Thursday, September 30, 2010

Wayne Brady, Mike Tyson, and Bobby Brown: The Funniest Men Alive (Today)

I promise you, this made my LIFE when I saw it yesterday. You do remember the video for Bobby "The Kang of R&B" Brown's "Every Little Step," right? The all-white room? The giant letters? The black beater with the suspenders, shorts and dress shoes and socks? Riiiiiggght--THAT video. I'm not gonna lie: I remember crossing state lines, driving ALL NIGHT to get to Bobby Brown concerts to see him perform this song. And which one of us didn't want to be one of the hot girls in the video? Bobby Brown was kinda the kang. Him and Aaron Hall and Al B. Sure! and Keith Sweat and even Mike Tyson, whom I never personally found appealing but was kinda THE MAN back in the day (before he got to wailing on Robin Givens and raping groupies and whatnot). 
Which brings me to today's offering, coming straight to you from Funny or Die, courtesy of that lunatic, Wayne Brady. This fool remade The Kang's "Every Little Step" video, with he and Mike Tyson taking turns "singing" the lede and doing all of Bobby Brown's manic dance steps. Even more delicious (or scary, depending on how you look at it) is the guest appearance from The Kang of R&B himself—Bobbay!
For the record, I straight stan for Wayne Brady. Always have. LONG before his hysterical star turn on The Chappelle Show. Since "Whose Line..."—for real. AND I own his album. What?! *ducking off my own page to dodge the red tomatoes and boos* 
But whatevs. Wayne Brady can sing. And he's funny as hell. This is further proof. I guarantee that if you remember the original, ever loved/hated Bobby Brown, or just enjoy the hell out of watching Mike Tyson make a complete, unabashed ass out of himself, watch this. You'll love me long time.

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Wednesday, September 29, 2010

MyBrownBaby Giveaway: Win a Ticket To Blogalicious 2010 in South Beach!

EDITOR'S NOTE: This contest is now closed. Congratulations to Rose's Daughter AND Jewelry Rockstar, each who won full conference passes to Blogalicious 2010, courtesy of the ladies of Mama Law, who, because of the tremendous response, graciously granted TWO passes to MyBrownBaby. They were chosen by my personal—Mari and Lila, who, when asked to choose one number each between the numbers 1 and 27,  chose the numbers 5 and 15. 

MyBrownBaby’s got the hook up!
The lovely ladies of Mama Law, the fab group behind Blogalicious Weekend 2010, are headed to the beaches of Miami next weekend for their second annual celebration of people of color in social media, and they’ve graciously given MyBrownBaby a full conference pass to give away to one lucky reader.
Yup—you read that right: One lucky reader will get an all-access pass (retail value: $265) to hang out and network with some of the savviest, influential, talented women bloggers on the web, plus educate marketers on the importance of our demographic in the marketplace. They’ve got a killer line-up of symposiums and keynotes, including panels and talks from James Andrews, aka @keyinfluencer, National Urban League president Marc Morial, my bloggy buddies Christie Crowder of The Chatterbox and Lorraine Robertson of AskWifeyAwesomely Luuvie, (who is all kinds of awesome!) Carrie Ferguson-Weir of Tiki Tiki Blog (one of my absolute must-reads), and Melanie Edwards of Modern Mami. And—AND!—Kindred the Family Soul is performing!
Be clear: Ain’t no party like a Blogalicious party ‘cause a Blogalicious party don’t… stop!
Want in on this action?
1) To enter our Blogalicious Pass giveaway, you must leave a comment on this post telling why you love reading blogs of color. A one-liner will work just fine.
2) Tweet “I’m trying to win the @mybrownbaby hook-up for a free pass to @beblogalicious in South Beach!” (leave a separate comment for each tweet).
3) Winner cannot be a current ticket holder. The pass is non-transferable.
4) Contest ends at 3:00 pm EST on October 1. One winner will be picked at random and notified via email.  
5) Winner must claim pass AND register no later than 5:00 p.m. on October 2, 2010.  If winner does not register before deadline, the pass will go to the next winner.  REGISTER HERE.
6) Winner is responsible for all expenses related to travel and hotel accommodations. Although the Ritz is sold out, there are still plenty of affordable hotels to choose from, all in walking distance to the Ritz and to the beach!  (*Note these hotels are not affiliated with Blogalicious Weekend.)
For the record: Whoever wins this pass is going to be mad fancy!
Well, what are you waiting for? You gotta be in it to win it. Let’s go!

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Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Everything You Need to Know about Life, You Can Learn From a Preschooler


Ah preschoolers—those wonderful, adorable, quirky, miniature human beings. They have such a knack for finding meaning in the simple, natural pleasures each day, but we don’t give them nearly enough credit for imparting life lessons on the big people in their lives. I can tell you, though, that after being around preschoolers for more than 25 years as an assistant early childhood teacher and being a part of the village for my grandchildren—including a precocious preschool granddaughter—I've found that the little ones in my life have gifted me with some funny, sweet, poignant life lessons. Here, I'm sharing my favorite nine—those lessons that hopefully will encourage and inspire you and help you tap into that inner child-like spirit. Highlight them with your favorite Crayola crayons, underline them with a splash of vibrant finger paint, recite them like a much-loved lullaby. These lessons have blessed my life and I hope they bless yours, too.

