New York City Council Dons Hoodies In Honor Of Trayvon Martin
People along with New York City Council members attend a press conference to call for justice in the February 26 killing of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida, on the steps of City Hall March 28, 2012 in New York City. Martin was killed by George Michael Zimmerman while on neighborhood watch patrol in the gated community of The Retreat at Twin Lakes.
Photo by Allison Joyce/Getty Images

'Rest In Power: The Trayvon Martin Story' Emphasizes Childhood On Episode 1

What resonates most in the first hour of 'Rest In Power' is how it frames Trayvon Martin for exactly what he was: a child.

After a harrowing opening sequence, Rest in Power: The Trayvon Martin Story begins with a photograph of Trayvon as a toddler. He’s dressed in a Mickey Mouse jumpsuit and has a birthday hat strapped to his head. His mother, Sybrina Fulton informs viewers he used to be called Crazy Legs and calls her son “so affectionate.” His father, Tracy Martin, gushes about Trayvon growing “whiskers on his chin” and says, “he wanted to do everything. He was like that glow.”

It’s likely the first time most viewers have ever seen the photo and is followed by several more pictures of Trayvon being exactly what he was: a child. The first episode of the six-episode documentary series -- directed by Jenner Furst and Julia Willoughby Nason and executive produced by Jay-Z along with Martin’s parents and others -- does exactly that throughout, present things as they are.

The goal of Rest in Power is not to solve the mystery of Martin’s death, the statement the first episode makes is there is no mystery. George Zimmerman infamously gunning the 17-year-old Martin down on February 26, 2012, may not have been a crime, according to the 18th Circuit Court of Florida, but it was a tragedy and is presented as so.

Rest in Power is a brutal watch, both because of the disheartening tragedy of Martin’s death, and because of the heartbreaking realization that so little has changed in the six years since he was gunned down. Just a little over a week ago, Markeis McGlockton was gunned down in another “Stand Your Ground” shooting a little over 100 miles from where Martin was killed after a confrontation over a parking spot.

Still, traumatic as it may be, the first episode is masterfully crafted. The premiere covers the events surrounding the shooting, while agonizingly pointing out that 71 seconds will forever remain unaccounted for. Those 71 seconds “changed America,” as Sybrina put it, and only Zimmerman can truly say what happened in that unaccounted time.

The use of archival footage is powerful, as is the testimony from all of the principal characters around the shooting, sans Zimmerman of course. But it’s the framing of Trayvon as the child he was that resonates the most throughout the opening hour. The first responding officer on the scene even solemnly notes his surprise that the victim in question “was just a kid,” as he recalls arriving at the scene and performing CPR on Trayvon.

Even in surveillance footage from his faithful trip to 7-Eleven, Trayvon looks unassuming, almost timid. Yes, he is wearing the now famous hoody that may have cost him his life, but he doesn’t look threatening; if anything, he looks cold. At the moment where he was supposed to look so intimidating that someone felt the need to stand their ground, and kill him in a life or death situation, he looked like a child quite literally buying candy from a candy store.

But Trayvon isn’t treated as wholly innocent either. Widely-circulated photos of the teenage with his middle fingers up and gold teeth in his mouth are shown, and the story of his suspension for having marijuana residue on school grounds is discussed. Tracy admits that Trayvon began misbehaving after 10th grade. No punches are pulled, but the nuance that is normally stripped away from young black teens is now provided. Trayvon was still just a boy, even if he had made some mistakes. His father was trying to straighten him out, only to be robbed of the opportunity.

Zimmerman is presented matter-of-factly as well, and it’s that coldness and forthright telling of the story that sometimes makes the details of the story hit the hardest. For instance, it’s revealed, “George Zimmerman left the police station after midnight. He was not charged with a crime” only in text, on top of the video of the Sanford Police Department. Even with just the natural, ambient noise of the night, the white text overlay of that simple fact speaks volumes and is tormenting.

Later, the technique is repeated as Zimmerman is subjected to a voice stress analysis test to determine whether he is lying about his account of the shooting. “George Zimmerman passed the test. There were 9 questions. None addressed race,” is placed in the corner of the screen, and again the impact of those facts is amplified without any amplification. Furst and Willoughby Nason realized there is no need to embellish or accentuate this story, the statement of facts alone is beyond compelling and often heartbreaking.

There is little to no commentary on Zimmerman himself, just presentation of facts, often in his own words. Zimmerman’s 911 call as he followed Trayvon is played, as are the numerous, similar calls he made in the months before as a neighborhood watch captain. His confessional police interviews show as well, along with images of the damage to his face and head from his incident with Trayvon. Video of Zimmerman reliving the incident at the scene is shown, and a former police officer chastises him for using his gun even while in “fear of his life.” Zimmerman is mostly left to tell his own story, and the viewer is left to make their own judgments of him after watching him do so.

