Thursday, December 16, 2010

Detroit Filmmakers: Get in Where You Fit In

On Dec. 31, 2010, Specs Howard and Global Pictures will present the 1st Annual Michigan Film Gala at the Sheraton Detroit Novi Hotel.  This event will be hosted by Detroit's own Brandon T. Jackson and will feature appearances from a host of other Hollywood film industry play makers such as Tanya Ryno (producer of Saturday Night Live), Rod Harrell (RLH Talent), Ruth Daniels (Executive VP, Emagine Theaters), Darryl Farmers (Willow Smith producer and Disney composer), and laundry list of others.

So, fellow filmmakers or enthusiasts, why do you need to be there, you ask? Because if you are really serious about taking your film making platform to the next level, this event will afford you the opportunity to have access to people from every aspect of the film making process at your disposal. And if you choose not to take advantage of it, then you should never again complain about what resources are "lacking" in Detroit.

Ever since the film incentives have been rolled out in Michigan, local independent film makers have felt slighted because most of us don't have access to enough money to actually take advantage of them and when the hiring is done, somehow we still aren't getting a shot. But now, Specs Howard and Global Pictures have gone out of their way to make sure that Detroit film makers get their fair chance at bat by bringing in the people who can provide that missing link: a relationship.

This gala will feature interactive Q&A panels and film screenings during the day and a star-studded New Year's Eve party that evening...what more could you ask for?

I know first hand from conducting a film festival for the past 4 years, sometimes it's difficult to get Detroiter's to latch on to positive things that can actually benefit them. But after seeing how many film makers have benefited from our efforts, we continue to press on for our city.

So, with that being said, please don't miss out on this wonderful opportunity. The ticket prices are reasonable and with most packages you get a room at the luxurious hotel in addition to the panel, workshop, party and dinner. You can't beat that! So film making Detroit, please take advantage of these opportunities because if we don't, the industry is going to pack up and leave again and we'll be stuck with a bunch of "I should'ves".

Michigan Film there or stop complaining. #thatisall

For more information about the 1st Annual Michigan Film Gala visit

For more more information about Trinity Film Coalition please visit

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

One-on-one with El DeBarge

When 80's heartthrob El DeBarge made his triumphant comeback appearance on the 2010 BET Music Awards, women (and men) everywhere made haste to dust off CD, cassette tape and record collections boasting timeless hits such as All This Love, Love Me In a Special Way and I Like It from an era of when music was, well...meaningful.

Fresh off the ordeal of serving a drug-related prison stint, El DeBarge has resolved to reestablish his claim on his life, his music and his career. And from the looks of things, it appears that he is off to a very promising start.

I got a chance to sit down with him to find out about his battle with addiction, his new outlook on life and second chances.

Janaya Black: Tell us how excited you are about your new project and it being your first album in 16 years.

El DeBarge: I'm very excited. Like Tony the Tiger would say, "I feel grrrrreat!" I'm so happy to be back and back on scene.

JB: Tell me about the new album.

EB: It's called Second Chance, it'll be out Nov. 30. I did a song with 50 Cent (a very nice song), I did a song with Fabulous, and I did a duet with Faith Evans. Just feel good music, you know what I mean?

JB: The title "Second Chance" obviously has a deep meaning for you...

EB: It has a very deep meaning for me. It's a song of thankfulness, gratefulness, redemption, the triumph of the human spirit, what God has brought me through and me realizing that this is my second chance that He's given me.

JB: When did you get to the point where you knew that you had to turn your life around to get back to where you wanted to be as a person and as an artist?

EB: The moment when I picked up a crack pipe when I was 25-years-old out of curiosity it threw me off. It threw me out of my balance, it threw me off my game...I had no idea what was going to hit me, that it was going to hit me like that. I was just curious. I said let me try it. I knew right then and there that it was wrong. It was evil, but I had no idea it was going to take me 22 years to get back. But I was praying the whole time and God saw fit to rescue me.

JB: Well, congratulations to you for overcoming that.

EB: Thank you.

JB: What's your favorite song on the album right now?

EB: My favorite song on the album is I Just Want to Lay With You, the duet I'm doing with Faith Evans and the one I do with 50 Cent, Switch Up the Format. I like those two a lot.

JB: Between 16 years ago and this album, what is it that you like and dislike about how the industry is right now?

EB: I like a lot about it. I have more pros than cons about the industry. I think it's evolving. Music is teaching the industry how to evolve and how to fit into music's format. You know people change, things change, people's appetites change. Music is still, to me, the voice of international language known to all mankind. It just feels really good. I don't really have any qualms about it.

