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Hip-Hop and Fashion Film Featured at 2019 Sidewalk Festival, Wins Award

BIRMINGHAM TIMES — Coming of age during the growth of hip-hop in the mid-1980s and working at the legendary Def Jam Recordings and Rush Artist Management gave filmmaker Lisa Cortés a unique insight about music culture. Her film “The Remix: Hip-Hop X Fashion,” one of the featured presentations at Birmingham’s 2019 Sidewalk Film Festival last week, was shown during the event’s first Black Lens Spotlight Night; it also won Best Black Lens Film Award.

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Filmmaker Lisa Cortes

By Ameera Steward

Coming of age during the growth of hip-hop in the mid-1980s and working at the legendary Def Jam Recordings and Rush Artist Management gave filmmaker Lisa Cortés a unique insight about music culture.

Her film “The Remix: Hip-Hop X Fashion,” one of the featured presentations at Birmingham’s 2019 Sidewalk Film Festival last week, was shown during the event’s first Black Lens Spotlight Night; it also won Best Black Lens Film Award.

“I was a woman in hip-hop, behind the scenes. … [Working on this film] allowed me as a storyteller to pay homage to some incredible sisters,” said Cortés, who partnered with co-director Farah X on the film. “I always have a personal connection to the films I’m involved with, but this I think was super-personal. It also was reflective of a passion I’ve had for many years to make certain that the narrative … about hip-hop’s pioneers is an inclusive one.”

Among those highlighted in the film are several hip-hop stylists and fashion designers, known and unknown, including entrepreneur and fashion architect Misa Hylton and Walker Wear founder April Walker; also featured are illustrious Harlem, N.Y., tailor Dapper Dan and Pyer Ross creator, founder, and designer Kerby-Jean Raymond.

“We create culture but don’t participate in the longevity of it in terms of the business part,” Hylton said in the film.

Cortés, who was in Birmingham for the screening in the festival’s new theater in the Pizitz Building, said “The Remix” looks at stylists and the role women played in creating fashions that not only became iconic for the artists but also transcended and had a huge impact on global fashion—and was “appropriated and sold back to our community,” said Cortés.

“I just felt like it was a wonderful way to combine my desire to change the scope of hip-hop narratives,” most of which, she added, lean toward a male perspective.

From hip-hop’s beginnings, however, women have been there, Cortés said: “There has always been a partnership between men and women in this space. Unfortunately, there haven’t been a lot of … opportunities for the stories of women’s contributions to be told.”

“The Three E’s”

Viewers of “The Remix: Hip-Hop X Fashion” will resonate with the stories of empowerment and fashion or with the music, said Cortés.

“What I always hope for any viewer are my three E’s—that [people] are elevated by the experience, that they are educated by the experience, and that they leave with empathy for the stories … shared in the film.”

Hearing from hip-hop pioneers allows the audience to learn things they may not know “about this intersection of fashion and music, particularly hip-hop music,” Cortés said. “There’s a discovery of some incredible architects who are a part of this movement.”

The audience also gains recognition of the cyclical nature of fashion, of the place of black excellence and creativity, “of our ability to take straw and spin it into gold in what we do,” she said, adding that people sometimes wear clothing and hairstyles that become a phenomenon, but they don’t know the origins.

“In excavating these origin stories, we can see that there’s been a long history of African Americans taking fashion, recontextualizing it in our own style, wearing it in a political manner, and then … co-opting and recycling it into our culture,” Cortés said.

Cultural Appreciation

Alan Hunter, who helped found the Sidewalk Film Festival 21 years ago and is now chair emeritus of the festival’s advisory board, said the “The Remix” was an important part of the screenings.

“I know a little something about the fashion business,” he said. “I was in New York in the 1980s when a lot of that stuff was coming around. … I have an appreciation for it. I have an appreciation for culture in general.”

Hunter, who is also a former MTV DJ, added, “I thought the film was great. It took a much deeper dive than I would have expected it to. … You can’t have just a nice, frothy look at some of the great designers in hip-hop culture without going back to the reason they were designing these kinds of clothes.”

Cultural appropriation versus cultural appreciation is a topic worthy of discussion, he said: “That’s on everybody’s mind, whether they know it’s on their minds or not. Everybody’s trying to appropriate one culture or the other, and the music business is certainly the epicenter of the cross-fertilization. … That meant something to me [while watching the film.]”

