The No Guns Allowed Panel
People traveled from near and far to get a glimpse of their favorite artists and entertainers on stage during the BET 2013 Awards. But many with or without tickets to the star-studded affair were treated to free celebrity panels on Saturday, June 29.
BET Revealed, the name of nearly a dozen informative seminars hosted by Tatyana Ali and Craig Wayans (stars of BET’s Second Generation Wayans) featured Hollywood power couples, wealth builders, celebrity sports figures, politicians and activists at the JW Marriott Conference Center’s Platinum Ballroom.
All of the panels were well-attended but the most anticipated was saved for last: “NO GUNS ALLOWED: Disarming Violence in Our Community.” Some say the standing-room only participation stemmed from the appearance of rap icon Snoop Lion (formerly known as Snoop Doggy Dogg). Others say that and the tag team presence with rap phenomenon T.I. filled the ballroom.
And others felt it was the sophisticated political presence of U.S. Congressional Representative Maxine Waters and the street-level work, experience and insight by gang intervention specialist Melvin Hayward of the H.E.L.P.E.R. Foundation that had the venue filled-to-capacity.
Panelists also included Ryan Coogler, award winning writer and director (“Fruitvale Station”) and Dr. Robert “Biko” Baker, executive director of the League of Young Voters, who moderated the panel.
Their gathering kicked off the No Guns Allowed campaign to raise awareness about the prevalence and prevention of gun violence amongst youth. “No Guns Allowed,” Snoop’s song featuring Drake and Snoop’s daughter Cori B., played as people scurried to their seats.
Snoop thanked the audience for being part of a positive situation. “The reason I named the song ‘No Guns Allowed’ is because I’m just fed up with all of this gun violence. I’ve always, you know, had a problem with it but you could never tell because I was always one to advocate or push and promote it,” Snoop Lion shared.
After he began witnessing public venues and elementary schools and children being shot, his views changed, he continued.
“... It started to affect me to where it’s like, this is not just a hood situation. This is an everyday situation and we need to address it,” Snoop said. He used his music to suggest taking it one day at a time to rid the world of violence, he added.
T.I. said his own ordeal with gun violence (including being jailed on various weapons charges) was the effect of a cause. His gun ownership was by no means a fashion statement, he insisted. It meant one less gun on the streets that could be used against him.
“I held my best friend in the world in my arms as he took his last breath and had to go home and tell his mama and his daughter and his loved ones why he wasn’t coming home after he left with me,” T.I. reflected.
The pain and grief, mixed with his own inability to cope with circumstances, he said, revealed he never wanted to be in that situation again. His indictment on gun charges was a worst case scenario but it showed him he was so caught up in mourning his friend’s loss, that he was two feet away and could have died too, T.I. told the rapt audience.
“My life had been spared by the lord and I hadn’t acknowledged that ... I had to realize that a gun didn’t save my life. God saved my life,” he stated.
“The country that we live in, no disrespect to any of my forefathers or the politicians that came before, but the country that we live in has made gun violence as American as apple pie,” T.I. said. It existed before he arrived but he’s in the struggle to ensure it’s lessened if not banished by the time he leaves, he said, as the audience broke into applause.
When asked by Rep. Waters if he had a solution, T.I. replied, “If I had a solution, I would not be here. I’d be putting it in effect as we speak.”
He said the closest thing to a solution is everybody should be responsible and held accountable for their own actions. “If we all in this room make a promise to each other and ourselves and we hold one another accountable, I think that is a step in the right direction,” he added.
Gun violence has been the leading cause of death for Black males ages 15-19 since 1969, Dr. Baker said, citing Department of Justice Statistics. Yet, the unfortunate statistic is rarely discussed in the media, he said.
Rep. Waters concurred with T.I., the solution starts within, rather than waiting for someone else to take action. “Everybody takes responsibility. No matter how mad you get, no matter how much you want to retaliate, no matter how much you think somebody deserves to be hurt because they’ve done something to you or somebody else, you’ve got to step back from that and understand that it does not work,” she said.
Rep. Waters noted the U.S. Senate’s failure to vote for a bill that would require background checks for gun ownership. “We need some street heat you all ... If you’re in California, for example, you’re not on probation, you’re not on parole, you can vote,” she encouraged.
She also thanked BET for dealing with gun violence during its weekend extravaganza.
