Category: Grindin’

Coffee With A Beat

When I saw this article in Sunday’s NYT about a pop up coffee shop in the Bronx where the main premise was a precursor to Starbucks’ Race Together project it brought to mind another coffee shop that I continue to hold fondly, Oakland’s Coffee With A Beat. 

According to the NYT:

Months before Starbucks’s much-derided “Race Together” initiative, [Vernicia Colon] ran the Mix Coffeehaus, a South Bronx pop-up shop that used the act of ordering coffee to get customers to explore their own racial identity.

Coffeehaus was Colon’s thesis project at Parsons, The New School of Design.  In a sense it was a variation of the campaigns exploring microaggressions.  But instead of leaving the culprits to passively look at responses to their microaggressions via a photo exhibit or a video, Colon’s Coffeehaus incited a provocative dialogue in real time.

It is hard to imagine building a business in this manner, nor was that Colon’s vision.

Starbucks on the other hand in conceptualizing Race Together was envisioning a scenario where the corporate bottom line would not be hampered by encouraging its front line employees to engage in conversations about race.  A number of commentators argued that Race Together would slow down lines, cause the baristas undue burdens, and force a conversation that most people just do not want to have with the person pouring their coffee at 8AM.

Ironically enough, these frank explorations of race and politics were two of the things that I enjoyed most about my time spent at Coffee With a Beat during my various stints in Oakland.  Every morning the owner Nate would often slide from behind the counter and join in with a crew of locals to discuss the day’s news.  Everything from race to US interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan to the sorry state of the Oakland Raiders was fair game.  I remember telling my friends back east that Coffee With a Beat was like a mix between a barbershop and a coffee shop.

Reflecting on Coffee With a Beat within this context of Starbucks’ Race Together campaign, what derailed this initiative was not Starbucks’ heavy-handed/aloof assumptions that they’d be doing something new or different as the NYT profile appears to be suggesting.  Rather, where Starbucks fell short was that Race Together exposed Starbucks’ tenuous relationships to the communities within which it resides.  It is a chain that is at once everywhere and nowhere.

And in so doing by launching Race Together, Starbucks laid bare that these conversations are not taking place within its stores.

This is neither a good or bad thing per se.

It just goes to serve as a reminder if you want your coffee with a beat, then you should look somewhere other than Starbucks.

Lonnae O’Neal: A black girl, a white guy and an inexplicable tweet – The Washington Post

Apology notwithstanding, I wonder why the tweet happened? Not only was it foul, but it was inexplicable. And it has raised other questions.

Is it simple misogyny, because Davis is getting the kind of attention that Casselberry might want? In addition to the Disney movie, Davis has a line of shoes and a new autobiography — “Mo’ne Davis: Remember My Name” — and is the subject of magazine covers and interviews on ESPN. Maybe her success made Casselberry feel left out, so he reached for the most reductive word for women that he knows.

Or does this visceral association, this connecting of two unlike things, of 13-year-old and slut, happen because Davis is black?

via Lonnae O’Neal: A black girl, a white guy and an inexplicable tweet – The Washington Post.

Why do People Hesitate to Give Calipari Credit?

I always find comments about “egos” in discussions regarding college basketball players fascinating. Most of these guys have spent greater part of a decade playing on AAU/Traveling teams that are essentially All-Star quads, so why would playing with a bunch of McDonalds All-Americans be all that different?

Here is LeBron James with a recent example of the effusive praise of John Calipari’s ability to manage egos:

“What I admire is how he’s able to take, year after year, these high egos coming out of high school and turn it into a team,” James said of Calipari. “He makes them believe, not even believe, it’s what it should be, that the team is more important than the individual. No matter who you are, no matter where you come from, in order for the team to have success everyone has to buy in.

Calipari does deserve some credit, as does any coach, but his ability to manage his player’s egos does not seem particularly unique.  Rather Calipari’s success seems to lie mostly in getting talented players to embrace the challenge of earning playing time on as close to an approximation of an NBA roster you’ll find in college ball.

And it’s not like this is all that new. Take a look back at how many lottery picks were on those UNC & Duke teams of the 90s for example. Or the in the 80s when UNC had Jordan, Sam Perkins and James Worthy on the same roster.

Moreover, why does Calipari rarely get credit for developing players like Willie Cauley-Stein, Malcolm Lee, the Harrison twins, or Dakari Johnson? While people are focusing in one his “one and done” players, Calipari is developing a quality core of upperclassmen who provide the experience and resiliency often needed to overcome challenges and mentor Calipari’s highly touted freshmen.

Penny Hardaway Continues Working Magic in His Hometown

This E-60 profile on Penny Hardaway and his work as a Middle School basketball coach in Tennessee is powerful. As a person who was often in awe of Penny’s brilliance in the early 90s, watching this second act in his life makes me only appreciate his skills even more.

35 and Over NBA All-STAR TEAM

The fabled draft class of 1996 that produced superstars and Hall of Famers such Allen 1996-NBA-Draft-ClassIverson, Kevin Garnett, Steve Nash and Kobe Bryant may quite literally be on its last legs now that Bryant is likely sidelined for the rest of the season with a shoulder injury.  Similarly, the toll of 10+ seasons is beginning to show on some of the stars of the 2003 class as LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony endured their first prolong stints on the injured list this season.  Chris Bosh, who along with James and Anthony have virtually been iron men when compared to their draft mate Dwyane Wade, also saw time due to injury very early in the season.

As the league slowly begins its slow transfer of power from the two greatest draft classes of the last twenty years some of the NBAs elder statesmen are showing that they still have what it takes to compete.

