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Single fatherhood pushed ‘The Chi’ star Curtiss Cook to achieve acting goals

ATLANTA VOICE — With appearances on NBC’s hit sci-fi series “Manifest” and FX’s “Mayans M.C.,” and Netflix’s “House of Cards,” actor Curtiss Cook is now a reoccurring character on the popular Showtime’s “The Chi.” Executive produced by Lena Waithe and rapper Common, “The Chi” follows the illustrates life for residents in a neighborhood on the South Side of Chicago and how these characters are connected through a series of events.

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By Sierra Porter

With appearances on NBC’s hit sci-fi series “Manifest” and FX’s “Mayans M.C.,” and Netflix’s “House of Cards,” actor Curtiss Cook is now a reoccurring character on the popular Showtime’s “The Chi.”

Executive produced by Lena Waithe and rapper Common, “The Chi” follows the illustrates life for residents in a neighborhood on the South Side of Chicago and how these characters are connected through a series of events.

In the show, Cook portrays Douda, a Southside businessman and hustler who becomes a mentor to Reg, played by actor Barton Fitzpatrick.

In an exclusive interview, Cook discusses his journey into acting, being a single father of three children, and the significant role “The Chi” plays for the Black community, specifically in inner-city areas.

Atlanta Voice: Describe how you got into acting and the journey looked like for you?

Cook: My mother was a Jehovah’s Witness, and so we didn’t celebrate Christmas or any holidays. I was in kindergarten, or first grade and my school had this Christmas pageant where Santa Claus gave us a show.

I got picked to be one of his little helpers, and he said my name and I started spinning around in circles and falling and getting up, and everybody in the class died laughing. By the time I got into the seventh grade, we had a drama club, and I joined that. In high school is where it got to be semi-professional.

I was in this organization called the Muse Machine, and I’m from Dayton, Ohio originally. In my junior year, I got one of the leading roles in a musical production and then my senior year I got the lead role, and that was a big deal, and that’s when I got the bug for it.

AV: While pursuing acting, who was your support team, and how did they help push you toward your goals?

Cook: My mother first shunned me away from it, but once she saw that I was serious about it, she never stopped me, and that’s what I love.

I’m going to give a major shout out to the Dayton Public Schools system because I had a teacher named Ms. Patricia Copeland during junior high years and then I had another teacher named Ms.Corbin who was my music teacher.

Ms. Copeland was the first one who took me to a live performance of a play of Porgy and Bess to see her cousin performing. When I saw her cousin up there, it opened my eyes to make your possibilities. I started dancing for the Dayton Contemporary Dance Co (DCDC) dance company.

I was in the ninth grade; I’m saying that because Ms. Copeland and Jody Blunden who was the founding director, saw something in me as well. So it’s Ms. Corbin, Ms. Blendon, Ms. Copeland, and the Dayton Public Schools system with their programs at the time, the arts.

AV: What made you want to move to NYC and how did you balance being a single father of three and pursuing acting?

Cook: I don’t even know if you can balance it. I made it through like everybody does every day. After I got out of college, I moved to New York (Yonkers) in the late eighties, early nineties as a struggling actor, and had a degree from the Mountview Theater school in England. Subsequently, I met a beautiful woman, and we got together and ended up having three children together named Curtiss Jr., Isis, and Kimani.

Somewhere along the lines of our relationship, she decided that this wasn’t for her anymore. She said to me, ‘I don’t want to be a mother or a wife anymore.’ And I was like, okay, ‘you’re always going to be a mother, but you don’t have to be my wife.’ So we divorced, and by the time that had happened, I started gigging.

I could have found another path, but the acting was it, and in doing that, we suffered some hardships. I remember one time we had breakfast dinner. So we had like a little bit of pancake mix, so I made four pancakes and a few pieces of turkey bacon.

I give them their meals, and I go back to the kitchen, and I get mine and started to eat. Curtiss Jr., my oldest son finishes his food, and he comes back, and he’s like Dad ‘you ate all of it.’ It broke my heart. I was like, okay, let’s grind harder dude.

AV: How did your gig on “The Chi” come about?

Cook: I was very fortunate at the time when “The Chi” came about. I had just booked a pilot before called “Manifest” on NBC. The casting director Carmen Cuba sent a direct email saying, “‘The Chi is looking for this dude.”

