8th April 2014

Photoset

  • AWARD WINNING ACTRESS FROM SIERRA LEONE DEMONSTRATES COURAGE AND PERSEVERANCE

There are times in life when the most awful tragedy can become the start of something new in one’s life and lead to a triumph so wonderful it could not be imagined. In the case of Wendy Bangura, the tragedy that befell her family was unexpected and violent, yet her mother did not let it prevent her from saving her family and looking for options for survival and ultimately success.

Wendy Bangura grew up in Sierra Leone of the 1990’s. This was a period of turmoil in the region; in neighboring Liberia, a civil war had erupted that led to massive migration of Liberian refugees in to Sierra Leone. The president of Sierra Leone at the time, Joseph Momoh, proved to be unable to handle the crisis and maintain the standard of living for the country. As a result in early 1992 a coup d’état took place and the military took control of Sierra Leone under the guise of the National Provisional Ruling Council (NPRC).  In December of that same year, allegedly to secure the coup, 29 individuals were summarily executed without a trial or a chance to prove their innocence.   Among those executed that night were Ms. Bangura’s father, Captain Hanciles Bangura, the Quartermaster of the Sierra Leone Army (SLA), as well as Colonel Kawuta Dumbuya, her uncle.  Thus began a period of terror and uncertainty for Ms. Bangura and her family.

The years of 1992 through 1997 proved to be very difficult for Wendy Bangura and her family. Because the soldiers of the NPRC had not only executed her father but also had robbed her family’s home and bank accounts the family lived on the contribution of others. In addition, the family was under surveillance by elements of the ruling council and were, according to accounts, under serious and constant danger.

Through the guidance of a Nigerian acquaintance, the family entered the USA visa lottery and won, entering the country in 1997 and settling in Prince George’s County, Maryland. Ms. Bangura entered Bladensburg High School, graduating in 2002 and then entered Prince George’s County Community College, studying criminal justice and psychology.  To support the family her mother, Samira Bangura, had opened International Tropical Foods, store marketing African foods and products in College Park, Maryland. Ms. Bangura became the store manager, offering her contact with a wide range of residents of African descent in the Washington, DC area.

While managing her family business, Ms. Bangura met a Nigerian film producer who reawakened the notion that acting might be a road for her to pursue. As a child in Sierra Leone she was interested in acting, drama, fashion and theatre and she even participated in child beauty contests as well as drama productions in her elementary school.  It was a lifelong desire to continue in these areas but as a result of the trauma her family and she faced it had been pushed aside for more serious considerations. Now with her new life Ms. Bangura began to look for opportunities in the world of drama.

 Her first project was “The Entrapped Movie”, released in 2012. In this film she played the support role as “Allison” and was also credited as a producer. This was followed by a larger role in “Koming from Afrika”, released in 2013. She has another role in the film “The Busted Life”, produced by Chima Austin of Nollywood fame.

Currently, Wendy Bangura is in the process of editing her newest film “Unforgettable Words” which she not only produced but played the female lead. She is also the CEO of Golden Touch Entertainment, a production company for independent projects both in Sierra Leone and the USA.

Wendy Bangura’s work is hardly complete. She is definitely seeking a mainstream opportunity as both a producer and actress as well as fulfilling her dream of having a clothing and perfume line. Her efforts in film were recently recognized by Africa Radio Salone, a Washington DC area based online radio channel for Sierra Leoneans. The station presented her with its award for best actress of the year.

As Sierra Leoneans living in this country, both Samira and Wendy Bangura have a strong relationship with their homeland. Samira Bangura works to improve conditions through her foundation, Help the Poor African Charity Organization (HELPAC). Ms. Bangura assists this foundation and returns home when she can to develop projects for improving the life of citizens there. She states that “My mom is my role model”.

There are still many chapters to be written in the life story of Wendy Bangura. Hopefully, her positive future will continue and lead to greater success. As she concedes her life thus far has been filled with hard times but she admits they have made her stronger and more hopeful for the future.

