The Burial: UrbanFaith x Willie Gary

The Burial: UrbanFaith x Willie Gary

The Burial is a film inspired by the real life story of black Attorney Willie Gary known as “The Giant Killer” who takes the unexpected contract case of a white funeral home owner named Jeremiah O’Keefe in southern Mississippi. Mr. Gary is one of the most successful trial attorneys in American history who has won lawsuits against multibillion dollar corporations to protect  and get justice for his clients. The inspiring story is filled with comedy and drama as what begins as a case about deal gone bad begins to expose corruption, injustice, and power that would change both men’s lives. Academy Award winner Jamie Foxx plays Willie Gary who alongside Academy Award winner Tommy Lee Jones and Jurnee Smollett deliver truly amazing performances. UrbanFaith sat down with Willie Gary, the man behind the legend to talk about the film and his hopes to inspire others. The full interview is above. The film is rated R for language, but it is a movie I will be fine watching with my kids. There is use of the n word in context which likely contributes to the rating, but this film is a cinematic take on important black history and American history. The film is in select theaters now and on Amazon Prime Video October 13!

 

 

Blue Eyes-Brown Eyes: An Interview with Jane Elliott

Blue Eyes-Brown Eyes: An Interview with Jane Elliott

Jane Elliott is one of the most impactful educators and social activists in US history who performed experiments as a teacher that showed convincingly how racism impacted children. Her blue eyes vs. brown eyes exercise in 1968 after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and subsequent world wide publicity of the exercise changed how society viewed race. Her work is a major basis for scholarship on race as a social construct. UrbanFaith contributor Maina Mwaura sat down with this hilarious and brilliant woman to discuss faith, the impact of her work, and her hopes and concerns for relationships between people from different backgrounds today. The interview above has been edited for length, clarity, and content. The views and opinions of Ms. Elliott are her own, not necessarily those of urbanfaith. 

Frederick Douglass: ‘What Is July 4th to the Negro?’

Frederick Douglass: ‘What Is July 4th to the Negro?’

In the nineteenth century, many American communities and cities celebrated Independence Day with a ceremonial reading of the Declaration of Independence, which was usually followed by an oral address or speech dedicated to the celebration of independence and the heritage of the American Revolution and the Founding Fathers. On July 5, 1852, the Ladies’ Anti-Slavery Society of Rochester, New York, invited the Black abolitionist and civil rights leader Frederick Douglass to be the keynote speaker for their Independence Day celebration. The Fourth of July Speech, scheduled for Rochester’s Corinthian Hall, attracted an audience of 600. The meeting opened with a prayer and was followed by a reading of the Declaration of Independence. When Douglass finally came to the platform to deliver his speech, the event took a jarring turn. Douglass told his audience, “This Fourth of July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn.” And he asked them, “Do you mean, citizens, to mock me, by asking me to speak today?”

Within Douglass’ now-legendary address is what historian Philip S. Foner has called “probably the most moving passage in all of Douglass’ speeches.”

What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July? I answer: a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciations of tyrants, brass fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade, and solemnity, are, to him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy—a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices, more shocking and bloody, than are the people of these United States, at this very hour.

On this and every July 4th, Americans might do well to re-read and reflect on Douglass’ famous message. It challenges us to move beyond the biases and blind spots of our own cultural privileges and consider those around us for whom, as Langston Hughes said, “America has never been America.”

Read Douglass’ complete speech here, and watch actor Danny Glover recite an excerpt from the address below.

From Freedom to Freedom: Memory & The Space Between

From Freedom to Freedom: Memory & The Space Between

“Liminal” is defined as the space between. It is the no-longer before, and the not-yet other. It is the space where we find ourselves caught between the light of Juneteenth and the shadow of July 4th. We are caught in the space between. No longer enslaved on plantations, but not yet with a freedom fully realized. It’s an imaginative space; an emergent space; and a space for reflection.

