Category Archives: Art & Culture


Let’s Move It Philly: Black Thought and Hometown Heroes Party with Purpose

Story by Franceska Rouzard

Many in the region may remember Saturday, February 21st as the night of a wicked wintry storm. However, the funkiest and flyest of Philadelphia will remember it as the night they shared a dance floor with brilliant activists like Dr. Janice Johnson Dias, and talented artists and pioneers the likes of Philadelphia’s own Tariq “Black Thought” Trotter, DJ Jazzy Jeff and Rich Medina [yea we’re claiming you too Rich!].


Hosted by the GrassROOTS Community Foundation, an organization co-founded by long time friends Black Thought and Dr. Johnson Dias, The 5th Annual Let’s Move It: Philly aimed to raise money for Linglebach Elementary [learn how you can help #SaveLingelbach], one of many educational institutions in Philadelphia who received laughable, in a not so funny kind of way, discretionary funding for this school year. Held at Trilogy [formerly Palmer Social Club], attendees described it simply as, “a good time for a good cause.”

Many who braved the weather and ventured to the event, from near and far, expressed openly they were “glad they came out!”


Personally I, as a Philly transplant, was in awe of the entire evening. It is difficult to pinpoint a sole source of wonderment. It could have been the overwhelming turn out given the weather. Perhaps, it was bankhead bouncing to Busta Rhymes with an accomplished, well dressed sociology professor. Conceivably, it was the easy-going nature of Grammy-Award winning, world-renowned artists mingling with guests just like all the others.

No doubt it was the DJ sets and live performance from Black Thought, which so well complimented the energy of the evening – originating with the cause(s) the GrassROOTS Community Foundation stand for.


I was afforded the privilege of speaking with Dr. Johnson Dias, Rich Medina, and Black Thought about the GrassROOTS Community Foundation, the Linglebach Elementary cause, and future plans for Philadelphia.

FR: On the home page of the GrassROOTS Community Foundation’s website, there is a big banner that says “A Tribute to Tanji Dewberry”. Who is that?

Dr. Johnson Dias: Tanji Dewberry is a friend, author, mentor and a trailblazer in ‘Super Camp‘, a summer day camp for Philadelphia’s inner city girls. Her dream was to extend it to Philadelphian boys. She died in a fire trying to rescue her children. Last year, her mother, Cynthia Mitchell, funded three boys to Super Camp.

FR: What does it take to put an event like this together?

Black Thought: It takes a lot of planning and flexibility and the delegation of many responsibilities. It takes a strong and reliable team, people you can trust and who can improvise. It takes a village.

FR: I read the GrassROOTS Community Foundation has a three year commitment to Linglebach Elementary to create an after school program. What are the next steps?

Black Thought: After tonight, we plan to give a nice sized contribution. Our next fundraiser is a 5k race called Roots Rock Run.

FR: Dr. Johnson Dias and Black Thought have decided to take their success and help the city of Philly, and others. What motivates you, Rich?

Rich Medina: I have a son, a 7 year old. Also, I went to college so I know the importance of education and learning. However, I feel I learned even more during college in my extracurricular activities — outside of the classroom. For that reason, I remain a student even now. I believe in a lifetime of learning and promoting wellness and forward thinking.

More info about the GrassROOTS Community Foundation

Website | Twitter | Facebook

 Photos courtesy of Saeed Briscoe

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Concert Recap: The Disco Biscuits @ Electric Factory

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The Disco Biscuits capped off 3 straight sold out shows at the Electric Factory, Saturday night [2/21], by fittingly playing 3 extended sets for an enthralled crowd of avid supporters. Braving first snow, then drizzling rain and slushy streets [add to that Uber 4x price surges and occupied cab wars — “I’m gonna run down the street through freezing puddles to hopefully snag a cab ahead of the other group waiting”], the enthusiastic many who found themselves inside the especially cozy mainstay venue were thoroughly entertained — and expressing their joy to be there.

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Such expressive methods included bliss-fully, and spin-fully, jam-dancing, showing off quirky style accessories and goofy hats, all the while taking in the high-tech light and laser show beaming out from the stage.

