Category Archives: National & Global News

Female CEO Steers Black Rodeo Movement 

African American cowgirls do exist.

Each year hundreds of Black women travel across the United States to compete in ladies steer wrestling, breakaway roping, bull riding, barrel racing, and other rodeo competitions — many while holding down full-time jobs.

The rise of Black women in the rodeo circuit is largely due to the Bill Pickett Invitational Rodeo (BPIR), the nation’s only African American touring rodeo, which was founded by Lu Vason in Denver, Colorado, in 1984.

Named in honor of Willie M. ‘Bill’ Pickett, BPIR was an African American cowboy, actor, and ProRodeo Hall of Fame inductee. He invented the bulldogging technique — a rodeo event where a rider wrestles a steer to the ground by grabbing its horns.

Today, BPIR has a woman at the helm and is run by a majority female leadership team. 

Since taking the reins in 2015, Vason’s wife Valeria Howard-Cunningham has used her position as CEO to promote women to leadership roles, effectively creating the first successful touring rodeo led by a Black woman.

Although 2020 has been a challenging rodeo year with COVID-19 forcing the cancelation of the competition season, Cunningham is confident that she and her team will continue to drive the movement forward.

Caroline Carter and Justini Carter (Courtesy Caroline Carter)

“Being CEO was an opportunity where I could get women involved to show that women can run a rodeo operation just as effective or more effective as men,” Cunningham said. “That was important to me. A woman has to do 10 times more than a counterpart to show they are capable of doing certain things.”

Women have been involved in the rodeo world at various levels for decades. However, they have been mostly underrepresented, said Krishaun Adair of Point Blank, Texas, who has been competing in rodeo since she was five years old.

“I did not realize we were like unicorns. I didn’t realize there was a lack of or underrepresentation of Black cowgirls. I grew up looking at Black cowgirls, that’s who I wanted to be. They were my role models. Then I realized how small of a group and how precious we are. People had never seen it before, never heard of it before. Their image of a cowboy or a cowgirl looks nothing like me.”

When Adair and her friend Azja Bryant travel to competitions with horses in tow, people stop and stare, she told Zenger.

“We would stop at different gas stations, and you know, people would either look at you a little funny or [for] some people it was total fascination like they just couldn’t believe,” said Bryant. “I like to be able to perform to the best of my ability, to go out and be a positive role model to others, so I can show other people, ‘Hey there are Black cowgirls out here.’”

Adair said she admires BPIR because it creates a platform for Black cowboys and cowgirls.

“Bill Pickett [represents cowgirls and cowboys] on a level so that we don’t seem inferior or not as good,” said Adair. “I want to be seen; I don’t want to be isolated. We rodeo, we just so happen to be Black.”

Vason created BPIR as a place for African Americans to hone their rodeo skills, showcase their talents, and educate the community about Pickett.

The idea came after he attended Cheyenne Frontier Days, an outdoor rodeo and western celebration in the United States, held annually since 1897 in Cheyenne, Wyoming. Cunningham told Zenger that he did not see Black cowboys or cowgirls in the rodeo despite knowing there were thousands in the United States.

Now, BPIR has surpassed the model of being just a rodeo — it’s a community that brings people together from across the country.

“Bill Pickett is all African American,” Cunningham said. “It gives African Americans the opportunity to display skills and develop skills and not be treated unfairly. People invited to participate in the rodeo know it’s a safe zone.”

Rodeo in the United States is not just fun; it is big business. According to ranch services company Western Ranches, more than 600 rodeos nationwide are sanctioned by the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association, and in 2015 rodeo prize money surpassed $46 million. Contestants have the opportunity to win hundreds of thousands of dollars in prize money in just a few days.

“Seeing kids from different communities that have never seen a Black cowboy and never seen a Black cowgirl, that’s worth more than money could ever buy,” said Cunningham.

But sponsors and prize money do not come easily for Black rodeos.

“Because we are an African American rodeo association, the biggest challenge has been and continues to be obtaining the level of sponsorship of other rodeos,” said Cunningham. 