It is in this space that I am reminded of the Statue of Liberty, and the broken chains at her feet. I first learned about the chains in 2017, at a training in Chicago led by Dr. Joy DeGruy. She told the story of how the chains were part of the original vision of the statue, how American financiers insisted that the chains be removed, and how the sculptor still managed to sneak the chains in under Lady Liberty’s garments, lying broken at her feet. She told the story how the National Park Services didn’t talk about the chains unless someone happened to ask. The chains were not part of the Park Services’ narrative about the Statue. In the Statue’s 135-year history, information about the chains have only officially been included in the park service’s literature and website for about the past six years.

Yasmin Sabina Khan goes even deeper in her work, “Enlightening the World: The Creation of the Statue of Liberty.” Conceived in 1865 by Édouard de Laboulaye, sculpted by Frédéric-Auguste Bartholdi over the course of approximately 20 years, the Statue of Liberty was unveiled at New York’s Ellis Island as “Liberty Enlightening the World” in October of 1886. At the base of the Statue, out of view from anyone looking from ground level, lie the broken chains of slavery. Visible only from helicopter or drone, the chains weren’t spoken of. Laboulaye was an ardent abolitionist. With the end of the US Civil War in 1865, Laboulaye imagined a gift that would embody the significance of the liberation of those who were enslaved. Bartholdi’s original model placed the torch of liberty in one hand, and broken chains in the other. The Statue of Liberty’s entire visual and artistic vocabulary was meant to both celebrate and honor the freedom of those enslaved in America. But financiers balked at the idea of chains placed anywhere on the Statue, and after profuse opposition by Bartholdi, the chains were removed, replaced by a tablet emblazoned with the Roman numerals for July 4, 1776. Since they aren’t easily visible, and since there was no concerted public effort to connect the statue with the narrative of the abolition of chattel slavery, the memory of it’s connections faded. And for the past 135 years, barely anyone remembered the chains.

For Black people within this liminal march of history, the Statue has long sat as a symbol of hypocrisy—celebrating a freedom that became connected to a honoring of ideals that have yet to be realized. There’s much to unpack about our historical reactions to the unveiling of the Statue, but there’s also much to be said about the loss of memory. The obscuring and loss of communal memory around the presence, history, and meaning of the chains at the feet of the Statue of Liberty is important because it reminds us that  memory is important.  And not only is memory important, memory is crucial in this liminal space between freedom and freedom. Memory is what helps us imagine. Memory is what helps us create. It’s something we can use to construct and define a new world, a new freedom, a new way of being.  We must tap into it. 

In his book, “Something Torn and New: An African Renaissance” Ngugi wa Thiong’o writes, “creative imagination is one of the greatest of re-membering practices…” and that “memory is the link between the past and the present, between space and time, and it is the base of our dreams.” Harnessing memory is our work.  These broken chains at our feet, the light of Juneteenth, the long shadow of July 4th—this liminal space—all of it is here to remind us that we have worlds to build. We have a freedom to define—to make clear and meaningful. It is within this creative tension where we have the possibility to gain a clear-eyed view of what a full realization of freedom could look like, both collectively as a community and a country, and particularly in the living out of our individual lives and individual situations. But understand, there can be no clear expression  of freedom without integrating communal memory into the foundation of work. 

If memory is the base of our dreams, what are our dreams of freedom? What if we could transform freedom in the same ways that we’ve always transformed culture? In this liminal space of history, we’ve seen Black creativity, Black genius, Black art, and Black joy shift and drive culture (and economies) around the world. Have we fired that same ingenuity in our definitions of freedom? What would the world look like, if we defined and constructed freedom based on our criteria, our imaginations, our memory? It might look something like a society built on the idea of thriving rather than destruction.  It might look something like a society built around dignity—of humans, animals, and the earth. It might look something like systems built to nourish and sustain life rather than profit. Freedom could look like so many different visions of more and better. The dreaming is up to us. 

