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Meet Micah Lewis, Founder of Vibestreet Studios

BIRMINGHAM TIMES — Micah Lewis, 24, is founder of Vibestreet Photography and Rental Studios, a rental space near Five Points South that opened this year and hosts a broad range of photo shoots, videography, art shows, meetings, and even served as a site for a local reality show. He recently spoke to The Birmingham Times about the multipurpose location for creatives in the Magic City.

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Micha Lewis (Photo by: birminghamtimes.com)

By Ameera Steward

Micah Lewis, 24, is founder of Vibestreet Photography and Rental Studios, a rental space near Five Points South that opened this year and hosts a broad range of photo shoots, videography, art shows, meetings, and even served as a site for a local reality show. He recently spoke to The Birmingham Times about the multipurpose location for creatives in the Magic City.

Birmingham Times: What do you like most about Birmingham?

Lewis: I love that Birmingham is a happy medium between small towns and big cities. We have a large university here, but also a lot of small businesses and restaurants that aren’t available in other cities. Places like Atlanta can be overwhelming for extended amounts of time with the huge population and constant traffic. Also, my roots are here, and there’s nothing better than giving back to a community that gave me so much.

If you had someone visit from out of town, what’s the one place you have to take them?

Aside from places like Vulcan [Park and Museum] and the Civil Rights Institute, it’s important to see other places in the city that truly capture the essence of Birmingham. First, we’d stop by Bayles, a black-owned restaurant in Woodlawn that opened recently and has the best waffles I’ve tasted in a long time. Next, we’d head to Third Avenue North, where there’s an assortment of amazing businesses. Starting at Don’s Hair Care Center, I’d make sure they get a fresh fade from one of the best barbers in Birmingham, Donnie. Then we’d get them some air-purifying plants from the Botanical Gardens, a cup of coffee from Revelator Coffee, and end the visit with the McWane Center.

What’s your favorite movie?

My top three of all time would be “Training Day,” “White Men Can’t Jump,” and “She’s Out of Your League.” I’m a fan of movies that have issues that aren’t too big. Our real lives can be very stressful so I’m not into movies or shows where someone has to save the world from ending. In movies like these, people are put in situations where they’re probably supposed to lose, but they find a way through despite their flaws.

Who’s your favorite musical artist?

I’m not sure if I’ll ever have a number-one favorite artist but, but right now my favorites are YBN Cordae, Sam Cooke, and the great Nipsey Hussle. Cordae is a newer artist, but it’s so refreshing to hear someone actually rapping in a time of hip-hop that is so heavily diluted with people focusing on money instead of the art itself. I believe you can be considered a great artist when you have one truly perfect song, and Sam Cooke has at least three, which is amazing. Aside from his extensive discography and constant growth within his music, Nipsey Hussle gave knowledge and resources to his community in abundance, which is something I think about daily.

What’s a food dish that you can never get tired of?

The super double burger from Pop’s Neighborhood Grill on the Southside is amazing. There’s just something about that restaurant, where you can literally taste the love. With places like that open here in Birmingham, I rarely go to the chain fast food restaurants.

What are you most passionate about professionally? Personally?

Professionally, I care about growing Vibestreet organically and keeping our focus on being a resource to the young people coming up behind us. In the past, I’ve been so focused on changing people’s perception of Vibestreet, I ended up reaching for things that were not in the best interest of the brand, [such as paying people they didn’t know personally to promote the brand.] In those cases, people did the bare minimum or only what they were contractually obligated to do. Customers can tell it’s just someone being paid and not that they personally believe in Vibestreet but looked good on social media. Now, due to those hard lessons I understand that our victory is not in comparison to others but knowing that we did our best and still remained ourselves in that. Personally, I strive to be a better man every day and gain more patience and understanding of the world around me.

Who is someone you admire, and why?

My cousin, Ronald Jackson, is someone I draw strength from regularly. His childhood situations were more than any one person should have to endure, but he’s one of the most kind and pleasant people walking the earth. I’ve had issues with forgiveness and patience, but it seems he’s been endowed with those traits his entire life. I regularly think to myself, “If Ronnie could make it through all that, I can keep going as well.”

What are three pet peeves?

Being late, unprepared/uninformed, or stagnant would be my biggest pet peeves. I like to get where I’m going at least 10 minutes early, just in case an issue arises. Additionally, I know I value my time, so I wouldn’t want to waste anyone else’s. Being on time goes hand in hand with being prepared and informed. For events we curate for Vibestreet, as a team we organize everything three months in advance so we can be thorough and precise with our finished products. And finally, without growth there is no life itself.

