Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Kamila McDonald-Alcock Is That Girl

It was an absolute honour for me to connect with Kamila McDonald-Alcock, learn about her personal history, her academic journey, and how she successfully manages her goals and career, all while staying grounded and family-oriented.

In an age of reality TV, underserving idols, staged publicity scenes, contrived personas, and 15 minutes of fame for empty spirits and bad role models...it is rare that you discover someone who is worthy of emulating, celebrating, or acknowledging with a genuine level of respect. Kamila is a woman in the public eye who represents the heart and soul of womanhood: intelligence, humility, health and beauty, talent and grace, and still manages to put family first.

Known to many for her participation in the Miss Jamaica World pageant in 2009, last August Kamila married Jamaican recording artist Siccature "Jah Cure" Alcock. And while those two descriptors alone may be reason enough to pay attention to the work of Kamila, it is actually only the beginning of a number of successes, traits, and elements of her character worth recognizing.

Born in Kingston, Jamaica, the 28-year-old mother to Kailani Belle is an example of a young woman living out her dreams, constantly working to improve and excel, and still maintaining a marriage and motherhood without compromising her goals. "Ever since February 19, the night of Kailani's birth, I realized something I never thought was possible--my priorities immediately shifted and all the things I thought were so 'very important' before her birth immediately took a back seat," Kamila said.

Kamila's parents, lead singers of an international reggae band, set the foundation for her life of music, the arts, and entertainment. Having been exposed to the piano, guitar, steel pan, and drums from as early as age 4, Kamila noted that music has always had an important role in her life. "Music provides an incomparable release for me," she said. "Music is simply a way of life for my family and I. It's not just what we do, but it's intricately woven into who we are."

Along with the influence of her parents, Kamila notes that her favourite recording artists are all a part of her family. Her sister Kelissa and brother Keznamdi are what she describes as "music genuinses," while her father Chakula and mother Goldilocks are both "hardcore reggae musicians, whose conscious lyrics ane melodies take me back home...both to my childhood and my spiritual home of Africa and Rastafari." She said the music of her family speaks to her various physical, emotional, cultural, and spiritual needs, and provide her with a musical healing.

That being said, the music of Jah Cure, along with countless others, ranks at the top of her preferences as well. "My husband's music of course makes my heart sing," she said. And of her siblings: "I cannot wait for the world to be exposed to the sweet sound of her voice and the inspirations of his lyrical messages."

She noted that music is woven into who they are as individuals, and that her family creates music when they are sad, happy, excited, nervous, and balanced. Quoting multi-billionnaire Warren Buffett, Kamila reiterated how important it was to make what you love not only your hobby, but also your business. While her family and husband have mastered the art of music, Kamila has also taken an interest in the communication and dissemination of music, and entertainment, and how it can reflect and assist society.

With reporter roles on the Jamaican Reggae Entertainment Television, and most recently the CVM entertainment program "OnStage," Kamila is a well-known journalist on the island who is dedicated to sharing stories, and celebrating her culture through the media. Journalism is not only a hobby for her, but it is also a trade that she has studied and excelled in. Her mother, a PhD graduate from Harvard University, enforced the importance of education in Kamila's life.

"...Education symbolizes the opportunity to maximize one's potential. Many have succeeded in life without higher education, but those who are educated unlock a powerful force," she said. Kamila's educational journey was a rich one: at the age of 18, she received a full scholarship to study in Norway where she received her International Baccalaureate (IB) degree. Kamila received another scholarship to study Communications, French, and Spanish at Stanford University in California where she received an honours BA. Along with her formal studies, she also immersed herself in Kiswahili while living in Tanzania, and studied Spanish while residing in Chile.

In May of this year, Kamila received her Master's degree in Journalism from the University of California, Berkeley, with a concentration in television and multimedia. "After gaining the experience of living in five countries on four different continents, acquiring multi-lingual skills and a diverse exposure to the media industry, I was well equipped to delve into the more technical and professional aspects of media production," said Kamila. "Graduate study created a strong foundation for a life-long career in journalism, and the confidence to apply my professional skills for the development of disenfranchised populations: facilitating communities to record their stories, amplify their voices, and use this for advocacy to stimulate social action and change."

While she has travelled the world, and honed her media skills to perfection, Kamila remains passionate about life in Jamaica. "I've traveled to some beautiful places, but 'nuttin like yard,'" Kamila said proudly. "My travels have highlighted the power and strength of brand Jamaica, and that there is so much more we can be doing as a country to take full advantage of that brand. Traveling always reminds me how very proud I am to be Jamaican--we are known, recognized, and loved from every corner of the earth!"

