If not for the movie The Best of Enemies, W.L. “Bill” Riddick would be relatively unknown. I attended a screening for The Best of Enemies, starring Taraji P. Hensen and Sam Rockwell, and was enchanted by Bill’s character commandingly portrayed by British actor Babou Ceesay. I jumped at the chance to speak with Bill—to hear his story, how his Christian faith informs his work, and if his use of a collaborative process known as charrette (to unite opposing sides) could be used to solve conflict in these times of racial, gender, economic, and educational injustice.
A humble man, Riddick is an unsung hero who leads a charrette co-chaired by an unlikely pair — civil rights activist Ann Atwater and KKK leader C.P. Ellis — in the desegregation of the Durham Public Schools in 1971. With a career in human services that spans over fifty years, Bill’s story did not start or end with the charrette in Durham in 1971.
For those of our readers who may be unfamiliar with you, tell us, who is Bill Riddick?
Bill Riddick is a man born in the ’30s. My parents were tenant farmers. I got the opportunity to go to A&T State University, worked for a couple of years, and then went back to NC State University for a Masters Degree and then started a career. I spent my last eighteen years at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill working in student health. So, he’s a good guy. A Christian man who has a lovely family and all is well right now.
I was going to ask this later, but I’ll ask now. Can you share how your faith has informed your work throughout the years?
Like most Southerners, I grew up in the church because it’s the only social institution in the community. I kind of lost my way for a few years and when the charette started, my faith was there, but my behavior wasn’t there. So when I look back on it, I realize that the Lord gave me every word, led me every step, gave me every idea, and He chose me as a vessel for these two people. But I didn’t ask Him at that point. But I understand it now.
You understand it now. Yes! There’s something about looking and tracing not only the trajectory of your life but also the hand of God in your life. You can see how God was moving even when you didn’t realize it. So, tell us how you became acquainted with the charette process?
I was working at Shaw University and we did a charette and it fell apart. About halfway through it the person who was leading the charette told me that I was the reason that it was falling apart. I finished it. It turned out to be good. I got invited to Indianapolis and then to York, Pennsylvania, and then, of course, to Durham.
How did you get to Durham? Who invited you? What were your expectations walking in?
I got there through a friend of mine. His name was Wilbur Hobby from the North Carolina AFL-CIO. We had made a good friendship in some other work we had done together. When he called me, I knew it was serious. I knew that he was asking me to do something that was impossible because he was just that kind of guy. (chuckles) I had some reservations about it, but I knew that he was a good person and he wouldn’t put me in anything he thought I could not do. So that gave me the energy to sort this thing out.
So did you think it would work?
Well, in doing a charette, the first thing you do is put together a steering committee. And once you get the steering committee, you then look at the opposite of the issue. And that’s how I got to Ann and that’s how I got to C.P. I got to CP because he knew Wilbur. And when I called Wilbur’s name, he gained enough respect to call me other than what he did. (chuckles) But at least he knew that I had somebody in my history, or in my present life, that was a friend to both of us.
What would you say the film got right and what didn’t we see in the film that you think was important to the process?
I think the film got the major points right. This whole movie is real. Robin Bissell did a great job of picking the parts that were big parts and had to be shown to the public. But to have gotten one day of the back and forth, and how we had to argue about stuff, especially those first four or five days, would have been something the audience would enjoy. But that would have been a three-hour movie by itself.
As I watched the film, I kept thinking, “So I know the ending, but this is incredulous!” That had to be some experience for you, but I’m sure there had to be others. So outside of Durham in 1971 what would you say the most memorable charrette was and what made it memorable?
Well, if I take Durham out of it, I really enjoyed the one in Indianapolis. We got the community together to offer what it would look like in a low-wealth community. And that school, the way we designed it started at 6 o’clock in the morning and ended at 11:00 with women bringing “well” babies to the clinic and all that stuff. I have no idea whether all that was accomplished, but the city was very pleased with what we had done to put together a high school that served the community—where people didn’t have to go downtown for services.
I read your bio and I know a little bit about your background and it sounds like you’ve done amazing work, hands-on Justice work, which is still much needed. We’re still living in very tense times, and there are disparities across race, gender, socioeconomic status, healthcare, education and more. Do you think that a charrette is a tool that can still be used today, and if so, in what ways?
