According to blavity.com, while attending Howard University, Damon Lawrence worked in the hotel industry as a front desk agent, and decided he would own his own hotels one day with one exception–his business would cater exclusively to blackness. “Black culture leads American culture and American culture leads global culture, so [we] think it’s time a hotel property reflected the best of black culture,” Lawrence.
The young entrepreneur, along with his business partner and co-founder of Homage Hospitality, Marcus Carey (also a Howard alum), opened the doors to The Moor in New Orleans, Louisiana, this week. The upscale 10-room hotel pays homage to the Moors of North Africa through its architecture aesthetic. (You can use the promo code “Launch” through July 4th for 60% off your stay.)
Lawrence and Carey plan to open locations where black “culture is thriving;” such as Washington, D.C., Brooklyn and Detroit. The duo plans to open a 102-room property called The Town Hotel in Downtown Oakland by 2019. Even sooner, they plan to launch another property in the Treme section of New Orleans called The Freeman; it is known as the first place in the U.S. black people could purchase property.
“We want to go everywhere that culture exists and thrives, so there’s plenty on the plate”, Lawrence says.
To learn more about these men and their mission, check out their recent interview with Rolling Out.
Many — perhaps most — African Americans can trace family roots back to Charleston. About 40 percent of enslaved Africans brought to North America arrived on ships that docked in Charleston Harbor.
Slaves then were sold to plantation owners throughout the Antebellum South. During the “Great Migration,” about 6 million blacks moved from the South to the Northeast, Midwest and West between 1916 and 1970, chastened by the ghosts of their oppressed ancestors and motivated by the prospect of a better life.
On the cusp of the Civil War, the U.S. was home to 4 million slaves, 400,000 of whom lived in South Carolina. Their labor created enormous wealth for white rice and cotton planters, and it built whole cities, including Charleston.
Now, 50 years since the death of Martin Luther King Jr., the South Carolina African American Heritage Commission has named 10 top black history sites to visit in the state, including several associated with King and the civil rights movement. The commission also has compiled a much larger list of about 300 sites for its new online travel guide, Green Book of South Carolina (www.GreenBookofSC.com).
Dawn Dawson-House, an ex officio board member who works for the S.C. Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism, said the initiative is meant to raise awareness of black history and to assist the commission’s efforts to identify, preserve, mark and protect the state’s many sites connected to black history and heritage.
“In the past 24 years, more than 200 markers have been added to the official state markers program,” Dawson-House said. “When the commission started, there were only about 35 markers dedicated to black history.”
She said historical sites can be found throughout the state, and many local people know about the ones near them.
“No matter where you are in South Carolina, there is an important African-American heritage element or place to visit,” Dawson-House said. “But the entire story is not told collectively. It’s told in bits and pieces in everybody’s community. At the commission we’ve decided we have to pull together an entire portrait of this history.”
Michael Allen, a founding board member of the commission, said the Green Book — “a manifestation of out 24-year journey” meant to assist anyone interested in black history — is a reference to the Jim Crow-era guide that African Americans used when traveling through the South. The old guide provided information about black-owned businesses (gas stations, hotels, restaurants, hospitals) that were safe for black travelers during the period of legal segregation.
“When you went traveling some place, you cooked your food, packed your food, the food was in your car,” Allen said. “You planned visits according to where relatives lived, or drove straight to where you needed to be.”
On the heels of launching the African-American Cultural Heritage Action Fund, the largest preservation campaign ever undertaken on behalf of African-American history, the National Trust for Historic Preservation announced a preservation easement on Madam C.J. Walker’s estate, Villa Lewaro. A powerful preservation tool, the easement prevents current and future owners from making adverse changes to or demolishing the estate’s historic, cultural and architectural features.
Madam C.J. Walker (December 23, 1867–May 25, 1919), America’s first self-made female millionaire, commissioned Villa Lewaro, her “Dream of Dreams,” at the height of her wealth and prominence as inventor and entrepreneur of haircare products for African-American women. Constructed in 1918, alongside the Hudson River in Irvington, New York, Madam Walker’s elegant residence was built to inspire African-Americans to reach their highest potential.
Designed by Vertner Tandy—the first African-American registered architect in the state of New York and one of the seven founders of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc.—the 34-room mansion served as the intellectual gathering place for notable leaders of the Harlem Renaissance, such as W. E. B. Du Bois and Langston Hughes.