Naturally, thinking of the beauty of Jamaica immediately brings the Jah Cure song "Jamaica" to mind. Looking for a place to have a perfect vacation / Or even a honeymoon / I know the place to make the perfect reservation / Come let me take you there soon... One of the most recognizable and goosebump-inducing voices in reggae music, Kamila's husband is already a legend of his time, and a key contributor to the culture and music of the island.

We were first introduced to Jah Cure around 1997, and now his classic songs like "Love Is," "Longing For," or "Reflections" are staples in the reggae industry. This year, with the release of his single "That Girl," Jah Cure began his own music lable, Iyah Cure. Now almost 34 years old, he is half of the Jamaican power couple, and a great influence to Kamila in her daily life. "The support of a loving husband plays a crucial role in my endeavours," said Kamila. "Being an active career woman and new mom is not easy. But when the person you love believes in your dreams, or is simply there to support you on your journey, it provides an extremely comforting and safe feeling that propels the vision forward each and every day."

The Alcocks are connected not only in spirit and music, but also by their Rastafarian faith. "The almighty is the foundation of all my endeavours, big or small," said Kamila. "There is a huge difference when something is God-ordained and man-ordained and one of the beautiful things about becoming an adult is being able to differentiate between the two." She credits Jah for successfully taking her through the challenge of juggling a newborn Kailani while completing graduate school, and says that her strength, courage and perseverance during this time is reassurance that anything is possible--both personally and professionally--with Jah by her side. "Give thanks and praises to the most high, every time," she said.

Along with her faith, Kamila believes that each journey you set out on will have an end, and "how you handle that journey will determine your reaction to the end result." While she did not walk away with the Miss Jamaica World title in 2009, she did win the title of Miss Beach. A certified personal trainer, her love for fitness has allowed her to combine many of her passions into a successful business.

Having completed her master's degree, Kamila now has the opportunity to fully focus on JamRock Fitness, her company that allows her to provide a "culturally and economically appropriate solution for some of Jamaica's biggest health issues as a country: obesity, diabetes, and hypertension."

The journey to creating JamRock Fitness for the Rastafarian beauty queen was described as a deeply personal one. "In 2002 I became overweight and struggled with weight issues for a number of years after that," she said. "I began to explore the multiplicity of factors that influence weight gain and weight loss and became quite knowledgeable about nutrition, exercise, and the human mind from personal research and development."

Her weight-loss journey began in preparation for the 2009 pageant, which inspired her to promote health and physical fitness for others who were going through similar struggles. She has now "personalized and culturalized" weight loss for Jamaicans. "Exercise should be fun, and people need strong, excited, driven mentors to help them reach their goals. I absolutely love doing what I do and see JamRock fitness reaching all Jamaicans who struggle with weight in a friendly, affordable way."

To say she is well-rounded would be an understatement, however, Kamila does present an authentic image of what can be accomplished with hard work, with ongoing committment to self-improvement, and with the power of a strong faith and family support. While she could have easily relied on her looks to achieve fame, status, and marry one of Jamaica's hottest commodities...instead Kamila can give credit to her mind, her aptitude for learning, her dedication to family, her love for Jah, her willingness to serve the Jamaican people, and her entreprenuerial spirit for her successes thus far.

"I have always been the ambitious 'go-getter' type who sometimes becomes totally consumed in several projects, easily getting lost in the 'gotta get it done now!' world. That incessant drive to go after what I want in life embodies the core of who I am, and has always been an important personal characteristic."

She is a brilliant example of a strong Jamaican woman, and an international representative of how education, experience, and faith can be an important element of your journey. This is a message--that through Kamila's presence alone--will automatically resonate with those who have the ability to learn from her positive example.

Just like Jah Cure sings, Kamila McDonald-Alcock is definitely THAT GIRL. That girl who has the drive to strive for her wildest ambitions, and yet the humility to give thanks for her opportunities, and credit to those around her who keep her spirit strong. "I hope to instil in Kailani the importance of being an empowered woman," said Kamila. "One who will go after her dreams, but still uphold the selflessness of a good mother, just as my mother continues to, and what I have learnt to apply in my own life."

Photos provided by Kamila McDonald-Alcock.
Written by Stacey Marie Robinson for Kya Publishing's "Urban Toronto Tales" blog.

Friday, September 21, 2012

When Tony Matterhorn A Talk...

So pleasant, yet so vulgar. So charming, yet so facety. So local, yet so international. Dufton Taylor Jr. (aka Tony Matterhorn) is a real character...and a real talent. When you hear people talk about "it" factor, he's definitely got it.