In fact, I learned a new holiday exists as I overheard when many a delighted friends [old and new] found each other in the crowd exclaiming “Happy Biscuits…. maaaaaaan!!”

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All these ‘Biscuits’ needed were some wavy gravy, and that was no doubt supplied as the Philadelphia natives, who originally formed their band at UPenn — Allen Aucoin (drums), Marc Brownstein (bass), Jon Gutwillig (guitar), and Aron Magner (keyboards, synths) — served up the lubricant soundtrack for an all out groove-fest… and just a really good time.

Photos and words by Aran Hart



Legendary DJ Jazzy Jeff and International Music Producer Rich Medina Join Tarik “Black Thought” Trotter of The Roots and A Special Surprise Celebrity Guest for a Classic Dance Party to Raise Funds For Women and Girls Living in Economically Disadvantaged Communities

On February 21st, Tarik “Black Thought” Trotter, co-founder and lead MC of the GRAMMY® Award-winning hip hop band, The Roots, will host the 5th Annual Let’s Move It: Philly! charity dance party to raise funds for the GrassROOTS Community Foundation (GCF). In addition to hosting, Black Thought, co- founder and Chairman of the Board for GCF, will perform alongside hip hop legend DJ Jazzy Jeff and international producer and DJ Rich Medina. New this year is a special surprise celebrity guest committed to helping young girls and women lead healthy, happy lives. Let’s Move It: Philly! will take over Trilogy, formerly The Palmer Social Club, located at 601 Spring Garden Street, Philadelphia, PA 19123. Doors open at 9pm.

To purchase tickets, visit:

Video of previous Let’s Move it Philly! Events

The GrassROOTS Community Foundation—co-founded by Black Thought and Dr. Janice Johnson Dias—is committed to contributing to the health and well-being of vulnerable populations and disadvantaged communities. Using rigorous scientific research, GCF creates innovative, health and wellness-centered, community-based programming that provides educational and recreational services to girls and women.

“We want to interrupt the structural inequality that exists in our communities; food access and health disparities are much higher in the African American and Hispanic populations than the rest of the nation,” says Dr. Johnson Dias. “The GrassROOTS Community Foundation recognizes and upholds young girls and women—specifically those of color—as agents of change and creates spaces for them to thrive physically, economically and emotionally. We know it is not enough to just describe the water in which people are drowning, we have to move and do the work together to change the tide.”

This year’s beneficiary organization is the Anna L. Lingelbach Elementary School in Germantown. In August 2014, there was a national outcry after it was revealed the school received only $160 in discretionary funding for the entire 2014-2015 school year. With a total student body of 400, spending equates to just 2.5 cents per pupil. The budget was to cover the costs of everything from books and copier paper to stamps and afterschool activities. After learning of the unfortunate appropriation, GCF moved into action. The proceeds from Let’s Move It: Philly! will go toward building an afterschool program at the school and increasing the capacity of youth and adults in the Germantown neighborhood. This program, titled LEAVES, is a social action public health program for middle school aged-girls. Funded by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, LEAVES will educate and inform community members about health disparities; amplify youth and community members’ voices on local health concerns and begin a community partnership to establish community investment in girls’ well-being.

GCF is committed to the LEAVES program at Lingelbach for three years.

“We’re excited to be part of the Linglebach community and to start the LEAVES afterschool program. As a father, I always want my children to have access to activities that challenge their bodies and their minds, and make them better people,” said Black Thought. “This year’s Let’s Move It Philly concert is going to be amazing and will give people an opportunity to party for a purpose with me and my friends.”

Building on the success of First Lady Michelle Obama’s national call to action to encourage young people and family members to be active and make better food choices, Let’s Move It: Philly! is one of GCF’s 10 city initiative— which is also active in Newark—that addresses health inequality for African Americans and low- income communities.

The Let’s Move It: Philly! dance party is part of a day-long wellness event which begins with a Townhall Conversation about Health at Lingelbach School, which will happen in the morning.

Let’s Move It: Philly! is sponsored by Monami Entertainment, Skai Blue Media and Superfly Mom.

