1. MC Hammer
Some people like the daytime, some like nighttime, but my favorite part of the day is Hammer Time. Sure, sunrises and sunsets are nice, but Hammer Time is a time, uh, you can't touch. My my my mind has trouble grasping what life was like before MC Hammer introduced the world to Hammer Time. It must have been a very desolate place back then, full of people roaming around wondering what they could and could not touch. Lucky for us, Hammer recognized that dreary reality and saw the need to break it down. Oh-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh! Oh-oh! Oh! Stop. Hammock time. Seriously though, MC Hammer is a hip/hop pioneer; he churned out catchy jams that transcended race and invented revolutionary dance moves that might have transcended race too if white people could dance a little better. No matter, Stanley "Hammer" Burrell is a role model who reminds us that we can do anything we put our minds to, whether that be singing, dancing, wearing parachute pants, becoming an ordained minister, or even declaring bankruptcy. So thanks for the memories Hammer... you're 2 legit 2 quit.
2. The Mighty Ducks
3. The Two Girls Who Used To Be In Destiny's Child
Long before Beyonce, Kelly, and Michelle performed at the Super Bowl Halftime Show, there were two other Destiny's Children who had the club Jumpin' Jumpin'. LaTavia Roberson and LeToya Luckett (pictured in the middle above) were both members of the hit R&B group through the release of their first two albums. Unfortunately, between the second and third albums, LaTavia and LeToya were treated more like Destiny's Stepchildren as they were forced to leave the group after trying to assert themselves as Independent Women. This turned out to be quite the Bug A Boo as the group added Michelle Williams to replace LaTavia and LeToya and Destiny's Child never LaLooked back. No need to feel bad for the ladies though... both LaTavia and LeToya have two Grammys and have enjoyed post-Destiny's Child success in music, TV, film, and modeling. So thank you, forgotten members of Destiny's Child, for all you did with and without Beyonce... it's my pleasure to Say Your Name, Say Your Name today.
4. Gabby Douglas
I love the Olympics. It's an event that combines two of my very favorite things: sports and screaming "USA! USA!" Of course, both sports and patriotic chants are more fun when you're winning. Enter Gabby Douglas. Despite standing only 4 feet 11 inches tall and weighing less than the gold medals she would eventually win, Gabby shined on the Olympic stage, becoming the first black woman to win the individual all-around title in gymnastics. Throw in another gold medal from the team competition and Gabby is one of the most decorated athletes from the London Games. Despite this unparalleled (or is it uneven?) success, including being named AP Female Athlete of the Year for 2012, young Miss Douglas has managed to remain grounded and humble... a refreshing alternative to the egotism of certain other Olympic champions. (Cough cough, Usain Bolt.) So on behalf of the good ol' US of A and Black History Month enthusiasts everywhere, thank you Gabby Douglas... even McKayla is impressed.
5. The Apostrophe
What would Black History Month be without the apostrophe? Why it would be missing out on some very esteemed members! Black history is riddled with prominent figures who were aided by the punctuation mark after it chose to ignore The Man's decree to use itself only in contractions, cases of possession, and in Irish last names. Thank you, Apostrophe, for accompanying Mo'Nique to the stage to accept her Oscar for Best Supporting Actress. Thanks for helping Amar'e Stoudemire become NBA Rookie of the Year in 2003 and sticking with him through six All-Star Game appearances. Thanks for being there for the hundreds and hundreds of rappers who put "Li'l" in front of their names. And You Gotta Be kidding me if you think I forgot how good you were to soulful singer Des'ree. You may be small, but you've impacted Black History Month in a big way. So let's hear it for the most Civil Rights-minded piece of punctuation out there... Apostrophe, you're the best. Period.
6. The Braves' New Outfield
I'm the first to admit that I'm not the most physically fit guy in the world, but I do like to think I have fairly strong arms. Is it because I put in my time at the gym or do tons of push-ups every day? No. It's because I've been doing the Tomahawk Chop since I was in diapers. 14 straight division titles worth of chopping really works out those biceps. Yes, I dare say I'm just about the biggest Atlanta Braves fan you'll ever meet. You can imagine, then, how excited I am about the Bravos' starting outfield heading into this season. With Jason Heyward and the Upton brothers roaming the yard, the Braves boast not only the most athletic, but also the most culturally progressive outfield in the majors. Three black guys in the same outfield? I'm pretty sure this is exactly what Martin Luther King was envisioning when he had that dream. Okay, maybe not exactly that... but it feels like a dream come true to me. So thanks Braves outfield, for giving me renewed hope heading into this baseball season; hope, that I pray won't be dashed by another inexplicably botched infield fly rule call in the playoffs.
