When flight 559 traveling from JFK touched down in Kingston, Jamaica on Wednesday March 13, the pilot thanked the passengers for flying Jet Blue, told us to enjoy the island’s 85-degree temperature, and insisted we have fun at the weekend’s concert.
Obviously, he didn’t need to specify which concert: it’s the gig that’s filled up flights to Jamaica’s capital for the past week, packed hotels and guest houses, and increased Airbnb bookings to nearly 100% occupancy. Websites crashed within minutes of tickets going on sale, unable to handle the demand.
Buju Banton’s Long Walk to Freedom Concert, one of the biggest music events in Jamaica’s history, was held Saturday night at Kingston’s National Stadium, marking the reggae icon’s return to the stage after an eight-year absence. Banton didn’t willingly take a break from performing; he had been incarcerated in federal prison following a conviction on cocaine trafficking charges.
The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air helped me find freedom in solitude and fashion
February is Black History Month. Here, an HG contributor celebrates The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, one of the most prominent Black sitcoms of the ’90s, for how it made her a free spirit in her career, her style, and her way of life.
From the moment Will Smith stepped out of the yellow taxi cab and entered his new life in Bel-Air, it was obvious his transition would be anything but smooth sailing. With the exception of his younger cousin Ashley and his Aunt Vivian, no one seemed to embrace his colorful personality. The rest of his family didn’t understand him or the world he came from. In all honesty, they didn’t want to try to understand.
In the very first episode of the series, we already notice that Will speaks and dresses differently than everyone else. Soon, we also learn that he has a different perspective and different interests from almost everyone he meets in Bel-Air, too.
Will’s culture shock was essentially a reflection of my whole childhood.
While I was never uprooted from my urban, predominantly Black N.Y.C. neighborhood to live with my rich uncle in a predominantly white neighborhood, I always felt a deep connection to the struggles that Will encountered. He constantly tried to stay true to his identity while battling the expectations people had set for him based on his background. Within my own peer group, I never really found my place. Then I enrolled in a predominantly white high school, and my struggle to find friends worsened.
I was always stuck somewhere between fitting in and standing out. And I hadn’t yet accepted that standing out always felt much more natural to me.
For the majority of my childhood I felt a dire need to do what everyone else was doing. Most children found pleasure in joining cliques and participating in “cool” extracurricular activities. I preferred being alone in a classroom during lunch and recess so I could listen to music. Time to myself was more important to me than time spent trying to fit in with others. Most girls danced and jumped Double Dutch after school, but I loved ceramics classes and poetry slams. I once joined the school dance team just to prove to myself that I could dance as well as my classmates and so that my parents would be happy—they always wanted me to do things they believed other girls my age should be doing.
But I had my own plans.
In the episode “Bang The Drum, Ashley,” Will’s penchant for self-expression quickly rubs off on his impressionable young cousin.
Ashley, the youngest member of the Banks clan, is the first person in the family with whom he truly bonds. Not long after meeting Will, she shares that she is unhappy with how her parents control her free time. Ashley has a packed schedule of extracurricular activities from violin lessons to tennis matches, and plenty of other activities that most 13-year-olds wouldn’t find remotely interesting. Will introduces her to the activities he enjoys, like rapping and playing the drums.
While Ashley doesn’t completely fall in love with the drums, she learns a vital lesson. For the first time in her life, she is able to tell her parents that she needs to do things that actually make her happy. The audience would never see a timid Ashley conform to her parents’ expectations again. Sure, her newfound freedom would get her in trouble sometimes (i.e. the Season 5 episode when she goes behind her parents’ backs and enrolls in public school). But it would also let her explore passions like singing.
If Will wasn’t inspiring other people to loosen up, his free spirit was evident in his style of dress.
When Will first enrolls in the all boys prep school, Bel-Air Academy, he is utterly disturbed by the stuffy uniforms that students have to wear. The thought of blending in drives him crazy. Will being Will, he flips the uniform’s navy blue blazer inside out, revealing a funky pattern and letting him feel more comfortable in a situation that forces him to be someone he isn’t. Soon, his willingness to stand out rubs off on others who copy his reversed jacket.
