Black Music Month Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff with Clive Davis
Black Music Association (BMA) co-founders Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff with Clive Davis in 1970.
Gems/Redferns

Protect, Preserve, And Perpetuate: How Black Music Month Started As A Power Play

“Black music is the basis for most other forms of music….There is nothing that I know of, no music that is more important, than Black music.”

June 7th marks the annual anniversary of Black Music Month’s first celebration. Some may wonder whether a designated month is needed, when urban music has officially been the dominant genre, with decades of outsized influence on mainstream culture. In this “post-genre” music era, isn’t black music always celebrated?

Yeah, so about that…

The fight for who defines black music and culture, who promotes it, and who reaps the financial benefits is as old as commercial music itself, and possibly stronger now than ever. Hip-hop’s growth drove black music and culture into a multi-billion dollar business, with black founders, leaders, and heads at every turn in music and media. Black Music Month was born of the efforts to make that happen and now seems like the time to regroup.

In the ‘70s, the business of black music – which has always been an undercurrent of American music as a whole – was getting bigger. The major label system we know today was forming and swallowing up indies – including the black ones. Corporations had their eyes on the commodification of black culture, but in the post-civil rights era, black people had a larger voice, mobilized bases, and an understanding of their growing spending power and influence. They wouldn’t be cut out of the business of blackness, as we had been for the entire existence of commodified culture. Now there was significant power to organize and push back. This was the spirit in which a group of black executives formed the Black Music Association in 1978 and conceived Black Music Month in 1979; not just to celebrate black music’s contributions, but as part of a larger effort to mobilize black economic power, and for us to have more control over our own business.

Harvard & The Black Music Business

Black music is the foundation of American music. Behind almost every genre there’s the influence of black artists at the sonic creation point: Blues, jazz, rock, country, and pop. For most of commercial music’s history, we’ve observed sounds and styles pioneered by black artists and musicians appropriated by white artists and musicians, who then make more money from it.  In the ‘60s and ‘70s, black-owned labels like Stax, Motown, Solar, and Sussex were thriving. Their artists and music were relevant – the soundtrack to the social and political unrest of the time. They were not only selling but crossing over while remaining black as hell.  Former music exec Gary Harris explained the strength of Stax’s music in an interview: “That sh*t [label owner] Al Bell was putting out was so Black, it was blue—it should have included a discount coupon for Johnson hair care products and a five-dollar coupon for a rib, collard green, and black-eyed peas dinner.”

Major labels realized they needed to get in on that, but weren’t sure how. With the exception of Atlantic, the majors and their affiliates were failing miserably at breaking more than one or two black acts – because they didn’t know what to do. White executives love to ignore what black folks tell them to do about black things until another white person confirms it with some data, so in 1972, Columbia Records/CBS (specifically new president Clive Davis) commissioned research from the Harvard Business School. “A Study of the Soul Music Environment Prepared for Columbia Records Group,” otherwise known as the “Harvard Report,” was delivered in May 1972. The report summarily told Columbia they were late to the game and missing money, and outlined steps for them to catch up in the market share – namely adding dedicated black music divisions and black executives who knew how to promote the music. Columbia did as ordered; the label created a black music department; partnered with Philadelphia’s storied Gamble and Huff, and established the black joint venture model with Philadelphia International; and bought into Stax records (that went south almost immediately, but that’s another story).

Other major labels followed suit, bringing existing black shops under their umbrella or forming new joint ventures to act as a pipeline for black acts and an in-house resource for production. By the end of the decade, however, while black music was booming, this system was creating challenges. Black radio had started calling the black music format “urban” in an attempt to appeal to advertisers and non-black consumers. As part of that pivot, artists deemed “too black” weren’t getting airplay. Local mom and pop retailers couldn’t get the wholesale product directly from the label at fair prices and were suffering from quantity shortages, plus unable to compete with bigger retailers’ prices. Black promoters were relegated to the former Chitlin’ Circuit mainstays, all of which were declining post-segregation. They couldn’t get in the game with larger venues and tours, as successful black artists moved to the established (white) talent agencies. Black music was making more money than ever, but black people weren’t controlling it.

Black Music Is Green

Kenny Gamble was traveling in Nashville and observed how the Country Music Association moved. The CMA was formed in 1958 to “guide and enhance the development of Country Music throughout the world; to demonstrate it as a viable medium to advertisers, consumers, and media; and to provide a unity of purpose for the Country Music industry.” He was inspired to create something similar for black music, and partnered with Ed Wright, the head of NATRA (The National Association of TV and Radio Announcers) to create the Black Music Association (BMA) with the mission to “preserve, protect and perpetuate black music.”

The BMA’s official launch was in September of 1978 at a lavish inaugural convention in La Costa, California. Key figures in black music and media gathered, from label heads and founders like Berry Gordy, Dick Griffey, and Don Cornelius to artists like Stevie Wonder and Smokey Robinson. There were representatives from leading industry organizations like the National Association of Broadcasters and the National Associations of Recording Merchandisers, delegates and executives from the major labels, and some political muscle like Rev. Jesse Jackson. It was a power summit.

