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My Detroit Story

My Detroit Story is a collection of experiences with people, places and things uniquely Detroit but genuinely universal.

My Curly Hair by T’elay

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My Curly Hair is a web-series by T’elay Forbes. Telay is a high school student and former Mosaic Youth Theater actress. T’elay will be one of the reviewers in the Dine Drink Detroit & Detroit is Different restaurant review series. My Curly Hair was shot by T’elay and moving forward I will co-produce the series with her. She shares tips on products, techniques, and styles for hair with a curly texture.

[youtube_sc url=”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wyt016BoJA0″]

My Detroit Story: Pastor David Bullock

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I continue my July feature of the Preacher David Alexander Bullock by sharing some of his Detroit Stories. This is a special youtube video feature that’s all of 7 minutes but fantastic! Pastor Bullock shares stories about Mayor Coleman Young vs NWA, Nelson Mandela, and the beloved Ortheia Barnes. This feature provides a closer look into the upbringing and cultural mix of Pastor Bullock. We also discuss his passion for music. As a bonus he offers an exclusive listen to his song ‘Price of Love.’

[youtube_sc url=”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eYh7Q2rK_zU”]

Ortheia Barnes Music Festival

Featuring performances by Khary WAE Frazier, David Bullock, Luther Keith, and Thornetta Davis. We will honor the legacy of Ortheia Barnes in spirit and song. Advance tickets are $20 and tickets at the door are $25.

Jocelyn Rainey’s My Detroit Story: Innovative, New, Creative

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Jocelyn Rainey’s journey as an artist began from a vision in her dreams. Jocelyn is a surviving victim of gun violence. Her journey to recovery and full health is a blessing. Over time she gained back her strength from paralysis. During this time her hands were the final function she gathered returning to full health. As she recovered Jocelyn dreamed more and more of using her hands to become an artist. She envisioned paints, canvassing, and easels as colors filled her mind. So naturally upon discovering her passion she was drawn to the Center for Creative Studies college in Detroit.

Jocelyn was accepted into CCS with upon her fifth attempt. There she met her inspiration in Gilda Snowden. Snowden was a professor at CCS that encouraged, inspired, and supported Jocelyn. “I knew nothing about the culture, lifestyle, and history of art. Professor Snowden introduced me to that whole world,” Rainey. Gilda Snowden passed away and joined the ancestors in 2014. Above she’s pictured with Jocelyn and her daughter Katherine Snowden Boswell. Gilda was an internationally known abstract artist. For Jocelyn, Gilda was amazing. “I was welcomed into a world of creativity by Professor Snowden,” Jocelyn.

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Jocelyn Rainey and Gilda Snowden

 

As Jocelyn questioned her purpose, role, and focus at CCS. Meeting Gilda Snowden opened her eyes to the Arts. Professor Snowden introduced her to Dale Pryor, Shirley Woodson, Sherry Washington, and many more of the people that add to Detroit’s rich African American art community. Detroit is the home of the only two formal galleries of African American art that are housed in the Detroit Institute of the Arts. Groups like Friends of African American Art collectivize a community of collectors in support of Black artists. This culture, community, and experience Jocelyn felt inspires her to share this with her students.

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Joceyln Rainey and students in China & Egypt

 

Rainey launched the ‘FML313’ project to transition urban students to world scholars. She challenged her students to ‘Find Mona Lisa.’ This challenge became a community, parent, and student driven fund raiser that took a group of Detroit students to Paris France. Rainey not only led the group of students to France, she also sold her works to support the trip as well. In 2007 she took a group of the Black male students she taught arts & culture too, to an internationally recognized home of art and culture. Rainey’s inspiration was Gilda Snowden. She is driven to share a world of creativity to students who don’t recognize or witness it.