Lesson 1 
Morning Greetings Rock! In the morning when they arrive at  school, especially after they shake their parental clinginess, preschoolers run full steam ahead with open arms and wide smiles to greet their teachers and classmates. On a recent morning walk with my 2-year-old granddaughter, I watched in  amazement as she, in her baby talk, acknowledged every person walking by her—from groundskeepers to senior citizens. I saw more smiles that day than I had in awhile, thanks  to her petite goodwill services. Who wouldn’t feel welcome, wanted, cherished, or significant with such an unabashed greeting?  Preschoolers teach us how to acknowledge  another human being with love and brazen abandon. We all need to work on our morning  greetings to others. Whether it's exchanging the proverbial morning peck with a more sensuous and elongated kiss with our husbands or greeting our children, co-workers or even a next door neighbor with a glorious cheesy smile, upping the ante on the way we speak to each other in the morning says, "I’m happy to wake up to another glorious new day and to share it with you!" Today, greet the people in your life or a stranger you pass in the street the way a preschooler would.

Lesson 2 
Eat your Cheerios. Breakfast is an important meal to preschoolers. They enjoy the ritual of pouring milk into their bowl and delight in seeing how many Cheerios they can get on their spoon or in their mouth. They don’t know all the facts about how breakfast fuels their bodies to jumpstart their day, but they do know that  it makes their bellies feel full and content, and once they've got that fuel in them, they’re ready for the flurry of activities that lie ahead. Preschoolers taught me the importance of eating breakfast, not only for  nourishment, but as a way to commune and enjoy the company of my husband and family after the sun rose. Sharing breakfast with your spouse and children, seeing who can get the most Cheerios on their spoon or in their mouth, or surprising them with cheerful yogurt parfaits fills not only their bellies but their spirit. 

Lesson 3
Give Gifts. Preschoolers love to give gifts. Be it a wilted daffodil they found on the way to school, a lollipop already sucked but rewrapped just for you, or even a piece of lint found in the pocket of their jeans is worthy of giving to someone they love and trust. A child once gave me a folded paper full of scribbles and told me it said “I love you.” That nearly brought a waterfall of tears streaming from my  eyes because it was one of those days when I was feeling far from treasured and loved,  
and that gift of a paper full of random scribbles was just what I needed. Preschoolers don’t need reasons or occasions to give gifts to someone they love and  trust; they give freely and generously from their hearts, and we should follow suit when it comes to the people we love. Those gifts don’t have to be expensive or materialistic to be treasured. Today, give someone a gift without thinking of its worth.

Lesson 4
Hold Hands. How many times during the day has a preschooler grabbed my hand or another teacher’s hand, just because?  I realized that when it came to hand holding, preschoolers had a heads up. As a child, I remembered walking hand-in-hand with my best friend—giggling, whispering secrets into each other’s ears. When I was dating my childhood sweetheart, the man God led me to and who eventually became my husband, we held hands constantly, oblivious to anyone or anything around us. And when I had children, I held their hands until they established their independence and parted their fingers from mine. Maybe they parted too soon. Who says hands are only meant to be grasped by tiny fingers? Where is it written that couples should eventually put hand-holding behind them? Today hold hands with someone that you love. 

Lesson 5
Talk and Share. Preschoolers love sharing time. They get a kick out of sitting Indian-style on a colorful rug while they wait their turn to tell a story or share a Show-and-Tell item they brought from home. Once they're finished sharing with their friends and teachers, they're happy campers for the rest of the day, proud of their contribution. Today share a story, a poem you have written, an opinion, a word of wisdom, half of  a sandwich—anything!—with someone. 
Lesson 6
Dance! Preschoolers love to dance. They move their bodies to  the folk tunes of children’s music pioneer Ella Jenkins or shake it to Beyonce. They know that dancing makes their bodies feel good and they are not timid about grabbing a partner and  beckoning them to dance alongside. When I was younger, I always dreamed of being a ballerina. Although that dream  never materialized, for years, I pushed back my couch, put on my favorite music and danced across the room. After a stormy period in my life, I hung up my dancing shoes. I pulled them back out, though, at my son’s wedding, where I  danced for practically the whole evening—with my husband, with my son and 
daughter-in-law, with family members new and old. And I realized what I was missing. Psalm 30:11 says, “You turned my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy.” So dance—if not in a ballroom, in the privacy of your own house—to bring joy and exhilaration to your spirit.
Lesson 7
Forgive. Preschoolers don’t hold grudges and are always  forgiving of others. Their pouting anger dissolves in minutes, sometimes seconds. Remembering that has helped me to forgive offenses—big or small—more easily. So today, choose to forgive.
Lesson 8
Dream. Preschoolers dream all the time. “When I grow up I’m  going to be a Blue Power Ranger,” some little voice would shout out to me. And I would always respond that they could be anything they chose to be. I was their dream keeper, but  along the way, I sometimes forgot to be my own. So I decided that I would become more like them. I shout my dreams out and wait for them to manifest, no matter how implausible they seem. And I encourage little ones to do the same. With the right support, that preschooler who wanted to be a Blue Power Ranger could  become an actor or have a career in animation or graphic design. But he's got to keep dreaming. So today, make a promise to safeguard and nurture and be the keeper of your precious dreams. 

