July 8th, 2012, by

I recently posted about the wave of neo-soul singers gracing us with their musical talents these days; however, I neglected to include in that list the inimitable Charles Bradley (PBS video link here). Bradley’s claim to fame is his debut album, which the singer released at the impressive age of 62. While the album itself is noteworthy, equally worthwhile is the documentary about Bradley’s life, Soul of America.

The film, which opened to rave reviews at SXSW this spring and is now on the festival circuit, follows Bradley in the days leading up to his album’s release, while documenting the singer’s tumultuous life. No stranger to homelessness, poverty and illness, the events of Bradley’s life makes for a vivid and inspiring tale, as does the lead-up to his sold-out album launch concert.


July 5th, 2012, by

Photo courtesy: Van Evers, Tavis Smiley Media, Inc.

Airdate | Friday, July 6, 2012

Hometown | Lawrence, KS

Why You (Should) Know Her

  • Her life and her fight against Pacific Gas and Electric Company were portrayed in Steven Soderbergh’s 2000 film starring Julia Roberts in the title role. Erin Brockovich went on to be nominated for the Academy Award for best picture and best director in 2001.

Why She’s Buzzing | The documentary Last Call at the Oasis features Brockovich at length and has been showing at selected theaters since May 2012. According to the documentary’s website, the film presents “a powerful argument for why the global water crisis will be the central issue facing our world this century” and “[illuminates] the vital role water plays in our lives, exposing the defects in the current system and depicting communities already struggling with its ill-effects.”


  • After a brief stint working at Kmart, she entered a beauty pageant, ultimately winning the Miss Pacific Coast crown in 1981.
  • As portrayed in Erin Brockovich, she was able to play a significant role in making a case against the Pacific Gas and Electric Company of California in 1993. However, she was able to do so without any formal legal education.
  • Brockovich had a cameo role in Erin Brockovich as a waitress aptly named Julia R.
  • In fact, according to her biography, it was while organizing papers on a pro bono real estate case that she found medical records that sparked her investigation on PG&E against the small town of Hinkley. The end result? The largest toxic tort injury settlement in U.S. history: $333 million in damages to more than 600 Hinkley residents.
  • On her website, Brockovich claims the film about her is 98% accurate. That includes how the character dressed herself, her “potty mouth,” and how her character was twice divorced with three children. Of the movie, she says, “The movie had its positive and negative effects on my life. I didn’t aspire for this to happen. All I was doing was what was in my heart to do and that was to extend my hand of friendship, understanding and compassion towards another. Had my intentions been anything other than pure, this case, this movie and my life, as it is today would not exist.”
  • She was a host on ABC’s Challenge America with Erin Brockovich and on Lifetime’s Final Justice with Erin Brockovich.
  • Her book, Take it From me: Life’s a Struggle But You Can Win, was published in 2001 and made it on The New York Times‘ Business Bestseller’s List.
  • The city of Barstow, CA named August 16 “Erin Brockovich Day” in 2000.

Selection of Honors/Awards

  • Consumer Advocate of the Year and the Presidential Award of Merit from the Consumer Attorneys of California
  • The Julius B. Richmond Award from the Harvard School of Public Health
  • Honorary Doctor of Laws from Lewis and Clark Law School in 2005
  • Special Citizen Award from the Children’s Health Environmental Coalition
  • Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters from Loyola Marymount University in 2007
  • Honorary Master of Arts in Business Communication from Jones International University


July 2nd, 2012, by

We closed out the month of June with a lot of self-reflection and insight.

Economist Joseph Stiglitz, actor Jeff Daniels and law professor Peter Edelman each had their own opinions on the state of American politics and culture. While their opinions were quite candid, one could argue that they can spark some positive change. Filmmaker Jonathan Demme had his own input on American politics and culture; he shared with us who his heroes are.

Musicians, actors, songwriters: they’re a lot like us, except touched with fame and recognized talent. But they do a lot of self-reflection. Musician Glen Hansard, actors Morgan Freeman and Kristen Johnston and songwriters Alan and Marilyn Bergman gave us a little insight on how they hone their crafts.

And speaking of insight, filmmaker Peter Berg let us in on why he wanted to make a documentary about boxing trainer Freddie Roach. And Roach let us know just how he felt about that experience.

Farewell June, and hello July!

