“…No other hair in the human family does that.”

By Bobbi Booker

Picture: Natural Hair Care Pioneer Yvette Smalls has shared her message via her “Hairstories” documentary

For the past dozen years or so, there has been resurgence in African American interest in natural hairstyles and care. Natural hair has been prominently featured with sports and entertainment stars and the general public has reflected the increased in popularity of styles such as cornrows, locks, braiding, twists, cropped and locked –most of which originated in Ancient Africa. This weekend’s 13th Annual International Locks Conference: Natural Hair, Health & Beauty Expo will celebrate the splendor of Black culture through classes on overall wellness. The expo, traditionally held during the first weekend of October, has expanded to two days of education, healthy food options, informative workshops, soothing healing circles, music, fashions, and a stunning hair show and competition.

Sakinah Ali-Sabree started as a conference volunteer and now serves as the operations manager. “The conference is about more than hair,” explained Ali-Sabree. “It also promotes Black businesses and have different vendors offer their products to the community and have workshops to educate the people in the community. It was an outlet for Black business that didn’t have a store.”

Although there has been a reemergence of natural hair, African Americans–and Black women in particular–still face an underlying tone that straightened hair is a more acceptable or professional hairstyle. As recently as August 2007, controversy erupted when “Glamour” magazine apologized for a staffer who called Black women’s natural hairstyles in the workplace “shocking,” “inappropriate” and “political.”

“People feel like locks are just a hairdo, but it comes with a little responsibility,” noted Ali-Sabree who accents her hair with elaborate ‘Gele’ head wraps. “That’s why I always stress the importance of education and learning about your hair, culture and your heritage, and basically the background on locks and where it comes from. I’ll have Asians or Caucasians say to me, ‘Oh that’s a nice hairstyle’ or ‘Maybe I should try that,’ and tell them it’s a history behind it. It’s not just a hairstyle for me; it’s a cultural statement.”

Expo presenter and natural hair pioneer, Yvette Smalls, has long used the slogan “Braid It-Don’t Burn It” to promote a pan-African appreciation of Afro-textured hair.

“Our hair is our crown and glory and we must embrace that standard,” said Smalls. “The standards of beauty that we’ve been taught are not necessarily beneficial for our people. I help Black women create our own standards.”

According to Smalls, natural hairstyles draw African Americans closer to their roots. “I believe that a lot of the empowerment lies in self-definition and shared experiences,” expands Smalls. “I encourage hair harmony because the essence of beauty is in the soul, not in or of the body.

“My quest of self discovery was beyond image and that’s what made me feel as though it were important to bond and share my experience with women so that we would have to go through some of the things we go through with the issue called hair.”

The Expo will also feature Hollywood newspaper columnist Rych McCain and his new book, “Black Afrikan Hair and The Insanity Of The Black Blonde Psych! (Why EVERY Black Afrikan “MUST” Wear Their Spiritually Divine, Nappy Hair Natural)!” ($25, Valley of Maat Publication). For over 20 years, McCain has researched the critical medial and social effects that have arisen from the poor self-esteem issues that African Americans have over their hair. “Hair is 75 percent of our personality,” said McCain, who has conducted education workshops for over 16,000 community youth and college students.

“The ladies know that,” stresses McCain. “They are not going to go out into the public unless their hair is together. I remember when my mother use to make sure that my sister’s hair was pressed. McCain’s research underscores the “spiritual divinity and physiological functions that natural nappy, kinky, and divine hair performs.”

“Our hair is the only hair that spirals out of the scalp and that’s because of the shape of the follicles but also because of our melanin,” maintains McCain. “When you look at the spiral it is the most profound motion in the universe. Everything on earth spirals. Blood spirals through your vain. Flowers and all plants spiral out of the ground. When you flush or take a shower and look at the water, the water spirals down the drain because of how the earth moves. The same force that creates the spiral of water going down a drain is the same force that creates the same spiral that makes our hair comes out of our head in a spiral form. No other hair in the human family does that.”