How do you want to be remembered?

As a flawed man who took his vision farther than he was equipped to. The very heritage of black Americans is being dealt an unfair hand and still coming away with a victory. I’d like to continue that legacy and leave more resources behind, therefore passing the baton on to the next generation so maybe they can simply live better lives instead of having to fight for one. I know we’re far from the goal of full civil equality, but if we were the last generation to have to go to war and die for it, that’d be great.

What do you want to do before you die?

I want to ensure that I convey a message that happiness is more accessible than what we are taught. Life is not worth living only because you have an expensive sports car and a mansion. The greatest luxury in this life is time spent with people who matter to you. A cousin of mine was murdered recently [June 2019] here in Birmingham, and I would give everything I have for him to have made it home safely that night. We’re often in heaven but get too preoccupied looking out the window at something else. Many of our young people are systematically being led astray by being told that they need material things—often depreciating liabilities—to be successful, when instead they need to be taught the importance of financial stability and building a foundation that can help them for the rest of their lives.

What publications or websites do you regularly read?

Aside from reading The Birmingham Times regularly, I’m not as much of a reader as I’d like to be. I usually get my breaking news from Twitter, and I watch a lot of interviews from people that inspire me. I actually listen to the same interviews a lot so I can fully digest messages from people.

What is your personal motto?

From the late great Nipsey Hussle: “The marathon continues.” We’ve been working on Vibestreet for four years now, and I still feel like we’ve barely begun. Earlier on I was concerned with the sprint and trying to be the biggest thing in the world by tomorrow, but that isn’t possible. The slow growth, hard lessons, and struggles along the way are what make the journey worth it.

Click here to read about Vibestreet’s chief financial officer, Josh Echols. 

Click here to read about Vibestreet’s operations coordinator, Jerrod Dukes. 

This article originally appeared in The Birmingham Times.

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PRESS ROOM: New AARP Pennsylvania Poll: Black Voters 50+ Say Social Security, Inflation, and Medicare Will Influence 2024 Vote

NNPA NEWSWIRE — “With inflation and the rising costs of living squeezing all Pennsylvania households, Black voters 50+ are clearly looking for leaders with a plan,” said Bill Johnston-Walsh, AARP Pennsylvania State Director.  “Candidates would be wise to listen to their opinions and concerns if they want to win in November.”
The post PRESS ROOM: New AARP Pennsylvania Poll: Black Voters 50+ Say Social Security, Inflation, and Medicare Will Influence 2024 Vote first appeared on BlackPressUSA.

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AARP Pennsylvania’s first 2024 election survey shows that candidates should pay close attention to Pennsylvanian voters ages 50 and older and highlights the priorities and concerns of Black voters ages 50 and older that will likely influence the outcome of the 2024 elections. Seventy-nine percent of Black voters in Pennsylvania are extremely motivated to vote this year. When asked about the issues that are important as they decide whom to vote for this November, older Black voters cited Social Security (92% say extremely or very important), Medicare (89%), policies to help seniors live independently at home as they age (87%), the cost of prescription drugs (86%) as key issues. Social Security and Medicare emerged as their top priority issue in their vote for Senate this year, with nearly twice as many Black voters 50+ choosing Social Security and Medicare as any of the other dozen issues tested.

“With inflation and the rising costs of living squeezing all Pennsylvania households, Black voters 50+ are looking for leaders with a plan,” said Bill Johnston-Walsh, AARP Pennsylvania State Director.  “Candidates would be wise to listen to their opinions and concerns if they want to win in November.” Among Black voters 50+, President Joe Biden (D) leads former President Donald Trump (R) by a large margin: 84% to 8%. In the race for U.S. Senate, Senator Bob Casey (D) leads Dave McCormick 87% to 7%.

Other key takeaways include:

  • 96% of Black voters 50+ say they are more likely to vote for a candidate for the U.S. Senate who advocated making sure workers get the Social Security they paid for through a lifetime of hard work.
  • Four of the five issues measured as cost concerns are important to many Black voters 50+: health care/prescription drugs, utilities, food, and housing; and
  • 58% of Black voters 50+ are worried about their financial situation including 63% of women. Health care/prescription drugs and housing are the biggest cost concerns.
  • 66% of Black voters 50+ and 73% of Black voters 65+ say Social Security is or will be a major source of their income.