BMA had four divisions of membership and focus: marketing and merchandising, record company executives, TV and radio on-air talent and executives (including DJs and journalists), and the artists themselves. The organization also soon had a governing board made up of top executives from some of the major labels – whether black or not – which eventually became an issue internally.

The organization's goals were possibly a little too ambitious in the beginning. They promised to address if not solve almost every grievance in black entertainment, from radio airplay to cable broadcasting, to royalty payments, to distinguishing professional black promoters from the janky funky fingers productions-esque outfits. One of their first moves was to create a business initiative: Black Music Month.

“Initially, Black Music Month started as an economic program more than anything else,” Kenny Gamble shared in an interview with his ex-wife and co-founder of BMM, Dyana Williams. “The CMA had worked to establish October as Country Music Month, so we picked June as a time where we could concentrate on recognizing and celebrating the economic and cultural power of Black music and those who made and promoted it. The slogan we came up with was, ‘Black Music Is Green’ – it was about economics. So, in an effort to galvanize, as well as create an advocacy entity, Black Music Month was born.”

Gamble also noted that the CMA had been hosted at the White House for a reception, so he called the “Godfather of Black Music,” Clarence Avant – because everyone called on Clarence Avant – and Clarence made a couple of calls. On June 7th, 2019, Jimmy Carter hosted the first Black Music Month celebration on the White House lawn.

Though Carter declared June Black Music Month with the event in 1979, and black music institutions celebrated every June thereafter, Black Music Month didn’t become an official observation until 2000. Dyana Williams discovered in the late ‘90s that President Carter didn’t issue an official decree, so she worked with her local congresswoman to draft House Resolution 509, better known as The African-American Music Bill. In its official form, the bill — signed by former president Bill Clinton — called for a formal acknowledgment and celebration of black music’s contribution to and impact on American life and culture. This is the spirit in which we observe Black Music Month today.

Whereas artists, songwriters, producers, engineers, educators, executives, and other professionals in the music industry provide inspiration and leadership through their creation of music, dissemination of educational information, and financial contributions to charitable and community-based organizations;

Whereas African-American music is indigenous to the United States and originates from African genres of music;

Whereas African-American genres of music such as gospel, blues, jazz, rhythm and blues, rap, the Motown sound, and hip-hop have their roots in the African-American experience;

Whereas African-American music has a pervasive influence on dance, fashion, language, art, literature, cinema, media, advertisements, and other aspects of culture;

Whereas the prominence of African-American music in the 20th century has reawakened interest in the legacy and heritage of the art form of African-American music;

Whereas African-American music embodies the strong presence of, and significant contributions made by, African-Americans in the music industry and society as a whole;

Whereas the multibillion-dollar African-American music industry contributes greatly to the domestic and worldwide economy;

Whereas African-American music has a positive impact on and broad appeal to diverse groups, both nationally and internationally; and

Whereas in 1979 President Carter recognized June as African-American Music Month, and President Clinton subsequently recognized June as African-American Music Month: Now, therefore, be it Resolved, That the House of Representatives—(1) recognizes the importance of the contributions of African-American music to global culture and the positive impact of African-American music on global commerce; and (2) calls on the people of the United States to take the opportunity to study, reflect on, and celebrate the majesty, vitality, and importance of African-American music.

Getting Back To The Beginning

The Black Music Association dissolved in the mid-80s, as factions split in the leadership based on priority. Radio felt like their needs weren’t being properly prioritized, and radio was the driver for almost everything else; Griffey and Rev. Jackson formed the Black Promoters Association as an offshoot of BMA, but it operated as its own entity; and questions rose regarding conflicts of interest with the presence of major label heads – some of the very people the BMA was targeting – on the organization’s board.

“The BMA wasn’t able to withstand splintered agendas in the leadership. That plus dissension about the organization’s direction ultimately led to its demise,” Williams explained to Billboard a few years ago. “There’s still the need for an organization that galvanizes all the styles of black music and also advocates the advancement of black music overall for this and future generations.”

In the 40 years since Gamble, Wright, and Williams championed black music’s contributions on the White House lawn, the black music business has circled back to the same place as when BMA was founded. Urban music – specifically hip-hop – is now pop music, by definition, but once again, we’re not in control. Clinton’s deregulation of telecommunications industry in 1996 led to the conglomeration of radio, pushing black radio owners out as companies like iHeart and Clear Channel snapped radio stations up by the handful. With that came mass programming based on algorithms and data instead of decisions made by DJs who know their listeners and their markets. As “urban” music became more mainstream, labels dissolved black music divisions and ousted high-level black executives. Now, some labels are using pure algorithms to sign artists and make marketing decisions.

The business’ shift to digital interests, while great for hip-hop, has hurt legacy R&B artists. And once again, black labels – even the joint ventures (JVs) – are largely absorbed into the majors, with many in existence as imprint only, if at all. “The whole culture of the music industry has changed,” Gamble has pointed out. “With fewer black executives or dedicated black divisions like back in the day, there are many A&R people at these companies who don’t know anything about black music. But they still sign these artists…It appears that investment in black artists is pretty much at a standstill. There has been a systematic dismantling and ongoing cultural appropriation of black culture.”

