Archive for the ‘Education’ Category

Last Saturday night, I was sitting in Philly’s 30th Street Station waiting on a connection. It was a slow evening and the old cavernous railway hub was sparsely filled. I’d missed my scheduled train because it hadn’t been announced. Apparently, the departure of New Jersey Transit commuter lines are occasionally overlooked by the station attendants and only frequent users of those lines have solved the mystery of scheduled departures.

I was on the phone discussing a few creative ideas with The Ab. We hung up and then I saw her. She sat down on the bench in the row in front of me. Her back was to me, but her profile was evident while her head was slightly bowed as she read. White hair, two braids, glasses, simple – bohemian. My heart sped up a bit because I didn’t believe it was her. But it was; like me, Rock and Roll Hall of Famer, Patti Smith was quietly waiting for a connection too.

I walked over and asked politely, “Excuse me, are you Miss Smith?”

She said in that unmistakeable raspy voice, “I am.”

I replied, “I’m Gary Harris, I worked in many record companies, and I grew up in the hip hop business.”

Her first records came out while I was in high school. I was too busy keeping up with Earth Wind & Fire, Herbie Hancock, Roy Ayers, Curtis Mayfield, Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder to pay much attention. Later, in Boston, when I involved myself in the little 10 watt college radio station that would change the course of my life forever, Ray Fallon, a classmate with cutting edge rock tastes, kept our little funk, jazz and soul station honest by being the primary programming ear for our morning rock show. As a result, I gained exposure to the first recordings of The B-52s, The Police and early stuff from Patti. I still didn’t pay much attention to her music because an androgynous upstart named Prince was the dominant new voice that captured my attention.

Later still, I became immersed in the ’80s world of Downtown New York, the bohemian paradise below 14th Street in Manhattan, that was populated by artists, designers, dancers, fashionistas, musicians, hustlers, socialites and rule breakers of every type. An experimental scene knitted together by punk, alternative and hip hop cultures, and where clubs had names like Danceteria, Area, The Roxy, The World and Save The Robots. It was an era when Madonna, Basquiat, Keith Haring, Grandmaster Flash and others made their bones. Due to the ghettoization of the disciplines of all of these artists, we were all forced to hang out in the same spots, and somehow or another, we were all considered punk to a greater or lesser extent. Patti Smith was our predecessor and an architect of the aesthetic that shaped that world. At the time, I was a little busy promoting underground hip hop acts to mainstream radio to have paid much attention to her records.

But I read. Some say a lot, I’d say not enough. There’s never enough time to get it all in, but I make an effort to search out new and interesting authors. A few years back, Patti’s brilliantly observed and exquisitely written memoir “Just Kids” came into my life, and for a little while it lit up my world. Her descriptions of her relationships with controversial photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, playwright Sam Shepard and the music, art, theater, poetry and photography that formed them are beautiful.

We talked briefly, but covered a wide range of topics. I asked where she was coming from. “South Jersey,” she said.

“Do you still have family there?”


I told her that I’d loved how in her book she’d detailed growing up in stifling working class conditions, and that, “I loved the way you described how listening to early rock & roll gave you creative and emotional freedom,” I said, “I’m from Jersey too. The town where The Isley Brothers and Wilson Pickett lived.”

She asked, “Did Jimi Hendrix used to play with The Isley Brothers?”, and continued, “Johnny Mathis played my high school prom and in a smaller ballroom off to the side, The Isley Brothers were playing. They had this great looking guitarist who was doing splits while he performed and I remembered that they were all laughing at him. Later when I saw him (Hendrix) perform, I wondered if that was the same guy.”

I asked incredulously, “Johnny Mathis played your high school prom? Wow. That must have been some high school.”

“It was a sponsored event,” she said.

“Obviously,” I replied. And then I continued, “Yes Jimi played with them, and in fact, he lived with them when they were all still with their mom in a house right across the street from my junior high school.” I told Patti, “I loved how you referenced (John) Coltrane in your book. He recorded A Love Supreme in the area where I grew up. The engineer who recorded the record (Rudy Van Gelder) still lived there when he died recently.”

“I can’t believe I’m running into you at the train station in Philly,” I said.

“We’re both in our hood,” and she went on, “When I first moved to New York, I walked along 57th Street…”

“When you worked at the book store?”, I interrupted.

“…no, before I worked at the book store. And I stopped at a church… I don’t remember the name of the church…”

“And that was when you ran into the elderly couple who looked at you and your friend and said to one another, “Look at those two. They seem so interesting, you think they might be artists?” And you overheard the reply, “Nah, I don’t think so, they’re just kids”.

Patti Smith is a national treasure. She came up as a muse and poet who was convinced by others to record and perform. Reading her memoir was a deeply moving experience unlike few I’ve gotten from a book. I’ve already read it twice, and along with her newest “M Train” I intend to read it again.

Meeting her felt like speaking with an older relative with highly evolved mystic gifts. Her demeanor was quiet and powerful.

I mentioned that I’d seen her documentary on PBS and she shared that it was a labor of love that took a decade to complete. Shot while she was based in Detroit, it covered a period of semiretirement when she grieved over the loss of her husband and brother, while she raised her kids.

We talked about many other things, but when I began to relate the experience to a friend, I became overwhelmed with emotion and began to cry. The force is very strong with that one. I’m happy that we both made our connection.


For Michael Stipe, Annabella Sciorra, Julie Panabianco, The Ab, Hilly Kristel (R.I.P.) and Ray Fallon

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Q-Tip’s co-manager, Kim Lumpkin confirms that Tip has received an invitation to the White House via the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts to address the winners of Thursday’s National Student Poets Program. This will be the fifth class of student poets to be honored by noted hip hop head and long time ATCQ fan, Michelle Obama along with the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities as well as the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

Always keeping it arts and crafts, Tip, the host of Apple Music’s Beats 1’s Abstract Radio Show was recently named the Kennedy Center’s Artistic Director for Hip Hop Culture, and is maintaining the Native Tongue tradition of mixing progressive politics, conscious thought and rhyme.

The five students who will be honored are Stella Binion of Chicago, Maya Eashwaran of Alpharetta Ga., Gopal Raman of Dallas, Tx., Joey Reisberg of Towson, Md. and Maya Salameh of San Diego, Ca. Tip is expected to speak to the young poets and presumably offer encouragement and insight to the creative life. While discussing Thursday’s event with the playa, Kim Lumpkin asked, “How dope is that?”

