Women’s History Month: Uni Q. Mical

Uni Q celebrates the release of their first self published book. ‘4 Wings and a Prayer’ (4WNAP) with a poetry reading party at Terra Cafe. (101 E 25TH, ST, 21218)

I had the pleasure to attend this phenomenal book release and Poetry Party at Terra Cafe and it was truly a UNIque experience. Uni read exclusive, never before heard out loud poems from Four Wings and A Prayer, alongside some incredibly talented students from their Frameworks Course (aka #Decolonizingyourmind) The students from THE Chezia Thompson’s Course read their poetry as well.

Guest and Participants at the 4WNAP poetry party and book release. Terra Cafe

Cieara A. Adams

Guest and Participants at the 4WNAP poetry party and book release. Terra Cafe

Unique Mical Robinson is a queer writer, performer, host, artivist, educator, & proud Baltimore native.Since age 13, she has had the fortune of connecting and performing with various communities throughout the US, and even Havana, Cuba. She received her MFA in English & Creative Writing from Mills College in 2014, and holds a BA in Creative Writing/Black Studies from Hampshire College in 2009. In her lifetime, her passion has led her to ensure healing and resources remain accessible to all. She has worked in a number of activist circles, artist collectives, and direct action campaigns, including increasing funding for Baltimore City Public Schools in her youth, affordable housing for people with HIV/AIDS and ending police harassment of people of color, as a Community Organizer for VOCAL-NY in Brooklyn, NY, Reproductive Justice for women of color, and increasing mass visibility of LGBTQ+ issues and identities. She worked as an Academic Mentor for youth in Oakland’s Unified School District, and upon returning to Baltimore in 2015, became a Teaching Artist and Program Director/Operations Manager for DewMore Baltimore.

Uni Q Mical

Eboni Sellers

Uni Q Mical

In addition to being Humanistic Studies Faculty at MICA (oldest continuously degree-granting college of art and design in the nation in Baltimore), she is also an award-winning Poetry/Theater Arts Integration Educator with Baltimore City School students, and Co-Founder of blkottonkandy, an arts & wellness initiative.

PLEASE CHECK OUT THE INTERVIEW BELOW:

Is there a desired demographic of readers you’d like your book to appeal to?

The folks that grew up in a generation of the 1980’s/1990’s and had to live through a lot of things that we just genuinely did not understand but I was a kid that always wanted to understand how things got to be the way that they are, so this is a book for the folks that lived through some very trying hard times, some failed policies, and we were kind of the result of that, but this is also for the people not from Baltimore but who have experienced similar plight growing up in other cities, so black youth. I had a friend in DC who was really moved by it because of what she experienced. Black youth everywhere, Brown youth everywhere, it’s for queer folks, it’s for white folks who might not know the other side of the story but dare to take a glimpse into it, this is our story…forreal.

What led you to self publish?

(laughs) So honestly it was out of necessity, I was broke (Laughs) when I moved back to Baltimore, so this whole manuscript was actually my grad school thesis. 2013 around that time I started writing it and I was looking at my folks, my cohorts, colleagues if you will and especially fiction writers they all had to find agents and do all these things and like get somebody that’s going to publish their stuff and it just felt arbitrary to me, the process of it and I was like what are people doing that I can’t do?, what did they learn they I can also learn?,you know what I mean? It can’t be difficult and in the process of writing I basically released a “Chapbook” And I realized how easy that process was, it was a bunch of formatting and different things like that and me being the editor of my script, once I was done with it I was like there’s no way I cant possible figure out how to do this myself, right? And just talking to other people and other friends of mine who have released and self published things through amazon, kindle, create space all of these different places and I was like “ Oh” the platform is there, I just need to walk into it and get over those self doubts and all of those things and once I did that I literally taught myself InDesign, graphic design. I took on this job, kind of teaching the students but they were also teaching me and in that process I realized I can just make a book, I can do this. Last year is when it really clicked to me that I have all this access to tutorials, being faculty at MICA that I could use and utilize to help show me the ropes of how to create a book step by step and with that I was like ight, lets go, lets do this myself, So, one, it was out of necessity and being broke and did not want to pay anybody else cause I couldn’t and two, it was also just a way for me to gain additional skills under my belt via self publishing so I’m really happy about that.

What’s your favorite poem in the book?

Whew…um. This is hard, there’s so many I will honestly have to say it’s probably ‘July 27th, 1996 at 10am’, simply because that poem represents the death and birth of so many things for me. So it was the personification of the public housing project, Lexington Terrace, that my family grew up in. My grandmother literally says I was there for 30 years and I feel a lot of spaces in Baltimore and other cities in the US have just been forgotten. Everyone just moves on and acts like they never existed but we don’t take into account the countless lives, stories, the memories that a lot of people carry not just in their own psyche but in their DNA and the DNA of our children and a lot of that is there until we are able to process them and until we are able to name that, all of that energy, good, bad or indifferent, its just going to live on through and writing that poem represented a kind of closure space for me. I grew up. Like the end of the poem is like

“My spirit flees and haunts the dream of your children til they’re as old as me”

that was because every since I was a kid I’ve been having theses dreams and border line nightmares about being back in these projects, in the hallways, in the rooms, in this and that because it was almost like haunting in a sense, literally watching the process of them being there and than being gutted than being imploded (Laughs) was very visceral memories for me as a child and I could not really voice it to anyone, everybody didn’t really care and everyone was desensitized to it but as a kid that was really a lot, so writing that poem was kind of me laying all of the energy to rest and the fact of personifying it really brought back to life a lot of the characters and figures and energy of those spaces that was not suppose to be spaces of progress, it was a literal experiment for black people who moved to the north, “ight yal need housing, here take this” and it wound up being a catastrophe because they don’t think about anything when it comes to us, constructively, I would def. have to say July 27th.