“Companies don’t want to invest. With the National Finals Rodeo (NFR), millions can be put up for added money at their finals. We sell out all of our venues across the U.S., and we don’t get the same level of sponsorship participation. It’s the biggest struggle we have, but we don’t let that hold us back.”

African American cowboys accounted for up to 25% of workers in the cattle industry in American West, although their images were primarily excluded from popular culture. And while Black cowboys and cowgirls are common in places like Texas and Oklahoma, Cunningham said it is shocking how little is known about them in other parts of the country.

With COVID-19 causing the slowdown of rodeo competition across the country, BPIR is focusing not only on gaining sponsors but on its mission of education and getting more young people involved in the sport.

Cunningham said the Bill Pickett circuit rodeo tour introduces Black cowboys and cowgirls to children across the country and provides education about African American participation in the development of the western United States.

“Seeing kids from different communities that have never seen a Black cowboy and never seen a Black cowgirl, that’s worth more than money could ever buy,” said Cunningham. “History books don’t teach certain things. What Bill Pickett rodeo has done is to bring history alive to educate them.”

Cunningham told Zenger that parents attending and learning about BPIR for the first time often want to know where their children can learn to ride a horse and learn more about cowboys and cowgirls, which passes on the interest to a new generation.

Oklahoma native and steer undecorating champion, Carolyn Carter, began competing in 1982. Now, she has four generations of family involvement in rodeo, including a grandson and great-grandson, who are both two years old.

According to Carter, new generations of Black cowboys and cowgirls have advantages her generation did not have, such as access to parents and grandparents who know how to train horses and gained exposure to Black rodeo competitions at an early age.

“They are learning at an earlier age how to do what we’ve been doing all of these years,” said Carter. “It’s a lifestyle.”

Kalyn Womack contributed to this report.

(Edited by Rebecca Bird and Mara Welty)

The post Female CEO Steers Black Rodeo Movement  appeared first on Zenger News.

VIDEO: Jackson State Coach Deion Sanders Looks To Level the Playing Field for HBCUs

Pro Football Hall of Famer Deion “Prime Time” Sanders learned the value of movement after purchasing his first “iced out” Rolex in his rookie season with the Atlanta Falcons. His multi-diamond timepiece wasn’t working properly — or so he thought, until the jeweler told him to move his arm.

“The Rolex works off movement,” Sanders quipped during the Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC) Spring Football Virtual Media Days in mid-January. “I go on movement. Whenever I’m idle, I lose energy. I’m a mover and shaker who makes things happen, and that’s how my life has always been. That’s what makes me – me!”

Sanders, who left a successful career as a football analyst at NFL Network, is now shaking up the HBCU football world as head coach at Jackson State University, one of the premier programs in the SWAC and the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision (FCS).

“Coach Prime” has brought energy and credibility to a proud tradition that includes two fellow Hall of Famers, Lem Barney and onetime rushing leader Walter Payton.

The Jackson State program’s tradition and success position it to level the playing field in intercollegiate athletics at HBCUs. After all, Jackson State’s three Hall of Famers are more than Ole Miss and Mississippi State have combined. Sanders thinks he can change the perception that only large schools with massive resources can offer a path to the pros.

“The playing field is horrible,” Sanders said. “If these kids had the same playing field, many more would matriculate to the next level. We lit the fire that they deserve to be called on [NFL] Draft day.”

Sanders’ first order of business has been to improve the quality of his team’s campus apparel. He has already brokered deals with athletic apparel manufacturer Under Armour to outfit his team with contemporary game day gear and fashionable sweat suits that help them stand out from other students on their “yard.” He believes players’ pride in their appearance gives them a sense of hope that will carry them to success on the field and into their professional careers.

Sanders also has wielded his considerable presence and brand in the community, developing relationships with local Golden Corral franchises so his student-athletes can eat off campus. He has added a training table where players can eat in the athletic department facilities. He is working to improve the practice fields and locker rooms as well.

“It’s like back in the day when I played: If you look good, you play good,” Sanders said.