I woke up this morning to routinely check my phone, which includes a quick scan of Twitter to see what's up in news, entertainment, the city, abroad, and just a synopsis of what's going on. Only to find a series of posts by Matterhorn, in true uninhibited fashion.

I understand that's the nature of Twitter: to speak your mind, to show your real self to friends, fans, and followers near and far. But there is something ridiculously authentic about Tony Matterhorn's Tweets that always make me think, this guy is something special. And he's FUNNY. Extremely.

It's a creative energy. A talent. An awareness, and most importantly a genuine connection with his culture and fans that he seems to have mastered. From being a part of King Addies sound in Brooklyn in the 90s, winning back-to-back World Clash Jamaica titles, and the UK Cup Clash, Tony Matterhorn has long gotten the formalities out of the way.

He's a good selector. We know this. We've known this from time, from 1998 since he started his own sound. He is one-of-a-kind when it comes to the microphone, and it's his wit and personality that has made him easily rise to the top amongst  the community of reggae DJs, artists, and icons...because he is his own brand. His own movement. His own conglomerate. A "triple threat" as they say.

He can make some hits! We knew this in 2006 when Dutty Wine destroyed the dancehall, and every other musical scene. There wasn't a venue you could walk into in 2006 and even 2007 that didn't have a Dutty Wine competition at some point in the night. It was almost mandatory. And even outside of Caribbean entertainment, you wouldn't be shocked to see dancers from all genres Dutty Wining on stage at award shows, or in music videos. Even if it was a small rotation of the head, or a specific stance that they took...you knew where the movement originated from. You knew it was Tony Matterhorn who was responsible for the phenomenon.

To hear Nicki Minaj call his name on "Monster"...you weren't surprised. Dutty Wine was hot shit.

In fact, I think Dutty Wine will go down as one of the signature moments in his career because of the sheer popularity of it...and because it was fun. Fun to watch, fun to [attempt to] do, and fun to listen to. And this song kind of encapsulates what Tony Matterhorn represents as an artist: someone who has taken Jamaican culture and reggae music to an international level...without even seemingly trying too hard, or being too deliberate. It all comes across as truly good-natured, and truly entertaining.

When we hear his songs like Dutty Wine, or even "Goodas" or "Survivor" they are more than just songs...they are classics. Not because of the song alone (as good as the songs are), but even because of the context. The stories. The things he says when he's live and about to perform one of his tracks. The overall experience. Some artists can drop song after song, yet you don't know their face, or have a clue about their personality. When you get a product from Tony Matterhorn...you get the full package. You know him, and you know what's up. It's a complete experience.

He is undoubtedly one of the industry's most visible reggae selectors, and definitely an international icon. Anyone that follows him on Twitter knows that this guy is forever on the road, from continent to continent, sharing the music, and spreading love to fans and supporters here and abroad.

So many songs, many travels, and MANY jokes later...I woke up to listen to a track that he posted on Twitter..."DUPPY ATTACK," which only solidified my appreciation for Tony Matterhorn as an artist, personality, and reggae music ambassador. Just released this week, he calls names...he calls out Konshens, Mr. Vegas, Tommy Lee, Popcaan...and the list goes on.

"The duppy dem a talk...the fans them a chat...which artist a flop..."

It reminded me of his professional confidence. He's openly not afraid to "war" (even if in jest)...but yet I think because of who he is, his persona, and even the spirit in which he performs and conducts himself, he's justified in any and everything he chooses to say.

While reggae music is my first love, and I fully support and appreciate everything about my Jamaican culture...I don't necessarily keep up with the day-to-day gossip, who said who about what...who did this where...who's at war with who. I know the music. I know I love how it makes me feel, but reggae/dancehall music evolves so quickly, that's it's almost impossible for me to stay up to speed on the latest.

I do try. And songs like Duppy Attack are meant to stir up dialogue, conversation, and bring the industry's visibility and discussion to another level. You better believe I'm finally going to look into this Tommy Lee and see what's up. I was curious before, but I'm really curious now.

But on a broad level, I am a fan of the music, and the fan of the power of my island of Jamaica, thanks to personalities and talents like Tony Matterhorn. It's the energy, the vibe, the confidence, and the boldness of reggae music that will forever keep me motivated to endorse everything about it.

Tony Matterhorn, to me, represents a huge part of what I love about the culture. And as one of his 45, 313 Twitter followers, (and yes, he's following me too!) I felt obligated this morning to wake up and write down exactly why it is that this character can make me smile every time I hear him talk, or read his ranting, commentary, and foolishness :)

How could you not love and respect that face? So innocent, yet so openly terrible! These are the elements of which a true star is made. Appeal. Skill. Longevity. Personality. And when he's ready to write his life story...I will be first in line to be his publisher.

