Elizabeth-Acevedo Elizabeth-Acevedo
Elizabeth Acevedo

Poet Elizabeth Acevedo On Why #BlackLivesMatter Should Matter To Latinos

"Just because anti-blackness is ingrained in our community doesn't mean you're not at fault for allowing it to keep you silent."

The cry for "Black Lives Matter" continues to echo throughout the nation in the wake of the fatal shootings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, but Afro-Dominican poet Elizabeth "Liz" Acevedo couldn't help but realize that the voices of her community have been disproportionately silent.

The award-winning performer took to Instagram to sound off on a sensitive topic in the Latino community as she often does within her poetry, but this time there were no metaphors or similes infused in her no chaser message.

"One time for those of us who don't think we are complicit through our silence," she wrote. "One time for those of us who pass in this society and don't think these issues affect us because we live under the guise of: Latino, Hispanic, light-skinned, Trigueño, Indio, mestizo, or any other term that doesn't mean sh*t because they will come for us too."

The epidemic of "another day, another hashtag" doesn't end with Sterling and Castile as the list of slain black people—including Latinos—grows at an alarming rate. According to Maria Teresa Kumar, Voto Latino CEO and president, police violence against Latinos fails to make headlines although it mirrors the abuse against the black community. "Since Eric Garner, we had had five young Latinos that had been killed by police officers in the same manner that had not been covered at all in the media," Kumar said, revealing that Latinos aren't as isolated from the Black Lives Matter movement as many would opt to believe.

Though she admits it's not always easy, Acevedo isn't one to undermine her duty to speak up in the face of injustice or to cancel out any parts of her heritage that she's been taught to devalue. Her Dominican bloodline coupled with her New York City upbringing pulses through her words when she takes the mic on national and international stages. She checks off National Slam Champion, Beltway Grand Slam Champion and the 2016 Women of the World Slam Representative for Washington, D.C., where she resides, off her list of accomplishments.

Now the proud Afro-Latina lends her voice to VIBE VIVA in a phone interview where she criticizes anti-blackness within her community, stresses the importance of reclaiming our stories and issues a much-needed call for solidarity.

VIBE VIVA: The back-to-back police killings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile tested the breaking point of the black community this month. How did you immediately react to the news? 
Elizabeth Acevedo: I mean when Alton Sterling happened it was that moment of like oh snap, here's another story, but with Philando Castile happening that evening, I think that was where it was really like this just can't be possible anymore. How is it that every week we are hearing about somebody else and now it's happening twice in one day? And the numbers are staggering. There are lives being killed every day but for it to hit the media and to just feel that moment of despair of is this really how it's going to keep going down? Like how many people are they going to kill in one day before something changes? It was just—despair was really the word that I kept going back to.

All Def Poetry shared your poem "Beloved or If You Are Murdered Tomorrow" on YouTube at the end of June. Does it trip you out that the cycle of police brutality has taken a turn for the worst since then?
I think as a poet, it's that moment where you realize this piece you wrote last year that then got shared in June is not only relevant but is still timely in July. It's sad because I almost don't want that poem to be relevant. I don't want that poem to be used as a way to cope because I don't want to have to be coping with this anymore. I'm just so tired of the many people I know, all of us poets, writing about black deaths and just how exhausting it is to feel like this poetry is our only outlet.

As an Afro-Latina, you pointed out that many Latinxs have chosen to remain mum in light of the Black Lives Matter movement. Why is their silence problematic?
I think that the lack of solidarity [is the problem]. There's a lot of Latinos who don't consider themselves Afro-Latinos, but they still don't see how this struggle and being in solidarity and just seeing the humanity of Black Lives Matter is going to affect them. A lot of the privileges that are had in this country are due to a lot of the struggles that black Americans took on before a lot of us immigrated here so to not see the one-to-one correlation of how our struggles work together when we consider how the Latino community is treated [is a problem].

But also on a humanity aspect, just on a brotherhood aspect, how can you live in a country where you know that people are being killed every day and remain silent because they don't look like you or because they don't share your first language or because so often they're stereotypically depicted as folks you should be afraid of? And I think that the Latino community sometimes wants to other itself and not pick a side, but in doing that, it's picking a side. I think about a lot of the conversations I've had with my family, that I've had with my community, and how sometimes we can be activists in English, but when it comes to coming home and having those conversations, it's harder because we're fighting against cultural norms. We're fighting against how do you say this in Spanish. It just feels different, but that is a conversation that still needs to be had. It has to start at home.

One time for those of us who don't think we are complicit through our silence. One time for those of us who pass in this society and don't think these issues affect us because we live under the guise of: Latino, Hispanic, light-skinned, Trigueño, Indio, mestizo, or any other term that doesn't mean shit because they will come for us too. One time for those of us in the back who love black music, love saying the N-word and feeling included in black culture until moments like this one. Who remain fucking silent as black brethren die. Just because you're hiding in the middle of the room when it's time to speak doesn't mean you haven't picked a side. Just because anti-blackness is ingrained in our community doesn't mean you're not at fault for allowing it to keep you silent.