We think it’s mad dope.

the playa

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I am proud to announce that I have been officially tapped by Apple Music to join Q-Tip’s Abstract Radio Show as an announcer, contributor and friend with the task. The Abstract Radio Show can be heard every Friday night on Beats 1 Radio at 10:00 PM Eastern. As some of you may know, before I began a long and rich career in the record business, I had a brief stint in both commercial and college radio. Having grown up listening to New York Top 40 outlets, WABC and WNBC; soul music AM powerhouse, Super 1600 WWRL, progressive jazz station, WRVR and of course, the “Chief Rocker” Frankie Crocker on the pioneering, black FM, WBLS, I have been deeply influenced by the radio listening experience – in many ways, radio formed me. And so, after an absence of 34 years, I am making a return to announcing via the newest and most cutting edge radio endeavor of the moment. Available exclusively through the Apple ecosystem of devices; iPads, iPhones, iMacs and MacBooks, Beats 1 Radio can be heard in 101 countries. I will be joining an on air/online lineup that includes; Jaden Smith, Sir Elton John, Pharrell Williams, Disclosure, Run The Jewels, Ebro Darden, Drake, St. Vincent, The Fat Jew and Dr. Dre. You will be able to hear my imaging/production drops beginning next Friday, and my live announcing thereafter. I hope you will join us. Mad shouts to Ian C Rogers, Glen Ellis, Dominique Cierra Maldonado and Q-Tip, The Abstract Poetic.


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Last month, Sony Pictures became the victim of a massive hack into its computer systems and the company’s dirty laundry has been incrementally aired over the web ever since. Fascinating details of the inner workings of a major Hollywood studio concerning salaries, material, talent, and politics have emerged and become a dynamic source of debate on the Interwebs.

One of the leaked e-mail threads, in particular, has stirred a tremendous amount of anger. Sony Pictures Chair, Amy Pascal and top Hollywood and Broadway producer Scott Rudin had a personal e-mail exchange where they both made a racist conjecture about Barak Obama’s taste in films. In light of a recent Hollywood Reporter cover story where my old friend Chris Rock penned an essay that spelled out the reality that Hollywood was a town filled with racist liberals who, on the whole, continue to exclude blacks from decision-making positions, both Pascal and Rudin look like country club rednecks who secretly have the confederate flag hanging over their fireplaces. Ironically, the event that prompted the poorly chosen private joke was a high-powered fundraiser for Obama that Pascal would be attending later. After the story hit the web, both Rudin and Pascal issued apologies the next day.

Yesterday morning, after I posted an account of the TV producing powerhouse, Shonda Rhimes accusation that the press had been less than forthcoming by describing Rudin and Pascal as “insensitive” rather than “racist” when she Tweeted, “U can put a cherry on a pile of shit but it don’t make it a sundae,” a young Facebook friend of mine inquired, “Where’s the NAACP on this?”

When I responded, “What do they need to do? They apologized. It’s over.”

My friend was not too pleased with my response and posted, “Racism isn’t over. Wish it were that simple.”

Producer and writer Shonda Rhimes, creator of the


In my opinion, that’s not debatable but it is an oversimplification. I don’t apologize for racists, but I think there’s more at work here so I answered, “And what would you suggest? Will Smith, Jamie Foxx and Jay-Z are involved in Sony’s biggest Christmas movie (Annie). Idris Elba, Taraji P. Henson, and Beyoncé have all worked with Screen Gems (a Sony division), any complaints from them? Scott Rudin has produced the new Chris Rock movie (Top Five), you expecting to hear anything from Chris? Pharrell had Sony’s biggest record this past year, worked on the last Spider-Man soundtrack, and hired Alicia Keys and Kendrick Lamar, you expecting to hear anything from them?”

He’s a smart kid, but an outsider whose reply indicated that he was less than impressed, “Facetiously, I suggest we say and do nothing and continue to receive handouts. Mere pittance. I say resoundingly, that there are more Alicia Keys, Kendrick Lamars, Elbas, Foxxs…out there. While I love all of those individuals that you and I named, I suggest Hollywood stop going to the same individuals and let everyone on, not just Alicia, Idris, Lamar etc…. There are so many talented artists out there and they are being hindered and suffocated by the Pascals and Rudins of the world. Racism is subtle and cunning.”

It was early yesterday morning, and I didn’t have time to explain to my earnest friend the idea of bankability, the requirements to open a movie or that none of the previously mentioned artists were “let” in. No, they worked, clawed, fought and got themselves in a position where their talent was not only noticed but in demand. So I hit him with this, “I do not disagree that it’s cunning. I asked what would you do, not what you would have Hollywood do. You protest against policies not e-mails. Annie is not a pittance, and Will Smith is not taking handouts he is partnered with Sony management. Is there a need for more black involvement in Hollywood? Sure. Will boycotting Sony achieve that? I’m not sure it will. The real issues are these; 18 Sony employees in management are making north of half a million a year, none of them is black, and only one is a woman. Amy Pascal jokingly inquired of Rudin about what should she say to Obama because she doesn’t have enough black people in her circle. Entertainment is a closed network and cash intensive. If you know of independent third party financing that is really interested in serious entertainment driven by black creativity, let me know. I can help ’em get in the game quickly. You certainly can make your mark independently, but if you want to have true international success, you at some point will have to work within a corporate structure, and that means racists. Previously, the closest thing to this was the Imus situation and Donald Sterling neither of whom had the good sense to apologize. Rudin and Pascal have. Don’t expect to hear from the Hollywood NAACP on this they want to work.”

Are they racists? Perhaps. Was their exchange loaded with racist attitudes? Definitely. Are they discriminatory? That is the more important question, and in that regard the answer is less clear. Sony has helped Will Smith become a wealthy and powerful mogul. Before the hacking “Annie” was set to make a fortune for Smith, his producing partner Jay-Z and the film’s star, Jamie Foxx. Sony has also been instrumental in channeling the mega-wattage of Kevin Hart into films. Rudin has brought Denzel Washington, Chris Rock and Whoopi Goldberg to Broadway, remade “Shaft” with Samuel L. Jackson, has a film version of the ’70s TV series “Good Times” in development, and is working with a friend of mine to develop a musical version of a classic ’70s blaxploitation film for the big screen. Though Pascal and Rudin’s private e-mails reveal racist attitudes that are troubling their practices are not exactly discriminatory.