AARP commissioned the bipartisan polling team of Fabrizio Ward & Impact Research to conduct a survey. The firms interviewed 1,398 likely Pennsylvania voters, which includes a statewide representative sample of 600 likely voters, with an oversample of 470 likely voters aged 50 and older and an additional oversample of 328 Black likely voters aged 50 and older, between April 24-30, 2024. The interviews were conducted via landline, cellphone, and SMS-to-web. The margin of sampling error for the 600 statewide samples is ±4.0%; for the 800 total sample of voters 50+ is ±3.5%; for the 400 total sample of Black voters 50+ is ±4.9%.

View the full survey results at aarp.org/PApolling.

For more information on how, when, and where to vote in Pennsylvania, visit aarp.org/PAVotes.

The post PRESS ROOM: New AARP Pennsylvania Poll: Black Voters 50+ Say Social Security, Inflation, and Medicare Will Influence 2024 Vote first appeared on BlackPressUSA.

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Calif. Anti-Sex Trafficking Advocates Discuss Competing Bills, Strategies

OAKLAND POST — “It is time to send a thorough message that if you seek to buy a child for sex, you will pay the highest criminal penalties in this state,” said the Rev. Shane Harris, a San Diego-based activist, former foster youth and founder of the Peoples Association of Justice Advocates, (PAJA), a national civil rights organization and policy think tank. Harris, who was speaking at a rally at the State Capitol earlier this month, was speaking in support of Senate Bill 1414, authored by Sen. Shannon Grove (D-Bakersfield), which calls for people who buy sex from minors to be punished with a felony. The punishment includes a two-year prison sentence and a $25,000 fine.
The post Calif. Anti-Sex Trafficking Advocates Discuss Competing Bills, Strategies first appeared on BlackPressUSA.

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By Bo Tefu, California Black Media | The Oakland Post

Advocates from across California are challenging state officials and community leaders to support legislation that provides resources and services for survivors and victims of human trafficking, as well as assistance as they transition back into civil society.

Some of those advocates are also calling for more effective state policy to curtail trafficking, a crime that has an outsized impact on Black children, particularly girls.

According to the FBI, a report covering a two-year period found Black children accounted for 57% of all juvenile arrests for prostitution. In addition, 40% of sex trafficking victims were Black and 60% of those victims had been enrolled in the foster care system.

“It is time to hold the perpetrators who take advantage of our children accountable,” said the Rev. Shane Harris, a San Diego-based activist, former foster youth and founder of the Peoples Association of Justice Advocates, (PAJA), a national civil rights organization and policy think tank.

“It is time to send a thorough message that if you seek to buy a child for sex, you will pay the highest criminal penalties in this state,” added Harris who was speaking at a rally at the State Capitol earlier this month. Harris was speaking in support of Senate Bill 1414, authored by Sen. Shannon Grove (D-Bakersfield), which calls for people who buy sex from minors to be punished with a felony. The punishment includes a two-year prison sentence and a $25,000 fine.

Harris said the PAJA is the only civil rights organization in the state that supports SB 1414.

Harris urged other Black-led groups who favor anti-trafficking legislation more focused on criminal justice reforms (as opposed to stiffer penalties), to “join the movement.”

Many of those civil rights groups fear that SB 1414 could lead to the incarceration of more Black youth.

Those sentiments were echoed in a panel discussion organized by Black women advocates on April 26 to examine the cause and effects of human trafficking in California’s Black communities. The virtual event was hosted by the Forgotten Children, Inc, a faith-based nonprofit that advocates for survivors and victims of human trafficking through anti-trafficking campaigns and initiatives.

Panelists shared the psychological impact of sexual exploitation on youth and children in the long term.

Author and educator Dr. Stephany Powell shared statistics and information revealing that African American women and girls are the most trafficked nationwide.

Powell, who serves as the senior advisor on law enforcement and policy at the National Center on Sexual Exploitation said that national data indicates that sex trade survivors are disproportionately women of color. She stated that male survivors often go unnoticed because boys rarely report trafficked crimes.

Powell said that decriminalizing prostitution in California could increase human trafficking. She argued that Senate Bill 357, authored by Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco), which was signed into law in 2022 and legalized loitering for prostitution, caused a surge in street-level prostitution.

Panelist and psychologist Dr. Gloria Morrow shared opposing views on decriminalizing prostitution. She said that decriminalizing prostitution could help survivors gain access to state resources and support.

Despite opposing views, Powell and Morrow agree that the Black community needs resources and educational programs to address human trafficking.

