and 90s had many, many social and political messages. I personally learned a lot of black history from some of the artists.

Thank you for taking the time to read this blog post. If you enjoyed this post, you might also enjoy:

Are you Cooning? Thoughts on Black America’s new favorite racial slur, critical thought, and groupthink
A Black History Month reflection on Percy Julian
A Black History Month interview with Dr. Vernon Morris part one
A Black History Month look at West Indian Archie
A review of Marvel’s Black Panther
A review of Hidden Figures
A review of All Eyez On Me

If you’ve found value here and think it would benefit others, please share it and/or leave a comment. Please visit my YouTube channel entitled, Big Discussions76. To receive all 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, or add my RSS feed to your feedreader. You can follow me on the Big Words Blog Site Facebook page, and Twitter at @BWArePowerful. Lastly, you can follow me on Instagram at @anwaryusef76. 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.

Ben Carson’s education story and what it means revisited

One of the principles of my blog is “Critical Thought”. I originally published this piece on the Examiner in the fall of 2015, during the historic 2016 presidential election from which President Donald J. Trump emerged. The legendary neurosurgeon Dr. Benjamin Carson was one of the many candidates in the Republican primary. His alignment with the Republican party, and his subsequent position in the Trump administration caused him to fall from grace in Black America and to be discarded altogether by some, which I feel is unfortunate. I’m republishing this piece for Black History Month 2019 to remind everyone where Dr. Carson came from, what he accomplished, and that others can do it too.

* * *

First off, this article was not written with the intention of endorsing any presidential candidate.

Anytime an African American aligns with the Republican Party, it raises suspicions within our community and often sparks ridicule. This year Dr. Benjamin Carson is hoping to win the Republican nomination for the United States Presidency. Admittedly it surprised me years ago upon discovering his political affiliation. At the time of this article’s publication, the Huffington Post’s current data shows that Dr. Carson is second only to Donald Trump in the field of candidates vying for the Republican presidential nomination. It will be really interesting to see if he’ll hold second place or even ascend to first place by the time the final candidate is selected.

Carson’s messages have included: denouncing of the Common Core education standards, securing of the Mexican border and more stringent immigration policies, and reformation of the tax code to name a few. At his own peril and at the risk of alienating African Americans, he has also openly questioned the Black Lives Matter movement. While many see Carson simply as this year’s token African American conservative candidate seeking the Republican presidential nomination, he holds a different significance for me.

During my graduate studies at the University of Michigan, Dr. Carson (a Michigan Medical School alumnus) returned as the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day speaker one year. Then the Dean of Neurosurgery at the Johns Hopkins University, he’d already become famous. He made several points during his speech but those which stood out most to me focused on his youth in inner-city Detroit. Early in his life (during the Civil Rights era), “Bennie” as he was referred to, was actually an underachiever academically and was viewed as unintelligent by his classmates and teachers.

Through it all, his mother who was a single parent, vehemently encouraged Carson and his brother to read anything they could, as often as they could. After years of academic underachievement, the light finally switched on for young Ben Carson and he realized that he too could use his mind to achieve scholastically and make something of himself. He of course went on to become a world-renowned neurosurgeon, where his most famous feat was the separation of the conjoined twins.

There’s an empowerment message within Ben Carson’s story for everyone. Whether or not he ascends to the presidency, he’s a symbol that one can make it out of a single parent household and less than ideal conditions. His success wasn’t an accident, nor was it luck. It was due to his mother’s oversight and vigilance.

Data from Kids Count spanning from 2009 to 2013 show that the African American community leads the nation in children in single parent families over all other ethnic groups during that interval (67% vs. 25% for Non-Hispanic Whites). The reasons for this data clearly vary and are regularly discussed and debated. While it is greatly accepted that having both parents at home is ideal, not having both doesn’t have to necessarily be a hindrance. For me that’s one of the significances of Ben Carson’s story.

While money, state of the art facilities, books and computers are important, Ben Carson’s story (and messages) points to the value and love for education as being the key pieces in a child’s academic achievement and securing of an independent and productive life. This is assuming the instilling of other important values such as a work ethic and integrity as well. Once again while a two-parent home is ideal, it isn’t always a necessary circumstance for kids to go on to achieve success.