JB: Do you foresee a DeBarge reunion in the near future?

EB: My family has given me their 100 percent support. Even more than that they just want me to just do what I'm doing. They told me, they said, "El, do you. We got you, don't worry." They said they would let me know when they're ready to do something. I'm just waiting on them.

JB: So are there any plans for any reality shows or anything like that?

EB: I don't know, it could happen there's a lot of reality going on. It could happen, but I did hit the big screen already with something that will be out next year it's called Jumping the Broom with Paula Patton. I play myself in the movie where she always wanted to meet me because I was her favorite artist, and her fiancĂ© proposes to her in Lincoln Park in New York and to her surprise I'm sitting there on a baby grand piano with an orchestra around me in the middle of the park, and while he's proposing he drops down on one knee and I start singing a song to her for him. 

JB: Awww! So you've been bitten by the acting bug?

EB: Well you know what? It's like that's my entry to it, so we'll see what happens after that.

For more information on El DeBarge and his upcoming appearances and projects, please visit or follow him at

For more information or to contact visit or follow on Twitter at

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Life With AIDS: A Personal Testimony

In observance of World AIDS Day, I wanted to share an interview that I did with Tim'm West about his personal experience with AIDS and how it has affected his life. Read it and govern yourselves accordingly.

Be blessed!

Life With AIDS: A Personal Testimony

Since the HIV/AIDS epidemic reared its ugly head back in the 1980’s, society’s knowledge and ability to deal with the disease has increased significantly.  But while the overall awareness has increased the numbers of those becoming infected continues to rise, especially among those in the African American community.

According to, at the end of 2008 and estimated 33.4 million people were living with HIV/AIDS, and according to 5,700 people die from it every day.  In the face of those staggering statics the question then becomes: Are people just not taking this disease seriously? How do we bridge the gap between providing information and making it effective?

Tim’m West is a 36-year-old man who has been living with HIV for more than ten years, and he has made it his personal mission to help educate about the disease and be a living testimony that there is life after contracting the disease.         

I had a chance to speak with West about his personal experience of living with a disease that has no respect of persons and his ability to find hope somewhere in between. 

Janaya Black: How old were you when you contracted HIV?

Tim’m West: Probably 26.

JB: How did you contract it?

TW: Unprotected sex.

JB: What emotions did you experience when you found out that you were HIV positive?

TW: Initially…I mean, I’ve been working in the field of HIV/AIDS part-time so I knew a lot about the virus.  Being a Black man who had sex with both males and females I was aware of the risks, at least in the gay male community. But, I think when you have a connection to the gay community it’s not so much that it’s not shocking, but it’s not as mind blowing as it might be to some people who just don’t expect it. 

So I think you kind of grow up being told that if you practice that behavior or if you decide to be in “that lifestyle”, that you’re going to be more susceptible to HIV/AIDS.  Because of some of the health symptoms I was experiencing at the time that I got tested…it was disappointing, but I was somewhat prepared for it when I got the results.  It was more or less that I was getting tested to confirm something that I already believed to be true.

JB: Prior to you going to have that test, what were some of the symptoms that you were experiencing?

TW: It was the weight loss.  You know, right now I’m a pretty healthy 205 lbs, but I think at that time I was probably 165 lbs but I just thought I was real cut up.  So there was some weight loss along with it, but not a whole lot of symptoms.  Like my lymph nodes were swelling some but it wasn’t anything really extreme, just things when you’re really attentive to your body you kind of notice.

JB: How have you adapted or conditioned yourself to live with it?

TW: Well, I think you’re faced with a choice when one faces anything about a chronic illness.   We often put HIV in a different category but I think this is true for all kinds of diseases.  With HIV you can decide that you’re going to just give up and die or you can decide you want to live.  And for me it became about a health issue.  It became about how people live with it; about what I need to do to make sure I can.  There are plenty of thousands of other people who live healthy full lives with HIV.  For me, those are the examples I look to.

I had to let go of the shame and the stigma that’s associated with it because people get so caught up in those issues that they don’t take care of themselves.  HIV is not treated like cancer.  You know, you tell someone they have cancer no one asks anything.  They don’t ask if you smoke.  They don’t ask how you got it; they just immediately have this out pouring of sympathy.  But if you say you have HIV, immediately people want to know how you got it and what you did wrong to get it.  And I think that’s a critical difference and it really underscores the degree of stigma around it, which needs to change.  That’s one of the reasons that I’m so vocal and visible about my HIV status because I think people need real positive, real life examples of people who decide to beat it.