To purchase tickets, visit:

Video of previous Let’s Move it Philly! Events

ABOUT GrassROOTS Community Foundation
The GrassROOTS Community Foundation (GCF) is an anti-poverty and wellness organization that supports, develops, and scales community-driven solutions to the health challenges facing women and girls living in poverty. For more information, visit

ABOUT Skai Blue Media
Skai Blue Media is a full-service communications agency based in Philadelphia. We bring together experience from the fields of public relations, journalism, video production, retail and non-profit in addition to maintaining close relationships with media outlets, business networks influencers, entrepreneurs and decision-makers. Skai Blue Media specializes in helping businesses build their communications foundation. Whether we are helping a client prepare for a store opening or generating press opportunities in regional and national publications, our unique pitching style is secures coverage in niche and national publications. However big or small, we provide each client with an individualized approach to garnering press and creating unique collaborations. For more information, follow us online @SkaiBlueMedia or visit
ABOUT Monami Entertainment
Monami Entertainment is a multi-faceted boutique entertainment company specializing in talent management, brand development and film/television production. Founded by Haitian-American philanthropist Mona Scott-Young, Monami Entertainment was created on the premise of maintaining Scott-Young’s track record for success while expanding the scope of services beyond music to encompass all areas of the entertainment business.



The Annie E. Casey Foundation Funds Public Health Social Action Program For Economically Disadvantaged Youth of Lingelbach Elementary School Community.

This Saturday, February 21st, from 9am – noon, the GrassROOTS Community Foundation (GCF) will kick off a day of wellness by hosting a Town Hall on Health in conjunction with its all-star 5th Annual Let’s Move It: Philly! hip hop fundraiser. The health forum is a family-friendly morning of community engagement and open dialogue at Anna L. Lingelbach Elementary School in Germantown, located at 6340 Wayne Avenue in Philadelphia, PA. This event brings together music, policy and social action for a common purpose.

 Visit to purchase tickets.

Panelists include youth and parents from Lingelbach School along with local lawmakers PA State Senator Art Hayward, Councilwoman Cindy Bass and PA State Legislative District leader Stephen Kinsey. Joining these elected officials are entertainment mogul Mona Scott-Young, recording artist and activist Talib Kweli, as well as Philadelphia-based stars Aja Dantzler of Kindred The Family Soul and radio personality Laiya St. Clair. Each panelist will speak on health issues and challenges facing youth and economically disadvantaged communities. In addition, GrassROOTS will officially announce the launch of its LEAVES program at Lingelbach, a public health and social action program designed to improve the health and well-being of adolescent girls, their families and their neighborhood. Funded by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, LEAVES will also educate and inform community members about health disparities; amplify youth and community members’ voices on local health concerns and begin a community partnership to establish community investment in girls’ well-being.

The GrassROOTS Community Foundation—co-founded by Tarik “Black Thought” Trotter, co-founder and lead MC of the GRAMMY Award winning hip hop band The Roots, and John Jay College sociologist Dr. Janice Johnson Dias—is committed to contributing to the health and wellness of vulnerable populations and disadvantage communities. Using rigorous scientific research, GCF creates and supports innovative public health and social action programs for women and girls.

In August 2014, there was a national outcry after it was revealed Lingelbach Elementary received only $160 in discretionary funding for the entire 2014-2015 school year. With a total student body of 400, spending equates to just 2.5 cents per pupil. The budget was to cover the costs of everything from books and copier paper to stamps and afterschool activities. After learning of the unfortunate appropriation, GCF moved into action. The proceeds from Let’s Move It: Philly! will go toward building an afterschool program at the school and increasing the capacity of youth and adults in the Germantown neighborhood. GCF has established a three-year commitment to the community.

“Collectively, we can create solutions to the health and economic challenges facing our community. The time for action is now,” says GrassROOTS President, Dr. Johnson Dias.

In addition to visiting vendors, fitness activities, healthy food sampling and a special surprise musical performance, participants of the Town Hall on Health will learn more about the needs and concerns of community stakeholders via various panels moderated by Dr. Johnson Dias. The conversations will focus on physical, mental and sexual health and cover subtopics like health disparities, childhood obesity and bullying.