The post Calif. Anti-Sex Trafficking Advocates Discuss Competing Bills, Strategies first appeared on BlackPressUSA.

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The TINA TURNER Musical Reveals Trials and Triumphs

THE OKLAHOMA EAGLE — The 1993 movie “What’s Love Got to Do with It” portrayed the relationship between Ike and Tina Turner as abusive before their breakup. Ike was also said to victimize Tina, as she shared in a 2018 interview with Oprah Winfrey. But Deon Releford-Lee, the actor who plays Ike in the Broadway musical, says there is more to Ike’s story than is told on screen. In preparing for the part, the Broadway actor searched for the triggers that made Ike who he was known to be.  
The post The TINA TURNER Musical Reveals Trials and Triumphs first appeared on BlackPressUSA.

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By Kimberly Marsh | The Oklahoma Eagle

According to Tulsans who knew him and the actor who plays him in the musical Tina, The Tina Turner Musical, Ike Turner may have had multiple sides to his personality. However, the Ike Turner the public has seen is a violent man.

The arc of Tina Turner’s career is well-known. Although Ike’s story is lesser known, he had a powerful influence on Tina’s life and career. They had a family together, and he witnessed Tina rise to superstardom.

Naomi Rodgers performing ‘What’s Love Got to Do with It?” as Tina Turner in the North American touring production of “TINA – THE TINA TURNER MUSICAL.” Photo by Matthew Murphy for MurphyMade.

Naomi Rodgers performing ‘What’s Love Got to Do with It?” as Tina Turner in the North American touring production of “TINA – THE TINA TURNER MUSICAL.” Photo by Matthew Murphy for MurphyMade.

The 1993 movie, “What’s Love Got to Do with It,” portrayed the relationship between Ike and Tina Turner as abusive before their breakup. Ike was also said to victimize Tina, as she shared in a 2018 interview with Oprah Winfrey. But Deon Releford-Lee, the actor who plays Ike in the Broadway musical, says there is more to Ike’s story than is told on screen. In preparing for the part, the Broadway actor searched for the triggers that made Ike who he was known to be.

Ike is part of the musical until the breakup and the start of Tina’s solo career in the second act. Because of the problematic themes of domestic violence, the musical is recommended for ages 14 and older.

Naomi Rodgers performed “Proud Mary” as Tina Turner and the cast of the North American touring production of “TINA – THE TINA TURNER MUSICAL.” Photo by Matthew Murphy and Evan Zimmerman for MurphyMade.

Naomi Rodgers performed “Proud Mary” as Tina Turner and the cast of the North American touring production of “TINA – THE TINA TURNER MUSICAL.” Photo by Matthew Murphy and Evan Zimmerman for MurphyMade.

Ike Turner 

In an interview with The Oklahoma Eagle, Releford-Lee said playing Ike Turner was a healing experience for him. While “villains” have challenging roles, Releford-Lee said it is liberating in some respects, and he embraces the challenge.

“I have a wealth of knowledge of difficult things to play. My focus is to do as much…research as possible to figure out who this human was, what happened in his path, and what maybe led him to the places to do some of the horrible things he did. Not to excuse their behavior because it’s deplorable, right? We don’t just walk around hating people, throwing them around, forcing them, and manipulating them to do things,” Releford-Lee said. He described Ike’s aggressive behavior, especially with his wife.

Channeling that aggressive hyper-masculine energy takes a toll but also frees Releford-Lee to be softer, more feminine, more free, and more in touch with his emotions off-stage. Having played many villains in the past, he said he learned to become “Okay with my ugliness because that ugliness is in all of us.”

“Ike was a Black man who wrote music and was one of the fathers of Rock ‘n’ Roll but never received the credit,” Releford-Lee said. As Tina took center stage and became the superstar she was, Ike was overlooked.

Zurin Villanueva performed as Tina Turner and Garrett Turner as Ike Turner in the North American touring production of “TINA – THE TINA TURNER MUSICAL.” Photo by Matthew Murphy and Evan Zimmerman for MurphyMade.

Zurin Villanueva performed as Tina Turner and Garrett Turner as Ike Turner in the North American touring production of “TINA – THE TINA TURNER MUSICAL.” Photo by Matthew Murphy and Evan Zimmerman for MurphyMade.

“Those are the things that I focus on to help ground me in the (character) because being rejected for being Black, being talented, being othered, is something that I can connect to.”