Well, the charrette was set up to be a 10-day process. Nobody in America today would have time to do anything for 10 straight days. That’s not going to happen. I do think, though, that the issue of bringing people together to look at the same problem but who see it very differently is something that we are going to have to start doing in our country. We bark at each other, but we don’t sit down and truly listen to what the other person is saying. That was the intent of the charrette; That we will listen and respond and listen and respond until we come up with a solution. We just don’t have the attitude, nor the time, to do that kind of thing today.
As you were saying that, I was thinking of the Disciples in the Upper Room. There’s waiting and patience and willingness to bear your thoughts and feelings and deeply listen and work through the conflict that is necessary.
That is true. We’re going to have to start looking at issues that affect a lot of people and do something about it really, other than giving it lip service. And I also think the key might be the religious community. Because I honestly believe, first of all, that God is not happy with us—with the divisiveness and putting each other down. I think He is very much unhappy with that. I believe that this is a time for faith-based institutions to come together, to say, “Look, you know we can do this! We can. Not only do we have the power of God on our side, but we can do things much like the Civil Rights movement. I think if Martin King wasn’t a God-fearing man that he would not have been as successful as he was.
Yes. Absolutely. Do you have any parting words of wisdom or advice you would share with our readers who are mostly millennials—the younger generation, though I believe the oldest millennials are about thirty-nine now, so not so young. What would you share with our readers in terms of using their faith in the work of justice?
I believe that if you go to the movie and see it, you take the time the next day or two just to look at yourself in the mirror and decide what your biases are that might harm other people. Make a pledge to yourself to become a better person, to say, “I’m going to treat people the way I want to be treated—no matter what their color, age, ethnicity, and all that stuff —I am going to give everybody the right to stand on the surface that they stand on.” I think if we do that, millennials particularly won’t get caught up in these lines of disliking this person and liking this person.
Rev. Donna Olivia Owusu-Ansah is a preacher, chaplain, teacher, artist, writer, thinker, and dreamer who loves to study the Word of God, encourage others, and worship God. Rev. Owusu-Ansah holds a BS in Studio Art from New York University, an MFA in Photography from Howard University, and a Master of Divinity, Pastoral Theology, from Drew University. You can check out her website at https://www.reverendmotherrunner.com.
So many headlines and news stories are focused on whether or not it is Rep. Weiner in the tweeted picture, the odds that Palin’s bus tour could “accidentally” end up in New Hampshire on the same day as Romney’s big announcement (the odds are 1,700 to 1 by the way) and former Sen. John Edward’s indictment, that our debt ceiling issue is being overlooked! The Treasury Department is saying the U.S. may begin defaulting as early as August 2. And while many people are confident that the U.S. will not miss payments, this fiasco certainly doesn’t reassure creditors of our financial stability. In fact, a lack of faith in the U.S. economy can result in another financial crisis. Even more concerning is why the limit hasn’t been raised yet: Republicans want the legislation to include measures to reduce spending (i.e. cut Medicare). On Friday, June 3, 2011, House Speaker John Boehner stated, “House Republicans met with the president, urged him to change course,and to work with us on our plan for new jobs and economic growth in our country.We hope he’ll take us up on our invitation.” If their “invitation” isn’t accepted, the Republican Party might just resort to putting a horse’s head in President Obama’s bed.
Last week, the Egyptian prosecutor’s office announces that former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak will go to trial in criminal court for injustices against the Egyptian people and deaths of protesters. On January 25, he allegedly orderd police to fire at protesters in Cairo’s Tahrir Square. Mubarak could be executed if found guilty.
Tim Burton, the eccentric filmmaker behind Alice and Wonderland, The Nightmare Before Christmas and Edward Scissor Hands, opened his exhibit last week at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA). The exhibit takes a tour through Burton’s career comprised of 700 hundred mobiles, drawings, figurines and other pieces of art. The exhibit even includes sketches from his days as an artist at Disney. For Burton fans (like myself), visiting this exhibit is a must! It will be at the LACMA through October 31.
Rihanna’s new video may cause controversy due to her very public history of domestic violence, but perhaps for her, it’s just therapy. In the video, Rihanna seems like an innocent girl going through her island neighborhood, talking with locals, and drinking coconut milk. But things go awry when she visits a steamy nightclub and the man that she dances with all night follows her into a dark alley and forces himself on her. Though the video has stirred plenty of controversy, thanks primarily to Rihanna’s sad history with men, it offers a valuable lesson. When we play with fire, our innocence can be quickly robbed.
