Securing Online Payment Gateways

If you are like me, you take technology as it comes and you just make adjustments accordingly. I have made the jump from 8 track tapes to cassette tapes to CDs to live-streaming, all in just the past 40 years. I took shorthand in high school and learned to type on a typewriter—I used Wite Out correction fluid and those thin, plastic correction tabs to fix my errors—and this was cutting edge stuff back in the day. I now live in a time where people walk around with small computers in their hands all day and communication with someone half a planet away is possible within seconds. As technology constantly changes, we must adapt and even plan ahead, to ensure these “undiscovered roads” don’t take us down the wrong path. I mean, initially, when we first starting using the Internet, there were all types of potential threats many of us did not anticipate. New threats await us as our use of computers and hand held devices rule the day. To protect yourself, and your information on the internet, it is important to understand the newest technological advancements and how they affect our lives.

With online purchases becoming more and more prevalent in today’s world, the threat of hacking is very real. When you send your information out into the vast internet, whether it be your driver’s license number, your bank account number, or other personal material, the fact remains that it is susceptible to crooks—crooks who know how to hack information you thought was protected. What safeguards do we have when making online purchases or filling out personal forms on websites? Thankfully, revolutionary advancements in shielding sensitive details are protecting you, even if you aren’t aware they’re there.

Take, for example, encryption. Encryption takes an algorithm to transform plain text, like your credit card number, and convert it into a non-readable format called cipher text. To decipher the encrypted information, the party receiving the material must have the algorithm and an encryption key to return it to its original plain text. Built in encryption systems protect the millions of people from sensitive data breaches.

The drawback with encryption is that data can be breached on either end. The security of the data relies on the strength of the encryption. Encryption is also time consuming and somewhat expensive. The trouble is, you just never know how strong the encryption data is at your bank, your local store, or your kid’s school, so your information may be vulnerable to attack, even when you believe it has been safeguarded.

Since encryption has its detractors, tokenization has become a welcome alternative to protection of personal details. Tokenization works differently from encryption, even though they are widely mentioned together. Tokenization requires taking the sensitive data and replacing it with a token, or placeholder. This token is randomly generated and is swapped for the plain text and then it is stored in an offsite database. Essentially, the tokenization process is taking data and turning it into random, meaningless information so that if it is somehow compromised, it cannot be deciphered by criminals looking for raw data. With encryption, if they break the code, they have the desired information. Unlike encryption, tokenization does not use an algorithm to make its replacement token. Instead, data is stored in a secured token vault which stores the link between the actual data and the token. The great part about tokenization is there is no key to change the tokens back to real data, so information is safer in the long run. Tokens can be set up to reflect the actual number, or at least a portion of it, which is why your bank may ask for the last four digits of your social security number or account number. The actual numbers are saved offsite, but the token number might reflect a portion of the real data. So, say you are online and purchasing something from a company from which you have previously purchased something—your data should be saved. In this case, the token is submitted to the token vault when you request to use the card and the index retrieves the real data for use in the authorization process. The company receiving the data feels no lag time—they are given the real data immediately, yet the “switch” was made in the cloud token vault.

Tokenization is now widely used by vendors because the real data is kept off site. With encryption, it is still within their database, even if it is encrypted. The Payment Card Industry Security Standards Council holds merchants to compliance standards to ensure clients’ information is protected. Both encryption and tokenization are accepted under these standards, but the encryption method leaves the merchant more at risk of a breach than tokenization does.

Some key vendors use tokenization for payment, including Visa, MasterCard and American Express. These big three are looking to standardize tokenization in the payment industry’s sector. Their push for tokenization stated this new standard would “help provide the payments community with a consistent, secure and interoperable environment to make digital payments” according to The Motley Fool, an online source. As a matter of fact, MasterCard has teamed with has teamed with Synchrony Financial and Citi Retail Services to use tokenization in their transactions, making it the first payments network to do so. Through MasterCard’s Digital Enablement Services, or MDES, MasterCard can offer tokenization services that can ensure purchases can be made from any internet connected device while also delivering the safety customers expect. Not only does this new technology give consumers the opportunity to make their selections online, revolutionizing the way we shop, but it also alleviates the lingering worry that your credit card information will be stolen online. Since there are more ways to purchase items, including through phone apps, ecommerce, and reoccurring payments, having the information stored in an off-site token vault makes the transactions even safer than ever before.

Consumers today can rest assured their information is protected to its fullest extent when tokenization is used. It’s the wave of the cyber-future, making online purchasing the most practical and convenient way to shop.

Nurse Alice: Study Suggests Some Diabetic African Americans May Never Get Diagnosed

One of the tests used to diagnose Type 2 diabetes and monitor blood sugar control is influenced by 60 genetic variants, an international team of scientists has discovered. One genetic variant in particular, found only in African Americans, significantly reduces the accuracy of the HbA1c blood test used to diagnose and monitor the condition. This means around 650,000 African Americans in the U.S. could have undiagnosed Type 2 diabetes if tested with the HbA1c test alone.