I was like, I’m down for that. I sent in a self-tape of doing both sides of this character, Douda and then I got a call from Ayanna Floyd Davis, who’s the showrunner and executive producer of “The Chi.” She was like, ‘“I watched two minutes of your tape, and I had to stop it because soon as you started, I said, this is the dude we’re looking for.” I’m very fortunate that the writer of the show Lena Waithe and Ayanna felt confident enough in me to allow me to present that this year.

AV: How did you prepare for the role of Douda?

Cook: So, Chicago and Dayton are different, but in a lot of ways, they’re the same. The south side of Chicago, a lot of Black folks, can immediately identify the hardship of the inner city. I grew up in the inner city, so certain things become part of everyday life. Unknowingly, I had been prepping for this show from the time I was born in Dayton.

After I got the show, I watched a couple of the first season’s episodes, like oh, I know what this show is about. Subsequently, I watched it and realized; it was about people’s real lives. I left thinking, I know these people, that’s my aunt, that’s my cousin.

So the preparation was going to YouTube, reading a lot of James Baldwin books. I started reading a lot of contemporary authors and going back to that place of Dayton. It was a lot of soul searching, understanding of Black culture from a grown man’s perspective.

AV: What do you like most about the character of Douda?

Cook: I like his truth and awareness of what the community of African-Americans can do. It’d be hard pressed to find that this dude ever lies. It takes a very confident and aware person always to tell the truth, and stand behind it.

AV: What is like working with Jason Mitchell (Brandon), Jacob Latimore (Emmett) and the cast in general?

It’s nice. I remember one of the first days I got on in the van; I looked around, I was like, “oh my God, look at all of these beautiful brown faces from crew folk, set and lighting folks, hair, makeup people.” It’s almost like going to a nice barbecue where everybody brought an amazing dish that they want to share and everybody is cool. The music is right, the food is good, the conversation is insightful, and it’s intriguing. The dynamic is beautiful.

AV: With “The Chi” being based in the south side of Chicago, and rife with gun violence, do you think it’s important to address issues of gun violence and other problems that rife the city such as drugs, and crime?

Cook: Hugely important to be conscious of individuals who decide to use guns that would take the life of another individual. I’m not a huge gun advocate, but I’m never that kind of dude who would say let’s take guns away.

I can’t see that being an answer to anything because I know that there are responsible people, but I will say that it can be hard to change your perspective when you’re trapped inside of a barrel full of crabs.

That’s the beauty of a show, like “The Chi.” It shines a light on some of the violence. You walk into it and you’re like, oh, this is a good show.

But then you can see yourself with the good, and the bad and you’d be like, oh sh*t, that is me. What am I doing? Maybe I shouldn’t be in a gang; maybe I shouldn’t be a part of that. A lot of times while we’re going through it, we don’t see it until somebody brings it up to us and it shows like “The Chi” to give us that reflection.

This article originally appeared in the Atlanta Voice

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Black-Owned Newspapers and Media Companies Are Small Businesses Too!

NNPA NEWSWIRE — “Dear World, the entire planet is feeling the devastation of the coronavirus pandemic,” Cheryl Smith of Texas Metro News wrote to her readers. “We must be concerned about ourselves, as well as others. You may be aware that the media is considered ‘essential.’ So, guess what? We have a responsibility, a moral obligation to use this status to be a source of information, support, and inspiration, just as we are at all other times,” Smith wrote.

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Financial Support is Essential to Delivery of These Essential Services

By Stacy M. Brown, NNPA Newswire Senior Correspondent
@StacyBrownMedia

Publishers of Black-owned community newspapers, including Janis Ware of the Atlanta Voice, Cheryl Smith of Texas Metro News, Chris Bennett of the Seattle Medium, Denise Rolark Barnes of the Washington Informer, and Brenda Andrews of the New Journal & Guide in Virginia, are desperately trying to avoid shuttering operations.

On Wednesday, April 29, Rolark Barnes, Andrews, Bennett, and Ware will participate in a special livestream broadcast to discuss how their publications are enduring as the pandemic rages on.

In a heartfelt and straight-to-the-point op-ed published recently, Ware explained to her tens of thousands of readers that The Atlanta Voice has boldly covered the issues that affect the African American community.