Last week a federal judged that a high school graduation at edina Valley High School, in San Antonio, Texas, could not pray during the ceremony and could not use the words “invocation” or “benediction.” Americans United for Church and State, represented by Ayesha Kahn, counted this as a victory and Kahn stated that, “the district (had) been flouting the law for decades.” Students were allowed talk about their faith in a speech but not allowed to say “amen,” God bless you,” or have the audience bow their heads. I don’t know where the Christians were in this debate, but one hopes they will step up and express their concern and take a stand for the religious freedom of future matriculants.
States across the country have unexpected surpluses from increased tax revenue, but still cannot settle on budgets. Pennsylvania alone expects to close the year with $500 million in surplus, while California received an unexpected $2.5 billion in tax revenue. States that have this additional revenue have found a new problem when settling the budget. Some have proposed that they should use the money toward areas that have been neglected due to budget cuts like education and social services. Others propose that states should save the revenue as cushion for an unpredictable economy. What do you think?
GETAROUND may help you get some of your gas money back in this harsh economy. It’s a social car sharing service where you use the iPhone app to rent out your car to others in your neighborhood for a fee. The service provides hourly and daily rentals that a renter can search by car type. Depending on the condition and make of your car, you’ll be able to rent out your car for a more pricey fee. Expect to rent at anywhere from $5/hour for a ’98 Honda Civic to $50/hour for a Tesla Roadster. It’s a brilliant concept, so long as some heavy legal work is done to protect the renter. As a city dweller, I’d definitely give it a try.
On Tuesday, June 28 at 8p(ET/PT), BURN:The Evolution of an American City will premiere on the Documentary Channel. The award-winning film is directed by Harold Jackson III and tells the story of the worst recorded race riot in American History: The Tulsa, Oklahoma, Race Riot of 1921. The conflict lasted for 16 hours with aerial attacks, mobs, and martial law. It left 10,000 residents homeless, 35 city blocks destroyed, and many dead. The Documentary Channel will feature the film as a part of its Black Documentary Cinema, which spotlights Black filmmakers the last Tuesday of each month.
From the looks of this preview, it will provide much of what you’d expect from the headline. A mixed group of boys from different backgrounds come together to find purpose in their lives through an unlikely golf coach. I doubt there will be any surprises from the story line, however, the film may capture a few surprising performances. I’d still give this film a view due to its potential to inspire and perhaps even steal our hearts like The Great Debaters.
I’m not quite sure what image 15-year-old Dionne Bromfield is going for just yet, but with a voice like Billie Holliday and Amy Winehouse (the sober version), this girl is about to be a game-changer. Step back blue-eyed soul, here comes a sista from the UK that has a long career ahead of her. She released her debut album, Introducing Dionne Bromfield, in 2009 through Amy Winehouse’s record label. That album featured all cover songs. This year, Dionne is making her debut with original material. Her single, “Yeah Right,” released in January and was a hit in the UK. It’s only a matter of time before she spreads like wildfire in the US. Check out her new web series, “Down with Dionne,” and her video for “Yeah Right” below!
The results are in, and Tyler Perry has done it again. This past weekend I Can Do Bad All By Myself, the latest release from the Atlanta filmmaker, topped the box office, bringing in over $24 million. This is the second-highest grossing opening week for Perry, following his last hit film, Madea Goes to Jail.
Starring Oscar-nominated actress Taraji P. Henson, the film centers on Henson as April — a boozy nightclub singer forced to reevaluate her dead-end lifestyle when her delinquent niece and nephews show up at her doorstep. Henson’s stellar performance is accented by appearances from Adam Rodriguez, Gladys Knight, Mary J. Blige, and noteworthy newcomer Hope Olaide Wilson.
Also making his major motion picture debut is Pastor Marvin Winans, who captured Tyler Perry’s attention after the filmmaker listened to “Just Don’t Wanna Know” from Winans’ latest album, Alone But Not Alone. The pastor of the Perfecting Church in Detroit appears in the film as April’s minister to deliver a stirring musical performance and gospel message. (You can view a brief clip of Pastor Winans’s message here).
On the day of the film’s release, we spoke with Pastor Winans about his experience on the set of I Can Do Bad All By Myself, and why he’s not apologizing if the movie feels too preachy.
URBAN FAITH: What was it like working with Tyler Perry?
PASTOR MARVIN WINANS: Tyler Perry was a joy to work with. He was professional; he was exact; he was just phenomenal. I think his genius is underrated, and he does it all: directs, understands the lighting, understands what he wants on camera, and he’s able to give direction to the point where people can follow it. It really was a professional pleasure.
What was it like to act in a film for the first time?
