AUTHOR SPOTLIGHT: WALTER DEAN MYERS
Walter Dean Myers is by far one of the best children’s writers out there. His stories are real and tangible, with plot turns and twists that will keep flippin’ the pages. He has garnered the attention of masses of young adult readers in search of a novel that they can relate to. Read what some SIL reader’s have to say about their favorite author.
Waymond Jennings, 12
“My favorite book is Scorpions,
because out of all of the books that I
read, I can relate to this one the most.
He includes every little detail within
the surroundings of the character, so
you get a better understanding of
what’s going on. I would like for Walter
Dean Myers to continue to write
books, specifically for boys around 10-
18 years old because sometimes, it just
feels good to know that someone is
going through what you are going
through because now you know how
to get through and handle it.”
Christopher McDavid, 12
“Walter Dean Myers is my favorite
author. I like the way he writes. He
writes about struggles that real
African-Americans go through today.
For example, the book Monster is
about one boys struggle to get out of
jail. He is accused of murder and is on
trial. So many people can relate to his
books. Walter Dean Myers was also
from Harlem, so he writes about the
experiences that he went through.”
Jamal Peterson, 12
“Walter Dean Myers is a great inspiring
author. He has such a unique style of
writing. He pulls the reader into the
book and makes them attracted to it.
I like the fact that he makes the characters
and events believable. His book,
Slam, is one of his greatest. I give it
Brian Edmundson, 12
“My favorite book is, A Handbook for
Boys, by Walter Dean Myers. This is my
favorite book because it’s a book
about what life is like now, and you
really could relate to it. His style of
writing uses a lot of dialogue like how
we talk today. I would like to see more
pictures because you can get a better
understanding of what’s going on.”
“It’s not easy being a F.O.B. (Fresh Off the Boat) immigrant in America….especially when you’re the new girl in a snooty private high school where all the girls blindly idolize the same stuck-up rich girl. It’s enough to make any frosh trying to fit in go nutty! But try pulling off “cool” when your culture-shocked parents insist the whole family wear the same red-and-gold puffy San Francisco 49ers football jacket when it’s cold out. What about having to go to the movies with your family on a Friday night (a nightmare in itself) and having your mother sneak in a bag of microwave popcorn instead of buying a tub at the theater like everyone else? It’s embarrassing enough to die over!”
Melissa de la Cruz’s humorous, semi-autobiographical new teen novel, Fresh off the Boat (HarperCollins, April 2005, $15.99, Ages 12 up) depicts the growing pains of being a teen through the eyes of 14 year old Vicenza Arambullo, a newly arrived immigrant whose family has just relocated to San Francisco from the Philippines. Every teen, at some point or another, has experienced the ups and downs of wanting to fit in and wanting to be a part of something. Cruz’s novel is a comical tale of a 14 year olds journey to self-discovery, love and first crushes, and accepting the true value of self appreciation. An accomplished writer who has garnered success through the popular Au Pairs series, Cruz spent some time with Say it Loud! Magazine to discuss her new book, as well as share her advice on being a writer.
Say It Loud: In your own words, how would you describe your book, Fresh off the Boat?
Melissa De la Cruz: I would say it’s a fun, but also heartfelt, story of an immigrant teenager’s first year in America that was loosely based on my own personal history. I didn’t want to write a memoir. My first year in America… I could never forget that. My family could never forget how different it was from life in Manila and many of the struggles that we went through. The novel has always been in my head and something that I wanted to write about; being 14 years old, being so confused, so insecure, and on top of that, being new to the country. When I was growing up, there weren’t a lot of books about girls of different ethnicities and different backgrounds. All of the books were about white American girls, and I really wanted to write about someone who wasn’t a white American girl, but who was still just as compelling. I just wanted to write a really fun, mainstream book, without writing about the typical characters.
I thought that a young adult novel in a fun, chicklet format would be good for this book, so it wouldn’t be a very serious story. It really shows the book is alive, fresh, and fun.
SIL: In what ways, rather, how much of you and your experiences as a teen are intertwined in Vicenza Arambullo’s character?
De la Cruz: I think she is a little more sure of herself than I was at that age, and maybe a little bit stronger. She has a sense of humor, but wants to fit in really badly although she is also feeling repulsed by it. I definitely felt that in the same way; just really wanting to be that Benetton, Patagonia wearing “part of the pact” girl, but also kind of liking that I was this outsider. When you don’t fit in when you are a teenager, I think you always think, at one point I will or I realize that this may not be the environment that’s best for me right now. I went to a very small private school and there were like forty girls in each class. Everybody was very much the same so if you weren’t like that, you stood out so badly.
SIL: Vicenza seems to represent the “average teenage girl” who wants to fit in, but she’s coming from another country, the Philippines, to San Francisco and the transition might be a little difficult. Vicenza is reminiscent of Katie from the film “Mean Girls”, who comes back from Africa and tries to fit into a new school, as well as the click, “The Plastics”. Vicenza is the icon of the average teen who is trying to find her way. What are your thoughts about how teens view the need for acceptance and fitting in?