All images by Van Evers, Tavis Smiley Media, Inc.

June 29th, 2012, by

Photo courtesy: Van Evers, Tavis Smiley Media, Inc.

Airdate | Friday, June 29, 2012

Hometown | Baldwin, Nassau County, NY

Why You (Should) Know Him

  • Surely you’re familiar with the brilliant, cannibalistic villain Hannibal Lecter portrayed by Sir Anthony Hopkins. Well, Demme directed Silence of the Lambs…and won the Academy Award for best director for the film.
  • He also directed 1993’s Philadelphia, one of the first Hollywood pictures to address issues of HIV/AIDS, homosexuality and homophobia.
  • Demme is also making a mark as a documentarian and concert movie-maker, as evidenced by his trilogy of Neil Young documentary concert films and the Talking Heads concert movie, Stop Making Sense.

Why He’s Buzzing | The Oscar-winning filmmaker is out with not one, but two projects—a post-Hurricane Katrina documentary, I’m Carolyn Parker, and his third feature-length documentary on folk-rocker Neil Young, Neil Young Journeys. You can watch the 2007 conversation with Demme below, where he describes why he decided to make a documentary about post-Katrina New Orleans.


  • He’s a protégé of big-time film producer Roger Corman.
  • Demme’s film The Silence of the Lambs was the third film to win Oscars in the five biggest categories: Best Picture, Best Actress, Best Actor, Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay. The film was also the first horror film to be awarded Best Picture, after being only the second to be nominated for that category. 1973’s The Exorcist was the first.
  • He directed indie film Rachel Getting Married—and even cast some of his friends to counter the “real” actors Anne Hathaway and Rosemarie DeWitt. The film was shot in a naturalistic style, like a documentary.
  • According to his IMDB profile, his trademarks include: frequently casting Charles Napier, Chris Isaak, Buzz Kilman, Tracey Walter and Paul Lazar; working with Taj Fujimoto as his director of photography; using New Order songs in movie soundtracks.
  • On June 3, 1990, he was awarded an honorary degree by Wesleyan University.
  • Entertainment Weekly voted him the 45th greatest director of all time.

Selection of projects and awards


1974    Caged Heat
1978    Columbo (episode “Murder Under Glass”)
1979    Last Embrace
1984    Stop Making Sense (documentary)
1986    Something Wild
1987    Swimming to Cambodia
1988    Haiti Dreams of Democracy (TV documentary)
1988    Married to the Mob
1991     Silence of the Lambs (won Academy Award for best picture and best director; nominated for a Golden Globe, BAFTA Award, Saturn Award; won Berlinale Silver Bear for best director)
1992    Cousin Bobby (documentary)
1993    Philadelphia (nominated for Berlinale Golden Bear Award)
1998    Storefront Hitchcock (documentary)
2001    Bruce Springstreen: The Complete Video Anthology 1978-2000 (video-documentary)
2004    The Manchurian Candidate
2006    Neil Young: Heart of Gold
2007    Right to Return: New Home Movies from the Lower 9th Ward (PBS TV mini-series)
2008   Rachel Getting Married
2009   Neil Young Trunk Show (documentary)
2011    Neil Young Journeys (documentary)
2011    I’m Carolyn Parker (documentary)

Demme’s May 25, 2007 conversation with Tavis
On his decision to film a documentary on post-Katrina New Orleans, featuring the namesake of his latest documentary, Carolyn Parker.


June 27th, 2012, by

Photo courtesy: Van Evers, Tavis Smiley Media, Inc.

Airdate | Thursday, June 28, 2012

Hometown | Dedham, MA

Why You (Should) Know Him

  • As one of the world’s most renowned boxing trainers, Roach also boasts a clientele that pack a punch—this includes Amir Khan, Julio Cesar Chavez, Jr. and Manny Pacquiao.
  • He’s the owner of the world famous Wild Card Boxing Club in Hollywood, CA.

Why He’s Buzzing | While his presence is seen mostly ringside or closely behind his clients, Roach’s life is dissected, and we are given a raw, behind-the-scenes look in the HBO cinéma-vérité series, On Freddie Roach. Emmy-nominated director Peter Berg joins Roach for the conversation. Furthermore, he’ll be on the radar again come July 14, when his fighter Amir Khan goes head-to-head against Danny Garcia.


