Building a Black Nation, One Post at a Time


June 2012

Go-Go Live: A Good Read for Any DC Resident

There are many parallels between life in the District and New Orleans. Black people have a rich history in both city reflected in their music. As both cities  undergo a transformation, the way of life as many Black residents have known it is in threat of extinction. For New Orleans, tourists are taking over and staking their claim in areas that mean more as vacation spots rather than something of cultural value. In the District, transplants enjoy the “yuppie” lifestyle without consequence while locals are slowly getting silenced.  Natalie Hopkinson, formerly of the Washington Post, drew those parallels on her visit to the Big Easy.

Go-Go Live: The Musical Life and Death of the Chocolate City

Those at Cafe Istanbul on the evening of June 22nd heard the sounds of Chuck Brown, the Godfather of Go-Go while they ate authentic New Orleans cuisine. This genre is indigenous to the District and according to Hopkinson, it is an endangered species. In her new book, “Go- Go Live: The Musical Life and Death of the Chocolate City,”  she tells of go-go’s rich history and the tough bind that the genre finds itself in the face of  the District’s demographic changes.

The District, affectionately known as “The Chocolate City”  has been majority African – American since 1957. Go-go was and is still a way of life for many native Washingtonians who enjoy the spiritual feeling one can only get from attending a live show. Go-go has formed communities. It sparked children’s interest in music. It’s encouraged entrepreneurship. It’s something Washingtonians take great pride in. Even with its potency, it has struggled to leave the city but that is not by accident. It is authentically D.C. and a critical part of a culture that natives and visitors alike have come to love and appreciate for so long.

The District’s economic boom ushered in an era where cranes rose into the sky and the most desolate of neighborhoods received a makeover.  Young, white professionals from outside of the city quickly moved in to experience what D.C. had to offer in these new times. Unfortunately, as many already know, that would not be go-go music. Go-go clubs are closing all over D.C. and moved out into the suburbs of Prince George’s County and Montgomery County along with many Washingtonians who could not afford the rising rent. Even in parts of  Maryland, it’s still in danger of extinction. Lawmakers see it as a cause of violence rather than an expression of the frustration felt because of violent conditions its artists and listeners experience firsthand.

With Chuck Brown dead,  the debate about go-go’s present and future is even more important. The debate unearths questions about race relations and politics in the District. One other element that is hard to ignore is go-go’s transformation.  Many who grew up listening to Chuck Brown, EU, Trouble Funk and Backyard do not consider the Bouncebeat, a newer, louder, and more uptempo version of go-go, a legitimate part of the genre. Now that Chuck is gone, where do the young bands go from here and how do they keep go-go alive in the face of its present challenges from the outside and inside? They may not have much to worry about. Chuck Brown gave them his blessing many times in the course of his life, even performing with one of them, TOB,  less than a year ago.

Whether or not you are aware of this transformation unfolding in the District, it is imperative you read “Go-Go Live: The Musical Life and Death of the Chocolate City.”  It helps you put what’s unfolding before you in context, which these days is very important. It hits shelves and online stores on June 25,2012. Get your copy immediately!


Vice – President Biden’s Appeal to Black Journalists at the NABJ Convention

NABJ Convention and Career Fair 2012 – New Orleans

The business of Washington still follows me even as I travel to New Orleans this week.  I was among hundreds of journalists present at the 37th annual NABJ Convention and Career Fair. Vice – President Joe Biden was the keynote speaker this year and he did not beat around the bush at all. He wanted to give a clear distinction between what President Obama and Governor Romney could offer Americans in this presidential election.

Weeks before Governor Romney is scheduled to speak before the NAACP at its convention, Biden made his case to the majority African – American crowd about what the president could offer them if given four more years. It’s no secret by now that some African – Americans have expressed some form of disappointment in the Obama Administration. At a time when both campaigns are reaching out to members of the LBGT and Latino community harder than ever, members of the African – American community feel ignored and as though their vote is taken for granted. What better way to appeal to this critical part of the Democratic base than through the journalists who cover issues most important to them?

Vice – President Joe Biden

The focus of  Biden’s speech was education and jobs. He told the story of when he learned his father, a blue collar worker, would have to leave his family in Clayton, DE in search of work, all in an effort to give his family a better life.  A young Biden, in the third grade at the time,  stayed with his maternal grandparents until his father saved enough money to buy the family a house in Wilmington, DE. Once his father got back on his feet and income was more steady, the Biden family rose into the middle class lifestyle similar to what many Americans enjoyed at one point before the Great Recession. It was a poignant story meant to humanize the vice – president and let the audience know that he felt the pain of working class families. It was in true Joe Biden fashion and a reminder of  why he was so vital to President Obama’s campaign in 2008.

Biden ended the speech by reminding the audience of black journalists that the upcoming election ‘comes down to a choice, not a referendum.’  He followed that statement up with perhaps an even more powerful statement – “Don’t compare me to the almighty. Compare me to the alternative.”  That was truly the close to his half hour appeal to the African – American journalists and that group in particular.