(Image: iStock/MarkHatfield)


The results, published in PLOS Medicine suggest screening for the particular genetic variant alongside the diagnostic test, or using other diagnostic tests in populations with African ancestry in order to improve diagnoses of Type 2 diabetes.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are over 100 million U.S. adults living with diabetes or pre-diabetes. There are 30.3 million Americans who have diabetes and another 84.1 million have pre-diabetes, a condition that if not treated often leads to Type 2 diabetes within five years.

According to the US Department Office of Minority Health, the prevalence rate of diabetes in African Americans is 13.4%. African Americans are almost twice as likely to be diagnosed with diabetes as non-Hispanic whites. In addition, they are more likely to suffer complications from diabetes, such as end-stage renal disease and lower extremity amputations.  

However, in an interesting scientific twist, the number of diabetic African Americans may actually be higher accompanied with a delayed diagnosis resulting in a longer undiagnosed period and subjecting them to states of untreated higher glycemia causing an increased risk for long-term diabetes complications.

In the largest study of its kind, an international team of more than 200 scientists investigated genetic variants thought to affect the blood test used to diagnose and monitor Type 2 diabetes, known as the glycated hemoglobin, or HbA1c test.

The team studied genetic variants in almost 160,000 people from European, African, East Asian, and South Asian ancestries who were not known to have Type 2 diabetes. Researchers discovered 60 genetic variants that influence the outcome of HbA1c tests.

One genetic variant in particular, in the G6PD gene, was found to significantly impact the results of the HbA1c test. The G6PD genetic variant is almost unique to people of African ancestry; around 11% of African Americans carry at least one copy of this variant.

The issue with the G6PD genetic variant is it artificially lowers the value of blood sugar in the HbA1c test, and can lead to under-diagnosis of people with Type 2 diabetes. Otherwise, the HbA1c test remains a suitable test for diagnosing and monitoring diabetes for the majority of people.

The HbA1c test measures the amount of glucose, or sugar that is carried by the red blood cells in the body, for the previous two to three months. The G6PD genetic variant shortens the three-month lifecycle of red blood cells. So in African Americans who have this variant, their red blood cells don’t live long enough to bind to the glucose in the blood. Therefore these people will have a lower level of HbA1c, which won’t show as a positive result for Type 2 diabetes.

Medicine is not a one size fits all. And studies like this are one step closer to precision medicine, which takes people’s genetics into account and improves diagnosis and monitoring for diseases such as diabetes. In the meantime, an option would be to genetically screen African Americans for the G6PD variant alongside the HbA1c test in order to accurately diagnose Type 2 diabetes, or use other diagnostic tests such as fasting glucose measurements.


An IBM Engineer and US Virgin Islands Native on Irma’s Destruction of Her Homeland; Beauty Through Heartache; and How You Can Help

In a post originally shared on Medium, IBM engineer Rashida A. Hodge, who is part of the IBM Watson team and was featured in Black Enterprise magazine, reflects on the devastation Hurricane Irma has wreaked on her beloved native country of the US Virgin Islands and the psychological torment of waiting to hear from loved ones days after Irma’s landfall:

(Rashida A. Hodge. Image: File)



We were raised on just under 135 square miles, mainly across three major islands scattered in the Caribbean Sea and exposed to the Atlantic Ocean. Combined, we are a bit smaller than Seattle, WA, bigger than Charleston, SC, and almost the same size of Las Vegas, NV! The United States Virgin Islands (USVI) boasts the first place you can see an American sunrise as the easternmost travel point of the United States. While many travel to the USVI to experience the uncontained beauty across our geography, its true beauty is rooted in its people through their deep-seated “Island American” culture. The people of the USVI are why beauty can endure through heartache and hard work; and beauty can thrive through helping hands.

American TV’s Frustrating Lack of Caribbean Storm Coverage


Most people may believe that our heartache began after Hurricane Irma arrived but it started long before. Beauty from heartache is seen in people like my mother, Karen Hodge, who chose beforehand to ride out one of the strongest storms in history at her job in a local nursing home. Her decision contained part compassion and part fear from past experiences with Hugo (1989) and Marilyn (1995). At the nursing home, she would be able to ensure the safety of its patients but also be reassured that she would not endure the storm alone.

(Image: Twitter/@ElyteFaeva)


My heartache began on Wednesday, September 6th as I gawked at the television for news coverage of Hurricane Irma and its impact on the Caribbean, especially the USVI.

I was confused as news coverage focused on US impact with no real coverage of fellow Americans who were about to be pummeled by a Category 5 hurricane. I was infuriated. How could US news outlets overlook other citizens?

Calling was not an option as lines were busy or down. After getting to my social media feed, I realized island culture kicked in to reveal something beautiful was occurring outside of national media coverage. Live feeds or recent posts on the ground by storm-ridden islanders took over my social media turning it into an instrument of knowledge and compassion. I was able to reach my niece, but the messages she shared gutted me.


“The Roof Might Collapse on Me”


Her last message before our next contact in almost two sleepless, anxiety-ridden days was “I’m scared the roof might collapse on me.” The heartache re-emerged as the storm knocked out electrical sources on the island. While my heartache remained, my feed was still ablaze with other islanders relating, relaying information, sharing concern, sending prayers and comforting many as beautifully as can be expected.