We have work to do. We have worlds to build. We have a freedom to create. And as we go about protesting and advocating for our lives, here in this liminal space between freedom that was and freedom that might yet be, may we remember that the work we have to do, the worlds we are building, and the freedom we are creating, cannot reach their fullest expression without our communal memory. 

Let us remember the chains broken at our feet, so that we may creatively continue in our generation’s leg of the journey toward the light of freedom fully realized.

The Original Juneteenth-An Interview

The Original Juneteenth-An Interview

Juneteenth, observed June 19 each year, has a long history of commemoration among African Americans in the United States. It commemorates the day that the last slaves in the former Confederacy received the Emancipation Proclamation, officially acknowledging their freedom on June 19, 1865 nearly 2 years after it was officially issued.  But within the past few years, Juneteenth has become a national Black holiday. It has been celebrated by Black people in Galveston, Texas and the immediate surrounding area for generations. UrbanFaith sat down with Valerie Boyer, an educator, minister and Galveston native to talk about the history of Juneteenth and its meaning today as it becomes a federal holiday in the United States of America.

Creed III: Exclusive Interview with Michael B. Jordan x Jonathan Majors

Creed III: Exclusive Interview with Michael B. Jordan x Jonathan Majors

Creed III

by Michael B. Jordan x Jonathan Majors | UrbanFaith

The following is an edited excerpt for clarity, the full audio interview is above. 

Allen

I’m Allen Reynolds, the editor of UrbanFaith. I had the opportunity to interview Michael B. Jordan and Jonathan Majors about their new movie Creed III, in theaters everywhere, March 3.

One of the things I thought Creed III did so well was to give space and allow for complexity in emotion and aspiration for black people, but especially for black men. Why was it important for you guys to show joy, loss, sorrow, pride, and you were able to capture so much of that. Why was that important?

Michael B. Jordan

I think because the narrative has often been one note for a long time. Through cinema on a project like this that’s going to get so many eyes, so many different points of view, to show those layers and complexities that is us. That is black men, men in general, but specifically our stories. We wanted to give it the respect and the honesty because we all know a Damian, we all know an Adonis, at some point at some level. And being able to represent those stories in a truthful way was really important to see.

Allen

Another thing that stuck out to me as well was that you have all these different relationships, you have mentor mentee, friendships, black marriage, fatherhood, being a child with an aging parent, and of course rivalry, all of that is so much a part of our story. What was it like to inhabit all those different roles?

Director Michael B. Jordan on the set of his film
CREED III
A Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures film
Photo credit: Ser Baffo
© 2023 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures Inc. All Rights Reserved
CREED is a trademark of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Michael B. Jordan

Felt freeing. Honestly, for me, as a filmmaker, now a real storyteller, in a real way, being able to talk about and show the things that I’ve experienced that affect me in my life. Other people [and myself] have those type of relationships. Also, I think it felt it felt great to do work, I felt completely honest, real, and grounded. We do projects, different movies for different reasons. And all of it may not feel personal, [but] you try to bring a little bit of yourself to these roles. Feels good. It felt good.

 

Jonathan Majors

I think my mission was a lot different. It’s really a commentary on brotherhood. What [does brotherhood] look like to you? At one point, [Creed] is my best friend, my homeboy, my ally. One point he’s my nemesis. One point, he’s my motivation. The man to that one relationship. We’re gonna continue the relationship between them and beyond as the primary attachment. My mission and my objective was to show the complexity of that relationship. In this one partnership, there’s all these different facets. It’s not just best friend. Sometimes a student- teacher, sometimes it’s beggar-rich man, sometimes it’s prisoner and freemen. There is a slave [and] master within the brotherhood. [Damien] was a coyote, [Creed] was purebred puppy. We were both dogs. Both men were both gladiators were both fighters, but there are these differences. It was difficult to establish those relationships.