Are there any takeaways you’d like readers to know?

I would like readers to know, everyone who reads this book to remember that they are is a soul journey beyond anything, beyond flesh, beyond bone, beyond mind, memory, spirit, this is part of our journey and this book represents many intersecting parts of the journey and particular life and life form. Before we get here we choose the parents that were going to have, we choose the location were going to be in, our race, our class, all of its intentional because it’s a part of where were coming from soul speaking and prelude to where were going, so this book allowed me to zero in on those experiences and name them, put words to them, put body to them, put language to them, put geography and location and claim this space as ours for this particular time, were literally passing through, time has completely slowed down in this dimension, I know I’m getting real left filled with it but this is the legacy of the souls that I interacted within this lifetime its our journey and that journey cannot be forgotten and overlooked. This is black Baltimore before, during and after segregation and the effects of segregation and the legacy of segregation and what has been done to our people. This is the literal on-the-ground stories of people, hued people. They always wanna talk about Baltimore and Baltimoreans as though we don’t exist, as though we not in the room, right there, as though were just a bunch of animals running wild, like no, there are real people that live here and you get to see what went into making them, the type of characters they became. No one is born a criminal, no one is born an addict, no one is born unemployed, no one is born any of these things. Its social/economic issues that goes into why these things that take place and I think we forget to think abut why so much as we see the what and that is the issue. This book in the attempt at talking about the WHY? In a way that is not so patholegizing its very much so heartfelt, its very much so soul felt and I want people to take that away before anything, before they look at another headline about Baltimore they remember that these are some of the roots that exist here and this is how we got over.

Any advice to black queer poets growing up in Baltimore?

Know who you are before any body tells you what you are. There’s going to be a lot of people, parents, teachers, preachers, friends, foes, enemies, you name it, strangers, there going to try and piece you apart and put in a scrambled puzzle that is their brain to make sense of your existence and who you are and why you’re here and tell you what you should and should not do, what kind of job you should and shouldn’t have, who you should and should not date. The fact that being an artist or a poet is somehow irrelevant in todays society when it just became all about making money which is a whole other story of late stage capitalism but we wont get into that. You need to do what it is that’s on your heart, find your passion, find you purpose and stop listening to people who are not living your life, in 5 or 19 years any of those opinions will not matter, trust me, they will not matter, do not depend on social media or the opinions of others for your own validation, know yourself for yourself and that way you’ll attract who you need to attract and what you need to write about, that is important, a lot of poets feel like they need to satisfy the audience in order to get on or in order to get famous, were so obsessed with fame now, which is actually an illusion it itself. As quick as you blow up is as quick as you blowout. , So just know who you are and have your own path for yourself, write for yourself first, do not write for the masses because they will never be satisfied, write what ever is on your heart no matter what it looks like or how it comes out, If you do or don’t share it don’t matter because everything we write is our product our creation and our soul.It is meant to be written and it is meant to be explored and it meant to explore without restriction or limitation, you are limitless at the end of the day and don’t you ever forget that.

How does being a professor at M.I.C.A (Oldest continuously degree-granting college of art and design in the nation in Baltimore) inform your art practice?

You know I’ve learned so much since I’ve been teaching there. The concrete skills that I’ve learned are that my art is not a vacuum; I’ve done a lot more than I thought I could do. The result of having this book in its physical form is a result of me learning graphic design, all these things I taught myself I couldn’t do before because I was scared or it was intimidating or whatever. The fact that we have access to so much, to tutorials, to classes, to even taking to students who are doing different things and the students teach me a lot more than I can teach them. I think it’s a symbiotic relationship, they come to my classroom to learn and I also from them based on what they produce in my classes. The visual group responses or art that they make in my classes, their discussions, all of these different things, were learning from each other. It’s through a lot of them that I learned how to take my art beyond the page and stage. I am not just a poet, I am a multifaceted artist and I think in teaching at MICA and being exposed to so many folks around the world, from in the US from other professors who I just get to chat with and hear and pick their brains and see how their thinking to talking the president, the vice president, I’m just learning so much concrete, figurative, and literal skills about the world and how to navigate it and the fact that I can be there, that’s the biggest thing. MICA was a space that was shut out from a lot of us, we did not feel like we could access that a lot of Baltimoreans still feel like they can’t but I’m one of them that came from the perceived “ Gutter” and now I’m kind of at the epicenter of the arts community if you will , in a lot of different ways and I think MICA has definitely helped propel me in that sense, to be able to have this type of platform in which to not just showcase it for myself but also bring all my homies with me who also can benefit from that access as well and to be ourselves when we show up. That’s the most important thing, I feel very much so myself, I feel supported and valued in being in that school and I’m thankful for it everyday.

What was your emotional response after reading the poems out loud the first time?

Honestly I had the chills, specifically reading ‘Virginia Couldn’t Be A Riveter’ my grandma and serving matriarchal realness, those two poems in specific and also ‘Mercy Hospital.Nov 27 1987 ‘a poem about my birth, I felt those poems shooting through my veins, the craziest thing. I’ve read very intense and emotional work before but not about my background specifically so it was really heartfelt, it was deeply moving. I had one of my homies, that was sitting up front was like “the energy up here crazy”, often times I go go go and I’m not cognate of what my energy is doing in a space and how strong my energy could particularly be at times but when I’m on stage my aura is connected to other realms and I feel like all of my ancestors was with me in that moment and I was so filled, it was a happiness but it was also intensity that I felt that I know I’m walking with that has protected me all of these years and that has protected my family all of these years, so yeah it was wild.

Uni Q, Michael Robinson (Dad), Aiyana Robinson (Sister)

Cieara A. Adams

Uni Q, Michael Robinson (Dad), Aiyana Robinson (Sister)

Describe your creative process in making 4WAAP?

