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Trevor Noah On Police Targeting People Of Color: "There Is No War"

From the outside, looking in.

In September, Trevor Noah will have completed a year as the only millennial host at Comedy Central's The Daily Show, a gig he still admits he was never ready for. Before facing criticism for taking over the reins after long-time host Jon Stewart stepped down, Trevor Noah, 32, made his debut as an on-air contributor, offering his outsider’s perspective on culture in the United States. “I never thought I’d be more afraid of police in America than in South Africa,” he quipped, with a sort of distinguished charm we've now come to love. “It kind of makes me a little nostalgic for the old days, back home.”

Noah, who moved stateside circa 2011, was born in Johannesburg to a black mother and a white, Swiss father during apartheid. In a social climate currently riddled with anti-black rhetoric, Noah most notably garnered headlines for tackling police violence from behind his late-night desk.

"Did you guys see that shooting that happened two days ago?" Noah asked in the wake of the fatal shootings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. "Because don't worry if you missed it. There was another one yesterday... Two videos in two days of police fatally shooting two black men who, when you watch the video, did nothing to warrant them losing their lives."

This month, Noah and his crew—the "Best F#@king News Team"—will take their satire and political savvy on the road to cover both the Democratic and Republican conventions, offering viewers a first-hand account. As a non-U.S. Citizen (therefore unable to register to vote in the election), the stand-up comic is keenly aware of his naiveté in American politics, which, as far as he's concerned, aligns nicely with that of its citizens. "I think everyone should admit they know nothing about how American politics works," he cracks over the phone, "because if they did Donald Trump wouldn’t be leading and wouldn’t be the Republican nominee."

Ahead of the conventions, Noah uses his jester point-of-view to navigate racial disparities in America, "emotional" success, and the impending war zone that awaits should Trump win the upcoming presidential race.

Squad Goals! Daily Show team heading back to NYC. #squadgoals #MorningSelfie

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VIBE: As someone who “knows almost nothing about how American politics works,” what do you hope or expect to learn while covering this year’s convention?
Trevor Noah: I think everyone should admit they know nothing about how American politics works because if they did Donald Trump wouldn’t be leading and wouldn’t be the Republican nominee. So I think the thing I hope to learn most by going to the conventions is understanding how, on their side, they allowed a man who doesn’t represent the party at all to become the face of the party. That’s pretty much why I’m excited to be going to the conventions.

Who are you most rooting for, and why?
It’s tough right now. Right now I’m still in the wonderful position of being a court jester where I don’t need to “root” for anyone. I do know that if Donald Trump becomes president of the United States, you’re going to be in a place where you’re in uncharted territory and that territory may be a war zone. But, other than that, I’m lucky enough that because I cannot vote and I do not need to vote, I am in the position where a jester should be and then that is I’m looking in from the outside, just giving you the honest opinion of all your options and right now those options are Hillary and Donald.

What would you say to Trump if you found yourself standing next to him?
What would I say to him if I found myself standing next to him? Uh, I would say “Hello,” first and foremost. I’ve been taught to be polite in my culture, so I would greet him. And then I would say to him—the biggest question I would ask him is “Are you for real?” Because I genuinely don’t think he is.

Do you think that your opinions on race in America have a more resonating affect because you are from South Africa?
I don’t know that it has a more resonating affect. I do know though that we share a struggle, we share a cause, we share a history in some way, shape or form. You know, America and South Africa have had very similar beginnings and so I understand a lot of the sentiments, I understand a lot of the feelings, and so strangely enough I feel at home in this conflict. So, in terms of it resonating, I would hope it would resonate because people feel like it is coming from a genuine place that is authentically connected to theirs and that’s probably the biggest reason.

A night I shared with living legends. @georgelopez @arseniohall. #TheLateNightClub

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What cultural aspects from South Africa do you think America could benefit from?
I think it’s getting to the place where you are not politically defined, but rather defined as groups and as individuals and as a society. You know, it’s strange to me that people here describe themselves, increasingly so, more and more, just as Republican and as Democrat and that defines your point of view. Whereas, back in the day, and even if you read the statistics and you look at it like—America used to be a place where you could be dating someone who was a Republican and you could be with someone who was a Democrat if you were a Republican. You could go either way because it was just a point of view on how to get to the same place whereas now it has become something that defines people. ‘I cannot be friends with that guy. He’s a Republican,’ ‘I cannot be friends with that person. They’re a democrat,’ and that is something that we don’t have in South Africa, thankfully. You know, if you were a supporter of one party, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you cannot be in any conversation with people from another party and that’s one thing I think America could benefit from.