A photo posted by Elizabeth Acevedo (@acevedowrites) on

Taking a moment to look abroad, silence also appears to be custom when it comes to the deep-seated discrimination against Haitians in the Dominican Republic. Growing up as a Dominican in New York, has there ever been a serious discussion between you and your family about that strained relationship or was it a norm that went unchallenged?
I first noticed it when I visited the Dominican Republic and a lot of the workers in the houses I would visit or who worked the yards or who worked the neighborhood, a lot of the menial jobs, were often of Haitian descent, and I just remember asking why is it that it's structured this way. I just didn't know. I was eight and just hadn't ever seen such a clear distinction. I think my family has always been pretty cognizant of the way in which power structures are at play and because my father is black, his approach is always very different in regards to how he would answer the question, but you do hear discriminatory ideas. You do have these stereotypical things that come through like 'they're trying to take over the country'--not necessarily [from] my family, but sometimes the community says things so it's hard for me always being aware of the island and thinking about how do we talk about Black Lives Matter there too. Like when we talk about the lynchings of Haitians on the Santo Domingo side of the island, where is the outrage for that and for those bodies and for that kind of power dynamic that is taking place? And that's not even talking about the border and the kind of horrors that you face if you are of Haitian descent.

You delve into the "tragic mixture" of Latinos in your poem "Afro-Latina." Aside from anti-blackness, what else is at play in preventing the community from celebrating, rather than de-emphasizing, its multi-faceted identity?
In this country it's interesting because people who come from Latin America often have a very one-sided opinion of what blackness means in the US, and there's a stereotype of [blacks] have their pants below their butt, they come from this kind of community, they fail, they kill one another, they're angry. These are the depictions people grow up with based off of how the media portrays black Americans. And so when you come here and you want to celebrate blackness, there's an automatic relation between blackness and the stereotyped ideology of black Americans. So for me growing up saying I'm black, my parents would be like 'you're not' because they only understood black as African American, and they were like whatever we think that is, we don't want you to be that.

There was a fear based off of negative portrayals of black Americans, but on the other hand, I think that in Latin America there's just this huge—especially in the Dominican Republic—need for affinity with whiteness and Europeanness and with power. The blue-eyed, blonde, like that is what's considered beautiful and so you always try to align with that. You see it in the hair straightening. You see it in the whitening creams. I grew up being told to put clothespins on my nose so it looks thinner, and these are all Eurocentric ideals so I think that's so ingrained that it's almost impossible to escape. You can only face it and run it over, but you're not going to leave it unscathed.

Do you remember the first step you took in moving from ashamed to unapologetic in embracing the full depth of your heritage?
I remember being in high school and joining a nonprofit organization called the Brotherhood/Sister Sol in Harlem, and they would do a lot of Pan-Africanism and Pan-Latinidad work and just talked about the history we have, and all of a sudden reading more about black heritage, about Latin America, about slavery, about colonialism, about what it meant to be a women in these structures, completely changed my outlook on myself. So for me, it was starting to read. It was like turning to information and seeing depictions of myself, and the information answers all of a sudden as to why things are the way they are and why we think the way we think about one another, which was so empowering to realize it was all concepts I could change. I could change how I thought until I could change what I believed about myself and from that moment forward, I think the way that I walked through the world, the way that I wore my hair, the way that I celebrated my ancestry changed because I realized there's so much to celebrate. It's not just the running and escaping from these places that we call home or came from. It's also returning to so many of the traditions we've forgotten.

Whether you're criticizing the assault on black lives or challenging the stigma attached to curly hair within the Latino community, you don't shy away from the tough topics. Where do you draw your strength when it's time to write?
I think about what scares me to say, and I realize that oftentimes that's what needs to be said most. Like what is it that I think is going to cause a ripple that I don't want the world to really hear, that I know might be controversial, and do I really want to take this on? And oftentimes the answer is no, I don't want to take it on, but that's exactly why. That's the reason why it needs to be discussed and why I need to write about it because that means that a lot of folks probably aren't discussing this, and that's why it's still controversial and why it's still scary to say. I wrote a poem about abortion rights, and when I wrote this poem about black bodies looking for abortion, I was really scared about what the repercussions could be, about how people would respond. There's so many violent actions taken against people who are pro-choice, and so I knew that was why the poem was necessary because you have to be pushing back against this fear. We have to resist giving into fear.

You have a chapbook slated for a September 2016 release entitled Blessed Fruit & Other Origin Myths. What will we find inside?
It's a reclamation of the mythology of what it means to be a black Latina in the US and what it means to be black in the Dominican Republic and what it means to reclaim stories of Tainos and the different African groups that were brought to the Dominican Republic. It's all about the mythologies we ignore so it's almost a clapback to Greek myth in some ways in saying that we have our stories, so you'll find a lot of poems about being a girl, about growing into a woman in New York City, about the Dominican Republic, trying to tell all the stories we're often told are not important enough

What do you hope the Latino community ultimately takes away from your art as you continue to use your voice as an award-winning poet?

That there's so many stories for us to tell and that they're worthy of being told, and I think that hopefully they'll take away seeing themselves on the page. For me, that was life changing when I would read stories like The House on Mango Street. When I read Junot Díaz for the first time I yes'd. When I saw In the Heights by Lin-Manuel Miranda, I sobbed to the first song because I think [it's] seeing yourself and all of a sudden realizing yes, this is our story, not just the negative portrayals, but this complicated story. That we are still human beings that are worthy of being written about and written for, I hope that is what they take.

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L-R: La La Anthony, Lela Loren, and Naturi Naughton
Karl Ferguson Jr.

The Truth, The Whole Truth And Nothing But The 'Power'

Originally, Courtney A. Kemp wanted to call her Starz scripted drama The Price. She pulled the name from a teaching associated with Alcoholics Anonymous’ 12-step program that proclaims pain is the price of admission to a new life.

“We were going to show coke on a scale and then the dollar amount,” she said. “So, the price would’ve been the price of the drugs, but also the price you have to pay to get a new life.”