Whew.So..I’m in grad school in my second year which was my final year in college in Oakland, CA 2013, and I knew that I had to make a book of poems. I didn’t know what yet but I knew it had to happen. The previous year I was kind of blind sighted because the west coast poetry, there energy out there for their poetry scene is so different than what I was use to on the east coast, it was very language and experiment heavy, conceptualist, like a lot of this kind of left view, perceptually euro American type of poetry so I was kind of like put off by it but my second year I was able to integrate what the energy out there was with the energy I was bringing from Baltimore. The east coast and other places that I’ve lived, Massachusetts, Brooklyn, etc, So I was like you know what let’s just experiment, let’s have some fun, but what’s funny is the poems that I was writing was not necessarily fun. So I knew that I had to write something about my family, I was home sick and exploring a lot, I was just writing a lot, a lot and a lot of poems became about my grandmother and my mother about my aunts and uncles who at the time was still living, one of them was not. So he had a whole lyric poem about his life and death that I had.

I was writing a bunch of poems that didn’t get into the manuscript. I was in a relationship or whatever, oxytocin, so I kind of feel like that and by relationship I mean polygamous or whatever. The oxytocin from the situation actually went into me creating a lot of these poems strangely enough, but when that situation was over which it ended very shortly after, I had to keep writing I was very sad, I was very very sad. It was a spiritual awakening that happened right after that sadness though that enabled me to continue writing and as my own lived experience just being in the west coast coming out to my grandmother, at the time she just turned 80, it was 2014 so I was just writing poems about those experiences, just writing poems about my process.

My grandfather passed away in the 70’s, just what he kind of created or the legacy that he left for better or worse for my family. Dee (my life partner) having to deal with my own demons around alcoholism and addiction and all of that. I was at a space where I had to assess that and I couldn’t run away from any of that any more. So it was really me exploring my family, exploring the intersections of family, everything and looking at Baltimore, because that’s everything that I knew so deeply at that point. It became this body of work and in the process I of course had a committee of folks that had to look at my work, my thesis advisor, a incredible Lebanese poet, and Cuban poet, they all had to look at my work.It was work shopped 2-3 time, I had to take things out, edit things, so the poems that you see here have undergone numerous layers of construction .

I was in a dope poetry workshop in 2013 as well and I got to work with poets and it was facilitated by this poet Ruth Foreman, whose out of CA, she’s just a beautiful, gentle soul, amazing spirit and that was the first time I heard people be like you need to release this “These poems are amazing”, but it was the entire manuscript, it was like maybe 20 or so pages at that time but they were like you need to release this.That also enabled me to just keep going and keep writing and just go with It and once I finished and graduated and had this amazing manuscript in my hands I never actually released it. I mean I released a chatbook that I had with like a couple of poems in it but I was scared to release it. It was a lot of doubt, fears, so a lot of ‘How am I going to do this? ‘I didn’t know I was going to self publish.

I had a lot of movement, I had to move back home and I was scared, my mom had such a keen and watchful eye, very critical, hyper critical in some sense so I was very private and I was scared of what she may think if I revealed everything, I’m scared of what my grandmother would think and than two of my aunts and uncles passed away so that also halted the process cause I was like this feels weird right now. A lot of people was just dying as soon as I got back home in 2016. So it was just a lot going on and than finally this year felt like the year to actually release it in their name, of our legacy, of telling the tale of where I’m from, all of that went into this.

What is a Charm City Churn?

Hmmm. Okay so funny story with that, it was originally called Four Wings And A Prayer: A Chocolate City Churn and one of my DC friends was like no we chocolate city and I was like “wheett”, “oh right”, so I originally thought about it as churning chocolate. I have this vivid memory of this stall down Lexington market “Constants”, they would make fudge and chocolate and of course we got the ‘Fudgery’ at the Inner Harbor, Baltimore, all of those spaces that I was just like you know… ‘Churning Chocolate’. This art of making something from a series of ingredients, and circumstances that than becomes this particular sweetness, right? But it comes from bitter ingredients, you have to combine them and add them, its a lot that goes into the process of becoming something. Than I realized I cant actually say Chocolate City implied so I had to switch it to Charm City but because Baltimore is known as Charm City its still a churn that’s involved in that process, I think everything we are and everything that we do is so much more difficult than it has to be (Laughs) I think we normalize difficulty and red tape and how we treat the poor, black Baltimore with a few exceptions is still poor as shit, I’m sorry for cursing and have grown up in poverty, feels like a process, everything feels like a becoming that never becomes and this act of churning something , also a throwback of my grandmother working on a farm and being a sharecropper in the south , her parents being share croppers and the kids being field hands. They literally had to make everything by hand, so I’m sure they had to churn butter and do all of these active things in order to see the result at the end of the tunnel. So this book in itself is the churn, it’s the process but it is also the result of that process. So when I say churn I kind of lowkey mean it as like a continual process of becoming and were never fully who were going to become in this lifetime or any until we say its done, so it kind of represents that I hope that makes sense.

Four Wings And A Prayer

Vernon Keeve

Four Wings And A Prayer

If you are interested in purchasing the book or booking Uni for an event please contact them at urobinson@mica.edu Cashapp handle: $blkcottonkandy IG handle:@unithaluni

Black Businesse$, Black Consumer$: A Necessary Alliance

Entrepreneurship is nothing new in the Black community. Black people have historically worked hard to establish, maintain and grow their own businesses to cultivate an economic base in providing goods, products and services to consumers. Despite obstacles including lack of access to capital, resources, connections and at times inconsistent support from the public, the entrepreneurial spirit continues to be alive and well in Black America.