It’s not anything I’m pursuing full time. [He chuckles.] But it was fun. I was playing a pastor, so it wasn’t that far a reach. The difficulty is trying not to act — that was the thing I learned. Just be true to the scene.
Perry gave you permission to write your own sermon to deliver in the movie. How did you choose your message, knowing you had the opportunity to deliver this sermon before an international audience of believers and non-believers?
I chose the message by looking at the script and really understanding the character. This person, April, was not inherently evil or inherently selfish. She had some experiences in her life that made her and shaped her anger and bitterness and her unwillingness to trust. I tried to find the right scripture to prescribe the right antidote that would relieve her fears. That’s what the gospel does if we find the right message.
As preachers, our job is to find the right message because it’s all in the Bible; it’s right there. Every human emotion, every experience good bad and ugly is right there. If we study the Word and pray, we can find the answer for every ill.
The sermon you preach is called “Value Added,” and as I listened to it I actually forgot that I was sitting in a theater; it feels more like church. It really speaks strongly to April’s situation.
“Value Added” was a message that I first preached about a year ago now. It deals with the Parable of the Lost Coin. Understanding that even though the coin is lost, it has not lost its value, just its usefulness. So if you find it, it still has the same amount of value. And, in the film, April was worth saving, because she had a good heart. She still had value. She had just strayed from the truth because of things out of her control.
Many faith-based movies sometimes come across as preachy or heavy-handed. In your experience, what’s the best way to deliver a “Christian” message without making it too preachy?
I really don’t get that. In my experience and history as a songwriter, I simply write what happened. I am unashamed to use the name of Jesus. It’s like asking a rock ‘n’ roll group not be so “rock ‘n’ rollish.” And when it comes to the church and the gospel, I really get passionate and disturbed by the idea that we somehow need to change the message. Why should I not be who I am?
Too preachy? Well, I’m a preacher. It’s too churchy. Well, it’s about church. When you’re in the church, you’re not exempt from life. And that’s the reason kudos are due to Tyler Perry, because his characters experience life and yet the church is there.
I don’t think the world understands that if I remove the element of the gospel from gospel music, or if I remove the element of the gospel from faith-based films, then it’s simply what everyone else is doing. I wish the world, the general public, would get passed the “everyone gets to be very upfront and out there except the church.” For some reason, we’re expected to muzzle and cover our message and be very covert while the rest of the world gets to be overt. I think Tyler is very out front about church, and I think that’s part of his success.
What do you hope audiences walk away with after seeing the film?
That it’s okay to trust again; that it’s okay to love again; that it’s okay to hope.
____________________________________________________________________ UrbanFaith would love to hear what you think of I Can Do Bad All By Myself. Chime in below and let us know if you’ve seen the film.
This week’s installment of Pop & Circumstance is heavy on the reality TV, since the summertime seems to carry an inordinate number of these programs. It makes sense. Reality shows are cheap to produce, and not as many people are watching during the summer months anyway, so the networks can get away with a little more mediocrity. Ah, but the mediocrity is often so addictive.
So maybe it’s a moral failing in me, but one episode and I’m already hooked on the new season of The Real Housewives of Atlanta. Pray for me, y’all. It’s an incredibly demeaning show — I know. The catfights between African American women, the incessant bling, the reinforcement of the stereotype that the only way black folks can become successful is through sports or music careers … I know all this. But it’s so delicious.
Thursday night season two premiered and out of the gate there was drama. But this time it wasn’t the bickering of the housewives that caused a stir. It was newly divorced cast member Sheree Whitfield’s fight with her “Independence Party” planner Anthony that lit up the screen. After failing to follow through on a few grand plans that would place Sheree at the center of attention for her event — because after all, it’s all about Sheree –the housewife “went Cleveland” on Anthony in a screaming match that forced colleagues of the party planner to hold him back while cameras rolled on the disintegration of his business. When all was said and done, Sheree asked, “What happened to customer service?” Classic.
The rest of the housewives, including new cast member singer/songwriter Kandi Burruss, seem to have matured a bit, finding some reconciliation from the drama that aired last November. But if Bravo’s teaser for future episodes is any indication, the peace is short-lived. I will say that the missing moral anchor of DeShawn Snow is palpable. She was the wife of retired NBA player Eric Snow who reportedly pursued a Master of Divinity and was not asked back for the new season because she was “too human for a circus show.” I miss those beats the camera used to take on Snow’s blank face each time Kim or NeNe would say something outrageous. It’s probably for the best though. She was too classy for this show. But apparently, I’m not. I’ll keep watching.