Lesson 9
Have Faith. Hebrews 11:1 says, "Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” Preschoolers have incredible faith, in people, in each new day, in promises. And no matter how many times they're let down, they keep that faith—hold it dear. Today, no matter what the world throws at you, blindside it with childlike faith. For me, this is one of the greatest preschooler lessons of all.

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About our MyBrownBaby contributor:
Jeanine DeHoney, a former daycare assistant teacher and family services coordinator, is a full-time freelance writer. She is married to her childhood sweetheart, the mother of three married children, and the proud "Grandma" of three. Her writing has appeared in EssenceBahiyah WomanUpscaleQuality Woman's FictionBreathe Again Magazine, and Literary Mama. She also is an essayist in Chicken Soup For The African American Woman’s Soul, and has contributed to the blogs Divine Caroline,  Moms of Hue, Mommy Too!, Mused-Bella-Online and 

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Monday, September 27, 2010

{Bringing Up Boogie} Crocs, Muffets, and Parent Spies—To the Left


E is a very friendly little boy and I know that most mothers are jumpier than I am about whom their kid speaks to or plays with. So I stay calling him back from every kid he tries to turn into a new friend. I love this about him, but I know that not everyone understands it. Kids in the pediatrician's waiting room are even trickier. There are stark differences between the flushed, concerned, exhausted faces of the parents with the ill children and the sunny, yet no less concerned and exhausted faces of the parents who are just in for a quick check up. I'm still perfecting the demure, distant smile that reads, "He's not contagious—he just likes to hug people." It seems like it's working until E sneezes on the little blonde girl in the pink, puffy vest and her mother hustles her way.

We're the only black people in the room. This isn't important but it's something I notice. I quietly wonder if I'm also the only one without a ring. These things don't matter but they do.

After pulling E away from another nervous looking kid across the room, I make a mental note to start teaching him the difference between who is "huggy" and who is not. That woman and her kid? Definitely not "huggy," E.

I watch the woman next to me shift her eyes slyly. She appraises me quickly, then turns her gaze to E. She's not as slick as she probably thinks she is. She's the kind of mother that makes me nervous. She looks like she bakes and likes it. Like her children and family consume every waking moment and 80% of her sleeping ones. She probably has a recipe box and a system for removing stains from various things. She looks at me like maybe I'm here because I broke my kid. I shift uncomfortably in my grey, knee-length, cable-knit cardigan and black leggings. My black suede Pumas next to her olive green Crocs tell the real story about who we are. I want to make sure that E's energy isn't mistaken for ill behaved. I know it shouldn't matter, the boy isn't feeling well, but I've been the "black kid" enough times to know that it does. I don't spot her child. Small waves of panic start to erupt as I wonder if she's the Parent SPY I made up in my head one night.

The Parent SPY is someone who to the casual observer is just the man making a deposit at the bank or the old lady weighing melons in the store or this lady... sitting next to me in her judgmental Crocs trying to figure out if I'm a good parent. I haven't quite worked out whom they report to or why. No, scratch that, they definitely report to my mother.

I decide to sit up straighter in my chair and readjust my ponytail. I look over to make sure that E isn't trying to force a tiny embrace on anyone. He is watching the fish in the tank and counting them, "One, two, three, five, eight, double you, auntie, Elaiwe... " I smile to myself and look down at my vibrating cell phone.

"Well, isn't he a charming little man," The Parent Spy sniffs, her Crocs pointed in my direction.

"Yes. He's a good boy." I reply. There's a "handmade Halloween costume" inflection in her voice. I think quickly about a way to slide in that I read to him every night... every other night... okay, when he asks me to, but she has already moved on to her next line. "And he's dressed like a little teenager!" I look up because now I'm certain she's not using the words she really means...

"He likes to dress like a big boy," I say. I'm a little puzzled by the "thing" I detect and I'm not quite sure where she's going with this so I play it safe and go back to ignoring her and her ugly ass shoes.

"Oh look at that! His little jeans are even sagging underneath his diapers."

There it is.

In our rush this morning, I forgot to belt his pants. Considering, that A) I was going to let him go out in his pajamas and B) a few hours before, his fever was so bad that I could almost see the cartoonish heat waves rising from his body, whether or not his "little jeans are even sagging..." was about as important to me as what he plans on majoring in if and when he goes to college in 15 years.

It took me a few seconds to process what she was implying but when I did, my brain began to speed up in a manic rush of words and insults. I took in the aforementioned Crocs, the suffocating mom jeans, the shapeless bob, the ill colored and thin, pursed lips. I had my head cocked and the neck in half roll before I remembered the space I was in. I got heated thinking about all the times I felt I needed to apologize for my choices as a single mother—the times I wondered if the unsure, uncomfortable decisions I’d made over the two years I’ve been a mom would somehow be detrimental to E's development. And this run of emotions was only compounded by the fact that I was paying for this visit out of pocket and praying that the card swiped would print out a receipt and not a notice from my bank.