Moreover, the group of 35 and over stars listed below  are showing that they’re not ready just yet for the Legends portion of all-star weekend, and that they’re worthy of some all-star votes themselves:5f87ac5f348bc744e5942f544c9c2328_crop_north

Vince Carter (F)
Dirk Nowitzki (F)
Tim Duncan (C)*
Jamal Crawford (G)
Manu Ginobili (G)

Honorable Mention
Steve Blake (G)
Elton Brand (F)
Kobe Bryant (F)**
Caron Butler (F)
Rasual Butler (F)
Kevin Garnett (F/C)
Kenyon Martin (C)
Andre Miller (G)

B613f08CMAAx8p6-300x297Jermaine O’Neal may eventually work his way to this list by season’s end if he signs with one of the western conference superpowers as many have speculated.  The top half of this roster is faring pretty well and one is hard pressed to think that a team sporting Nowitzki and Duncan as its starting forwards couldn’t give one of the top teams a run for their money.  They have a deep reservoir of heady guards, but this squad’s downfall might be its lack of quality big men behind Duncan and Nowitzki.

Still, looking at this list does a lot to make an old man like myself feel as if I can still go out there and push myself to see what I got.

* Duncan made the 2015 squad as a reserve.
** Bryant was voted among the 2015 Western Conference starters by fans.

It feels like America

One of the images that I have never forgotten during my first trip to South Africa in 1998 was the sight of a mall security guard armed with an automatic rifle. I was visiting a mall in a few miles down from the University of KwaZulu- Natal in Durban. Pulling into the parking lot the mall seemed like virtually any other strip mall that you’d encounter in the United States. Up to that point, I kept on thinking how Durban’s proximity to the ocean and lush rolling hills reminded me of parts of southern California. However, as soon as I saw the security guard with the machine gun, all those analogies disappeared. I became obsessed with imagining what it must feel like for the teenagers in that community to see heavily armed guards every time they want to kick it at the mall. That mall guard became the personification of a hyper-militarized state…one which…in all honesty…I took comfort in not residing.

I was transported back to that shopping mall in Durban this weekend when I 600x338spotted this photo on a friend’s facebook page.  These are police officers. They are not mall security guards.  For some that’s reason enough to explain the assault-rifle strewn over the officer’s shoulder as he talks to these children on their way to school.  For me, I see a different picture, a different explanation.  For me I see the answer to that question that lingered in my mind for days upon first encountering that guard in Durban: “what does it feel like to grow up in a community where people are so heavily armed?”

In 1998 the answer was a mystery.

In 2014, I now know that it feels like America.

Derek Jeter

Growing up I was always miffed that I was not old enough to have enjoyed the New York Yankees success in the late 1970s. By the mid-80s when I was a pre-teen and had a better sense of the world, the Yankees were a hot mess. Just think about it, George Steinbrenner was banned in this period for trying to setup/blackmail future MLB Hall of Fame player, Dave Winfield whose only blemish was that in Steinbrenner’s mind Winfield was not as good/marketable as Reggie Jackson.

The last twenty years have been far different. While the Yankees have not been the same juggernaut that they were in the late 90s, the team continues to contend and has the playoffs more often than not this past decade.

It goes without saying that Derek Jeter was a pivotal force in the Yankees 1990s renaissance. And while I normally cringe at sendoffs for pro athletes, I have to admit that the tributes to Jeter have for the most part been really well done.

The Gatorade ad below is another one of the tasteful goodbye’s to the Yankee Captain.

Opening Remarks From Williams College Teaching Ferguson Panel

Nearly twenty years ago I was sitting in the same position as many students in this room are tonight. One the one hand I was eagerly looking forward to what was to be my senior year in college. I had just spent a wonderful summer as a research associate at NYU where I met a friend who many of you may know as professor Neil Roberts. On the other hand, I was haunted by unfolding details of a gruesome police brutality incident that took place in August of that year.

On August 9, 1997 a Haitian immigrant named Abner Louima was beaten and sodomized with the end of a broom handle after being arrested outside a Brooklyn nightclub. The incident shook New York’s Haitian community, particularly those of my parents’ generation who had fled Haiti in part to escape similar forms of brutality from the island’s nefarious ton ton macoute militia.

As I arrived on campus that year, Louima’s beating was a recurring topic of conversation among my classmates, members of our campuses BSU, Haitian Club, and Caribbean Student Association. In Louima’s assault we had discovered a common ground, one that was pivotal for a lot of the organizing we did together that year.

It was also a clarion call for provocative dialogue with my professors and I as we interrogated the chilling connections between police brutality in the United States and neo-colonial oppression in Africa and the Caribbean, and of course the painful history state violence inflicted upon African Americans in the United States. To say these conversations have stayed with me ever since would be an understatement.

When I set down to write my opening remarks I stumbled upon a connection between Abner Louima’s assault and Mike Brown’s murder that I had not expected. Both occurred on August 9th. That connection was startling enough.

Digging a little deeper, I realized that Louima’s was only one of many police brutality incidents that would galvanize a campus community with which I was affiliated. There was Amadou Diallo’s murder when I was at Yale and murders of first Sean Bell then Oscar Grant murder when I was on faculty at Eugene Lang. I know that I speak for all the educators in this room when I say we will gladly stop having panels like tonight when these atrocities stop happening.

However, since they likely won’t stop tonight, tomorrow, or sadly maybe even by the end of your tenures here at Williams, be that this December or spring 2018, it is our fiduciary responsibility to invoke the dialogue. And it is in this spirit that we are gathered this evening.