“Our founders, Mr. J. Lowell Ware and Mr. Ed Clayton, were committed to the mission of being a voice to the voiceless with the motto of, ‘honesty, integrity and truth,’” Ware wrote in an article that underscores the urgency and importance of African American-owned newspapers during the coronavirus pandemic. Ware has established a COVID-19 news fund and aggregated the Atlanta Voice’s novel coronavirus coverage into a special landing page within its website.

To remain afloat, Ware and her fellow publishers know that financial backing and support will be necessary. Following the spread of the pandemic, many advertisers have either paused their ad spending or halted it altogether. And other streams of revenue have also dried up, forcing Black-owned publications to find ways to reduce spending and restructure what were already historically tight budgets.

With major companies like Ruth Chris Steakhouse and Pot Belly Sandwiches swooping in and hijacking stimulus money aimed at small businesses, the Black Press — and community-based publishing in general — has been largely left out of the $350 billion stimulus and Paycheck Protection Program packages.

To make matters worse, there are no guarantees that a second package, specifically focused on small business, will benefit Black publishers or other businesses owned by people of color.

Publications like the New Journal and Guide, Washington Informer (which recently celebrated its 55th anniversary) and the Atlanta Voice have been essential to the communities they serve — and the world at large for 193 years.

Unfortunately for some publishers, the impact of COVID-19 has brought business operations to a near halt. While none are thriving, some publishers have developed ingenious and innovative ways to continue operations.

“Dear World, the entire planet is feeling the devastation of the coronavirus pandemic,” Cheryl Smith of Texas Metro News wrote to her readers. “We must be concerned about ourselves, as well as others. You may be aware that the media is considered ‘essential.’ So, guess what? We have a responsibility, a moral obligation to use this status to be a source of information, support, and inspiration, just as we are at all other times,” Smith wrote.

Smith’s statements echo the more than 200 African American-owned newspapers in the NNPA family. The majority of the publications are owned and operated by women, and virtually all are family dynasties so rarely seen in the black community.

The contributions of the Black Press remain indelibly associated with the fearlessness, determination, and success of Black America.

Those contributions include the works of Frederick Douglass, WEB DuBois, Patrice Lumumba, Kwame Nkrumah, and former NNPA Chairman Dr. Carlton Goodlett.

Douglas, who helped slaves escape to the North while working with the Underground Railroad, established the abolitionist paper, “The North Star,” in Rochester, New York.

He developed it into the most influential black anti-slavery newspaper published during the Antebellum era.

The North Star denounced slavery and fought for the emancipation of women and other oppressed groups with a motto of “Right is of no Sex – Truth is of no Color; God is the Father of us all, and we are all brethren.”

DuBois, known as the father of modern Pan Africanism, demanded civil rights for Blacks but freedom for Africa and an end to capitalism, which he called the cause of racism and all human misery.

Many large news organizations have begun targeting African Americans and other audiences of color by either acquiring Black-owned news startups or adding the moniker “Black” to the end of their brand. However, it was Black-owned and operated news organizations that were on the front lines for voting rights, civil rights, ending apartheid, fair pay for all, unionization, education equity, healthcare disparities and many other issues that disproportionately negatively impact African Americans.

Today, the Black Press continues to reach across the ocean where possible to forge coalitions with the growing number of websites and special publications that cover Africa daily from on the continent, Tennessee Tribune Publisher Rosetta Perry noted.

The evolution of the Black Press, the oldest Black business in America, had proprietors take on issues of chattel slavery in the 19th century, Jim Crow segregation and lynching, the great northern migration, the Civil Rights Movement, the transformation from the printing press to the digital age and computerized communication.

With the Plessy vs. Ferguson Supreme Court ruling that said no black man has any rights that a white man must honor, there came a flood of Black publications to advocate for Black rights and to protest the wrongs done to Blacks.

An expose in Ebony Magazine in 1965 alerted the world to a Black female engineer, Bonnie Bianchi, who was the first woman to graduate from Howard University in Electrical Engineering.

It was through the pages of the Black Press that the world learned the horrors of what happened to Emmett Till.

The Black Press continues to tackle domestic and global issues, including the novel coronavirus pandemic and its effects on all citizens – particularly African Americans.

