Stoop Settin’

The warm weather affords many the opportunity to partake in a traditional method of passing time, settin’ on a stoop. The act of sitting there staring wherever your eyes take you is important. It gives your mind time to figure things out.

Growing up in Detroit we had a front and back porch. You had to “act right” sitting out front. Many punishments came with the stipulation that you were not to wander past the porch. If you wanted to fight or eat a juicy watermelon over spread out newspapers, you had to “take that mess around back!” The front porch was used for less rowdy stuff like playing my car/your car, which was a simple but fun game. When a car came down the street, the first one was yours, and the next one was whoever else was on the stoop. If you were lucky, you became the “owner” of a shiny Cadillac or Lincoln, and if not, you had to deal with the raggedy Corvair or Dart. The game was over when you got tired and went in the house.

People watching is perfect for stoop settin’. You can wave to the passers by and maybe laugh a little at Tube Top Tammy, who managed to squeeze every ounce of her overweight-ness into a fire engine red or lime green top, matching nothing else she had on. The front stoop was where little girls learned to braid hair and sit with a dress on. Bubbles were blown into the air from sticky bottles, and contests were held to see whose bubbles went further.

Nowadays stoops in NYC are filled with 3 generations on hot, summer nights. Every other stoop has something different going on. Lovers too broke to do anything else but cling to each other. Outside dinner parties. New Yorkers have extended the stoop to include the sidewalk, where they set up card tables and play dominoes. I smile when I come home late at night and see somebody just sitting, alone with their thoughts.

If we make eye contact, I give them a look that says “I hope you figure it out.”

William Stephenson

A Moment in the Woods

Oh, if life were only moments,
Even now and then a bad one.
But if life were only moments,
How’d you ever know you had one?
-The baker’s wife, from Into the Woods by Stephen Sondheim

A year at Oxford has been a moment in the woods. It has been a year in a temporary bubble, away from people, places, and the pressures of life. To say Oxford is a fairytale is not far from the truth. JK Rowling did not invent Hogwarts. She described a year of a student at Christ Church College. Tolkien did not imagine Middle Earth. He wrote about the shires of the surrounding countryside. Lewis Caroll did not dream up Alice’s adventures in Wonderland. He embellished what he saw.

Sylvesters, a black-tie celebration in June, was the beginning of a long goodbye. It was here, during the class superlatives awards, where one realizes that nine months is all it takes to be able to share a communal laugh. That nine months is all it takes for one to induct new members into their inner circle of friends. And that nine months is not nearly enough time to hear 239 stories of how one arrived at Oxford.

Like Alice and Harry soon discovered, being in wonderland has its perils. Alice nearly got her head chopped off and Harry’s life was always in danger. We too had our trials and tribulations, our frustrations and criticisms, and our doubts and worries. But the biggest challenge of wonderland is leaving it behind. On the outside, life is not spent running after the Mad-Hatter and eating imaginary cakes, but it is a place where one has to face issues – jobs, obligations, familial and societal responsibilities. The lessons learned in the safety of wonderland are to be applied to the problems that are prevalent in our wider communities.

The goodbyes at the graduation ceremony in September, like at any graduation, were difficult. All throughout the day, people said goodbye with a sense of finality – as if our time together was ending. But is that really true? Yes, our time has ended as classmates, but our time has just begun as peers. True, as we spread across the globe, some of us will never cross paths again; but we are all separated by a single phone call. As I flew over the Atlantic, all I could think of was “what a small pond!”

I was amused at how similar the first few days were with the last few days. The prevailing question at the beginning, “what did you do?” was asked so many times that the answer became trite. Likewise, the question at the end, “what are you going to do?” achieved the same level of annoyance. As we move forward, we will ask each other with great curiosity and genuine interest, “What have you been doing?” Given the different paths we are taking, I am sure the answer will never be the same and it will always be fascinating.

Be seeing you…

S. J. Russell

Top 5 Ways ‘Empire’ is Changing Television

Being an avid skeptic, I can admit that it took me a few weeks to tune in to Fox’s latest series, Empire. Starring Terrance Howard and Taraji P. Henson, the show is absolutely reminiscent of the blockbuster smash Hustle & Flow. Whether that intrigues or repels you try giving it a chance before you judge it…you may be presently surprised.    