De la Cruz: I think teens, especially in your teen years, just really want to be invisible and be somebody that nobody can make fun of or bully. You just don’t want to draw attention to yourself. You want to be part of the pact, part of the herd. Part of Vicenza idolizes the popular girls. One of the things that always struck me was why are people popular? They just have this confidence about themselves. They are the teenagers who don’t seem to feel insecure. When you are a teen, people become your friends for the wrong reasons. I think teenagers don’t really know enough yet about the world. Especially now because it is a very materialistic world, a very brand name oriented culture. When I was growing up, it was like; you have to have these Guess jeans, but now it’s like Louis Vuitton and Jimmy Choo, which is even more expensive. I think teens are definitely very sensitive to that, but on the other side of that, I think teens are a lot more sophisticated now too. I’ve been to readings around the country and I’ve seen these twelve year old girls and they’re so smart and so much more fabulous now, than I ever was at that age. I think kids are just growing up faster now, so maybe it’s a little bit different and they’re not so into that too. They do like the story about the “outsider”.
SIL: What would you say the character of Isobel represents to Vicenza?
De la Cruz: I’ve always seen Isobel as the kind of outsider who really doesn’t care about fitting in. Here is somebody who is confident in herself, who is okay with being different and accepting it. She shows Vicenza that there is more than one way that you can celebrate yourself and not only be in the popular group, but still be happy. She was based on a friend of mine from high school who was like that. She was Italian, not French, but she was just as much an immigrant, a new immigrant, to the U.S. Part of her appeal was that she just never cared that she didn’t look like the popular girls, that she didn’t dress like the popular girls, or that she spoke in a funny accent. She was just alright with herself and very comfortable. Anytime Vicenza sees that, she wants to emulate that more; somebody who is going to be able to separate from the pact.
SIL: What do you want your readers to take away from the story? Is there a particular message that you wanted to convey or focus on?
De la Cruz: I really want it to be a fun story. I really want it to be entertaining. I also wanted readers, especially readers who are not fitting in who had the same experience, to realize that it’s going to be ok. When I was fourteen and I was crying in the bathroom, I thought that my life would always suck and that would always be how it was going to be, but its not. Part of it is like I grew up and I wrote this book. This is a huge triumph for me and I hope that what readers take away from this is that sometimes your adolescent years aren’t the best years of your life, but at one point you are going to look back at them and if you survived them, you are a better person. I hope that they take away from the story that it’s really ok to be different, even though nobody is paying attention to you right now or you’re really having a difficult time. Maybe you don’t have enough money for those Jimmy Choo’s or those Chanel bags, but it’s better to be your own person.
SIL: How would you describe your style of writing? What is it that you want to bring forth and how is it relayed in the characters?
De la Cruz: I worked on that first chapter so hard. . My editor and I worked on it. It took several months of really polishing it, because we really wanted to draw the reader in immediately to see how Vicenza was thinking and to see her desperation and anxiety. I had to put my head in that character’s voice and really feel and almost relive what it was like, because that definitely happened all the time in my life. I would forget that it was Friday and I would think, oh, you know it’s the movie theater, and then it would be like me and my family and everybody else would be with their clicks and with their friends, or with their dates. It was excruciatingly humiliating to be in that situation. I really wanted to emulate the iconic Friday night of my life, so I decided to write in the first person to make it more immediate. We thought that we would really do it with that one scene in the beginning of the book to show Vicenza with her family, but also her relationship with the people who she went to school with. They are there too at the theater, but she was so far away from their orbit. They don’t even really take notice of her and when they do, it’s when they ask her to take the trash away.
I definitely choose that scene to start the book, because I didn’t want to start it at school. It was also a really powerful memory of my adolescent life; being at the movies and feeling like, oh my gosh, – microwave popcorn. My parents never let us buy our own Coke. All the details I just remember. My dad always asking questions.
SIL: What would you say your writing mantra is? Your ritual for writing and for getting ideas, especially for a teen audience?
De la Cruz: I write everyday! I try to write everyday. Most of the time I work either the minute I get up or the afternoons from 5-9pm. I can’t seem to write in the middle of the day, for some reason. I used to have a day job and I also felt comfortable writing actually on the job.
When I think about a teen audience, I always think about what I would like to read when I was that age. I definitely loved all the Sweet Valley High, all the fun and entertaining books. I didn’t want Fresh of the Boat to be too messaged or to be a preachy story. I didn’t want that at all. I wanted it to be dynamic and fun. I think I write well for the teen years because I always really feel like that. I think a lot of young adult writers will say the same thing that they never really grew up. I could remember high school so vividly, so clearly. It’s all fun. I think life is still like high school. People never really get over pettiness and group dynamics, clicks, and wanting to fit in.
SIL: To a teenager interested in penning their first novel, what advice would you offer?
De la Cruz: I would say keep writing. Never get discouraged. Never listen to the nay sayers. There are a lot of people who will encourage you and there is also a lot of obstacles too like, oh my God, you’re never going to make money off of this? Do you think you’re good enough to be a writer? I was always very quiet about it, because I just didn’t want to defend it to anybody. It was my own personal thing and I never knew anybody in publishing, I didn’t know one thing about getting an agent or getting a book deal. Nothing! I did a lot of research and I went to the library. I bought a book; I think its called Writers and Agents…about how to do it. Everybody would say nobody will listen to you. I sent out twenty copies of my first novel when I was twenty two years old, and I got an agent from that. We didn’t sell the book. I wrote another book, found another agent and we still didn’t sell the book. I was twenty-seven at this point and saying, oh my, God! It’s never going to happen to me. I found the agent through the internet, because the internet was now like the main way to research how to find these people. I found agents who sold my third novel. My first published novel was actually my third written novel. I also applied to M.F.A. writing programs that I didn’t get in to. Some of my friends, they would just keep applying until they got in. I didn’t get in, but I got published so I figured, I don’t need the MFA now. It’s very hard to be a writer, because you constantly have to push back against all these negatives or obstacles in your path. I would tell somebody who really wanted to do it that you really get published if you want it bad enough. Someone who is motivated with more talent and luck will definitely get published.