7. R. Kelly
If R. Kelly's Ignition (Remix) isn't on your party playlist, then it's not a party playlist. Robert Sylvester Kelly has been getting parties (and after-parties) started for the last 25 years with his impressive array of R&B hits. Despite his undeniable credentials, I have to admit, I was a tad reluctant to include him in this year's BHM. I mean, R. Kelly is hardly a role model; he's always getting arrested or prosecuted or trapped in a closet. I was torn. I mean, my mind was telling me no, but my body, MY BODY, WAS TELLING ME YES. Nah, of course R. Kelly made the list. He helped me believe I could fly, taught me how to bump n' grind, and showed me it's okay to be a flirt. So thank you, R. Kelly, I know you've had some problems with #1 in the past, but you're still #1 in my book, and don't worry, I'm legal.
8. Kanye West's Ego
Kanye's ego deserves its own spot on the BHM rundown as it, along the Great Wall of China, is one of only two complexes visible from outer space. Now, I can kinda understand why 'Ye thinks so highly of himself; he does have 12 #1 singles and all five of his albums went platinum, but anyone who lets Nicki Minaj show him up on his own song (see: Monster) Can't Tell Me Nothing. Add that to the fact that he got out-rapped by a white guy and a former Degrassi cast member on the Forever track, and it's apparent that Kanye is living in a Dark Twisted Fantasy world if he really thinks he's the greatest rapper of all time. Now, I actually like your music Mr. West, and Imma let you finish your career, but how 'bout a little humility to go along with your Good Life? I think it could make you a much Stronger person. I mean, picking on Taylor Swift? How could you be so Heartless? Having "swagger" is one thing, but it doesn't go a long way when it comes to BHM. Maybe someday when you've done something really important like crusading for Civil Rights or inventing peanut butter, you can join the BHM list for real. Another piece of advice as per your current girlfriend: I ain't saying she's a gold digger, but...
9. Charlize Theron
Though society has come a long way in terms of racial equality, African-Americans still have many obstacles to overcome in order to succeed in this world. That's why stories like today's BHM honoree Charlize Theron's are so inspirational. Charlize grew up in a suburban town in South Africa where she attended private school. Poor girl. As a teenager, she learned how to overcome her bountiful talents in the fine arts and make due with her conventionally beautiful face and body. After moving to the United States, she was forced into a dead-end job in Hollywood where she had to act in films just to make a lousy million. Don't even get me started on that terribly heavy Oscar trophy they made her lug around or that worthless star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame they gave her that people are constantly stepping on and getting dirty. Despite these horrible setbacks, Charlize eventually managed to reach the mountain-top... a guest-starring role on the greatest television show of all time, Arrested Development. Now, I know some people will argue that Charlize Theron doesn't belong in a conversation about Black History Month because she's "white," but I'll have you know that she earned her U.S. citizenship in 2007 and therefore has literally been an African-American for over five years now. So thanks Charlize, for being an upstanding member of the African-American community and for showing us all how success is within anyone's grasp as long as they are immensely talented and incredibly beautiful.
Walter Banks isn't exactly famous. His primary claim to fame is that he's the only usher or employee of any kind to work for the Braves every season since they came to Atlanta in 1966. However, I know Mr. Banks from his years working as an usher at Georgia Tech football games. When I was young, my family ran a concession stand at Tech home games and I always tagged along because I loved (and still love) Georgia Tech football. It was there that I met Mr. Banks; a kind gentleman with a welcoming smile and patience enough to deal with a rambling (no pun intended) young Tech fan. It became a tradition for me to visit Mr. Walter in his section before every game. I'd talk to him excitedly about our hometown team and he'd listen and nod and respond without any hint of condescension. I think that's why I was drawn to Mr. Walter; even at that young age, I realized that his kindness and humility weren't commonplace. Anyone who knows him will tell you the same thing; he's a genuinely friendly person. As the years passed, I eventually started working at the concession stand myself. I was a teenage boy and things were changing fast all around me, but Mr. Walter did not. Walker Banks was the same. Same job, same smile, same humble heart. I'd still drop by to say hi and he'd still talk with me and enlighten me with some of his famous sports trivia. It should be noted that he's a veritable encyclopedia of Atlanta sports knowledge. It's funny what sticks with you when you get older. I don't remember the scores of those football games or the names of all the players or all of those sports facts, but I can remember Walter clear as day. It had been years since I had seen Mr. Walter when I spotted him at a Braves game not too long ago. I was sure he would have no recollection of the young man he use to chat with on game days nearly a decade prior, much less recognize me all grown up. To my surprise, he did. I was treated to a warm smile and kind words, just like when I was a kid. The years of hard work at a tedious job hadn't changed him a bit. Looking back, maybe it wasn't that surprising that Mr. Walter remembered me. When you care for others the way that Walter Banks does, you tend to have a good memory. I guess it's also not that surprising that I remember him so clearly either. When you care for others the way that Walter Banks does, you tend to be remembered.
