Activist, Host of Netflix’ Bookmarks, Marley Dias Shares The Secrets of Making An Impact

Teen activist, author and now host and executive producer of Netflix series “Bookmarks: Celebrating Black Voices,” Marley Dias admits she was slightly disappointed in one thing she did with regards to her historic #1000BlackGirlBooks project. “I didn’t tell a lot of my friends about #1000BlackBooks,” she says, “because I was afraid they wouldn’t understand or wouldn’t care or would think it wasn’t something a young person should do.”

Those feelings were perhaps understandable as Dias was just eleven years-old when she single-handedly launched that campaign after she complained there weren’t enough Black girls as main characters in books for children her age. The campaign’s original goal was to collect 1,000 books that featured Black girl protagonists and distribute them to her peers. Overwhelmingly successful, it ended up receiving upwards of 9,000 books.

Things are different now that Dias is a seasoned fifteen year-old. “Now, I tell people when I’m doing cool stuff and I take pride in my work.” Since #1000 BlackGirlBooks, Dias has authored her own book, “Marley Dias Gets it Done And So Can You” with a foreword by filmmaker Ava Duvernay, who Dias says is one of the people she most looks up to. “She has done so much to help support the ideas of Black girls, our experiences, and to make sure we’re not forgotten.”

In addition to producing, Dias also hosts “Bookmarks,” a twelve-episode series geared toward pre-schoolers where celebrities such as Lupita Nyong’o, Tiffany Haddish, Misty Copeland, Marsai Martin, Common, Jill Scott, Caleb McGlaughlin, and others reading books by Black authors. The subject matter of the books touch on issues such as , anti- racism, and American history. The series also streams on the Netflix Jr. Youtube channel.

Author Jacqueline Woodson, also one of the “Bookmarks” readers, is the author of Dias’ favorite book, “Brown Girl Dreaming.” “I love that book so much!” Dias exclaimed. “Anyone who’s been following me recently is probably tired of me talking about it! It’s so great though!” As for her favorite book that she has read this year she says is “Looking For Alaska” by John Green. “It’s not a Black girl book, but it is a diverse book. I love John Green books because he can connect with so many people. He is such a good writer.”

Though Dias is pleased with advances made in diversity and representation in literature, there is one area where she believes work still needs to be done. “One place where you can have more representation is fantasy and science fiction. It’s super weird we don’t see Black people existing in the future.” This is the reason, Dias admits, she did not read as many science fiction and fantasy stories when she was younger. “I rarely saw myself in those stories. It would mean a lot to me, to be someone who could be invested in those stories” she says, “to see they’re making a conscious effort to show experiences that mean a lot to me.”

Dias learned a great deal from the experience as an activist, and has this to say to other young people who might want to have an impact as well. “Learn how the issue exists on a systemic level. A lot of the times something frustrates us personally, but learning how it’s part of a larger system is how you can better understand how to take it down from the root and how it affects your broader community and the people you care about.”

One structural issue she encountered in deploying #1000BlackGirlBooks, was how unresponsive curriculum creators were to changes in society. “These curriculums don’t get changed, don’t get edited, don’t focus on how cultures and communities change. Students have limited say in the types of material they learn and how they learn it.”

Dias’ peers fall into two groups in terms of their responses to her remarkable experiences and accomplishments. The aspiring journalist says, “Some kids are super aware and now are interested in activism. They understand that it’s about changing the world and there’s stuff that comes with that.” The other group of peers tend to see only the rewards of her labor as opposed to the labor itself. “Some people only see it as she has a Netflix show or she did a commercial, she met Rihanna and that can be frustrating. “ Dias doesn’t let the resulting negativity impact her, however. “If people want to see the deeper meaning behind my work then they will and their feelings don’t necessarily define my work.”