Barak Obama’s white house called Pascal and Rudin’s apologies, “appropriate”. I would have to agree. In addition to Pascal’s written apology, she also called Rev. Al Sharpton and Rev. Jesse Jackson to offer her apologies to them as well. Sharpton issued a statement that indicated that she needed to meet with him. That’s code for, “Hit me with a consultant’s check, hire my people, and I’ll help this go away for you.” Here’s where I am with it: If Al puts the bite on her for more gigs, access and content then this was all a good thing. I personally don’t care what the contents of her personal e-mails are as much as I care that her production budget, marketing budget, and slate are both more inclusive and more reflective of where we are right now.

These are heated times we live in. Race and class based discrimination seen through the lens of new technology and Social Media has various factions of society at each other’s throats. Cop killers are getting away with murdering black people, and in response, people of good will of all colors, and from varied backgrounds are uniting in solidarity for justice. Students, artists, athletes, workers, intellectuals and politicians have all participated in demonstrations, die ins, I can’t breathe ins and marches of some sort since the Staten Island and Ferguson grand jury decisions were made public.

Later today, three marches in Boston, New York and Washington will continue to illuminate the corrupt practices of the criminal justice system, and mount public pressure on elected officials to address the will of the people. Despite the long hard journey ahead this is a moment that gives hope. For those of you who are uncertain of the usefulness and impact that these acts will eventually have, remember this: The Eric Garner grand jury decision was shared with the public last week, and since then, worldwide reaction has been stunning. If change does not come it won’t be because we didn’t fight for it. Personally, I remain hopeful and I’m encouraged by the amount of love that has been displayed on a global basis.

I have several friends who are participating in the organizing, the marching, protesting and the all out pursuit of justice for those who have been unjustly murdered, and their families. Hopefully, we will all get through this period in better shape than when we started. And if they are paying attention to the drama of the moment, maybe Amy Pascal and Scott Rudin will green light and produce a film of quality that depicts the struggle that we are going through. If they do, they should hire me as the music supervisor. I know what they are missing.


For Debbie, Sammy, Rush, Mike, Dream, The Justice League NYC, the inspired and the Freedom Fighters

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Last night, MSNBC’s feed was on. Some official was giving a detailed description of why Mike Brown’s murderer went free, and a no bill of indictment was returned by a grand jury that was empaneled to ensure that justice was done in the case. It appears that jury members did not take their responsibility seriously enough.

I wasn’t there and I didn’t witness Mike Brown’s murder, but despite the well written and moderately well-read statement, it was obvious that justice was not served. Mike Brown was murdered in cold blood, and then left in the street to fester in the hot August sun for four and a half hours before an ambulance showed up.

When the outcome was read, I was surprised but not shocked. It felt like I was kicked in the gut, and I had to lie down. This is not new to me; we’ve been getting shot down in the streets like dogs, by cops, for years, and more often than not, an outcome that allows the muderers to go free seems to be the result. It took a day to get to the point where I could write. Then, I remembered that that was what the game is: To be too immobilized by anger or fear to act. Sorry for the delay.

So people left their homes, went into the night and raised their voices for justice. Freedom fighters in Oakland/San Francisco, Nashville, Beverly Hills, New York, Seattle and Washington DC, spontaneously protested the outrageousness of another criminal justice process gone wrong. Social Media posts from participants on the ground, concerned citizens, casual observers and critics helped to propel the fight for justice all over the globe. Those who would prefer a more passive observance of this tragedy miss the point: Without protest, the shame of Ferguson would never have come to light – the revolution is being Tweeted.

They’re out there again tonight; rebelling with a cause. Why? Because the senseless murder of unarmed black folks must end. The problem is not procedural, it’s systemic. America was built on the corrupt institution of slavery and refuses to come to terms with her blood-soaked legacy of shame. Ever since we came here in shackles and on boats, we have fought to be recognized as human, and at its core, this is our basic struggle.

Darren Wilson, the cop who did the murderous deed testified to the grand jury that Mike Brown seemed like a demon who was going to “run through” his shots. Apparently, after Mike Brown didn’t successfully run through the first couple of rounds, Wilson found it necessary to fire several more times until Brown’s life was ended.

I am not surprised that Wilson saw Brown in a subhuman way, because societally speaking, so much of the way we are taught would lead you to believe that being white automatically makes you smarter, wiser, deeper, more sophisticated and more deserving of life and gives you the right to determine the destiny of people of color. Darren Wilson is just a product of his culture – a culture of white supremacy that says that unarmed blacks can be murdered by white law enforcement officials, and that we don’t deserve the basic right of due process.

So what of Mike Brown’s family? After the results, they issued a statement that indicated their disappointment. I feel for them, and especially for his mother, Leslie McSpadden. This weekend, she should have been looking forward to her son spending Thanksgiving with her and sharing stories of his freshman year, first-semester final exams. She should have been looking forward to cooking and serving his favorite holiday dishes and discussions of whether the St. Louis Rams are going to get a win this weekend. Now, all she has is the knowledge that she will never have another holiday shared with her boy, and that his life wasn’t even worth the cost of a jury trial, and that the circumstances of his death didn’t meet the standard of a prosecutable offense in her local district – despite the fact that he was unarmed and shot in cold blood. My thoughts are with Leslie McSpadden and her family. I hope that she continues to seek justice and that she eventually gets it. That would be something to be thankful for.


For Monica and The Ab and all the rest who are looking for justice in the streets…

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Glen E. Friedman has been a friend for nearly thirty years. He is a world class photographer with a new coffee table book out on bookshelves right now. I have written the afterword for the book. Here it is…

Game Recognize Game

For many of the players found in these pages, a Glen E. portrait, magazine shoot, publicity photo, album cover, t-shirt photo, or poster coincided with the moment when the subjects were breaking through from one level of the game to the next. From a singles deal to an album, club act to arena opener, from an opener to a headliner, from gold to platinum sales status, from releasing a string of important recordings to booking their first film role, from hanging with their clique to being outta here. Whatever the next level was, Glen was there with his vision to present them as they were precisely at that moment: ascending.