It was through the pages of the Black Press that the world learned that COVID-19 was indeed airborne and that earlier estimates by health experts were wrong when they said the virus could last only up to 20 to 30 minutes on a surface.

Now, it’s universally recognized that the virus can last for hours on a surface and in the air.

“A few short weeks ago, life as we know it, was pretty different,” Ware told her readers. “These are unprecedented times, and we are working around the clock to provide the best possible coverage, sometimes taking risks to keep Metro Atlanta informed.”

Tune in to the livestream at www.Facebook.com/BlackPressUSA.

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COMMENTARY: Young voters are going to be key to winning 2020

THE ATLANTA VOICE — In 2018, the youth vote increased in all 42 states for which youth voting data is available, according to the analysis by researchers at Tufts’ Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE). Based on this available data, which represents 94% of the American youth population, Tisch College researchers estimate 28.2% of young people nationwide voted in 2018 — more than double the national youth turnout in 2014.

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Campaigns go where the votes are, and it’s still true that older voters are more reliable voters, especially in midterm and off-year elections. But increasing youth participation can have a tremendous impact on elections at all levels. And research tells us that voting is habit-forming. Those who begin to vote early are more likely to vote often and throughout their lives. (Photo: iStockphoto / NNPA)

By Dan Glickman and Alan Solomont

Politics is in realignment. And perhaps the most underappreciated change is this: Based on recent research at Tufts University’s Tisch College of Civic Life, young voters, ages 18-29, played a significant role in the 2018 midterms and are poised to shape elections in 2020 and beyond.

For decades, this age bracket has turned out at lower rates than older voters, particularly in midterm elections. While experts have often attributed this to apathy, a complicated set of reasons may explain low turnout, including barriers to access, suppression, waning civic education and historic disadvantages. Despite these headwinds, 2018 marked a turning point.

In 2018, the youth vote increased in all 42 states for which youth voting data is available, according to the analysis by researchers at Tufts’ Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE). Based on this available data, which represents 94% of the American youth population, Tisch College researchers estimate 28.2% of young people nationwide voted in 2018 — more than double the national youth turnout in 2014.

Turnout among college students — an important subset of the youth vote — was even more impressive in 2018, at 40.3%. Research also showed that young voters preferred Democrat House candidates by 35 points, a massive margin that helped Democrats win back the House and far exceeded the highest gap of 27 points from 2008.

National statistics set the scene, but the stories on the ground are even more compelling.

Both parties have long tried to activate young voters, but with limited success. In 2018, however, Katie Porter, a law professor at the University of California, Irvine who won California’s 45th congressional district, hired an organizer specifically for campus outreach and campaigned on college campuses in the area.

In April 2018, Porter’s campaign had been listed in the Youth Electoral Significance Index, produced by Tisch College’s CIRCLE, as one of the top congressional races where young people could make the biggest impact, because of its youth population, prevalence of colleges, voter registration rates, historic turnout rates and turnout patterns where young people historically vote differently than older voters. Indeed, turnout in precincts on or near the UC Irvine campus surged in 2018, and outreach among young people has been credited as one reason for her victory.

Sen. Jon Tester’s win in Montana and Rep. Ayanna Pressley’s primary victory in the Massachusetts 7th District were also powered by youth turnout, according to research from CIRCLE.

Campaigns go where the votes are, and it’s still true that older voters are more reliable voters, especially in midterm and off-year elections. But increasing youth participation can have a tremendous impact on elections at all levels. And research tells us that voting is habit-forming. Those who begin to vote early are more likely to vote often and throughout their lives.

One election cycle isn’t a trend, but youth activists are certainly trendsetters when it comes to driving national conversations around public policy. On issues ranging from climate change to gun violence to voter suppression, young people are speaking up and encouraging their peers to register and vote, as we saw most recently during the climate strikes.

There is also increasing evidence that colleges and universities are getting involved. A recent report by Tisch College’s Institute for Democracy & Higher Education found that half of colleges that responded are using their college-voting data to guide campus conversations about engagement, and nearly 60% are using that data to mobilize voters.

College campuses have always been hotbeds of student political activism, but the rate of engagement from these voters in 2018 is historically large. This can be attributed, at least in part, to colleges and universities investing in the civic development of their students by embedding political and policy discussions in classroom learning, encouraging non-partisan voter registration and helping students confront consistent barriers to electoral participation (such as providing information about where and when to vote).