Soledad O’Brien Documentary Focuses On Homeless In First Days Of COVID-19

In the Bible, Cain lobs a sarcastic, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” in response to God’s query about Abel’s whereabouts and indirectly, his well-being. Before the appearance of COVID-19, many Americans, in the face of homelessness, lack of health care, and other public policy issues effectively had the same attitude. In her new documentary, renowned journalist and producer, Soledad O’Brien’s illustrates the pandemic has, if not changed hearts, certainly changed some minds.

“Pandemic In Seattle,” airing and streaming on WORLD Channel platforms September 7, 2020 at 9 p.m. EST, provides a glimpse at the shift in attitudes wrought by one of the most consequential events the modern world has ever experienced; and it happened quite by accident she tells The Baltimore Times.

Film subject Stevie Habedank in a screen grab from Local USA Pandemic in Seattle.

Image Courtesy of WORLD Channel

Film subject Stevie Habedank in a screen grab from Local USA Pandemic in Seattle.

O’Brien was shooting in Seattle in early 2020 as the nature and scope of COVID-19 unfolded, but the story wasn’t about COVID-19. “We were shooting a story on homelessness,” O’Brien explains.”Then it became very clear early on, that Seattle was going to be the tip of the spear and we were going to have to shift dramatically the way we were telling the story.”

The story, says O’Brien went from, what do you do about a community in crisis to, “What do you do for a community already in crisis when a crisis hits?” Compounding the issue for Seattle was the fact that there was no map showing in which direction to go. The Obama administration had erected an office to deal with pandemics, but that was scrapped by the trump administration.

“A lot of the people who we talked to on the ground in Seattle,” said O’Brien, “were very sympathetic to people who are homeless and really struggling, but until there was a crisis they never thought about, where do you wash your hands? How do you have sanitary conditions when you are living in your vehicle, when sanitary conditions become essential?”

A screen grab from Local USA Pandemic in Seattle.

Image Courtesy of WORLD Channel

A screen grab from Local USA Pandemic in Seattle.

Pandemic in Seattle follows the lives of three Seattle area women dealing with a crisis unprecedented in its magnitude in the modern era: Patty Hayes, the Seattle and King County public health director, Stevie Habedank, a homeless woman living in a car with her family. Then there is Katherine Kempf, whose elderly father resides in the Kirkland Life Care Center, a nursing home that was considered the “epicenter of the coronavirus.”

Without a doubt, coronavirus has brought many lessons. One of those is, we are in fact our brother’s keeper if only to ensure our own health and safety. “With the pandemic people understood,” explained O’Brien, “that your neighbor’s sanitation and your neighbor’s health is related to your own health.”

Many homeless learned that they had been effectively gaslighted by public officials. They were told of the exceedingly limited abilities of local government to provide basic shelter for the least among us. COVID-19 exposed the lie. Pandemic In Seattle graphically illustrates how quickly housing went up for Seattle’s homeless after coronavirus arrived. So-called “tiny houses” which often took months to go up, went up in days. Hotel rooms and other contingency housing was speedily made available. “We heard from a lot of homeless people, saying where was this like two months ago?” explained O’Brien.

O’Brien hopes viewers will come away, “Understanding exactly how much of a struggle coronavirus has been for people who are homeless wherever they are, not just in Seattle.”

She also hopes it will spur viewers into coming up with solutions, “that protect the homeless and protect the greater community as well.” O’Brien sees this as an opportunity for all of us to be more compassionate. “How do we make these changes for homeless people when we’re not in a pandemic?” asks O’Brien.

Though O’Brien admits that there have been failures in red states as well as blue states, she insists, “The bigger takeaway is not that everybody should be thinking about public health individually. It doesn’t work that way. Public health should be an American priority. Our priority is to make sure we don’t kill the economy, and we don’t kill 180,000 people.”

O’Brien sees public health response as a litmus test for the decency and health of a society as a whole. “Communities, cities, countries are judged by how they care for the needs of their citizens, and I think it’s really clear that when it comes to dealing with people who are struggling, we really haven’t done a very good job as a country.”