Who's got two thumbs, 755 home runs, and no asterisks by any of his stats? Hammerin' Hank Aaron, that's who. Henry "Hank" Aaron, the true home run champion, didn't need HGH, testosterone shots, or deer antler spray to break Babe Ruth's long-standing home run record or become Major League Baseball's all-time RBI leader. The 25-time All-Star did it the right way with hard work, perseverance, and consistency... and a bat. What makes Hank even more special is that he did it all under intense pressure and scrutiny resulting from the ongoing Civil Rights Movement. Despite hate mail and death threats, Hank kept a cool head and continued to rack up the hits and homers season after season. This resulted in a Hall of Fame career that included two batting titles, three Gold Gloves, and an MVP award. Happy BHM, Hank... thanks for a being a five-tool player and not a steroid-using tool.
Food was pretty good already, but it got even better with the addition of soul. The history of soul food and southern cooking is pretty interesting if you ever get a chance to read into it; it's very much tied into slavery and plantation life. Soul food staples such as okra, rice, and turnips all originated in Africa and other soul food dishes such as collards, cornbread, and hushpuppies were all perfected by slaves who had little else to work with in the kitchen. Fun fact: Many historians rank hushpuppies as the third most important thing to come out of the Civil War, right behind the Emancipation Proclamation and the Gettysburg Address. I would argue that they should be second because, unlike the Gettysburg Address, I never had to memorize hushpuppies in high school. Call me crazy, but I think soul food goes a long way in helping bringing the races together in the South. You can't argue about the President, politics, or social issues with your mouth full of sweet potato pie. So thank you, Soul Food, for all that you've done and all that you've taught me: that gravy is its own food group, that macaroni and cheese is a vegetable, and that chicken and waffles DO go together.
13. The Kool-Aid Man
Judging by the depth and soulfulness of the Kool-Aid Man's voice, it's likely that he's an African-American; his inflection is very much in the vein of Barry White and Morgan Freeman. And yes, I'm aware that my assessment might be buying into the stereotype that the black community typically enjoys fruit-flavored beverages like Kool-Aid, but that's an awesome stereotype to have as far as I'm concerned. Fruit-flavored drinks are delicious. When I was a kid, I drank nothing but Kool-Aid. It's sweet, it's colorful, and it's ridiculously cheap. I vividly remember loving to go to the grocery store so I could pick out ten different flavors of Kool-Aid for a dollar. (FYI, my favorite was the now defunct Purplesaurus Rex.) I also remember asking my mom if I could be the Kool-Aid guy for Halloween one year. He's always having fun and smiling and partying... he woulda been way better than dressing up as a ghost or a vampire. Alas, that's a difficult costume to construct, so I think I went as a baseball player that year. Wrong kind of pitcher. Anyway, the Kool-Aid mascot is a beloved and an iconic one that takes me back to a simpler time. So does the Kool-Aid Man deserve a BHM mention? OH YEAHHHHH!
I was very saddened when Michael Clarke Duncan passed away earlier this year. John Coffey, his role in The Green Mile, is one of my favorite movie characters ever. While Michael Clarke Duncan had many other roles during his successful Hollywood career, I'll always remember him as the gentle giant with healing powers and a name "like the drink, only not spelled the same." Duncan was included in the "In Memoriam" segment at the 2013 Oscars, but I think a life and personality (and body frame) as big as his deserves more than five seconds of awards show screen time. I'm thinking maybe a certain pastry chain could start a Michael Clarke Duncan Doughnuts campaign to celebrate his life. They could even play off of the whole Coffey/coffee thing. It's a shame the NBA already missed its chance at a Michael Clarke Dunc Contest. I might have actually watched that. Even if these foolproof ideas are never put into action, Michael Clarke Duncan's legacy will always endure on film, even if all 6 feet 5 inches and 300 pounds of him didn't always fit into frame.