“We don’t have the best of things, but we make the best of things. We’re trying to develop, nurture and caress them in or to help them reach their goals. Either go pro [as a football player] or professional [in fields other than sports].”

Sanders already faces challenges to recruiting. Despite producing one of the top 2021 classes in America, the school self-reported a minor rules infraction. JSU lost four weeks of recruiting after being placed on probation for a tutoring infraction that happened under the previous staff.

That’s all part of a day’s work for Sanders as he strives to comply with NCAA rules that most administrators privately feel keep HBCU programs behind the eight ball. It’s one of the many institutional challenges that Sanders has discovered since taking the job.

“The new hustle is allowing kids to opt out of their scholarships but penalizing them academically,” Sanders said. “Kids are losing credits to keep them from transferring, and that’s unfortunate.”

“Coach Prime” has brought energy and credibility to the playing field in intercollegiate athletics at HBCUs.(Thomson20192/Flickr)

Sanders is having a palpable impact on Jackson State, the SWAC and HBCU sports, bringing unprecedented attention to a conference that has led its division in attendance for 42 of the last 43 years. If the spring football schedule is completed, SWAC will be the only FCS conference playing and figures to be prominently featured on ESPN. Sanders and his program will be under a bright spotlight as he lives the dream of coaching both of his sons, Shilo and Shedeur.

“I feel like I have 100 sons,” Sanders said. “I sometimes have to remind myself that my kids are on this team and this will be the first time they’ve played for a school that has a band. [We] can’t wait to see the [JSU] ‘Sonic Boom of the South.’”

On Feb. 21, America will get its first chance to see Sanders’ first edition of the Jackson State Tigers when they play the Edward Waters Tigers at Mississippi Veterans Memorial Stadium in Jackson.

(Edited by Jameson O’Neal and Alex Patrick)

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Tyler Perry On ‘The Haves And The Have Nots’ Inspired Patrick Faucette’s A-Game

When opportunity knocks, actor Patrick Faucette plans on being fully prepared to open the door. Staying ready so he doesn’t have to get ready is the New Jersey native’s typical approach. A talented high school athlete, he attended Boston University on a football scholarship. A girlfriend prompted a move to California, where he would find acting through roommates performing in plays. Faucette now utilizes actor groups, self-tapes and private readings during the COVID-19 pandemic to remain sharp at his craft. With appearances on shows such as “The Office”, “Curb Your Enthusiasm”, “Lethal Weapon” and “NCIS”, he seems to have made the right career decision.

However, his star really shined as the deranged father Tony Watson in Tyler Perry’s “The Haves and the Have Nots” on Oprah Winfrey’s Network.

Faucette was also able to show off his first love and passion as a bass guitar player in the movie “Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story!” In “Forbidden Fruit”, which will be digitally released soon, he plays a preacher fighting cancer who is forced to revisit his shady past to pay for treatment.

Percy Crawford interviewed Patrick Faucette for Zenger News.

Zenger News: How is everything going?

Patrick Faucette: Everything is good, man. Living that Cali life, lockdown is trying to loosen up a little bit. I got a little work here and there, so that’s good. It’s starting to come back.

Zenger: I interview a lot of athletes, and they always talk about the importance of staying sharp during downtime. Is there anything you can do as an actor to remain sharp during times like these?

Faucette: Yeah, because you always gotta be ready for auditions to be at the top of your game. If you’re not auditioning a lot, then you get rusty. The key to getting the parts and getting in the game — you gotta audition. Unless you’re like Denzel [Washington], where they just offer you stuff. But I gotta get in front of the casting director, impress them, show them what I got. So, if you’re not doing that, you can get rusty. So, it’s all about staying sharp and staying on point. I have a little acting group that I meet with. … We still meet sometimes, and we do Zoom, run scenes just to stay sharp.

Percy Crawford interviewed Patrick Faucette for Zenger News. (Heidi Malone/Zenger)

Zenger: Athletes work out and do drills and things like that to remain in their zone so to speak. Is there anything in particular that you do to keep your edge aside from virtually meeting with other actors?