SIL: What should we expect from Melissa de la Cruz in the future?
De la Cruz: I do hope to write a sequel for the book. Hopefully, the book will do well and they’ll want one. I have wanted to do that. I’ve always wanted to continue Vicenza’s story. I also write the AU Pairs series, so we have a sequel called Skinny Dipping that comes out this June. Those are my foreign escapist, totally saucy, sexy teen books. I also have a new series called, Blue Blood, which is a teen fantasy book coming out next year from Hyperion.
SIL: Any final words for our Say it Loud! readers?
De la Cruz: It’s been really fun! I get a lot of emails from girls that want to be writers and I always tell them the same thing – to keep writing and don’t give up. One day, you are going to get that yes. It’s going to be so exciting that I think if you want to do it, it’s one of the most fun ways to earn a living.
Melissa de la Cruz grew up in Manila and San Francisco, and is a writer whose work has appeared in Teen Vogue, Marie Claire and The New York Times. She has authored the novels Cat’s Meow (Scribner 2001) and The Au Pairs (Simon & Schuster 2004), and co-authored the non-fiction books How to Become Famous in Two Weeks or Less (Ballantine 2003) and The Fashionista Files: Adventures in Four-Inch Heels and Faux Pas (Ballantine 2004). She currently lives in Los Angeles with her husband.
Review by Malawi Boyce
“Stolen from her village, sold to the highest bidder, fifteen year old Amari has only one thing left – her hope” (Simon & Schuster 2006) Copper Sun, by Sharon M. Draper, depicts a young African girls account of being sold into slavery.
Copper Sun has elicited overwhelming response from both students and teachers. English teacher, Malawi Boyce, shared this powerful novel with her 8th grade middle school students. Let’s look at why Ms. Boyce has selected Copper Sun as a need to read novel.
Ms. Malawi Boyce, English Teacher: “Sweat, blood, and tears run through the souls of Black Folks and still we rise. For years, the souls of Blacks were enslaved, raped, beaten, and thrown in the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean. Are you capable of enduring this much torture and surviving? Let me take you through the life of someone who is.
Amari, a fifteen-year old native of Africa, enjoys life in the plush green meadows of her native land until European slave traders invade it. After being skeptical of the “pale strangers” sudden arrival, Amari warns her family not to be so welcoming with customary traditions and festivities; their hospitality proves to be the downfall of an entire village, a race of people, and thousands of generations to come. Betrayed by her neighboring Ashanti tribesman, Amari witnesses the brutal slaughtering of her entire village.
Sharon Draper, renowned author of several young adult books, has written a book that is guaranteed to stop your heart. Copper Sun details the graphic experience of a fifteen-year old girl that is traded for silk and spices to the Europeans. She lives through the middle passage with gripping details of what many history books may not reveal.
Please don’t think this is another one of those biased books about slavery. With three years of research before writing this book, Draper is sure to reveal both sides of the rusty coin. Throughout the novel, Draper continues to remind us that while Blacks were treated with malice, not all of us were hated by whites, nor were all of us friends. With a cast of characters that will surely keep you waiting and wanting more, Draper’s novel seems to be a meshing of Things Fall Apart, by Nigerian author, Chinua Achebe and Alex Haley’s, Roots. Anyone with an absence of the Black Holocaust will walk away with a new perspective of what we have endured.
My students were fascinated and devastated at the same time. Any author that can reach the heart and soul of an audience must be great. Copper Sun has proven to be a great history lesson and experience for anyone, adults included.”
Interested in reading more from Sharon M. Draper?
Check out her official website at for a list of the author’s titles at www.sharondraper.com
Ms. Boyce teaches English Language Arts at the Ronald Edmonds Learning Center in Brooklyn, NY
By Kayinde Harris
“Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us”
Lift Every Voice and Sing James Weldon Johnson
After watching the devastating events resulting from Hurricane Katrina, many of us were baffled, yet not surprised, at the mishandling and complete negligence from federal, state and local officials towards the hurricane victims – many who were residents of the town’s predominantly black neighborhood, the 9th Ward. This national crisis was a staunch reminder that our long and arduous journey on the plight towards equal rights, is a road that still needs traveling. However, to be afforded the opportunity to lift your voice and say what you need to say – loud and clear – can serve as a remedy for coping in a traumatic situation. Debuting on HBO this past August and scheduled for release on DVD in December, Spike’s Lee’s compelling documentary, When The Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts, captures the voices of the “Big Easy,” the unsung heroes and victims of Katrina.
Though the soil of the 9th ward may seem drenched and consumed with horrific memories and images, watered down further by those seeking any and every opportunity to steal from the poor and give to the rich, the faces of Katrina comprise of a diversity of folk; from lawyers to blue collar workers, actors to musicians, mothers, grandparents, and we can’t forget the children. When the Levees Broke provides us with a scope into the heart and soul of this town, where the life lines and history of these survivors extend far beyond the events that occured on August 29th, 2005.
Contrary to what some would lead us to believe, the citizens of New Orleans are not defunct of soul and all vital signs. Almost completely forgotten in a tug of war in “the blame game,” they are soldiers, fighting their own war caused by this natural disaster and its aftermath. Armed solely with the power of belief and faith, these voices and faces of New Orleans are the seeds of hope and the essence of the cultural richness that permeates throughout the city.