  • He was voted Trainer of the Year by the Boxing Writers Association of America in 2003, 2006, 2008, 2009 and 2010.
  • His father, Paul Roach, was the New England featherweight champion.
  • Roach trained as a boxer as a youth alongside his brothers, Dominic Pepen “Pepper” and Joey. By 1978, he began professionally fighting in the lightweight class. On June 11, 1982, the Fighting Roach Brothers all had bouts at the Boston Garden. Pepper and Joey won their bouts, but Freddie lost in a unanimous decision at the main event against Rafael Lopez.
  • By age 26, Roach went into retirement after showing early signs of Parkinson’s disease. The disease is held at bay with medication and training with boxers.
  • After retirement, Roach worked odd jobs around Las Vegas before becoming an unpaid assistant to his former trainer Eddie Futch.
  • Roach helped train Mark Wahlberg for his role as Micky Ward in the 2010 film The Fighter. Roach and his brothers fought and grew up with Ward and Ward’s brother, Dicky Eklund, as discussed in the video below.

Selection of Honors

2006     California Boxing Hall of Fame Inductee (as a non-boxer)
2008     World Boxing Council Lifetime Achievement Award

Freddie Roach: how I trained The Fighter star Mark Wahlberg

On Freddie Roach trailer, directed by Peter Berg


June 27th, 2012, by

Rep. Hansen Clarke (D-MI) is proposing loan debt reform Photo: U.S. House of Representatives

With the economy still reeling from the Great Recession, many Americans are scraping by on lowered wages and, sadly, lowered prospects. With everything from car notes, housing payments, food and basic necessities, asking Americans to pay on their student loans right now can be a tall order.

If you haven’t heard by now, loan debt in America has reached $1 trillion. And while bankruptcy may have been a welcomed answer for many Americans, according to current laws, many cannot receive approval for it.

In my last post, I talked with Robert Applebaum about the near 1 million signatures he’s helped to acquire to get lawmakers to further work on loan forgiveness. So, my next step was to reach out to one of the lawmakers and hear some ideas on how to get the measure passed in Congress. Here’s my exchange with Rep. Hansen Clarke, of Detroit, about the bill he’s been working on to reduce the repayment process that saddles most Americans.

NIXON: Where did the idea for this bill come from and what’s the number one thing you would like to see this bill accomplish once passed?

CLARKE: Over the past few years, I’ve met more and more people in my community who have college degrees, but lack financial security. They have the diploma to hang on their wall, but they lack the means to support their family and pay the interest on their debt. This is because the cost of getting a college degree has increased at a far greater rate than wages over the last decade. Tuition rates rose 72% at public universities between 2001 and 2011. People of all ages, from all walks of life are drowning in student debt. And, our national economy is suffering as a consequence. People are putting off major purchases and investments, which is stifling job creation. My objective with this bill is to make student loan repayment more simple and fair and to give people more purchasing power in order to jumpstart the economy.

NIXON: How have your peers in Congress responded to this bill? How difficult do you believe it will be to gain consent and cooperation from other members on the House on this bill?

CLARKE: We so far have 16 Congressional co-sponsors on the bill, and, while it’s all Democrats at this point, I feel confident that we will convince our friends on the other side of the aisle to join this movement. The 975,000 signatories on the national petition for this bill come from many different political persuasions. When it comes to this issue, I believe both Democrats and Republicans want the same thing: for Americans to be well-educated and free from the shackles of debt. This bill provides a responsible way to help realize that vision. It requires that borrowers pay 10% of their discretionary income for 10 years before receiving forgiveness.

NIXON: The city of Detroit is working hard to stabilize and grow its economy. Have you heard from your own constituents on this issue of student loan debt? And secondly, how impactful would a bill like H.R. 41 be for citizens of the area?

CLARKE: Thousands of people in Metro Detroit who don’t have a college degree are still struggling with student loan debt. The people who took non-degree courses or had to leave school for one reason or another are often those who are struggling most with the weight of this debt. I meet these folks, as well as struggling graduates, every week in Michigan’s 13th district, and I hear about financial situations that could be transformed by this assistance.

NIXON: Given the nation’s current economic outlook, how critical is it to ensure that this bill is passed, as it relates to Americans’ ability to start families, a new business, buy a home, etc. and not have to worry about student loan debt?