Wendy Bangura can be contacted at: bwendy2012@gmail.com.    Samira Bangura’s foundation can be found at: www.helppac.org

20th March 2014

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AFRICA HEALTH NOW BEGINS TO CHANGE THE LANDSCAPE OF MEDICAL CARE IN AFRICA

Think about the last time the media provided a report on health conditions in Africa. More than likely it was a segment on some horrible, severe condition that would prove to be fatal if left untreated such as HIV, malaria, cholera or tuberculosis. It is unfortunate that our image of the state health in Africa consists of reports about people suffering from these ailments for multiple reasons.

First, these pictures reinforce the negative portrait that is exaggerated and often untrue. The negativity has the additional consequence of creating a climate in which large scale investment in the future of the continent is limited.

Secondly, Africans suffer from a variety of non-communicable ailments that do not receive the proper amount of attention from the media. The structure of current medical care in Africa prevents the population from receiving the necessary ongoing care for these ailments such as hypertension, diabetes, cancer and depression.

With these obstacles in mind, a Ghanaian American, Nana Eyeson-Akiwowo, has formed the organization “Africa Health Now” to begin changing the manner in which medical care is delivered in Africa. Through the work of her group she hopes to create a new health care paradigm for Africans and re- focus the direction of individuals regarding their wellness.

Growing up in Virginia, Ms. Eyeson-Akiwowo did not spend too much time thinking about care back home in Ghana. That is, until a day in 2006 when she received a call from a family member in Accra telling her that her father was in the hospital as a result of a “heart ailment”.  Luckily a friend traveling    in - country was able to locate her father and provide some information for the family in the USA.

The hours of uncertainty as well as fear led Ms. Eyeson –Akiwowo to begin a serious review of basic health care in Ghana as well as Africa in its entirety and led to the formation of Africa Health Now (AHN).

As a result of these beginning activities, the organization holds a health fair in Accra, usually around the December holiday season that teams medical students and nurses from Ghana with volunteers in the medical profession in the USA. The fair provides workshops about symptoms and the management of chronic conditions such as diabetes or high cholesterol levels as well as discussions of more culturally taboo subjects such as mental health and cancers.  Each fair attendee is provided with a basic health screening as well as printed materials regarding the issues of concern to them.  Additionally, the individual is provided with a personal medical record with suggestions for ongoing management of health concerns.

The goal of AHN is to eventually schedule multiple fairs in a locality throughout the year as well as tailor the events to specific groups in a population (EG: women only events or a pediatric event) as well as regularize the wellness of a population by increasing the use of self-exams and the access to the latest knowledge about health and diet. Ms. Eyeson- Akiwowo also hopes to eventually expand this initiative to other countries beyond her native Ghana.

The Africa Health Now model is an excellent beginning to turn the tide of health issues in afflict people on an everyday basis. There are two basic obstacles that this program overcomes. First, it takes into account local culture and needs and tailors its system to those two concepts. Second, the organization sets these fairs up in a community and according to experts, community based initiatives work best.

Africa Health now has begun the long and difficult work of bringing some regularity to the wellness of the people of Ghana. Let’s hope that the world responds and helps to carry the task to its future with a positive result.

Africa Health Now can be accessed on the web at: www.africahealthnow.org

 

14th March 2014

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The Century of the African Woman – Women Werk Celebrates International Woman’s Day 2014

As a former and longtime educator with the New York City Public Schools I observed many fallacies with the educational programs for students in the upper high school grades. Now as a journalist and photographer I do not feel encumbered, any longer, by work rules to criticize not only my employer but the entire system of educational preparation for young people in this country.

With that attitude as well as my anger over the battle regarding the charter schools in this city still on my mind I traveled to the base of Manhattan, home to the “Titans of Wall Street” to cover an event celebrating International Women’s Day. The organization “Women Werk” was holding an all-day event entitled “Women Work Forum – The Century of the African Woman”. A gala and an after party were scheduled for the evening.

Demi Ajayi and Nekpen Osuan founded this group to provide a forum for women to celebrate their successes and to strategize on moving forward and continuing their work in a positive way. They believe that although the world can present major and profound challenges to women, the achievements women have made in this climate must be recognized and celebrated. They also strongly advocate for the next generation of women, thereby making sure that progress is made and the future endeavors are given good chance to succeed.