When the Levees Broke is a must add to your DVD collection. For more info about this documentary, visit www.hbo.com.
By Kesed Ragin
Brooklyn’s got Spike, and Spike’s ‘got film! When you come from the borough of Brooklyn, you develop your own unique swagger, a style that can’t be replicated. When it comes to originality, Brooklyn’s very own Spike Lee fits the bill. For the past two decades, Spike has been making waves, reinventing the wheel, and ‘doin’ his own thing’ when it comes to making films – and it works! In 2006, Spike and film company 40 Acres and a Mule Filmworks can proudly boast in celebration of twenty years in the film biz. From his mind to our eyes, Spike has delivered the “real to reel” with movies that include School Daze, Do The Right Thing, Clockers, Crooklyn, and Malcolm X, the astounding, autobiographic film about the slain civil rights activist. Earlier this year, Spike added two more films to his repertoire with the releases of the blockbuster hit, Inside Man, starring Academy award winners, Denzel Washington and Jodi Foster, and the dynamic, yet truth be told HBO documentary about When The Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts, about Hurricane Katrina.
Spike spent some time with SIL reporter, Kesid, to talk about his craft as a filmmaker, growing up in Brooklyn, and to drop some knowledge and insight for our SIL readers.
Kesed: First thing, I’d like to congratulate you as this year’s releases of the Inside Man and When The Levees Broke marked the 20th year anniversary that you’ve been making movies. It’s been a long time, man. I’d just like to say, for black people really, that it’s great to have somebody out there like you really setting the standard. What initially inspired you to direct movies? When you were young, what movies did you see that made you say, “I want to do that!”
Spike: Thanks. It was notone particular movie and it wasn’t when I was a kid. I was in Morehouse College and it was the summer between my sophomore and junior year. That’s when I decided that I wanted to be a filmmaker.
Kesed: In a class discussion on the Harlem Renaissance, we came across the movie Birth of a Nation. My teacher told us that you made a movie in response to that film.
Spike: When I graduated from Morehouse, I went to NYU’s graduate film school. The first film that I did was called, The Answer, which was in response to Birth of a Nation. In the film, we included some scenes from the original film; you know the scenes where congress and the senate were black folks and they have their feet up on the desk, eating chicken, and that type of stuff.
Kesed: All the black actors and actresses out there right now, a good majority of them, have stared in your movies.
Spike: I wouldn’t say the majority of them, but there are some that have filed through the ranks. There are people who came through 40 Acres who were able to do their own thing.
Kesed: Yeah, like Ernest Dickerson who directed Juice with Omar Epps and Tupac Shakur.
Spike: Ernest and I went to film school together. Since hecame out of Howard, and I out of Morehouse, we had the two historically black schools behind us. There were two other black people in the whole class at NYU. Ernest shot all my films at NYU, then he shot She’s Gotta’ Have It, School Daze, Do The Right Thing, Mo’ Better Blues, Jungle Fever, and Malcolm X. We also recently worked together on Miracle Boys, a film based on a book written by a very good children’s author, Jacqueline Woodson.
Kesed: Did you find it hard to achieve things growing up in Brooklyn?
Spike: I was born in Atlanta, so before we moved to Brooklyn, we went from Atlanta to Chicago, then to New York. The first neighborhood that I moved to in
Brooklyn was Crown Heights, then we moved to Cobble Hill, and then my mother bought a brownstone in Fort Greene in 1968. Fort Greene was much different then. There weren’t any restaurants with white linen cloth tables on Myrtle Avenue. I mean, it’s really been gentrified so it’s much different now. I went to Rothschild, which is now the Ronald Edmonds Learning Center, from 7th to 9th grade. I was lucky to get into a very good high school, John Dewey High School in Coney Island, and that’s when the school was a great school. It was a like a college campus and you could pick your own courses. You learned at your own pace. Again, it’s a different time, when talking about education.
Kesid: How much of your personal life is reflected in your films?
Spike: A lot of personal stuff gets reflected in the films. Even the scripts that I don’t write. Like Inside Man.
Kesed: Was Crooklyn basically about your life growing up?
Spike: Crooklyn was a semi-autobiographical film. My brother Cinqué and my sister, Joie, came up with the idea and we co-wrote it together, so really it was about the Lee family growing up in Fort. Greene, Brooklyn in the mid to late seventies.
Kesed: Many of my friends have never seen a Spike Lee movie, it’s shocking to me. I’m like, this is the foundation, are you kidding?
Spike: They haven’t read the Autobiography of Malcolm X. They don’t really know who Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. really is, but they know we got the “I Have a Dream Speech”. The history is much deeper than not knowing Do the Right Thing and it’s sad. But, we live in a time and place where education has been devalued. To be able to speak in one sentence without one word being profane, people think your acting like a sell out or a “white boy” or “white girl” or an “Oreo”. Education has always been a part of us as a people. At one time, it was against the law for slaves to learn how to read and write. If you wanted to learn or knew how to read and write, you knew that you might get whipped, hung, or castrated… and on a bad day, the master might do all three to you. Our ancestors are probably turning in their graves to see how we let this emphasis of education pass us by. I was speaking to the school chancellor, Joel Klein, and like 85% of the students in public school here are people of color and that must tell you something. The white folks have money, their sending their kids to private school or catholic school. So, if you could barely afford to pay the rent, how are you going to pay $20,000 to send your child to get a quality education? There was a point where even if you didn’t have money, you could still live in New York. It ain’t like that anymore. Here we are in American, 2006, and there are more black men in jails than enrolled in college.