No details are glossed over, and every step of the shooting and the subsequent events are detailed. Some moments that may have previously gone unconsidered are chronicled, including the Sanford Police having to identify Trayvon and notifying his parents. The documentary plays both Tracy’s calls to report his son missing, and the call when he’s contacted by the police, and he agonizingly relives the tragedy for the camera as well. Tracy’s fiancee Brandy Green can barely muster up the strength to give her perspective and fights through tears to do so. Tracy himself was ultimately moved to tears as well. “You can’t even really explain the feeling,” he said.

The first episode of Rest in Power ends focusing on the micro ramifications of Trayvon’s death. His parents lament over the tragedy as the episode draws to a close, and footage of them remembering hearing the 911 calls leading up to and during the shooting for the first time is shown. Their anguish was already apparent, as expected, but watching their faces as they recall hearing their son screaming for help moments before he’s shot is torturous. They speak about recognizing their son, instantly, and struggling to maintain their composure. Eventually, they both cry, and it’s as if their son died again, right there in front of them. Again, Furst and Willoughby Nason let the story tell itself and play out just as tragically as it did for Tracy and Sybrina.

The scope pans back to the macro as the next episode is teased, and Tracy says “we opened up Pandora’s box” as footage of Colin Kaepernick kneeling for the national anthem is shown. If the impact of his untimely demise was lost on the viewer before tuning in, it’ll never escape them again after it was so methodically laid out in the first hour of the six-hour documentary. If that was the goal of Furst and Willoughby Nason, along with Tracy, Sybrina, Jay-Z and everybody else involved with Rest in Power they did that and more in the first episode. Viewers will be anxiously awaiting the next installment, even if it’s a story we’ve all seen far too often and know far too well.

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P Diddy promotes his new Diddy Dirty Money single 'Coming Home' and his headphones DiddyBeats at HMV, Oxford Street on January 20, 2011 in London, England.
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'The Last Train To Paris' Turns 10: Revisit Diddy's Aug./Sept. 2010 VIBE Cover Story

YOU EVER WATCH a control freak mellow out? It’s fascinating. When said micromanager is Sean “Puffy” Combs, it’s an enlightening ordeal altogether. Sitting at trendy Asian eatery Philippe Chow in New York City, two days before LeBron James announces that he’s taking his show to South Beach, Combs has talking points: impact and legacy. “This ain’t a regular run,” says Combs of his two-decade laundry list of accomplishments. “I’m saying that in the most humble way possible. I’m me and I’m seeing it. Most times the impact of what you do you don’t even live to see it.”

He’s the only patron seated for the evening, lounging at a table that comfortably seats eight. This is clearly a Sean John zone. His voice remains even, but the arrogance skyrockets. “It trickles over into sports. It goes into the way the free agent negotiations are going. [Athletes] have that belief. But that level of confidence as Black businessmen wasn’t really there. Unforgivable swagger. That shit wasn’t there.”

Translation: Sean believes that his ambition has been infectious. In his “humble” opinion, his drive has taught the have-nots that not only can they have, but they can be gluttonous and acquire wealth rather than riches. Will it ruin his day if people don’t agree? Not really. But he’d still like the legacy to be accurately documented. His reactionary reflexes have given way to him thinking long term, which could be why he’s unfazed by trivial shots like 50 Cent’s claims of having nude pictures of his artist Cassie. He’s more interested in guiding careers—Rick Ross, Red Cafe and Dirty Money, among them. And really, he’d like to do square biz and have your kids’ kids respect him like his contemporaries admire Warren Buffet. That would truly be money in the bank. In the meantime, he wants to mellow with a plate of chicken satay and talk Diddy legacy.

VIBE: You have said that rap’s heavyweight class consisted of Jay-Z, Kanye West, Lil Wayne and Drake. Do you still believe that?

Diddy: Definitely. I feel like Drake is somebody that entered professionally in the heavyweight division. He didn’t come in as a middleweight, he didn’t come in as a light heavyweight, he came in as a heavyweight. He’s gonna be a force to be reckoned with for a while. He is the definition of a new age musical rapper . . . going forward a lot of rap artists are going to have [singing and rapping] in their repertoire.

What’s the ranking in that heavyweight division?

Jay, Kanye, Wayne, and Drake.

Jay still No. 1?

Hands down as far as worldwide impact and due to this last album [The Blueprint 3]. He’s moved up in the rankings.

People don’t realize that you two are friends and not just industry acquaintances.