After a short breakfast to start the networking rolling, participants were directed to one of two sessions: Young Professionals I, designed for women starting their careers and the Youth Forum for women still in high school or university.

I went into the Youth Forum for a few photos and I ended up remaining for the entire program. This effort was a breath of fresh air to someone as cynical and critical of the way we prepare our young people to take on the world after high school and university are completed. The women on this panel were all extremely well educated and successful in their respective fields. What made me remain in that room was observing the patient and thorough manner in which they offered guidance to these younger students. These students sat in respectful attention to these women and were treated to some excellent advice for getting ready to begin a long tern career.

All of the panelists advised the younger people that having a mentor before leaving high school was imperative and a woman mentor is likely to be more supportive than a male mentor. Multiple mentors for various aspects of a career and professional life was likewise introduced.

Nkechi Obgodo also reminded the audience that it is the role of the professional you work with to provide on-site mentoring so that the culture and style of the organization can be learned. In that manner, barriers and obstacles to success can be overcome by the new employee. She also advises people that having confidence and being talented can cause others to become unsettled so always be mindful of your peers.

Development of a five year plan was espoused by panelist Lillian Ajayi. Ms. Ajayi strongly believes in a philosophy of constant motivation, staying focused and being committed to your work to achieve goals.  It is through the five year plan that an individual can see exactly where they are on the road to success as well as measure what needs to be completed.

Journalist Arao Ameny advised participants that in a new job one should seek out the more experienced individuals who understand the organization’s philosophy and culture. These folks can be your advocates as well as mentors. She also stated that when completing a task or project share credit with others in your office or on your team as a way to foster goodwill.

As a group the panel was unanimous in advising their young audience to always work hard and push yourself to set an example for future opportunities. They also said when those opportunities arrive, take them because no one knows how an opportunity can open up a new world for someone.

As the session ended I observed an audience filled with motivated young women talking, networking, exchanging information and business cards while seeking out the panelists for more advice and guidance.

I left the session energized and I was thinking that with forward thinking organization directors as well as panelists like these, young people might just have the tools they need to become successful.image

10th March 2014

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AFRICAN EVENTS FOR FOLKS WHO LOVE AFRICA AND ITS CULTURE

New York is a cultural mecca for people  to enjoy the experience of various entertainment options. Promoters seeing the big picture will market their events to wider audiences thus offering greater visibility to artists and performers.

One team of enterprising and motivated young men from Africa has realized that the market for entertainment from the Continent is in demand. Cedric Ajavon, Antonio Bakoniarivo and Armel Maganga have been promoting parties that feature African music on a regular basis through their company -  MADE IN AFRICA – NYC.

The cultural life of Africa is extremely diversified and varied, as big as the continent itself. With so many different cultural offerings in art, fashion, film, music, spoken word or theatre it can be helpful to have some guidance in making choices. The MIA – NYC team can package this variety, in events that allow both the cultural aficionado and the neophyte to develop a love for the aspects of Africa not often seen here in the USA.

Additionally, in the areas surrounding New York City there are many artists and performers of African heritage waiting to be promoted. Through their work this trio hopes these events will help in providing artists with new opportunities that will lead to greater success and eventually, mainstream acceptance. As Mr. Ajavon says: “Creativity has to be paid for and artists must eat; are you willing to pay for and support art?” His goal is to see that artists are financially supported by these events.

 The efforts undertaken by MIA - NYC are essential for another reason. The broadcast and print media often paints the picture of Africa in a negative light. It is through cultural programs that the misconceptions and negative images can, hopefully, be wiped away.

With a regular schedule of monthly events, the sounds and tastes of Africa are only a subway ride away. Once you make the first trip, it is almost a guarantee that you will be making that journey on a regular basis.

Made in Africa New York City can be found on Twitter: @madeinafrica53

  as well as on Facebook: www.facebook.com/madeinafricanyc

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25th January 2014

Photoset with 1 note

Young American from Sierra Leone Looks to Give Back to His Homeland

 The thought of children living in a country rebuilding from a debilitating and destructive civil war without the proper structure to be educated would make many people stop and ask where they can make a donation. In the case of Mohamed Kamara, the choice is not to collect donations but to act. Hence, he has decided to begin a project that will build and stock a series of learning centers/ schools in his native land – Sierra Leone.