World Channel show page for Pandemic in Seattle:

Beyond the Lens interview with Soledad O’Brien and Rose Arce

A’lelia Bundles Offers Praise and Critique of Netflix’ “Self Made” at Virtual Screening of Walker Documentary

WORLD Channel recently hosted a virtual discussion, screening, and Q&A with filmmaker Stanley Nelson and Madame C.J. Walker biographer, A’lelia Bundles. The host of WORLD Channel’s Local USA, Tina Martin, led the Q&A and discussion of Nelson’s timeless 1981 documentary on Madame C.J. Walker’s life, “Two Dollars And A Dream,” now streaming on WORLD’s YouTube channel.

Walker has become more popular as a historical figure over the past decade; known to many as the woman who pioneered the Black hair care industry.

The film showcases the promotional slides Walker used to market her products, clips of marketing films made by the Walker company, interviews with former employees, and rare archival photos including those of her palatial estate in New York, and of Walker with luminaries such as Booker T Washington and WEB DuBois, further broadening understanding of all Walker was and did.

Nelson made “Two Dollars And A Dream” when very few were aware of Walker’s contributions to American business. His friendship with Bundles goes all the way back to the making of the film. Bundles revealed during the discussion that she helped do the audio for some of the interviews.

Much of the discussion focused on the 2020 Netflix limited series, “Self Made,” about Walker’s life, starring Octavia Spencer; with Bundles and Nelson parsing what the series got right and what it didn’t. Bundles lauded Ocatvia Spencer’s depiction enthusing, “I thought Octavia Spencer was perfectly cast as Madame Walker. Every time she came on screen, I could see the pages of my book coming alive.” Bundles also expressed her pleasure at the show’s depiction of successful early twentieth century Blacks. “I think there are a lot of people, both Black and white, who don’t know anything about that. They don’t know that there were prosperous, educated Black people back then.”

Because the public is still just learning about Walker, however, there are things, Bundles feels could have been done differently. “It’s one thing if you’re George Washington or Marilyn Monroe and there are 52 films out there about you, you can take more creative license. But with a first pass, it’s helpful if we don’t distort people too much.”

Bundles would also have preferred that Walker’s romantic relationships reflected reality more. In “Self Made,” Walker’s daughter A’lelia (played by Tiffany Haddish) had a relationship with a woman named Esther. “Esther was not a real person,” explained Bundles. “A’lelia Walker’s real life conflict was over two men, both of them doctors and both of whom she married.”

FB Ransom, played by Kevin Carroll, was also overly distorted. Ransom worked at The Walker Company from 1910 until it dissolved in the 1940s. He oversaw many developments including the Walker Building in Indianapolis, a precursor to the modern day shopping mall. Ransom, who is also Nelson’s grandfather, Bundles shared, “was a much stronger character and was really a straight arrow. As a young man he made an oath to never drink, smoke, or gamble.”

She explained she has voiced her concerns during the series’ development. “I objected very strongly to the way that they depicted Ransom. He was central to the day to day operations of the business. It was made to seem as if he, or a Black business, would do something illegal. That didn’t happen.”

To this Nelson added, “That generation coming out of enslavement, were strivers. They believed that if you walked the straight and narrow, and you strove and pushed, good things would happen. There were Blacks who might have gone to juke joints but the ones associated with the company, were very strict.”

Bundles also found the handling of the Madame C.J. Walker and Addie Munro relationship problematic. She admitted that the two businesswomen became adversaries. However, she clarified that the colorist dynamic applied to the Addie Munro character was totally fabricated. “I would not have done the Addie Munro character,” Bundles stated. “She was a stand-in for Annie Maloney, who was a successful entrepreneur and philanthropist who didn’t have a colorism issue.”

Perhaps the most exciting reveal was that Bundles is working on a new book. “There’s a lot I’ve learned in the past ten years. There’s certainly more than Stanley knew when he was making “Two Dollars and A Dream,” so we have more dimensions for the A’lelia Walker story and I’m really eager to tell that story.”