During and after Hurricane Irma the beautiful nature of US Virgin Islanders expanded gracefully into hands-on hard work. Many Virgin Islanders at home and abroad didn’t shed a tear until days later.

(Image: Wikimedia/U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Tojyea G. Matally)

I did not hear my mother’s voice until two days later on Friday and it remained peppered with compassion and fear but this time, also with resilience. She explained the trauma of her experience but not without sharing that she wanted to go back to the nursing home to help with clean-up efforts. Friends and family all over the United States and the USVI shared similar stories of some relief and resilience exemplifying an admirable expansion of beauty.

Countering a Crisis With “Active Compassion”


It took full engagement of family, friends and even my employer to get information and resources after the storm! Using all my resources I was able to access sparse cell phone service, determine last location seen and get damage assessments of homes and buildings. All groups came together like a beautiful collage reflective of our attractively, distinct culture. Even with consistent reports riddled with words like “apocalyptic”, “devastated”, “horrific”, or simply put, “really, really, really bad” to describe what US Virgin Islanders faced, conversations ended on an action-oriented high. We are facing fears with faith in God and countering crises with active compassion. As I write this, I wondered if hard work could get more beautiful.

Of the three major Islands, St. Thomas and St. John were most affected. As such, the people of the US Virgin Islands are currently using Facebook pages to organize grassroots search and rescue teams where mainland Virgin Islanders identify people who are missing or unreachable and local Virgin Islanders with cellphone access seek them out. In some instances, like on the island of St. John, local islanders have posted lists of people seen alive on the island on social media.

USVI locals are organizing themselves and clearing out neighborhoods with chainsaws, cutlasses, and handsaws to help local government and federal support get access to those areas. Other Virgin Islanders in remote locations have worked to collect donations to send back home. In these areas and others the prayers are non-stop and that’s hard work! These are just some of the ways we are showing up for ourselves in a beautiful way. We realize beauty is not exclusive to the US Virgin Islands and we like to share in this culture of beauty despite devastation across the mainland and across the world. We can help each other do just that.

How You Can Help the Recovery


We are welcoming gifts now and for the long haul from our fellow Americans and from fellow human beings around the world. The options shared below may help generate thoughts around how you can give.

Matching Gifts

The people of the Virgin Islands who live abroad are making calls to their employers and networks to assist us in our relief efforts. I’ve reached out to my employer and I would also ask others abroad to approach businesses and corporations within their networks to support Hurricane Irma relief efforts on a long-term basis by adding local organizations to their corporate charitable donation matching programs.

Providing Solutions

We need help for challenges that we cannot face alone. These include long-term housing, evacuation needs (elderly, severely ill or pregnant), displacement support, nutrition, and addressing increasing public health issues (sanitation, ongoing medical support, mosquitoes, and mental health).

Foundation Support

Please support local organizations that have been in our community for decades. Consider the Community Foundation of the Virgin Islands or Tim Duncan USVI Hurricane Relief Efforts as two viable options. There are other locally-based and long-term organizations you may support and several people partnering with the local non-profits. Virgin Islands United, founded by a group of local US Virgin Islanders, have started an organization and movement to provide immediate relief but drive sustainable re-development of our community. Please reach out to me — we need help and we appreciate your support in helping us revive, rebuild and proposer for the local community.


If you are in a position to influence investments, explore creative opportunities for corporations to engage in long-term relief efforts, such as local school sponsorship, public service sabbaticals, and even helping shape a new US Virgin Islands economy through training US Virgin Islanders to provide remote technical services.

Doing Business in the USVI

Consider if it might be in your company’s best interest to do business in America’s paradise — the USVI.


While our rebuilding efforts may take some time, visit our sister island St. Croix filled with a deeper experience of our local culture and vibes that you can only appreciate by being there. Don’t miss out on St. Thomas and St. John for your next adventure. Keep us on your must-visit list because we will come back ready to pamper and please. The US Virgin Islands are the best place to truly experience Caribbean culture and beauty with distinct American comforts.

Help us focus on the true beauty of these islands with your helping hands. The beaches, trees and sand will bounce back over time, but our most valuable resource — the people of the United States Virgin Islands — is the best way to ensure our bright future!

We will rebuild, revive and prosper exponentially if we have your support. It just doesn’t get more beautiful than that.

Difference Between Your General Dentist And An Orthodontist

Your dentist keeps your mouth clean and your teeth shiny, but what can you do about dental abnormalities like crooked teeth? Seeing a qualified orthodontist may be the answer for you!

An orthodontist is a specialist who focuses on the straightening of teeth and can treat problems pertaining to the upper and lower jaws, gums, and facial muscles. While many people see an orthodontist for purely aesthetic purposes, it is important to know that there are sound medical reasons to straightening your teeth. First of all, crooked teeth can impede your ability to properly bite, chew and even speak! Additionally, crowded or crooked teeth can cause jaw pain, uneven tooth wear and difficulties with oral hygiene, like flossing. To accurately assess your need for orthodontic work, the doctor will work in conjunction with your regular dentist. Once a need for orthodontia has been determined, it is then a matter of selecting the best method to properly align the teeth. Orthodontists have many different options to help you achieve your desired result and make your teeth functional for a lifetime.