Faucette: Yeah! See, the new thing now is self-tapes. So, you have to set up your own studio, get your camera, your lighting and do your audition with someone reading with you at home. And then submit it to the casting director. With something like that, you really gotta get that technique down, so you look good. And then you gotta practice doing it. Your eye line. Me and my son … there’s this new thing where people say, 28 self-tapes in 28 days. And then you get a scene and go in your studio. Have someone learn the scene, go in there and shoot and see how it looks. Do that every day for 28 days just so you stay on point with the auditions. It’s kind of like a workout.

Zenger: And in terms of staying ready, I’m sure you have to remain physically fit as well.

Faucette: Yeah! I gotta stay in shape. Now, with the gyms closed, it’s tough. Yesterday, I went to the park and ran. I got some weights in my backyard, so I work out. Do a little chest, shoulders, and tris, or leg, back and bi day. I gotta stay in shape.

Zenger: Is acting the sole reason you went from Jersey to California?

Faucette: Actually, I went to pursue something else, a girl from college. My girlfriend in college was from Oakland. I was in school in Boston, so once I graduated, I did an internship in Boston for physical therapy and then I packed the bags to move to San Francisco to pursue this girl. So, that’s how I got to California.

Patrick Faucette started acting after a sharing a house with acting students in San Francisco. (Doug Spearman)

Zenger: I’m always amazed by how many entertainers tell me they had no intention of becoming an entertainer, and it just kind of happened. Was that the case for you as well? Did acting just kind of happen?

Faucette: I was always kind of interested … well, I’m a musician. I play the bass guitar; my mom is a musician. So, I was always into entertainment and such. And I did a little modeling. As a kid I was interested in doing a little modeling. When I was in college, I tried to do a little bit, but I mean nothing serious. I wasn’t seriously pursuing it at all. But when I moved to San Francisco, I moved in with some roommates that were from Boston University who were in acting school. So, they were doing plays in San Francisco, and they are the ones that got me into it. They dragged me into one of their plays when they needed someone to fill in for somebody. And I ended up doing the play and started doing plays in San Francisco, got an agent, started taking acting classes and kind of got bit by the bug.

Zenger: You landed the role of Tony Watson on “The Haves and the Have Nots”. Tyler Perry seems to have his hands on everything. What was it like to be a part of anything Tyler Perry-related?

Faucette: That was pretty amazing, because just to be around Tyler Perry is like a master class in hard work. Like you said, he’s got his hands on everything, and I don’t know how he does it. This dude is the first person on the set; he’s directing; he’s like a commander-in-chief. He knows exactly what he wants from the camera angles, where he wants you blocking. You just gotta come in on your A game — knowing all your lines — and he puts the pieces in place exactly where he wants them. So, it’s amazing to see. It’s like, “Damn, I gotta step up my game because he is on point.”

Tyler Perry speaks during the “One World: Together At Home” event by Global Citizen In April 2020. (Photo by Getty Images/Getty Images for Global Citizen)

Zenger: Anytime you’re in the presence of someone like Tyler Perry with the intent to impress him, you can either use it as fuel and prosper, or add pressure on yourself and completely tank. Did you feel the pressure or use it as fuel?

Faucette: For me it was the fuel, because I was not going to get on a set with that brother without knowing my stuff forward and backwards. And I have seen people that came on there nervous and couldn’t remember their lines. Tika Sumpter was the star of the show. We finished shooting one episode, and the beginning of the next episode was kind of a continuation of the same scene. So, he is like, “Since we’re done early, why don’t we just go on into the next scene?” Well, Tika was like, “I didn’t know we were going to do that. I didn’t really look at it.” And Tyler was like, “Come on. It’s the same scene; it’s just a continuation.” He’s like, “I know Faucette knows his lines; don’t you, Faucette?” I was like, “You know I do.” For me it was fuel to be on point. To be the best I can be, because that was the example right there.