Kesed: It’s not the ideal situation, but a lot of brothers don’t pick up a book until they are incarcerated.
Spike: You’ve got a lot of time on your hands, and again, people realize they can turn their lives around. The biggest example is with Malcolm X. That’s the reason why he wrote that book. He wanted to show that it was possible that someone could drag themselves up from the depths. Malcolm was a pimp, he sold drugs, coke, weed, was robbing people, but you know he saw the light and first through the Nation of Islam and then from what’s so called “true Islam”. It is possible.
Kesed: We’ve come so far, but yet we’re nowhere. To get back to you, as you mentioned Malcolm X, what made you say “I want to make this a movie!” “I want to do this!” Malcolm X should be a required film to watch when growing up.
S p i k e : W e l l , t h e Autobiography of Malcolm X, as told to Alex Haley was the most important book I’ve read. It was in junior high school and it was required
reading at Rothschild, JHS 294.
Kesed: Did you always know that you wanted Denzel to play that role?
Spike: Denzel was a part of that picture before I was. Denzel had played Malcolm X in a Broadway play called “When the Chickens Come Home to Roost” and he was signed to do the film. They found a director, Norman Jewison, and that’s when I became very vocal about what I wanted to do by directing the film and that Norman Jewison should gracefully bow out.
Kesed: I felt real hurt that the film didn’t receive any nods at the Academy Awards in 1993. I mean, Denzel was nominated for best actor, right?
Spike: We got two nominations. Denzel was nominated as Best Actor in a leading role and Ruth Carter got one for costume design. Those were the only two. Denzel lost to Al Pacino for “Scent of a Woman.”
Kesed: What makes you want to direct a movie? When you get a script, what makes you decide, ‘I know I gotta’ do this one.’
Spike: It has to be the story. Whether it’s something I wrote myself, or a script I didn’t write – I didn’t write 25th Hour, Girl 6, and I didn’t write Inside Man. Every film is different and it’s about me wanting to take a year out of my life to work on these projects.
Kesed: When She’s Gotta’ Have It came out you were like one of the only black filmmakers out there.
Spike: Nah, I wasn’t the only one out there. This past May, She’s Gotta’ Have It made twenty years since the film first debuted at the Cannes Film Festival. It was
She’s Gotta’ Have It and a little later, Robert Townsend’s Hollywood Shuffle that brought about the so called, “new wave” Black Renaissance of film.
Kesed: So, would you say you started a movement, ‘cause after that came a lot of black directors.
Spike: Well, I don’t know if you want to call it a movement or not. That’s left up to interpretation. I will say that many directors, young African American directors, are working and directing films more than before, so that’s good.
Kesed: I watched School Daze and it looked like it was real fun filming that movie. Out of all the movies that you directed or have been a part of, what do you think was the most fun making?
Spike: School Daze and Do the Right Thing were fun and the Inside Man was a lot of fun. I think that when you see Inside Man, it’s evident that everyone was having a lot of fun. You have this cat and mouse game played by Denzel Washington and Clive Owen’s characters, as they try to outwit each other. It was a pleasure working with Denzel, it was my fourth time. The first time was Mo Better Blues, then Malcolm X, He Got Game, and now Inside Man.
Kesed: So the whole process has been fun for you.
Spike: Well, Denzel and I, when we work we really develop a shorthand and it’s almost a telepathy. We know what needs to be done. A lot of times, there’s no need for lengthy discussions. We just go out there and I let him do his thing. I love sports, so it’s like the same thing – like I’m Phil Jackson and he’s Michael
Jordan. Then you build everything around that, same way they built the Bulls around Michael, you cast around Denzel.
Kesed: Is he one of the easiest actors you’ve ever worked with?
Spike: Not only one of the easiest, I think he’s one of the greatest actors working today, that’s my opinion.
Kesed: There are a lot of youth out there who aspire to be actors and directors and do what you do and just more than that, just to be something or just to make it, what would your advice be for them?
Spike: Well, I think that…whatever you choose to do let it be something that you love to do. It takes more than just like, “I want to be famous!” or “I want
to make a lot of money!” That can only go so far, because when times get rough, that’s not a foundation. When you’re starving, eating Spaghettio’s and you’re ready to turn it around, it’s that burning feeling you have inside that keeps you going.
Kesed: So your message to the youth is if you’re going to do something, do something that you love?
Spike: Well, when you’re young, that’s the time to find out because it might not be revealed to you what it is that you love, so you have to try to get exposure to as many things as possible and find out. Very rarely does somebody just wake up and say, “This is what I love!” You’ve got to be exposed to stuff.
Twenty Years in the Makin’ A SPIKE LEE Filmography
Inside Man (2006)
When The Levees Broke:
A Requiem in Four Acts (2006)
Jesus Children of America (2005)
“Miracle’s Boys” (2005)
(mini) TV Series
(episodes 1 and 6)
She Hate Me (2004)
25th Hour (2002)
Jim Brown: All American (TV) (2002)
A Huey P. Newton Story (TV) (2001)
The Original Kings of Comedy (2000)
Summer of Sam (1999)
He Got Game (1998)
4 Little Girls (1997)
Get on the Bus (1996)
Girl 6 (1996)
Malcolm X (1992)
Jungle Fever (1991)
Mo’ Better Blues (1990)
Do the Right Thing (1989)
School Daze (1988)
She’s Gotta Have It (1986)
By Jennifer Safara Perry
SIL: What was your experience like growing up in Jamaica?