So is there a real difference between your general dentist and an orthodontist? While both are dental professionals, they have different specialties, much like your family doctor is different from a foot doctor. After acquiring a doctor of dentistry degree, an orthodontist must complete an additional two to three years of specialized training. Orthodontists invest this additional time into learning how to treat misaligned teeth as well as other dental and orthodontic procedures. They can also treat abnormalities of the jaw, with the assistance of medical prosthetic equipment. The most common procedure that orthodontists perform is the straightening of teeth, generally through various types of braces. For an orthodontist to know how to reposition your teeth, they study the movement of teeth. At times, teeth may require spacers, usually either rubber bands or thin, metal pieces placed to separate or at times, join teeth that are either too close or too far apart. Braces can be used to fix overbites, under bites, cross bites, and open bites. After a patient is finished wearing braces, they usually graduate to a plastic retainer to ensure teeth do not shift back into their original places after the braces are removed. While many people believe that the retainer step is a nuisance or unnecessary, it is a key element is maintaining the straightened smile. In extreme cases, a patient may need the assistance of headgear, which can be worn just at night or all the time, depending upon the doctor’s recommendation. The use of headgear is not as prevalent as it once was, possibly due to the fact it is cumbersome for the patient.

Many orthodontic professionals will not start working on children until all of their baby teeth have fallen out. Orthodontics can also be challenging if an adult patient does not have all of his or her teeth, or a patient’s mouth is too crowded to start the process. You may need to have additional dental services before your orthodontia can begin, like dental implants to replace missing teeth or the extraction of wisdom teeth to reduce overcrowding. Your orthodontist will discuss the necessary options and answer any questions you may have. He or she will also discuss your medical history and any pre-existing conditions that may impede your progress. Once the treatment plan is finalized, the braces and a retainer will be used to align the teeth.

The first step in developing your orthodontic treatment is to have the doctor take x-rays of your teeth and gums and take impressions of your teeth. The orthodontist can view the mouth from every angle to put together the best course of action. The overall process to straighten the teeth is not a quick one; it can take months and in some instances, years before the teeth have moved into proper alignment. An orthodontist will see a patient every few weeks to determine the patient’s progress and to adjust the treatment as needed. Sometimes this is as easy as tightening braces and sometimes it is as complicated as taking an entirely new approach.

Taking care of your teeth while wearing braces is an important element in your treatment. Brushing twice a day or preferably, after each meal is of vital importance. Any trapped food left in between your braces or in the brackets can turn into decalcification spots—little white spots on your teeth where the brackets once were. Alignment can be delayed if your teeth and gums are not kept clean, resulting in a longer treatment plan. Flossing is paramount as well and some orthodontists may have you use a fluoride rinse to protect your teeth.

Your orthodontist will keep you apprised of your progression and make adjustments along the way. He or she may have you close gaps by wearing tight rubber bands in your mouth or may surprise you with the news that your teeth have aligned much faster than anticipated. When the braces are removed, you will find yourself licking your teeth and you may want to eat foods that you couldn’t eat while wearing traditional braces. The orthodontist will take another impression of your teeth to compare the before and after. You will probably examine your teeth often in the mirror; it’s hard to picture how great they look while you are wearing braces for so long! Your orthodontist will also give you your retainer with explicit instructions on how to wear it and care for it. Retainers are expensive to replace, so don’t let your dog get it and don’t drop it down the sink and most importantly, remember to wear it! By skipping the retainer step of the orthodontia process, you may find your teeth shifting back into their previous places and you may have to endure braces again to get them to straighten!

Choosing to have your teeth aligned may be a purely aesthetic choice or it may be a medical one. Whichever it is, you will want to follow the instructions of your orthodontist to ensure you achieve a picture-perfect smile.

Kevin Liles’ Discovers Next Big Voice In Hip Hop Through Hashtag Challenge

After launching a national freestyle competition earlier this year, music mogul Kevin Liles has found and signed the next big voice in hip hop.


Kevin Liles [Image: #freestyle50 cypher winner Y.K Supe (middle) pictured with Smack White (host), his guest, Sway Calloway (host), Jessica Thorpe (Corporate Communications, Verizon), London On Da Track, and Kevin Liles. Photo courtesy of LAGRANT COMMUNICATIONS]


In July, Liles partnered with Verizon and launched the #freestyle50 competition, which required independent rappers to upload a freestyle video on Instagram or Twitter using the hashtag #freestyle50challenge.”

9,000 aspiring emcees took the challenge and eight were chosen from different cities around the country to face off for the grand prize in Hollywood last month. They showcased their lyrical skills in front of a panel of all-star judges that included radio legend Big Boy; Tuma Basa, Spotify’s Global Programming Head of Hip Hop; and Real 92.3’s DJ A-Oh. However, only one was crowned the winner: a local Chicago rapper by the name of Y.K Supe.