And then I got tired of explanations and excuses and reasons. And my precious little sicky, huggy boy was sagging and he was counting fish all wrong. And he had pulled his hoodie up to cover his big head because that's what his uncle Kebe does. And he was laughing hysterically at the fish that kept hiding in the castle. And I just sat there relieved that he wasn't slumped over and radioactive and I turned back to The Croc Bitch and I inhaled and smiled.

A brown haired little boy, whom I’d noticed earlier, sitting in a corner reading a worn book, came skipping over to Croc. He looked to be about 8 or 15 (I kinda suck at figuring out kid ages), wearing a pair of brown corduroy high water slacks, an oversized fuzzy sweater and a purple ski cap with a green, fuzzy ball at the top. He began pulling at his mom, screeching, "It's time to go! I want to go!" His mom tried to hush him and get him to sit or keep his voice down. He pawed at her and whined.

I was glad I didn't fire off any of the thousands of quips I could have. I refrained from the "Dear Bitchy Lady" status update. I smiled to myself, re-tied my Pumas, stood up with an audible, "Woosah!" and walked over to E. His pants needed to be pulled up.

When I got to him, E turned and said, "Hiiiiiii, moooooomy!" and hugged me like he hadn't seen me in awhile.

"Thank you, Boogie Butt!"

"Welcome! No! Pull up pants? I do it!"

"OK! You do it... But just a little bit. Mommy will not have her child dressed like a Muppet like some other mommies."

Hey, I can be bitchy too.

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About our MBB Contributor:Bassey Ikpi is a Nigeria-born, Oklahoma-bred, PG County-fed, Brooklyn-led writer/poet/neurotic. She’s half awesome, a quarter crazy and 1/3rd genius... the left over bit is a caramel creme center. She’s also the single mother of an amazing man-child, Elaiwe Ikpi, who, as you can see in the picture above, be flyer than most, even on a sick day. A strong advocate of mental health awareness, Bassey is currently penning a memoir about living with mental illness and producing Basseyworld Live, a stage show that infuses poetry and interactive panel discussions about everything from politics to pop culture. Get more Bassey at  Bassey's World.

If you would like to be a featured contributor on MyBrownBaby, email your essays/ideas/blog posts/rants/musings to Denene at denenemillner at gmail dot com. 

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Friday, September 24, 2010

Raven Symone on Disney's Tinkerbell, Sage Bill Cosby Advice, and Ducking TMZ

Fresh off her star turn as the voice of Tinkerbell’s super cutie, chocolate BFF Iridessa in the newly-released Disney DVD Tinkerbell and the Great Fairy Rescue, Disney starchild Raven Symone stopped by earlier this week to sprinkle some fairy dust on the MyBrownBaby stoop. Oh, the sparkle! Oh the glitter! The Cosby Show alum, who found huge success as the hysterical and clairvoyant lead in the ever popular sitcom That’s So Raven, waxed poetic on the beauty of brown princesses, the best lesson Bill Cosby ever taught her, tips for ducking TMZ, and her dream job at age 40.

Your babies will absolutely adore Iridessa because…
Her outfit is made from sunflower petals—so cute! She’s also a light fairy, which means she makes the rainbows come alive and puts the lights in the fireflies’ little bums, and she’s the type of girl that always gets straight A’s, but she’s not one of those irritating straight-A kind of girls. She’s still down for the cause, but she’s the girl who will come with you on your adventure and say, “You know this isn’t right, right? Okay, just so you know. Now let’s go move something and scare somebody!”

It’s important to have brown girls Disney line-up because…
It’s wonderful and long overdue. Yes, it took a while, but I think the stories they’re portraying us in these Disney moves are great. I love that they’re princesses and learning a lesson just as good as any Cinderella or Snow White would, and it’s funny. I really wanted to be a part of it because I was playing an African American; the first Tinkerbell came out before the Princess and the Frog movie and was the first African American character in a Disney movie. But I try my best not to stress over it because when you stress over it, it becomes a big deal. What I like about the characters and especially the shows I’ve been on is that the characters just happen to be black; they’re characters telling stories that can be told in any color. And hopefully, for years to come, that’s how these stories will be looked upon—just good stories that happen to have characters who have brown skin.

I think that’s the most important thing. When you start separating it and making it look like something else, it becomes more of an ordeal. That’s the one thing I learned a lot from Mr. Cosby and the shows that I’ve done afterward. 
The difference between us is that there’s a little bit of melanin. Everything else? The same. I have the same kidneys, the same heart. Well, not the same hair grade, unless I buy it. But my nails grow just like anyone else’s. It’s not necessary to go all into the extraness and the differences. Just tell the story.
You don’t see TMZ chasing me down the streets because…
I stay in my house. I order in. You can order anything from the internet! I’m kidding. First of all, a girl can party. Let’s not get it twisted; I’m 24-years-old—I get it in. But I’m very responsible because my mom would kick my butt if I’m not. But I go to all the hot spots after the hypes I gone. If I go out with my girls and I see cameras outside, I’m not going to stop there; I’m going to go to the place up the street, wait for the cameras to leave and then go there and get my party on. It’s really not your business. I don’t go up and down the street saying, “So, who are you dating?” I don’t really care, personally, and I don’t think it’s necessary for other people to scrutinize or ask me about my stuff. I really don’t like all of that.