Watch Jocelyn Rainey share her story of Finding Mona Lisa 313 at the 2010 Detroit X TED Talk

My Detroit Story: Wedding at African World Festival

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Thornetta Davis and James Cornelius Anderson became engaged to be wed in 2005. At times during her stage performance Thornetta will joke about the time it took for her to find “the right man”. If you’ve had the opportunity to witness James and Thornetta together, the impact of their bond is humbling. Thornetta is a gem of Detroit’s vocal talents. Thornetta carries a historic tradition of soul, blues, and rock divas of Detroit. James is a world class percussionist. James has performed alongside a collection of funk, reggae, and rock artists across the globe. Together their marriage is a mix of business, artistry, and spirituality built upon love.

This is the story of their memorable wedding day, August 17th 2008, at the 26th Annual African World Festival in Detroit’s Historic Hart Plaza.

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African Drummers, James and Thornetta, and Thornetta

For the three years during their engagement James and Thornetta were consistently approached with the same question: “When and where is the wedding?” Originally the wedding was planned to take place on Belle Isle. The Detroit Grand Prix derailed that. Shortly after the Grand Prix, during a performance at Detroit’s Tastiest, Thornetta and James realized they should have been married right then and there between performance sets. “We always wanted to get married outdoors while allowing the city to join the ceremony and celebration,” said Thornetta, “So when I saw the crowd full of family and friends I felt we missed a perfect opportunity to host our wedding.”

Days after the Tastiest performance, Thornetta received a call from Njia Kai, who is an event specialist that has helped execute and produce performances at major cultural events throughout Detroit for over 25 years. Njia knew of Thornetta and James’ plan to host their wedding outdoors and before Detroit. So when Njia took the helm as the event coordinator for the 2008 African World Festival, she reached out to Thornetta with a simple offer: “I’m running the African World Festival this year and I got three days so pick a time for your wedding”. Thornetta immediately shared the news with James and planning for the wedding began.

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Bridesmaids, Kem, and Groomsmen

One of the most challenging elements of the process turned out to be the catering. Thornetta and James had planned their dream wedding. This dream was full of a mix of African, Caribbean, and Southern American foods. The director of Detroit’s Board of Health was originally not on board with the plan. Thornetta writes:

“Our caterer visited [Detroit’s Board of Health Director] a series of times and felt she was disrespectful towards her. Specifically she said she was ‘evil.’ The director of the Board of Health requested our caterer pay for an African World Festival vending permit, Hart Plaza kitchen access, and city permits. The collective costs for all this access was unreasonable. James and I talked our caterer into a final meeting with the director of the Board of Health and one fateful Friday morning we visited her office and waited. Luckily, as we waited three hours for the director of the Board of Health to arrive to work, we had the chance to fill out all the paper work needed to cater the event. So when the director of the Board of Health finally arrived to her office three hours late, and welcomed all of us [James, Thornetta, and the caterer] into her office we were ready. We sat down at her desk and she asked us: ‘so ya’ll still wanna’ do this thang?’ As angry as I was that she called my wedding a ‘thang’ I patiently responded yes. After that the director of the Board of Health continued to question us with every possible reason why a wedding at African World Festival was a bad idea … ‘where will people park?,’ ‘where will people sit?,’ ‘why do yall’ want to get married outside?,’ and finally she asked ‘what if it rains?’ I told the lady I don’t think it will rain because God got this. Immediately after I said that her whole attitude changed. She went from questioning everything I said, to helping us out. She provided clearances for kitchens, tables, chairs, and full access to Hart Plaza. Upon leaving her office that day she thanked us all for starting her day off so well.”

The stage was finally set for a wonderful occasion. Singer-Songwriter and Detroit native Kim had agreed to sing at their wedding years before, and flew in from his tour in San Fransisco to make good on his promise. The Bill Moss Jr. choir, who had performed at the Festival earlier that day, sang during the ceremony. Finally, Kenfense Cheike led a group of African percussionists and dancers who had also been featured in the African World Festival. Every element that was planned to be in the wedding of Thornetta and James came together in a harmonious celebration of culture, love, and Detroit. Thornetta remembers the honor of spending the day preparing for her wedding with her mother and daughter (Thornetta’s daughter Wanakee Davis was a fellow classmate of mine when I attended King High School from 1998-1999). The ceremony was one of the most memorable events in the history of Detroit’s African World Festival.