In turn, Y.K Supe won a single record deal with Liles’ record company, 300 Entertainment, and the opportunity to have his debut song produced by London On Da Track. The 23-year-old artist also walked away with $10,000 and an opening slot on 300 Entertainment’s upcoming Artist Development Tour.

“Y.K Supe clearly had a story to tell,” said Liles in a statement. “He surprised the judges with his talent and creativity and we look forward to welcoming him to the 300 family.”

“The goal of #freestyle50 was to discover that one artist with the potential to be the new voice for hip hop and support them with all the tools they need to see it through,” said London On Da Track. “Y.K Supe proved he has the talent and drive. I am excited to hit the studios with him.”

The event was hosted by Sway Calloway and Smack White and included special performances by rap icon Redman and Tee Grizzley along with a special guest appearance by pioneering hip hop executive Lyor Cohen.

Back in July, Black Enterprise Digital Editor Selena Hill spoke exclusively to Kevin Liles about the talent competition, what it takes to maintain longevity in the music industry, and the evolution of hip hop. She also spoke to London On Da Track. Watch the interviews below.

How Floating Down a River With Keri Hilson Taught Me to Appreciate the National Park Service

A week ago, I spent a day river floating down the 48-mile Chattahoochee River in metropolitan Atlanta, and wading into the river to learn how fly fishing enthusiasts cast and back cast. Back casting is easier!

(Keri Hilson leads a group down the Chattahoochee River. Image: CatMax Photography/National Park Foundation)


What a fun way to learn about the offerings of the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area—established as a result of legislation Rep. Andrew Young introduced and President Jimmy Carter signed into law in 1978.

Nature, the Best Educator


The Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area gets more than 3 million visitors every year, putting it in the top 35 of all 417 National Parks in the National Park Service.

(Cedric Talley, Visual Information Specialist at the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area. Image: File)


Maybe that’s because of the proximity to urban Atlanta—the river is within the city limits, although you’d never know it by the number of enormous trees on the river banks. I saw a couple of deer during my trip, as well as a blue heron and osprey flying above, but other wildlife also make their appearance—including muskrats, alligators, and the occasional bear.

There’s also tons to do in the park—paddle boating, river floating, kayaking, fishing, horseback riding, and mountain biking, as well as simply hiking or running the 83 miles of trails.

School groups come to the park to get hands-on lessons in nature, wildlife, insects, and the abundant flora. The state of Georgia stocks the river with rainbow trout and striped bass, which survive because of the river bottom’s cool temperatures.

(Raukisha Talley told us about the history of the park. Image: File)


This place is a naturalist’s dream. My son was an avid nature lover when he was little—and this was the kind of park he would have loved visiting. If you’re in or near Atlanta, you must take your kids for a day trip.

Class I Rapids


“People see the river as a real asset,” Bill Cox, superintendent of the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area, told a group of us in the park’s visitor’s lodge, which is included on the National Register of Historic Places.

(Bill Cox and Hilson. Image: CatMax Photography/National Park Foundation)


The park’s vast 7,000 acres create a serene space for people living in the city. It’s accessible and free, though if you want to fish you need to purchase a permit and license; there’s also a cost to rent paddle boats.

But hiking, walking, or riding your own bike is free—and you still get to commune with nature and de-stress.

I’m glad the rapids were Class I when we floated down the ’Hooch, as locals call it, although water released from the dam causes the river depth to change rapidly—so checking the release schedule is advised.

(The author, ready to wade in the ‘Hooch. Image: )


Keri Hilson, the singer, songwriter, and actress, is an ambassador for the National Park Foundation. She regularly takes advantage of the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area.

“I’m an outdoorsy girl,” she told me. “Fitness is important to me, so I run in the park.” Being in the park elevates Hilson’s senses and puts her in a meditative mood.

(Image: CatMax Photography/National Park Foundation)


The great news is that you don’t need to live in Atlanta to run in one of the National Parks. With 417 National Park Service areas, chances are good that there’s one near you. As the National Park Service campaign says, Find Your Park!

Stephen A. Smith on Kaepernick: ‘Stay the Hell Away From Me’

Colin Kaepernick has remained a news fixture for well over a year now and was even brought up during a riveting panel at Black Enterprise’s inaugural Black Men XCEL Summit.

(L-R: Keith Clinkscales, Stephen A. Smith, and Rod Strickland. Image: File)


The panel, “Black Men in Sports: The Good, the Bad, and the Reality,” featured iconic figures in the sports industry including ESPN commentator Stephen A. Smith and retired NBA player Rod Strickland. The panel moderator was Keith Clinkscales, founder and CEO of The Shadow League.

During the session, Clinkscales remarked that the discussion that’s “going on all over the place” is what is happening with Kaepernick.

Strickland weighed in. “My whole outlook on it when I look at it—it’s just kind of strange because we had somebody who made a stance and he made a stance because he felt there was racial profiling, blacks were being beat up by cops and there was injustice…,” he said.

Smith, known for his fiery and often controversial commentary was much more impassioned with his opinion on Kaepernick.

“My only issue with Colin Kaepernick is when he announced to the world that he’s not one to vote. If you are black and you don’t believe that it’s important to vote, just do me a favor and stay the hell away from me….don’t talk to me, don’t look at me, I’m not interested in hearing that level of ignorance,” Smith said.