Written by Stacey Marie Robinson for Kya Publishing's "Urban Toronto Tales" blog.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Book Review: "Super Rich" by Russell Simmons

He got me! I saw the title, and of course assumed that much like his first book "Do You," that "Super Rich" would be an outlined guide to career, business, and self-empowement. I thought there would be lists, and details, and specific steps that would lead readers one step closer to millions.

But Russell Simmons is smarter than that. Smart enough to give his book an appealing title...but also rich enough to know that he's one of the best people to speak about what being "rich" really means.

Released in January of 2011, "Super Rich" is Russell's account of how he achieves personal satisfaction--despite his financial success, and how he feels that "inner" wealth and progress is much more liberating than any monetary figure.

Easy for the rich guy to say. In fact, he says that a few times in the book, knowing that any reader would also share the same sentiments. It's easy for the guy with millions to tell you that it's not important to have money. But at the same time...who better to tell you that than someone who has experienced it?

Wealth and success are the end goal for the majority of people. No one wants to suffer, be miserable, and broke. Of course not everyone wants the spotlight and attention that comes with being a public figure, but I'm pretty sure anyone would settle for the stacks-on-stacks-on-stacks in a heart beat.

Money is great! You can buy what you want. Go where you want. Work where you want. Eat what you want. Dress how you want. Drive what you want. Live where you want. You don't have to stress about providing for your family. What's not to like or desire about that?

To many, being "rich" and receiving these types of benefits equates to being HAPPY. But Russell carefully deconstructs these myths of attaining happiness, and through his passion for yoga, expresses how one can TRULY reach a state of richness.

Now, the book is a little big yoga-heavy. He emphasizes how important the practice of yoga is to his daily routine, and also the huge role it has placed in keeping him in a great mental space, and allowing him the energy and state of being to achieve his successes. At times it's almost like a sales pitch for the yoga lifestyle, for meditating, and for veganism and related practices.

But given that this is Russell's personal guide to gettin' rich, he makes sure that his method is outlined loud and clear. It is because of yoga and the peace and clarity it brings him, that he has been able to achieve all that he has.

Along with encouragement for meditation, he also did drop a few gems of knowledge:

Make sure your gift is an honest expression of what's in your heart. He stressed how important it was that you pursue your passions, and stay true to exactly what it is you believe you should be doing. With that honesty of purpose, you are more likely to achieve success than if you are following someone else's path for you.

He followed up by saying that "The burden of not connecting with your God-given happiness is the heaviest load you can carry in life." Great point! And I believe a lot of people experience un-happiness and financial stress because they are unable to do what they "really" want to do, and instead go through the motions in a socially acceptable line of work, or whatever opportunity they may have. He notes that a part of life's richness is making sure you connect to what genuinely makes you happy...with or without the financial compensation. Or in his words..."only do shit you believe in."

"We want to be so pure in our spirit and intentions that when we give the world our gift, we don't spend a moment worrying about when we're going to receive a response, let alone payment for it." Here he talked about having a spirit of charity, and being able to share with others and share without reservation...putting good energy into the world, and also creating a good framework for your own actions.

Dont chase the money. This was a key message throughout. While following your heart, and giving to others, by being true to yourself...the money will inevitably come, he believes. But he stressed that the money shouldn't BE the objective, but rather a product of your honest intentions.

There was a great story he told about being in a dorm room at NYU with Rick Rubin, and the memories he had in the early stages of Def Jam...the FEELING he received from those successes and milestones NEVER compared to any cheque he's received or other type of compensation. Years later, and millions richer, he made it clear that the feeling of wealth was nothing in comparison to the feeling of pure joy, accomplishment, and exercising his true passions.

That was perhaps the part of the book that stood out the most to me, mainly because I could also think of a handful of FANTASTIC memories and experiences in my life...and none of them were necessarily tied to financial gain. Sure, money is fabulous...but I truly understood his message about the difference in lasting effect. The moments will always stay with you...but the money is just...well, money. He stressed that "Def Jam's success was rooted in a conscious pursuit of happiness, not a blind pursuit of money."

"Stillness is the fertile soil in which imagination is nourished and ideas can grow to incredible heights." I really liked this quote too. The encouragement to operate out of a calm, happy, focused, and heightened space...and let go of all the issues that are holding you down.

The book was pretty spiritual, still. Again, quite unexpectedly, but definitely appreciated. He outlined the 8 steps of classical yoga, including DHARANA (concentration on one's purpose in life) and DHYANA (meditation and devotion on the Divine), and reminded his readers repeatedly to take joy in whatever you are doing and leave a great impression at whatever you are doing...which could inevitably lead to greater opportunities.