“On the 150th anniversary of her birth, we are delighted to have played a lead role in the lasting protection of Madam C.J. Walker’s tangible legacy,” said Brent Leggs, director of the National Trust’s African-American Cultural Heritage Action Fund. “The legal protection of irreplaceable historic sites like Villa Lewaro, one of the most significant places in women’s history, is essential in telling the full American story and inspiring future generations.”
Since designating the site as a National Treasure in 2014, the National Trust has worked with Villa Lewaro’s current owners and exceptional stewards, Ambassador and Mrs. Harold E. Doley, Jr., to recognize its architectural and historical significance and secure long-term protections before the property changes hands. The easement marks a successful culmination of those efforts.
Villa Lewaro stands as a living monument to Madam Walker’s entrepreneurial spirit and remains central to understanding her unprecedented achievement during an era when neither women nor African Americans were considered full citizens. Soon to be portrayed by award-winning actress Octavia Spencer in a series produced by LeBron James, Madam Walker’s story of persistence continues to inspire a growing number of African-American women taking leadership roles in business, politics, philanthropy, and other industries.
American Airlines is making employees undergo anti-racism training after the NAACP issued a “travel advisory” for the carrier in October. Starting in 2018, everyone at the company will need to complete annual implicit bias training, the company announced Thursday.
“We are proud of the diversity and inclusion initiatives already in place at American, but we know we can do even better. So we viewed the feedback as an opportunity,” CEO Doug Parker said in a letter to staff.
The training program’s curriculum is still being developed, and will be conducted both in-person and through an online module, according to a company spokeswoman. Parker said that airline executives met with NAACP leaders earlier Thursday.
In October, the NAACP issued a warning to black fliers, urging them to be careful when flying American Airlines. The organization said it had noticed “a pattern of disturbing incidents reported by African-American passengers, specific to American Airlines,” citing four examples of black fliers who were forced to give up their seats or were removed from flights.
The NAACP, in a statement released Friday, said the organization supports American’s plan, but will keep its travel advisory in place for now. “We think we’re on the right road, but the NAACP will continue to meet with Doug Parker and other senior American Airline[s] employees to ensure that the company walks the walk as well as it talks the talk,” NAACP President Derrick Johnson said.
In addition to the implicit bias training, American is bringing in an independent firm to review its hiring practices, and has pledged to overhaul its system for managing discrimination complaints. “American Airlines can set a new standard in corporate diversity and inclusion, and we are humbled by the opportunity before us to do so,” Parker said.
FORT LAUDERDALE, FLA. A childhood in the black community of Memphis. A cruise line career that delivered him to a life in South Florida. And a lottery ticket he bought at a gas station. A winning lottery ticket. They are the factors in Miguel Pilgram‘s life that bring him now to Sistrunk Boulevard, a corridor the county calls the “historical heartbeat of Fort Lauderdale’s oldest black community.”
Pilgram, who won a $52 million jackpot using quick-pick numbers in 2010, is investing some of his winnings in Sistrunk in a way not seen in years. Pilgram said he wants to breathe new vibrancy into the boulevard, building on its rich history as a place that nurtured civil rights leaders and pioneers and attracted people to its lively nightlife and music. “I was raised in a similar environment,” Pilgram said. “There is a need, and in my mind, an obligation, to invest there.”
The 48-year-old Coral Springs resident and father of two is rolling out plans for a New York Subs and Wings restaurant with a Memphis Blues club upstairs, on one side of Sistrunk. On the other, his company, The Pilgram Group, plans a retail complex with a bank, Jamba Juice and other shops on the ground floor. On the second floor, a performing arts center will offer below-market rates for instructors of dance, arts, and music. “Do you know how impactful that is for a child from any of these areas, who is like me, to come out and see people actually painting in the window, or performing on a saxophone?” Pilgram said. “That creates a fire under most children. Now they say, wow, anything out there that’s creative, I can be. Whatever artist I want to be, I can be.”
Back in Memphis, Pilgram said he had role models who shaped him. His father was hard-working. His mother was a devout Seventh-day Adventist who had him in church several days a week. When he got older, he joined the Navy. Then he embarked on a career in the cruise line industry, climbing to a top position, and learning to work with large budgets like the one now under his own name.In his world travels, he said he visited cultures where people marveled at his “beautiful” brown skin. He said he wants children in Fort Lauderdale’s historic black community to experience that feeling of value as an African American. But he also saw what can happen when private investment is lacking, he said, and government comes in to rebuild.