It would serve black music now to go back and look at the original goals of the Black Music Association and Black Music Month. Former Sony Urban president Michael Mauldin — a surviving “old head” who oversaw the massive success of Destiny’s Child, B2K, the Fugees and Lauryn Hill, founded The Scream Tour, and produced a mogul in his son, Jermaine Dupri — is working on a new iteration. He lamented in Billboard that black music’s stratospheric accomplishments in the ‘90s made us a little too comfortable. “The type of cultural impact we were having in 1998 has not been felt since. No one seemed to be paying attention to the future of Black American Music anymore. And once again there were community and political debates over how to best describe black heritage (Black American, African-American, urban, etc.) Resistance to the term ‘black music’ also fueled those debates, as many people — blacks and whites — felt that the word ‘black’ was too racial.”  He added that his Black American Music Association (BAMA) “will pick up where its predecessor left off. The mission: to develop, recognize, educate, guide and promote the next generation of artists/musicians and industry executives, while supporting those dedicated to preserving and celebrating the legacy and future of Black American Music (BAM).”

Dyana Williams, now one of the foremost voices on black music history, also guides the future of the culture as labels’ go-to person for auntie-level artist development and communications education for new talent. In addition to getting to know artists beyond their talking points, she teaches them how to talk about their music and their talent, navigate the pitfalls of social media, and insists they know their influences and musical history. She emphasized the continued importance of celebrating Black Music Month to The Root, saying “For black people, music is like breathing. It’s part of our experience, from field hollers to the hip-hop of today and every genre in between, because we have influenced everybody from The Rolling Stones to The Beatles to Eric Clapton, who cite black music as their wellspring. We are talking about America's indigenous music that just happens to be black.”

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CIRCA 1980: Photo of Bill Withers
David Corio/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Bill Withers' Greatest Hits: Remixed, Sampled And Covered

The recent loss of legends in jazz, soul and classical music have saddened the music industry and reminded us of their touching gifts to music. The passing of Manu Dibango, Krzysztof Penderecki, Ellis Marsalis Jr., Bucky Pizzarelli and Alan Merrill brought endless tributes from peers and fans with the recent loss of soul singer-songwriter Bill Withers doing the same.

With a mirage of hits, the iconic songwriter left his mark on music with the release of his debut album Just As I Am in 1971. "Ain't No Sunshine" put a spotlight on his songwriting while 1977's "Lovely Day" reminded the industry of his signature vocals. Withers released eight studio albums, one live album and garnered three Grammys for his powerful songs that gave hope and love to fans to this day.

Hip-hop and R&B have gained the most from Withers as his music went on to inspire records like "No Diggity" by BLACKStreet, "Roses" by Kanye West and other songs from UGK, Dr. Dre, Jill Scott and more.

Take a look at some of Withers' finest tunes covered, remixed and sampled below.

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8. “Lovely Day” | Menagerie (1977)

Sampled On: T.W.D.Y., “Player’s Holiday” | Derty Werk (1999) LunchMoneyLewis - “It's Gonna Be A Lovely Day” feat. Aminè | Pets 2 Soundtrack (2019) Swizz Beatz - “Take A Picture” |One Man Band (2007)

Standout: T.W.D.Y., “Player’s Holiday” | Derty Werk (1999)

Short for "The Whole Damn Yay," the group used Withers' sample while throwing a splash of The Bay's laid back flavor. With cameos from future legends like E-40 and Ray Luv, the single already embodied the best of R&B and hip-hop with guest verses from Too Short, Mac Mall and Otis & Shug. The mimosas and yacht are also a great touch.

Covered By: Jill Scott, The Original Jill Scott from the Vault Vol. 1 (2011) Alt-J, This Is All Yours (2014) Robert Glasper Experiment, Black Radio 2 (2013) Kirk Franklin, The Nu Nation Project (1998)

Standout: Kirk Franklin, The Nu Nation Project (1998)

Who was going to beat a chorus singing to the lordt? Franklin's take on the classic gives us stirring gospel and appreciation for Withers and God. There are plenty of covers that have lifted the same vocals as Withers, but the ones listed have put their unique spin on the track.

7. “Ain't No Sunshine” | Just As I Am (1971)

Sampled On: DMX - “No Sunshine” | Exit Wounds Soundtrack (2001) Lil B - “Up And Down” | Based Jam (2012) 2Pac- "Soulja's Story" |  2Pacalypse Now (1991)

Standout: DMX - “No Sunshine” | Exit Wounds Soundtrack (2001)

"No Sunshine" served as the only single from DMX's film alongside Steven Seagal, which gave everyone the perfect backdrop to the movie and X's intricate storytelling. Both the original and flipped version points out the dark elements of our lives. Withers penned the song after watching the film 1962 movie Days of Wine and Roses, he pondered over the toxicity in his life. "Sometimes you miss things that weren't particularly good for you," he said in 2004 to SongFacts. "It's just something that crossed my mind from watching that movie, and probably something else that happened in my life that I'm not aware of."