Rocky + Art Museum Steps = A Real Cultural Phenomenon


Rapper-turned-reality-TV-star Flavor Flav, atop the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, celebrates a victory of sorts. Flav was involved with Brigitte Nielsen, who was once married to Sylvester Stallone, the man who played the Rocky character.

In nearly every hour of every day, people from near and far come run up Philadelphia Art Museum steps and jubilantly raise their fists high over their heads in emulation of Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky Balboa character.

While this fictional movie character was first introduced to pop culture in “Rocky” over 30 years ago, his real story of triumph over tragedy continues to resonate with people worldwide.

And scores of those people have made the Art Museum’s entrance to the U.S.’s most favorite steps.

Reporter Michael Vitez wondered what stories these “Rocky” pilgrims had, so he and photographer Tom Gralish staked out the steps for a year. Their inspirational findings are shared in “Rocky Stories: Tales of Love, Hope, and Happiness at America’s Most Famous Steps (Paul Dry Books, $22.95).”

“I live here,” said Vitez. “I’m a storyteller – that’s what I love to do. I’m not a Rocky fan, really, but I’ve seen people run those steps every time I go by there. And I’ve seen them running and they’re always so happy when they celebrate at the top and they’re from all over the world. I knew I would find great stories there. It was a gut feeling I had: who are these people and why do they do it.”

Vitez and Gralish uncovered a real cultural phenomenon, one that centers on Philadelphia and draws people to Center City, and yet, as Vitez writes in his introduction, is a true American, and even international, rite of passage.

“The stories are as diverse and different as the people who run,” said Vitez.

The book, which features 52 profiles and 100 photographs, starts on New Year’s Day 2004 with the ascent of LeShay Tomlinson.

Tomlinson, an actress and Los Angeles native, had stopped in town to visit her boyfriend and had insisted on going to the “Rocky” steps.

With her luggage still in the back of her boyfriend’s illegally parked car, Tomlinson dashed up the steps, jubilantly smiling and waving her arms when she reached the top.

“Her story was wonderful and she was wonderful,” said Vitez. “She’d come to those steps for motivation to have a break-out year as an actress and she wanted to come here to put herself in the right frame of mind.”

While many of the runners are fans of the Rocky movies, Tomlinson, like many of the others profiled, simply viewed a run up the “Rocky” steps as a means of personal accomplishment and renewal.

Vitez never knew what would happen on the steps or when. Similarly, he never knew whom he’d met there.

In a page taken straight out of the six degrees of separation handbook, rapper-turn-reality-TV-star Flavor Flav showed up at the steps because of his involvement with Stallone’s former wife, actress Brigitte Nielsen.

“I think what I figured out was it’s the movie and the story that brings them, but these people are celebrating their own lives and their own journey through life.”

Although Vitez kept in touch with most of people he met, there is one story that still haunts him.

When Spencer Rogers (dubbed the Snowman) was interviewed he was shoveling snow from the Art Museum steps as part of the Ready, Willing and Able recovering addicts programs.

At the time of the interview, Rogers was homeless but had been clean for five months, but since then he has seemingly vanished into the urban jungle.

“I have not heard from him,” said Vitez. “A lot of people loved that story which is such an inspiring story about a guy who’s been way down and is on his way back and is really trying to make it. You root for him.”

Although art critics have long protested, there is no doubt that for millions around the world, Rocky is Philly and the Philadelphia Art Museum steps he triumphantly ascended are magical.

“You don’t have to particularly like the movie and a lot of people who run aren’t necessarily Rocky fans,” said Vitez. “A lot of the people who run know that even if they have not seen the movie, they sort of know what the steps represent, that’s why they run. I do think that Rocky and Philadelphia are like Ben Franklin (and the city): they’re just connected and inseparable.”