The transition from child star to grown up worked for me because…
I am who I am. I don’t try to do a role I don’t personally understand because I haven’t reached that point in my life yet. For the longest time there was a movie on my plate they wanted me to do, but I wouldn’t do it because I had to kiss a boy. I don’t like PDA. I know this is my craft but I’m afraid of kissing people on TV. I don’t like it. I did a little bit on That’s So Raven because I knew the person and we were cool and the people behind the scenes were cool about it. But I try my best to pick roles I can understand as a human being and that I’ve been through and as I get older and more comfortable in my skin, I’ll continue to do that. If I’m 30, I’ll pick a role that portrays a 30-year-old in my eyes. I also do things so my parent and my grandparents don’t get mad at me. I don’t want to hear, “You made our family look crazy.” I still have that to worry about. We’re from the south. It’s more than the public I have to listen to; I got my mama and my daddy and my grandparents watching. They’re more of my critics than anyone else.

I really like roles I can understand. I did a movie called Revenge of the Bridesmaids where I played a 26-year-old author. I drank some wine, I said some curse words that people hear everyday that aren’t necessarily the really harsh ones. But you know I’m 24, I got bills to pay, I do stuff like that in my normal life so, I feel like I can do that truthfully on camera. And I will do that for the rest of my life. And the cool thing about it is that working with Disney is that I’m able to go back and forth. With ABC family I can be old, and ABC I can be older, and Disney I can be a character in Tinkerbell and still have fun with that. I think when people put too much emphasis on anything, it makes people say, “Oh my gosh, what’s going on?” Just be you. For me I consider myself a comedienne in that sense. My risk-taking will definitely come as I grow up and I mature.

I don’t mind being a role model for kids who wear my name on their shirts and backpacks, but…
I didn’t get into acting to become a role model. I understand people are looking at me and looking up to me, but the one thing I have to say to those people is, it’s really cool to admire people for sure. But realize there are so many other people in this world who are 17 million times better than I that you should be looking up toward. The people doing volunteer work, the people in the trenches cleaning up after natural disasters and disasters that humans make themselves, we need to need to start focusing on them and less on the entertainment industry. And yes this may take some work away from me, but we need to realize that we’re humanity and there’s more to life than music and acting. But I am conscious in the sense that when I have children and those children have children, I want to make sure that they’re proud of their grandma. I do it for that reason. Any other reason to me is selfish.

The thing people getting into the business most need to do is…
Understand the business aspect of the industry and see what people go through. There are a lot of people in the industry that, even though you might only see them when they’re in their drunken stupor or they’re about to go to jail, their business acumen is crazy. I love telling people about my work behind the scenes. I learned it all before I turned 18; I used to go to the meetings with my parents and they would say, “Shh… don’t speak.” You hear more when you listen. When you’re talking, the only thing you can hear is yourself. So I learned that when I was young. And as I grow up, especially being an African American young woman in the industry for the last 23 years, I’m clear that people want to come in and make money off me but not really know who I am and try to change me. You have to take control of your business, your brand, and your likeness.

Being famous is easy. But to sustain a career takes work. I’m still learning because there are changes everyday. I mean, I’m old school; I grew up in the 90s. I’m really bad at Twitter. Worse than a 75-year-old. But no one knows me better than me, and I have to put myself out there and take chances and if anything bad happens, I don’t want to have to blame anyone but me. It’s my choice and I live with it.

My goal in life is…
That by the time I’m 40, I’m sitting up in a beautiful mansion in the middle of nowhere and this phone call happens at 10 a.m. every morning and someone says, “This is how much you have in your account,” and I happily say, “Okay, thank you!”

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Thursday, September 23, 2010