Covered By: Soul For Real | Candy Rain (1994) Michael Jackson | Got to Be There (1972) The Boris Gardiner Happening | Is What's Happening (1973) The Temptations | Solid Rock (1972)

Standout: Michael Jackson | Got to Be There (1972)

At 14, the future King of Pop gave a riveting cover of Withers' hit for his debut album, Got To Be There. From his vocal control throughout the track to the instrumentation, his cover takes the song to another level of heartbreak.

6. "Grandma's Hands” | Just As I Am (1971)

Sampled On: BLACKstreet - “No Diggity” feat. Dr. Dre and Queen Pen | Another Level (1996) Big K.R.I.T. - “I Gotta Stay” | K.R.I.T. Wuz Here (2010) Brother Ali - “Waheedah's Hands” | Champion (2004)

Standout: BLACKstreet - “No Diggity” feat. Dr. Dre and Queen Pen | Another Level (1996)

R&B heads are well aware of BLACKstreet's neverending ballads and the genius of Teddy Riley. But the pivot of their sound for their sophomore album Another Level was due to Withers and the William “Stylez” Stewart. Speaking to Fact Mag in 2017, the creator of New Jack Swing gave credit to Stylez for bringing him the sample of "Grandma's Hands."

“If he hadn’t played that sample for me, there would never be a ‘No Diggity’ And if he didn’t write it according to the melody I gave him so it would sound that way because I wanted it to sound funky,” he said. “I wanted it to be appealing to everyone, but mostly to women. I wanted every woman to feel like they were the ‘No Diggity’ girl and that song was about them and it came across. And now, still, today, that song plays and people are on that dancefloor.”

Covered By: Gil Scott-Heron, Reflections (1981) Merry Clayton, Merry Clayton (1971) Barbra Streisand, Butterfly (1974)

Standout: Gil Scott-Heron, Reflections (1981)

Gil Scott-Heron's version of the soul classic reminded us of his versatile talents. From spoken word to his vocal abilities, the Godfather of rap music always came through with his own sound and style. Reflections was one of four albums the late artist dropped in the 80s with critics looking to it as one of his finest projects. Other cuts from the album included "Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler)" and "B Love."

5. "Use Me" | Still Bill (1972)

Sampled On: Kendrick Lamar - “Sing About Me, I'm Dying Of Thirst"  | Good kid, Maad City (2012) J. Cole- "Dollar And A Dream II" | The Warm-Up (2009) Leela James - “So Good" | Fall For You (2014) UGK - "Use Me Up" | The Southern Way (1992)

Standout: Kendrick Lamar - “Sing About Me, I'm Dying Of Thirst"  | Good kid, Maad City (2012)

Lamar's take on "Use Me" blended right into the themes of his debut album, Good kid, Maad City allowing the artist to create another world on the project. To make things even better, Lamar also sampled Al Green's "I'm Glad You're Mine" for the track.

Covered By: Grace Jones, Indigo Nights, Live (2008) Mick Jagger feat. Lenny Kravitz, Wandering Spirit  (2004) Issac Hayes, Dr. Dolittle Soundtrack (1998)

Standout: Mick Jagger feat. Lenny Kravitz, Wandering Spirit (2004)

On his third solo album, Jagger linked with Rick Rubin to test his creative energy, allowing him to work with Lenny Kravitz on their version of "Use Me." Colliding worlds was one thing but to hear Kravitz's vocals come in on the bridge, set the track apart from the rest.

4. “Kissing My Love” | Still Bill (1972)

Sampled On: J. Cole - “The Cut Off" featuring kiLL Edward  | KOD (2018) Dr. Dre - "Let Me Ride" featuring Snoop Dogg, RC and Jewell | The Chronic (1992) Masta Ace- "Movin On" | Take A Look Around (1990) Master P- "Bastard Child" | The Ghettos Tryin To Kill Me! | 1994

Standout: Dr. Dre - "Let Me Ride" featuring Snoop Dogg, RC and Jewell | The Chronic (1992)

"Kissing My Love" is one of most sampled from Withers catalog, thanks to its feverish drums. It's also why it fits into Dr. Dre's single and the G-funk era.

3. Grover Washington's “Just The Two of Us” featuring Bill Withers | Winelight (1981)

Sampled/Covered On:  Will Smith - “Just The Two of Us” | Big Willie Style (1997) Eminem- "Just The Two of Us" | Slim Shady EP (1997) Keri Hilson- "Pretty Girl Rock" | No Boys Allowed (2010)

Standout: Will Smith - “Just The Two of Us” | Big Willie Style (1997)

Touching and soulful, Smith's dedication to his eldest son Trey is just too cute for words.