In Memphis, he said, his grandmother’s apartment was razed, and the residents displaced. He feared it could happen here, and said that’s one thing that drew him to Sistrunk Boulevard. ‘It could be you’ Every week, Pilgram spent $20 on lottery tickets. But he wasn’t good about checking them. Then one night he ran to the Shell gas station in North Bay Village where he bought his tickets. He left chicken cacciatore and his girlfriend at home, and was in a hurry. He just needed a bottle of wine. David, the gas station employee, was insistent. Someone had bought the winning Florida Lotto ticket at that gas station, he told Pilgram, and “it could be you.” Pilgram got the tickets from his car, and one of them hit: 15-16-20-32-45-50. David started “jumping up and down,” Pilgram said.”$52,000?” Pilgram thought he heard through David’s Spanish accent. No, not thousand. 52 million.
Sistrunk Boulevard hasn’t had a nightclub with live music like Pilgram plans in at least 25 years, City Commissioner Robert McKinzie said. The boulevard was once vibrant. Now, vacant lots and empty buildings sit on many of the blocks. The city, a major landowner on Sistrunk, has worked for years to encourage private investment. McKinzie said the pieces are finally falling into place, and he’s “excited” about Pilgram’s role in it. “Now that we are reviving it,” McKinzie said of Sistrunk Boulevard, “his plan and concept fit right in.” Next to Pilgram’s planned performing arts center, on the north side of Sistrunk between Northwest 14th Way and 14th Terrace, the city recently agreed to spend $10 million building a new YMCA where the old Mizell Center is.
Since its inception nearly a decade ago, Airbnb has faced questions from people of color as to whether the company’s worldwide “vacancy” sign really applied to them. The company has been plagued by allegations and several lawsuits, predominantly but not exclusively from African-Americans, claiming discrimination.
Now, as part of its attempt to turn that image around, Airbnb has announced a partnership with the NAACP. The goal is to put teeth in the home-sharing company’s anti-discrimination efforts and to expand the number of people of color who are hosts on the site. The company has revised its policies and introduced more stringent penalties for hosts found to discriminate.
A settlement in California this year involving an Asian woman resulted in the discriminatory host being banned from the site for life. A similar incident in North Carolina involved a black would-be guest. Earlier this year, Airbnb hired Laura W. Murphy, the former director of the American Civil Liberties Union‘s Washington legislative office, to help shape the new policies and put practices in place that would make Airbnb more inclusive.
The announcement comes amid the NAACP’s attempts to bring the organization closer to the younger activist audience that it hopes will be its next generation. While it continues to fight for things traditionally associated with the NAACP — voter enfranchisement, equal opportunities in education and housing — the 108-year-old organization is also stretching in new directions. The NAACP describes the Airbnb partnership as “a landmark national agreement” that will encourage more people in communities of color to consider becoming Airbnb hosts.
“Our fastest-growing communities across major U.S. cities are in communities of color and we’ve seen how home sharing is an economic lifeline for families,” Belinda Johnson, Airbnb’s chief business affairs officer, said in a statement. And it’s not just host families who benefit: the company says Airbnb guests spend money in the neighborhoods where they’re renting.
The partnership is notable in another way: Airbnb has committed to sharing 20 percent of the revenue from its community outreach efforts with the NAACP. It will also work with the NAACP to educate communities of color on the benefits and mechanics of home sharing as part of its planned outreach.
Airbnb also seeks to expand its employee base nation-wide, and has been working with the NAACP to increase the percentage of employees from underserved populations, from its current 9.6 percent to a target goal of 11 percent by the end of the year.
Chicago-based mother Keesha Hall is changing lives for the better by helping moms help their kids.
After learning that her fourth child began showing signs of developmental disability, Chicago-based mother Keesha Hall changed her life for the better. After becoming unemployed, broke and on the brink of poverty, being a mother, she was determined to learn how to become a champion for her son. Through the help of non-profit organization Educare, she learned how to accept her son’s diagnosis and strengthened his social, emotional and behavioral health. This is her advice for young mothers who faced similar challenges and how she turned an unfortunate situation into a gift for many other mothers too.
When Dana McKinney was a girl, her family drove every week from their small town in Fairfield County, Conn., to Sunday dinner at her grandmother’s home in Newark, N.J. To a child who loved dance and art, the changing scenery on those trips revealed stark contrasts that stung of economic inequality.
“I was going back and forth between a very comfortable lifestyle in Connecticut to a very depressed environment in Newark and became really inspired to look at how people can affect the built environment,” McKinney said. “I want to be able to fix this! — That was my immediate reaction — I’ll be an architect!”