"Play your position with an unlimited supply of hustle, selflessness, dedication, relentlessness, and smiles...people will see your potential."

"Put yourself in a physical space that's going to promote your evolution...filled with consciouness and compassion."

It was an easy read, an inspiring page-turner, and while it didn't give me 101 tips to get dem dollars...it did remind me that with patience, the right frame of mind, a positive and healthy spirit, and the trust and faith that life will give you exactly what you need to succeed at the right time, when you are ready...we can all be just like Uncle Rush: motivated, progressive, and most importantly...genuinely filled with joy.

What more could you ask for?

Written by Stacey Marie Robinson for Kya Publishing's "Urban Toronto Tales" blog.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Remembering Tupac Shakur

Tupac Amaru Shakur died 16 years ago today, September 13, 1996. We all know the story: he was shot in Las Vegas on September 7, after the Mike Tyson fight at the MGM Grand...and the mystery of his murder has yet to be solved.

It's a story of a hip hop legend. A timeless story of an intelligent rebel...constantly fighting to be heard, to raise social awareness, and staying true to self, true to his black nationalist upbringing, and true to his fans.

We loved Tupac because he was an original. In an era of 101 rappers talking loud and saying nothing...Tupac remains a classic artist. His passion, his energy, his lyrics, and his off-stage persona were always consistent. He was doing things his way, and he wanted everyone to know exactly who he was, and what he believed in.

I was a fan. Musically, I was a fan of the hits...admittedly, I never got too deep into the B-Side tracks and underground creations. I was definitely a fan of his acting. I watched the movie Juice (no word of a lie) every single day one summer durng high school, just because of how it made me feel. I loved (and continue to love) absolutely everything about that movie. The soundtrack. The lighting. The dialogue. And of course, I loved Tupac's character "Bishop". To this day, probably one of the most memorable movie roles anyone has ever played.

As as much as we felt the role of Bishop in 1992, we loved the role of "Lucky" in Poetic Justice...another classic favourite film of mine from 1993, where we got to see the bad boy get vulnerable. Tupac represented an era of our generation that we all remember fondly. The music. The colours. The dancing. The energy. The newness of "hip hop" culture as it truly exploded on the pop scene and began to infiltrate almost every aspect of society.

Tupac represented a leader of our generation. And while Will Smith and others were the family-friendly face of hip hop, and New Jack Swing and other pleasant elements of the culture were on the rise...Tupac stayed grimy. He stayed gutter, as he's often quoted as saying.

He would have been 41 years old this year. Crazy! Even crazier is that he was only 25 years old when he died. Now, with all due respect to the living rappers right now...can you really name ANYONE who has the same affect, intelligence, or presence that Tupac did? Especially at THAT age?

Sometimes it saddens me that he never lived to grow old. Never lived to see the first black president. Never lived to age with the culture, along with Jay, Diddy, Russell Simmons, and the other urban entertainment leaders. I remember watching his documentary "Resurrection" in the theatre back in 2003 and shedding tears for a lost leader. A potential revolutionary.

There aren't many people like him. And my radar remains high for those of intelligence, passion, and influence, and I enjoy seeing individuals in those positions take control of their opportunities and use their knowledge to improve public conscious, and to advance cultural standards.

Our culture needs leaders. We need academics. We need individuals with that special "something" to lead us, and be a voice for those who may not have the opportunity to speak...or be heard.

And yes, Tupac was "just a rapper" but he had the drive and the dedication to fight for what he believed in. He wasn't worried about being politically correct, or playing the fame game...he was what he was. He kept it real.

Tainted by a series of run-ins with the law, filing a civil suit against the Oakland Police, serving jail time, allegations of sexual assault, and suffering numerous shootings, his life was forever controversial. Always followed by some drama...and perhaps his persona often invited this drama as well.

But if nothing else, he was full of life...at all times. There was something electric about him, that even in the heart of trouble and in the middle of terrible misfortune, his albums still sold, and his singles still rose to the top of the charts.

He was that guy.

So on September 13, 1996 when he lost his life, the hip hop community lost a great soul. And it's not until days like this that I remember the life of Tupac, that I wonder what others are doing with THEIR lives. I wonder if other artists try to emulate him in character, in purpose, and in action. I re-evaluate what I'm doing with MY life, and what legacy I would like to leave.