2. “Let It Be” | Just As I Am  (1967)

The Original: The Beatles - “Let It Be” | Let It Be (1968)

"Let It Be" is a pretty special record. Aretha Franklin recorded a version a year before the release of The Beatles' version and Withers gave his take on the record in the 70s. Slightly faster, his upbeat take on "Let It Be" just hits different.

1. “Rosie” | Menagerie Re-Issue (1977)

Sampled On: Kanye West - “Roses” |  Late Registration (2005)

As the somber part of Late Registration, "Roses" brings us into Kanye's world where he contemplates the mortality of a loved one. It's a sentimental take on the sample and one of the artist's most underrated songs. It's also a hidden gem for Withers as it isn't featured on Menagerie's LP. It was added as a bonus track on

Enjoy the jams in playlist form below.

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Andy Chan

Stephon Marbury Talks New Documentary And Bringing Hip-Hop Culture To The NBA

The epicenter of culture and entertainment, New York City is known as the land where stars are born and legends are made. The birthplace of hip-hop and the mecca of basketball, the grittiness of life within the five boroughs has cultivated an innumerable amount of creatives notorious for their tenacity in the booth, as well as talented athletes known for their exploits on the hardwood. Stringing rhymes together may not have been Stephon Marbury's claim to fame, but his story of surviving the projects of Coney Island and using his athletic talent to reach fame and fortune has made him a global hero. His journey is examined in the new documentary, A Kid From Coney Island.

Chronicling Stephon's journey from Coney Island's Surfside Gardens housing projects to Beijing, China, the film documents his family's lineage within the basketball world, his meteoric rise as a high school prodigy, the successful, yet tumultuous NBA career that followed, and how he rediscovered himself thousands of miles away from home. Directed by Coodie Simmons and Chike Ozah, and executive produced by NBA superstar Kevin Durant, A Kid From Coney Island came to life when producers Jason Samuel and Nina Yang Bongiovio reached out to Coodie and Chike, who were working with Samuels on the HBO documentary Legacy of a King, to jump on board.

From there, Coodie and Chike met with Marbury, with both parties bonding over their spiritual backgrounds and focus on family, earning the trust that would result in a transparent glimpse into the inner workings of his life and the chain of events that led to his most controversial moments. With Hollywood veteran Forest Whitaker in the fold as a producer, the last domino to fall would be Kevin Durant, who, along with his business partner Rich Kleiman, expressed an interest in taking on the project under their Thirty Five Ventures media company. "Kev, him and Rich Kleiman, they came in as executive producers and [out of] his love for Stephon," Coodie explains. "And then when they saw the final product, they wanted to definitely support it and made sure that we got it out there for these kids to see. It was an important story to him."

In addition to Marbury's exploits on the court, A Kid From Coney Island also touches on his impact as one of the first NBA players to fully embrace and embody the look, attitude, and vibe of hip-hop culture, a period which Coodie Simmons recalls fondly. "It was definitely the golden age of hip-hop, 96, that era," he shares. "And it was the emergence of hip-hop and basketball. We seen it, it happened with Stephon and A.I. and Kobe Bryant and all of them guys who came in, 'cause you'd see Magic Johnson and 'em, they're suited up. Or even Mike, Mike had his tailor-made suits so that's all we'd pretty much seen, but when those guys came in, they had to change the dress code because of them guys."

One of the directors' goals for the project was to help humanize Stephon Marbury and illustrate the toll that mental health can take on a person's psyche, whether it be a world-class athlete or not. "For those that don't know Steph, I think that they will just get a great story of redemption," Coodie says. "Of not quitting and going somewhere to actually succeed. When we weren't welcome in one place,we went somewhere else and made it happen. And then I think, two, the whole depression and mental health, people don't really understand that in our community that's real big, but we ignore it or we shun it away, we don't get therapy like we need, so I think people will see Stephon's story as a redemption and really inspire 'em. His story will inspire so many when they see it and those who knew Steph and remember him from the NBA, I think they will see that he's a real person."

Featuring a cast that includes Ray Allen, Fat Joe, Chauncey Billups, Cam'ron, Stephen A. Smith, DJ Clark Kent, Bonz Malone, Set Free Richardson, and more, A Kid From Coney Island is a riveting watch for any sports or hip-hop fan and gives insight to the life and times of one of the most beloved athletes of the hip-hop generation. While the film’s theatre release was thwarted by the coronavirus, it’s now available to watch and own digitally.

VIBE hopped on the phone and spoke with Stephon Marbury about his journey across the globe, his role in solidifying the marriage between basketball and hip-hop, and what it means to be A Kid From Coney Island.

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VIBE: How did the idea to document your journey from Coney Island to Asia and back come to life? Stephon Marbury: Well, it started with talking about my experiences and my journey and all of the stuff that was going on in my life. When we spoke about these different things, about four years ago, we were speaking about doing a biopic movie and then we said there was an opportunity to do a documentary. They said, “Well, why don't we start it off with a documentary first before we do a biopic movie, that would be pretty cool to tell the story and get people to understand what had taken place.” So then we went into speaking and talking about all of the different things that I've done and about us documenting what was going on in China. We did that for a whole season, a whole year, and then it pretty much came to life after putting all of the right people in place and making sure they could execute the flair.