You grew up in Soweto, which is linked to the discovery of gold. As a member of mainstream America, what are your thoughts on the country’s obsession with wealth?
I don’t think it’s just America’s obsession, I think it’s the world’s obsession. It’s just America was one of those countries that was driven by it. No one who is still here today was from here, like everyone was brought here because of that wealth. Everyone was brought here in order to mine that wealth in different ways. So I think because America fundamentally is based on an idea, because America is a place where capitalism is so celebrated, the up-side is that it is a world where people can do—anything is possible. The sky is the limit. The down-side is that you have a place where sometimes people are only aiming for the wealth, people are only aiming for that and that becomes the definition or the defining characteristic of the country. You know, where everyone is just trying to get rich. Everyone is just trying to be richer than the other people around them.

Whereas when you go to Europe and other countries around the world, there is also a certain sense of “What is your emotional success?” “What is your personal success?” “Is your family intact?” “Do you have enough time off?” “As a mother, can you raise your kids?” “Can you take time off of work?” In places like Switzerland, they actually force you to take time off to go and be with your family. They don’t allow you to be a workaholic because they realize ironically it goes the other way around: the more you work, the less effective you are at work. And America hasn’t understood that because the goal is just to be on that “Top 10” list. Who has the most money, who is making the most money who’s doing—it’s the actors, it’s the singers, it’s the CEOs. And so because the nation itself was founded on that, the pursuit of happiness—life, liberty and the pursuit—the wealth is a thing that people perceive as being that liberty and because that is one of the only ways you can achieve that true liberty it becomes a defining characteristic of a country when it really shouldn’t be.

Thank you for that. That was incredibly enlightening. In your opinion, how should we tackle police brutality against black and brown peoples, and what do you think needs to happen in order for real change to occur?
I think, first and foremost, the police force needs to admit that it has a problem. People take for granted that, we are just talking about police shootings, but the police relationship with black and brown people in America is a larger conversation. Yes, shootings and deaths are extreme examples of that interaction, but we cannot deny the physical abuse. You cannot deny the way people are spoken to. You cannot deny years and years and decades of that. And you know I understand the conversation on the other side where people go “Oh, well, black people need to be more respectful of the police and you cannot deny,” yeah, but if you look back—I was watching the OJ documentary the other day and you realize this has been going on for such a long time, it’s just that now black and brown people have the tools to show that they are not crazy. They have the tools to bring people into the conversation. And I think that’s what needs to happen. That the police force just needs to admit that they have a problem.

All Students of Stewart! #GOAT #jonvoyage

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Now, the problem is not saying that you are bad people. The problem is saying that you are working within a system where you spend the bulk of your time firearms training and only something like eight percent of the time studying how to deescalate and negotiate in a conflict situation. But, if you think about it, that’s mostly the situations that you’re going to be in as a policeman. You should be spending more time figuring out how to deescalate things and less time figuring out how to shoot your gun. And that’s not the fault of the policemen, that’s how they’ve been trained. You need to understand that, from the top down, that there is something wrong. And until that happens, nothing can change. It will seem like there is a war and there is no war. The truth is it’s an oppression. To imply that it is a war means that either side has a chance of winning this and that’s not true. Black people cannot go up against the police, and that is not what they should be doing. The police are there to protect its citizens and all Americans are its citizens.

So, the most important thing is just for people to keep talking, it’s for people to keep tweeting, it’s for people to keep the conversation going. But from the other side as well, people must be careful that they do not attack the very people that are trying to help in the conversation. And I understand where that comes from, but I see so many black and brown people saying to white people, “Hey, stay out of the conversation,” “Shut up, you don’t know what you’re talking about,” “Hey you, white celebrity that’s trying to chime in, why don’t you shut up,” and it’s like, if you keep doing that, you do realize you will not have the groundswell that you need to move the conversation.