I always admired how Will used fashion to reflect his identity—even if it wasn’t the “appropriate” thing to do. From the moment Will showed up at the Banks’s residence in loud, brightly colored streetwear, he brightened the dull neighborhood of Bel-Air. When I was younger, what I really wanted to do was dress however my heart desired, just like Will did. But as an impressionable teen, it felt more important to keep up with the latest trends.
I remember sitting in my bedroom when I was 15 years old, feeling super unhappy because the clothes in my closet didn’t feel like mine. They were carbon copies of the people I thought I was supposed to look like. Desperate to break away from the crowd, I decided to revamp my clothes myself.
I distressed everything, and turned old jackets into cools vests by adding patches and cutting off sleeves. I even went so far as to teach myself DIY nail art and make my own clip-in hair extensions. Unfortunately for me, I didn’t have a rich uncle to bankroll my new fashion obsession—but it became a passion project instead. Eventually, like Will, I accepted that I was actually happiest when I could bring some flavor to my style—even if meant that my classmates raised their eyebrows at Mika 2.0.
But like Will in Fresh Prince, people soon embraced my uniqueness and wanted to emulate it.
Imitation is the greatest form of flattery, which I learned as a 15-year-old trying to break out of a box I felt trapped in. When people were interested in my new style, I felt free—I had presented something different from the norm and, for the first time in my life, I could be proud of my differences—not embarrassed by them. Today, I still celebrate how my appearance exudes my personality. Whether I’m trying out bold makeup or wearing millions of prints, I feel my best when I’m not following trends.
When I embraced this freedom, I started uncovering parts of my identity that would essentially shape my adulthood. I started exploring my love of makeup and writing, which is now my career. Had I been focused on what everybody else—including my parents—wanted for me, I wouldn’t be the successful person that I am today.
In Fresh Prince, when Will was unapologetically himself, it often got him further than any of the other characters. Now, I feel the same way about my own life.
During Black History Month it is important to reflect and think about how much change is still needed since the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s. To get inspired to continue to make a difference, take a look at these top civil rights songs you should have on your playlist rotation.
15 Top Civil Rights Songs
1.Glory – Common ft. John Legend
‘Glory’ is a collaborative track by John Legend along with rapper Common from the soundtrack of the 2014 film Selma.The song contains powerful and meaningful lyrics, such as, “Freedom is like religion to us, justice is juxtaposition in us.”
2. Freedom – Various Artists
This 90s classic, featuring top music stars across several genres, including TLC, SWV, En Vogue, Queen Latifah, Patra, Michelle Ndegeocello, Aaliyah, and Vanessa Williams, was a major girl-power moment during the time. It is included on the soundtrack for “Panther” a 1995 Mario Van Peebles film about the controversial political group.
3. Harder Than You Think – Public Enemy
‘Harder Than You Think’ is the first single off of Public Enemy’s 20th anniversary album, which was released in 2007. The song was also selected by NBC to debut on their Super Bowl XLIX commercial. Public Enemy’s ‘Say It Like It Is’ is the backdrop for theSelma trailer. This song is definitely empowering.
4. One Love – Elle Varner
“I know it’s crazy to think of this daily; imagine no one needing guns, only once impossible maybe…” These lyrics are the opening words to this song, which revolves around the idea that one day we can change and have a peaceful world.
5. Black Rage – Lauryn Hill
This song was dedicated by the artist to Ferguson, to help promote peace and support those fighting for racial equality in Mississippi. There are sounds of children in the background of the song, and shares the factors she believes that inspires “black rage.”
6. Don’t Shoot – The Game ft. Various Artists
This song is also a tribute to Michael Brown. Purchases on iTunes go directly to the Michael Brown Charity. The heartfelt song brings together all your favorite rappers for an unforgettable hit.
7. We Gotta Pray – Alicia Keys
This song is inspiring for anybody, where the superstar sings, “Sirens everywhere, singing that street song. Violence everywhere, barely holding on…” The song was produced immediately after the grand jury’s decision not to indict the officer involved in the death of Eric Garner. The three-minute long song begs for strength and peaceful protests. At the end of the video, Eric Garner’s face is shown.
8. We Shall Overcome
This song was made as a protest song, and became a staple song during the Civil Rights Movement. The song derived from a previous gospel song by Charles Albert Tindley. ‘We Will Overcome’ was published in 1948. Joan Baez performed the song live at the White House for President Obama.