Kevin Durant is one of the executive producers on the documentary. How would you describe your relationship? Kevin Durant, I've been watching him since he first came into college and he ventured off in Thirty Five Ventures, the media company. The opportunity came about where he wanted to be a part of it. After he watched it he asked me. … I have a lot of love for him, his game and what he tries to do off of the basketball court, trying to help people. And he's one of the best basketball players on the planet. So him coming on board was right in alignment with what we were doing and having his own media company.

What was it like working with Coodie and Chike on the film and how would you describe that dynamic? Those two, they're authentic, they're real. They understand capturing the moments that people need to capture from what we put on the screen, to want to be inspired and want to reach higher. To want to have that motor and that motivation to keep pushing forward throughout the ups and downs of going through life. People can watch, and hear it, people can listen. Those guys have their style and what they want the world to see, and I think working with those two guys, they had the vision. Along with partnering up with Jason Samuel. And having Forest Whitaker basically oversee and make sure it looks the way it needs to look and sounds the way it needs to sound for people to resonate with the story.

New York City is notorious for its crack epidemic and the violence that came as a byproduct of it, which coincided with your own coming of age. The documentary covers how that environment also sheltered you and provided a safe haven for you to hone your talents in. How would you say that relationship with the people in your community shaped you as a man and inspired your drive and will to win? I was blessed to grow up in the projects, where I was able to have my mom, my dad and brothers and sisters guide me in the way that I needed to be guided. So me, having that spiritual-based background, I've always been able to understand what it was that I was pushing for and what I was looking to see for myself. And I had the faith and I trusted a higher power to get me through those obstacles. Coming from Coney Island, you get the bitter and the sweet, as far as growing up in an impoverished area, in the ghetto. whatever you wanna call it. I come from that, and to make it better was the only resort.

One of the common themes that is touched on throughout the documentary is the bond you have with your family and your lineage within the basketball community. How important was it to highlight the role your family played in your journey? It's all about stories. I pretty much cultivated all of their thinking and doings on the court, and their ways and how they see the game should be played, I put that all together. When you see me on the court, as the person that's playing in the NBA, but all of their games are entwined into my game and they taught me all of what I know and I was able to take something from each and every one of them. But for me, having them and my family - my mom and my dad, bless my dad's soul, he's not here anymore - to have them be able to give me not only the tools, but to help me utilize the tools [was great].

You were also one of the first basketball players to truly embody and exude an aura comparable to a rap or neighborhood, from the part in your hair to the earrings, tats, jewelry and that whole rugged demeanor. At that time, was it important for you to display that look and attitude for the world to see? That '96 era, B.I.G., Pac, Nas, what they did during that time was a correlation to what we were doing in basketball, Iverson, myself, so that was our era. That's what we were listening to during these times. So because of that, that direct correlation had an impact on the culture and what we did and how we did things, so we grew up with that type of swag. We had that atmosphere around us at all times, which was a motivation and push to inspire us to do great things. To be different, to create abstract things on the court. To go on the court and do what you do, play how you play. You get to paint your vision and your idea of who you are as a basketball player on the court. They gave us that culture side on that music side for that part.

Your draft night moment is one of the most memorable in the history of the NBA and was a moment that was not only about you, but your whole family. What emotions did seeing that footage 25 years later bring to the surface? It was an amazing time and it was a very emotional, impactful moment, not only for myself and my family, but all of the people from Coney Island. Somebody made it from where we're from, doing something that we love to do, so all of the emotions they run high and stay high and it's always something that will continue to be impactful. And that will continue to be monumental because we did it together, it was a team effort, what we were able to accomplish.

One of the more intriguing aspects of the documentary is your relationship with Kevin Garnett and how your careers and journies would become synonymous with one another. How would you say that brotherhood impacted both of you during your coming of age? It always was love and will always be love. For me, I stay consistent in who I was and how I was as a basketball player and as a person. Sharing the court with Kev, he's doing something to help me and I'm doing something to help him and we made each other wise when we played [with each other] on the basketball court.

The documentary also highlights you being a host to other future pros like Chauncey Billups and others. How did these relationships form and manifest in kids coming from all over the country to visit you in Coney Island, Brooklyn? Basketball. I mean, Chauncey was at an All-American camp and when he was at All-American [camp], I was like, 'Why don't you just come to Coney Island and stay,' so when he's staying he was shocked, he was blown away. I'll never forget, it was one of the hottest days during that time in the summertime and we didn't have no air-conditioner and we were on the hunt trying to find a fan, but you couldn't find a fan. He was like, 'Man, I ain't ever experience being in the projects, all of these big buildings and just seeing how people live and all of that.” It was fun to give someone that experience and Chauncey and I are still friends as we speak. I've known him since high school and he's one of the people who I've stayed in touch with, talked with, and has just been an inspiration in our lives. Not just in basketball, but seeing all of what he's doing and how he's trying to help people. Building these bonds and building these relationships as basketball players is all because of the ball,and the ball gives the opportunity for people to connect.