The day’s events will conclude at the 5th Annual Let’s Move It: Philly! hip hop dance party where guests will party for the purpose of raising funds for Lingelbach. Headliners include GrassROOTS Chairman Black Thought, the legendary Jazzy Jeff and Philly health arts ambassador and international producer, DJ Rich Medina. Special surprise guests will also take the state to entertain the audience at Triology, formerly known as the Palmer Social Club.

Visit to purchase tickets.


The GrassROOTS Community Foundation (GCF) is a public health and social action organization that supports, develops and scales health and wellness programs for women and girls, particularly those who are economically disadvantaged. For more information, visit or follow online @grassrootsfound.


Verbatum Jones Creates a Spotlight for Underrated Artists with ‘Positive Vibezz’

Author: Franceska Rouzard | Photographer: Molly Rose

Music, particularly rap, is a fiercely competitive industry. In Hip Hop, every rapper is “the greatest to ever do it” and there is very little room at the top. However, in recent years there has been a subtle yet significant shift. Alongside records about lavish lifestyles and beautiful women are the equally popular songs that preach about spreading love and self worth. Along with the change of subject matter in Hip Hop comes a surge of good sportsmanship – artists wanting to help other artists. And while I’ve seen a distinctive growth in this amongst creatives, none have exemplified the desire to see fellow artists prosper as much as Verbatum Jones, East Coast rapper and curator of the vibrant artist showcase, Vibezz. Jones is also well known for Everbody Eats, an intimate potluck performance.


I met Jones in college in 2010. His presence was commanding yet warm, like the leader of revolutionary movement – he was ambitious and passionate. When he speaks about music, it moves those around him into action. For this reason, no one was surprised when he announced that he would be curating Vibezz, a show featuring a plethora of local and brilliant but somewhat underrated artists.

With Vibezz, held on Saturday, February 7th, Jones expanded the spotlight to his musical extended family. Not to be confused with your typical showcase, the event’s energy was just as welcoming as its host. Jones was inspired by his Haitian background, remembering attending parties filled with home-cooked food and libations so guests were treated to homemade pizza muffins and goodie bags in addition to dope giveaways like Power Beats 2 Wireless headphones. However what set Vibezz apart is due entirely to the unmatched amount of audience participation. “Vibezz!” was shouted from every corner, some in reverence of the performers, others in excitement for music played by DJ Tank Top, cousin of Jones and New York native.

The evening began with soul singer Andrea Valle, the youngest of the artist collective. Contrasting her sweet appearance, her music was raw and soulful.


The tone of the event quickly changed with rapper Gabriel Wolf. His high energy and passion infected the crowd into unparalleled participation.


Jamir Milligan, accompanied by Andrew Aulenbach of Halfro on the piano, brought the audience back to a familiar place with a beautiful gospel rendition and covers of John Legend and Kanye West.


The night was closed out by The Bul Bey, accompanied by his live band Hazie Blu. I would definitely award him “Most Moving Performance” for his cover of Verbatum Jones’ single “Nappy”, a symbolic song of the theme for the event – share love and positive “vibezz.”


At the end of the night, I spoke with attendees over cigarettes outside of the venue. As we floated and recounted the best parts of the evening, each of us were left with a single question: “When/where will Vibezz land next?”


Film Review: Blackhat

Dir. Michael Mann
Score: 3.5

Trust empty-headed stylist Michael Mann to create a cyber-thriller in which he attempts to dramatize the actual macro insertion of a virus through a mainframe. The camera swoops on the microcircuit boards like Luke’s X-Wing approaching the Death Star, then travels up through flashing impulses, triggering the lite-brite-like wave of virus. It’s the kind of gesture that Mann, who increasingly over the years, has given up his dogged pursuit of auteur status and just embraced his brand of cutting edge, flashy ’80s TV roots, finds himself making these days. If anything, given the ham-handed nature of Morgan Davis Foehl’s blithely idiotic script, he might just have figured he had very little to lose.