Because more often than not, Glen was there when their demo was moving around the hands of the few tastemakers who were empowered to sign them or when their first 12-inch single dropped and he heard it. He was there early because he was not merely an outside observer or on an anthropological expedition—he was a member of the movement and the community that he captured so dynamically and promoted relentlessly.

That’s how we met. I was there too, and, like him and many others, I was engaged in the day-to-day struggle of building the small but tight hip-hop nation into the international hip-hop culture and global business force that it has become. We were both living in New York and we’d see each other around campus. I had been the head of promotion for Def Jam, moved on to work at several other companies but kept close ties with my man Russell “Rush” Simmons. Because you could generally find Glen where the action was, he rolled with Rush too, and we were all friends and members of each other’s extended families.

In fact, “Rush” had a four-hundred-square-foot “mini” duplex, a walkup apartment in the dead center of Greenwich Village that Glen and I had keys to, crashed in, and where we all operated as unofficial roommates for a time. The place had a sky-blue facade with illustrations of pigs and elephants descending to the ground via parachute. Man, if those pigs could talk.

I made a living by putting records on the radio for labels that were cool enough to sign dope joints, but had no clue about how to get them any exposure. These small indie, mom-and-pop labels that were the first to develop hip hop and turn it into a cultural force, before multi-national corporations turned it into an economic one, were also the ones that consistently hired me and Glen. I got their records played, and he directed and shot their artwork.

So we weren’t only members of a community that was still getting most of its juice from the underground—a movement that had yet to be fully recognized by mainstream media, and a culture that at the time, very few referred to as such. We were also part of a loose network of young folk mixing shit up every which way we could, hustlers who made their way in Ronald Reagan’s America and Ed Koch’s New York, who attempted to instigate change in the status quo and use art to improve our lot in life.

Hustling times call for moves to be made, so while I was on a mid-’80s business trip to LA for a Black Radio convention. I ran into Glen, who was still based in Cali, and looking out for Def Jam and Russell Simmons’s acts when they were in town. I was there networking, raising my profile and looking for checks. Glen was passing through with Lyor Cohen. Glen and I didn’t know each other well then, so I hit him with it, “Where you from?”

Homie told me he grew up in LA, but started school in Englewood, NJ, and was born in Pinehurst, North Carolina. Later, he told me he really was a bicoastal kid who shuttled back and forth to see his dad on the east coast. He said living in Englewood at a young age really opened his eyes to racism and discrimination. He relayed a story about his best friend, who was two years older than Glen and Native American, and who was assaulted in a barber’s chair when his mom took him to get a haircut from white barbers! They fucked his hair up, and when they cut it all off, it left a mark on Glen that he never forgot. He also was living in Englewood when Martin Luther King, Jr., was assassinated, which also left a huge impression on him.

Pinehurst was my own mother’s birthplace, and Englewood—less than a mile outside of Manhattan—was home to the first fully integrated school system in America. The city has produced artists like John Travolta, Brooke Shields, Richard Lewis and Karen O. It is the place where Sugar Hill Records was based when they signed Grand Master Flash, and got the hip-hop ball rolling when they dropped “The Rappers Delight” by the Sugar Hill Gang. It is a place where creative freedom flourished, and many artists who benefited from it called it home. It is the place where jazz greats Dizzy Gillespie and Sarah Vaughan once lived and Thelonious Monk died. Soul Man, Wilson Pickett lived there along with Rock & Roll Hall of Famers, the Isley Brothers. I know the town well; I was born there, grew up there, and broke into the record business by working at Sugar Hill. I was actually a classmate of Glen’s Native American friend from grade school. But Glen and I would not discover how closely we were tied together through our shared background until much later.

It is in that background where you may find clues as to why Glen, a kid of Jewish descent with a vegan diet, and far-left-leaning political tendencies; a kid who was already a graduate of the nascent skateboard and American punk scenes, rolled so easily with black folks on the come-up. It may explain why he relentlessly promoted the demos of eventual Rock & Roll Hall of Famer Chuck D and Public Enemy to countless tastemakers with the following prediction: “These guys are going to do for hip-hop what The Clash did for rock & roll.” Why he was the one to put me up on the first double sided De La Soul 12-inch, “PlugTunin’”/”Freedom Of Speak.” And why on the night after he first played the record for me, we went to see Queen Latifah’s first show ever, in an abandoned junior high school gym that on weekends doubled as a space for an underground party called “Amazon”; and why he walked around in the dead of winter with a self-recorded cassette of the De La joint with the hopes that he’d run into someone with a tape recorder and he could put them up on it too.

Glen was also the guy who shopped the first A Tribe Called Quest demo to that small group of cutting-edge labels that comprised the early rap business. And the one who first played Ice Cube’s Amerikka’s Most Wanted for me, with its early example of east-meets-west collaboration between Cube and the production team that laced the Public Enemy records with all that heat, the Bomb Squad. He dated beautiful black girls who wound up as doctors who graduated from Ivy League schools, and this may have been where he first learned that talent has no color and can never be held back by arbitrary boundaries.

With the exception of his confusing and misplaced love of the Pittsburgh Pirates, Glen has always been on point, but if you dig a little deeper, more facts can be unearthed. Pittsburgh was the team where MLB executive Branch Rickey landed, after he brought Jackie Robinson to the Dodgers, thereby breaking the color line. Rickey continued his progressive and contrarian ways when he built an organization that not only signed the Hispanic legend, Roberto Clemente, but would eventually be the first Major League team to start an all black lineup. Of course, to Glen, this was baseball like it oughtta be.

The late Dock Ellis was the pitcher who took the mound on the day the team sent that first all black lineup on the field. The legendary right-handed pitching rebel and malcontent threw smoke. Ellis would evolve into a symbol of black rebellion and a counter-culture hero who confounded the front office and baseball’s image-makers with his unwillingness to adhere to the status quo. By chance, Ellis met a loud mouthed, eleven-year-old Pirates fan yelling for an autograph from the stands at a game in Shea stadium. This resulted in Dock developing a friendship with young Glen Ellis Friedman. He was probably the first of many fuck-you heroes to cross paths with my man.