5. Back to Black– Not to get all racial…but it has been quite a while since we’ve seen a successful…or any series on prime time television, with a majorly black cast. Not only is this show opening and reopening doors for a slew of black and brown actors, it is also making room for more such series to be conceptualized in the very near future. Keep in mind that an array of successful black shows on prime time television is something that we haven’t seen much of since the 90’s…

4. Music Sales– As innovative as it is enjoyable, Empire is doing something unique with its associated music. Not only are they composing and recording original tracks for every episode, they are also releasing the tracks for the fans to stream and download. A controversial move, as the artists are reportedly given zero rights to the music. Nevertheless, the soundtrack adds much to the quality of the show and it has already topped the billboard! There just has to be some Guinness Book world records headed their way.

3. Ratings– In case you’ve somehow missed all of the hoopla, the ratings are through the roof! With views reaching 20 million per week and new fans on boarding to the Lyon bandwagon daily, one can only wonder how much these numbers will climb for season 2. Furthermore, another interesting factoid about their ratings is the fact that much of their views come from ‘on demand’ and streams of the show and many tuned into the series late and took to other avenues in order to catch up.

2. Urban Homophobia– It’s definitely not novel to have an African-American, homosexual character. In fact HBO’s hit series The Wire was the first to successfully integrate an overly masculine, urban criminal into a TV show, via their character Omar. Nevertheless, what makes this show’s commentary on homosexuality so revolutionary is that it boldly displays the intolerance of homosexual males within the black/urban community. One of the main characters, Jamal, has had a difficult journey this season as he has had to grapple with being true to himself or trying to please his bigot of a father, Lucious, whom routinely antagonizes him in the form of snide comments and slurs. (There is even a flashback from his childhood when he got thrown in the garbage for cross-dressing.) It seems that it has opened the dialogue for the community at large as most viewers get together to discuss the subject matters of the show.

1. Psychological Neglect– This season, we also saw quite a bit in relation to mental health issues. The eldest son, Andre, goes through an emotional journey with his unchecked bipolar disorder. Interestingly enough, it seems that the main reason he is not getting the help he deserves is because his father, Lucious, refuses to acknowledge the validity of his issues. Furthermore, even his mother, Cookie Lyon, responded unfavorably to Andre’s commitment to therapy asserting that these issues are ‘some white mess’, or a problem that mostly exists in the white community.  This is a huge issue in the black community as many believe that accepting a diagnosis for a mental health disorder is a weakness. Due to this, the African-American community is said to have the most untreated/ neglected mental issues. The fact that Empire shows how these issues are typically swept under the rug until it explodes, shows great courage and will hopefully lead to dialogue and better resources for mentally ill people within the black community.


Empire is not without its flaws. The story-line, at times, is a bit corny and unrealistic (as with all musicals) and it also shares its fair share of stereotypes. Nevertheless, it is a pretty good show that is entertaining and inspiring many people, of all races, across the globe. If you haven’t yet tuned in, not to worry! You can check them out here! No rush though, I hear the next season doesn’t start until January 2016…let’s hope they were joking!

Venus L

Just go for it: Top 5 Reasons to Ignore Your Brain and Follow Your Heart

In an age in which almost everything is being simplified and reduced to robotic-levels of thinking, it can be quite difficult for anyone to stay true to themselves. Indeed, we as humans have a tendency to try to fit in rather than standout. Thus, many learn to silence their own voice in the name of uniformity and group cohesion from very early in life. However, is this the best way to live your life? Usually not.


The Top 5 Reasons to Ignore Your Brain and Follow Your Heart: 

5. It’s Your Journey– While this should go without saying, it obviously needs to be said: it’s your life! That’s right, no matter who you love or try to impress no one else will ever be able to live your life for you (body doubles and identity thefters be damned). That being said, we as humans have a tendency to seek out advice from trusted sources when we are experiencing a dilemma. This is obviously a good way to get different perspectives but when it’s all said and done you and you alone will be stuck with the ramifications of said decisions. Furthermore, people tend to give the best advice for them (something you should always keep in mind) so the end results may even be more favorable for them than yourself.

4. Intuition is Real– Whether or not you believe it’s all a bunch of new age mumbo jumbo, there is a lot to be said about the power of intuition. According to a study conducted by Psychology Today  “This part of our brain became highly skilled at sensing immediate danger as well as places of safety.  However, because most of us now live a relatively safe, day-to-day existence, that part of our brain is not triggered very often, and when it is, we are not familiar with it, so we tend to ignore its messages.” That is to say that most of us only tap into this part of the brain when our safety is at risk. This speaks to the fact that intuition is an innate, primal instinct that can be used for a variety of things.