A Tribute to Two Classics: Sonny Rollins and My Dad

Sonny Rollins

Recently I had the precious opportunity to pay tribute to two old black men, both fabulous in their own special ways. I’m talking about the legendary saxophonist, Sonny Rollins, and my dad, Walter Chiles. On the spur of the moment and at my wife’s urging, I decided to treat my 77-year-old dad to a trip to New York City to catch Sonny’s concert at the Beacon Theater, where he was joined by a host of famous jazzmen to celebrate his 80th birthday. Dad and I were both geeked about this rare opportunity to catch a legend, perhaps one of the last times this famously solitary figure might be playing on an American stage. I was also giddy about the chance to take a rare road trip with my dad. It’s weird how we find ourselves at this place—I go off to college, start a family, fill up my life and days with grown-man responsibilities, and then look up and realize three decades have passed and we’ve never really taken a trip together. Now I’m middle-aged, Dad is old, and we’re both thrilled about something that, on its surface, seems so mundane: a road trip. 
As the plane approached the New York City skyline for its landing at LaGuardia, I was so grateful for this time together that I almost wanted to pinch myself.
We enjoyed a nice meal at a comfortable Mediterranean restaurant, the kind of solid reliable joint you find on practically every other block in Manhattan. Then we made our way over to the Beacon. We were a bit disappointed that, among the several thousand people cramming into this Upper West Side landmark, we could probably count the number of African Americans on our four hands. It’s a sad statement about how the stature of jazz has plummeted in the black community. Indeed, the fact that I was able to secure very good seats (through Ticketmaster, no less!) to this monumental event just 10 days before the concert spoke volumes about the lowly place jazz now occupies in the American consciousness.
But the house was full and Sonny did not disappoint. A bit hunched over, moving across the stage a little more slowly—the New York Times said “he called to mind an Old Testament prophet”—Sonny played for two hours without stopping. He still had his chops, sliding easily through some of the more challenging and pleasurable pieces in his long, impressive songbook. One by one, he brought out some of the most talented jazz musicians in the business to join him on stage, players like the sweet-toned trumpeter Roy Hargrove, the funky bassist Christian McBride, the nimble guitarist Jim Hall, 79, and the legendary Ornette Coleman, 80. A rotating dream team, one would leave and another would come on.
Sonny is the last of our iconic jazz greats, a monumental figure in the history of this sensational American music form.
He was right there during the creation and burnishing of bebop, the audacious style that gave jazz its swagger, and he’s still going strong, producing fabulous music across an unbelievable eight decades, starting in the 1940s. The rest of the bebop pantheon has passed on—Bird, Coltrane, Monk, Miles, Dizzy, Roach—leaving Sonny all alone, a solitary man with the magical tenor sax. (One of Sonny’s most famous recordings was a session he did with Coltrane called Tenor Madness.) I felt privileged to be a witness at the Beacon, a part of American history just by my membership in the audience. It’s perhaps what it would have been like to sit there at one of Mozart’s last piano recitals, or one of Louie Armstrong’s final trumpet solos. I’m not predicting that Sonny is going anywhere anytime soon, but he plays so seldom in the jazz-indifferent U.S. these days that there’s no telling when he might be back. Audiences in Europe and Japan have a much better chance of seeing him. 
During the concert, when Sonny brought out the great drummer, Roy Haynes, who is amazingly 85 but looks 50, my dad leaned over and said, “He played with my trio in the Sixties.” 
My dad, Walter Chiles, keyboardist
And that’s another reason why this trip was so special to me. While Walter Chiles never achieved the fame and stature of Sonny Rollins or Roy Haynes, he had quite a fabulous music career himself. He’s now content to be the minister of music at his Atlanta church, writing original pieces for the gospel choirs that he smoothly takes through their paces on Sundays. But if you sit him down and get him going, Dad will spin amazing tales that will have your bottom jaw bouncing on the floor. 
Dad’s first bit of notoriety came with the trio known as Chiles & Pettiford. They were keyboards (Chiles), bass (Pettiford) and drums. They played and they sang, their unusual interweaving two-part harmonies drawing rave reviews, particularly after they recorded an album on the Blue Note label called “Live at Jilly’s,” Jilly’s being the nightclub owned by Jilly Rizzo, Frank Sinatra’s bodyguard. It came out the year I was born, 45 years ago. At Jilly’s, Dad played with artists like Sarah Vaughan, Charlie Mingus, Roy Haynes and even Johnny Carson and Ed McMahon (Johnny fancied himself a drummer, while Ed thought he could sing the blues). These artists would sit in with the Chiles & Pettiford trio on a whim—entertaining a crowd that sometimes included heavyweights like Miles Davis and Sinatra. Once, when Sinatra was preparing for a big concert date, he asked my dad to help him practice. Every day for a week, Dad would take the elevator up to Sinatra’s vast penthouse apartment overlooking Central Park and they would practice for hours at a time, with few breaks. Frank was all business.
Me and my dad, the coolest cat on the planet
The Sonny Rollins concert was fitting for me and my dad, kind of closing a circle. One of my most vivid memories from my late teenage years was when Dad and I traveled over to Manhattan from our New Jersey home in 1985 to catch Sonny’s free solo concert in the sculpture garden of the Museum of Modern Art. The line was so long that we couldn’t get in, but we joined about 40 other people who listened to Sonny from the sidewalk outside the garden, our faces pressed against the iron fence to catch glimpses of him as he roamed the grounds, sending wonderfully sweet notes out into the hot New York summer night. (His album from that night can still be purchased.) This is when my love of jazz was permanently stamped on my DNA, a gift from Dad. 
So here we were, exactly 25 years later, back in the city to see Sonny. I caught a glimpse of Dad’s face as Sonny played. He was transfixed and happy. So was I.

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Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Boris Kodjoe And MyBrownBaby, Sitting In a Tree...

Oh, alright—so I won't be K-I-S-S-I-N-G that gorgeous hunk of a man Boris Kodjoe any time soon. BUT come 8 p.m. tonight, I will be front and center when his new show, Undercovers, makes its big debut on NBC. I mean, anyone with eyes can see why I and a bunch of my girlfriends will be tuning in. But my lust... er... excitement for this show is bigger than that; Undercovers is a slick, sexy hour's worth of show about Steven and Samantha Bloom, a hot couple who run a catering business by day and carry out international spy capers by night—and the lead characters are black.

They're not playing the rear.

They're not the side-kicks.

They're not the super wise, all-knowing bosses who dutifully show white characters how to do the right thing.

Boris Kodjoe and Gugu Mbatha-Raw are THE STARS and the show is ABOUT THEIR LIVES and they're doing exciting things that have NOTHING to do with their color. And anyone who watches five seconds of American television knows how rare this is, as discussed so poignantly in this Associated Press story about Undercovers' "colorful mission":

It's a persistent rarity in TV to have black leads outside of a "Grey's Anatomy"-style ensemble, and "Undercovers" is rarer still because it's not an African-American sitcom or a black-oriented drama fraught with social issues or family pathos.
This time around, two stunning, accomplished and happily wed black characters just get to have fun...