Like the artists that he photographed, Glen E. Friedman was a product of the underground and his commitment to youth culture, progressive politics, art, artists, and artistry is unparalleled among my collaborators, peers, associates, and friends. He is my Senior Vice President of Artistic Integrity, my comrade in arms, my man a-hundred-fifty grand, my Nigga. He made a home among talented outsiders, and by using his talent, his gifts, his contacts, and his power without discriminating, he lent credibility to the efforts of others, and thus greater access to the larger world. He became an advocate for hip-hop at the time when it was most in need of advocacy. He trafficked in authenticity, as well as conceptualized and documented images of rebels at work. He served it fresh daily.

And now you’ve made a move, you picked this book up, and you’re reading an essay in a publication filled with portraits that depict pioneers, legends and stars at important times in their lives and in their careers. You’re one of the smart ones, huh? You know what’s up? You’re probably a leader in your field and a top shelf player in your chosen area of expertise.

A top dog, a don. If not, then you have a book filled with images of people who are and were. And if you’ve got a combination of the right hustle, gifts, and skills, and the time is right, then maybe this book will help close the gap between where you are now and a spot at the top of the heap. Or maybe it will serve to remind you of what it was like when you were last there, and help you to recall the required swagger to get you back.

But remember this: the players in these pages, were not in it for the shine. They did it because they could. Their ethos was art for art’s sake, because it was not apparent that you’d get rich when you put your thing down back then. It was more likely that you’d put out a record that no one but your friends and family would ever hear. These players did it for love. If you got rich or famous, that was a result of a lot of sweat, more than a few tears, and the stars properly aligning in your favor; it was not the objective. They grabbed a mic, spit a rhyme, rocked the party, or dropped a joint because they needed to, wanted to, had to. They got on a roll, and used all of their heart, all of their training, and all of their skills to blaze that moment, and the next one, and the next, until they caught fire. And when they got just hot enough, Glen E. Friedman took their picture.


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Karen Kaufman is an independent film producer and executive in Hollywood. I’ve know her for twenty-five years. I met her when she was an account exec in DC radio, and I was putting records on the radio that made a difference. She’s come up in several media businesses, but she’s football people. Her daddy coached several top tier high school, college and NFL running backs – John Riggins and Barry Sanders are two of his former players who are enshrined in Canton – and he caught a couple of rings with the San Francisco 49ers when they were the class of the sporting world. Her first husband was a starting linebacker for Joe Gibbs when he was the head coach of the Washington Redskins, and they went to a few Super Bowls when they were together. The world of professional football formed her.

Like anyone who else has seen it, the videotape of Baltimore Ravens running back, Ray Rice hitting his wife with a short, hard jab, knocking her out, and then nudging her with his foot, shocked Karen. She thought about it, discussed it with me, and consented to share her understanding of what it was like to be a victim of domestic abuse at the hands of an NFL warrior who she was married to. She also wondered what Janay Rice has been thinking. In the form of an open letter, here are her thoughts and questions.


Dear Janay,

We’ve never met, and I don’t think we have any friends in common. Before this year, I’d never heard of you, and until recently, hadn’t seen a picture of you either. Because of these facts, I have struggled with my decision to write you, as I can only imagine the barrage of emails, phone calls and texts you are receiving during this time. But our stories are so entwined I felt I had to reach out to you.

Based on the little that I have seen, I have to let you know that I am disappointed in you.

I’m not supposed to feel this way. As an educated Black woman who was once married to a Washington Redskin during one of their glory periods and a daughter of an NFL running back coach, whose running backs are Hall of Famers, I’m supposed to be compassionate and supportive of your situation. I’m trying hard to get there but I have to get past my disappointment first.

Please know that I write this letter to you from a place of understanding. The situation you are, in as an NFL wife, is a special fishbowl. Growing up, I spent an inordinate amount of discussing and watching football as well as attending games. For my family, sports was not recreational, it was the business that allowed my parents to feed, clothe, educate and care for me. Winning or losing resulted in harsh public scrutiny, and then a fast round of packing and a move to another city; but it didn’t seem odd to me as it was the only normal I ever knew. This gave me a false sense that I was prepared to be married to a professional football player but I was very wrong. I found being a wife of a player is significantly different from being the daughter of a coach. As a coach’s daughter, there is a veil of protection that doesn’t exist with a player’s wife. As a player’s wife, nothing stands between you and the front office, coaches, agents, lawyers, financial advisers, media, other players’ wives and the never ending parade of groupies. I think one of the hardest lessons I had to learn during my time as a NFL wife was this: People are gunning for you. And I what I truly didn’t comphrend is that your own husband can gun for you also.

You know what I mean don’t you? Cuz you know Ray was gunning for you even if he had done something that made you push and spit at him. My guess is that it was another woman because I have acted close to the same way when I learned of yet another woman. My guess is Ray has been wanting to vent for a long time so I don’t think that punch was all for you; it may have been because he was racially profiled when he was pulled over for driving a $150,000 Benz, while listening to his agent explain why the Ravens wouldn’t give him $100 million dollar contract like J.J. Watt, or the nagging shoulder injury that he is trying to mask during practice, or the 100th request for money from another distant “cousin”. He wasn’t just pissed at you; life as a professional athlete is stressful and you became an easy target for him to take it out on.

Yet, you chose to stay with him, and in fact, chose to marry him after he cold clocked you. You see why I might be a little disappointed? I wanted you to leave right then because like Rihanna going back to Chris Brown; you sent a dangerous message to young women. Though you may not want to see yourself as a role model, the moment you choose to be with a high profile athlete you became a celebrity and your actions were open to public opinion. Because too whom much is given, much is required. As the ink dried on Ray’s contract, we had 22 million reasons to care about your life.

But I understand that leaving a man you love is hard, particularly when there are children involved. Though I didn’t have children with my ex husband, I agonized for years before I left and it took his becoming physical for me to end it. My ex and I were college sweethearts and since my father had been coaching in the NFL for several years, I was pretty damn good at spotting talent. And there was nothing about him that looked liked pro material as he was too small, had an exciting but not spectacular college career at a small California state school (whose games were rarely aired on TV) and he was a walk on.

Honestly, because he was an undrafted free agent, I didn’t think he would make the team and we already had planned that he would become a social worker after graduation. I naïvely assured him, “Don’t worry because I’m going to make a lot of money.” Boy did things take a turn in training camp after the starting linebacker was hurt and my ex replaced him. The whirlwind became a personal hurricane as he went on to start in three Super Bowls in five years. With this success came the usual perks of a beautiful home, cars, jewelry, furs, travel and aaah the women. The women were bountiful especially in a city like Washington DC with a ratio of 8 women to one man.