Zenger: I read where you talked about the role of Tony Watson and you said you enjoyed it because of the period of time that you were in that role. It allowed you to really become Tony Watson. Could you elaborate on that?

Faucette: When you get a chance to really get deep into the character, it allows you to take that whole journey. Like what motivates him, and then transform along with the script. So, when I first became him, I had no idea that I was really going to be the bad guy. I was a guy coming in that first season to be like a love interest. And then after my first day, it kind of flipped; I became Benny’s dad. So, that was a beautiful thing because that solidified my spot on the show, which is a whole ‘nother story, which is pretty exciting. And then once I got the scripts for the second season, I flipped the scripts open, and boom, I’m trying to get his kidney, so then there is a whole ‘nother transformation of this character, taking him to another level. So, you get to really grow with the character, transform with the character. Bring your whole story, the whole art of your character, which is what actors dream of.

Patrick Faucette started out in music before transitioning to acting. (Doug Spearman)

Zenger: When you think of a movie or show set and a bunch of actors being in one setting, you usually think it’s an ego-driven set, egos taking center stage. But you’re all about passing on knowledge to other actors and the comradery of all actors sticking together and helping one another. Why is that so important to you?

Faucette: I think it’s real important. You want to motivate people, especially people of color to stay in the game, keep moving, keep producing and bringing their own brand of acting. And just try to stay in it, because the longer you stay in the game, the more successful you’ll become. I’m the kind of person where I want success for all my friends and acquaintances. I want everybody to be successful and keep moving forward. It’s not like a competition. We’re all in this as actors and artists together. I’m in that school of let’s all move up.

Zenger: Has COVID enhanced that thought process because there are so many things not moving right now and so many occupations that are dormant right now?

Faucette: I got a tight little group of actors that … before COVID we met every single week and sometimes even twice a week. Did scenes together, worked on auditions together, shot stuff, wrote stuff, and COVID hit, and it actually put a little damper in that because everybody was scared to meet up. And then we started Zooming, which is not really the same. But it kept us together and doing stuff. … I got the vaccine so that’s a good thing. So, we still see each other and do self-tapes, and shoot and talk about the business. But COVID’s hurt everything. Even the comradery because you really can’t get together. But the one thing it did do is, it makes you want to reach out to people more. I call people, talk to them, text them, “Hey, what’s up? How ya been? Thinking about you.” So, I do that a lot more now than I did in the past.

Zenger: Do you still find time for some of your musical interests, or has that been put on the backburner?

Faucette: I kind of put it on the backburner. Although, when I first started my acting here in L.A. … I play bass guitar, so I did a movie called “Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story”, where I played the standup bass in the band in the movie. So, that was one of those rare chances that I got to mix the acting with my musician side. My neighbor is a drummer, so we used to get together, have a couple of drinks and play some music. Me on the bass, he plays the piano and the drums, and we would kind of get together and make some music. But since COVID, we really haven’t done anything.

Zenger: What do you have coming up in the near future that we can look forward to?

Faucette: I’ve done a few things. I just shot an episode of “Curb Your Enthusiasm”, an HBO show. They brought that back. I have a nice scene with Larry David, which was exciting. He’s a great comedian. The show is pretty much all improv, which is so interesting. And I did a digital series that I was the lead in called “Forbidden Fruit”. That is going to be hot whenever they get that out. That’s where I play a preacher, I have a past and I have cancer. I have a past that was a little unsavory. And that past is coming back. … Well, I’m kind of going back to get that past to pay for my cancer treatment. It’s a trip. It’s about nine short digital series episodes; that’s going to be really hot.

Zenger: To play all these different roles, is there a certain ritual or thing that you tap into?

Faucette: All of these crazy personalities, right? It’s different for each character. For Tony Watson, I had to find that justification. Why is he so intent on pulling the plug on his son? That’s so cold-hearted. For him, he had a justification in his own mind and his own body. For the preacher, it all depends on the script — depending upon my reasoning for going back into my shady life. How can I still bring the word to people if I die of cancer? I had to find a way to pay for my cancer treatment, which may involve me going back into my shady past, so that I can still preach the word and make the world a better place. This is his own justification. It’s different for each character. You kind of delve into it and find your own motivation and your own purpose and filter it through yourself. ‘Cause we all have our own experiences, bad or good, and our own thought process that might not be normal. Most people have some crazy thoughts in their head, and this is where you can kind of expand on those things that are already in you and filter this character through that.