Mr. Kamara, is about to graduate from the from the Johnson and Wales University in Providence, Rhode Island with a Bachelor of Arts Degree in International Business Management. Leaving Sierra Leone in 2001, to escape the ravages and chaos of the civil war that had begun in the 1990’s, Mr. Kamara’s family settled in the Bronx where he attended a number of public schools. “Enlighten the Youth” is the foundation set up in 2012 with the goal of building learning centers throughout Sierra Leone. Through the foundation, donations will be accepted, projects will be planned and volunteers will be asked to assist this important effort.

During the civil war, educational infrastructure like most other buildings was not spared. Additionally, many children were brutalized. While going to school or having a place to read or use a computer may not seem like the top priority, rest assured offering children a quiet refuge to lean and grow intellectually will be a very important goal of rebuilding Sierra Leone.

The project will begin in 2014 with the construction of a school and library in Mile 91 Village outside of Freetown. The land for this building has already been purchased, construction plans and workers have been contracted. What remains is to fundraise for the building materials as well as the books, computers and supplies for the completed learning center. When this first center has been built, the foundation under Mr. Kamara’s leadership will then scout sites with the goal of placing a learning center in other villages throughout the country.

For more detailed information about the foundation and project please visit the official website: www.enlightentheyouth.com   

 

 You can also visit their Facebook page: www.facebook.com/EnlightenTheYouthInc

16th January 2014

Photo reblogged from Observations, Situations and Thoughts with 1 note

rrb310sitrep:

US- Africa Synergy Announces Second Annual African Cultural Evening
New York City, January 15, 2014— US- Africa Synergy will host the Second Annual African Cultural Evening on Saturday March 1, 2014. The African Cultural Evening (ACE) is a prestigious event to celebrate the beauty and diversity of the African culture in one of the most diverse cities in the world -New York. The African Cultural Evening will be held at the Kaye Playhouse of Hunter College located on 695 Park Ave, New York, NY 10065 from 6:00 to 11:00 PM.
Rich in rhythm, robust in song, diversified in color, the African Cultural Evening will feature unique traditional masks from the Cameroon (Central Africa), various African contemporary dances from the Gambia and Togo (West Africa) and outstanding instrumentalists and musicians from Senegal and Congo. In addition, event participants will experience African inspired paintings, live plays and poetry by emerging young artists.
The event will be hosted by Adiat Disu, Founder of Africa Fashion Week. It will feature a benefit reception with cocktails, auction and raffles from 6 to 7:30 PM followed by performances starting at 8pm and ending at 11PM. We urge all attendees to come dressed with formal or traditional attire. Tickets Start at $35. Due to limited seating, an RSVP is strongly recommended.
Proceeds collected during the African Cultural Evening will support the African Women’s Program for Leadership and Entrepreneurship (AWLEAD Program), which US- African Synergy launched in 2011, to empower young African women through leadership and entrepreneurship.
“We are very pleased to hold our second annual African Cultural Evening this year. With amazing Host Committee Members, Partners, Sponsors and very talented performers, this year’s event promises to be even more exciting and engaging than last year.” states Natacha Gwet, Executive Director of US-Africa Synergy.
               
US-Africa Synergy works to harness intellectual, social and financial resources in the United States and in Africa to build youth leadership and entrepreneurial skills as well as uphold the involvement of women in decision making throughout Africa.
To purchase your tickets visit https://ace2014.eventbrite.com. 
 
To learn more about the AWLEAD program visit https://usafricasynergy.org/African_Women_LEAD.html

rrb310sitrep:

US- Africa Synergy Announces Second Annual African Cultural Evening

New York City, January 15, 2014— US- Africa Synergy will host the Second Annual African Cultural Evening on Saturday March 1, 2014. The African Cultural Evening (ACE) is a prestigious event to celebrate the beauty and diversity of the African culture in one of the most diverse cities in the world -New York. The African Cultural Evening will be held at the Kaye Playhouse of Hunter College located on 695 Park Ave, New York, NY 10065 from 6:00 to 11:00 PM.