Over the years as we’ve grown, Jay and I have needed each other. We’ve needed to be able to pick up the phone and call somebody that can understand what each other was going through. We needed each other to motivate each other; we needed each other to push each other. We needed each other to support each other and also to challenge each other. He’s definitely been a great friend to me. There’s never been anything that I’ve asked him to do or he’s asked me to do that we really haven’t done for each other.

Give an example of when you had to pick up the phone and call Jay for assistance.

I wanted to do something game-changing with Sean John. And I just picked his brain. I did [a fashion line] before him but I think that business-wise he did a lot of things better than me. He picked the right time to get out and get his check, to sell his company. We sat on the phone and talked about itŃput our egos in our pockets. I didn’t see Sean John versus Roc-A-Wear. I just saw that my man over here is doing it [and I had] a couple of offers for Sean John. It was a beautiful conversation, ‘cause we’re sitting down at this restaurant and we’re talking about apparel. We’re not talking about music. It was a beautiful moment. Two quarter-of-a-billion dollar companies—just getting advice from your competitor. It was something that you heard rich White boys do.

Dr. Dre said that the last beat that floored him was “All About the Benjamins.” How does that make you feel?

It’s humbling. I was in the studio with Dre the other day. He started working on a record for me. Watching him as a producer is watching greatness. We had a lot of similar traits. It was like looking in the mirror. He would ask questions like, “How you feel about this?” People don’t really understand true producers want to know how you feel about things. We are some of the most observant people on the planet.

You’re a lot more into the music now than the last time we spoke.

I was waiting to get a lot of inspiration from the outside and it just wasn’t coming. And I’m not knocking anyone’s hustle that’s out there. I just come from musical history that musically people gave more of themselves . . . I was able to go back and listen to all the great records that I made. I ain’t do it on purpose. Like sometimes I’d be in a club and the DJ was just throwing tributes and would go deep in the crates. I would be like, “Damn, I forgot that I made that one.” It just gave me a deep connection and another level of confidence for me to do me.

Are you feeling more comfortable writing on your own?

Yeah. I learned a lot more. I feel a lot more confident and free. On this album, I wrote like maybe two or three records by myself. But I still like writing with somebody. It helps me. Not using it as a crutch, but I get better results from co-writing; having my own feelings and thoughts, and, you know, getting some help with it. I love the feeling of collaboration, community in the studio. I don’t like being the mad scientist and being in the room by myself.

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Desus & Mero Bless A Bronx Bodega With A Year's Worth of Rent

You know them as the hosts of the hit Showtime series Desus & Mero, aka "the greatest show in late-night history, featuring only illustrious guests." These days you might catch them chatting with President Obama, but  Bronx natives Desus Nice and The Kid Mero have never lost touch with their roots as the Bodega Boys.

"On our first podcast me and Mero used to have to ride the train back afterward," recalls Desus. "And basically our conversation on the train sounded exactly like the podcast. And somebody was like, 'Yo, they sound like two guys you hear in the bodega.' Which was true, because when you hear guys in the bodega, they talk very passionately about things. They may not have all the facts, but they're talking with their hearts."

"Their confidence is strong!" adds Mero with a laugh.

"That's just us," says Desus. "We're raised in bodegas. Probably 90 percent of the food we grew up eating was either our mother's cooking or chopped cheese sandwiches."

"Facts," Mero confirms.

Ever since the pandemic hit, New York City's community bodegas have served as a lifeline by providing New Yorkers with daily necessities, especially in neighborhoods where door-to-door gourmet food delivery is not an option. But staying open hasn't been easy—the daily risks of doing business under threat from a deadly virus—not to mention a spike in robberies and violence—has made running a bodega very challenging, to say the least. But day in day out, in good times and bad, they find a way to keep their doors open.

"If your block is the solar system, the bodega is the sun," says Mero. "The hood orbits the bodega."

So when the makers of Pepsi cola decided to give back on the bodega owners who provide life-giving sustenance and ice-cold soda to NYC's five boroughs, they reached out to the Bodega Boys as their official goodwill ambassadors. Today Desus & Mero appear in a short film called The Bodega Giveback, which highlights the way one Bronx bodega overcame extreme hardship—and the way Pepsi is helping them keep going after 2020 comes to an end.

For Juan Valerio and his son Jefferson, the proprietors of JJN Corp Deli & Grocery in the Bronx, 2020 has been a horrible year. Juan still remembers when he came to America with his father in 1990. "To buy a bodega at that time was well over $100,000," Juan recalls in the short film, which you can watch above. "It was a dream that seemed unreachable. I never thought I would achieve it. And now this is what I do. My whole life is here."

Then in April 2020, tragedy struck when Juan's father lost his life to COVID 19. For the first time in three decades, the bodega had to close its doors down briefly. "It’s something very powerful to lose what you love the most in a split second," Juan recalls with emotion as his son comforts him with a hug. "Life goes on. And I decided to come back because he always taught me to work. To stay closed was disrespectful to him."