It was about a drug dealer in recovery who had a sponsor, but the execs instructed Kemp to take out the recovery aspect. After doing some thinking, she realized her project was less about how much one has to pay and more about how much control one doesn’t actually have.

“At its core, it’s about powerlessness,” she said. “So, I called the show Power.”

Sitting at a cherry wood table inside a plush private dining space at the Beverly Hills Four Seasons Hotel, Kemp reveals her attraction to the pursuit of power stems from her childhood. Growing up in the affluent, white burg of Westport, Connecticut, her ultimate wish was to have complete, ever-elusive dominion.

“I grew up in an abusive household, and all I wanted was to be able to control my parents. All I wanted was to be able to control my [older] brother. I didn’t want him to leave and go to college. I was a black kid in a white town.”

Kemp lets the words “abusive household” roll off her tongue with a sense of normality that denotes she’s accepted the home she was raised in.

There were a few other kids of color in the area, but eventually, they moved, leaving little Courtney by her lonesome, prompting her to escape into a world where she would have the final say, seeking -- and finding -- her power peak in writing and storytelling.

“That’s always the writer’s question: What if? What if? But it also goes to a sense of powerlessness. I can’t make it like I want it to be, and one of my biggest character defects is that I like to control people,” Kemp said. “So, what does that turn into? That turns into writing people because I can actually make them go places. ‘Interior. Ghost’s apartment. Day. Tasha enters.’ I can make them say things. It’s control. Power comes to the essence of control. Controlling your universe, controlling your environment.”

Kemp may have realized early on she likes to control people, but it was before recovery in 2007, when a “shift,” as she calls it, occurred, and she learned she isn’t a puppet master.

“There have been times in my life, not now, when I was much more likely to use deception to get my way. After a certain point in my life, I accepted the fact that I cannot get my way. There’s really no way to control the universe. We’re powerless over what happens next. You can be sitting in your kitchen, and a stray bullet could whiz through the window, and you’re dead, and that’s nothing you did wrong.”

VIBE: What specifically happened in 2007 that made you realize you can’t control anything?

Courtney A. Kemp: I’m probably not going to answer that question.

I don’t push for an explanation or re-work the question in hopes to dupe her into answering. Her no was a full sentence, said with intention and boundary. All she reveals is things changed for her spiritually placing her on the path to where she is now.

And today, Courtney Kemp sits at the top of her Power empire. With the help of executive producer Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson, Kemp birthed a crime drama about James St. Patrick, also known as Ghost, a man living a dual life as a drug dealer-turned-nightclub owner trying to leave the streets he’s littered with dope for the legitimate world of New York City nightlife. Kemp and the rest of the Power writers boldly explore the ramifications of manipulation, duplicity, and lies.

Kemp is deliberate with her words. She’s survived whatever recovery she’s hush about and, in turn, has become a forthright woman with steadfast conviction. She ferociously defends characters who’ve merited ire from fans, (“I will go toe-to-toe with you about Holly”) and doesn’t show a bit of remorse when discussing beloved characters killed off the show (“If you ask me if I regret killing Raina, no. Period.”)

So, it’s interesting that with all her truth, Kemp finds liars to be “fascinating.”

“They always get caught. No one ever doesn’t get caught,” she said. “It’s such a fool’s errand. It’s amazing to me. If you run a full game, a full deception, eventually, you’ll get caught. That always happens. It never doesn’t. I have to use a double negative. It never doesn’t happen. So, it’s fun for me.”

Premiering in June 2014, Power--which stars Omari Hardwick in the principal role, along with a diverse cast of characters exhibiting unscrupulous and deceitful behavior -- received noticeable fanfare on social media and earned solid ratings during Season One. After being greenlit for a sophomore season, the secret couldn’t be contained any longer, and new fans were curious to learn what the hubbub was about while old fans awaited lustily to see how things would play out. Now, five years later, Kemp is ready to bring this street tale to an end.

“I don’t want to be a show that drags on for nine or 10 seasons, and there’s no story to tell. This story is over. It begets the next story, but this story is over, and I wanted to pay it true homage and give it the respect it needed. When people say ‘Oh, I want more seasons,’ what they’re saying is they want more of the same, but you can’t do the same story over and over again. Some things have to end.”

Kemp is 42, with a round, warm face and shoulder-length black hair. She often tucks a few strands behind her ear when getting into the nitty-gritty of show talk. Her smile is wide, her skin clear. As a busy mother, creator and showrunner of a hit cable-network drama, the bags one would assume should be under her eyes are noticeably not there. She shies away from compliments about her skin, stating she’s wearing great makeup but admits she’s intense about skincare.

As she sits with her legs crossed, Kemp is relaxed yet alert. Donning a calf-length one-sleeved black dress, she’s removed her gold strappy high heels for nude ballet flats. She’s just finished her first VIBE photoshoot, and the excitement of it all begins to settle in.

In 2016, VIBE spoke with Kemp inside her Brooklyn offices about the show’s success prior to its Season Three premiere, the conversation’s focus being its leading men, Ghost (Hardwick), Dre (Rotimi Akinosho), Tommy (Joseph Sikora) and Kanan (50 Cent). Three years later, it’s the women's turn and Kemp is just as eager to give the ladies their well-earned shine: Naturi Naughton, who plays Tasha; Alani “Lala” Anthony, who plays LaKeisha, and Lela Loren, who plays U.S. federal prosecutor Angela Valdes, have all contributed to the delicious mess that is Power.