Sometimes it's not only what you include, but also what you exclude that's important when making a list. The three-point line is definitely not included in my BHM celebration. The arc was clearly invented by the white man as a means to maintain a Caucasian presence in the NBA. There's no way players like J.J. Redick and Steve Novak would be in the league without it. The only time those guys are useful in the paint is when they're being used as human props to jump over during the Slam Dunk Contest. Now, I'm not saying that black people can't shoot threes... obviously Reggie Miller, Ray Allen, and everyone with the last name Curry have it figured out... but white guys don't always possess the complete skill set (or handsomely bald head) of a Miller or Allen. When you think about it, three is just a bad number for African-Americans in sports. It's how many points a field goal is worth in football... but since all kickers are white, black people have to settle for touchdowns. It's the percentage of black players in the NHL... and that's rounding up. It's the number of strikes black hitters get in baseball before they are called out... talk about prejudice! Shame on you number three and shame on you three-point line.. no BHM honors for you!
According to the internet, 1 in 5 relationships in the 21st century begin online. While this may be true for whitey, I really just don't think too many black people are breaking down the firewall to log onto eHarmony. Enter blackpeoplemeet.com: the site responsible for more black love connections than Barry White. It's great that there's an exclusively African-American dating website and all, but I'm not so sure the creators chose the best name for their site. If you hear their ad on the radio, it sounds a lot like a website that promotes African-American cannibalism. Meet, meat... they sound the same. Homophones... always keeping the black man down. Of course, it got my attention when I heard it for the first time, so maybe the creators knew what they were doing all along. Happy BHM, blackpeoplemeet.com... thanks for making black couples and not black cutlets.
17. All the Lil People
With Black History Month heavyweights like Martin Luther King, Harriet Tubman, and George Washington Carver headlining the month-long celebration every February, it's easy to forget about the lesser known, yet equally important African-Americans who have impacted black culture. Here's a quick shout out to all the lil people: Lil Wayne, Lil Kim, Lil Jon, Lil Romeo, Lil B, other Lil B, Lil C, Lil J, Lil Jojo, Lil Keke, Lil O, Lil P-Nut, Lil T, Lil Fizz, Lil Boosie, Lil Bitts, Lil Fame, Lil Flip, Lil Bow Wow, Lil Cease, Lil C-Note, Lil 1/2 Dead, Lil Bruce, Lil Malik, Lil Louis, Lil Mama, Lil Mo, Lil Poison, Lil Rev, Lil Ric, Lil Rob, Lil Scrappy, Lil Zane, Lil Wil, Lil Ronnie, Lil Ru, Lil Duval, Lil iROCC, and Lil Son Jackson. Happy BHM to you all... the world just wouldn't be the same without you doing whatever it is that you do. I'm assuming that's rap, but you never know... maybe Lil Boosie is a practicing physician.
No, that's not a typo. I know the popular BBC period drama is named Downton Abbey, but that's not of what I speak. Downtown Abbey is a show I'm pitching to BET. It's also a drama in the same vein as Downton, but unlike Downton, there will actually be black people in the show. My series is set in the fictional town of Detroit, England and follows the Cosby family as they struggle to maintain ownership of their inner city, three bedroom castle amid the social and financial impediments of the day. Instead of playing cricket and eating bread pudding like the characters in Downton, the Downtown characters all run track and eat at the famous British fast food restaurant, Cathedral's Chicken. I'm not overly optimistic that Downtown Abbey will be a success, but I figure if I can get 10-15 African-Americans to tune in, I'll be outperforming Downton Abbey in the black demographic. It should be noted that in addition to BET, the series will be broadcast in conjunction with PBS and Master P Theater.
19. The Black Angry Bird
Anyone who has played Angry Birds knows that the birds are angry because those dastardly green pigs stole their eggs, but for the black bird, it's more than that. Unfortunately, avian civil rights haven't progressed as much as you may have thought. Despite their heroic efforts against the evil pigs, black birds are still subject to Jim Crow laws and are forced to sit at the back of the slingshot. Despicable. Lucky for the other birds, these injustices haven't hindered the black bird's effort in fighting the enemy. Every day, the black bird swallows his pride and takes out his frustration in a healthy way... by exploding and killing everything in reach. So kudos to you, black Angry Bird, for concentrating your anger in a constructive manner and for being by far the most effective bird in the game.
20. Mr. T
Forget Misters A through S and don't even think about Misters U through Z. There's only one Mister/letter combo I'm interested in, and that's Mr. T.. Laurence Tureaud (AKA Mr. T) pities the fool who celebrates BHM without him. Whether you remember him as B.A. Baracus from the A-Team, as Clubber Lang from Rocky III, or even as a night elf mohawk from the WoW commercials, there's no denying Mr. T's charisma. His intensity and style have made him an American icon, while his heart and generosity have made him a mohawk-ed role model. Happy BHM, Mr T.... you would shine even without all those gold chains around your neck.