(Edited by Stan Chrapowicki and Alex Patrick)

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Former Champs Craig Hodges, Zina Garrison Talk Sports Activism With Scoop Jackson

Negro League Baseball and Black College (now known as HBCU) sports would have been totally omitted from American sports history had it not been for journalists of color and minority publications. Outlets such as the Amsterdam News, Afro American, Atlanta Daily World, Pittsburgh Courier, and Jet Magazine made legends athletes who were afterthoughts in mainstream media, which tried denying their credibility by ignoring them.

The synergy between black athletes and black journalists has been a powerful force in exposing the underbelly of sports and society. Chronicling the athletes’ experiences and the obstacles they overcome has helped to swing the pendulum of social consciousness.

The relationships formed by enterprising black journalists such as the late Bill Nunn, Jr., Sam Lacy and Howie Evans allowed the stories of Satchel Paige, Josh Gibson, and Jackie Robinson to be told, so they could finally be recognized for their incredible performance. Their coverage helped desegregate the three major professional leagues, which had to confront the struggles of the trailblazing athletes who were thrust into activism because of their notoriety.

The MOBE (Marketing Opportunities in Business and Entertainment) Symposium’s MOBE Monday event on Feb. 15 was a panel discussion on Black Activism and Equality in Sports. The panel included former two-time NBA and three-time 3-point shooting champion Craig Hodges, who was a vital contributor to the Chicago Bulls’ first two championships, Olympic gold medalist and tennis champion Zina Garrison, who founded the Zina Garrison Academy, and Scoop Jackson, a senior writer for ESPN Features Unit and SportsCenter as well as chief content and copy writer for Nike.

Bill Russel, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Muhommad Ali were all advocates for social change throughout their careers. (Amazon)

The panel discussed how contemporary Black athletes are using their platforms and influence with more force than ever to change racial inequities in American society. They considered how Colin Kaepernick’s activism likely cost him a long-term NFL opportunity even after leading the San Francisco 49ers to a Super Bowl appearance, and whether recent events are forcing sports teams, leagues and organizations to rethink previous concerns about athletes exercising their First Amendment rights.

“We’ve actually crossed over into a space that we’ve never been before,” Hodges said. “When it’s your chance to step up you do so, and that’s the love and beauty of what’s going on now with social media and young activists.”

Like Kaepernick, Hodges’ career was cut short due to his activism. When the Bulls visited the White House after their 1992 World Championship he dressed in a dashiki and delivered an eight-page letter to President George H.W. Bush protesting the government’s treatment of minorities. Before the start of the NBA Finals series against the Los Angeles Lakers that season, he suggested a protest prior to Game 1 to bring attention to the league’s lack of black ownership, but it was thwarted by pushback from Earvin “Magic” Johnson and Michael Jordan. That was his last season in a Bulls uniform as he missed the following year due to injury and was not re-signed.

Jackson says he was surprised to see pushback after Jacksonville Jaguars coach Urban Meyer hired former Iowa Hawkeyes strength and conditioning coach Chris Doyle, who left Iowa after allegations of racial disparities. That pushback was “thanks to a brother like Craig Hodges,” he said, and today’s activism in sports is in part a result of  “what he had to go through and what he did.”

Garrison had to break through many barriers as a young black woman from a community where there were no role models in tennis. She made her mark on the tennis world by winning both the Wimbledon and U.S. Open junior titles in 1981. In 1983 she ended her first full tour ranked No. 10 in the world, and remained in the top 25 until 1995.

“I was definitely thrust into [activism],” Garrison said. “The great Arthur Ashe told me immediately when I came on the tour that … I was going to be a role model and I was going to be speaking out for the people, that’s just part of it.”