JB: You mentioned stigma in your personal experience. What kind of stigma, or discriminations, have you come up against with letting people know your status?

TW: There’s some in dating.  You know, everyone’s entitled to not date someone who’s HIV positive and not put themselves at risk.  But, yeah, there’s some of that in particular.  The gay male community is over sensitized to it, but I haven’t found that to be as problematic as people might think.  I think a lot of people applaud my courage for being open and honest about it, and I think those are the people that I look to.  So, in some ways it’s been a really interesting discriminating tool I’ve used; being open about my HIV status to assess other people's character.  You know, how will they respond. 

I’ve taught high school in both Washington, D.C. and Oakland, CA urban schools, and in both settings students knew both about my orientation as well as my HIV status and it wasn’t an issue.  And I think that part of it is just because I think I present myself in a way that demands respect and I’m known for what I do well and how I do it.  So you bring a certain level of professionalism and confidence to your game and I think people just have to respect that.

JB: As far as care goes, what are some of the things that you have to do on a daily basis to maintain good health?

TW: You have to stay with the regimen, and not everybody takes medication.  But I didn’t have the fortune of being able to delay treatment, and basically that’s the advantage of getting tested early and always knowing your status; that if you know your status early you may be able to defer treatment for some period of time and that enables you to add a few more years to whatever your life span would be.  So I always say always know your test results.

But I’m on the medication.  I take my cocktail- they call it a drug cocktail- twice a day.  And provided I adhere it, it’s worked for the past 10 years.  I’ve never been hospitalized.  I get sick like other people get sick.  I think that’s one of the things I would say is definitely (say beyond just disclosing, discrimination and dating) one of the pains of living with HIV. If you get a flu it’s a little bit different than when most people get the flu.  You wonder the kind of impact it’s going to have on your immune system because it’s already compromised.

JB: What are still some of the most common misconceptions that people have about HIV?

TW: Some of them are quite tragic and sad.  I still do work in the field with HIV and AIDS and common ones are that HIV can be spread through contact and through fluids like saliva.  Another one is that you can tell when someone is HIV positive.  I always enjoy dispelling that one personally.  [Another one is] that straight people don’t get it and that all gay men have it.

JB: What are some of the things you’ve been doing to help raise the awareness?

TW: Right now I work for an organization called St. Hope Foundation and they have a drop in center for young African American men ages 16-24.  We work there and do a lot of sort of 1-on-1 discussions with young brothers.  We try to look at their whole distinct lives, not just attending to the HIV status.  We do a lot of testing and just a lot of taking care of the whole person to lead to a point where they don’t have to just deal with HIV.  That’s our whole idea is to do prevention based work.

But, I think in my personal life, I’m a rap artist and a spoken word artist, so I’ve integrated a lot of HIV/AIDS messaging in my lyrics and in my poetry.  I think that’s been one of the more productive ways I can get some of the messaging across.

JB: In your 10 years of living and dealing with this successfully, what would you say is your biggest personal triumph?

TW: Wow.  I can say it simply is that I haven’t given up.  I mean it’s tiring- it’s really tiring.  I don’t at all mean to give the impression that living with HIV is a cakewalk and I’ve had some trials of late that have been demoralizing.  Your medication; when you’re not sure if it’s working anymore and even the reminder of just taking those things every day, and they’re not Flintstones.  It’s not just popping pills.  They’re medications that have quite toxic effects on the body every time you don’t regulate that kind of thing.  So there’s just the exhaustion of it and I think the fact that I get up every day and say, “Hey, I’m going to fight again today because I believe I’m worth it."

JB: What would you say to someone, especially the Black community, about the importance of getting tested?

TW:  What I always say about that is getting tested is a win-win situation.  There’s a saying that what you don’t know won’t hurt you, and with HIV that’s just completely the opposite.  What you don’t know can kill you and put others at risk.  So if you get tested and you’re negative, great.  You have an opportunity to recommit to safe practices, better behavior and that’s a good thing.  If you get tested and you’re positive then you know about what’s going on in your body and you can start to get the care you need to lead a productive and a good life.  So we need to know what our statues are so we can take care of ourselves. HIV/AIDS is as big a threat now as it ever was.  The only difference is that now, in this day and age, there is absolutely no excuse for ignorance.  So don’t wait, get tested and know your status.  

For more information on HIV/AID or to find a testing location in your area, please visit

For more information on Tim'm West, please visit

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