CLARKE: It’s critical. The only way we can get out of this recession is by ensuring that working people have more purchasing power. We took several months to hear from education experts, activists and—most importantly—struggling students and graduates in order to develop the plan that ultimately became the Student Loan Forgiveness Act. The process started this past September, and the bill was finalized in late January.

NIXON: Some people are skeptical of politicians who show up and claim they are on the people’s side on certain issues. However, you’ve gone to, arguably, some of the best schools in the country, and you work in the public sector; so, there’s a sense that you understand the economic frustrations people are facing on this issue. What could you say to a constituent to give them an idea that you are more than familiar with the economic strains of higher education costs and student loan debt?

CLARKE: I took out loans to attend school back in the ’80s, during a time when universities were far more affordable and loans were much more manageable. My passion in dealing with this issue comes from talking with people in my community—ranging from retirees in their 80s to teachers in their 20s—who are struggling with student loan debt right now. It comes from seeing motivated, talented young people in my community given no choice but to accrue massive debt in order to get an education. We don’t want our young people in that situation. You can join the movement by signing our online petition and asking your member of Congress to co-sponsor the bill. All the information you’ll need is available at We are so inspired by the grassroots movement for a student loan solution!

You heard it here folks. By most estimates, it appears Rep. Clarke is off and running. Those interested in learning more about HR4170 can visit the website.

June 25th, 2012, by

The student debt crisis has reached critical mass leaving many Americans concerned

No matter what your political views or ideology, most everyone agrees that the student debt crisis in the U.S. has reached critical mass. Rising tuition and fees across the nation’s colleges and universities have many Americans wondering if college was truly the best path for them when there aren’t enough jobs to keep pace with the amount of graduates each year.

For many graduates, student loan debt has become one of the most pressing issues in the new economy. In a recent TIME magazine article, Jon Meacham writes that issues like student loan debt, rising healthcare and housing costs are making The American Dream more and more elusive. Many graduates are working harder, gaining less and constantly struggling to keep some semblance of life amid one of the toughest financial recessions in a generation.

While there have been efforts in the Obama administration to offset and help Americans dealing with student debt, many, like Robert Applebaum, believe there is still much left to be accomplished. Applebaum is the founder and executive director of His goal is to alleviate the burden associated with student loan debt for all Americans. I caught up with him to get his thoughts on how everyday Americans can work to change the current crisis.

NIXON: Do you feel politicians have been reluctant, unaware or unconcerned on this issue?

APPLEBAUM: There’s a great deal of ignorance about the student debt crisis, not just in Congress, but across the nation. Those affected by the crisis feel they have no voice (or at least felt that way until this movement came along), and those without student debt are completely oblivious. I put Congress into the oblivious category, because I’d like to believe that if they were truly aware of the reality of the crisis, they’d do everything they can to avoid another financial crisis like the one in 2007-2008. The good news is that we’ve been moderately successful in educating the general public, including Congress, and I’m, therefore, hopeful that Congress will eventually stop the partisan bickering and gridlock and start doing the work that they were elected to do.

NIXON: Outside of asking for individuals to sign a petition, what else can they do to get lawmakers’ attention on this issue?

APPLEBAUM: Write and call as often as possible. Repeatedly. Share personal stories of student loan hell. Engage others on social networking sites, such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter, and help continue to educate the public and lawmakers. The squeaky wheel gets the grease and, as such, it is my belief that the more we stay on top of those who purport to represent us, the public pressure will eventually reach a point where it’s too loud to be ignored.

Persistence is key. I have a very loyal, enthusiastic base of support, with hundreds, if not thousands of people actively engaged on a daily basis in terms of contacting members of Congress either by phone or in person, writing letters to the White House, the Department of Education, etc. Many have written letters to the editor of their local newspapers, and all of these things are actions that anyone can and should take as often as possible to drive the message home. Rome wasn’t built in a day and, when you consider that this movement is only a mere 3-5 years old, I think we’ve made incredible strides towards restoring sanity to a very broken system.

Earlier this year, the student debt clock hit $1 trillion dollars. It is one of the largest student loan amounts in the history of the U.S. In order to change this very broken system, it will take a coordinated effort from men and women across this country to alleviate not only the catastrophic debt, but recapture The American Dream.  More to come on this topic soon.