That spirit coupled with the ongoing push by Black business advocates encouraging Black folks and others to patronize and support these businesses, can influence a Black business “boom” and be a catalyst for change and transformation in and for the conditions of Black people through jobs and community development.

“We can never solve our economic problems of the Black community while spending most of our money with the people that live outside of it. We can never control our community as long as others own most of the businesses in it,” said Minister Taharka Shakur during an August press conference in Chicago kicking off National Black Business Month. Local entrepreneurs and activists spoke on the importance of Blacks doing business with and promoting Black businesses not just in August, but all year around.

“Once we have these businesses in our communities that will resolve our crime. That will give these youth some identity of what they can do so I encourage you all to encourage others to support this month and be a part of our ongoing agenda of buying Black,” said Revin Fellows, co-founder of National Black Agenda Consortium.

Created in 2004 by John Templeton, a historian and Frederick Jordan, an engineer, National Black Business Month is an opportunity to recognize Black-owned businesses around the country and also a chance for consumers to make a concentrated effort to spend money with these companies.

There are approximately 2.6 million Black-owned businesses in the United States. The number of Black or African American-owned firms grew 34.5 percent between 2007 and 2012— from 1.9 million to 2.6 million in 2012, according to the most recent statistics from the Census Bureau. Black women have been leading this charge of Black entrepreneurship. The number of Black female-owned firms climbed 66.9 percent, from 900,000 in 2007 to 1.5 million in 2012, noted the Census Bureau. Additionally, these 1.5 million Black female-owned businesses accounted for 58.9 percent of the nation’s 2.6 million Black or African American-owned businesses, the bureau reported. Of these 2.6 million in 2012, 109,137 had paid employees.

According to the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Office of Advocacy, annual receipts from Black-owned businesses totaled $150 billion, 2.5 million Black-owned businesses have no paid employees (95.8 percent) and only 109,000 had at least one paid employee. But with a consistent, targeted effort, those numbers and figures can grow.

Averi Frost is executive director of the Central Ohio African-American Chamber of Commerce based in Columbus. There is a lot of hunger and energy around the idea of Black entrepreneurship whether it means ownership or supporting others in business, she explained. “One thing that we’re definitely seeing is that because we know that there’s systematic and historical challenges with access to capital as far as financial institutions to our businesses, it is even more important now of an effort as far as consumers for us to make sure we’re supporting our businesses as does every other community frankly,” said Ms. Frost.

“If we are able to better circulate the dollar within our community it’s going to have a greater impact. Any entrepreneur is most likely to hire somebody and to invest in a community that looks like them or reflects their values,” she added.

The Honorable Marcus Mosiah Garvey through his Universal Negro Improvement Association and the Most Honorable Elijah Muhammad, patriarch of the Nation of Islam, taught economics is a key component of Black survival and prosperity in America. Mr. Muhammad’s “Do For Self” program was transformed into reality with the establishment of successful Black Muslim-owned businesses in the 1960s and 1970s. He taught Black America to “spend your money among yourselves, build an economic system among yourselves and unite to pool your resources.”

The Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan reintroduced Muhammad’s Economic Blueprint calling on not only Muslims, but all Black wage earners—the poor, the middle class, and the wealthy—to make affordable contributions, on a regular basis, into a single “national treasury.” Some of this money could be used to open new Black businesses or invest in existing ones to make them stronger. The Nation of Islam continues to promote the need for Black-owned businesses and land. If 16 million Black wage-earners contributed a nickel a day, seven days a week that would equal 35 cents per week. In 52 weeks or one year that totals $18.20 which multiplied by 16 million people equals $291.2 million.

“We can say whatever we want about the president. His personality doesn’t matter. The context of the environment matters and there have been opportunities that we haven’t taken advantage of as producers and as employees,” said Cedric Muhammad, an economist and CEO of Hip-Hoppreneur Inc. Black people must have an agricultural and manufacturing base, he argued.

“There’s no way out of this condition other than to go to the land and other than to popularize building trade professions and to develop some type of a manufacturing base in the inner city or the more rural areas which can be done,” he said. Agribusiness will feed into manufacturing and that would create a significant level of employment then entrepreneurship if Black businesses could be financed.

Black businesses must do a better and more intentional job of strategically marketing themselves to increase visibility in their communities, said Ms. Frost. “Not just like being on Facebook or doing random radio ads; making sure your actual target customers are hearing what you’re talking about. And that can even go a step further by being involved in a trade organization, a Chamber of Commerce and/or like signing up for these directories,” she explained. The Central Ohio African-American Chamber of Commerce has available a list of 400 Black entrepreneurs in the state.

It is important to bridge the gap between Black businesses and consumers, said advocates. There are several avenues promoting Black businesses folks can find via apps, online and print directories and of course, word of mouth.

And while Black businesses must do their part, so must Black consumers. “The consumer is always going to do their part which is to spend but unfortunately they’re not aware of our existing Black-owned businesses,” said Cedric Muhammad. He touted Maggie Anderson, who made headlines several years ago when she and her family only patronized Black-owned businesses in Chicago for a whole year. “Maggie Anderson laid the blueprint for what every person in the city has to do. So we need to know where to go, where the existing businesses are, so we can do better patronizing them and then we have to support them not just with our consumption dollars. The Honorable Elijah Muhammad didn’t want a nation of consumers, he said he wanted a nation of producers. We should be a nation of producers and employers and so these businesses need loans and they need equity investments, they just don’t need consumption though consumption would help a lot,” said Cedric Muhammad.

“As consumers, we have to do a better job spreading the word, not just the bad experiences but the good experiences too and doing a better job of spreading the good gospel that way more of us can support these businesses,” said Ms. Frost.

“We’re not in the beginning stages of it but we’re trying to get back to connecting with each other so it’s happening in silos. For the chamber we’re trying to make it kind of an umbrella effort to pull together everything we own so that we can all support each other.”