=Originally Published in The Philadelphia Tribune=

Koresh dancers share joy in their art


Koresh Dancer Fanju Chou-Gant
Lifestyles Headlines
The seeds for the creative dance force known as the Koresh Dance Company began when its founder, Ronen Koresh, was a small boy growing up in an Israeli village.
An uncle took the shy 10-year-old to the side to demonstrate a few dance steps so the youngster could participate in a family gathering.
Those nascent steps unfurled the first essence of creativity that Koresh has harnessed into evolving from a noted street dancer to blossoming as a world-class choreographer and performer.
“The creative part was always there,” recalled Koresh. “But there was also a part of me that wanted to perform a lot.”
And perform he did. By his mid-teens, he was studying jazz and ballet at the Batsheva Dance Company, a Tel-Aviv group co-founded by legendary dancer Martha Graham.
At 17, he choreographed his first show featuring 40 female dancers in a performance before an audience of 3,000 people. By the time he was 18, he was drafted for compulsory military service and he’d never even worn jeans.
“Here is a country that is 15 years old. There were no lights in the streets. No cars. Nobody to call. Nothing. I had one pair until I was 20,” and Koresh laughed. “That’s why I have an obsession with jeans now.”
Koresh was determined to continue dancing, and after appealing to his officers, he was allowed to pursue his dancing, but only after he had completed his day’s work as a soldier.
After his discharge, Koresh headed straight for New York to study with the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and then to Philadelphia to join the (now defunct) jazz dance company Waves.
In 1991, the Koresh Dance Company was founded and has since been lauded as “The Ailey II of Philadelphia,” by Dance magazine.
Koresh Dance Company’s performances feature an eclectic repertoire of over 50 works by Koresh, as well as guest artists such as Brian Sanders, formerly of Momix, Hector Vega and Donald Byrd.
The company’s critically acclaimed work attracts increasing audiences across the nation, and Koresh’s reputation for passion and outstanding technique regularly results in sold-out performances. The company presents bi-annual home season concerts, and performs on tour at various national festivals, performing arts centers, university performance venues and charity benefits.
Koresh Dance Company also teaches dance at all levels and offers free arts education to underserved youths in the region. Koresh says similar opportunities offered when he was a child created the dancer he was destined to become.
“I am a product of outreach myself,” he said. “I didn’t grow up with money. We grew up with nothing. People reached to me and when I was a kid (so) I didn’t pay for classes. They kind of pulled me out of the community into a world where maybe if I didn’t do what I did, I may have been a hoodlum. You never know.”
Company members give lecture-demonstrations in local public schools so the students can see a performance and talk to the dancers about their art and work. The students also participate by dancing in their own “master classes.”
“Talent is a powerful thing,” said Koresh. “It gives you the feeling of self-respect and self-esteem when you know that you possess inside you something that nobody else does, or not a lot of people do. It’s kind of a light that’s inside you. It’s a little light bulb inside your heart that just lights up because a lot of people live in darkness all around them. All they see are not very nice things all day and then there is this light bulb that gives you direction.”
When Koresh came to the region in the mid-1980s, he felt welcomed by the people and the potential.
Today, at age 46, he looks forward to expanding his vision of maintaining the artistic legacy Philadelphia is renowned for.
“There is something in Philadelphia that is so magnificent and so beautiful,” said Koresh, whose company is currently on a 24-city tour. “I think that we have a responsibility to make this city the best. The art and culture is the light and soul of the city. If we all continue to support it and put it on the map it will become a beam of light that will shine everywhere, and people are going to come to Philadelphia and would want to be a part of the culture in Philadelphia.”
The Koresh School of Dance, at 2020 Chestnut St., will host its 15th anniversary celebration Fall Bash next Saturday. The evening will include a special performance by the Koresh Dance Company. For more information, call (215) 751-0959 or visit www.koreshdance.org.=Originally Published in The Philadelphia Tribune on Sunday, October 7, 2007=