Sadly, he was probably right. The international, jet-setting nature of the plot, which sets off with the lone virus causing a near nuclear catastrophe in China, before spinning through Wall Street, Hong Kong, and, ultimately Jakarta, barely holds our attention, as the witless characters — a collection of multi-cultural cyber-sleuths, FBI operatives, a former convict hacker, sprung from the can in order to help catch the culprit, and the U.S. Marshall assigned to follow him — spring from unlikely scenarios in rapid-fire succession in order to make their quarry

The convict, Nick Hathaway (Chris Hemsworth, with an improbable slicked back quasi-pompadour) happens to be best friends and former MIT roomies with Dawai (Leehom Wang), the Chinese representative on the task force, whose comely sister, Lien (Wei Tang), instantly and regrettably becomes Hathaway’s love interest. Rounding out the somewhat rag-tag crew, Carol (Viola Davis), the FBI agent, who more or less acts as the den mother for the others, and Jessup (Holt McCallany), the taciturn Marshall, whose expression never seems to change through the course of the film.

As they go through their wearying paces, from country to country, eventually lighting upon Kassar (Ritchie Coster), the goateed bag-man for the actual criminal kingpin, and Hathaway and Lien fall ever deeply more in banal love (as neither has a personality to speak of, we can imagine they fall at least partially for each other’s richly swank designer shades), the film sort of lurches along, propelled with ridiculous bits of revelation, all leading up to its thoroughly ludicrous climax, in which one, severely undertrained ex-con singlehandedly takes on a squadron of highly trained mercenaries, armed only with a selection of sharpened hand tools, and a protective vest of books and magazines taped to his impressive midriff (which suggests, if nothing else, Hathaway was at least able to watch “The Wire” while in the joint). Who knew prison-life could properly train you to become a skilled assassin?

To be fair, I’ve never particularly been a Mann devotee, finding the vast majority of his work (with the notable exception of The Informer) an extended exercise of slick stylistics, excusing pretty tepid films, but his previous films at least never seemed quite as empty and craven as this one. He mixes in his usual blend of jumpy, hand-held work, especially during the film’s few hand-to-hand combat scenes, a tired effect that has more than worn out its welcome, and stacks the film with an assortment of striking backdrops (one gets the feeling his location scout does more than half of his work for him), not to mention the good looks of the two leads, who nevertheless shun anything of what you might call chemistry in favor of mewling looks and gentle hand stroking.

Mann never much had the goods to back it up, but his films — by dint of their self-importance and their A-list casts, at least had the sheen of an event. This little thriller, stuck out in the no man’s land of January releases, feels like an afterthought, something between more impressive-seeming projects in development that one imagines aren’t coming down the pipeway any time soon.


Philadelphia Art Alliance: Winter Exhibitions

Running now until April 5th, the Philadelphia Art Alliance’s Winter Exhibitions featuring the works of the following artists:

Delainey Barclay: Paper and String
Kate Clements: Charade
Robyn Weatherley: Trace

The Philadelphia Art Alliance is located at 251 S. 18th St., Philadelphia, PA 19103.

For more information: or 215-545-4302.

The Philadelphia Art Alliance is dedicated to the advancement and appreciation of innovative contemporary art with a focus on craft and design, and to inspiring dynamic interaction between audiences and artists.Since its founding in 1915, the PAA has presented the work of artists and designers working in a wide variety of media, from ceramics and jewelry to textiles and sculpture. Each year we present up to twelve new exhibitions featuring the work of emerging and established artists. Rather than understanding “craft” as a class of objects, the PAA encourages visitors to consider “craft” as a verb. This broader definition means that our exhibitions encompass a range of topics and types of work, from useful and decorative objects to sculpture and installations. Our diverse program of exhibitions, inspired by our setting in a masterfully crafted domestic space, can thus be communicated to visitors in engaging and unexpected ways.


Robyn Weatherley: Trace

 Image: Adieu, 2012; blown glass, paper

In an installation of new and recent works, Robyn Weatherley explores intangible remnants. She addresses concepts of passage, transition, and residual memory in relation to body, psyche and environment. Her imagined vestiges contemplate our unconscious and often invisible interactions with the world. From the seemingly mundane act of breathing to the emotional residues that may be left behind in the wake of a psychological experience, she aims to make visible some of what lies beyond the reaches of our ordinary senses. Her works range from a large installation of individual breaths captured in glass set adrift in delicate boats to works constructed through the meticulous build up and layering of very thin fragile shards of blown glass.