9. Lift Every Voice and Sing- James Weldon Johnson
Also known as the “Black American National Anthemâ€, the song was first performed as part of a poem in 1900 in a segregated school in Jacksonville, Fla. Principal of the Stanton School, James Johnson, wrote the poem to honor guest speaker Booker T. Washington. The song has been redone by various artists including Ray Charles (his rendition below), Bebe Winans, Maya Angelou and Melba Moore.Â When Rene Marie was asked to perform the national anthem in 2008 at a civic event in Colorado, she caused massive controversy by swapping the words for the lyrics of Lift Every Voice and Sing. The Rev. Joseph Lowery also used lyrics from the song at President Obama’s inauguration ceremony in 2009.
11. Say it Loud, I’m Black and Proud – James Brown
The lyrics of this song focus on prejudice blacks in America have faced. It was released in two separate singles but both held the No. 1 spot on the R&B singles chart for six weeks. It also peaked at No. 10 on the Billboard Hot 100. The song quickly became a black power anthem.
12. I’ll Take You There – The Staple Singers
‘I’ll Take You There’ was on the Hot 100 for 15 straight weeks, and eventually reached the number one spot. The song is also looked at as a “call-and-response” type of song. While it was released in 1972, it still remains one of the most recognized and successful songs of the century.
13. When the Revolution Comes- The Last Poets
Released in 1970, right in the heart of the civil rights movement, after the death of Martin Luther King Jr. The song was extremely fitting, and definitely caused a frenzy.
14. Get Up, Stand Up- Bob Marley and Peter Tosh
Marley created this song during his Haitian tour, after seeing the poverty stricken country. The song is symbolic for standing against oppression, and is a international Bob Marley legendary hit.
15. The Times They Are A’ Changin – Bob Dylan
In 1964, Bob Dylan produced the album: The Times They Are A’ Changin, and the first song had the same title. The album consists of songs that address racism, poverty, and plead for social reform and positive change. One of his most famous songs is this one, and Dylan says it was a song with purpose.
Don’t see one of your favorite empowering songs on this list? Let us know a few more in the comment box below or give a shout out to and follow @BlackEnterprise on Twitter or Instagram.)
Pamela Smart was convicted in 1991 for conspiring to have her husband killed and sentenced to life in prison. The Post’s Manuel Roig-Franzia visited Smart in Bedford Hills Correctional Facility for Women. Lifestyle
Diane von Furstenberg was recognized by the International Rescue Committee on Thursday evening with the organization’s Freedom Award at its annual gala, the Rescue Dinner. The designer visited refugees in June at the IRC’s offices in Alexandria, Greece, where she met IRC staff members and Syrian refugees, who were recovering from traumas experienced on their journeys while trying to reunite with their families in Northern Europe.
Earlier this week, von Furstenberg visited the New York Resettlement Office to participate in a refugee business development workshop, where she met with a Congolese woman who is committed to starting an ice cream business.
The IRC notes they award the Freedom Award to “individuals who have made extraordinary contributions in support of refugees, and who have championed the cause of liberty, individual freedom and dignity. Diane von Furstenberg, a legend in the fashion industry, is a dedicated philanthropist and an outspoken advocate for vulnerable people.”
It has previously been awarded to the likes of Michael Bloomberg, Sen. John McCain, George Soros, Kofi Annan, Madeleine Albright and Winston Churchill.
Diane von Furstenberg at the IRC office in Greece.
“Your Money, Your Life” is our new money podcast sponsored by Prudential. Black Enterprise’s own Alfred Edmond Jr. hosts this special series with a lineup of great guests including The Breakfast Club’s Angela Yee; DeForest B. Soaries Jr., Founder of the dfree Financial Freedom Movement; Tiffany “The Budgetnista” Aliche; and Jacquette M. Timmons, President & CEO, Sterling Investment Management. The show will cover money topics ranging from how to control your debt to our psychological relationship with our finance.
“Achieving Financial Freedom and Leaving A Financial Legacy”
Learn how gaining freedom from debt and controlling your spending forms the foundation for your financial wellness and wealth-creation potential, with Guest DeForest B. Soaries Jr, Founder of the dfree Financial Freedom Movement.