Today, eight years after the ceremony James and Thornetta are still approached by many Detroiters with the statement: “I was there”. “The wedding was also moving for so many people and their relationships,” said James, “Many of our friends who attended mended broken relationships and began new ones from that day forward.”

After the ceremony, James and Thornetta led their percussion ensemble to the Pyramid stage in hart Plaza for her performance. In her wedding veil, Thornetta performed for Detroit, sharing the joy of her wedding day with the audience. She opened her set with “Honest Woman,” written in honor of James. This song will be featured on her upcoming album to be released this year.

James wrote a poem that was placed on the invitations, reprinted here with his permission, in honor of Thornetta.

Once upon a time in the city by the river …
There was a girl
The blues she would sing
A voice heard the world over
There was a boy
The music he would promote
For the people in the city by the river
Two people in the city by the river
Two people who share
The same hopes, dreams, aspirations
For Detroit, for music, for love,
On Sunday, August 17, 2008 at 3:30pm
At Phillip Hart Plaza
At the African World Festival
On this day of love will be fulfilled
As two unite as one in holy matrimony
A reception jam session from 7pm to 9pm
At the Nile River Jazz Club Stage
With music to share and love to give
A charmed life they will live
And all is well in the city by the river

My Detroit Story: Writing and Publishing ‘Window 2 my Soul’

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My Detroit Story is a feature in which an in-depth look into a particular event, or series of events that have impacted the life of a Detroiter or Detroit locations existence. February 2015 features ‘the Writer: Yusef ‘Bunchy’ Shakur. Yusef is an accomplished author, speaker, and community leader. He has catapulted to heights of success from the opportunities afforded to him since the release of his 2008 book ‘Window 2 my Soul.’ This is the story behind how Yusef wrote and published ‘Window 2 my Soul.’

“I never saw myself as a writer,” is what Shakur repeated to me during the phone call in early January of 2015 for this interview. Shakur’s plans to come back to Detroit changed as he was called to action. In January 2015 Yusef traveled from Rochester NY, to Baltimore MD, to New York NY, and various parts of North Carolina. Yusef was action planning with Black Panthers, and a series of community leaders. Yusef’s travels, actions, plans, and impact has blossomed within a decade. More remarkable is the fact that within two decades he was incarcerated spending the majority of his adult life to that point in prison.

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Yusef Shakur, Seven the General, and U of M students

 

Yusef Shakur spent nine years of his life in prison. While incarcerated he met his father, and transformed his life. Yusef’s Father encouraged and challenged Yusef to change mentally, physically, and spiritually. The name ‘Little Jo-Jo’ in which he embraced as a founding member of the ‘Zone 8’ gang changed to become, Yusef ‘Bunchy’ Shakur, the freedom fighter (Bunchy is in honor of the legendary LA Black Panther Bunchy Carter).  Entering prison Yusef’s skills in writing and reading were limited at best. He left prison with an unsettled passion for reading and writing that carries on today.

In prison Yusef was respected and recognized as a knowledge base for information on African traditions, Black revolution, organization, and leadership. This reputation spread throughout prisons in Michigan. The network of resourceful information travels distances as inmates write one another, transfer facilities, and share associations. Yusef’s resourcefulness as a young Black man sharing the stories of Black leadership in a place filled with the despair of so many Black men, was motivational.

As word spread about Yusef he was introduced through letter to an inmate at another prison, Kwasi Kwamu (A mutual friend of both knew the enlightenment of Yusef and Kwasi was a balance that was meant to be together. Kwasi and Yusef have strengthened a friendship that carries on today). In support of Yusef initially Kwasi suggested books, music, and information to sharpen Yusef’s skills. Yusef soaked up all that Kwasi offered, and more. Kwasi witnessed the maturation and growth of Yusef as a writer and voluntarily published Yusef in the ‘Freedom Network.’ The ‘Freedom Network’ was a newsletter produced by Kwasi and Greer Bey (Jesse Long-Bey RIP 2013) as a periodical that provided inmates with revolutionary ideas and concepts. “The Freedom Network was to all of us (inmates) what college professors think of the New York Times,” Yusef Shakur. Kwasi took an exert from a letter written by Yusef and published it in the ‘Freedom Network.’