Robyn Weatherley earned a Master of Fine Arts in Glass at Tyler School of Art at Temple University in Philadelphia, PA in 2013, where she was also awarded a highly competitive Temple University Fellowship and Teaching Assistantship for the duration of her graduate studies. She earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts with distinction at the Alberta College of Art and Design in Calgary, Canada in 2010. She has worked, studied in Canada, the United States and Scotland. Her work has been exhibited in Philadelphia, as well as Calgary, Edmonton, Montreal, Toronto and Ottawa in Canada. Robyn currently lives and works in Calgary, Canada and serves as the Managing Editor of Contemporary Canadian Glass; Magazine of the Glass Art Association of Canada (GAAC).


Delainey Barclay: Paper and String

Image: Space In Between (detail), Vintage Wallpaper, multi-media. 

Delainey Barclay’s recent body of work for the PAA is focused on air, shadow, light and space. To keep the large-scale pieces, which resemble textbook atomic structures, relatable to the viewer in her installations, Barclay uses childhood craft projects as a basis for the techniques used in assembling the work. Everyday objects that can be found in abundance in most households are the materials from which she has chosen to make all her three-dimensional forms. Whether it is formed from vintage magazines and wallpapers, or string and other craft materials, her work focuses on both materials and process. These are often paired with paintings that explore these concepts in two-dimensional form and cross the boundaries between craft and fine art, making the work approachable and giving it a familiarity.

Barclay’s other body of work Delainey Barclay is an oil painter and installation artist based in Wilmington, Delaware. Since receiving a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from the Columbus College of Art and Design, she has maintained a working studio. She is also a founder of Project Space, an artist run gallery, installation lounge and studio space.


Kate Clements: Charade

Image: Blue Frame II, 2104; kiln-fired glass

In her work, Kate Clements explores the ambiguity of fashion-its capacity for imitation and distinction, its juxtaposition of the artificial and the natural. She sees the life cycle of fashion as a process of creative destruction by which the “new” replaces the “old,” yet nothing is truly new. By the time a new style has been produced for mass consumption, it has been casted aside or even rejected by elite society as a bi-product of class division.

Clements’ choice of materials acknowledges and embraces ideas of imitation. Glass represents a counterfeit to jewels; wood vinyl covering cheap plywood creates the illusion of solid oak. Cut outs suggest the absence of an object that is no longer there, present only through its trace. These imitations and absences act as a veil of protection that is ultimately removed when the viewer discovers what attracts them to the work are deficiencies.

Kate Clements received her BFA from the Kansas City Art Institute in 2011 and came to Philadelphia in 2013 from the Midwest to pursue her MFA in glass at the Tyler School of Art of Temple University where she was awarded a University Fellowship. Her work has been featured in Italian Vogue Gioiello magazine and she was recent recipient of the Academic Award from Bullseye Glass Emerge 2014, A Showcase of Rising and Evolving Talents in Kiln-Glass.


Film Review: American Sniper

Dir. Clint Eastwood
Score: 4.9

If you had somehow been tasked with creating an iron-clad, true-blue American war hero, you would likely have conjured up something quite along the lines of Chris Kyle, a Texas-born former rodeo cowboy, who watched 9/11 in horror and enlisted for the Navy SEALS shortly thereafter in order to make a difference and help protect the country he loved. Big and barrel chested, with a loving wife and family at home, Kyle was also almost alarmingly effective as a Sniper, recording an astounding 160 kills during his four tours of duty in Iraq. Such a hero that he was dubbed “the Legend” by his fellow soldiers, and had earned the highest pay-out for his head from Al Qaeda, a twisted kind of homage to his effectiveness.

A man this dedicated to his country — not to mention this bloody effective in neutralizing the enemy, and saving untold lives of the soldiers he was protecting from his perch on the arid rooftops — and seemingly for all the best and most agreeable reasons would not only be the military’s PR department’s wet dream, he would be so bulletproof, even those pesky liberals and gun-control reformers would have to grudgingly acknowledge the heroic nature of the man. To create a film celebrating his military experience, then, it would stand to reason, Clint Eastwood — he of the steely glare, right-wing politics, and storied film-making career — would be the perfect choice to craft a fable that sounded too damn good to be true, even if it were.