Buju: Humble, simple and comely.
SIL: What influence has Honorable Marcus Mosiah Garvey had on you?
Buju: A whole lot. A thousand percent influence.
SIL: Who are your inspirations?
Buju: Haile Selassie I the First, the King, the Ruling Emperor of Ethiopia.
SIL: On your Inna Heights album you reflected about how at age 12 you did a show and your friends encouraged you to pursue a career as a
Buju: I took it seriously and started writing my own songs, and start going to the studios and the dancehalls trying to have myself heard.
SIL: Can you please elaborate on your comment, “Being in the dancehall at such a young age, seeing people with microphones, hearing the music was the most mystical feeling I ever encountered. The first time I got the chance to make a song my head swell so big, I knew right there that there was no turning back.”
Buju: Oh yeah, I know I was never exposed to anything like that before. I mean the dancehall, you could hear the horns from miles away and you would try to figure out where those horns were coming from, and then when you finally found it, you’d be elated because the sounds you were hearing, and the people were just in a frenzy dancing, and the music and the bass and your intestines would be shaking. So I mean there’s no other experience to compare to it.
SIL: Growing up in the music industry how did you balance being a regular teen with a working teen?
Buju: When a guy like Bow Wow was 13, him ‘ave cameras running him down left, right, and center. When I was 13, I working hard, you know what I mean, in the dancehall. The reality is that two different type of tings very difficult for us. You don’t get the venues, you don’t get the radio play, we don’t get most of the tings that you guys are accustomed to and artists get here in America, so therefore we have to work extra hard…they would never ever open the doors to my culture like how they would the American culture. It’s as plain and simple as that.
SIL: How did it feel to record and release your latest album, Too Bad, on your own label Gargamel Music, Inc.?
Buju: I’ve had my own business for the past seven years now…I’m trying to reach out to the people from my independent perspective. We don’t only say ish we mean it, like ruling our destiny; you know what I mean, putting out our tracks and trying to get the music to the people. I know there’s a lot of haters out there and they pretend like they are with us, but they are not. We just want to make our music and make a record, because that’s what we’re used to doing. That’s what I love to do.
SIL: Your new album is called Too Bad…
Buju: Too Bad is a phenomenal success back in Jamaica, and the local community in the Caribbean, and also in the Americas where many people who know Buju Banton, know what I’m about. There are a lot of great songs on this album…I could blow my own horn which I don’t intend to do. What’s important is for guys to go check this record out and girls to go check this record out, I’m sure they will find favorites, something they do love, more than one thing.
SIL: Some lyrics that stood out from the song “Who Have It” are, “Who have the money and hide it from the youth? Who have the knowledge and withhold the truth? Who give dem gun and tell dem fi shoot? Who go make the ghetto youths have to revolute?”
Buju: Well a lot of that is going on every day in America, but youth of America do they want the truth? Youth of America do they want the knowledge… if you stand up and tell them you want the truth you will have it. I can’t blame the system no more; I have to straighten up the youth. I have seen how they have changed, I’ve seen what their ideologies are…few men want the realness of life they are all chasing an illusion or a dream and it’s far fetched from reality, most of them. Babylon give you what you want. The American dream is a dream just like it says. Who am I to say it is an illusion, it’s a dream. So Babylon will fulfill your
dream if it is a dream you actually should have. What about the realities of life? Let us leave it there.
SIL: What advice would you give to the youth?
Buju: Keep your hearts pure because within your heart lies the issues of life. There’s a war going on here. There’s wrong and right.
Word is sound and sound is power! If you are a firm believer in this rule of life, than you will understand how hip-hop artist/innovator, Chris “Kazi” Rolle, has manifested his vision and his words into a powerful reality. Scheduled for release in Spring 2007, The Hip Hop Project is a documentary that highlights the journey and development of an outreach program for New York City teens that uses hip hop as the source and the mic as the cipher. Under the roof of Art Start, the organization that houses the project, Kazi, founder of the program, works diligently as mentor and father figure to these young sisters and brothers who are working through their own tribulations en route to reaching their goal of creating a collaborative hip hop album. However, through the progression of this program, these kids aren’t the only ones who are transformed, as Kazi is taken on his own personal journey of self-discovery. With support from celebs including music mogul, Russell Simmons, and the films executive producer, Bruce Willis, this full feature documentary is guaranteed to prove how vital hip hop is to youth culture. A must see film, The Hip Hop Project is a clear example of what happens when community, determination, trust, and a love of hip hop are used as a catalyst to create a positive transformation. The power of flipping words into dynamic sounds creates a powerful project that’s worth talking about. Want to know more about The Hip Hop Project? Check out what Kazi had to say when he kicked it one on one with SIL:
SIL: How do you feel about the success of The Hip Hop Project based on your efforts, as well as the kids who were involved?
KAZI: I feel fulfilled to some degree, because I have a lot of things I want to accomplish before I leave this earth, and this type of project is one of them. I know that if today was the day that the grim reaper came to get me, something while I was here. I am especially proud of myself for doing it in a way that it can go on without me. So many great ideas die with the leader. Thanks to this movie, album and curriculum guide, my work will live on long after I am dead and gone.
As far as the kids who joined Hip Hop Project initially, I felt honored that they believed in the vision enough to stick with my program for four years and stay on years after to now teach the curriculum and mentor other kids.
SIL: What was going through your mind when you finally got your group of kids who were ready to be in the program?