Michele Forman, immediate past president on the Sidewalk Film Festival advisory board, said the film was “incredibly watchable, but it’s really deep.”

“I thought [it] was very revealing about how successful some of these iconic figures were,” she said. “The thing to me that was most heartbreaking is that their style impact has gone on for decades after their innovation, and they’ve not been the ones to profit [from] it. I think the film does a very good job of being able to map out how that kind of business happens.”

Andrew Jones of Birmingham said the film resonates with his brand Fly V and what he’s trying to create for the culture of Birmingham.

“I really appreciated the fashion designers and the creativity that was shown,” he said. “[The film] showed the struggles of some designers and how the fashion industry works, [as well as] some of the struggles they have when trying to promote their brand and creativity. … I think [the directors] did an awesome job with a lot of the scenes and messages in the movie.”

“The Remix: Hip-Hop X Fashion” also showed the importance of being persistent and not focusing on recognition, said Jones: “As long as you’re true to yourself and true to your talent and creativity, it’ll all come together in the end.”

This article originally appeared in The Birmingham Times.

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U.S. Business Leaders Step Up to Fight Inequities in the South

Even as the pandemic has laid bare societal inequities that have long eroded the foundation of our democracy, political leaders in Washington and in state capitols are mired in a level of rancor and partisanship not seen since the ideological struggles over the Vietnam War. 

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Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis Jr./ NNPA Newswire

Even as the pandemic has laid bare societal inequities that have long eroded the foundation of our democracy, political leaders in Washington and in state capitols are mired in a level of rancor and partisanship not seen since the ideological struggles over the Vietnam War. 

This toxic atmosphere has left them incapable of addressing pressing, yet ingrained issues like the racial wealth gap, the digital divide, and vast inequalities in everything from health care to home ownership.

With COVID-19 still an omnipresent concern and the country’s recovery still very much in jeopardy, individuals, families, and communities – particularly communities of color throughout the South – are struggling to deal with issues that have only been exacerbated by the pandemic.

From impediments to wealth creation opportunities and a dearth of education and workforce development to a lack of access to reliable broadband, substandard housing, and inadequate political representation, communities of color have suffered an outsized toll during the ongoing public health crisis.

Yet political leaders can’t even agree on basic facts that would allow the nation to implement a coherent national strategy for combatting a pandemic that appears to be entering a new wave amid the rise of the highly contagious Delta variant that is currently ravaging parts of the South.

Against that disillusioning backdrop, there is at least some reason for hope. Moving to fill the vacuum created by the inaction of our political class, a group of business leaders in the technology and investment sectors have embarked on a far-reaching – and perhaps unprecedented – campaign to address the social inequities and systemic racism that has historically plagued our country’s southern communities.

Known as the Southern Communities Initiative (SCI), the campaign was founded by financial technology company PayPal, the investment firm Vista Equity Partners (Vista), and the Boston Consulting Group (BCG).

SCI was formed to work with local elected officials and advocacy groups to tackle the ubiquitous problems of structural racism and inequalities facing communities of color in six communities throughout the South. SCI notes that these areas – Atlanta, Ga., Birmingham, Ala., Charlotte, N.C., Houston, Texas, Memphis, Tenn., and New Orleans, La., – were chosen in part because they are home to around 50% of the country’s Black population and are where some of the greatest disparities exist.

SCI is aiming to drive long-term change, as outlined by PayPal CEO Dan Schulman, Vista CEO Robert F. Smith and BCG CEO Rich Lesser. 

In Atlanta, for example, SCI is working to bridge the wealth gap that exists among the region’s African-American residents. While there is a strong Black business community in the city, and high levels of Black educational achievement thanks to the regional presence of several Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) and the voice of the Black press, there is still an extremely low level of Black entrepreneurship and business ownership with only 6% of employer firms being Black-owned.

To remedy this disparity, SCI is working with the Southern Economic Advancement Project to create entrepreneurship hubs and accelerator programs to increase the number of minority-owned businesses. The corporations behind SCI are also using their networks to help other companies work with minority-owned supply companies.

In Alabama, SCI is seeking to bridge the massive digital divide in an urban area where 450,000 households are without connection to the internet. In order to tackle the crisis, SCI is leveraging relationships with local schools and libraries to distribute laptops and service vouchers. Another tact SCI is taking is to partner with the owners of multi-unit buildings in low-income neighborhoods to install free public Wi-Fi for residents.