“My confidence grew when I saw that I was published in the ‘Freedom Network,” Yusef Shakur (There after Yusef submitted more content to the ‘Freedom Network’ with limited content being selected). “It was tough to be published in the ‘Freedom Network.’ Kwasi and Greer were very talented and skilled writers who reviewed hundreds of writing from a collection of inmates monthly,” Yusef Shakur.

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Restoring the Neighbor Back to the Hood Rally, Yusef Shakur & HS Students

 

Leaving prison in 2003 Yusef set a goal to carry on writing and reading. In 2006 he had a chance meeting with urban novelist Michelle Moore. Yusef introduced himself to Moore, and told her he’s an aspiring author. Within months, Moore and Shakur met again. Moore asked Yusef “did you write your book?” Shakur had no answer for Moore. He had not begun writing his book. “After she asked me all those questions,  and I didn’t have an answer as to why not … I felt horrible,” Shakur.

Moore’s questioning of Yusef triggered an immediate action in him to begin writing his book. Yusef began writing in November of 2007 and finished in April of 2008. “It felt great completing the writing of my book. That’s when all the learning began,” Shakur. Yusef received mixed reviews of support from family and friends when he began acting upon moving forward with his book. Many people who committed support were hard to find when monies, editing, artwork, copyright, and other necessities were needed. A mutual friend introduced Yusef to an editor who charged him more for the editing than the printing cost. “I told her … it was the first time I was robbed without a gun. I failed to do any research, and planning and learned some very costly lessons,” Shakur.

“In the summer of 2008 I ordered 1,000 books for $2,000.00. I was laid off soon after, and seized the opportunity to sale my book. I visited Car Washes, Barbershops, Beauty Salons, and all places where I knew our people were. The first true break I had encouraged this. Soon after my lay-off I visited the Motown Museum on W Grand BLVD, not far from my Mom’s house. John Mason of ‘Mason in the Morning’ was hosting a live radio broadcast. I approached Mason, and shared my story, he was very receptive and invited me on his show the very next week. On the show I shared my story and Mason has been a supporter ever since,” Shakur.

“The toughest thing about writing, and publishing ‘Window 2 my Soul’ has been the business. I wrote the book from an anti-capitalist mind state so I’ve always given my book to people at no monetary cost. This has come at costs to me. So I’m still learning the type of entrepreneur I will be in support of my people,” Shakur.

Yusef’s brazen attitude about to build his own has been humbling and encouraging for me. Yusef opened a bookstore in his neighborhood, because other bookstores didn’t choose to carry his book. Yusef gave speeches in his neighborhood at his Mother’s house, because no one allowed him to speak at their events. As an artist, and entrepreneur I think that’s brilliant. “I remember I was trying to get my book into ‘Source Bookstore’ in Northland and I was told to come back in 1 month … I came back, then was told come back in 2 months … I came back, then was told to come back in 6 months … I opened my own bookstore,” Shakur. I find that kind of spirit and confidence to be inspirational.

“I always knew I would publish my own. It was hip-hop music that showed me you can sell product out of the trunk of your own car,” Shakur.

In closing the title of the book was inspired by a song from hip-hop group Dead Prez. The sub title was provided by the ‘Freedom Network’ editors Kwasi Kwamu and Tim Greer-Bey.

That’s the story behind the writing and publishing of Yusef ‘Bunchy’ Shakur’s “The Window 2 my Soul: My Transformation from a Zone 8 Thug to a Father & Freedom Fighter.”

February 2015 Detroit is Different

The Writer: Yusef ‘Bunchy’ Shakur

Tuesday February 10, 2015 MY DETROIT STORY: Story behind the writing and publishing of Yusef Shakur’s ‘Window 2 My Soul’

Tuesday February 17 AROUND DETROIT: Around Detroit with Yusef ‘Bunchy’ Shakur at Goodwell’s Foods

Tuesday February 24 DETROIT IS DIFFERENT PODCAST: Audio Interview of Yusef ‘Bunchy’ Shakur by Khary WAE Frazier

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