This is happening, for example, at James Madison University in Virginia; De Anza College, a community college in Cupertino, California; and the University of Texas at Austin.

As we head into 2020, both parties should focus more of their efforts on young voters. Their importance is often overlooked and dismissed by party leaders who assume their votes are “in the bag” for Democrats, or “gone forever” for Republicans.

Young people, who are less likely to respond to surveys, may be underrepresented in polls leading up to the election, especially if turnout remains high. Campaigns that base their outreach on these polls are taking a big risk if they ignore the importance of engaging with young people.

Both parties should get serious about courting this emerging part of the electorate, and that means seeking and valuing their input more and involving them in campaigns, or even encouraging them to run campaigns of their own.

Democrats shouldn’t take the current preference among young voters for granted. Young voters are suspicious of political parties, and their loyalty to either party is not particularly set. At least, not yet.

Republicans have a steep hill to climb when it comes to capturing more of the youth vote, but it is worth the effort. Donald Trump’s Republican Party has a strategy aimed at turning out a higher percentage of older voters, who tend to vote conservative. But there will be a Republican Party long after President Trump, and if that party hopes to compete, it will need to persuade younger voters to support its candidates.

Republicans may do particularly well if they focus on younger voters with libertarian tendencies. One possible reason, according to CIRCLE, is that young people are dissatisfied with the high amount of political polarization the United States has seen since the 2016 election.

If the GOP is committed to reaching new voters and trains its eye on this widely distributed and growing demographic, it may be forced to moderate its agenda and move more toward the middle of the political spectrum. Young voters in general hold more liberal views on nearly every issue than the current Trump-led Republican party ideology.

But as previously noted, young people are also not keen to identify with the Democratic party in particular. If they break from party dogma and adopt more moderate positions on issues such as climate change, the GOP might be surprised at the willingness of young voters to listen to their pitch for support. This may also put pressure on Democrats to take young people even more seriously and better respond to their demands for action on climate change and other issues.

However the data is interpreted by either party, the mere fact that this many young voters are engaging in the democratic process is a sign of future strength compared with the current national political frailty. With the passage of time, young Americans will inherit this country and its experiment in self-governance. To see them making their voices heard now gives us both hope.

This article originally appeared in The Atlanta Voice.

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Stacey Abrams to executive produce CBS drama

ATLANTA VOICE — Abrams is getting into television. The former Georgia lawmaker and voting-rights advocate will executive produce a drama in development at CBS

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Abrams is pushing national Democrats to treat Georgia as a 2020 battleground and to follow her 2018 strategy nationwide by expanding the Democratic electorate.
Atlanta Voice

Political powerhouse Stacey Abrams is stepping into the entertainment industry. According to The Hollywood Reporter, Abrams has inked a deal with CBS to executive produce a show based on a novel she wrote.

Abrams is getting into television. The former Georgia lawmaker and voting-rights advocate will executive produce a drama in development at CBS

The book—titled Never Tell—was released under Abrams’ alias Selena Montgomery. The novel, which made its debut 15 years ago, follows the journey of criminal psychologist Dr. Erin Abbott.

While investigating the whereabouts of a serial killer in New Orleans, she crosses paths with a local journalist and they end up forming a relationship. Talicia Raggs will serve as the writer for the project. Abrams will executive produce the project alongside Denise Di Novi and Nina Tassler.

Abrams—who served in the Georgia House of Representatives and as minority leader—is very passionate about writing. She has penned eight novels.

The last book that she released under the Selena Montgomery moniker was titled Deception which is centered around a woman who has to return to her hometown following a murder mystery. Although she likes to keep her political and literary work separate, Abrams says that both worlds are undeniably intertwined.

“Leadership requires the ability to engage and to create empathy for communities with disparate needs and ideas. Telling an effective story—especially in romantic suspense—demands a similar skill set,” she told The Washington Post in an interview. “When I began writing novels, I read Aristotle to learn how to perfect structure, Pearl Cleage to sustain tension and Nora Roberts for characterization.

“Good romantic suspense can never underestimate the audience, and the best political leaders know how to shape a compelling narrative that respects voters and paints a picture of what is to come.”

There is no word on when Abrams’ project will be released.

This article originally appeared in The Atlanta Voice.

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