New York City basketball was very competitive, with players like you, Felipe Lopez, God Shammgod and others in heated competition, and is now considered a golden era for the city. What were those battles against guards like Rafer Alston and Shammgod like and did you feel the weight of that competition for the top spot? Nah, I just did what I did and went on the court and played the way so that I'd get myself to be where I could be. I always felt like if you wanna be the best, you gotta play against the best, you gotta dominate against the best. You gotta just show and prove what you can do, and in New York, you know you're always gonna have that competition on the court, you gotta have that drive and that motor in New York in order to be the top. And those guys were some of the top players in the world so everybody was going for it to be one of the top, which was pushing us to fight and try to make it in the NBA."

With all of the similarities, the belief has always been that He Got Game was inspired by your own story of being a coveted basketball prospect out of Coney Island, which is covered in the documentary. Did you have a relationship with Spike prior to the film and did he ever reach out to you personally during that time? Yeah, he reached out to me. He wanted me to audition and I wouldn't audition to play me so that's how that pretty much went. And I understood what he was saying later, but I still didn't understand then because I was like, 'You want me to play me?' But it was about acting, it wasn't really about playing the part, which was understandable, but the movie was a well-written movie. It wasn't all true. Like some of it's true, a lot of it's not true, but it was a great basketball movie to tell a story about a player who came from a place [like Coney Island].

You and KG were one of the first athletes to go outside of the traditional system and sign a shoe deal with AND1, who were up and coming at the time. How did you get involved with the brand and what were some of the other opportunities you turned down in favor of working with AND1 that you can mention? During that time, we could've signed with anybody. Anybody would've signed us, but AND1, at the time, all they had was T-shirts of, like, Larry Johnson on 'em with Grandmama, so for me it was an opportunity to build something from the ground up. It was something that was different, it was something that was unique because it was different and they were willing to sell shoes at a reasonable price point.

Your transition to Minnesota and being away from your family was touched on in the film. How would you describe that distance between you and that core unit affected your tenure there? I mean, it was different. I went from New York, where it's a melting pot, to Atlanta, where it's predominantly black where I was at, and went to Minnesota, where it's primarily white. But for myself, around that time, at a young age, that was a culture shock to me, which was part of my decision in me wanting to go back home and play in the tri-state area. I wanted to be in a culturally diverse city, [like] where I was from. That was when I was young and then, as I grew older, I started to see what people were saying as far as, "Oh, you see the possibilities about you and Kevin Garnett playing together for so many years in Minnesota?' I was like, "Yeah, I can see that," but I would've had to spend seven years in Minnesota and it wasn't just about basketball with me, I had a life as well. It snowed all the time and it's always cold, there's 10,000 lakes. Weather watch season, warning watches. Like, "If you go outside today, you can die if you get caught outside." There's things like that, just from natural habitat, to put myself in that position where I would have to make a decision for life and death things, which that's every day, all of the time, but because of the weather? I couldn't receive that message at the time and stay in a place like that. It was never about basketball or playing with Kevin.

One of the highlights of the documentary is your performances in the EBC tournament at Rucker Park, which you were a long-time participant in. What are some of your favorite memories from those tournaments and how would you say your impact helped bridge the gap between streetball and the NBA? When you play against guys that could've or should've made it to the NBA, not only are those guys reminders of our lifestyle from the street guys that didn't get to make it, it's fun because they get an opportunity to see the difference in why you're playing in the NBA and why some may not make it. Because you got guys in the NBA that can't play in the Rucker, they don't know how to get on the court and play that style, but you put them in an NBA game and they can play. Not everyone can perform on that stage, playing in the Rucker. Now, with the way our basketball is right now, you gotta be able to do both.

What's the backstory to your relationship with Fat Joe, who also appears in the documentary? I mean, we just clicked since when I was playing with the Nets, and this goes back to '99, over twenty years. And our relationship has just been love, that's all. He's real funny, he's real, he's street, he's Joe (laughs), you know, so our relationship just grew and built from that. He was like, 'Yo, I'm putting together a team at the Rucker.' I was like, 'I'm down, what's up.' He was like, 'Steph, five, I need this chip, five.' I'm like, 'That's done, don't worry about that. We gonna get that.'

Were there any moments in the documentary that were raw to the point you were a bit hesitant to touch on or revisit? Nah. My life is my life, what happened is what happened, it's a part of it. One dude was like, 'Ah, you were crying on the internet.' I said, 'I see people cry every day when people die, I can't cry about my dad? I can't cry about me having a moment from my father eating Vaselines?' I was like, 'I'll eat Vaseline right now, in front of your face’ (laughs). People stick needles in their arm or their mom sniffs coke, and I was like, 'You're talking about me eating Vaseline?' It doesn't make sense. It's okay for you to speak about something that everybody talked about and that's all they talk about. And I was like, 'If that makes me crazy, I'm sorry for the people that are born with the things that make them crazy.