When gay people were fighting for the right to marry and equal rights, they weren’t chasing straight people out of the conversation because they realized that you do need those in power to give you the power. No one can deny that. And people can be headstrong about it and say “We’ll take the power,” but, if you look throughout history, not many times has the taking the power led to the most progressive movement where the gains are realized. So I think it is a situation where it needs to be addressed from the police side, but those fighting and those understanding in the movement from black and brown people need to realize that you have to welcome the help of others, even if they may not be articulate in giving you the help.

Going back to what you called “emotional success,” what does success look like to you?
Success to me looks like getting to a place where I can afford to pay for my food and the food of others. Getting to a place where I can use my platform and my position to improve the lives of others because by improving the lives of others you immeasurably improve your own life. I don’t know why we’ve forgotten that or we just don’t know that in society. It’s a strange world that we live in and I’m guilty of it, too. We all do it. We think if we build ourselves then that’s the most important thing, but if you build those around you then everything gets better. So, for me success is getting to that place, but also forging genuine relationships along the way. Meeting real people, maintaining my friendships. I’m still lucky enough to be friends with people that I’ve known for 15 years from back home.

It’s understanding that you exist beyond all your achievements and your accomplishments. You, as an individual, need to be accomplished because if it all gets taken away today—I guess I quote Whitney Houston when she says “No matter what they take from me, they can’t take away my dignity,” and that’s part of the emotional success for me is being in a place where I’m not defined by what I’m doing, but I’m defined by who I am.

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The 40 Best R&B Songs Of 2019

If you're a true lover of R&B, you can appreciate a soulfully soothing, quiet storm-worthy, put-it-on-repeat-and-think-about-your-boo (or potential boo) type of song. If you're a true lover of the genre, you sometimes find yourself reminiscing about the days when R&B of the '90s and 2000s was sensually laced with emotional vocal runs and the music videos featured a phone, 2-way pager or some kind of communication device. And if you're a true lover of R&B, you've followed (and hopefully accepted) how the genre has evolved and survived since then.

2018 was definitely the year where R&B declared its status as "alive and well," in a time where hip-hop made its dominating and profitable presence known. This year, R&B continued to hold its own and kept the smooth, soul-stirring vibes coming even if it didn't hold its traditional form.  As hip-hop and the genre continued to birth chart-climbing singles, R&B songs of the early aughts made a resurgence through sample-laden tracks from artists of the new school.

For VIBE's 2019 Best R&B Songs list, we decided to not only choose songs that deserve a spot on a baby-making playlist but also celebrate the artists who've kept the core of R&B intact in their own way. Some songs are well-known, some are deep cuts. Some of these artists have won a music award or two this year, but the others are just as worthy. Here we've compiled an alphabetical list of songs that have resonated with the R&B lover in us. Get into it.

 

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25 Hip-Hop Singles By Bomb Womxn Of 2019

Nothing hits like a rapper talking their sh*t, especially if she happens to be a womxn. There's a confidence that oozes out from the speakers and into the spirits of a listener open to that addictive feminine energy. This year, we got to see this in a big way thanks to the crossover success of a batch of very different womxn in rap. There's the hot girl also known as Megan Thee Stallion who balances her college courses while grabbing up Billboard chart-topping hits; new mama Cardi B proves you can really have it all and make history at the same time (a la her solo rap Grammy win) and Lizzo, who constantly pushes what it means to be a "rapper" with her style of vibrant pop music.

In 2018, VIBE presented a year-end list dedicated to albums by womxn and this year continues that tradition of spotlighting some of our favorite womxn– who happen to rap. The term "female rapper" has become sour by the minute, with many artists in the game refusing to pair their gender to an artform seemingly jumpstarted by a black womxn. “I don’t want to even be a female rapper,” CHIKA told Teen Vogue recently. “I’m a rapper. So for someone to have a qualifier like that and throw it out there so publicly — it feels really backhanded. I don’t like [it].” She isn't the only one. As hip-hop continues to dominate pop culture, the womxn in the genre are demanding respect for the craft. Here's a list comprised of some of our favorite songs that hit the charts or slipped under the radar.

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Afrochella Sets Sight On Connecting The African Diaspora, One Festival At A Time

African music and culture are going global.