“Because it is ignorant. Because outside of money, the No. 1 instrument of change in our nation is the power to vote. And if you don’t exercise it, you’ve disrespected yourself, you’ve disrespected our ancestors, and you’ve disrespected our history and I have no respect for you.”

Kaepernick became a center news item again just this week after the arrest of Seattle Seahawk Michael Bennett. Bennett shared on social media that he was roughed up and thrown to the ground by Las Vegas police officers after an incident in a casino and was also threatened with a gun.

Bennett has shown solidarity with Kaepernick in his protest against police brutality and racism. In June, Bennett spoke out about Kaepernick remaining undrafted by any NFL team.

“Of course I think Kaepernick’s being blackballed,” he told Power 105.1 FM’s The Breakfast Club, reports CBS Sports.

Watch the entire video of Stephen A. Smith’s remarks on Kaepernick’s at the Black Men XCEL Summit:



#ReadABookDay – The 10 Books That Should Be Part of Your Kid’s Childhood

On Twitter I learned that today is #ReadABookDay—but as Lisa Lucas, the unbelievably lucky person to be executive director of the National Book Foundation, tweeted, “Every day is #ReadABookDay, but I’ll play!”


I couldn’t agree with Lucas more. I was an avid reader as a kid who read Anne of Green Gables when my aunt in West Palm Beach, Florida, gave it to me to keep me busy during a visit. Soon I was in love with red-headed, rambunctious Anne.


(Image: iStock/Wavebreakmedia)

But how did I miss out on the Little House on the Prairie series? I loved stories about the “olden days,” yet no one had bothered to tell me about the pioneering Ingalls family who homesteaded out on the plains when Indians still ruled much of what is now the Midwest.

For #ReadABookDay, here are some books you’ll want to make sure are part of your youngster’s childhood.

  1. Goodnight Moon — A poetic favorite whose simple, somnolent rhymes will put your kids—or at least you—to sleep.
  2. One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish — Great nonsense and fun from Dr. Seuss!
  3. Ferdinand the Bull — A charming picture book. Ferdinand just wants to smell the flowers.
  4. Landmark series— Boys as well as girls will love this acclaimed history series. There’s a World Landmark series as well. Look for them in the library.
  5. Childhood of Famous Americans series – These simply written books are early chapter biographies. They’re fun to read and convey a bit of wisdom too.
  6. D’Aulaire’s Greek Myths— but don’t stop there. Read everything by the D’Aulaires—the illustrations alone are captivating.
  7. Chronicles of Narnia— My daughter’s second-grade teacher read this series to the class and my daughter has been enchanted with it ever since.
  8. The Giver— My son exclaimed after reading this as a high schooler, “This is the best book I’ve ever read.”
  9. The Power of Un— Another favorite of my son’s when he was about 12.
  10. The Dark Is Rising sequence— Both of my kids devoured this series when they were in their early teens.

And to sneak in one of my son’s all-time favorites—The Lord of the Rings trilogy, which he devoured around the age of 11. And my daughter loved anything by Madeline L’Engle.

For excellent references, check with your local librarian or the New York Times Book Review, which features children’s books every week. Also, check out story time at your library or local book store.

Not sure your child is ready for a book’s subject matter? Read it first—or stay a chapter ahead. If the book is beyond your child’s reading level, read it to him or use audio books. I read Dickens and George Bernard Shaw to my children until they were in their late teens. Reading aloud to anyone at any age is a tremendous gift.

Enjoy #ReadABookDay!

AT&T Seeks Black Filmmakers for 2018 Tribeca Film Festival

black filmmaker

AT&T, the Tribeca Film Festival (TFF) and Tribeca Film Institute have announced an open call for aspiring black filmmakers. Not only will filmmakers get the chance to debut their films at one of the most anticipated festivals of the year, they will also have a chance to win $1 million to make a movie as part of the AT&T Presents: Untold Stories, a program for underrepresented filmmakers. 

Black Filmmakers (Image: Faraday Okoro, the director of “Nigerian Prince” Photo cred:


Last year, after AT&T* and Tribeca teamed up to launch AT&T Presents: Untold Stories, New York City-based Nigerian-American filmmaker Faraday Okoro was awarded $1 million dollars to create his film, Nigerian Prince. In a statement released by Tribeca Film, Okoro shared a few tips about his experience and the submission process:

“This is the real deal. In April, they gave me $1 million to help produce my film. Now, I’m heading to Africa to start shooting the movie. It’s about a Nigerian-American teenager sent to Lagos, Nigeria, against his will. To get money for a plane ticket home, he teams with his Nigerian cousin to scam unsuspecting foreigners. We’ve got a busy production schedule ahead to finish the film in time for our debut at the 2018 Tribeca Film Festival, but we’re well on our way.

“If you have a script—or are writing one—you can submit it between now and Nov. 4. You’ll have a chance to be the second $1 million recipient of AT&T’s Untold Stories grant and access to AT&T distribution channels like DIRECTV and DIRECTV NOW. This time next year, you could be on location filming your movie in preparation for its debut at the 2019 Tribeca Film Festival.