The We Buy Black Convention aims to do just that. The convention is a marketplace of over 120 Black-owned businesses and will be held Aug. 23-25 in Atlanta allowing consumers an opportunity to spend money with these businesses. “Currently in America, Black people have the highest rates of poverty, of homelessness, of joblessness, of crime, and imprisonment. However, Black people spend more money than any other ethnic group, with an annual purchasing power of $1.3 trillion. Of all these funds, less than 2 percent is spent within the Black community,” noted convention organizers.

Observers are optimistic that there is a Black business “boom” and it can continue to grow and expand with targeted and deliberate work and effort.

“It’s really reenergizing because for those of us who’ve been at this, and I’m young. I’ve only been in this type of spirit for 10 years. But my peers and those ahead of us, for a little bit it seemed like we were just kind of fighting a losing battle in doing this work but there wasn’t a collective energy and conscious effort to support each other. It seems like the tide has spinned on that and it’s really refreshing,” said Ms. Frost.

Stop asking God to bless us with a prayer he has already answered, said Mark Allen, chairman of National Black Wall Street Chicago. “We’ve got the economic power to turn our communities around. It’s up to us. Everybody can be a leader in their own right. If you’re concerned about the violence, how do you spend your money?”

For more information on National Black Business Month, visit www.blackbusinesmonth.com“. For more information on the We Buy Black Convention, visit, www.webuyblack.com. To donate to Muhammad’s Economic Blueprint, visit www.economicblueprint.org.

FILM REVIEW: Queen & Slim

YouTube

Official Trailer “Queen & Slim,” directed by Melina Matsoukas.

It’s lyrical. Like an extended poem with waves of emotion, heady rumination, love proclamations and lost souls gathering around a common issue.

Some will recollect the true-life story of Bonnie and Clyde, but they gained fame for crimes and robbing banks. A closer comparison is Thelma & Louise, two feminist icons who were pushed into rebellion. Yet their story never involved an intimacy between the two that included sexual attraction and love.

Queen & Slim is on its own path. Groundbreaking for its rich, layered storytelling (Lena Waithe, Emmy-winner TV’s Master of None), stylish direction (Melina Matsoukas, Grammy-winner Best Music Video Beyoncè: Formation), provocative contemplations on race and police abuse and two performances that will redefine how black men and women are portrayed on screen.

They meet at a diner in nowhere Ohio. She, Queen (Jodie Turner-Smith TV’s Jett), is an aloof and exacting criminal defense lawyer, with braids down her back and a disposition more sour than a lemon. He, Slim (Daniel Kaluuya, Get Out), a salesclerk, is her polar opposite. Congenial, funny, sardonic sloppy. He chews his food with his mouth open, making noises that could wake the dead. It annoys her. He’s completely oblivious. Fate didn’t bring these disparate souls together. Blame it on Tinder.

Driving home from their rendezvous, a siren flares, red and white lights flash and his porcelain-colored Honda Accord is pulled over by a very white and overly aggressive cop (Sturgill Simpson, Grammy-winner Best Country Album “A Sailor’s Guide to Earth”). The car is searched. Nothing is found.

(from left) Slim (Daniel Kaluuya) and Queen (Jodie Turner-Smith) in “Queen & Slim,” directed by Melina Matsoukas.

Courtesy Photo

(from left) Slim (Daniel Kaluuya) and Queen (Jodie Turner-Smith) in “Queen & Slim,” directed by Melina Matsoukas.

It’s as if the police officer is extra pissed because he can’t find drugs or alcohol. His anger grows. Slim is calm. Queen, as attorneys can be, is indignant. The situation escalates. A gun is drawn, and shots are fired. Queen and Slim go on the lam, driving down endless highways, trying to escape. He’s not sure what to do. She: “Keep running until we come up with a better plan.”

In the first five minutes the tension between the two draws you in. Contrary personalities, yet common cultural threads. Conversations about the movie Love Jones and other Black pop knowledge banter set their personae: They are hip, smart, modern African Americans. People you may have known in college, on your 9-5, from a dinner party… They’ve got urbane exteriors. Underneath they are scarred and vulnerable. You want to watch them court and spark. You want them to survive.

Bokeem Woodbine as Uncle Earl in “Queen & Slim,” directed by Melina Matsoukas.

Courtesy Photo

Bokeem Woodbine as Uncle Earl in “Queen & Slim,” directed by Melina Matsoukas.

This is the mark of brainy, sensitive and socially aware screenwriting that will likely propel Lena Waithe from TV gigs to steady feature film work. Her mixed bag of indelible characters include: an ex-con uncle (Bokeem Woodbine, Jason’s Lyric); the con’s ladyfriend (Indya Moore, TV’s Pose); a good-willed sheriff (Benito Martinez, TV’s 13 Reasons Why); and a war vet (Flea, bassist for The Red Hot Chili Peppers).

Police aggression in the black community ignites a journey that’s laced with intrigue, thrills, narrow escapes, family drama and a romance that goes from highly unlikely to sensual bliss. All of it keeps viewers guessing what’s next—right until the end. For good measure, provocative dialogue expresses the characters’ subjective attitudes. Queen: “Nothing scares a white man more than a black man on a horse.” Slim: “Why?” Queen: “Because they have to look up to them.”

(from left) Uncle Earl (Bokeem Woodbine), Slim (Daniel Kaluuya) and Naomi (Melanie Kalfkenny, standing) in “Queen & Slim,” directed by Melina Matsoukas.

Courtesy Photo

(from left) Uncle Earl (Bokeem Woodbine), Slim (Daniel Kaluuya) and Naomi (Melanie Kalfkenny, standing) in “Queen & Slim,” directed by Melina Matsoukas.