In closing, Ben Carson’s story points to the fact that schools alone can’t educate children, and that it requires collaboration with the parents. In his recent article entitled, How Can Parental Involvement in Schools Improve?, Michael J. Ryan argues that public education is a collective commitment between the school system and families where both have to do their part for a child’s success. In the end of his piece, he suggests that it is time to have all families sign a covenant, or contract with their respective schools, compelling them to do their part to help their child’s education as Ben Carson’s mother did for him.

The picture used in this post comes straight from the University of Michigan Medical School. There’s a corridor there in the vast medical school complex where the walls are lined with collages of pictures of every medical class going back to the early twentieth century. Sometimes during graduate school, I’d walk that corridor to access the medical school’s cafeteria around lunch time. I stumbled across Dr. Carson’s picture one day with his medical class. As you can see, he’s in his mid- to late-twenties or early-thirties and is wearing an “Afro”. I took this picture recently when I returned to the University of Michigan for homecoming weekend.

Thank you for taking the time to read this blog post. If you enjoyed this post, you might also enjoy:

Whose job is it to teach Black History?
Are you Cooning? Thoughts on Black America’s new favorite racial slur, critical thought, and groupthink
A Black History Month reflection on Percy Julian
A Black History Month interview with Dr. Vernon Morris
A Black History Month look at West Indian Archie
A review of Marvel’s Black Panther

If you’ve found value here and think it would benefit others, please share it and/or leave a comment. I’ve recently started a YouTube channel, so please visit me at Big Discussions76. To receive all 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, or add my RSS feed to your feedreader. You can follow me on the Big Words Blog Site Facebook page, and Twitter at @BWArePowerful. Lastly, you can follow me on Instagram at @anwaryusef76. 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.

Whose job is it to teach Black History?

“Marcus Garvey had the idea back in the day, doing for self, keeping the way……..”

One of the principles of my blog is Creative Thought and a key focus is Education. I’ve been thinking about this topic for a while now, and with Black History Month here, the time has come to put pen to paper, as they say. It’s a sensitive topic, and it may upset some readers, but I think that it’s a conversation worth having and a question worth asking. If you disagree with me here, that’s okay and it’s actually a good thing. Please leave a respectful comment below this piece. With that out of the way, let’s jump in.

Whose job is it to teach Black History? One of my most vivid memories of high school is my mother, and I believe other black parents, writing a letter to the Principal of my high school about a Black History Month program which he may have cancelled during my brother’s senior year. Around that time, and probably since, there was the sentiment that there needed to be more black history taught in the United States’ schools.

I always pondered this myself, and I wondered if this job should fall to our schools which in some instances are very, very diverse. My thoughts always settled on time and practicality. While the descendants of African slaves (my ancestors) were critical in the inception and then the construction of the United States, is there enough time during an eight to nine-month school year to cover every aspect of African American history? After all, the United States is now comprised of several races, ethnic groups and cultures.

As I’m getting older, I’m becoming more of a Marcus Garvey-type in that I believe that we as black people can and should do for ourselves as much as possible, and not look to other groups as much. Thus we should be responsible for passing down our own history, or at least clarifying, correcting, and supplementing what’s taught in the schools. In addition to the practicality of time described above, I have two other reasons.

One is that other races and ethnic groups seem to take the passing on of their culture and history into their own hands. As discussed in my second vlogcast on my new Big Discussions YouTube channel, when I was postdoctoral scientist at the Wadsworth Center in Albany, NY, I was in a lab that was 95% Chinese. Likewise, my advisor and his wife were from mainland China, and their two children were being raised as first generation United States citizens. In casual talk my advisor’s wife shared with me that both of their children attended a Chinese school on the weekends.

That meant that they wanted their children to learn the intricacies of their culture and history above and beyond what they were learning in their respective school systems. Other groups seem to do the same thing: Jewish people, Arabic people, etc. I’ve observed that Arabic communities continue to retain their customs from countries like Pakistan, for example, even while their children are born here in the United States and are ‘westernized’.

This does of course bring to light the paradox that we African Americans face in that we don’t have a culture besides that which we were born into here in the United States. Some of us argue to this day that the United States isn’t our true home. Others feel that using the qualifier ‘African’ in front of American is an insult for us, as we have every right to be here. White Americans are also seldom referred to as ‘Euro’ Americans.