Michael B. Jordan stars as Adonis Creed and Jonathan Majors as Damian Anderson in CREED III
A Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures film
Photo credit: Eli Ade
© 2023 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures Inc.
CREED is a trademark of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Allen

I think that you guys left so much room, just to see a movie like this with a majority black cast. Black director, I think you’re carrying on legacy of Oscar Micheaux, Spike Lee, of these black directors, right. And you carrying on for these black actors, the Sidney Poitier, Denzel Washington, Phylicia Rashad was in this movie. I mean, it’s incredible. What is it like for you all to be carrying on the legacy of black art and black film from actors’ and directors’ perspective now?

Michael B. Jordan

It feels good. It feels like we’re honoring their path and the race that they’ve been running. It’s our responsibility as filmmakers in the platform that we have and opportunities that we’re given because of their hard work to continue that work, that study, those ideas. Without Sydney, Denzel, and Harry Belafonte and in all the work that they’ve been doing, and have done, we couldn’t have been given this opportunity to run the way we are. We’re just trying to get every drop of juice out of the lemon, say as much as we can, be truthful and honest. And working with Phylicia, is fantastic. Amazing. Yes, ma’am. Anything you want ma’am. (laughs) Just honoring that it’s surreal sometimes, honestly, for me, it kind of it feels larger than life. You know, I have not really been a guy to stop and like smell flowers often. I’m like, what’s next? But when I hear somebody say that and break it down that way, it just kind of hits me like, wow, okay!

Jonathan Majors

For me, it’s all the aforementioned artists Mike named but also Ella Fitzgerald, and Muhammad Ali, and Sam Cooke [whose legacies] we accepted. I know Mike is about to get on that Walk of Fame.

What we are talking about, it means something because he is going to transcend whatever an actor is, and transcend whatever are director is, you’re a part of popular culture. And that may be a bad word, but popular culture is the culture. When you begin to move at that level, you begin to do what Mike has done and is doing, you join the pantheon of these legends. Not only do we feel motivated to continue it, but to grow it. I mean, respectfully, we know things that Denzel, Sydney, and Harry were learning, we grew up knowing those things. It is our job to push it forward. You know, I think what is happening now is there’s a clear establishment of the new Vanguard. And that’s us.  Whether or not we want it, it’s us, and [we have a responsibility.] We have athletes joined us in the fray, but it’s about moving the entire culture forward. You know a huge part of pop culture is black culture. The more we mature, the more sophisticated we become, the more intelligent conversations, the more in-depth conversations become, the more complex they becomes, the more we are adding to our culture and the richness of our culture, but also moving everything forward.

Michael B. Jordan stars as Adonis Creed in
CREED III
A Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures film
Photo credit: Courtesy of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures Inc.
© 2023 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures Inc. All Rights Reserved.
CREED is a trademark of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Allen

Just pulling back a little bit. You all have both just succeeded so much are two of the greatest black actors in this moment, some of the greatest actors of our generation, if I may say so. And I know that a huge part of that has been growth, and my audience is interested in faith. I know that’s been huge, especially in Jonathan’s journey. Can you talk a little bit about what faith has meant to you all as artists, and even as you continue to climb these ladders and open new pathways?

Michael B. Jordan

Faith, you know, for me is strong. I think we’re in an industry where, you got to have a lot [of faith]. You’re one of many, [who will face] a lot of no’s, a lot of rejection, a lot of obstacles that are in your way, in order for you to see a vision of what success looks like to you. You got to have faith in yourself, you have faith in something bigger than you. I think meditation, spirituality, for me, silence [are impactful]. And then that brings those thoughts that are [helpful] that comes to you. I think it’s extremely important.  And also faith in evolving things. I think there’s a way in this industry… a lot of roadblocks that can get in your way and that represent life. As you travel life has a lot of different roadblocks that would come in your way and being the main character of your own movie, as being the hero of your own story, got to have that faith in order to kind of achieve it, reach the mountaintop, so to speak. So that’s something that sticks with me. We have strong faith.