Kazi: I was just excited to be making a difference and to be doing something I loved. Plus I knew I had an innovative idea and that young people every where were going to respond. I had been working on this program for over a year before launching on October 16th, 1999. I recruited kids through a party type flyer that read, “Do you wanna’ write, produce and market your own hip hop album? Politic one on one with your favorite celebs? Learn the inside scoop from music industry execs?” This was something I would have wanted to be apart of when I was in high school!
SIL: Was keeping yourself, as well as the team together as family, harder than your own personal battle?
Kazi: No. Actually, I think it got me through and taught me a lot. Personal battles don’t have to be fought alone. I had created a space where listening to young people’s triumphs and defeats taught me a lot about how to fight through my own challenges. There is a great power in listening. As adults, we can learn a lot from our young people. Also, by giving to others you get so much in return.
SIL: Is there anything that you would change in regards to the program?
Kazi: I think that any movement should and will change with time, technology and new leadership. Every year we evolve the program. What we have added through the years are: 1).Incorporating all the elements of hip hop besides the emcee. For a culture to survive elders have to make sure young people really know and understand the full scope of their legacy. 2). Using the internet for recruiting and distribution of the album. 3). Creating partnerships with other agencies
who specialize in the issues that the kids are going through.
SIL: What were some of the best and worse experiences that you can remember during the process of putting the Hip Hop Project together?
Kazi: Oh, wow! There were a ton of really great experiences, but the most memorable was having my kids kick it with Jay Z. They were so shocked and at the same time so professional based on the training they received in the program. Another is when Russell and Bruce Willis came to the program and brought a million and one cameras with them. Over the years, I feel the best experiences for me, overall, were those little moments that a teacher has with a student that lets you know that you are making a serious impact on their lives. I think two of the worst experiences was being let down by industry volunteers who said that they would come to talk to the kids and never showed up. I hate disappointing young people. The second is not having the resources to do programs because funders don’t understand the power of hip hop culture.
SIL: Who and what inspired you to create this life changing opportunity for young adults out there today?
Kazi: A few people. First would be Catherine Brown, my foster mother. She went above and beyond for me. I show my gratitude by starting this program and doing the same things she did for me for other people. I was also inspired by Alaine Roberson who introduced me to acting and recording music. Another source of inspiration was Scott Rosenberg, founder of Art Start and the umbrella organization that houses The Hip Hop Project. As a teacher, mentor and father figure, he gave me the support and opportunity to make my vision manifest. The last person is someone who is not actually real. His name is Professor X and he is a cartoon character. He is the leader of a group of heroes called, the XMen. He recruits talented young people who are shunned in their communities because they are different.
For more information about The Hip Hop Project, check out www.hiphopproject.com
By Dorothy Davis
My body floated from between limbo and reality. The sudden screeching of tires echoed as I drifted into darkness. Then a scream. Then silence. The buzzing of people awoke me and my eyes fluttered open. I was no longer in the car, though I could not recognize my surroundings at the current moment. Besides the constant racket being made by the gathering outside, an annoying tinkering was rushing across my forehead. I thought it was normal for this headache to occur, it happened practically all the time. Then I heard it. the whimpering. It was small, quiet, and had the crowd been any louder, I would never have heard it. I craned my neck to the side and noticed my older sister opposite of me. absorbed in her silent whimpers. “Camilla, why are you upset?” She only looked at me with her
tear stained face as if I were dead. I couldn’t understand.
Why was she so upset? What caused her such distress? She was fine this morning. Suddenly, my eyes traveled to her hand which was covered in bandages. A weird feeling began to gather in my stomach, as if I was falling from thousands of feet in the air.
Just when I was going to ask where she got the bandages from, my eyes began to adjust to my new setting. The stretcher, the needles, the stethoscopes, and the other medical objects all spelled it out way to clearly for me. I was lying on a stretcher in an ambulance with my sister staring down at me. and my father was no where in sight.
“What happened?” was all I could utter.
“Well, well, aren’t you girls happy?” My father leaned on our doorway with his arms crossed and a broad grin spread across his face. Camilla and I groggily pulled ourselves out of bed from a long and most wondrous sleep. The clock told us that it was way passed the time we
were supposed to be in school. Camilla, being the eldest, was in the fourth grade while I was in the second. Since we both went to the same school, we both were well aware of its strictness on latecomers. Sensing our worries, our father suggested a visit to Uncle Glen. Glen wasn’t our real uncle, but our love for him made itreal. So we accepted. After fighting each other to get in the shower and getting dressed, our father led us to the family car. This car was the best car we could ever own. It wasn’t because it was the most popular model of its year or anything like that. The car was reliable, never stalled or gave trouble at all. I never got sick when riding in it (considering the fact that I have a bad case of motion sickness).
There was so much space inside even though the exterior looked tiny. As strange as it sounds, the car was. apart of the family. Just like any pair siblings, Camilla and I started bickering. The shotgun of a car seemed so important back then and I wanted to sit there. Obviously, Camilla wanted the seat just as bad. The fight
ended with our father saying we could both sit in the front since we were so small. I despised the idea, thought it was the worst solution and was ready to protest at all measures. However, common sense told me that it would be a complete waste. My father’s decision was final, but in my mind, I wasn’t going to lose to my sister. I squeezed into the middle. Although the passenger seat was only meant for one person, it was quite roomy. I immediately felt comfortable and began to doze off, but then jerk back awake.