‘Streetlight Harmonies’ takes viewers on sweet trip to American music’s innocent youth

Way before they were crying in the club, folks were “Crying In The Chapel.” The Orioles’ 1953 hit came at the advent of doo-wop, a musical genre created in Black neighborhoods on America’s East coast at the height of the Cold War Era. Created by the first generation of children of the Great Migration, doo-wop was a youth-generated genre as well.

With childhoods shaped by city culture, these adolescents grew up mere miles from the best that fashion, theater, and music had to offer. That same promise of glamour and romance marked doo-wop music. In addition, hits from music groups of the 1940s like The Ink Spots such as “My Prayer” certainly made an impression on teens looking to express their own feelings about love, and become stars themselves.

Director Brent Wilson’s new eighty-three minute documentary “Streetlight Harmonies,” now available on Amazon Video and DVD, is a sweet trip down memory lane to an innocent time in American music, marked by the starry-eyed stylings of teen groups like Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers, The Drifters, The Platters, and many more. Full of archival footage of musical performances of the biggest hits of the day like “Why Do Fools Fall in Love” and “Earth Angel” is both a lyrical walk down memory lane and a melodious history lesson on the foundations of popular music.

Little Anthony of hit-making doo-wop group Little Anthony and The Imperials in doc

Ley Line Entertainment

Little Anthony of hit-making doo-wop group Little Anthony and The Imperials in doc “Streetlight Harmonies.

Sammy Strain (Little Anthony and the Imperials), Barbara Jean English (The Clickettes), Lala Brooks (The Crystals), Ron Dante (lead voice for cartoon band The Archies) and others provide commentary on their experiences in shaping a genre that had a profound role in shaping both Rock and Roll and Rhythm and Blues. Both would eclipse doo-wop and reach worldwide popularity. En Vogue’s Terry Ellis and Cindy Herron, NYSNC’s Lance Bass, and Brian McKnight also appear, and discuss how their own music was influenced by doo-wop.

A high-flying television appearance by Frankie Lymon and The Teenagers was life-altering for Strain. The variety show “Frankie Laine Time,” had erected a prop cement wall for their act. The Brooklyn raised ninth-grade drop-out and self-described “juvenile delinquent” recalls an interview with The Baltimore Times, “When I saw Frankie Lymon jump over that wall, I was amazed. It just opened up a whole new world for me being a teenager at the time.” He instantly got a sense of purpose. “I just knew that I was going to sing!” he says. Strain ended up being a member of several popular groups including The Fantastics and The O’Jays.

Streetlight Harmonies explains Italian-Americans, who often lived in neighborhoods adjacent to the growing Black neighborhoods on America’s East Coast, figured prominently in many of the white doo wop acts.

Ron Dante had one of early pop’s biggest hits with “Sugar Sugar.” A Staten Island native, he started out as a guitarist and doo-wop singer who used the unique landscape of the city to hone his craft as an adolescent. “The Staten Island Ferry Terminal,” he recalls, “was where I rehearsed with my group. Late at night, it would be open and it was a great area.”

An extremely successful music producer for many decades, Dante cites doo-wop’s significant impact on the music that came after it. “It’s the basis of most background harmonies that have been on record since the ’50s from these wonderful groups that developed it on street corners, subways and terminals—wherever there was some nice echo. It’s totally influential and exists, to this day.”

As much as the music provides a literal mellifluous trip back in time, Streetlight Harmonies also reminds us that doo-wop was also the soundtrack of an epically fraught era in American history. Doo wop’s heydey from the mid-fifties to early sixties paralleled the height of the fight for civil rights. The groups being both young and mostly from the Northeast, weren’t familiar with overt structural racial discrimination until they went on tour. Remembers Strain,” We saw that things were different in other parts of the country. It was a culture shock. I did gigs where white people were on one side of a rope they put up, Blacks on the other. The groups had to literally sing facing the wall. Eventually, they started commingling. The rope was dropped. We had a lot to do with that.”

Full of music, memories, Streetlight Harmonies is a charming reminder of a gentler time for many and a pleasant introduction to pop music’s beginnings made all the better by commentary of those who were actually there.