I feel that the grimy-ness and authentic "thug life" of years past is totally lost, and that the key to success now in the hip hop game is commercialism, it's blending in with the corporate "other," and the road to influence is found by those who are quietly making business moves, wearing suits, socializing with dignitaries and business executives, and the street-level first-in-air activism is a thing of the past.

I can't knock anyone for their hustle. And I commend those who have far succeeded probably even their expectations of themselves. I realize it's a different era, and rappers and musicians aren't out there struggling openly, and stirring up trouble. I see the movements. I realize everyone's cool and collected, and bringing in the money same way. It's safer this way.

But all I AM saying is that I miss that about Tupac. The rawness. The authenticity. The transparency. I miss that he was a wild card, and you never knew what to expect. Not like Kanye West jumping up on stage wild card...or Lil Wayne wearing tights and teddy bears wild card...but like the true, 100% original gangster "anything goes" type of behaviour. Less calculated, more genuine.

We may never see that type of influence again in our lifetime from a hip hop artist. Times have changed, the industry has matured, and expectations are different now than they were before. We may never see a rapper with the same public persona as Tupac Shakur, as much as some may try.

It's unfortunate that we didn't get the chance to see what he would develop into, as an adult. It's a shame that we never got to see him have kids, and bring up the next generation of his family. It's too bad that we can't hear what he would have done for hip hop music, and how his sound would have changed.

I am still fortunate that we did get to experience him as an artist for the time that we did. The Coachella ressurrection was a little bit creepy to me, so I'll just stick to the images on my VHS tapes and online, and just be glad that he did leave such a strong mark...to this day.

One can only hope to have such a lasting effect on a culture like Tupac did. He was definitely one of a kind, and someone that will continuously be remembered every time September 13 comes around. That alone speaks volumes, that even 16 years later, his spirit is still felt this strongly.

"My mama always used to tell me: 'If you can't find somethin' to live for, you best find somethin' to die for." ~Tupac Shakur


Written by Stacey Marie Robinson for Kya Publishing's "Urban Toronto Tales" blog.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Tyrese Gibson (Part 3): "How To Get Out of Your Own Way" Book Review

Sister Souljah. Omar Tyree. Iyanla Vanzant. John Singleton. Eckhart Tolle. Terry McMillan. These are the handful of writers who have influenced me through their words over the years. Influenced me in my decisions and ideologies, my passions, and my goals. After reading "How to Get Out of Your Own Way" I can now add Tyrese Gibson to this list.

It didn't take me long to read this book. In fact, in less than a day, I was engrossed in his words from start to finish, and closed that book with a literary satisfaction I haven't experienced in a while. The satisfaction of reading GOOD writing. The satisfaction of LEARNING something new and knowing that the application of the lessons would make a significant contribution to my personal and professional life. The satisfaction of turning pages mechanically and eagerly, and taking in each and every sentence...straight to my soul.

This is the joy of reading that every writer enjoys! The essence of publishing that is refreshing! Reading this book was the motivation I needed at this exact moment in time, and the perfect message of enlightenment and artistic expression that my spirit craved.

It's no secret that I'm a Tyrese fan. I've long admired his music, his modeling, his acting, and spirit of creativity.

I stood at Beyonce's inaugural solo concert in June 2003 in Detroit, as a young journalist, and watched Tyrese perform from about 2 feet away in the photographer's pit. I remember being captivated by the essence of the moment: Ford Motor Company's 100th anniversary celebration. I was still a student at Wayne State University, and still full of passion and excitement for the future. I remember that being a defining moment in my writing career because I felt like I was doing EXACTLY what I loved...I was enjoying music, and I was going to have the opportunity to write about it, and share it with others. I remember that Tyrese was a part of that life-changing experience.

It's been almost 10 years, and not much has changed as far as my ambitions and personal goals. I still love the arts, and I still require the tangible energy of music and entertainment to fuel my writing.

"How to Get Out of Your Own Way" was released in 2011, and I finally had the opportunity to take it in...and this book spoke to me. It was effective. It was inspirational. It was necessary!

Tyrese has been in the industry for over 15 years...across the spectrum. So writing a book could have been an exercise in telling his life's story, and using the biography as a means to let people know about his life. But it was much more than that. While there were elements of biography, and you definitely learn a lot about his experience through reading this book, there still exists a level of teaching, of sharing, and compassion through his words.

You can sense his need to reach out to his supporters in everything he does. He's an active Twitter griot, who uses every opportunity to not only promote his own work, but to share the wisdom and gems that he learns along the way. With video blogs, phone recordings, interviews, and writings....you can tell that Tyrese is on a mission to be someone in your life that has learned a great deal, and is dedicated to sharing this.