Unfortunately, though, Eastwood and screenwriter Jason Hall — working from a memoir by Kyle, Scott McEwen, and James Defelice — have chosen to only tell the part of his story that makes his heroism seem larger than life: He starts out a reckless cowboy, enlists when he feels needed, leads an exemplary military record over the course of four grueling tours of duty, finally comes home and after some rough patches, re-engages into civilian life and works with other damaged soldiers to give them support and care, even as their lives are crumbling around them. What the film curiously chooses to essentially ignore, except for a jarringly quick post-script, is that Kyle was eventually murdered at a shooting range by a particularly deranged former soldier suffering from severe PTSD.

What the film has to offer instead, is a rousing bit of American military agitprop, with a beefed-up Bradley Cooper in the lead role, and Sienna Miller as Taya, his long-suffering but intensely strong wife, celebrating the American spirit of bootstrap politics and a quixotic sense of justice-serving to those “savages” in the Middle East with a face-full of patriotic, expertly fired, lead.

Indeed, one of the film’s central (and completely fictional) antagonists is the Iraqi equivalent of Kyle, a former Olympic Syrian sharp-shooter named Mustafa (Sammy Sheik), quick and agile as a jungle cat, who prowls the rooftops and takes out dozens of Americans without leaving a trace. For all we know, he is exactly as revered and elevated as Kyle for his country, but the film takes special care not to give him — or any of the enemy — a moment of sympathetic recognition. And when Kyle finally does take him on directly, leading to perhaps the shot of a lifetime in the sniper business, we are lead to be relieved that this “savage” (as Kyle and his fellow comrades refer) has finally been vanquished.

If there is any irony abounding, it would appear to be lost on the 84-year-old Eastwood, who, one imagines, is quite happy to play this one straight as an Indiana highway. The thing is, as depicted, Kyle is perfectly decent and honorable kind of soldier: He laments that his first confirmed kills involved a woman and a small boy who were attempting to toss a grenade at a group of marines, despite the American lives he knows he saved. He’s hardly a thoughtless, gun-toting good ol’ boy, even though he is highly revered by them. It’s certainly his other qualities that attract Taya when they first meet in a bar, and the hook of the film’s last act, wherein Kyle finally returns from his fourth tour of duty and has clearly come back a (mildly) damaged man, unable to connect with his family, paranoid, and ready to take violent action in a moment’s notice.

Naturally, this too, is something the film chooses not to dwell upon terribly much. He eventually speaks to a therapist, who advises him to go and aid other, far more physically and emotionally stricken veterans and he and his family move back down to Texas, which seems to put him back in the picture of health in virtually no time. The film’s suggestion is that Kyle is not so deeply and badly damaged because of his superior moral fiber — he didn’t just think he was doing the right thing, he felt his correctness burning in the core of his being — and, in keeping with the perfect soldier treatment, even the horrors of PTSD become just one more minor obstacle for his celebration.

This is to take nothing away from the main source of the film’s appeal, which is the generous and unflinching work put in by Cooper, who seems to have breathed the character into his very DNA. Like George Clooney, Cooper has always been able to win over his roles with his natural charm, but here, he puts it in service to a far more impressive portrait. Even if the film, like his fellow soldiers, continually wants to shine the medals of “the Legend” to a gleaming polish, Cooper downplays his character’s ego. He never wants to be above the grunts working the far more dangerous door-to-door missions, which is why he constantly volunteers to work with them, sharing the risk and in the process, offering them some of the best practices gleaned from his superior training as a SEAL.

Cooper has never been better, but one wishes the filmmakers could have ratcheted down the churning apparatus of Kyle’s constant lionization and taken their cues from the apparent humility of the man himself — even if his as-told-to memoir is being strongly questioned in the wake of the film’s release — and been brave enough to show an inkling of the complexity involved in a military-trained, highly decorated professional assassin coming home to lead a normal life, rather than place him on a raging bonfire of martyrdom upon which one imagines he never would have signed off.