60 Second Critic: All The Way From Philadelphia

60 Second Critic: All The Way From Philadelphia

By Bobbi Booker

The Three Tenors of Soul, All the Way from Philadelphia

Shanachie Entertainment; $18.98

The soulful “Sound of Philadelphia” once defined the city musically around the world, especially in the songs of ’70s balladeers like the Stylistics, the Delfonics and Blue Magic. The distinctive falsettos of those groups’ lead vocalists on a new album should send a shudder of excitement down the spines of TSOP fans. Instead, producers have taken these magnificent voices and thrown them haphazardly onto a cover album. With karaoke-like presentations of the Bee Gees’ “Too Much Heaven” and Hall & Oates’s “I Can’t Go for That,” this recording teeters on calamity. There are plenty of big names represented on it. Too bad ­Philadelphia’s golden musical era isn’t.

=Originally published in Philadelphia magazine, October 2007=


…”If you look around the world today, still African Americans are struggling with some major challenges and issues.”

By Bobbi Booker
Few would have single out Iyanla Vanzant when she first arrived in Philadelphia from New York City to become an internationally recognized self-help guru who’d become a force in empowering women of all classes, races and socio-economic backgrounds. Yet, starting with “Tapping the Power Within: A Path to Empowerment for Black Women” in 1992 and for the next decade, Vanzant would go on to write over13 books—some autobiographical—but all containing basic spiritual principles, self-affirmations, and personal rituals. Vanzant graced the New York Times best-sellers list for her works “Yesterday I Cried” (Fireside, 2000), “One Day My Soul Just Opened Up” (Fireside, 1998) and “In the Meantime” (Fireside, 1999). By the 21st century, Vanzant would become an in-demand motivational speaker and television personality recognized as one of “100 Most Influential African Americans” and one of “50 Women Who Are Changing The World” by Essence Magazine.

Vanzant life story of her harsh childhood of being beaten and raped has helped thousands of women (and men) connect and find healing. This week, Vanzant returned to Philadelphia for the duel duties of hosting a three-day a week WURD-AM morning show and presenting a weekend-long self-help conference entitled “Spiritual Living, Spiritual Loving.”

Besides her writing, she has also been involved in television. In 2001 she hosted her own short-lived talk show Iyanla and three years later joined the reality television series “Starting Over” as a life coach. She eventually found the small screen was a big hassle. “When you are doing something like (television) you’re living somebody’s vision of what you should be doing,” explained Vanzant.
“Reality isn’t always real. Television’s commitment is to entertainment, not to healing and my commitment is to healing.”

The majority of Vanzant’s healing lessons takes place at the Inner Visions Institute for Spiritual Development she founded near her home in Silver Spring, Maryland.

When she was introduced to WURD 900-AM listeners this week, many callers welcomed her back to the region. “Philadelphia is where my career took a major shift through the support, encouragement and the nurturing that I did in Philadelphia, particularly at WHAT-AM. It was an opportunity for people to hear me and for me to really connect with people and their ideas, and we’re going to do that again.”

According to WURD 900-AM President W. Cody Anderson, Vanzant’s inclusion to the line up will shore up programming at the sole African American issues focus station in the area. “Iyanla has been a friend for a long time and I really appreciate the fact that she has maintained that relationship,” said Anderson. “She’s willing to do anything that she can do to help us established the kind of image and communication that we want.”

Vanzant emphasized the importance of sharing her message on African American-based radio. “If you look around the world today, still African Americans are struggling with some major challenges and issues,” Vanzant said. “There are so many things that we need to look at and talk about. People are suffering, and our community continues to suffer. We still get the least amount of services. Our children—our families—are in uproar. All of the things that one would think that we had moved through and overcome seem to right back in our face again.”

Vanzant notes that like her students, she had to reevaluate her goals and discipline herself to take time while juggling a hectic schedule, which now includes working on her latest book and multi—media project scheduled for 2008 release. “I’ve learned that it’s not healthy to burn the candle at both ends,” said Vanzant. “So I am learning to be much more gentle with myself and just honor this body, this life in a way that ensures that I’ll be around for a while.”