In an interactive moment with the audience, Dr. Baker asked everyone to raise their hands if they had been affected by gun violence. More than 80 percent of those seated raised their hands.
“We are here today to have a conversation about solutions. If you are here in this room today, this is no mistake,” Dr. Baker said, holding up a photo of 15-year-old Hadiya Pendleton. She was gunned down in Chicago, days after performing at President Barack Obama’s second inauguration.
Hayward offered self-improvement as a key solution to the violence plaguing the Black community. “Self-improvement is the basis of community development. If we improve ourselves, we automatically improve our communities,” he said.
The L.A. native shared he once roamed the streets as a detriment to his community, but he changed his life because people in organizations like NFL Hall of Famer Jim Brown’s Amer-I-Can gang intervention program invested in him.
Youth need training in life skills because many are making decisions on impulse, Hayward said. “Sometimes we gotta eliminate the negative. Establish the facts and choose our best option and by eliminating that negative and choosing our best option, we can choose to live. We can choose to make and see another day,” he added.
The process requires a comprehensive violence reduction strategy from the grassroots all the way up to the government. It also requires engaging people in the neighborhood, like those considered a detriment but with the ability to tap into the guns, he argued.
“We’ve got to stand up! I appreciate this panel because folks like to shy away from this discussion in our community but at the end of the day these guns need to get up out our community and we need to govern ourselves,” Hayward stated.
Nicole Ari Parker and husband Boris Kodjoe and Mara Brock Akil and husband Salim Akil launched the seminars at noon by sharing their personal challenges and triumphs toward long love in Hollywood.
TV personality Tanika Ray moderated the panel of brilliant, beautiful couples.
Marriage isn’t just about the physical, said Kodjoe. It’s about the physical, spiritual and mental together, he said.
It’s also about being friends, but wives must avoid the pitfall of becoming their husbands’ best friends in such an emotional way that can sometimes drain the relationship, Ari Parker joined in.
She spoke referring to the difficulty she experienced in caring for their special needs child. “I pulled on him even though he was trying to be the father and be the provider and all these other things, I made him take care of me in a way that I think we have to manage that as well because your husband cares so much about you, and might not understand everything and it can totally, it can make another divide if you’re not careful about taking care of your physical self but being okay to take care of your spiritual self, too, your emotional self,” Ari Parker said.
At the risk of sounding sexist, Akil said it’s also about setting an example. Women do look to their husbands to be leaders of the family and it’s better to lead by example. “Often times, like Boris says, you get up. You take care of yourself, for your health, your spiritual health. You pray. You do all of these things ... If they see daddy, your husband do it, then more than likely the family will do it,” Akil said. “I have to behave and act in a way that is consistent with my household and who I am in the household,” he added.
Brock Akil encouraged young women within earshot to begin the process toward love and marriage now. “Live! Live! Live,” she said. “Go...because when you become a wife and you become a mother, your roll will change and your idea of freedom and going places, it’s not that you’re completely sacrificing it but you can’t roll like you can roll when you’re single and you’re taking care of yourself and you’re seeing the world,” she stated.
Money, sports and rebuilding the village
Paula Madison, partner and CEO of Williams Group Holdings, facilitated the seminar, “Rich Forever: How to Make It, How to Keep It.”
Panelists rapper Master P, Janice Howard, CEO of Act1, and Dr. Dennis Kimbro, author (“The Wealth Choice”) shared knowledge on how to build wealth and sustain it. The key is to educate children on financial literacy early, and show them how to use their assets to gain access to greater wealth.
Beverly Bond, founder of Black Girls Rock!, rapper Lil Mama, actress Holly Robinson Peete, Tricia Rose, Professor of Africana Studies at Brown University, and author and moderator Harriette Cole, discussed Black female empowerment and the legacy of strength and beauty that exists for every Black woman and girl to tap into. The effort for a strengthened and uplifted sisterhood is for each one to teach one, Bond and the panelists encouraged.
Rounding out the sessions of something for everyone, famed boxer Laila Ali and WNBA legend Lisa Leslie spoke with William Rhodes, N.Y. Times sports columnist, about Making Moves Outside the Game.
Ali encouraged the audience to remember, their brand is all about them and what they’d truly want to put their name and backing on, without spreading themselves too thin.
The panel discussion focused on how to successfully brand and market one’s self beyond sports. Branding allows athletes to have a voice, Leslie shared. Remember, branding isn’t just for celebrities, she said.