After studying architecture at Princeton University, McKinney went to Harvard Graduate School of Design (GSD) to earn master’s degrees in architecture and urban planning. It’s an unusual and demanding course of study, but one McKinney felt would merge her design work with her interest in social change, social justice, and the power of architecture to transform people’s lives.
“I want to make beautiful spaces and buildings, but I don’t want … the pitfall of only working with elite clients, and I think a lot of times architects end up serving a very high-income population. A majority of housing is done by developers in the U.S., [so] good architecture barely reaches outside a certain economic class,” McKinney said.
Much of her academic work has focused on institutional change: improving elderly housing and studying the effects from the abrupt closure in 2014 of a large homeless facility in Boston. But with one in four Newark residents likely to spend some time in prison, McKinney’s thesis focused on “sensible and sensitive” design alternatives to prison that would help break the cycle of incarceration and poverty.
It was an unconventional choice. When she put her idea before her faculty advisers, “I could hear the crickets in the room,” she said. But “by the end of it, they were all about it.” While McKinney doesn’t believe architecture alone can end homelessness or poverty or incarceration, she does believe the field has something important to offer.
“Everyone has a role in social development and in making sure that our society is a reflection of what we want it to be.”Indeed, though “spatial justice” is often thought of as an enterprise in the public realm, like the construction of parks and community centers, it’s not as frequently addressed in the private realm. Because housing is essential to well-being, McKinney hopes to eventually create spaces that promote not just equality, but equity. “Your self-worth and what you need to do well as a person starts with the safety and comfort you feel in your own home,” she explained.
Outside the classroom, McKinney has been active in bringing together African-American students at GSD and shining a spotlight on black women and men in a field where only 1 percent of architects are African-American. Having sometimes found herself one of only two black students in a class of 80, McKinney was among the earliest members of the African-American Student Union five years ago, serving last year as its president.
Star Trek icon Nichelle Nichols revealed Monday during a Reddit AMA that she will be involved in an upcoming NASA mission. She will be “among the first non-essential personnel to experience NASA’s newest telescope: SOFIA,” MSN reports.
“In September, I’m traveling on a NASA SOFIA flight, a second generation Airborn Observatory, which I am honored to have been invited too,” Nichols told fans before her “Ask Me Anything” began. The flight isn’t a mission into space: SOFIA (Stratospheric Observatory For Infrared Astronomy) is built into a Boeing 747, which will take off from NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center in California according to ABCNews.
SOFIA is a second-generation airborne observatory and a joint project between NASA and the German Aerospace Center (DLR). The first generation model originally flew in 1977, and Nichols was a passenger on that plane too. “SOFIA does not, sadly, fly into space. It’s an airborne observatory, a massive telescope mounted inside a 747 flying as high as is possible. I was on a similar flight, the first airborn observatory, back in 1977. It’s an amazing experience, you get a totally different perspective than from earth,” she wrote, adding, ”I do hope someone gets some great pictures.”
SOFIA was created to observe infrared energy in the universe, which enables it to study everything from star births to black holes, including nebulae, solar systems, comets, and asteroids, reports MSN.com.
“The Best Place To Be,” a new Travel Channel mini-series from Queen Latifah and Shakim Compere at Flavor Unit, is an invitation to discover the world through the eyes and access of Hollywood’s most adventurous.
Each of the four one-hour episodes of “The Best Place To Be” follow a noted personality as they share the best places to eat, drink, shop and sightsee at their favorite international destinations.
“This is a fun show that gives a true glimpse into how to really escape and explore,” says Shakim Compere of Flavor Unit. “Actors and performers are fortunate enough to travel around the globe for work and fun. But there’s always places that stay with them — these are the cities they keep going back to.”
The mini-series will premiere two episodes in April and two in May as follows:
“Rio, Fit for a Queen” – Premieres Sunday, April 2 at 5:00 p.m. ET/PT Queen Latifah and her friends explore Rio de Janeiro, taking mototaxis to the favelas, trying local dishes and dancing the samba. From footvolley on the beach to hunting for waterfalls in the rainforest, they discover why Rio is the best place to be.
“Anthony Anderson’s Barcelona” – Premieres Sunday, April 9 at 5:00 p.m. ET/PT Actor Anthony Anderson and his friend Jeff Sanchez head to Barcelona, Spain, where they catch a soccer game, check out architect Antoni Gaudi’s masterpiece, join a St. Jordi’s Day celebration and try Spain’s traditional dishes.