I must be out of my mindgrapes to have waited this long to honor Tracy Morgan. To think of a Black History Month without the man behind Brian Fellow's Safari Planet... that's crazy! Sure, Tracy has struggled with alcoholism and sometimes has trouble knowing when to keep his mouth shut, but when it comes to making people laugh, he's one of the best. And isn't that what's most important... making people laugh? No, actually getting that alcoholism under control should probably take priority. Fortunately for Tracy, and for his fans, the drinking problems are in the past. So thanks Tracy, for your characters on Saturday Night Live, for your role on 30 Rock, and for inspirational quotes like this: "I want to hold a mirror up to society... and then win world record for biggest mirror."
22.College Park, GA
If you followed the BHM rundown last year, you'll remember that I featured my rather dangerous hometown of Riverdale, Georgia. Well, College Park is its sister (or maybe sista) city of sorts and was a second home to me as a child. Located about ten miles north of Riverdale, College Park (pronounced Collipark by the natives) is where my grandparents lived and where I stayed when my parents were at work. Much like Riverdale, College Park has a predominately black population and more than its fair share of criminal activity; nevertheless, the city holds a special place in my heart. There's a certain pride to having survived, I mean lived, in College Park... and I'm not the only one who thinks so... Cam Newton, Ludacris, Josh Smith, Monica, Yung Joc, Adam "Pac-Man" Jones, Mr. Collipark, 2 Chainz, Bill Curry, Tameka Cottle, Morgan Burnett, Key Fox, Bubba Sparxxx (close enough), and Creflo Dollar have all called College Park home. Not too shabby for a city less than ten square miles in area. So happy BHM, College Park... you may be home to the highest crime rates in the state, but you're also home to a Heisman trophy, which Cam will tell you covers up all sorts of criminal behavior.
The bad thing about Black History Month is that it's so short that it makes it difficult to cram all the worthy black profiles into February's 28 days. That's why for this installment, I'm pulling double duty. This installment features both the soulful R&B group, Boyz II Men, and the first group of African-American U.S. fighter pilots, the Tuskegee Airmen. Now at first glance, these two groups seem to be mutually exclusive, but that's just not the case. Boyz II Men and the Tuskegee Airmen are both groups of black guys who had a lot of hits. They both... ok, maybe they don't have a ton in common, but I'd like to think that if Boyz II Men was around during World War II (hey, there's another thing, they're both reliant on the roman numeral II), that the Tuskegee Airmen would be shooting down enemy planes with "Motownphilly" playing in the background... somehow. I guess in this scenario, the Tuskegee Airmen also had iPods. Anyway, happy BHM, Boyz II Tuskegee Airmen... thanks for killing 'em softly with your song/turrets.
24. Lily & Layla
My two black cats Lily and Layla never marched on Washington or fought for civil rights, but for 11 years, they were two of my most loyal friends. They both went to the great litter box in the sky this past year and I miss them. Happy BHM, Lily and Layla... you were the best pets a guy could have.
25. Chocolate Rain Guy
YouTube got a delicious surprise in 2007 when Tay Zonday burst onto the scene with his hit viral video "Chocolate Rain." Sure, the video went viral for all the wrong reasons, but don't you worry Tay, famous is famous. You may be kinda nerdy, but **I move away from the keyboard to breathe in** your "Chocolate Rain" video has been viewed nearly 100 million times. 100 million! That's something to be proud of, Mr. Zonday. So happy BHM, buddy... your video made an awful lot of people smile and you have the same number of #1 hits as Nicki Minaj.
26. Dikembe Mutombo
I have to admit, before Geico started running those Dikembe Mutombo commercials, I had kinda forgotten about him. The 7'2" center played for my hometown team, the Atlanta Hawks, for much of his long NBA career in which he consistently lead the league blocked shots, yet I forgot about him. I'm truly sorry, Dikembe Mutombo Mpolondo Mukamba Jean-Jacques Wamutombo. I'm sorry I forgot your eight All-Star selections, your four Defensive Player of the Year awards, and your trademark finger wag. Will it happen again? (You can't see me, but I'm doing the finger wag right now.) Happy BHM, Dikembe!
Hey Arnold was one of my favorite cartoons as a kid and a big part of that was because of Arnold's best friend Gerald. Gerald was as loyal and trustworthy as his flat top was high. He also rocked that ambiguous #33 jersey like every day, so maybe Gerald's mom deserves a BHM shout out too, for all the washing she must have had to do. So happy BHM, Gerald... I'm not saying that Arnold's not cool, but Hey Gerald, you're my favorite.
Maybe you're black. Maybe you're not. Either way, you're this year's final BHM honoree. After three years of doing these Black History Month profiles, I still get compliments and encouragement day after day and it's very much appreciated. Thanks for reading, for the likes, for the re-posts, and for the love.