In past interviews, Kemp has stated Tommy’s character was always supposed to be a white boy. (Interestingly, Andy Bean who played Agent Greg Knox originally tried out for the role. Kemp said “his audition was f**king bananas,” but Knox wasn’t physically on par with Hardwick’s muscular stature making him look more like a little brother than an equal.) I asked her if she, in turn, intentionally envisioned a white Latina to embody the role of Angela, a question that merited furrowed eyebrows and a bristled response.

“Okay, so, first of all, I push back on ‘white Latino.’ I don’t even know what that means. I don’t know what that is. I don’t even know what that’s saying. What is a white Latino? There are people who consider themselves white Latinos; I guess that’s a thing I’ve never heard about before. Being from the East coast, so many people are Afro-Latino, so I don’t know what a white Latino would be.”

“However, [Angela] was always Puerto Rican.” Kemp continued. “One of the people I looked at ... I looked at Elizabeth Rodriguez. We looked at Monique Gabriela Curnen, who played other parts on the show, so we were going after Puerto Rican actresses. That’s what I wanted. Puerto Rican, no matter how they showed up. Again, I really don’t like that term ‘white Latino.’ I don’t even … how does that even work? I’m not going to even ask you those questions; I’m just confused. It was always to try and find someone who was Puerto Rican.”

She describes Angela as a woman with flint to move through the ranks of a masculine work environment, but also a woman who possesses a girly-tenderness. According to Kemp, Lela Loren has both.

“You have to have a certain amount of f**king flint to get through law school, and then you have to have a certain amount of flint to get through what are highly masculine, male-dominated environments when you talk about attorney’s offices and state attorneys and cops and law enforcement. These women are not shy, and I needed someone who could stand up to Omari,” Kemp said.

“When she fought with Omari, you felt her in the room, and we needed someone also with the softness to still have that little-girl sense of love. To still be in love with her first love. Lela had this very specific quality.”

Admittedly, Lela Loren isn’t good with names, but she makes up for her absentmindedness with hugs and cheek kisses. “I’m sorry, what’s your name again?” she asks while offering an embrace without leaving hints of red lipstick on the side of my face. The 39-year-old who grew up in northern California and Mexico is all smiles this Saturday afternoon. The Beverly Hills sun is kind, and a faint breeze blows through her newly cut shoulder-length bob. Loren runs her fingers through her mocha hair, confessing she wanted it shorter, but instead exercised restraint.

On Power, AUSA Angela Valdes knows nothing of holding back. Loren describes her character as a woman ultimately led by her heart, so much so, her tenacity and ability to color outside of the lines have caused many to question what ethics if any, she abides by. Loren said she understands the methodology behind Angela, but never personally subscribed to it.

“How you get something done is as important as getting it done. Ultimately, for me, it’s about the process. Keeping your integrity, who you are as an individual, how you achieve your goals, is as important as achieving your goals,” she said.

Loren is laid back and present. After posing with co-stars Naughton and Anthony, she kicks off her white Sergio Rossi pumps and wiggles her toes a bit before sitting pretzel-style on lawn furniture outside of the Four Seasons’ Il Posto Room.

Leaning forward with a glass of champagne in hand, ready for questions, Loren thinks before she speaks, often looking into the distance to draw on words to formulate her response, but after talking with her, it’s not hard to imagine her as a journalist, or an educator like her parents. She describes herself as a little nerdy and a voracious reader who’s found joy in Yuval Noah Harari’s 2015 novel Sapiens: A Brief History of Mankind.

Valdes has a badge and a gun; Loren has a cat and a garden. Her real-life doesn’t mimic the one she plays on television, which has been delicious -- and also a bit daunting.

“The best part about playing Angela has been all of her wonderful contradictions. It’s so fun to try to find the through-line of someone that has such extremes. She can be so defensive and so manipulative. Then, at the same time, she can be so soft and fragile and almost pathetic,” she said earnestly. “But the hardest part about playing Angela has been realizing that in the outer world, there’s still a very narrow lane for women. As soon as a woman steps outside of that lane, fictional or otherwise, a lot comes at you.”

For five seasons, Angela was the woman partly responsible for breaking up the St. Patrick household, and for some viewers, that’s all they can see. They don’t see Angela’s ambition or persistence or that while leading a drug task force, she’s also caring for her sick father. If Angela’s reputation plucks at Loren’s nerve, she doesn’t show it.

“I think what playing Angela or being on Power really helps me understand is how you can only tell half the story because the audience inevitably brings the other half. No matter how clear you try to make that story, how it resonates with them or how they interpret it, they’re really feeling the narrative. Even times when people would take a scene and how I believe Courtney intended it, how I intended to play it and how it landed on them are so different. In some ways, you have to surrender to this lack of control because we’re only telling half the narrative. The other half is from the viewer.“

Kemp knows things may be changing, but when casting the show, she intentionally wanted a woman to play opposite Hardwick who wouldn’t traditionally be thought of for the role.

“I did look for a brown-skinned woman to play Tasha because at that time -- this is not relevant as much -- but at that time, there were no brown-skinned women on TV playing the beautiful, sexy part. Now, if you remember from the beginning, Tasha was always smart, but Tasha was the gorgeous one,” Kemp said. “I wanted that beauty, sensuality, responsibility and that partnership. Ghost and Tasha were partners, and I wanted all of that from a brown-chocolatey person.”