Spiritual Living, Spiritual Loving with Iyanla Vanzant took place Friday, Saturday & Sunday, March 23, 24 & 25, 2007 at the The Philadelphia Clef Club of Jazz & Performing Arts located 736-38 S. Broad Street (at Fitzwater on The Avenue of The Arts).

= Originally Published in The Philadelphia Tribune on March, 23. 2007=


“Brown Sugar: Over 100 Years of America’s Black Female Superstars”

By Bobbi Booker

Donald Bogle’s road to uncovering the lives of Black entertainers started in the library of the Philadelphia Tribune that he would comb through while tagging along with his father (then a Tribune executive) on Saturday visits to the office. He recalled being transfixed at the obituary image he discovered of songtress Billie Holiday sporting her trademark gardenia. Already a movie buff, Bogle recalled that he “got caught up in the careers of all these personalities, the moments when they first became successful, the years they peaked as artists, and the periods afterwards when some slipped into decline.” The unique perspective Bogle has as an eyewitness to history has been shared in several books he’s authored including “Toms, Coons, Mulattoes, Mammies, and Bucks: An Interpretive History of Blacks in American Films,” “Bright Boulevards, Bold Dreams,” and the prize-winning biography “Dorothy Dandridge.”

Bogle continues his historical trek and celebration of America’s “dark divas” in the newly designed and updated “Brown Sugar: Over 100 Years of America’s Black Female Superstars” (Continuum Paperback, $34.95). Originally published in 1980, “Brown Sugar” was also the basis for the four-hour, four-part, documentary that appeared on PBS traverses the career trajectory African American women entertainers have blazed from the 19th century through the new millennium. “There are three new chapters (and) 165 new pages, so it’s almost twice the length of the original,” explained Bogle. “If anyone has the first one, it’s probably going to become a collector’s item because it’s designed in a different way with different photos that we couldn’t include in this one.”

An interpretive history, “Brown Sugar” is not only about the accomplishments but also the sometimes heart-wrenching struggles and tragedies of highly talented and ambitious women who set out to announce themselves to the world – and while doing so, surmounted extraordinary obstacles, both professionally and personally. Included are profiles and lavish images of Ma Rainey, Josephine Baker, Ethel Waters, Billie Holiday, Lena Horne, Marian Anderson, Dorothy Dandridge, Pearl Bailey, Eartha Kitt, Leontyne Price, Diana Ross and the Supremes, Aretha Franklin, Pam Grier, Donna Summer, Whitney Houston, Halle Berry, Janet Jackson, Whoopi Goldberg, Angela Bassett, Oprah Winfrey, Lisa Bonet, Jasmine Guy, Lauren Hill, Queen Latifah, Beyoncé and many others.

“The old women (entertainers) most of them came from very tough backgrounds and they were often improvised. Many of them rose out of poverty, which makes their achievement all the more remarkable that they climbed out of that to get to international success. Today, Beyonce and even Whitney Houston grew up in a middle class household, and even Janet Jackson’s (childhood) was even dysfunctional, but it wasn’t what we’d call hardcore ghetto. That’s something that has changed very much for the women.”

Contemporary artists continue to reveal— sometimes unintentionally —that they are inspired by the artist of old and continue to include stylistic dance movements in contemporary. There is an intangible yet intertwined history the women of Brown Sugar share by the dent of commonality as Black women. According to Bogle, this remarkable tradition is largely unknown or not understood—or simply unacknowledged.

“Beyoncé and Josephine (share a) kind of sexuality that is there and the movements as well. You can see that if you see old footage of Josephine Baker. You can see these connections because Josephine Baker moved in a way that white women did not move and that is part of this thing that’s been past on to someone like Beyoncé. A current star might not be aware of where all this has come from. The other thing that Beyoncé has—and there is a connection with these women in the past whether it’s Josephine Baker or Bessie Smith or certainly Ethel Waters—is that Beyoncé never comes across as some sort of woebegone ghetto girl. She exudes this glamour and the idea that she really was born for this life of extravagance and displays a fundamental optimism in her performances. She also has a sense of humor and all of that connects back to these women of the past. You don’t necessarily see that with white female superstars.”