Rich in rhythm, robust in song, diversified in color, the African Cultural Evening will feature unique traditional masks from the Cameroon (Central Africa), various African contemporary dances from the Gambia and Togo (West Africa) and outstanding instrumentalists and musicians from Senegal and Congo. In addition, event participants will experience African inspired paintings, live plays and poetry by emerging young artists.

The event will be hosted by Adiat Disu, Founder of Africa Fashion Week. It will feature a benefit reception with cocktails, auction and raffles from 6 to 7:30 PM followed by performances starting at 8pm and ending at 11PM. We urge all attendees to come dressed with formal or traditional attire. Tickets Start at $35. Due to limited seating, an RSVP is strongly recommended.

Proceeds collected during the African Cultural Evening will support the African Women’s Program for Leadership and Entrepreneurship (AWLEAD Program), which US- African Synergy launched in 2011, to empower young African women through leadership and entrepreneurship.

“We are very pleased to hold our second annual African Cultural Evening this year. With amazing Host Committee Members, Partners, Sponsors and very talented performers, this year’s event promises to be even more exciting and engaging than last year.” states Natacha Gwet, Executive Director of US-Africa Synergy.

              

US-Africa Synergy works to harness intellectual, social and financial resources in the United States and in Africa to build youth leadership and entrepreneurial skills as well as uphold the involvement of women in decision making throughout Africa.

To purchase your tickets visit https://ace2014.eventbrite.com.

 

To learn more about the AWLEAD program visit https://usafricasynergy.org/African_Women_LEAD.html

16th January 2014

Photo with 1 note

US- Africa Synergy Announces Second Annual African Cultural Evening

New York City, January 15, 2014— US- Africa Synergy will host the Second Annual African Cultural Evening on Saturday March 1, 2014. The African Cultural Evening (ACE) is a prestigious event to celebrate the beauty and diversity of the African culture in one of the most diverse cities in the world -New York. The African Cultural Evening will be held at the Kaye Playhouse of Hunter College located on 695 Park Ave, New York, NY 10065 from 6:00 to 11:00 PM.
Rich in rhythm, robust in song, diversified in color, the African Cultural Evening will feature unique traditional masks from the Cameroon (Central Africa), various African contemporary dances from the Gambia and Togo (West Africa) and outstanding instrumentalists and musicians from Senegal and Congo. In addition, event participants will experience African inspired paintings, live plays and poetry by emerging young artists. 
The event will be hosted by Adiat Disu, Founder of Africa Fashion Week. It will feature a benefit reception with cocktails, auction and raffles from 6 to 7:30 PM followed by performances starting at 8pm and ending at 11PM. We urge all attendees to come dressed with formal or traditional attire. Tickets Start at $35. Due to limited seating, an RSVP is strongly recommended.
Proceeds collected during the African Cultural Evening will support the African Women’s Program for Leadership and Entrepreneurship (AWLEAD Program), which US- African Synergy launched in 2011, to empower young African women through leadership and entrepreneurship.
“We are very pleased to hold our second annual African Cultural Evening this year. With amazing Host Committee Members, Partners, Sponsors and very talented performers, this year’s event promises to be even more exciting and engaging than last year.” states Natacha Gwet, Executive Director of US-Africa Synergy.             
US-Africa Synergy works to harness intellectual, social and financial resources in the United States and in Africa to build youth leadership and entrepreneurial skills as well as uphold the involvement of women in decision making throughout Africa.
To purchase your tickets visit https://ace2014.eventbrite.com. 
To learn more about the AWLEAD program visit https://usafricasynergy.org/African_Women_LEAD.html

US- Africa Synergy Announces Second Annual African Cultural Evening

New York City, January 15, 2014— US- Africa Synergy will host the Second Annual African Cultural Evening on Saturday March 1, 2014. The African Cultural Evening (ACE) is a prestigious event to celebrate the beauty and diversity of the African culture in one of the most diverse cities in the world -New York. The African Cultural Evening will be held at the Kaye Playhouse of Hunter College located on 695 Park Ave, New York, NY 10065 from 6:00 to 11:00 PM.