There’s a concerted effort to create and connect on the continent and to the continent. In Ghana and Nigeria specifically, a number of events, festivals, concerts, and activations have grown to prominence over the past five years, attracting newcomers and serving locals. This year, December will harvest a crop of opportunities for those abroad and at home to tap into the music, art, food, and fashion of the new-wave vanguard.

“Ghana remains home to the global African family,” Ghana Tourism Authority CEO Akwasi Agyemang said in an interview earlier this year. "We are positioning Ghana as a gateway to the West African market," Agyemang added. As African cultural productions popularize abroad, Accra and Lagos have become the go-to grounds for people of the diaspora to initiate immersion into experiencing Africa. 

The Ghana Tourism Authority and the Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture have lined up a slate of activities in an effort to boost the country’s tourism industry. The government has taken initiative to further pushing for mobilization, galvanizing both descendants and diasporans to visit, invest, and live in the country.

Certain factors make Ghana appealing for visitors. Along with it being one of the more stable nations in West Africa, according to a 2011 Forbes report, Ghana was ranked the 11th -most friendly country in the world, ranked higher than any other African country. But as of last year, according to the World Atlas, Ghana didn’t rank amongst the top 10 African countries to visit for tourism in 2018. There is already a history of diasporans permanently relocating to Ghana. The government attempted to facilitate this process when it waived some visa requirements and passed amendments to a 2002 law that permits people of African origin to apply to stay indefinitely in Ghana. 

But this year has been a particularly important one for visitors. This December marks the ending commemoration of the Year of Return. Ghana 2019 is an initiative of the government formally launched by the President of the Republic of Ghana in September 2019 in Washington, D.C. as a program for Africans in the diaspora to unite with Africans on the continent. The mission transcends a marketing strategy. The year 2019 commemorates 400 years since the first enslaved Africans were brought to Jamestown, Virginia. The program serves to recognize the surging people and the following generations of achievements, sacrifices since then. 

The past year has seen a steady influx to West Africa. According to a report in Quartz Africa, Ghana’s tourism sector contributed 5.5 percent to GDP in 2018, ranking in fourth place after gold, cocoa, and oil in terms of foreign exchange generation for the country. And the government is hoping for more growth. Ghana is reportedly projected to rake in an annual $8.3 billion from the tourism sector by the year 2027 in tandem with an estimated 4.3 million international tourist arrivals.

But with the opportunities for connection and investment comes a slate of new concerns attached to old ones. Tourism, for example, can be lucrative for local business, but also can have a broader disruptive impact on the nation’s economy. Then, there are the issues that programmers face to bring locals and visitors the sought-after idealized experiences of Ghana— a taxing and a challenging feat to execute in an environment that’s still developing its infrastructure in multiple sectors. Along with improper documentation of visitors, the 15-year development plan put in place to help push the numbers, in ways, has not been implemented in full force.

But a rush to Ghana is still projected, and there’s a slew of events coinciding in the region at the same time this year aiming to accommodate this. One of the events slated for a return is Afrochella, the annual art, music, and food festival happening in Accra from December 20 to January 5. Separate from the official year of return events, each event also aims to fulfill a similar mission and market individual appeal amidst similar events. There’s AfroNation, the popular Europe music festival holding its first-ever edition on Ghana’s coastline at the same time as Afrochella, while Nativeland is planning a selection of panels and immersive activations with Melanin Unscripted focusing on music, art, and culture in Lagos right before it.

Afrochella was conceptualized by Abdul Karim Abdullah in 2015. Abdullah, along with co-founder Kenny Agyapong, and COO Edward Adjaye, launched the full-scope festival with the hopes of curating a connection to the continent this year, focused on increasing visibility to the rising talent on the continent. Their 2019 theme is “Diaspora Calling,” aiming to promote networking within the Ghanaian community and diaspora, ensure African youth value and celebrate their native cultures while connecting communities through education, fashion, art, music, and business in Africa. 

Community involvement representative Emmanual Ansa states they want the event to become “the impetus and mecca for the celebration of African music, culture, and art.” But amidst the many options on the ground this year to fulfill these missions, where does Afrochella stand, and how does it stand out?