“Brown Sugar” is not only about music stars. It is an unexcelled examination of the lives, careers, and sometimes-contradictory images of African American goddesses of pop culture: the movies, television, music, and theater. Lavishly illustrated, “Brown Sugar” is a pioneering book – for example, in Bogle’s application of the operatic term “diva” to pop goddesses. “One thing about the length of the new book is that there are so many more women working,” said Bogle. “Again, that doesn’t mean that they are working the way that they want to. What we do have now are these women who are able to command multi-million dollar contracts that really were unheard of (before). Someone like Diana Ross and Donna Summer, in the past those women did well and had really good deals for the time, but not like the deals later. Also the women now have their own sort of conglomerate. Beyoncé has the House of Dereon clothing line and these other things that she’s putting together, in addition to her singing career. It mirrors what happens with stars like Jay-Z, P. Diddy. So you do have that sense of women marketing themselves in a certain way and really creating something else besides their music.”

=Originally published in The Philadelphia Tribune on Sunday, July, 22, 2007=

“This is one story the whole world got wrong.”

By Bobbi Booker


“I’m going to tell you a story you’ve never heard before, because no one knows this story the way I know it,” reads the first line of O. J. Simpson’s approved manuscript, “If I Did It. “This is one story the whole world got wrong.”

The story Simpson refers to is the June 12, 1994 murders of his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend, Ronald Goldman. During the sensational trial that followed, Simpson was acquitted but later found financially liable in a civil trial. When it was announced last fall that Simpson had penned (with the help of a ghostwriter) a hypothetical description of the murders, both the Brown and Goldman families urged the public not to by the book or watch the television special tied-in to the book’s publication by HarperCollins. The original release was canceled in November 2006, but by June 2007 copies of the book had leaked online. In August 2007, a Florida bankruptcy court awarded the rights to the book to the Goldman family to partially satisfy an unpaid civil judgment, which has risen, with interest, to over $38 million. The title of the book was expanded to “If I Did It: Confessions of the Killer” ($24.95, Beaufort Books) and comments were added to the original manuscript by the Goldman family, the book’s ghostwriter Pablo Fenjves and journalist Dominick Dunne.

The eventually publication of the book lead to a split between the Browns, who refused to have anything to do with the book’s publicity and the Goldman’s, who have defended their decision in various interviews, including an appearance on ‘Oprah.”

The families quarrels have now been overshadowed by Simpson, whose investigation and arrest in an Las Vegas armed robbery of sports memorabilia have jettison the former sports legend into the headlines again. Simpson’s latest arrest has once again piqued the public’s interest in him and sparked a second printing of his hypothetical murder confession, said the publisher of the rapidly selling tome.

“The arrest brought the whole question of O.J. and the law back into everybody’s consciousness,” said Eric Kampmann, owner of the small, New York-based Beauford, which has commissioned a second printing of 50,000 copies of “If I Did It.”

Overall, the book is a mesmerizing read that deftly intersperses police and court transcripts with Simpson’s recall of the events leading up to and following the sensational killings. It should come as no surprise to readers that Simpson glosses over the actual crime in the chapter entitled, “The Night in Question.”
The Goldman family (whose proceeds will be donated to the Ron Goldman Fund for Justice) views the book as Simpson’s confession and is now encouraging the public to buy the book to learn the truth.
Simpson, who will not receive any payments from this national bestseller, obviously wrote this book as a twisted love story of his relationship with Brown Simpson. “There was no couple like us,” concludes Simpson by book’s end.

=Originally Published in the Philadelphia Tribune on September 24, 2007=


The Associated Press contributed to this report