The car carried us farther and further. Earth, Wind, and Fire was jammin’ on the radio. My father turned up the volume and sang along. I looked at him and smiled. A lot’s been going on in the family for the past two years, things not worth saying. However, I watched him swell up in his good mood and just couldn’t
help. smiling. I turned my head and saw Camilla nodding to the music. She could be a huge pain from time to time. It would make anyone want to smack her. She was always the mature one and always had a mother-ish side to her. Then again, when it all came down to who was there and who would watch my back, I couldn’t think of anyone but her. Her eyes swerved towards me and found me starring at her. Instead of saying, “What are you looking at?!” or “God, your so annoying!” she smiled I returned her one. I suddenly felt a warm glow inside and convinced myself that from now on, everything was going to be okay.
I began to drift into a peaceful world when I heard the echoes of screeching tires.
Then the scream.
By Gianni Francis, Age 15
Values is like a poem of love,
I love my mother I love my brother I love a
I love to love.
I love my work but not so much,
I love to see what my life can be when I turn
But I still love a girl,
I love to love.
I love my mother with all my heart
I love my brother nothing can tear us apart
I love a girl,
I want her to be my own to have and to
I love them I love them I love to love
By Gianni Francis, Age 15
I think you should learn the dream
it doesn’t come easy but you will see
the american dream
I think the dream is more than one
It is money, houses, and a good job
When you have money you rule
When you have a house you’re cool
When you have a job you don’t have to Rob
That’s the American Dream or so it seem
That’s what they mean
By Sade Smith, Age 15 Queens Gateway H.S
Black tears fall from the sky
Piercing my soul
A sting that will never leave
Forever wounding me
Leaving sadness in its wake
Piercing innocent souls
Forever wounding me
Perfect By Nature
By Sade Smith, Age 15 Queens Gateway H.S
Flawless describes her words
Graceful describes her movements
Why is she so perfect to you?
Can’t you see she’s fooling you?
You’re a pawn in her game
A useless covering for her own purposes
Beyond her beauty outside
A devil slumber’s inside
They say she’s perfect
Nothing fazes her
But I know she’s a fake.
Not even close to a saint
She seduces you with her curves and fast talk
But I can see beyond that
Beyond her sassy walk
Beyond her golden brow locks
She’s a black widow
Ready to kill her next lover
Every time she walks into the room
You must bow
Bow to her beauty
Stare at her gorgeous exterior
But I know her true self
Her ugly inner core
You say she’s perfect
Perfect by nature
But I know.
That that’s all a lie
SIL: Can you tell us about Floetry and the culture you represent?
Marsha: I’m Marsha Ambrosius a.k.a “the Songstress”
Natalie: . . . and I’m Natalie Stewart, a.k.a “the Floacist,” collectively known as Floetry.
Marsha: I was born in Liverpool [England]. My mother’s father is African-American, Cuban, Liberian and
Guyanese and her mother was Polish. My father is Native-American and Liberian. Hey, I’m a child of the
earth. His mother German, we think. That makes me Guyalebliber…(laughs). So I’m completely original;
can’t carbon copy me.
Natalie: I was born in Germany and raised in England. Mother and father are Jamaican, grandparents
Jamaican. I’m also of the waters. I was a mermaid in my former life. What culture do we represent?
We represent whoever can relate.
SIL: How important is it for us to be knowledgeable about global issues?
Marsha: I think it’s important to stay current with global issues, regardless of where you are from.
There are things that are happening in this world that effect everyone. Regardless of your heritage,
where you’re from, or who you connect with; we’re all on this earth. I think things like Hurricane Katrina definitely
hit home, because I have family members in New Orleans. With Hurricane Rita, my grandfather lives in Texas, so I’m always on
the phone making sure people are cool. I can’t call people directly in Africa who are suffering there, but it definitely
hits home. Natalie: It’s very important to stay up-to-date because it’s humbling. It stops you from thinking your block is the only
block in the world, stops you from thinking your pain is the only pain, your challenge is the only challenge. This time
last year, Hurricane Ivan was ravishing the islands and no one really said anything. They say, “you know it’s the islands,
the people deal with it.” This year it’s Katrina and Rita, and they are continuing.
SIL: Can you tell us a little about your teenage years?
Marsha: The teenage years–the uncomfortable, the difficult, challenging, yet so much fun in learning one’s self years. It kind of makes you . .
Natalie: . . . or breaks you.
Marsha: You can go one of two ways.
Natalie: But in breaking you, it still makes you.
Marsha: Yeah? (laughs)
Natalie: I tell you this, adolescence you cannot pay me to do again. People are running around with this “stay young” business. But, my dear friends,
as a woman made in the image of the Mother, child of the All, I am glad to be out of adolescence,which I think is until you reach age twenty-five. It’s like, Peace, Adolescence! Cool while we rocked it. If I knew then what I know now, I could have done it better. But I didn’t. So, see you when my daughter gets there…Enjoy your teen years! Enjoy what you do, know that there are consequences to all actions. That’s just responsibility. Only do what you can handle
because you will only be given what you can handle. If you don’t want to handle things like the entire school talking about you and all that stuff, then there are ways to stay away from it. This is a challenge but try to judge yourself by yourself. You don’t have to compare yourself to external standards. You should have a personal standard of excellence. Invest in hobbies. I thought I was older at 14 than I feel at 26. I made myself old. I tried to get big woman too quick. Enjoy your youth; it’s a beautiful thing. It’s a great time to learn, it’s a great time to study.
SIL: What can we look forward to on your new album?
Marsha: Two individuals who are being completely honest. They’ve made mistakes in their lives and openly share those mistakes… Flo’Ology.
Article by Fatimah Payne