Fun, indeed. It's a shame that in 2010, we still have to stand up and celebrate when a show featuring black characters finds its way to prime time on a major network, but stand up and celebrate I will—for someone trusting Boris and Gugu to tell a cool story, for NBC trusting that story enough to broadcast it, and especially for J.J. Abrams, the show's creator, who fearlessly demanded the characters be black and fly and sexy and interesting and in love. Something we hardly ever get to see in mainstream media, let alone prime time TV. 
And y'all know how I feel about those who celebrate black love.
And so if you're with me, tune in to NBC tonight to watch my man... er, Boris Kodjoe, in Undercovers. Let's show NBC and Hollywood we support those who show us as we are. 
Tomorrow, MyBrownbaby—i.e. I, Denene Millner—will be on the new The Nate Berkus Show! The interior designer-turned Oprah Winfrey Show media darling, is serving up celeb talk, design tips, mom and relationship advice and more on his new show, which debuted earlier this month, and he invited me to dish some relationship advice to a family going through some things in the middle of this awful recession. You MUST watch, not just because I'm on, but because it's a really good show and Nate Berkus is absolutely adorable, smart, and infectious. 
So check out the episode, tomorrow, Thursday, September 23rd, and if you're so moved, come on back and leave some comments to tell me what you thought about Nate's show and my advice. CLICK HERE to see when and on what channel The Nate Berkus Show airs in your city.

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Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Standing "O" for the Black Dad Who Threatened His Daughter's Bullies!

Yes, I know I’ve warned before that we moms should reconsider just when, where, and how we should use our Wu Tang Clan-styled Samurai word swords when someone gets out of pocket with us. Hollering on folks—especially with the kids in tow—could leave both our babies and us vulnerable to the whims and violence of crazy folk, like the African American mom who got punched, stomped and cussed out by a man at a Georgia Cracker Barrel last year after she got on him for slamming a door in her 7-year-old’s face.

But sometimes, you just gotta go there. Last week, James Jones did. Pissed that a bunch of 7th grade boys were physically and verbally harassing his 11-year-old disabled daughter—even going so far as to toss condoms in her hair—Jones stomped onto his kid’s bus and threatened to jack up er’body who could hear the words coming out of his mouth (bus driver included) if anyone even looked at his daughter crazy, much less put their hands on her again.

Now, seeing as he was cussing and threatened to “murder” children, he got arrested and charged with disorderly conduct and disturbing a school function and whatnot. But that’s a fine he says he’d be willing to pay if it means the little buzzards who were messing with his daughter know he’s coming for that ass if they ever again got outta pocket with his baby girl.

For the record, Nick and I are over here giving virtual fist bumps and standing “O’s” to Mr. Jones for being a helluva father and taking control of this whole bullying nonsense. Kids are being harassed and beat down and bullied to the point of suicide—all too many of them choosing extremes (harm to themselves, harm to others) rather than wait on the adults to do what needs to be done to put the bullies in their place and make the schools be accountable to the innocents. Remember Jaheem Herrera and Carl Walker-Hoover? 

Our kids need to know that their daddies have their back. And it is not lost on us that this is an African American father who stood up for his child—a man who, like us, gets really tired of the relentless “black fathers aren’t involved or are non-existent” meme that slaps at black dads at every turn.

And for the idiot “expert” at the end of the video who suggests the father was wrong and made his daughter feel weaker and helpless by taking charge of the situation rather than giving her the tools to handle the bullies on her own: Let’s put his daughter on a bus with a bunch of billy badasses and see how “empowered” she feels to have to handle that crap on her own. I bet you he’d be out there on the bus stop tomorrow morning with his Louisville Slugger, too. Trust me on this.

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Monday, September 20, 2010

{Bringing Up Boogie} I Don't Bake and My Kid's a Neat Freak: We Were Made For Each Other


Last week, while in the car with Boogie, I was fiddling with the radio, trying to find a song that I wouldn’t mind him repeating in mixed company, when Beyonce’s “Single Ladies” pumped through the speakers. What’s a mother to do but go hard singing “uh oh uh oh, oh oh oh” and doing the dance? So I got busy, and when we hit a stoplight, I took my hands off the wheel and really let loose, completely oblivious to the stares Boogie tossed from the backseat. When the song was over, there was a bit of silence; I turned to smile at my baby boy and he sighed, “And you don’t make cookies.”

I almost had to pull over I was laughing so hard, but the kid was dead serious. And at the base of it, right. If we’re going by International Mom Law, I’m a terrible mother. I don’t make cookies. I don’t really cook at all, and hardly ever for him. I’m a vegetarian and he refuses to eat anything green. I stopped eating pork when I was 11 (and again when I was 13 and found out that pepperoni was pork). Boogie has a love of bacon that rivals most grown men. He loves bacon so much that he even eats and likes veggie bacon because it has the word bacon in it. Besides not knowing how to prepare meat dishes, I’m just not very interested in cooking. Never have been. My mother is a fantastic cook and my sister just started a cupcake business, so Boogie gets plenty of home cooked meals and homemade treats. He just doesn’t get them from me. Matter of fact, one day, he walked into the kitchen when I got a sudden inspiration to try out a recipe. He stared at me standing over the stove, spatula in hand and asked, “What’s wrong with grandma?” 