“My best advice to you is to make sure your script is fully developed. If you feel like it’s incomplete, don’t push it. A lot of people will be submitting their stories for consideration. And the folks reviewing these scripts are experts at what they do. If your story isn’t ready for prime time, they’ll notice it right away. If it is, they just might pick you to pitch it to a panel of experts at next year’s Tribeca Film Festival.”

Robert De Niro, Jane Rosenthal, and Craig Hatkoff founded the Tribeca Film Festival in 2002. Next year’s festival marks AT&T’s fifth year as presenting sponsor. AT&T will once again provide the other four finalists with grants of $10,000 each to help achieve their respective films goals.

Husband and Wife Build Martha’s Vineyard African American Film Festival Into a 15-Year Brand

Celebrating 15 successful years, the 2017 Run&Shoot Filmworks’ Martha’s Vineyard African American Film Festival (MVAAFF) screened more than 60 features, short films, documentaries, and television series. The six-day festival featured the movies Marshall, Detroit, Crown Heights, and Rodney King; and two episodes from Spike Lee’s new television show She’s Gotta Have It and two episodes from Issa Rae’s Insecure, among other groundbreaking works.


(L-R: Academy Award-Winning Director Spike Lee, actor Roger Guenveur Smith and Ken Shropshire of Global Sport Institute at Arizona State University for “The Color of Conversation” talk back screening for the RODNEY KING movie. Image: Courtesy of the MVAAFF)



This month, MVAAFF founders Stephanie and Floyd Rance received a special citation from the State of Massachusetts’ Governor’s Office for their significant contributions to the local economy of Martha’s Vineyard. With more than 2,500 participants at this year’s festival, the island saw a marked increase in housing rentals, hotel bookings, restaurant patronage, and lifestyle and consumer shopping.


(“Marshall” film screening; L-R: Charles E. Walker Jr., Esq.; Chrisette Hudlin, wife of Reginald Hudlin; director Reginald Hudlin; founders Stephanie and Floyd Rance. Image: Courtesy of the MVAAFF)



The Rances held the inaugural festival in July 2002 in Oak Bluffs on the Island of Martha’s Vineyard. “Fifteen years is an outstanding accomplishment and everyone should be applauded,” says Floyd Rance, who co-founded the MVAAFF with his wife, Stephanie. “I always consider this event our third child and just like our other children we are equally as proud of this event. We have nurtured it and watched it crawl, helped it to its feet, and watch[ed] it walk.”


When Corporate and Art Backgrounds Unite


The Rances came to film festival production from backgrounds in corporate media and film production. Stephanie left her corporate job at Westhill Partners as director of public relations more than 15 years ago to pursue her lifelong dream of becoming an entrepreneur and eventually launched her marketing firm, Crescendo.

Floyd, a film producer and cinematographer, started his career working on Spike Lee’s Mo’ Better Blues. The Howard University graduate continued working with Lee and director/cinematographer Ernest Dickerson on the acclaimed films Jungle Fever, Malcolm X, and Clockers, among others. Floyd also produces episodic television and commercials; some of his clients have included HBO, Reebok, Foot Locker, and Family Dollar, to name a few.


(MVAAFF’s founders Floyd and Stephanie Rance. Image: Courtesy of the MVAAFF)



After leaving corporate America, Stephanie was taking a much-needed break while her husband was working on an independent short film in Barbados. During that time, she began to think about marketing initiatives that she could bring to the Island of Barbados. After returning home, she arranged a meeting with the management team of the Barbados Tourism Board in New York, which was looking to increase travel to the island by African American visitors. In her proposal, she included a pitch to bring a film festival to Barbados.

In the summer of 2000, the couple rented a house in Martha’s Vineyard, one of their favorite vacation destinations. They met a filmmaker who brought her short films to the Vineyard and convinced the local owner of the former Strand Theatre in Oak Bluffs to allow her to screen her films. He agreed, and the line to see her series of shorts extended around the block.

“Subconsciously, I kept that moment in the back of my mind,” says Stephanie. “If you’ve been to Martha’s Vineyard, [you know] there’s not a ton to do on the island in the evenings.”


(Netflix Original Series, “She’s Gotta Have It,” L-R: Actor Cleo Anthony, actress Margot Bingham, MVAAFF co-founder Stephanie Rance, actress Dewanda Wise, actor Lyriq Bent, MVAAFF co-founder Floyd Rance. Image: Courtesy of the MVAAFF)


A Setback Turns Into an Opportunity


In 2001, the Barbados Tourism Board was ready to move forward with creating the island’s first film festival. Instinctively, Stephanie knew the film festival was a good idea for the Island of Barbados, as she reflected on that moment with the female filmmaker in Oak Bluffs. Not knowing anything about producing a film festival, she stumbled across a group on titled Black Filmmakers, which still exists. She posted information about the festival and soon filmmakers were submitting their works along with registration fees for consideration to screen their projects. She received almost 15 film entries and secured both Showtime and AOL Black Voices as festival sponsors.