Rich in rhythm, robust in song, diversified in color, the African Cultural Evening will feature unique traditional masks from the Cameroon (Central Africa), various African contemporary dances from the Gambia and Togo (West Africa) and outstanding instrumentalists and musicians from Senegal and Congo. In addition, event participants will experience African inspired paintings, live plays and poetry by emerging young artists. 

The event will be hosted by Adiat Disu, Founder of Africa Fashion Week. It will feature a benefit reception with cocktails, auction and raffles from 6 to 7:30 PM followed by performances starting at 8pm and ending at 11PM. We urge all attendees to come dressed with formal or traditional attire. Tickets Start at $35. Due to limited seating, an RSVP is strongly recommended.

Proceeds collected during the African Cultural Evening will support the African Women’s Program for Leadership and Entrepreneurship (AWLEAD Program), which US- African Synergy launched in 2011, to empower young African women through leadership and entrepreneurship.

“We are very pleased to hold our second annual African Cultural Evening this year. With amazing Host Committee Members, Partners, Sponsors and very talented performers, this year’s event promises to be even more exciting and engaging than last year.” states Natacha Gwet, Executive Director of US-Africa Synergy.            

US-Africa Synergy works to harness intellectual, social and financial resources in the United States and in Africa to build youth leadership and entrepreneurial skills as well as uphold the involvement of women in decision making throughout Africa.

To purchase your tickets visit https://ace2014.eventbrite.com.

To learn more about the AWLEAD program visit https://usafricasynergy.org/African_Women_LEAD.html

22nd December 2013

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FOR ACTOR FROM SOUTH AFRICA THE GOAL IS TO MOTIVATE AUDIENCES TO ACT

For Ezra Mabengeza, success as an actor is not measured by how many audience members congratulate him on a great effort; in his mind success is measured by the number of people he can inform about the seriousness of issues facing the people of the world. When someone tells him they learned something new or became better informed about an issue, he is quite happy that his efforts as an actor have been well received.

Raised in the towns of Port Elizabeth and Polokwane in the Eastern Cape of South Africa, he grew up in a home with a strong, deep and profound cultural basis because of the Pedi and Xhosa roots of his parents. His father was an organizer for the ANC while his mother was a nurse. Both were strict in their goals for their children. As stern as they were, Ezra recalls the grounding they gave him, instilling a strong sense of self and self-discipline.

Growing up as a member of probably the last generation to live under apartheid, Mr. Mabengeza has some stark remembrances of that time. The brutal suppression system and the serious baggage that came along with it still has its hold on the emerging South Africa.  He feels it is time for new leaders to emerge to carry on the development processes started by the late Nelson Mandela.

Probably the most profound and stirring memories occurred during a general strike against apartheid led by the African National Congress.. He was directed by his parents to attend school and his mother continued to work. At some point a group of agitated anti- apartheid activists came to his family home and demanded to know why the Mabengezas were not following the strike; Ezra’s father stood tall and told the crowd that his family were strongly against the apartheid system but they would not participate in the strike because his children needed education. Ezra’s recollection of this incident has stood to this day- the pride he had in seeing his father stand for his principles and his courage as well. As he tells it, that moment made him realize that there was nothing in life to be truly feared when facing obstacles.

His family’s anti-apartheid credentials were genuine and strong as his father was imprisoned for his organizing activities for the ANC and an uncle led a group in the underground wing of the party. When his father was incarcerated, young Ezra was left to take on the role of the male leader of the family, spurred on no doubt by the example of his dad.

His father’s strong support of education was rooted in the idea that post-apartheid the nation was going to need young leaders and those leaders would need to be educated. His family sacrificed to send him to a private school where he was the sole black student. 

When he entered college at the University of Cape Town, he was able to learn other important life lessons as well. Although he was a student of economics, he was able to “dismantle” some of his childhood notions such as a sense of elitism due to his private school education. He stated that “Many people gravitate towards the beauty of the Cape”, unfortunately his stay there was short as he was offered a modeling contract in Europe that eventually led to the USA.