Taking a script that is as rich and descriptive as a Toni Morrison (Song of Solomon) or Bernice McFadden (Gathering of Waters) novel and turning it into eye-catching cinema requires the talent of a gifted director. Music video turned cable TV director Melina Matsoukas (HBO’s Insecure) is up to that challenge. Action sequences have verve. Dramatic scenes are well staged and crafted. Romantic moments duly erotic.

Between intense conversations, conflicts and deaths, Matsoukas gives the footage time to breath, with carefree moments: Queen sits on the windowsill of a gold-colored Mercedes-Benz station wagon, as it travels down a two-lane road. Sun on her face, wind in her hair. In endless sequences of supreme tension, it’s an oasis moment. The kind video directors imagine freely, when other filmmakers do not.

Daniel Kaluuya as Slim in “Queen & Slim,” directed by Melina Matsoukas.

Courtesy Photo

Daniel Kaluuya as Slim in “Queen & Slim,” directed by Melina Matsoukas.

The keen eye of cinematographer Tat Radcliffe (’71) frames scenes perfectly and makes chocolate skin look incandescent. The creations of production designer Karen Murphy (A Star Is Born) make a stately Georgia home and a mechanic’s shop equally impressive. An engaging playlist includes the most modern neo soul music and old gritty blues. Shiona Turini’s costumes steal the show. To her credit, Slim’s borrowed wine-colored velour track suit and Queen’s tiger-striped mini-dress and reptile skin white boots could become iconic film garb.

Jodie Turner-Smith as Queen in “Queen & Slim,” directed by Melina Matsoukas.

Courtesy Photo

Jodie Turner-Smith as Queen in “Queen & Slim,” directed by Melina Matsoukas.

Daniel Kaluuya is a photographer’s gift. The camera lens loves his guy-next-door face, large eyes, full lips and dark complexion. He plays Slim completely understated, tender in the right moments, brave in others. His is a subtle performance, fueled by inner strength. Turner-Smith’s character arc shines as she takes Queen from the impervious, to the needy, to the courageous. In the beginning her long braids weigh her down, just like her cranky disposition. Later, when she’s shorn, it’s as if a duck has left and a swan arrived. Happier. Adaptive. In the mood for love. With a beauty that would shame a goddess.

It’s been a minute sense Bokeem Woodbine was in a film that properly displayed his talents. It’s as if his career has come full circle. Moore, Flea, Simpson, Colby Boothman as a convenience store clerk and Jahi Di’Allo Winston as a young martyr complete a compelling supporting cast that turns in superb ensemble acting.

More judicious cutting (editor Pete Beaudreau, Beast of No Nation) could have trimmed the 2hr 12 min. run time. Scenes at the uncle’s house could have been shorter. Chopping off a couple of road sequences might have made the film tighter. But it’s doubtful the target audience will complain about the movie’s rhythm or compass.

The mix of racial/social hot-button issues may make some squirm. Crime/drama/thriller elements will likely keep viewers engrossed. The love story and carnal scenes could inspire couples to hold hands.

These engaging qualities should attract and satiate urban audiences and romantics looking for a unique, soul-searching allegory hidden inside a crime getaway film. Queen: “I’m scared.” Slim; “I’ll be brave enough for the both of us.”

Visit NNPA News Wire Film Critic Dwight Brown at DwightBrownInk.com and BlackPressUSA.com.

How You And Your Workplace Can Protect Yourselves From The Novel Coronavirus

The novel coronavirus is now a “public health emergency of international concern,” killing more than 3,000 people and infecting more than 88,000 worldwide.

Even worse: The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention expects the virus to keep spreading beyond this year.

Here’s what you need to know about the illness and how to stay safe:

What are the symptoms?

Fever, cough, runny nose, sore throat and trouble breathing are some of the most common symptoms of the novel coronavirus.

“It can be more severe for some persons and can lead to pneumonia or breathing difficulties,” the World Health Organization says.

“More rarely, the disease can be fatal. Older people, and people with preexisting medical conditions (such as diabetes and heart disease) appear to be more vulnerable to becoming severely ill with the virus.”

What can businesses do?

It’s important that companies encourage sick employees to stay home, the CDC says.

“Do not require a healthcare provider’s note for employees who are sick with acute respiratory illness … as healthcare provider offices and medical facilities may be extremely busy and not able to provide such documentation in a timely way,” the CDC said.

Sick employees shouldn’t return to work until their temperature has stayed below 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit (37.8 degrees Celsius) for at least 24 hours, without the help of fever-reducing or other symptom-altering medicine, the CDC said.

And now is the time to make sure workplaces are squeaky clean.

“Routinely clean all frequently touched surfaces in the workplace, such as workstations, countertops and doorknobs,” the CDC said.

“Provide disposable wipes so that commonly used surfaces (for example, doorknobs, keyboards, remote controls, desks) can be wiped down by employees before each use.”

And while it may seem basic, many adults don’t practice correct coughing and sneezing etiquette (cover your mouth and nose entirely with a tissue or your upper sleeve) or wash their hands properly for at least 20 seconds.

So the CDC advises companies to hang posters about how to prevent the spread of illness.

How can you protect yourself?

In general, the public should do “what you do every cold and flu season,” said Dr. John Wiesman, the health secretary in Washington state.

That includes washing your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Don’t forget to wash the backs of your hands and under your nails, the CDC says.

The World Health Organization recommends staying at least 3 feet (or 1 meter) away from anyone who may be infected.

If you’re the one feeling sick, cover your entire mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze. But don’t use your hands. Use either your bent elbow or a tissue that you throw away immediately afterward.

While the CDC does not recommend N95 respirator masks for the general public, it does recommend them for health care workers.