Unfortunately, the tragedy of the 9/11 attacks occurred that year; the Barbados Tourism Board, nervous about the negative impact on international travel, pulled out. Thinking on her feet, she decided that it would be a great idea to host the film festival in Martha’s Vineyard.

MVAAFF’s inaugural four-day event in 2002 had only 10 attendees. Though Stephanie had secured sponsorship for the fest, the representatives never showed up.


(“Insecure” stars Jay Ellis and Yvonne Orji enjoying a screening at the MVAAFF. Image: Courtesy of the MVAAFF)


“I could have given up,” Stephanie recalls of that early disappointment. “But I said, ‘You know what? I think I have something here. I’m going to stick with it.’ And 15 years later, the film festival is a huge success with sold out audiences and rousing standing ovations nightly. It’s been a long and rewarding journey. We are very proud of it.” There is much to be proud of. Now hailed as the summer’s finest local film festival, the MVAAFF attracts more than 2,500 attendees worldwide.

The Business of Building a Film Festival Brand


Producing the MVAAFF is a family affair for Stephanie and Floyd, who have two children. “There are pluses and minuses in our partnership,” Stephanie explains. “The great thing is that the money stays in the family. We might squabble about which films get in and which films don’t; Floyd is looking at it from a cinematic lens, and I gauge movies based on what pulls at my heart strings. We’re great partners, and I wouldn’t do it with anybody else.”

Still, the couple says that building the festival is a labor of love and has not been an overnight success. MVAAFF has also experienced a healthy increase in both revenues and sponsorship. From 2002 to 2005, the festival saw a 15% increase; from 2006 to 2010, revenues jumped by 25%; and from 2011 to 2015, the festival saw a 45% gain.

Each year, the festival has attracted more sponsors, as well as sponsors for individual events; over the past five years sponsorship doubled. Also, the founders included merchandising to their bottom line, with the sale of branded T-shirts and caps, which have become the festival’s must-have items. The growth has kept pace with the increase in conference registration and participation, numbers that remained steady even through the 2008-2009 recession.

Bringing Diversity to Martha’s Vineyard’s Arts Scene


The MVAAFF showcases between 50 and 60 films; currently, all the films are screened at one location, the Martha’s Vineyard Performing Arts Center (MVPAC), which seats 800 people. Utilizing one theater venue for the festival is an added value for the filmmakers, sponsors, and attendees since no films or events are scheduled at the same time.

The MVAAFF draws a diverse and affluent group of attendees and loyal supporters. . There’s a large contingent of people from the Washington, D.C., area, with several from President Obama’s administration, including former Attorney Generals Eric Holder and Loretta Lynch as well as state and local politicians. The event also draws educators, doctors, and lawyers; and Ivy Leaguers from Princeton, Stanford, and Harvard, including Professors Charles Ogletree, Henry Louis “Skip” Gates Jr., and Khalil Muhammad. The festival is also popular among the alumni and students from historically black colleges and universities, including Howard, Morehouse, Hampton, North Carolina A&T, and others.

(Academy Award-Winning Director Spike Lee. Image: Courtesy of the MVAAFF)


Aspiring and veteran filmmakers, producers, writers, executives, and a host of celebrities from across the country frequent the annual festival. Some are regular vacationers on the island; for instance, director Spike Lee has been a longtime supporter. Others celebrities and friends of the festival have included Ben Vereen, Jeffrey Wright, Ava DuVernay, Reginald Hudlin, David E. Talbert, Gail King, S. Epatha Merkerson, Marla Gibbs, Naomie Harris, Janelle Monae, Karyn Parsons, Delroy Lindo, Morocco Omari, Dee Rees, Daphne Reid, Debra Lee, Lisa Davis, Esq., and many others.

“Our festival is different from other festivals, it’s like a family reunion,” says Stephanie. “It’s not a celebrity gawk fest; we’re not into that. It’s not pretentious; it’s laid back and cool.”

Over the years, the festival has screened a wide range of works including Hidden Figures, Baggage Claim, The Princess and the Frog, Birth of a Nation, Chi-Raq, Four Brothers, Idlewild, Miracle at St. Anna, and Whoopi Goldberg Presents Moms Mabley, along with noted documentaries Anita, A Ballerina’s Tale, The Nine Lives of Marion Barry, and television series Blackish and Backyardigans. 

(Filmmaker’s Brunch. Image: Courtesy of the MVAAFF)



Expanding Beyond the Vineyard


The Rances are extremely pleased with the support they have received from the film studios and television and cable networks as well as from the black film community. By creating a great platform for future filmmakers, Stephanie and Floyd are proud to have seen several festival participants go on to achieve greater milestones in their film careers. In fact, the exponential growth of the Martha’s Vineyard festival in recent years is leading to expansion beyond the beloved island.

The Martha’s Vineyard African American Film Festival is very special to us and our loyal attendees,” says Stephanie. “We will remain on the island, but we are currently planning another three-to-four-day festival stateside that will launch in October 2018.” The name, date, and location of the new event will be announced separately.

“We are asked constantly to start a new festival,” Stephanie continues. “We would like to serve and accommodate the larger artistic community, and we plan to make [the new festival] bigger and better.”