Naturi Naughton is an even five-feet high, but she has a six-foot-tall personality. On set, the 35-year-old doesn’t wait for direction from photographer Karl Ferguson Jr.; instead, she narrows her eyes during one frame, purses her lips in the next or crosses her ankles, leans forward and with her body says: “I’m here.” Beyonce’s “Formation” plays in the dimly lit 1,000-square-foot room, and Naughton -- in her figure-hugging, red velvet Galvan London dress -- pops against the slate-grey seamless backdrop. The singer-actress oozes confidence with every flash from Ferguson’s camera.

The assurance booming from Naughton is a far cry from when fans are introduced to Tasha during the Season One opener. As Mrs. St. Patrick walks into Club Truth with Ghost on her arm, the first time Tasha opens her mouth, she needs to be affirmed by her husband.

“Tell me I’m beautiful,” she says as she leans her head onto Ghost’s shoulder. He replies: “You already know you are.” But in later seasons, viewers realize Tasha actually didn’t know.

“Tasha was looking for Ghost to validate her, which is why she says, ‘Tell me I’m beautiful.’ The truth is she doesn’t know she’s beautiful. She doesn’t know who she is without him,” Naughton said. “In Season One, she was lacking a bit of self-confidence. She was lacking maturity. I feel like over the seasons, to now, she grew up. Six seasons later, she’s now like: ‘Okay, who am I without you?’ I think she’s gained self-confidence, and she’s unapologetic about the kind of woman she is. As opposed to looking for him to tell her she’s enough, Tasha now knows she’s enough.”

Her character’s new confidence runs parallel with where Naughton is in her own life. As a single mom to her two-year-old daughter, Zuri, Naughton has weathered her own storms, however, the new layer of thick skin didn’t come easy.

“I’m a woman now,” Naughton reflects. “A lot of it had to do with motherhood and relationships that I’ve been in, break-ups and heartbreak. I feel I learned a lot through some of those hardships and about what it’s like to love and not love, to be in love, to fall out of love, to have a child, to be raising a two-year-old. It’s a lot of work. You’ve got to be a strong woman to do that.”

“I’ve grown up because the show gave me an opportunity to grow. This character is so complex, and she has so many different dimensions. I’m a big girl now,” Naughton says with a smile. “I’m really proud of myself. I used to be hard on myself. I still am, but I’m proud of myself because I worked hard, and I’ve done it for six seasons. I was breastfeeding while shooting Season Five, and that’s hard work. I think I’ve allowed myself to feel proud of myself. And as a woman, we should do that.”

Tasha’s character received praise for being Ghost’s “ride-or-die” wife, which hasn’t always been easy for the character. Yet after five years of being loyalty-ish -- Tasha was married when she had her affairs with Shawn and Terry Silver -- Naughton says her definition of loyalty has expanded since walking in Tasha’s stilettos.

“There are a lot of different ways to stay loyal or be loyal, but to also see when loyalty is betrayed, how do you come back from that? [In] Season One, Ghost starts cheating on Tasha with Angela, and then lies to her in Season Two and says he’s going to end it, but he continues to lie to her and Tariq and with Kanan,” Naughton said.

“It’s so many different areas where she feels like the loyalty has been lost, but she continues to ride for him. That’s a deep wife-level loyalty that I have yet to experience because Tasha has been riding for Ghost, even when he was in jail, but I admire that in a way. She never jumps ship. She didn’t bail on him when things got tough.”

As Tasha stood by Ghost’s side throughout his philandering, the sole person loyal to Mrs. St. Patrick was LaKeisha. Played by Alani “La La” Anthony, Kemp made it obvious only one woman was truly benefiting from the friendship, while the other may have received a hand-me-down Yves Saint Laurent purse here or there. If loyalty is considered a weakness in the world of Power, Keisha’s back may sport the biggest target.

“I think it’s a very complicated friendship. I think it’s hard to be friends with somebody when you’re jealous or you want their life. That’s why things between the two of them get so tricky as the seasons go on, and especially in this last season because there is a real friendship there, but there is an underbelly of jealousy,” Anthony explains. “I feel like [Tasha has] never been a real friend to Keisha the way Keisha’s been to her.”

Anthony dissects the push-and-pull of LaKeisha and Tasha’s relationship donning an Area gunmetal cocktail dress and strappy Gusseppie Zanotti open-toe heels. While walking to a quiet location away from the chatter of the photoshoot, the sun hits her dress, and she sparkles. Her hazel-green eyes shimmer and her hair is the perfect amalgamation of blonde, honey and brown streaks. Before the interview begins, she requests an iced tea. La La, as she’s professionally known, or La, as she’s called by close friends, can best be described as the homie -- the very gorgeous, humble homie -- who’s just as comfortable in full glam as she is in a pair of Air Force Ones.

Kemp maintains every character on Power has agency and always has a chance to leave the situation. She especially underscores this when speaking about LaKeisha.

“We’ve given LaKeisha a lot of opportunities not to double down with Tommy. She can peel off at any moment, and she doesn’t. In [Episode] 409, he comes, and he begs her: ‘Can I run my money through your shop again?’ She mushes him and says ‘Tommy, get out of my face!’ And then she goes back to him.”

For Anthony, the most challenging part about bringing Keisha to life wasn’t her unwavering allegiance: It was her ignorance’s marriage to it. How could she not see or feel she was receiving the short end of the stick while offering friends and lovers the rod?

“I think Keisha can be naive at times. You just want to slap her,” Anthony said smacking the air. “Even that scene when she told Tommy: ‘You’ve never killed anyone, right?’ It’s those moments. It doesn’t make it difficult; it’s just understanding her perspective and why she thinks like that. I think we all know a LaKeisha. We’ve had a LaKeisha as a friend or we know somebody [like her].”