But certain types of facial hair can prevent respirators from working effectively. The CDC has an infographic showing which styles of facial hair are riskier than others.

Why is this coronavirus different?

There are many kinds of coronaviruses, including some that cause the common cold.

But this deadly strain is called a “novel” coronavirus because it has not previously been identified in humans.

It’s unusual for several reasons:

— Scientists believe this type of coronavirus jumped from a different animal to humans, which is rare.

— It then became transmissible from human to human, which is even more rare.

— An infected person might not show symptoms for up to 14 days after exposure. That’s especially worrisome because this novel coronavirus can be transmitted while a person still isn’t showing any symptoms.

Is there a cure for novel coronavirus?

No. While many patients have recovered from their symptoms, there is no known cure.

But the first US study of a drug to treat novel coronavirus in humans is underway at the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha.

That clinical trial will evaluate the safety and effectiveness of the antiviral drug remdesivir in adults diagnosed with coronavirus, the US National Institutes of Health said.

What about a vaccine?

Scientists are working on a vaccine, but don’t expect it anytime soon.

The NIH is trying to develop one but says it will take at least a few months before clinical trials start and more than a year until a vaccine could become available.

Separately, scientists in Texas, New York and China also are trying to create a vaccine, said Dr. Peter Hotez, a vaccine scientist at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston.

But the challenge is daunting, Hotez said.

“The lesson we’ve learned is coronavirus infections are serious and one of the newest and biggest global health threats.”

Obamacare Arguments Put Supreme Court And Health Care In Presidential Election Spotlight

The Supreme Court agreed Monday to once again become the decider on the future of Obamacare — the controversial law that has become a fabric of society for the millions of Americans who have come to rely upon it.

But the justices ensured something else as well. They guaranteed that over the next several months, as the presidential election rages on and legal briefs flood the zone, the fate of the law and the court will be front and center during the campaign.

The court had options. It could have taken up the case this term, and put the issue to rest by the end of June. It could have allowed the case to continue for months or maybe even years in the lower courts, delaying Supreme Court action until next year or beyond.

President Donald Trump will likely use the case to remind conservative voters of the importance of the Supreme Court as part of his reelection bid.

Democrats, meanwhile, will vigorously highlight the Trump administration’s legal argument: a law that protects individuals with pre-existing conditions should be invalidated by a court bolstered with two of Trump’s nominees: Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh. And while the President has vowed to come up with a replacement plan, so far he has not.

“Regardless of the date of oral argument, the Democratic candidate will — and should! — use this case to bludgeon President Trump at every turn,” Nicholas Bagley of the University of Michigan Law School tweeted.

What’s still unknown is whether arguments will be scheduled before Election Day on November 3. Under normal circumstances, a case granted this early for the following term could be a contender for October arguments. But the significance of that would not be lost on justices eager to avoid the political fray.

Brian Fallon, who runs a group, Demand Justice, that opposes Trump’s judicial nominees, underscored the point.

“A Supreme Court oral argument about the future of Obamacare, possibly in October right before the election, will put Trump’s plan to throw millions off their insurance front and center and make Supreme Court voters out of millions of people,” he tweeted.

Former Vice President Joe Biden echoed that argument.

“This fall, Donald Trump will be trying to get the Supreme Court to strike down Obamacare — ripping health insurance away from 30 million Americans, ending protections for 100 million more with preexisting conditions, destroying families, and costing a million jobs,” the Democratic presidential contender said in a statement. “This case is a stark, life-and-death reminder how much is at stake this fall and what’s on the ballot right now: Democrats must nominate the candidate whom they know can beat Trump and bring along the Senate, to ensure we can protect our health care for generations to come.”

Democrats even whipped up an impromptu rally — scheduled within an hour after the court’s decision to take up the case. Such rallies usually only occur on decision days or argument days.

In its usual tantalizing manner, the Supreme Court provided no information as to which justices agreed to hear the case. It would have taken at least four. It could have been the four liberals, dismayed with a district court ruling that invalidated the entire law and a federal appeals court that some think punted on the fate of the entire law to avoid an election year decision. Or was it the same five justices (the liberals plus conservative Chief Justice John Roberts) who all voted to uphold the law in 2012. Those five are still on the bench after all.

Which leaves Roberts front and center, again. He was eviscerated by conservatives in 2012 and Trump for his ruling allowing the Affordable Care Act to remain, classifying it as a tax.

But because Congress cut the tax penalty to zero, Texas and other Republican-led states sued, saying Roberts’ logic no longer applies.

“Now that the individual mandate can no longer be preserved as a tax, the constitutionality of Obamacare must be determined,” Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said Monday. “Without the individual mandate, the entire law becomes unsupportable. The federal government cannot order private citizens to purchase subpar insurance that they don’t want, and I look forward to finally settling the matter before the U.S. Supreme Court.”

The court prides itself in showing its work at the end of a case, but how it arrives at its decisions remain shrouded in secrecy.

Which leads to speculation. Two of the four liberals are over 80 and could possibly step down during the term of the next president. The liberals’ voting power — and the ability to grant cases — would significantly diminish if a Republican wins. One wonders if agreeing to take the challenge next term and not during this one (requiring an opinion before the election) was a compromise.

What about the fact that the court granted the request of the Democratic-led states to take up the case, but not a request from the House of Representatives? That decision could have been made so that the court wouldn’t have to decide whether the House had the legal right or “standing” to bring the case. But could it have also been an effort to keep another Democratic-led House v. Trump dispute off the books.

“Many Americans, and at least one member of the court (cough, cough, Chief Justice Roberts), aren’t excited to relive another battle between those two bodies, so soon after the impeachment,” said Jessica Levinson, a professor at Loyola Law school.