The lack of access to capital is another reason Black communities throughout the South have been traditionally underbanked. In Memphis, where 47% of Black households are underbanked, SCI is partnering with Grameen America to cover the $2 million per year per branch start-up cost to build brick-and-mortar banks in minority communities.

This alone will provide 20,000 women access to more than $250 million per year in financing.

Beyond these initiatives, SCI is partnering with groups like the Greater Houston Partnership and the Urban League of Louisiana to provide in-kind support to improve job outcomes for minority college students, expand access to home financing through partnerships with community development financial institutions, and harness the power of technology to expand health care access in underserved urban and rural neighborhoods.

The issues facing these communities throughout the South are not new nor will they be fixed overnight.

Fortunately, SCI is taking a long-term approach that is focused on getting to the root of structural racism in the United States and creating a more just and equitable country for every American.

A once-in-a-century pandemic and a social justice movement not seen since the 1960s were not enough to break the malaise and rancorous partisanship in Washington. Fortunately, corporate leaders are stepping up and partnering with local advocates and non-profit groups to fix the problem of systemic injustice in the U.S.

We, therefore, salute and welcome the transformative commitments of the Southern Communities Initiative (SCI). There is no time to delay, because as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. so accurately said, “The time is always right to do what is right.”

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Black Woman to Lead United States Park Police

 Chief Smith’s experience serving in leadership roles in every U.S. Park Police field office has provided her with an unmatched foundation to lead the diverse agency,” said Flynn, who oversees law enforcement programs at USPP.

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Pamela A. Smith

Pamela A. Smith, a 23-year veteran of the United States Park Police, will lead the nation’s oldest federal law enforcement agency.

Smith, who became the first African American woman to lead the 230-year-old agency, immediately remarked that she would establish a body-worn camera program for USPP within 90 days.

The program will initially begin in San Francisco and be implemented across the country by the end of the year, Smith said.

“Body-worn cameras are good for the public and good for our officers, which is why I am prioritizing implementing a body-worn camera program within my first 90 days,” Smith offered in a statement.

 “This is one of the many steps we must take to continue to build trust and credibility with the public we have been entrusted to serve.”

Smith earned a bachelor’s degree in Education from the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff and graduated from the FBI National Academy. She is a member of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives and the International Association of Chiefs of Police.

During her law enforcement career, the proud Zeta Phi Beta Sorority sister has served as a patrol officer, field training officer, canine handler, and academy instructor at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center.

 According to a news release, Smith also served as executive lieutenant to the chief of police, assistant commander of the San Francisco Field Office, commander of the New York Field Office, acting deputy chief of the Homeland Security Division, and deputy chief for the Field Operations Division.

Smith was the first woman to lead the New York Field Office as its Major.

At the USPP, she will lead a 560-member workforce that protects the public, parks, and the nation’s most iconic landmarks in Wash., D.C., New York City, and San Francisco metropolitan areas.

“Chief Smith’s commitment to policing as public service and her willingness to listen and collaborate make her the right person to lead the U.S. Park Police at this pivotal moment in our country,” Shawn Benge, deputy director exercising the delegated authority of the NPS director, noted in a statement.

 “Over the coming months, the leadership of the National Park Service will explore opportunities with Chief Smith designed to strengthen our organization’s commitment to transparency. Her personal and professional experience make her acutely aware of and ready to meet the challenges and responsibilities that face U.S. Park Police and law enforcement agencies across the nation.”

 Jennifer Flynn, the associate director for Visitor Resource Protection at the National Park Service added that she’s looking forward to Smith’s leadership.

“Chief Smith’s experience serving in leadership roles in every U.S. Park Police field office has provided her with an unmatched foundation to lead the diverse agency,” said Flynn, who oversees law enforcement programs at USPP.

 “As federal law enforcement officers, the U.S. Park Police officers have a new opportunity each day to give their best to the American people. Chief Smith exemplifies that approach as a colleague and mentor, and she will be instrumental in refining and shaping the future of the organization,” Flynn said.

Smith declared that she would lead by example and expects all officers to display integrity.

 “I have dedicated my career to the professionalism of law enforcement, and it is my highest honor and privilege to serve as chief of police,” Chief Smith declared. “Today’s officers face many challenges, and I firmly believe challenges present opportunities. I look forward to leading this exemplary team as we carry out our mission with honesty and integrity.”  

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