3. Inspire Others– You don’t necessarily go on a campaign of greatness to inspire other people. Many times the most minuscule actions to some is wildly courageous for another. Things such as changing careers or going back to school are great examples of how making a decision to pursuit our interests can rub off on others. Sometimes all it takes is for someone to see you doing something…to realize that they could/should be doing it too.

2. YODO (You Only Die Once)– You read it right: you only die once…you live everyday! Never stifle your goals or future because you’re catering to people who will one day be a thing of the past. If you want to do something (that’s not hurting anyone) do it! Fill your days with the things that you love; everyday can be a new adventure!

1. Dreams Come True– The top reason why you should ignore your brain and follow your heart: dreams come true! Sure, it may be a long shot for you to be the next Jay-Z or Beyonce…but I’m also willing to wager that Hov and Bey were both told they’d never be…Hov and Bey. That is to say, if you are not pursuing your true passions in life because you have rationalized that you will never be successful in it…you’re only killing yourself. It’s no secret why celebrities and other rich and/or famous people seem happier than the rest of the world…it’s because most of them have found a way to do exactly what they want to do with their lives. We are routinely told that money isn’t everything, this is true. However, there is an innately joyful experience to get paid for doing things you actually enjoy doing.

In Conclusion…

It may sound cliché but follow you heart! The mind is there to help you navigate around hurdles and pitfalls, not to prevent you from succeeding in life. Sometimes it’s good to quiet your brain and let the lub-dub of your heart take center stage.

Venus L

Man's Best Friend

Top 5 Reasons Everyone Needs a ‘Bestie’

It’s no secret, the world is one confusing place. The cultural norms as well as what is considered socially acceptable is shifting by the day. Gone are the days in which genuine social interactions are promoted, and instead this has been replaced with the superficial semblance of communing and sentimentality that is the world-wide web. Now that humans are officially capable of meeting and communicating with billions of people across the globe, people are encouraged not to dwell on those who do not fit into their own ideals of goodness. Thusly, loyalty and the longevity of friendships seems to be a thing of the past. Though it is true that people need to be able to stand on their own 2 feet, it is almost equally important that we as humans are connecting with the rest of humanity. That being said, here are the top 5 reasons why everyone needs a ‘bestie’…

5. Motivation– Obviously, it is our own, personal job to keep ourselves motivated. On the flip side, that is not always so realistic. We all go through things that interferes with our creativity. A good friend will always be there in order to help remind you of why you and your goals in life are worthy and important. This is an invaluable service as even the filthy rich have off days.

4. Fun Times– Though this seems to go without saying, having fun and letting loose is a vital practice for every happy, well-adjusted adult. No matter how hard you work, or how busy you are, you should always make time for a little R&R. Good friends have a way about them that makes even the most daunting tasks seem more delightful and doable. Sometimes the only thing you need to get the bottom of a ‘to-do list’, is the company of a good friend.

3. Venting– This one is huge as it is equally important to be able to vent personal frustrations, as it is to find a friend trustworthy enough to vent your most personal woes to. The art of venting can be highly therapeutic as it allows for you to get hurtful events and situations off of your mind and heart long enough to find relief and viable solutions. On the other hand, this could also be a recipe for disaster if you’re trusting the wrong person. Therefore, do be certain the person you turn to in such times, is the type of person that is deserving of this level of trust.

2. Growth– Growing is a part of life. We grow in many ways throughout our lifetimes, both seen and unseen. That being said, often times, it is the people whom we spend the most time with who help incite the thoughts or events that ultimately cause us to learn and grow. Sometimes it’s in the name of ‘friendly competition’, other times, it’s simply a natural unfolding of events. Either way, it is obviously a plus if you have someone in your life who recognizes your need for growth and gently pushes you to realize your potential.

1. Understanding– The top reason that everyone needs a best friend is to have someone who truly understands them. Unbeknownst to many, being understood and having a sense of belonging is the very crux of human existence, for most. Indeed, when one is going through situations and circumstances that seem to be all but unbelievable, there are few words more powerful than ‘I understand’.


It is undoubtedly true that humans can get through life without the companionship of another living soul. Many ingenious minds spent the majority of their lives helping to further humanity, in all but isolated conditions. On the other hand, it also has to be said that the most happy and healthy adults have formed strong, lifelong bonds with the people in their lives. This is a much more difficult task for some of us than others. Nevertheless, think outside of the box. If humans don’t seem to get you, try the animal kingdom. Most beings are capable of bonding and empathy. Indeed, there’s a reason that creatures such as dogs have long since been labeled as ‘man’s best friend’.

Venus L


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