"He had to shut down for a little bit," says Desus. "But then he reopened cause the community needed him. Cause the lockdown a lot of stores closed down. And in the Bronx, you can't really get stuff delivered. And he's the hub. We heard stories of what he did, so we were like, how can we give back to him? Shout out to Pepsi with the Bodega Giveback. And just giving him a year's rent—that's the most amazing thing you can give a bodega owner. Shout out to Juan and his son. The look on their face when they really get it—you see the appreciation."

"It really hit home," said Mero. "Cause it's like, we're children of immigrants. So that could have been us—if we didn't get seen by the right people and put in the right positions, we coulda been workin' alongside our dad at a bodega. And then watchin' your grandfather pass away and then comin' back because you know how important you are to the community. Like, that's really selfless. It's just a dope story. And those stories occur all over the place, it's just people don't see them. Cause they don't get exposed on a national level. But a brand like Pepsi can put that on a national stage and be like,  "Yo, look—this is a mom and pop establishment for real. And these are the small businesses that you supposed to be supporting."

The release of The Bodega Giveback kicks off a larger holiday giveback from Pepsi this season that includes cash gifts to bodega owners and consumers across NYC's five boroughs.  “Pepsi has so many longstanding bodega partners in New York City,” said Umi Patel, CMO of North Division, PepsiCo Beverages North America. “They are not only pillars of the community, but they have gone above and beyond to take care of their loyal customers during the hardships of the COVID-19 pandemic. They have worked around the clock to stay open, filling shelves to ensure their customers, friends, and family have the essentials they need to stay home and stay safe. They have even shifted their businesses to meet the needs of the community, offering new delivery options, adding crucial items like masks and gloves, and more, all while dealing with their own personal challenges of the pandemic. We are proud to do our part in giving back to these unsung heroes.”

From now until December 20, Pepsi will also be surprising customers at local bodegas across the five boroughs by gifting pre-paid credit cards of up to $100.00 per customer.

As Juan says in the film, "one hand washes the other, and with both, we wash our face."

Check out our full convo with Desus & Mero above and the short film, The Bodega Giveback.

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Level Announces Their 'Best Man 2020 Awards' Featuring Entertainment Elite to Everyday Kings

It is a hard feat for media brands to survive the content landscape these days. To pull off the incredible undertaking of informing an audience as a new publication in the digital space is damn near impossible, yet the team at Medium's Level has done just that. To celebrate making their mark as a one-stop information shop for black men with their one-year anniversary this week, the team of bright and witty editors has launched their first annual Best Man Awards 2020.

The plan to honor the brand that started in December of 2019, focused on the interests of African-American males, has expanded into encompassing the efforts of a few good men during this mess of a year that is 2020. In doing so, those that broke through barriers of personal pain, new business frontiers, and support of others are highlighted and given the rightful pedestals to gain well-deserved props.

Of the 12 awards, esteemed gents like Swizz Beatz, Timbaland, and D-Nice are saluted as Quarantine Kings for their Verzuz and Club Quarantine (respectively) social media music creations that entertained the masses during the dogged days of our universal shut-down. There is also a heroic soul of a man who protected a black woman and her family from the surrounding presence of racist neighbors on his own time and dime. They have an award for Father of the Year, where former NBA all-star and champion, Dwyane Wade shines as a glowing example of understanding and ushering in new ways of parenting in today's society.

With the awards being a noble move towards giving Black men some much-needed praise in 2020, Level made sure to round up the last 365 days with themes on "The State of Black and Brown Men" as well. Essays that cover the realms of political ideology, coping with covid among Blacks health care workers,  how Black men fell short of protecting Black women, and exploring what Black men see when they look in the mirror (a piece that is a user-generated content driver/audience-led convo). All hard topics that need to be detailed, yet are rarely in a space for deep-dive convo.

Helmed by former VIBE editor-in-chief, Jermaine Hall, Level's editors explain their thoughts on the special coverage and celebration of their one year old brand:

“With the Best Man Awards, we wanted to lean into people who are doing incredible things to support society and publicly thank them. Anthony Herron, Jr is a hero. He stepped up to protect someone he didn’t know because, as he saw it, harassment is unacceptable. LEVEL wanted to make sure he received a nod for his heroics. But there are also several celebrities who are doing things outside of their jobs. D-Nice, Swizz, and Timbaland helped us cope through music. And it wasn’t a paid gig for any of them. They responded because people needed help healing so they provided care. That’s a strong attribute of the LEVEL man. It’s certainly is the definition of men being their best selves."

Click here to read about these individuals and learn more about the Best Man Awards 2020. Excelsior to Level.


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