Anthony sips her tea and ponders some more about LaKeisha’s obedience to the game and to Tasha. She knows that’s where she and her character differ.

“[LaKeisha] is a loyal friend, and I consider myself a loyal friend. I think a lot of times, her kindness gets taken for granted because she is willing to do anything to help friends and to help Tommy. I don’t want to take that in my life. I don’t like for kindness to be taken for weakness, but I definitely want to be a loyal friend. I am the type of person to be that for the people I love.”

Anthony’s voice is raspy but welcoming. She’s professional and personal. Her legs are crossed and her back is straight. She offers nothing about her personal life. I also don’t ask. The only tea she spilled is that she doesn’t allow her 12-year-old son, Kiyan, to watch Power.

“He’s tried a million times but he’s not allowed to watch. He’s 12. I don’t think a 12-year old should be watching Power. People can disagree with me, but that’s how I feel.”

Portraying LaKeisha has given Anthony a perspective she didn’t have prior to landing the role. Now she has a clearer understanding of relationships and why people do what they do.

“Playing Keisha has given me more of an understanding of women, relationships and friendships. Not that I was ever judgemental, but we’re always so quick to say, ‘Well, that will never be me,’ and the next thing you know it is you.” she said flatly. “I always say everyone doesn’t know what they’ll do until they’re in that situation. Keisha is giving me more of an understanding. You have to look at someone’s background, why they think the way they do, why they function the way they do. This is all from childhood or how we were raised. It gives me more understanding when I’m talking to other women.”

***

Thirty-five minutes have passed since the start of the interview with Kemp. I push for two more questions and her publicist pushes back with two more minutes. When we began, Kemp hesitantly accepted compliments on the show’s run, noting that despite the hard work, long hours on set and the writing, she credits its success to something bigger.

“It’s hard because people keep saying that to me, and I don’t know what they’re congratulating me for, in a way, because it’s God’s will how many people watch the show,” she said. “I cannot compel that.”

Viewers have been tuning in -- on Sundays in the summer, no less -- because they’re that invested in the lives of the characters Kemp created. As a byproduct of that, life is no longer the same.

“Everything’s different,” she said somberly. “Everything is different. I think maturity and experience put lines on your face and grays in your hair for a reason, and I’ll leave it like that.”

As the woman penning the scenes portrayed onscreen, Kemp’s work is more recognizable than she is. When out and about in New York with series regular and boyfriend Michael J. Ferguson, she jokes she’s often asked by fans to take pictures of him with them. In California, they’re even more aloof.

“In L.A, nobody knows. In fact, sometimes it’s like, ‘Hey, Courtney, have you been working?' ”

After five seasons, Power’s mountain of manipulations and powdered substance will collapse and crash in the series’ final run, normally a 10-show stretch that Kemp and Co. are splitting into two: Part One whets appetites with 10 hour-long episodes that premiere Sunday, Aug. 25, and the remaining five arrive in January 2020. Anyone left standing at the onset of this new season may be in a body bag by the end of it all. Kemp has proven in the past that her loyalty is to the story, not to any singular character. So, all bets -- if they were ever on -- are truly off.

Eager fans will see how it all plays out when we tune into Starz to hear those three scrumptious words we’ve been waiting for all year:

“Previously on Power…”

***

Photographer: Karl Ferguson Jr.

Art Designer: Nicole Tereza

Videographers: Vince Patrick and Jason Chandler

Makeup Artists: Vanessa Scali (Lela Loren), AJ Crimson (Naturi Naughton), and Sheika Daley (La La Anthony)

Hair Stylists: Aviva Perea (Lela Loren), Alexander Armand (Naturi Naughton), and Ray Dodson (La La Anthony)

Wardrobe Stylists: Alyssa Sutter Studios (Lela Loren), Brian Mcphatter (Naturi Naughton), and Maeve Reilly (La La Anthony)

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Stacy-Ann Ellis

Cincinnati Music Festival Showcases The Breadth Of Black Community Building

It’s 2 p.m. on a balmy July Friday and, for a rare moment during a weekend that promises to be anything but still, Cincinnati’s Fountain Square feels quiet. A bronze statue with water free-falling from its palms marks the center of the city’s Downtown meeting place, and around the fountain’s edge, a smattering of passersby are sitting down to rest. Within the rest of the square, colorful booths manned by brown faces decorate the periphery. Tables and hangers and mannequins boast crafts both handmade and imported: skirts, dresses and crinkled fans made from ethnic prints, life-size framed artwork, shimmering jewelry, (possibly) designer handbags and bedazzled graphic tees boasting Sankofa symbols and phrases like “Thick Thighs Save Lives” and “Black 365.” These vendors are a blend of native Ohioans and those from other U.S. cities who can’t help but flock to Cincinnati during one of the area’s most festive times of the year.

Consider this the calm before the storm. By this same time tomorrow, the square will be teeming with activity orchestrated by Vibe Cincinnati, the platform showcasing the region’s multicultural delights. The hum of gentle chatter will be replaced by the boom of music from a stage occupied by community performers, and crowds will gather in front of it to film the music or two-step to it with impromptu dance partners. Those not keen on the heat will seek refuge from the sun beneath the shade of a table umbrella, or line-up up at the plethora of food trunks for some nourishment. And then at night, the masses will retreat to the seats of Paul Brown Stadium to partake in the festival that has served as a magnet for the black community for over half a century.