His decision to leave for America was well encouraged by his parents who saw this as an opportunity to live, learn and work in a place that produced some of the greatest transcendent leaders in the fight for freedom the world has known. He made this decision carefully though since his grandparents had told him to be selective when changing life directions.

When he began to act, he states something awakened in him and he knew this was where he was supposed to be. For Mr. Mabengeza, the stage is a place where “things move”. Ezra remembers that while his parents never saw him play sports in his school years, they never missed a stage play he did throughout his early years.

Ezra’s current project is a short run of a stage play by the great writer from Martinique, Aimé Césaire, on the hundredth anniversary of his birth. Titled “A season in the Congo”, it tells the chaotic, turbulent and ultimately doomed role of Patrice Lumumba as the first elected prime minister in in the newly independent nation of the Congo in 1960. Directed by Rico Spieght, this production provides audiences with cautionary tales about nations desiring freedom on their own terms; the world is extremely interdependent and the former colonial powers still hold power of vast parts of that world.

The other cautionary aspect that emanates from this work is that the people must realize that transcendent leaders can only take a nation’s aspirations so far; it is the motivated populace that must carry the dream to its ultimate conclusion. This is an excellent cautionary tale in the recent days as the world slowly lets go of Nelson Mandela so that he can take his proper place as the head of African heroes such as Nkrumah, Kaunda, Sankara, Nyerere, Kenyatta  and others.

Ezra’s other goal in his acting is to tell the story in the purest way, illustrating that life is never simple. Lives explored in cinema and on stage are layered and things are often very grey. As such he sees his future in the role of director so his next task is to do the hard work of learning that craft while growing ideas and formulating future projects.

Wherever the road takes him, one can be sure that Ezra Mabengeza will be well prepared and ready what with the life lessons he has already learned. I look forward to seeing him as he reaches for further success.

 

 

 

19th December 2013

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Patrice Johnson- A Filmmaker Using New Approaches to Achieve Success

Patrice Johnson is a true New Yorker. Her stories reflect the sharp, real nature of life here. She admits that the city provides inspiration due to its gritty quality. Born in Jamaica, she came to the USA as a child, growing up in Brooklyn with her mother and siblings.

After earning a BFA in Acting at the City College of New York she took on roles that are clearly identifiable to most New Yorkers in television series that include “Law and Order” and “Law and Order- Criminal Intent”. She has also developed an impressive set of stage performances including playing Desdemona in “Othello” with Patrick Stewart.

While thoroughly enjoying acting, there were some major points in her career where she realized that it was important to go beyond that role.

While performing in the revival of the “The Crucible”, Arthur Miller’s classic stage play she came to the realization that she wanted to direct.  The revival effort starred Laura Linney and Liam Neeson and was directed by Richard Eyre. It was Mr. Eyre who encouraged her directing desires, asking her to look at the play in her mind and identifying those points where she would have directed the cast in a different manner. Ms. Johnson certainly appreciated Mr. Eyre and his support, affectionately calling her experience her “school for directing” as he encouraged her to go beyond acting. She also relates that the cast and crew for the most part opened themselves to her and her efforts.

While working in Los Angeles, she understood that she wanted to direct and make her own films. She also realized that the Hollywood formula of developing and financing a film project did not appeal to her sense of independence. She was frustrated by the almost infinite criteria required to accomplish projects. She knew that she was not owed anything and in order to have creative control over her project decided to seek funding and assistance from her family and those she knew; in her mind it was a classic example of immigrants from the Caribbean marshalling resources.

Her first project, “Thirty Four Wall” did not move beyond the screenplay stage, yet it received an award for excellence. The story is close to her heart with its focus on her two brothers and their experience in New York’s financial district.  At this point she indicates that it is being re-written to reflect an updated perspective.

Her subsequent projects have illuminated the city in all of its aspects both good and bad. In “Kings County” the coming of age story meets the rough and unforgiving world of the streets of contemporary Brooklyn.

“NY’s Dirty Laundry” reflects the changing reality of minority groups in New York in the post 9-11 world. The development of new stereotypes and the re- emergence and intensification of both racism and prejudice against traditional targets are explored.