Some described me as a mature 24 year old but I felt like a cat on a hot tin roof…if I jump here will he smile? If I jump here will he not fuck some chick when I’m in the next room? If I jump will he talk to me? As time went on I got tired of jumping. But we know in the NFL code that infidelity is not a reason to end a marriage; it’s more of an occupational hazard. Even though I did my best to ignore his antics, he didn’t bother to be discreet. Why should he? The cat keeps jumping.

One night after finding condoms in his wallet (not meant for me), I told him I was relieved he was using protection. He snapped, grabbed me by the shoulders and threw me against the wall of our three story suburban home. As my back slammed against the wall, I knew I was in deep trouble because I was no match for a guy who was 6ft 3in, 225lbs with 5% body fat, and had grown up in the ‘hood’ in Los Angeles. I was 5ft 6in, 125lbs, and had lived a very sheltered upper middle class life in the San Fernando Valley, and never had a physical exchange with anyone. I thought to myself was, “This doesn’t happen to people like me”

When my ex threw me against the second wall, I realized, that when the police arrived they would never believe me, and that we would be on the cover of the sports section of the Washington Post. I tried to fight back but my weak efforts only resulted in small cut on his cheek. Afterwards, he apologized because he never meant to hurt me.

But I didn’t believe him. No different than Ray…I wasn’t the only person he was mad at. He was mad that his career was ending, never making All Pro and he had suitcases full of childhood pain. But that night, at that moment, like you, I was his target.

Did that come to your mind when he hit you? Or have you been watching this all of your life so you thought this is what love looks like? These are the questions that make me soften my view of your decisions, because I don’t know how you got here. Some experts say we have to stop asking why women stay in abusive relationships and replace it with why do men hit women? My thoughts about that will come later in this letter but for now let’s just say, I’m still disappointed with your decision.

Just a year before my incident, I had consoled another player’s wife whose husband had beaten her at her children’s school. She’d smarted off to him and then tried to run. Bless her heart, did she think he became a great defensive end without speed? Anyway he beat her in front of her children but she didn’t want to leave because she loved the money and didn’t want to work. I didn’t feel that way; I wanted a career so losing the money didn’t factor into my decision to pack my things. But if I was really honest, I left because I found that my behavior was mimicking the actions of my mother who is an undiagnosed manic depressant with a little personality disorder to boot. Basically I was raised by a crazy woman and being married to a celebrity triggered my inner crazy (and all this time I thought I was just creative). I had to leave to save my soul.

Don’t you want your soul back? Don’t you want to stop excusing his behavior? Have you planned the speech you will give your daughter when she sees the video? Back in my sports days, there was no internet, no cell phones, no Instagram, no Facebook or TMZ. Yet, reputable outlets like the Washington Post or Sports Illustrated longed for a juicy story but being in a three ring circus didn’t interest me.

I know leaving a man you love isn’t easy and my situation was less complicated than yours because we had no children. With access to a fat checking account and great credit, the physical move to my high rise upper Northwest apartment only required a phone call to the movers. For the sake of keeping appearances, our separation was kept a secret. I am grateful I wasn’t like many women who don’t have the resources to leave their Hell.

Now let’s get to the part that I’m really mad about.

Why are you fussing at us and the media for your downfall? What made you think we wouldn’t find out the whole story? Yes, I wish you hadn’t married that jerk but if you chose to go forth in this charade of sorts dammit …you should have spun it better! Why didn’t you fly to LA, and pay Howard Bragman $25,000 to fool us? Howard Bragman would have made your first press conference look like an episode of Oprah with Ray crying huge crocodile tears while he apologized for his insane, and inhumane behavior. Then you could have announced that you were committed to raising awareness of the fact that domestic violence effects all economic classes. A few months later, you would have been pictured donating a home to help women who don’t have the financial means of getting out. Yet, you and the NFL somehow thought you were immune to this tape getting released. Now Ray is out of work indefinitely, and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell might be joining him. This blatant short sideness feels arrogant and assumes that your fans and public will believe anything. Between Jay Z, Solange, and Queen B coupled with Donald Sterling, and the death of Michael Brown, don’t you see social media is exposing the good, the bad and the ugly?

I’m feeling less angry now. Thank you for letting me vent.

Your public incident has raised a lot of opinions about domestic abuse and some say that the question has to change from “Why did she stay?” to “Why did he hit her?” I’m not sure that this is true because the older I get the more I realize how I feel about myself affects everything that happens to me. One of the many important influences which introduced me to the idea of self importance was Pearl Cleage’s Mad at Miles: A Black Woman’s Guide to Truth. I read the book long after my divorce when I was working on the film, Sugar Hill in New York. My dear friend, the insideplaya arranged for me to stay with a generous female friend of his, in Harlem while I worked on the film. At a Black book store where the shop owner was surprised by how many books I hadn’t read, she introduced me to Cleage and it changed my life. Cleage talks about how Miles Davis’ openly admits he beat Cicely Tyson and she suggests to women that we stop financially supporting artists who harm women. If we closed our pocketbooks to their albums, movies, paintings…then we could put them out of business. I felt like someone dunked my head in cold water as I had never even conceived of the idea that I had power. I’m not sure if it’s important why a man hits a woman but, I’m sure that it’s important to ask, what will we do about it? Will we stand up and say “Help me please get out of this because I deserve to be treated better!” or will we shrink into silent denial believing that we are unworthy. As mothers, you and I owe it to our children to teach them that they have value.

My son is 9 years-old and he is an athletic stand out in our predominately White area. He often dominates in strength, size and has the uncanny knack to anticipate an opponent’s move. It is both disturbing and rewarding to see the amount of attention showered on him, so my husband and I have made it clear that we expect him to act like a man of honor. Because to whom much is given, much is required. After much contemplation, I showed him the footage that captured when you were hit, and his first question was, “Why did she marry him after he hit her?” Then as his anger grew he insisted, “This is no way for a Black man to act.” I held back tears. He’s right; it was no way for a Black man to act.