Tulsa Connections 

In an article published in June 2023 following Tina’s death, The Oklahoma Eagle Editor Gary Lee reflected on the days when the Ike and Tina Revue came to Tulsa and performed at the Big Ten Ballroom. The Ike and Tina Revue was a Big Ten headliner several times in the 1960s, and they performed together until their 1976 divorce.

Tulsa musician and radio personality Bobby Eaton Jr. knew them both and witnessed much of what was happening around them on the road. Eaton recently held a launch party for his new band, Eaton Out.  During the performance, he recounted working with Ike and Tina Turner as the youngest guy in the band. Eaton said he appreciated Ike as a band leader, a musician/composer, and a businessman who showed him the ropes in the industry. But Eaton acknowledged that the relationship was not easy.

“Tina was there, and a lot of fights and a lot of crazy stuff went on back in those days, but at the same, I couldn’t wait to get away because they had too much drama going on.”

Singer Michelle Love, a/k/a Sweet Randi Love, became an Ikette in 1993 and knew him during the last decade of his life when he revived his career as a frontman. She joined the band despite being familiar with the tumultuous relationship Tina described.

“We were more like a family unit. When it came to work, though, he was a real hard ass. I don’t want to say it like that. But you know what I mean? He was serious when it came to work. As far as that goes, he didn’t play any games because he was like, this is me on stage, and it represents me.

“After the Tina stuff, Ike was self-conscious…about every little thing that he did because he had already gotten kind of a bad rap behind the movie. So, he was a real stickler as far as that goes,” Love said, “But when it was time for everybody to go home and we were calming down, Ike was just a big old teddy bear. Honestly, he was really. I think a lot of what he went through, you know, in the past team as well, had a lot to do with his insecurities. During the Jim Crow days, he went through quite a bit. So, there’s a lot that people don’t know about him. As far as his background story goes, I’m not trying to take away from Tina’s background story because she has a story to tell, but it might explain why he was the way he was.”

Ike was released from prison in 1991 after serving 18 months for drug offenses. Cocaine was his drug of choice, and it flowed freely, in large quantities, around him. Ike’s drug addiction relapse in 2004 led to his drug overdose in 2007.

Love has returned to Tulsa and continues to sing and perform with Sweet Randi Love and The Love Thang band.

About Deon Releford-Lee 

Releford-Lee attended Fayetteville State University in North Carolina, an HBCU. At the university, he studied dance and theater. He began working professionally when he was still not old enough to play certain roles, portraying more mature characters. Although getting attention was difficult, he worked his way from ensemble to lead roles. A move to New York City followed, leading to his current role as Ike.

Deon Releford-Lee plays Ike Turner in the TPAC production TINA: The Tina Turner Musical.

Releford-Lee plays Ike full-time every night but has two understudy actors for this incredibly physical and emotional role.  A self-described Bohemian, Releford-Lee’s personality is very different from Ike’s, and he is shocked when audience members have no idea who he is when the cast goes out to greet them.

Following a night onstage, he does breathwork to unwind and get out of character, which can take about 15 minutes to exit.

“I realized that when I’m feeling anxious, it’s mostly because physically I’m not breathing at all. I’m holding my breath, so I’m just reminding myself to breathe. I’m someone who doesn’t leave the theater right away. I just kind of sit there for a bit, take off my costume, take off my wig, put my jewelry on, put my own clothes back on, and just kind of sit and listen to music, and then move on.”

Releford-Lee said people will learn a little more through Ike’s backstory, how the industry treated him, and why he was the way he was.

“And in the same breath, you’re also seeing him being manipulative and hurtful. And the audience is kind of on his side in one second, and then the very next second, betrayed by him.

“I love the moment where Tina and Ike first meet because you see them laughing, you see them enjoying each other. It’s one of the only times of fun between them. And I think that’s beautiful. I love watching Tina discover herself in the second act.”

Celebrity Attractions describes “Tina-The Tina Turner Musical” as the inspiring journey of a woman who broke barriers and became the Queen of Rock ‘n’ Roll. “Set to the pulse-pounding soundtrack of her most beloved hits, this electrifying sensation will send you soaring to the rafters.” Tina Turner won 12 Grammy Awards and her live shows were seen by millions, with more concert tickets sold than any other solo performer in music history. Featuring her songs, “Tina–The Tina Turner Musical” is written by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Katori Hall and directed by the internationally acclaimed Phyllida Lloyd.  

The post The TINA TURNER Musical Reveals Trials and Triumphs first appeared on BlackPressUSA.

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