VIBE sat down with the Afrochella co-founder Abdullah to talk about the structural challenges of executing this initiative while appeasing the demands of a growing consumer base, the cultural significance of the event, and envisioning Ghana as a premier frontier for a global black connection.

Can you talk about the origin of Afrochella? What inspired it?

I went to school in Ghana for about seven years, and then I came back to the US and I went to high school in the Bronx—  High School For Teaching And The Professions. I went to Syracuse University in 2006 and got my bachelor's in psychology and biology. And then I got my master's in 2016 at CUNY Hunter college in public health. I've been working in medical research for eight and a half years. But this has been a passion of mine that I've always done on the side, which is throwing African-inspired events.

That’s when my team came together. It started out with me wanting to do a festival here in New York called Native Tongue festival, and that was geared towards food. I just wanted to explain the culture and engage people within the diaspora. But then, on our yearly trip to Ghana, I found that we would gather and we would have a great time, but we couldn't really have that much of an effect once we left. I felt like we could have an effect; we could encourage more people to reach back home and do certain things by creating a space where we can engage each other. I thought there was so much talent coming in from all over the world that were from Ghanian descent or African descent and if we could create a place where we can galvanize all of that and the people that are doing amazing things within those industries, we would be able to create something pretty good. [In] 2017, we decided to do something like that.

How has it changed since 2017? Has it been easier to translate what you're trying to do in terms of this new interest in Africa — Ghana and Nigeria in particular? 

My team is battle-tested. We understand what we have to do in order to make the event successful. But, I wouldn't say it's been easier; each year presented different challenges for us. In year one, it was financial. Until this year, it was navigating bureaucracies. Last year, it was navigating governmental agencies. This year is navigating competition, navigating finding more funding.  One of the things that we noticed about events in Ghana specifically is that once it [nears] completion, people tend to not attend it anymore. What we want to make sure we do is every year we want to increase the amount of people that attend— and each year we have at least by 30 percent. Each year, we've been able to define our message more clearly. 

Talk a little bit about the government in Ghana. How has it been dealing with things on the bureaucracy level?

I would say our event is doing a big service to Ghana. Afrochella has definitely given people an opportunity to visit Ghana. The government should support us in a way that makes gaining access to certain government facilities easier. But that has not been the case. We've had to be very proactive about that with regards to certain policies that may exist that are not written on an online forum. Like in America, if I wanted to do a special event in the park, I'd be able to go to an online source. I'd be able to see all the things that need to do in order to get a specific permit for a specific venue. In Ghana, these things don't exist.

For instance, this year we received an email from some agency. Out of all of the years, we've never communicated with them and in the third year, they're reaching out to us about musician copyrights and, apparently, we have to pay a tax. Those are the kinds of things that we've faced. You can end up paying people that are not actually supposed to get paid. And there's no way of you knowing whether or not it exists or doesn't exist. 

Last year, we had a very weird incident four days before the festival. We were told by the Ministry of Aviation that our stadium is right by the takeoff of the planes leaving Accra. I would think that the venue that we're renting out for this festival would be able to let us know, “hey, you need to do this with the Ministry of Aviation,”— they did not. The day before Christmas, we got a notification that we have to change venues because they feel our lights will interfere with flights taking off. It's, of course, an accident. So, we reached out to the Ministry of Aviation, sat down with the director and devised a plan in order to allow our event to continue. Those are the kinds of things we faced as an event that we are still trying to navigate. Hopefully, as we grow, it will get easier.

Do you think it'll get easier when some type of infrastructure is built to help those types of events move more smoothly?

I think that Ghana is going to have to look itself in the mirror. We all don't know what to expect in December. Because there are a lot of people going to Ghana in December, the anticipation is very high. All the major hotels in Accra are sold out. How Accra responds to the influx of people I think should inform the government on how they should prepare for events and things like this for the future. I do hope that there is an effort created to streamline policies. 

I would like for the government to encourage events. I think events is one of the major drivers of tourism. And if they're paying attention, they will notice that a lot of people are coming to Accra for Afrochella and the events that exist during that last week of Christmas. The double mission is to take a deeper look at this creative industry and figure out a way to encourage that positively in a way that it affects both the people on the ground and the people within the diaspora. 

The government has not been welcoming this with open arms or does it not have any type of structured initiative to help this run smoothly?