So now what will you do? How will you live with your angry frustrated ex player of a husband. Not playing for the rest of the season and possibly never playing again will only elevate his anger and let’s pray you won’t be his target. Until then, I hope you will be safe but as you struggle with this whirlwind of drama, please check out Pearl Cleage as she may help you tap into your courage. Because no woman deserves to be beaten and until we understand that if we don’t close our pocketbooks (and legs) to those who harm us, this cycle will continue.

All best,
Karen Kaufman



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Last year, on the first day of Black History Month, the news that Don Cornelius, the creator of Soul Train, committed suicide darkened what is normally an annual period of research, learning and sharing for me. The showing of new documentaries, rebroadcast of classic films, release of new books and rerelease of landmark recordings by iconic artists offer an opportunity to review the mistakes and triumphs of the past and a chance to clarify and crystalize events of the present. I usually look forward to celebrating some of the events, people and the culture that formed me and serves as the basic foundation of the life that I’ve led.

Slightly before that, Dick Griffey, a former partner of Cornelius, and the founder of SOLAR Records, home to Shalamar, the Whispers, Lakeside, Midnight Star and the Deele, the band that launched the careers of both Kenny “Babyface” Edmunds and Antonio “L.A.” Reid, also passed away. Because of this, my friend, Professor Ericka Blount Danois, asked if I thought writing a book on Griffey would be viable. In reply, I offered my enthusiastic support for her idea.

Good news travels fast but bad news travels faster and word, that the conductor of the “hippest trip in America” had prematurely cut his journey short, spread like wildfire across the internet. Frequent readers of this blog know that through the various online social media platforms that comprise my virtual Soul City, I make an attempt to keep up with the comings, goings and new developments in the world of Black Music. But in the case of Cornelius’s death, I was too hurt by the news to write about it at that time.

When Cornelius died, Professor Danois shifted her focus to Cornelius and Soul Train, one of the most important tv shows in the history of the medium. After she wrote the book, she asked would I contribute an essay for the afterword. I was honored. Additionally there is a forward from the former chairman of the legendary soul music diskery, Stax Records, Al Bell.

Professor Danois has written a meticulously researched, historically accurate and deliciously dishy detailing of some of the events and personalities that made Soul Train one of the earliest examples of both television syndication and black owned media success. It’s all there: The humble beginnings of the show in black and white on a Chicago VHF channel (remember those?). The civil rights era environment that created the need for black on air talent to cover protests, sit ins and riots that provided a young Cornelius a chance to break in as a tv news reporter. Don’s improbable discovery (by a radio exec who was moving too fast) while he was a beat cop writing a ticket. The move of the show to Los Angeles and the booking of all the legends, stars, headliners and one hit wonders. The dancers who became stars; Don Campbell, Damita Jo Freeman, Jeffrey Daniels and Jody Watley.

In my essay, I make an attempt to describe how important it was for a young kid to regularly see images on television that reflected the excellence and beauty of his own experience, and how radical those images were. And how the sound, feel and essence of Soul Train was derived from the very fabric of the audience and community that it served. It was tv for us by us.

The book becomes available today at book stores and on Amazon. I am proud to have been asked to contribute and to have been given the opportunity to finally pay tribute to Don Cornelius and his contribution to this thing of ours. And I’m happy to have been reminded of a time “When Saturday Was Everything”.


For The Wirk

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Debbie’s Song

The playa has worked with many artists, many executives, and many labels. One of the most interesting periods of a long and creative experience was the time I spent as a young A&R executive on the staff of the EMI Records Group. It was a time immediately after I’d experienced creative success on a world wide basis, when I’d led Giant/Warner Brothers Records into the Urban Music market by playing a significant role in compiling the soundtrack for the crack opera, “New Jack City.” For my efforts, I was rewarded by being shown the door. A former label mate provided an opportunity for me to continue practicing my craft, and I joined the EMI staff in early ’92.

Debbie Southwood-Smith was another young A&R executive at the label with taste, wit and style. We have been friends ever since we worked together. Please find below her brief first person account of her time spent in records, and her most recent career developments. Even though I know the story, I found it to be riveting. I hope that you’ll agree.


I was an A&R executive for about twenty years. I started directly after graduating from Emerson College in Boston, when I landed a starter-kit job with MCA’s regional branch in Woburn, MA. I worked as a promotional assistant, gathering data on radio adds, drops and specialty show plays. I could also be found packing up vinyl to be shipped out to Oedipus’ WBCN or Sunny Jo White’s KISS 108 as well as occasionally driving out to Amherst or Providence to deliver a record personally. After watching REM climb the top 40 charts with “Losing My Religion, I recalled that just a few years earlier I had watched them perform T. Rex’s “20th Century Boy” at The Rathskellar. Michael Stipe’s back was to the audience – which had been scant at best -almost the entire set. I decided I wanted to help bands journey the path from almost complete obscurity to crossover and mainstream acceptance.

Michael Alago Little Steven Van Zandt Debbie Southwood-Smith


I’m a Jersey Girl, having moved from Queens to Hackensack where I spent most of my formative years. In 1989, I went back to Queens and got an apartment that I shared with three boys, all of whom were upstarts in the music business. I got a job working for an independent label called Rockville Records. I signed a band called Uncle Tupelo, now considered pioneers of the alterna/ country movement. They later split up and Wilco was born from one of their branches. I caught the attention of Brian Koppelman and Fred Davis. (“Who is this girl who is everywhere, every night?”) Brian took me to see The Black Crowes right before Shake Your Money Maker was released, gave me Fred’s number and told me to call him directly. Fred was hiring for the newly consolidated EMI/ Chrysalis/ SBK label group and needed a street kid. My lucky number had been pulled. I did some stuff. I signed a crazy rock band from New York City named DGeneration, who were destined for greatness, but shit happens – and that’s another story for another blog. I signed Blessid Union Of Souls who had the #2 song in the country. I was 29 years old. That was cool. I left EMI and went to A&M Records. Fred said, “People in the business like you, but now you need to have some success,” so I made a gold record with Monster Magnet who tore up rock’s airwaves and created mayhem on every tour stop. A&M was my family until it was kinda torn apart, and the remains absorbed by Interscope Records. Many reading this will remember it as Black Thursday- my ass landed at Interscope. Dazed and confused, I got up off the deck, ignoring the horrible things people were saying about “girls being kept on because we were paid less” – a fact, yes, a reasonable one, no.