When you think of the bulk of festival season mainstays—Coachella, Bonnaroo, Lollapalooza—a low-key city like Cincinnati may not come to mind. But perhaps that’s because for 57 years, Cincinnati Music Festival, presented by P&G, has remained one of the Midwest’s best kept secrets. The longstanding festival, dubbed the largest urban music festival in the country, is molded for R&B, soul and funk lovers, many of whom travel from the likes of Columbus, Cleveland, Detroit, Pennsylvania, Milwaukee, Chicago, Texas, California, and Atlanta to experience it firsthand. (This year’s lineup included Maxwell, Mary J. Blige, Frankie Beverly & Maze, Earth, Wind & Fire, Tamia, the men of New Edition and more.)

“I am a Cincinnati homegrown girl and I think it’s just amazing that people from out of town come to Cincinnati for the music festival, just to show how Cincinnati can be lit and can be comparable to other big cities,” says Morgan A. Owens, CEO of the MAO Brands. She’s not the only Cincy native proud of the city’s yearly time in the spotlight.

“It’s a good time to be in Cincinnati,” Tim’m West, recording artist and Cincy Black Pride organizer, says. “When I first moved here everyone was like, ‘why did you move back here?’ Now it’s starting to being like, ‘oh,’ that’s not the default. ‘Oh, it’s a good time to be in Cincinnati,’ is what people are saying.”

Bertie Ray III, owner of Switch Lighting & Design, the venue hosting the weekend’s Cincinnati Black Pride Day Party, agrees. “It’s overwhelming. You’re talking about 80,000 people from throughout the Midwest. From Chicago, Detroit, Cleveland, it’s just folk from everywhere. So what’s wonderful to see with this many people in the city, is new fresh energy comes to the city,” the Washington, D.C. native says. “But also over the last three or four years, Cincinnati has hosted any number of conventions within the African-American community. The NAACP convention, the [Sigma Pi Phi Fraternity] Boule Convention, the Deltas were here, the Links were here, so it’s a destination for black America.”

And although the event’s website reads “Cincinnati Music Festival,” no one in town will call it that. To everyone on the ground, both rooted and visiting, it’s simply Jazz Fest. “That’s what it was originally branded as,” Will Jones, the Marketing and Communications Manager at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, says, referring to the event’s origins as the Ohio Valley Jazz Festival. “It started in 1962 and it’s been here for years outside of, I believe, 2001 through 2004—those three years they had it in Detroit. But we just call it Jazz Fest because that’s what we know it as.”

After spending a weekend in Downtown Cincinnati sampling generous helpings of local eats, brushing up on black history at the Freedom Center, and swaying to the beat of deeply-rooted music each night, it’s clear that the weekend is about more than surface level entertainment like other music festivals. The magic of Jazz Fest is seeing how the different pockets of Cincinnati’s black population come together to build each other up, whether it’s in spirit, with financial support—“We bring in millions and millions of dollars, and it just goes to show the power of the black dollar. It’s a beautiful thing to see our community support black business owners,” Owens says—or in sheer fun.

“We do have a lot to offer, you just have to seek out the opportunity just like everywhere else," she continues. “It might not be as prominent as a New York or a Chicago or an L.A. or a Miami, but Cincinnati holds it down.”

Here, Jazz Festival frequenters share their favorite memories over the years and offer a glimpse of what makes the event, and their involvement in it, so special for Cincinnati.

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Kadeem Johnson for Everyday Afrique

With African Music On The Rise, Afro-Themed Dance Parties Get To Win, Too

When walking up to the venue for New York City day party Everyday Afrique, the music greets you before you can even reach the door. Depending on the day or the DJ, you might be welcomed with a remix of Afrobeats star Mr. Eazi’s 2013 hit song “Bankulize” or embraced by Niniola’s 2017 Afrohouse single “Maradona.” The dozens of people waiting outside of the venue, the majority of which are black professionals and creatives, are dancing along to the music, seemingly unbothered by the line that stretches down the block. The lively scene outside of the venue looks considerably different than it did in 2016, when media company OkayAfrica teamed up with two popular party series, Everyday People and ElectrAfrique, to throw its inaugural Everyday Afrique event. In the three years since Everyday Afrique began, the crowd has increased from 250 people to more than 1,800 people per event, tickets are selling out faster than ever, and the African music that anchors the event has transcended the borders of Africa and is now being played on radio stations and in clubs around the world.

African music, particularly Afrobeats, has shared a prosperous give-and-take relationship with Afro-themed party series like Everyday Afrique. In the past, Afrobeats, Afrohouse, and Caribbean soca music were once exclusively celebrated by local communities living in major cities on the African continent—Lagos, Johannesburg, Accra, and Nairobi—and diasporic transplants that returned home to these cities for the holidays. Over the last two to three years, there has been an extreme increase in demand for various genres of African music in places like Washington, D.C., New York, London, and Paris, cities that for years already maintained a high concentration of Afro-themed functions to serve their diverse populations. In these cities, Afro-themed parties like London’s Afrobeats in the Garden and New York’s Afro Night Live have done their part to curate experiences around a growing art form that had little support but that they appreciated and believed in. Now, these same parties are benefiting from the music’s newfound success and expanding just as quickly as the sounds.

Everyday Afrique has been one of the major benefactors and beneficiaries of African music’s success in NYC. Three times a year during the summer’s three major holidays—Memorial Day, Independence Day, and Labor Day—Everyday Afrique hosts an all-out sweat dripping, rump-shaking, gwara gwara-hitting dance party in rotating venues around Brooklyn. The party’s soundtrack is a collection of popular and underground Afrobeats, Afrohouse, reggae, soca, and hip-hop music provided by half a dozen DJs including Everyday People co-founder DJ Moma and ElectrAfrique founder, DJ Cortega. “Our approach for Everyday Afrique has always been one of community-building,” DJ Cortega says over the phone from his home in Dakar, Senegal. “We do this through connecting people who are like-minded, that have common objectives, that are inclusive, and using music as a platform to bring people together.”