I'm not saying that. I just feel like in general, we do not know what changes in infrastructure or policy being made to accommodate the amount of people that are coming in. For instance, with Afrochella we understand that because there's going to be so many people—there was an excessive amount of traffic coming into the stadium last year—that we need to figure out a way to get people to the festival in shuttles. If we can get people that are shuttles, then we could reduce the amount of cars. We reached out to the Ministry of Roads to help us so we can avoid traffic in front of the stadium and that we can make sure that there's a safe way for people to enter. This is some of the planning that we have done. Until now, I personally have not seen any information come out, access [to] policies that exist. 

One of the major complaints that people from the diaspora face when they go to Africa during Christmas time is we feel that we should be having the same sort of customer service that we enjoy abroad. With the influx of people, I think that it's going to get worse.

We just wanna make sure that infrastructure exists to make sure that people that are coming do not disrupt the way of life in Accra.

There are a lot of other events happening around the same time as Afrochella. What is the concerted effort to kind of stand out from the rest?

Our goal is to highlight the thriving millennial talent from within the continent. So we take pride in making sure that we're highlighting people within various industries of food, fashion, music. With our Afrochella Talk series, we’ve been able to highlight people that have been doing amazing things within the creative industry. In December, we'll be doing one on music. And this is an opportunity to be able to educate people on opportunities that may exist within their field or create a platform for people to be able to discuss questions they may have. 

We're also involved heavily in charity. Last year, we supported Water Aid to help provide clean water to families in need. The year before that, we gave out school supplies to kids within Madina Zongo. This year, we're doing charity twofold. We're rebuilding an orphanage school, in Jamestown, Accra and also providing them with school supplies. We call this initiative Afrochella Reads]. We’re also doing Afrochella Feeds on December 26th. 

Our goal when we bring people to Ghana is not just to come and turn up, not just to have a good time, but also to give them a feel of the vibration of the country, what the culture is.For us, it's a holistic approach.

What does the full festival entail?

The festival itself is art, music, food, fashion and all of that culminates in our eyes what culture is. We believe that each part of these is equally as important. Not one part is more important than the other and that we should celebrate them together. In addition to people getting to go to our festival, we also give them the opportunity to be able to engage with the country through our tours, through our charity. The tours and the charity that we do is to make people understand that yes, Africa is a good time— you can go to all the clubs— but we want to make sure you leave and provide an impact at the same time. 

Talk a little bit about the Audiomack rising star challenge and that effort to kind of curate the connection with music and culture.

With the rise of afropop music in America, I feel these artists deserve a chance. Right now, the popular, mainstream artists are the ones that are getting the looks they deserve. But I think that there are a lot of talents that exist from the continent that deserve to showcase their talent.

The other aspect of it is, I feel that people in the continent are using all of these apps and all of these different services and they hardly get to connect with representatives from those services. One of our goals is to make sure that we partner with these companies and give them the opportunity to invest in the talent directly. With Audiomack, we're doing exactly that in that we're giving seven individuals an opportunity to perform at Afrochella. And the one with the most streams, we’re giving them $1,000 towards their career and we’re giving them an opportunity to for a studio session at our partners BBnZ Live. This is one model of the type of partnerships we want to, we look to create with companies in the future. 

Why is this year in particular so important for the reconnection of the diaspora in the context of the 400-year anniversary?

A lot of the conversation between the diaspora and the people from the continent is what makes us different, why we don't get along. What we want to do as a festival is take that conversation and change it into what can we learn from each other and how can we help each other. I think that it's very important that as you see the Chinese and the Japanese and the Americans and everyone reaching for Africa, that we engage the people in the diaspora to make them understand that there are opportunities that exist and there is amazing talent in Africa and they are interested in starting a business and you're interested in developing a space and you can engage with your counterparts on the continent and help build the continent yourself.

I think the more black people we get to invest in the continent, as a whole black will be helping each other. This year is absolutely important and I think that shoutout should go to Nana Akufo-Addo of Ghana for declaring this year The Year of Return. Ghana is definitely a good site that people can visit, but we hope that as people enjoy themselves and have that experience that they use that as a platform to visit other African countries and see what opportunities are there for them to be able to leave a lasting impact on the continent.

This interview was lightly edited for clarity.

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