I got busy. It was 1999 and I had places to go, things to do and bands to sign. I signed Queens of the Stone Age who had gold records followed by a platinum record. I signed The Yeah Yeah Yeahs who had a gold record and a Grammy nomination for Best New Artist. I got a new boss. We didn’t see eye-to-eye and things got tough. But I still remember Interscope marketing overlord, Steve Berman referring to me as their golden girl. (“What are you going to do next? Everything you touch turns to gold.”)

Debbie's Back




Eventually Interscope cut my position in 2005. I had a deal on the table for TV on the Radio, but I couldn’t get anyone to pay attention to me. I had gone from golden girl to lost and confused girl. An antiquated business model that had everyone running on fear threatened all the record companies. There were a whole lot of people out in LA trying to decapitate each other; the whole situation had changed into some sick joke that had something to do with Machiavellian laws, which frankly, I don’t play by. I couldn’t survive in that environment. I did yoga everyday, for crying out loud, I was like all “Om” and shit. In 2005 I was unemployed and completely lost. My identity as “Debbie from Interscope” gone. I did some totally dumb things like giving up my Greenwich Village apartment on Christopher Street, where I had lived for 16 years and moving to the Massachusetts countryside and trying to work at Long View Studios, thinking about many possibilities, none of which worked out. I ended up in Jersey City contemplating my next move while the music business, as I had known it from 1986-2005 was laid to rest. I believe in survival of the fittest, yet even so, I can’t help but feel a tad bitter about being dismissed from a life that I poured my heart and soul into. There will always be a part of me that cries out, “Why me?”

Here, the story takes a turn. I decided to teach. I’d taught a class on A&R for Baruch College on and off for five years. During that experience I had learned that no matter what subject you are teaching, what you are really doing is trying to help people make sense out of life, and in turn those people helped me understand my life, little by little. It was the only time in my life, since I had started working in the music business that I was doing something selflessly, because believe me honey – no matter what your federal or state government is telling you – teaching is never about the money.

I enrolled in Fairleigh Dickinson University’s Master of Education program. I graduated (with a 3.89- ahem) in 2009 and was hired by the school in which I completed my student teaching internship. The high school where I am currently employed as an English teacher is James J. Ferris High School in Jersey City. It is located under the NJ Turnpike overpass in the center of the Montgomery Projects. It is truly what in PC terms is referred to as “an inner city school.” These are the schools placed in minority districts. No matter what your property tax is, I can guarantee that these schools are not receiving your tax dollars in any significant way. These are the buildings in which our black, Dominican, Pakistani, Filipino, Puerto Rican, Haitian and any other economically challenged minorities are placed. Why am I there? Because you go where you are needed.


My students love music. They all have mp3 players of some make or model. They have sneakers and most have cell phones. What they do not have is a future unless they are the few who are determined against all odds to create one. My students are mostly 16-18 year olds who are in their sophomore year. In the record industry we had a term for the second record “the sophomore slump.” This applies to high school as well. The students read and write on a grade level ranging from third to sixth grade. Rare are the kids who are “on track.” Even my honors levels classes are filled with young people who have never been taught how to properly conjugate a verb, capitalize a proper noun, or insert a paragraph. They do not understand the definition of simple words, such as refute, contagious or sinister. They don’t know that Al Qaeda and Osama Bin Laden are related. They are completely unaware that there is an enormous oil spill off the Gulf of Mexico that will somehow affect their lives in years to come. What they know is the ghetto in Jersey City.

Many of my students don’t live with their parents, or perhaps they live with one parent. They have been handed off to guardians because their parents are still in the DR or Haiti or wherever, or their parents are on the streets, or dead. There might be a myriad of other reasons for the lack of adult guidance in their lives. Every kid has a story and most of them are very sad. Many of my students are gang members, or their blocks are under the control of a gang. An enormous majority of the girls will not graduate before becoming mothers. The kids who make it to college usually attend the community college, an extension of the “inner city schools” they are a product of, and drop out after a year or maybe two. My students live with very little hope for a future that doesn’t involve government assistance.


When I worked in the music business I always had a bag packed in my living room. I had frequent flyer points on almost every airline. I traveled to and did business in almost every state in the union. I spent time in the UK, and considered myself “bi-coastal.” I wasn’t a girl from Hackensack, NJ anymore. I was exposed to so much, and my life in the Big Apple was filled with art, adventure and people from every walk of life. I knew arty hipsters like The Yeah Yeah Yeahs. I knew important, wealthy men like Rick Wake, Jimmy Iovine and David Anderle. I rubbed up against artists who were nuts and fun and forever creating – such as Josh Homme, Michael Alago, and Ryan Adams. I had friends who were traveling, working, and on the cutting edge of everything, like Marilyn Manson, Natasha Schneider (RIP), Jesse Malin, Ken Friedman…and the list goes on and on. The point that I am making is that many of you, who are reading this, have had experiences very similar to mine and the call I am making to you is to please, go where you are needed and share what you have been blessed with.

I bring to my students, a BIG, juicy life. I bring color, personality, the lesson behind every fire I have walked through and all that has brought me joy in life. In turn they give me love. These children from our ghettos are not to be feared. They live in fear and vulnerability and seclusion. Our at risk kids, living in shelters, living in public housing, living with their uncle the block’s crack dealer, or a tragically addicted mother, or grandparents who are tired, and they need to see us. If they don’t know that people outside the Montgomery Housing Projects exist, they will have nothing in their lives to aspire to. The messages of Albee Al and Joe Buddens are all they will know and it is not enough. I certainly am not asking all of you to drop what you are doing and become teachers in the ghetto. I am asking you to find a place where you are needed, a place where there are children, and do one thing every year to help them. Come speak to the kids in my school. Donate books, technology, or money to a community center, but more importantly donate your time. Spend one hour a year sharing your experience, strength and hope.

I miss the music business. I miss the rewards of hearing a record I worked on being played on the radio; I miss the constant travel and the shimmer of the offices, the free tickets and glamorous parties. Of course, I do, I’m human. However, teaching at James J. Ferris High School is the most fulfilling job I have ever held. Much like the rock & roll that I grew up on, it is filled with chaos, drama, and stresses that I never imagined, but mostly it is filled with love. These children, are our future, and they need us. What we get in return is almost more then my heart can hold. Please share it with me. It’s an hour out of your life. They need you.

Debbie Southwood-Smith

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