The full program is available here.

(Edited by Kristen Butler)

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Black And Jewish Entertainment Leaders Unite To Fight Bigotry

Shared suffering has birthed a powerful partnership.

Drawing on their shared experiences of discrimination and marginalization, Black and Jewish leaders have formed an alliance to combat racism and anti-Semitism.

They are using the power of celebrity as a microphone to call for change, as anti-Semitic attacks have skyrocketed over the past few years and the Black Lives Matter movement has renewed calls for racial justice.

More than 170 men and women from the entertainment industry, ranging from film stars to music executives to athletes, signed a February unity statement released by the newly formed Black-Jewish Entertainment Alliance (BJEA) in full page ads in Variety and Billboard to coincide with the Black History Month.

“As members of the entertainment community, we stand against all forms of hate, and pledge to work to bring our two communities together in solidarity, to support one another in our struggles, and to better understand each other’s plight and narratives,” the statement reads.

“In the spirit of Martin Luther King Jr., Rabbi Abraham Heschel, and the many Blacks and Jews who stood together in the fight for civil rights, we come together to support each other in the struggle against hatred and bigotry.”

The wide-ranging list of signatories includes actors Jason Alexander, Mayim Bialik, Tiffany Haddish and Billy Porter, music executives Aaron Bay-Schuck and Ethiopia Habtemariam, former studio head Sherry Lansing and KISS rocker Gene Simmons.

“The rifts between people are as high as they have been in a long time,” Andrew Gould, former president of A&R, Downtown Music Publishing, told Zenger News. “You’re seeing systemic racism toward the Black community at its peak right now, and you’re seeing a level of anti-Semitism at its peak right now. We have had such a shared history. It’s just such an obvious step for the two communities to come together.”

Several of the signatories told Zenger News their support of the BJEA is a natural extension of work they are already doing on behalf of human rights and social justice — publicly or privately.

“I haven’t been one to put my name forward. I’m a little averse to being too far in front of any cause because I saw it as detracting from the cause,” said Brian Dobbins, co-president of the Hollywood management firm Artists First. “But then I realized I needed to do more and probably should be putting my name forward to be part of a larger, louder group.”

Brian Dobbins, the co-president of the Hollywood management firm Artists First, was one of the signatories on a February ad placed by the new alliance. (Courtesy of Brian Dobbins)

Singer-songwriter Autumn Rowe, the daughter of a Black father and a Jewish mother, said her interest in combating racism intensified in 2019 when she felt the division in America intensified. That year, she also collaborated with fellow music activist and “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” bandleader Jon Batiste on the song, “We Are,” which became an anthem of the 2020 Black Lives Matter protests.

In addition to being a signatory with the alliance, Rowe will be one of the panelists at the first BJEA event: a Feb. 17 discussion on growing up both Black and Jewish and on what entertainers can do to bring the two communities together.

Asked what she believes non-celebrities can do to further the mission of the alliance, Rowe suggested people read about Black and Jewish history.

“I want people to be open-minded to other people’s pain and struggles,” she said. “Let’s just support everybody and realize what we all have gone through. Sometimes I feel like people don’t really take that time, and it hurts everyone. So I just want everyone to take a moment to do some serious research and just for a second imagine what the other person is going through, what they’re feeling, and just hold that space.”

The formation of the alliance comes as anti-Semitic incidents and attacks have been on the rise in the United States in recent years, reaching an all-time high in 2019, according to the Anti-Defamation League.

Jews account for less than 2 percent of the American population, yet the new FBI Hate Crimes Statistics report found more than 60 percent of religious-based hate crimes in 2019 targeted Jews, an increase of 14 percent over 2018. The FBI also reported in 2019 that 57.6 percent of the victims were targeted because of the offenders’ bias against race/ethnicity/ancestry.

The new alliance also follows a tense summer that featured nationwide demonstrations against systemic racism and police brutality, largely sparked by the death of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man who died while being arrested in Minneapolis.

(Edited by Carlin Becker and Fern Siegel)

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