I’ve had debates with people who tell me that Boogie will grow up to resent me because I never baked him a cake or lovingly placed pieces of flesh in boiling oil (I mean, fried chicken). I’m not sure if that’s the case, but I do spend a lot of time talking to him. I have wonderfully hilarious conversations with my boy. I read to him when he’ll let me get through a book rather than hurrying me through to his favorite parts. I take him to the movies and to the park. I take him shopping and to shows with me. I’m not trying to make myself feel better about my lack of culinary skills; I just honestly don’t see where not cooking is going to throw me into the same category as Faye Dunaway in Mommy Dearest

My own mother has told me that Boogie will not learn how to properly take care of himself because I’m such a slob. Wrong. I am messy. My clothes and shoes are can be found behind couches, in the bathroom, in the armchair in my bedroom... If there are clothes or shoes in the closet, then it must be Sunday—cleaning day. But somehow Boogie has managed to be a clean freak. When he sees me folding clothes, he applauds and gives me a “Good job!” This morning, I decided to get some of the clothes and shoes off my bedroom floor and he walked in and said, “Finally! I’ll make the bed!” and he did. Actually, the kid has made the bed while I was in it before. He’s very particular about where things go. He’s very particular about where he goes. Where he fits. And he fits here, in my parents house, so it’s been difficult for us to leave. I think that would be more disruptive to his life than whether or not I baked a cake yet or how often I vacuum.

I travel a lot for work. And I leave him in order not to disrupt his routine. He needs to feel grounded and supported and my wanderlust shouldn’t disturb that. He counts on Grandma and Grandpa and Ms. Dea and his friends at school and that dreadful Fresh Beat Band.  But I have to go so rather than unpack, I kind of stay in a constant state of “about to leave.” I’ve been in that state for a while—ever since this “I need help with this new baby for a few months” turned into “I guess we live here now.” But because I never wanted to be the one who came running home when times got tough, I never fullu unpacked. Never fully allowed the dressers to hold my shirts and underthings. Never gave the closest permission to taste my permanence. My books, my precious things, remain in boxes in the corner. I’m just not ready to settle here. I’m just not ready to be a “mother” in that way. 

That probably sounds worse than I mean it.  

What I mean is that I’ve had to learn in the last few months that what makes me a “good mother” can’t be judged by other people’s rules. 

I make sure that Boogie gets what he needs. I have amazingly, generous friends who send him books and learning toys, right when I’m not sure I made enough this week to pay his tuition. My sister is a much better mother figure than I am, so he gets it. I just concentrate on not breaking him. There are too many brown boys wandering around broken and I just don’t want to break him. 

He’s taken care of. The day will come when I’ll be comfortable enough in this parenting skin to leave my parents’ house and move into a place of our own in a city that holds us both. We will have our own couch. Our own paint on the walls. Boogie will have a room and the racecar bed he dreams of. I want him to have one wall painted with chalkboard so he can write and scribble and draw. I want to be able to retreat to the master bedroom, sink into a bathtub. I want the house to be filled with music. I want us to be able to relax into each other. And I probably still won’t cook. And I’ll hire someone to make beds and sweep dust bunnies out of the corners and to fold our clothes neatly and place them in drawers. But for now, this is our reality. This grandpa and grandma’s house. This doing the best we both can. This boy that laughs and jokes and feels so whole and complete at such a young age. I just don’t want to disrupt that. 

The point is we all struggle to figure out what makes us good parents. It took me one breakdown and one constant state of healing since to figure out that how I parent is a reflection of who I am. And who I am is a person who is constantly doing the best she can and constantly learning that her best will change. No, I don’t cook and I never make my bed, but my son laughs more often in a day than most people do in a month. And he makes me laugh and he’s kind and considerate and annoying, but he’s mine. And we’re still figuring out this weird way we’re going to relate to each other. So maybe one day I will bake him cookies. They might burn though. I’ll be too busy doing the Single Ladies dance and laughing to care. And Boogie will shake his head, sigh and dance with me.  

He’ll be fine. 

* * * * * 

About our MyBrownBaby contributor:
Bassey Ikpi's "Bringing Up Boogie" is a new weekly feature, exclusively at MyBrownBaby.  Bassey Ikpi is a Nigeria-born, Oklahoma-bred, PG County-fed, Brooklyn-led writer/poet/neurotic who is the single mother of an amazing man-child, Elaiwe Ikpi. She's half awesome, a quarter crazy and 1/3rd genius... the leftover bit is a caramel creme center. A strong advocate of mental health awareness, Bassey is currently working on a memoir about living with mental illness and producing Basseyworld Live, a stage show that infuses poetry and interactive panel discussions about everything from politics to pop culture. Get more Bassey at Bassey's World.

If you would like to be a featured contributor on MyBrownBaby, email your essays/ideas/blog posts/rants/musings to Denene at denenemillner at gmail dot com. 

*Photo credit: Nadya Peek
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