Ms. Johnson’s latest film: “Hill and Gully” tells the story of a matriarchal family in Brooklyn with its dysfunction clearly visible. This film definitely touches on some sensitive subjects including the need for access to mental health resources, a subject long considered taboo in families of color. It also illustrates some nontraditional family structures that have developed as a result of drug abuse in contemporary society.

“Hill and Gully” is an empowering film too in that the more successful characters are seen supporting those who are still growing and developing their goals and lives. Another gratifying aspect to this movie is that it celebrates women’s empowerment in many forms including entrepreneurship as well as showing women in supportive social relationships. This movie definitely does not continue the traditional or stereotypical roles for actors of color or female characters.

Ms. Johnson is a director who understands that roots, family and friends are most important; family resources while behind the scenes are prominent, for example her sister is her executive producer and legal adviser. Additionally, the actors are her friends she has met during her career. The roles she provides will permit them to have demonstrate their abilities fully, hopefully, insuring future work and ultimately a successful career.

Her next project is scheduled to begin in January of 2014. There is no doubt that it will continue to provide a strong emphasis on social consciousness, social  justice and even a bit of spirituality while still entertaining audiences. Patrice Johnson is a woman to watch and support.image

Photo Courtesy of: Patrice Johnson

2nd December 2013

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MANDELA- LONG WALK TO FREEDOM

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“No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”- Nelson Mandela

 Nelson Mandela has sacrificed everything in his quest to free South Africa of apartheid and he has also become a symbol for people everywhere eager to be free. His life is the subject of a new film: “Mandela, Long Walk to Freedom “, an excellent study of the icon and statesman. This project presents the viewer with an absorbing portrait of the man as well as an introduction to the turbulent years in South Africa. The performances of both lead actors is commendable with Idris Alba in the title role presenting what could be an Oscar worthy effort.

Mandela was a lawyer in Johannesburg when he decided to join the fight to end the segregationist policies of the government Africa.  The movement needed Mandela’s knowledge, skills as well as his leadership qualities. He was part of the struggle, perhaps the most visible symbol but not the only part. What the film does not emphasize are the major contributions of other senior leaders of the struggle such as Walter Sisulu and Oliver Tambo; at many points their contribution is reduced to subordinate roles. This is unfortunate because these other people had major involvement in the direction of the campaign of the African National Congress (ANC) and sacrificed as much did Mandela. Additionally, contributions to the cause by other major figures such as Bishop Desmond Tutu and Parliamentarian Helen Suzman are totally absent.

While a practicing lawyer, Mandela had so shortage of eager female companionship; his first wife eventually left him due to his strong involvement in politics as well as his adultery but when he met Winnie Madikizela (Naomie Harris) he fell in love and they married in 1958. She would remain by his side until he was released from prison in 1990. The movie illustrates and demonstrates their strong attraction and love for each other balanced by Winnie’s clear understanding of the lifelong voyage she was about to embark upon.

 As the South African government tamped down on anti-apartheid activities Nelson and later Winnie Mandela were held captive by state security apparatus; the strain on their personal relationship was intense. As a result of their individual experiences, they developed different perspectives on how to end apartheid.  The recent movie produced by TD Jakes focused on the experiences of Winnie in captivity. Unfortunately, I feel that this film does not delve deeply enough into their individual reaction to captivity and their resulting response to each other afterwards, that led to the fracture of their relationship.

The movie has many poignant moments, especially the first time Mandela sees his daughter in a prison visit, after she had reached the age of 16. He had not seen her since she was a small child. The scene is excellent, full of pathos but not over reaching with false emotion.

The cinematography, as well, is excellent providing wide vistas of a land of beautiful topography contrasted with the harsh quality of living conditions of people in both city and township.

 South Africa, like many other nations, is a place that truly draws people while at the same time often leaves it most vulnerable to fend for themselves. It was Nelson Mandela who was able to overcome this situation with his knowledge, charisma and respect for the individual. As such, it is imperative that our younger generation learn about and understand the sacrifices made for their success by people like Nelson Mandela.

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