Aside from old video clips, you don't appear in the documentary until you begin recounting your transition to China. Whose decision was that and what, if any significance, do you think that added to conveying the gravity of that moment? It's storytelling. The story speaks for itself, it tells the whole tale until I started talking. The way they did it was perfect. When I come on, it's picking up from where everyone watched and when I say watched, I mean the time frame of what was going on in my life. But no one knows about China. So that's why I told the story about China.

Towards the end of the documentary, you visit a local barbershop in Coney Island and befriend a young child, which results in one of the more emotional scenes in the film. Can you take me through what was running through your mind at the moment and why the child's answer to your question about him being president garnered that response? Nobody ever told him that he can be anything, that he can be the president. He just thought that, 'Oh, only these people can be the president,' no, you can be the president, too. So for us to be able to teach these children and give these kids the idea of, 'You can do this and you can do that,' that's really what it's about. It's not really about anything else because we're gonna leave this space and go to another space when we pass on and they will be the ones that will be here to continue. And then what we want them to pass on to the next generation. Encouraging and giving them the idea that they can do whatever they wanna do on the earth if they aspire to do that."

China was a spiritual awakening for you, it seems. How would you say that experience helped you heal and grow in different areas? One of my mentors said to me, “Steph, it's like going on a retreat,” before I went, and that's exactly what it was. It was not only a spiritual journey and a spiritual awakening, to be able to have gone over there to do some of the things that I've done, it was all in accordance and it's all in the plan as far as what was bound to happen in your life, but you don't know there's something going on 7,000 miles away. Like, if somebody told you, “Oh, if you go over there, these things are gonna happen.” What's gonna happen? “Oh, you're gonna have two statues, a museum, you're gonna have three championships.” You're gonna be looking at them like, no way, not a kid from Coney Island is gonna receive all of these different things. “Yeah, this is what's gonna happen, you're gonna go to China and you're gonna do this, you're gonna do that and this is gonna happen, that's gonna happen and you're gonna be one of the people that makes China a basketball country.” That's not something that you think about or dream about. So going there was part of my story, it's part of my history, it was part of what was going to put me back into a space within myself where it was going to allow me to be focused in my life. So for me, seeing it play out how it played out, I'm blessed and thankful that I was able to see my obstacles, but at the same time, have the guts to continue to go forward. I felt like I wasn't gonna be able to.

What do you hope viewers take away from this documentary after watching it? Become more aware of the truth because when you can tell your own truth people can get a better understanding of the lies that were told. That's how I like to look at it because a lot of people had a lot to say about what happened and what went on with my life and my journey, but they weren't living in my journey, they were only reading about my journey. I think they see this, they'll have a better understanding because sometimes people just don't know and they go with what they think and then they talk about what they think or what they heard. And more importantly, I hope people can become inspired by it, to do what they feel they wanna do in their lives and go for it.

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Mario Tama

People Of Color Are Hesitant To Wear Homemade Masks

While the country is experiencing a shortage in face masks, the Center for Disease Control recommends that people wear homemade face mask. But many people of color have reservations about going outside with bandanas, or other homemade masks wrapped around their faces.

One person exercising caution in following the suggestion of the CDE is Trevon Logan, economics professor at Ohio State University.

"We have a lot of examples of the presumed criminality of black men in general," Logan said to CNN. "And then we have the advice to go out in public in something that ... can certainly be read as being criminal or nefarious, particularly when applied to black men."

I don’t feel safe wearing a handkerchief or something else that isn’t CLEARLY a protective mask covering my face to the store because I am a Black man living in this world. I want to stay alive but I also want to stay alive.

— Aaron Thomas (@Aaron_TheThomas) April 4, 2020

Hospital administrators around the country are seeking government help to secure more masks and other personal equipment. With many out of work, there is an untold number of poverty-stricken families who simply can't afford to buy masks.

"This (wearing a homemade mask) seems like a reasonable response unless you just sort of take American society out of it. When you can't do that, you're basically telling people to look dangerous given racial stereotypes that are out there," Logan said.

Racial profiling is a longstanding and deeply troubling national problem. It occurs every day, in cities and towns across the country, when law enforcement and private security target people of color for humiliating and often frightening detentions, interrogations, and searches without evidence of criminal activity and based on perceived race, ethnicity, national origin, or religion. Wearing homemade masks during the COVID-19 pandemic could easily expose blacks to more racial profiling.

"This is in the larger context of black men fitting the description of a suspect who has a hood on, who has a face covering on," Logan said.  "It looks like almost every criminal sketch of any garden-variety black suspect."

Gang affiliation is also a serious issue in large cities such as New York City, L.A., Chicago, among others. With this, there's a great possibility that wearing bandanas for masks could expose men and women to violence from gang members as well as police.

Cyntoria Johnson, assistant professor in the Department of Criminal Justice and Criminology at Georgia State University told CNN that bandanas are commonly associated with gang affiliation or part their respective uniforms, including a bandana tied around the forehead similar to a sweatband.

"People of color have to make conscious decisions every day about the way they show up in the world and are perceived by others, especially the police," Johnson said.

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