The court is already facing a number of cases this term about Congress’ power, specifically as it related to Trump. Later this month, it will hear arguments in Trump’s attempt to keep his taxes and financial documents private.

“The court could be motivated to avoid a docket that looks like it is just the referee of disputes between the Democratic-led House and the Trump administration,” Levinson said.

By leaving out the House, the court indicated it won’t hear directly from the body that passed the law. It’s a point most likely not lost on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, but she released a statement praising the court’s decision.

“The sooner the GOP’s dangerous anti-health care lawsuit is ended, the better,” she said.

And then she linked the case to the coronavirus outbreak, an issue that also might become a talking point in the next several months.

“The Trump administration continues to ask the court to destroy protections for people with pre-existing conditions and tear away health coverage from tens of millions of Americans,” she said. “Even in the middle of the coronavirus crisis, the Trump administration continues to ask the court to destroy protections for people with pre-existing conditions and tear away health coverage from tens of millions of Americans.”

Pelosi now has at least nine months to repeat that argument. Day in and day out.

Two Prospects Baltimore Ravens Should Watch Closely

The Baltimore Ravens will have their eyes on plenty of prospects at the NFL combine this week. Two particular prospects should warrant more attention at the combine.

Oklahoma linebacker Kenneth Murray and LSU linebacker Patrick Queen would be instant starters. They will likely be available when the Ravens make their pick in the first round, which is currently the No. 28 overall selection.

Baltimore lost long-term starting inside linebacker C. J. Mosley after he signed a free agent contract with the New York Jets. They stumbled upon a consistent player with the in season addition of L. J. Fort. However, linebackers Josh Bynes and Patrick Onwuasor are scheduled to become free agents.

Murray and Queen are the top options to be the next linebacker to be the heart of the defense. Queen has drawn comparisons to Mosley because of his outstanding sideline-to-sideline range in run defense along with his ability to cover tight ends and running backs. Two words best describe Queen— fast and physical.

Long-term ESPN NFL Draft Analyst Mel Kiper Jr. projected Queen to the Ravens in his latest mock draft. Kiper gave his explanation for the pick during his pre-combine conference call.

“I think Patrick Queen would be a great fit for them. He’s a three-down guy. He had a phenomenal career, great tackler. You saw that in the game against Clemson. He kind of saved them in a couple of spots in that championship game,” Kiper said.

Queen played in 12 of 15 games last season. He posted 85 tackles, 12 tackles for a loss to go along with three sacks and an interception. Queen also broke up two passes.

Murray is an outstanding player as well. He started 14 games with a total of 17 tackles for a loss and four sacks to go along with four pass breakups. Surprisingly,

Murray’s 102 tackles last season was a step down from his 2018 total (155).

Like Queen, Murray is adept at roaming from sideline-to-sideline to track down running backs. Murray is a solid option in coverage, which makes him a three-down player. One of the advantages the Ravens had with Mosley was being able to have him stay on the field in nickel and dime packages. They’d have that same advantage with Murray.

Defensive coordinator Don ‘Wink’ Martindale was given a significant bump in salary recently. Baltimore will need to add more playmakers to make Martindale’s system run at peak performance levels. Keep an eye on Murray and Queen as the draft process rolls on.

Women’s History Month: Juanita Jackson Mitchell

When Juanita Jackson Mitchell died in 1992 at the age of 79, she was praised as one of Maryland’s heroines and as the matriarch of a family whose name became synonymous with civil rights causes.

“It was fitting that she received recognition because she was always one of those unsung champions of the cause and one who needs to be celebrated during both Black History and Women’s History month,” said Shane Carter, a self-described “black history buff.”

Mitchell, the daughter of legendary NAACP leader Lillie Carroll Jackson, spent most of her life fighting against racism and segregation.

“I am an old freedom fighter. I came up in that tradition,” Mitchell once said in describing her upbringing.

Mitchell’s parents, who were living in Baltimore at the time, were traveling in Hot Springs, Arkansas when Mitchell was born.

She’d later become one of the first black women to graduate from the University of Maryland Law School and the first black woman to practice law in the state of Maryland.

Her late husband, Clarence M. Mitchell Jr., was a nationally recognized Capitol Hill lobbyist for the NAACP and her children, Michael B. Mitchell and Clarence M. Mitchell III, went on to become state senators.

Mitchell and her family frequently moved across the South as her father showed feature films in church basements, often the only facilities available to Black people while she was growing up. While her father changed movie reels, Mitchell would recite poetry to the moviegoers, according to BlackThen.com.

In 1937, Mitchell became the NAACP’s first national youth director and visited the Scottsboro Boys in prison. Under her leadership, the NAACP youth groups launched a letter-writing campaign to protest the conviction of the Scottsboro Boys.

They also set up a fundraising drive to help support the young men.

She also led the key NAACP Baltimore branch during the same crucial period.

Mitchell founded the Baltimore City-Wide Young People’s Forum in 1931 and the NAACP Youth Movement in 1935.

In 1942, she directed a march on Maryland’s Capitol with 2,000 citizens, as well as the first city-wide “Register and Vote” campaign. The campaign resulted in 11,000 new voter registrations on the books.

In 1958, Mitchell directed the NAACP’s “Register to Vote” campaign, which resulted in over 20,000 new registrations.

She was appointed to Presidential Commissions by Presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, and Lyndon B. Johnson.

Mitchell was also a member of various organizations that supported the well-being of African Americans, such as Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, the National Association of Negro Business, and the Black American Professional Women’s Club.

In 1986, she was inducted into the Maryland Women’s Hall of Fame.

“Folks like Juanita Jackson Mitchell are the folks we often miss during Black History Month and during Women’s History Month because everyone wants to concentrate on celebrities and superstars,” Carter said. “But people should take a minute to look at the history of our real heroes,” he said.