You can tell that he doesn't forget where he came from, and who he was while growing up in Watts, in Southern California, but that he's also determined to remind his readers that success, fame, opportunity, power, and influence are all attainable with the right mentality and the right spirit.

So this book is not only a testament to how the power of positive thinking, spirtual grace, and a steadfast work ethic have helped him, but also how this positive energy can transcend circumstance, and manifest in your life as long as you wish it to.

His message included a consistent theme of self-love and self-empowerment, through statements like:

*Experience is your highest truth...only you can define your own truth...
*You will grow through what you go through...
*You are responsible for where you are in your life...you have to create the reality you want...
*Love yourself enough to keep on doing what you're doing to get to the next level...
*Stay away from people's problems...

At the essence of his message was "you create the reality you want for yourself." He spoke this loud and clear. Through example. Through testimony. Through encouragement.

He does this so dilligently, and anyone that follows his career and confessions will see that while he knows he has attained a great level of success for himself, that he is truly dedicated to letting YOU know that it's possible. That with the right energy and the right environment, that reaching your own personal paradise is more than possible.

Sometimes that's all you need to hear. Sometimes you KNOW this deep down, but you have a hard time truly recognizing the power of your own mind. Sometimes it's common sense, and it's logical thinking...but sometimes so many of us fail to apply this message to our own lives. We know that we should be working hard, or distancing ourselves from particular people and situations...but yet we still don't quite move past that level, and on to a higher one.

Tyrese made sure that this message was reinforced, and I believe that it spoke to me so emphatically because I could feel that it was coming from a place of genuine concern, and divine obligation to take care of his brothers and sisters. Even if from a distance. Even if through mass communication. It felt authentic, and it felt personalized.

Take control of your identity. Take responsibility for the type of life you choose to live. Be careful of who has emotional access to you.

For real!

There was a good portion of the book also dedicated to "mars and venus"-type advice, where he broke it down...bredren to bredren, and was real upfront about relationships, expectations, and the importance of securing your identity to ensure that you handle relationships successfully.

At the core of this message was the TRUTH: being honest with yourself, and with others. Being comfortable with yourself, and standing firm in yourself so that others can't influence your direction.

He encouraged readers to always stay in a positive frame of mind to be able to transform your thoughts into a physical reality. He reminded readers to stay organized, and always be prepared to execute your dreams. Don't let your ideas die because of circumstances you fell into based on your own choices, he said.

I said it in January when I wrote Tyrese Gibson: The Next Pop Prophet (Part 1), that Mr. Gibson was a prophet on the rise, speaking by divine inspiration, gifted with moral insight and powers of expression.

I repeated these sentiments when I wrote Tyrese Gibson: If "Open Invitation" Was a Movie (Part 2), that his music inspired dialogue and motivated creativity.

I'll say it again, that this man is on to something. Yes, he's out there doing the Hollywood thing, acting in blockbuster movies and stuff, going on tour, making women swoon, driving Bentley's and travelling the world, partying like a rock star. He's doing it, because he's earned it.

I figure it's a God-given privilege to be in a position of influence. Whether you're a professional athlete, an actor, a musician, dancer, writer, or a university professor. When you're in a position to speak and connect with an abundance of people...that is a privilege and a gift.

Now it only becomes a gift if you do something with it. Some singers and performers choose to be quiet, to do their job, and stay under the media radar...and there's also nothing wrong with that. We all choose to live to our own comfort level, and can only act upon what we are called to do, and passionate about.

But I remain inspired by those who have the power and ability to ignite change, to inspire action, and to bring clarity to situations just through their own personal testament. When the words of Sister Souljah, and the others I mentioned previously, spoke to me...it was on a variety of levels. Sometimes it was literally moving me to tears, or to laughter, or to other emotions through the power of their story telling. Some inspired me through their personal stories, and this is how they connected with me, and pushed me to pursue my own writing dreams. Some, like Iyanla, challenged me to change the schematics of my mind, question my actions, and make adjustments accordingly.

Tyrese's book "How to Get Out of Your Own Way" has now made it onto my list of influential texts because his life outside of these pages is proving to be on a continuous incline to do just that: motivate others.

I'm grateful that I was blessed with the emotion that was put into these pages. And with this emotion, I will translate the lessons and passion into my own truth: the words will transcend this moment, and remain a part of my conscious. For I didn't just read this book...I am also going to actively apply it. That is what I believe Tyrese's intention was, and that is why I believe this book is so phenomenal.

That is all any writer truly hopes for. A lasting impression through the power of their art.

Written by Stacey Marie Robinson for Kya Publishing's "Urban Toronto Tales" blog.