June 18th, 2012, by

In this round of guest quotables, a bold line between the realms of imagination and reality was drawn. On team “imagination/daydream,” we had actors Christina Ricci and John Slattery. On team “reality,” we had writer Buzz Bissinger, singer-songwriter Shawn Colvin and “Miracle on the Hudson” pilot Capt. Chesley Sullenberger.

Love is a frequent topic of discussion, and this week was no exception, thanks to blues musician Buddy Guy, sportswriter Frank Deford and former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell.

Check out the gallery for some extra photos and notable quotes from the last two weeks of interviews and share your thoughts.

All images by Van Evers, Tavis Smiley Media, Inc.

June 17th, 2012, by

Governor Andrew Cuomo's proposal is on the right track Photo credit: Pat Arnow

If Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s latest proposal on marijuana possession gets passed, it will, in effect, reduce the amount of Black and brown people from having unnecessary criminal records. And, while I’m all for the governor’s proposal, it’s missing a few things.

Under current New York law, marijuana possession has two completely different punishments. The law states that if someone is in possession of marijuana in private, it is considered to be a violation punishable by a fine. But, if that substance is lit or viewable in public, the individual is then subject to an arrest and a criminal record.

Police in New York City often stop young persons of color and ask them to empty out their pockets, essentially forcing individuals to incriminate themselves. As a result, many citizens, civil rights organizations and others have condemned the stop-and-frisk laws that unfairly penalize young persons of color for having small amounts of marijuana in their possession.

In a recent Huffington Post article, the governor admitted to the need to change the law: Cuomo acknowledged the existing approach disproportionately affects minority youths, with 94 percent of arrests in New York City, more than half of those arrested younger than 25 and 82 percent either black or Hispanic.

With the data clearly proving that law enforcement has dropped the ball over the years in effectively carrying out the law, I strongly believe work must now be done to seal or remove the criminal records that young people have unfairly acquired. While these youth, at one point, made a mistake, they don’t deserve to have their lives marginalized due to an inconsistent drug law policy and botched police work.

So, while Gov. Cuomo’s proposal would essentially fine individuals for public possession of marijuana the same way as a private possession, it must go further. The law should also be implemented retroactively, to seal the records of those who were penalized by the system’s flaws. That would be an even greater sign of leadership, practicality and governance on behalf of the State of New York and Gov. Cuomo.

June 16th, 2012, by

For many individuals across the country, Father’s Day carries with it a mixed set of emotions. I sat down recently with a gentleman who shares the following account of his relationship with his dad.

The story about my dad is not a fairytale. My parents divorced when I was a 1-year-old. When my father left my mom, he not only left her, but his relationship with his children as well. Every month, until each child turned 18 years old, my mother received child support. It wasn’t enough, but I assumed it was the best my father could do.

My time with my father was very limited. The only times we took vacations were on the mandatory visitations ordered by a judge. He never remembered my birthday. The best he could do is call me a month or so after and make a joke that he thought I was born later. He would then ask me if I received his birthday card, implying that he sent it. He hadn’t.

He would complain about the service of the post office and, within two days, I would receive a card, backdated, with a $25 check, to make it appear that it was the post office’s fault for the delay and not his. I didn’t mind, because again, I thought he was doing his best.

When I was 18, he called me. He told me if I ever needed any money, to give him a call for a loan. He would then mention that he had given this same offer to my older brothers and gloatingly proceed to tell me how much they owed him. It was the only help he had ever offered me as his son. We didn’t keep in much contact after my 18th birthday, but 10 years later, after the divorce from his second wife, he sent me an email. Here is part of it:

I wish to say how sorry I am for not being your father in the truest sense of the word or even your dad. I have failed in nearly every aspect of human relationships with women and family.

If you can find it in your heart to forgive me then that is all I seek.

May I be so bold as to offer you some advice? Find the right woman, love her forever and stay close with your children for nothing else really matters. I just learned it too late.


If my father truly did his best and still failed, I forgive him. He did what he was legally bound to do, and I am thankful for that. Many children have deadbeat dads and live in poverty because of it; I did not. Happy Father’s Day to the dads who did their best, because I believe this was the best my father could do.

Brad Denney is a freelance blogger in the San Francisco Bay Area.

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