What do you think of the new season of Real Housewives of Atlanta? Will you watch?
Black Women Want Roses, Too
I haven’t watched an episode of ABC’s The Bachelor since season one when Trista Rehn was rejected by Alex Michel, and then went on to star in her own reality romance spin-off The Bachelorette. Back then the rose ceremonies were intense. I used to huddle around a small television set with my college girlfriends holding our breath as if peace in the Middle East was on the line while the roses were doled out . So when the most recent season of The Bachelorette ended on Monday, with 29-year-old interior designer Jillian Harris choosing Ed Swiderski, I missed it. But I did read Rachel Skirritt’s review of the show over at TheRoot.com and that got me thinking. Why do I no longer care about The Bachelor/Bachelorette phenomenon?
Skirritt, who has also fallen out of love with reality romance, noted that in 18 combined seasons of the shows, there has never been a Bachelor or Bachelorette of color. She writes, “Why is it that if an African American wants to humiliate him or herself on national TV in search of a mate, the only options are I Love New York or For the Love of Ray J? Are we not suitable for major networks?” Arguing that since Black women are the most unlikely to marry in our culture (the latest studies say that nearly 45 percent of black women have never been married versus 23 percent of their white counterparts), she posits that a season dedicated to this often woefully single demographic would score big numbers in Nielsen ratings. It might also lead to greater success in the relationships since due to the statistical challenges of finding the one, black women presumably have more urgency to get hitched.
While I agree that all races should have an equal opportunity to sign up for a chance to compete for love, and likely lose anyway (since less than 1 percent of past couples have actually married), I’m not sure a Black Bachelorette is the solution. There’s enough competition for romance among African American women without turning it into prime-time entertainment. And if the discussions I have with my single girlfriends are at all telling, there are some deep wounds unique to black women concerning the scarcity of men that might only be aggravated by a television show.
What do you think? Do black women need to get a rose too?
A Bigger and Better Bachelor?
Big girls want love too, or at least that’s the message Fox is trying to get across with its new reality show More to Love. The show,which features full-figured contestants vying for love, premiered last week to mixed reviews. Hosted by plus-size model Emme, the show aims to prove that love comes in all shapes and sizes. Much like ABC’s The Bachelor, the premise centers on the drama between approximately 20 voluptuous women as they compete for the affection of one successful bachelor. According to the Kansas City Star, this season’s bachelor is Luke Conley, a real estate investor who claims to be a Christian. While getting cozy on a sofa after private spa treatments, Conley tells one woman, “I am who I am because of my relationship with the Lord. I pray every day, and I read the Bible … to me, God is a third person in the room.” He then proceeds to make out with said woman. Maybe God stepped out for a bathroom break.
We’re not sure how “Christian” it is, but executive producer Mike Fleiss hopes the show will be inspirational to viewers by showcasing people who have truly struggled on the dating scene. “ABC’s The Bachelor is about beautiful people living a beautiful life and hopefully finding a beautiful love,” he says. “This show is like a sporting event. You’re rooting for someone to find love.”
Decide for yourself if it’s worth watching. You can catch the next episode on Fox this Tuesday night at 9PM ET/PT.
First Look: ‘I Can Do Bad All By Myself’
Tyler Perry notoriously refuses to play by Hollywood rules. It’s often been reported how he personally fronts the money for his films, allowing him primary creative control, and how he generally refuses to screen his movies for critics as is custom for most major studios. So the early trailers of his new film, I Can Do Bad All By Myself, are all likely we have until the movie hits theaters on September 11th.
The film stars Taraji P. Henson as April, a heavy-drinking nightclub singer, who is forced to reevaluate her life when placed in charge of her delinquent 16-year-old niece and two nephews. Faced with the choice of continuing her troubled ways with a married boyfriend, or exploring new possibilities with Sandino, a handsome Mexican immigrant living in her basement apartment, April is challenged to open her heart and move on from the past. As is characteristic of all Perry films, I Can Do Bad All By Myself shows the struggle of letting go of past hurts while learning to accept and pursue a new life with family, faith, and true love. The film also stars Perry (as Madea), and features musical performances from Gladys Knight, Mary J. Blige, and Marvin Winans.
Check out this trailer and let us know what you think.
Welcome to Pop & Circumstance. This new column will be UrbanFaith’s weekly spin on the latest entertainment and pop culture news. If you read something you agree or disagree with, want to share your personal reviews of the latest movies and music, or if you just want to let us know about something we should be covering, please don’t hesitate to chime in. Well, here goes …