Personally, I wished that I would have caught the Vice – President during a year when there was not an important election on the horizon. His comments would have sounded less like political speaking points and more inspirational for the younger journalists in the crowd like myself. It was pleasure seeing him nonetheless and a great start to a memorable weekend in the Big Easy.

NETROOTS Weekend, Day 2: Beyond the Panels and Meeting Occupy Providence

The SEIU sponsored an event at the Dorrence in downtown Providence; not too far from my residence for the week. It

The Dorrance

included karaoke and an open bar. The college student inside me was ecstatic. Surprisingly so, I did not really drink much this weekend even though I had ample chances to do so. Instead, I kept a clear head and talked a filmmaker and later someone running for the state legislature in New Mexico. Their stories were more intoxicating than a jack and coke could have been in that moment in time.

From that point on, I slowly but surely realized an emptiness inside of me. This conference had a lot to offer but something needed to happen beyond that. I was among activists but we were all in our own little bubble for a majority of the week. That bubble was named the Rhode Island Convention Center. If you weren’t a Netroots Scholar like me, getting into that bubble would cost you $300 at the least.

Occupy Providence protesters at their nightly meeting

There was much less than $300 in the collection jar on the Occupy Providence site I visited; just a few feet outside out of the convention center and across the street from my hotel. The pound of the occupiers’ drums woke me out of my slumber that evening. Instead of attending the Netroots sponsored block party, I decided to sit down and talk with some of the occupiers. For the first time, I felt like I was closer to the problem and I actually saw and heard firsthand what was mentioned in workshops and panels.

Some have been unemployed for more than a year. Many come from families with dwindling household incomes and underwater mortgages. Most admitted their lack of political knowledge in relation to the participants of the Netroots Nation conference. One said that did not let that deter her. One woman expressed her frustration with the Obama administration and ‘less than liberal agenda.’ All were skeptical about what Netroots represented. Some would even go as far to say that those interests were in some respects similar to those of the conservatives. One woman posed a question as to what being a true progressive encompassed. Continue reading “NETROOTS Weekend, Day 2: Beyond the Panels and Meeting Occupy Providence”

NETROOTS Weekend, Day 1: The Power of Our Stories

ImageWith so many wrongs to right in the world, it’s difficult to balance my obligation to the truth with adhering to the rules of the craft. In trying to do so, I buried some parts of my life story deep within the recesses of my mind.  In short, I was an inch closer to becoming the guy I often scoffed at along the later part of my life journey: the one who forget their origins and will eventually come to give up on those less fortunate than them.

Thank fully I’m not all the way there.  The Power of Our Stories, The first info session I attended at Netroots woke me up. The parts of life and people I met along the way, whether they’re in my family, neighborhood, or in schools, are part of the reason have fueled my passion for journalism and public policy. Their struggles especially that of the young black man, mirror that of mine regardless of the trajectory of our lives. Since my first day of college, I have been trying to put the pieces together as to why I made it this far and others have not done so for themselves. That question was the root from which many of the articles and blog posts I have written have originated.

I could not even explain my life path and metamorphosis in relation to my passion this morning in front of my small group.. Call it trying to sound objective.  My matriculation through school and the addition of another job title or post has almost prevented me from becoming a human. The world of public policy is full of wonks willing to spit a random statistic about the issue of their choice at any given moment. Today’s workshop showed me that indeed there is power in a good story and one’s life experiences.  They’re more memorable and easier to digest for those who are not as wonky. A good story goes beyond boring statistics and actually puts a human face to the issue that is the topic of discussion at that present moment.  A good story moves people to action!

Journalists tell stories. They are not advocates. I have been told that for the longest time. The notion of what makes a good journalist has been changing since I first started attending The George Washington University five years ago. I’m just trying to catch up. For every Rachel Maddow, there is a Sean Hannity to match. Each person has an agenda, but tries to adhere to the values of journalism in their own way.  Now it’s time for me to look deep within myself to evaluate my own value system. I present the facts but in a way I am an advocate. While I am not advocating for a particular issue, I am advocating for a common understanding amongst all parties that there are systematic reasons as to why some people are not living their American Dream. I’m just doing my job through those stories.

Please forgive me as I leave to attend more events and meet more people. Please look out tomorrow for a little more about what I learn. This is quite a lot to take in. I will be sure to summarize it and be as engaging as possible.

–          Sam P.K. Collins



NETROOTS Weekend 2012 – Come Follow Me On the Journey of a Lifetime

ImageGreetings to all of the loyal readers of AllEyesOnDC,

This week, I am not in DC but on my way to Providence, RI for the conference of a life time named Netroots Nation. Included in this conference is a series of events that will connect me to a plethora of journalists, community organizers, and progressively minded youth on a mission to make the world a better place. in the process, I am learning tools to help my community and advance the needs that matter most to us. By us, I mean the people of the District and particularly my neighborhood and that of my friends and family.

Stick close to this blog for the next couple of days for updates about what I see and learn. It’s something you do not want to miss.

I would like to thank those who voted for me so that I can make it on this trip. It is a testament to the power of a few voices. Let’s continue to make each other’s dreams happen.

Sam P.K. Collins

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