My final reason for saying that we’re responsible for our own history is accuracy. After all, who would know our history better than us? Just like in the media, I think that he or she who controls the historical narratives, controls perceptions, personal identities, self-esteem, etc. Images matter and this is why the movie Hidden Figures was big deal for example. As a black scientist myself, I’m very passionate about shinning the light on our historic black scientists such as Percy Julian, and astronauts Dr. Ronald E. McNair and Lieutenant Colonel Michael P. Anderson.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is one of the figures who is most synonymous with Black History Month. He is lionized and even romanticized these days and as we know, it wasn’t always that way. While we know that he was the figurehead of the Civil Rights Movement and that he opposed white racist elements in the south, what isn’t discussed is how he was perceived by other black people of his time in an open and transparent way.

A black elder from the “Baby Boomer” generation who grew up in the south, once shared with me that Dr. King had numerous black detractors as well, and there were in fact other black people who wanted to take his life. I was surprised to hear this revelation, as I’d never heard about it before. The same was true of Dr. King’s extramarital affairs which Dr. Michael Eric Dyson discussed in one of his books about Dr. King.

The point here is not to besmudge the great Dr. King, but instead to emphasize the importance of a balanced historical perspective – telling both the good and the bad. I suspect that generations from now, people will be unaware of Reverend Jesse Jackson’s disparaging comments about President Barrack Obama leading up to his historic election in 2008, and that they’ll only remember the picturesque scene of Reverend Jackson crying at Grant Park on election night 2017 shortly after Senator John McCain conceded.

I’m going to close by extending this world history. In my “Global Studies” courses back at Hutch-Tech High School in Buffalo, NY, I didn’t learn anything about “The Moors” – explorers and tradesmen from Africa who occupied Spain in the early 700s. I first heard about them from a friend from Buffalo who I’ll call “Kenny”, who was and is very, very passionate about African world history. We as African Americans probably could and should know more about mainland Africa beyond what we learn in class and see on the news and in the media – the good, the bad and the ugly.

When I look back at my youth, one woman comes to mind in terms of actively spreading black history beyond the jurisdiction of our schools. Back in my home city of Buffalo, NY, Ms. Eva Doyle was actually my very first science teacher in the second grade I believe. As I got older though I saw that she was very active and passionate about the teaching and spreading of black history. She became a fixture in our local black newspapers and in the community in general and continues her work today, setting an example for all of us.

These are just some of my thoughts on Black History Month, and I hope that I haven’t upset anyone. In a way it’s funny that it’s the shortest month of the year, but at the same time it’s something that we as black people should be learning throughout the year. In today’s digital age, we’re very fortunate that vast amounts of information are available online to us via a simple Google searches and via video platforms like YouTube. It wasn’t like this years ago.

The quote at the beginning of this piece is a lyric from the hip hop track “Black Star Line” by a group called “Brand Nubian” I listened to when I was a teen. It was from one of “Lord Jamar’s” verses. This track was based on Marcus Garvey. Back in the late 1980s and early 1990s as opposed to modern times, hip hop and rap music had educational, social and political messages, and I learned quite a bit of black history from it. The visual at the beginning of this piece is from the 36th Annual Martin Luther King Jr. Birthday Celebration hosted by the Washington Inter-Alumni Council of the United Negro College Fund., which is regularly supported by my Johnson C. Smith University Washington DC Alumni Chapter.

Thank you for taking the time to read this blog post. If you enjoyed this one, you might also enjoy:

Are you Cooning? Thoughts on Black America’s new favorite racial slur, critical thought, and groupthink
A Black History Month reflection on Percy Julian
A Black History Month interview with Dr. Vernon Morris part one
A Black History Month look at West Indian Archie
A review of Marvel’s Black Panther
A review of Hidden Figures
A review of All Eyez On Me

If you’ve found value here and think it would benefit others, please share it and/or leave a comment. I’ve recently started a YouTube channel, so please visit me at Big Discussions76. To receive all 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, or add my RSS feed to your feedreader. You can follow me on the Big Words Blog Site Facebook page, and Twitter at @BWArePowerful. Lastly, you can follow me on Instagram at @anwaryusef76. 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.

If you’ve found value here and think it would benefit others, please share it and/or leave a comment. I’ve recently started a YouTube channel, so please visit me at Big Discussions76. To receive all 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, or add my RSS feed to your feedreader. You can follow me on the Big Words Blog Site Facebook page, and Twitter at @BWArePowerful. Lastly, you can follow me on Instagram at @anwaryusef76. 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.