Tyrese's next book "Manology" co-authored by Rev Run, will be released in February of 2013.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

What Michelle Obama Represents

Michelle Obama is fabulous. Simply fabulous.

It's the morning after her September 4th speech at the opening of the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina, and I can't help but still feel inspired. It doesn't happen often. But when inspiration hits me, I have to pay attention to it. When there's a message sent to me...I have to listen.

The message I got from Michelle Obama last night was a message of strength, a message of passion, and a message of social responsibility. What Michelle Obama represents, in my opinion, is a woman of character...a woman of intellect, and a woman of great humility. It's so powerful that one woman can simultaneously represent all of these great traits...yet it's so motivating, because you know from her story and her history, that it is not impossible to at least attempt to follow in her footsteps.

She is just one woman. One of many throughout history who have led others, who have inspired others, and who have stood for great things, and done so with great decency. She is just one woman...but there is something so down-to-earth about her, that you feel like as much as she's on the highest platform in the world as the First Lady of the United States of America...that she's still just a woman with a plan. An attainable plan.

I was there...the day her husband, Barack Obama was sworn into the White House to begin his four year term as the President. I was there when Aretha Franklin sang, and millions gathered on Capitol Hill, and braved subzero temperatures just to be a part of that moment. I was there.

I was there as she held that Bible for her husband, and he placed his hand on it to repeat the oath. I was there, wearing about 4 layers of clothing, with only my eyes exposed to the cold for the majority of the morning to prevent freezing. I stood next to strangers, and waited for hours. I was 587 kilometres away from home and a citizen of Canada...but I stood proudly in that moment, in the shadow of the Washington Monument...knowing there was no where else in the world I would have been but right there.

After serving four years at the First Lady, Michelle Obama has only become more fabulous. Her message hasn't changed. And the values she repeated and continues to uphold like dignity and decency...honesty and integrity...gratitude and humility...this isn't anything new. These are values that we all appreciate and strive to personify. These are things that we know we want to pass on to the generations that follow us. This is the foundation of the "American Dream" of which politicians are continually speaking of these days.

But it doesn't take an American or a politician to know what's best for our world, and who the best people are to lead us there.

This is a question that I continually struggle with...I always wonder: who are our leaders? Who will we look back on twenty years from now as the strength and the voice of our generation? And there are the obvious role models--like Barack and Michelle--and then some not-so-obvious leaders like the entertainers and musicians that I often write about. There are so many people that I see potential in...and I have to stand behind one way or another.

Even if just in word, but I think it's my responsibility to stand behind them.

I don't mind throwing my support at someone who's been anointed with a gift, a platform, and a plan. I don't mind paying my respects to somebody who is in a position to motivate me, and motivate millions. I don't mind taking the time to do what I need to do to give them credit, but the inspiration that I receive is completely invalueable as far as I'm concerned.

Last night I was so inspired. It's something that doesn't happen often, but when it does happen, I try to hold on to the moment and the message, and make sure that I take that positive energy and transfer it into something tangible and progressive in my own life.

I see Michelle Obama. I hear her. I appreciate her. I am glad that I am alive to witness this moment in history...where this intelligent black woman can stand up and speak proudly about her man, in front of an entire nation...an entire world, and move us with her words. I am glad that this is just the first of many moments like this that I will see in my lifetime.

Michelle Obama represents a standard of grace and intelligence for all women. A woman who is strong in her own right...but a woman that is in proud support of her husband, her family, and her country.

Seeing her last night reminded me of how important it is that we continue to have these visuals to inspire us. I thought about all of the young women who will encounter her in their lives, and what it must feel like to be a child/teen growing up right now, where this is the standard. Where Barack is the standard. Where Sasha and Malia are the standard.

It's not even so much a matter of race, as it is a matter of intelligence. Forward thinking. Dignity. Composure. The Obamas started off as a "black" thing...as a feeling of "racial" pride...but they have come to represent so much more than that. They are too phenomenal to be classified by their skin colour alone, because there is so much going on...that is just one of many fabulous factors of their essence.

Black, white, democrat, republican, Canadian, American...it all really doesn't mean much. But what matters is the message. How it makes you feel. And what you do with that feeling. Some people have been blessed with positions of power and influence, and I believe they are here to lead by example.

I'm grateful for the example Michelle Obama has provided women...and "citizens" everywhere. She represents the future of women everywhere, and someone we should all strive to be like in character, in action, and in blessings.

To read a full transcript of Tuesday's speech, please visit The Washington Post.

My photo diary from Inauguration Day 2009.

Written by Stacey Marie Robinson for Kya Publishing's "Urban Toronto Tales" blog.