Jonathan Majors

To me [faith] means everything. I know it’s a scary word [in some circles] but I pray all the time. You know this tiny, small little voice, that’s [what has] always guided me. And the building of faith, you know, stepping out on faith. I mean, this whole thing set me off. I hadn’t read the script. This idea of discernment. Michael, and I spoke about that [discernment], that’s what was happening in those 30 minutes [when I was offered the role of Damien]. There’s a Hollywood version where I go, “oh, nice” and I just knew. But I was told. [Or I wouldn’t have done it]. I’ve met Michael’s mother, you know. These are praying, folks. We’ve all been prayed [over] our entire lives and the building of the faith, even having this conversation with you right now. Being asked about [faith], it’s probably a good time, as we both are both tired. I’m not gonna preach. But I have no doubt where my strength comes from.

(l-r.) Michael B. Jordan stars as Adonis Creed, Mila Kent as Amara and Tessa Thompson as Bianca in
CREED III
A Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures film
Photo credit: Eli Ade
© 2023 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures Inc. All Rights Reserved
CREED is a trademark of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Allen

I appreciate that. Last question for you all. Our audience is young people, young adults, I work with high school actors. What advice would you give to those young folks, young artists who are trying to be successful trying to find their voice. What advice would you give to the next generation?

Michael B. Jordan

Be relentless. I always say be relentless. Find something you care about, that you obsess over, and just go for it. There’s going to be a lot of noise, a lot of resistance. But try not to be distracted by a lot of distractions. [They’re] all around you in a lot of different forms, by way of that little box right there [your phone]. We’re all guilty in a certain way, shape or form sometimes. But I think for young people who grew up with that as the norm [it’s even worse]. I grew up with dial up modems, printing out directions on mapquest lol. That’s, that’s my generation. But a lot of these kids, [smart phones] that’s their truth, that’s their norm. There’s a lot of distraction nowadays. So just being able to put that thing down for a minute and be to your own thoughts, you know what I’m saying, focus, and have the work ethic and not think everything’s so instant and immediate.

Michael B. Jordan and Jonathan Majors at Boys & Girls Club of Atlanta for Creed III Atlanta Outreach

Because a lot of things they feel like, it’s right now, right now, and it’s not, you know what I’m saying? These are products of years of work, dedication and discipline. And I think, I would always preach it to the next generation, to these young kids, to just find that work ethic, because there’s something true to it. There’s something that nobody can take away from hard work. You put the time in and you can’t they can’t take that away from you. Whether that’s reading, whether it’s mastering the craft, doing your 10,000 hours. That is legit.

 

 

Jonathan Majors

Micahel B. Jordan and Jonathan Majors spend time with students at Urban Prep for Creed III Chicago Outreach

I’m in it now. I would pray for purpose. I would pray for anointing. And once you know what your anointing is, that’s it. A lot of times, we’re just going after the wrong thing. The work ethic, a lot of people think me and Mike just have a dog work ethic. That’s not, not true. But I think something that me and Mike also have in common is that we know what we’re supposed to be doing. We gain a great deal of pleasure from it. It’s our anointing. You hear Michael B. Jordan, it’s not just Michael B. Jordan, something was put in him. Something was put in me, so I have to be aligned with that. When we begin to walk our path, there’s still no’s, there’s still impossibilities… but there’s God. So it’s all good. It’s all good. That’s what I was saying. Then yeah, all the grit and all that…yeah, absolutely. But a lot of times you’re actually just going after the wrong thing. I will say to the young folks, you don’t need your phone yet. Grown ups need phones. We actually have businesses. I don’t use [social media and] stuff like that. But I do understand my colleagues who do. They’re like, in the game, in the matrix, there’s no getting out of it. But for young people, you can keep it so simple. And it can always be simple, unless you complicate it. Suddenly you begin to work through that thing. Then you got to work for it. If you can, if you can abstain for as long as you can. It’ll let you know when you need it. Insta-chat-facebook-tweet. Pay attention a little longer. They won’t last. [Social media we grew up on didn’t last].

View the final movie trailer below