215 Spotlight: Build Me A World Art Collective

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There often comes a point in life when one must choose to pave their own road, or follow one that has been laid out for them. Build Me A World (BMAW) can be described as an art collective working with black youths from the inner city of Chattanooga, Tennessee — and for many it has become a route to a better life.

Growing up in a lower income community can often leave its members feeling hopeless and trapped in a life they were born into. BMAW has created a positive environment for members of the Chattanooga community to tap into their creativity and tell their story through art. In essence, building and/or re-building a world.

The result: empowerment of participants by teaching and reminding a generation that they hold the power to create and live out their own stories.

This video provides a resonant glimpse at this process in motion:

We talked with directors of Build Me a World — Genesis the Greykid [Russell McGee Jr] and Chris Woodhull [bios] to find out more about their non-profit that is creating an outlet for authentic expression and influence. Below are excerpts and highlights from our conversation.

The two men discussed the importance of mentoring within underprivileged neighborhoods, noting that many young people they talk to lack ANY positive role models in their lives.

“Kids are growing up in these environments where everything’s in shambles… over time it creates this ‘I don’t care’ attitude”  – Genesis the Greykid

Speaking on the disadvantages they face in Chattanooga, Chris touched on the common divide between blacks and whites, “The racial divide here is severe, palpable and it’s clear. I didn’t realize it could exist like this.”

BMAW focuses on combating the effects of geographical disadvantages and negative influences, and in the process, creating positive influencers to change their communities. Using art, they are giving the people of Chattanooga an opportunity to confront and work towards solving issues at hand, and also importantly learning to “feel through artistic expression.”

“Good art comes from really awake, aware, honest people” – Chris Woodhull

Build Me A World’s strategy [below] for reaching the community includes connecting creative community members with an art development / story-telling process that includes four fundamental pillars:


One example and central focus of BWAM’s work are the weekly TribeONE Meetings — which encourage a critical dialogue about life and community. Their website elaborates on the meetings:

“For some its an escape from the day to day realities that come with living in a hostile environment….for us here at BUILD ME A WORLD, [the meetings are] the meat and potatoes of the entire dish. If you can bring an awareness to self, a sense of consciousness in the room, it’ll reflect itself in the art….in the words…in the activist effort.” –

BMAWS_meeting photo

BMAW has also created a series of videos called “Me In A Minute” where individuals tell their own stories in a succinct, powerful format. Poetic in their own way, these videos provide the viewer a small glimpse into the subjects’ lives — both past and present — and display emotion, raw honesty, and vulnerability that is often hidden under a tough exterior.

Below is Maurice McDowell: Me in a Minute [view others HERE]

On the topic of art, Genesis stated that “art is something that dives deep inside you.” When you listen to each artist, you can sense how important these stories are, and the power it takes to tell them.  This raw unprocessed art and emotion creates something relatable for communities alike, but also shows how people can find positivity through art and empowering others.

“Storytelling is not just blurting out what you think is true, it’s discovering and digging into what is actually true” – Chris Woodhull

One can feel overwhelmed when speaking on serious matters such as these social injustices we face. But, Chris reminds us that these meetings are full of laughter and smiles saying  “It has to be fun… humor has a very sharp eye on reality.”

When thinking about art we must remember that it comes in many forms: laughter, tears, song, and dance. It’s a form of communication Genesis considers the best conduit for change stating, “art creates a medium that a lot of people can connect with and in this way it can reach larger groups.”

Through Build Me a World, Genesis and Chris are helping young community members pave new roads, expressing their experiences through their words, sounds, videos, and art. BMAW plans to enter the New Year continuing their efforts to nurture the community through art, making a positive influence in more people’s lives.

A message from Genesis and Chris:

Some people say if you’re not part of the solution you’re part of the problem…in reality it’s the other way around; if you’re not part of the problem, you can’t be part of the solution. Only those intimately involved with the challenges are close enough to provide the necessary insight.  That is what Cicero meant when he said, “the cure is in the poison.”

It’s time to create new stories.
Let’s build something great….together.

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Special contribution from Xavier Green.