The bulk of people who make up Everyday Afrique’s community are African born and diasporic born people who dwell in neighborhoods in Harlem, Queens, and Brooklyn. Although the ages of the attendees vary, the 21+ crowd is largely dominated by millennial age professionals and creatives who likely share five or more mutual Instagram friends with any given person in the venue. There is a sense of Pan-African pride amongst the group, highlighted by “Very Black” graphic tees floating around the party and gold pendants carved in the shape of the continent dangling from attendees’ necks. Not only are the people at Everyday Afrique connected by their love for African music, but what the music represents and tells them about their culture.

A number of other Afro-themed party series that aim to conjure a similar feeling of cultural pride and community fostering have popped up in various cities around the world. Afrocode is a similar dance-heavy event that hosts weekly parties in Atlanta, New York City, and D.C. The inaugural Afrocode was organized by Ghanian entrepreneur "FredEvents" in 2013. He had the primary desire to connect the often fragmented black American, black Caribbean, and black African communities and provide a celebratory environment where they could listen to and appreciate one another’s music and cultures. "We picked a theme that wasn't solely African, but that can also bring the three cultures together to appreciate each others’ genre,” Fred explains via phone. “We knew the energy would be completely different because you are giving the best of all the three categories in one space."

 

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The energy fostered in these environments has been both a cause and effect of the diaspora’s growing desire to reconnect and learn more about their African ancestry through various cultural channels. The growing popularity of parties like these corresponds with the success of travel companies like Travel Noire and Tastemakers Africa, both of which create and share opportunities for black people from the diaspora to visit the continent and engage in historical and cultural experiences during their visits. “I think people are now paying attention to what it means to be African,” Fred says. “For the longest, a lot of African Americans, black people in general, have tried to seek that connection.” Although these connections are also being formed through fashion, art, and other creative mediums, nothing has seemed to connect Africa and the diaspora more than music and the spaces that are curating a vibe around it.

Afrobeats, in particular, has emerged as the leading genre during this most recent global African music takeover. The genre, which over the years has been used to define a broad collection of popular sounds coming out of West Africa, has catapulted a number of its stars into the international spotlight. Earlier this year, Afrobeats stars Burna Boy and Mr Eazi performed sets at Coachella and the summer before Afrobeats hitmaker Davido shut down London’s Wireless Festival with a highly talked about set. The former two artists were also featured on Beyonce’s latest surprise album The Lion King: The Gift, along with West African hitmakers WizKid and Tekno. The album itself appears to be an ode to the genre and its African roots and includes many of the same percussion elements as Afrobeats.

Much of the music's global appeal can be credited to its upbeat and lively instrumentation and feel-good lyrics, which tend to celebrate life, love, and positive experiences. “Afrobeats is engraved in people's culture, it's not just a cool thing,” Fred says. “People live, breathe it. It's a true culture, it's not just a music category. It feels like when hip-hop was starting out back in the day. They were telling their stories through the music. With the music comes a lot of different ways that we can showcase Africans in a different light.”

For Fred, Afrobeats seemed like the most logical breakthrough genre in the U.S. because of the hefty West African presence in cities like D.C. and New York, where both he and DJ Cortega first tried their hands at hosting Afro-themed parties. Europe has also been up on the Afrobeats wave. ElectrAfrique has touched down in Berlin and Paris, and London-based event company Sounds D’Afrique has brought the flavor of Afrobeats to London’s club scene. In each city, these gatherings are centering Afrobeats music, while simultaneously introducing locals to new artists and the sounds that energize crowds in South Africa, Zimbabwe, Kenya, Jamaica, and other countries around the world.

Their success is a prime example of the adage “when opportunity meets preparation.” When Swiss born DJ Cortega first launched ElectrAfrique, he did so with a small team in Nairobi, Kenya. ElectricAfrique held its first party in 2011, the same year WizKid released his debut album Superstar and Davido dropped "Back When," the first single off Omo Baba Olowo. DJ Cortega, FredEvents, and other early Afro-themed party founders had the foresight to curate parties around a sound that had yet to find a global audience or show potential to do so. Now, the rise in attendance at these events can be directly attributed to the growth of African music.

Parties like ElectricAfrique are continuing to introduce other African people to the new popular songs produced by their neighboring countries. “Even though we're growing, it’s still relatively organic and community-based,” Cortega says. “We have never really tried to push super hard to grow. We want the event to grow naturally. We want people to enjoy being there and feel like this is a space where they are comfortable and where they identify and so they want to bring their friends and like-minded people to it. In terms of the vibe that's one of the very important elements.”

So what’s next for the growth of African music and the party series that provides the music with the grassroots marketing it needs to succeed? Neither DJ Cortega nor Fred see it slowing down anytime soon. “Africa is almost 1.2 billion people,” Fred says. “There's not a question about it being sustainable. The culture will always be there. People are always going to create. I think the part where the music is so much more important now is because people are starting to respect what being African is because they have a marketable product that they can attach a dollar value to.” Regardless of the changing landscape of the music industry, parties like Everyday Afrique, Afrocode and the like are primed to continue thriving as a result of the communities they built that may have been brought together by the music but stayed for the experience.

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