Archive for April, 2009

Renee and Eric and the New Johnson Products

Renee and Eric and the new Johnson Products

We really needed this good news, given the current, sagging economy: Johnson Products was purchased by an African American owned entity!

Being a part of the Los Angeles Black-owned business community for many years, I have heard the lamentations that the business industries we do have, once they make it, are

Johnson Products Sponsored Soul Train

Johnson Products Sponsored Soul Train

gobbled up and co-opted by others: think sports and where it would be without the African American contribution, think entertainment, especially music, where would it be without us? And even the black hair care products industry which allowed wealth building for generations of black folk, but most of the bigger ones have sold: Johnson, Pro-Line and many others to Wella, L’oreal and Procter & Gamble. What we didn’t sell, Koreans and others took over, selling our nappy hair care back to us.

This week, I rejoiced when I saw a piece on LeBron James who is worth millions and how he fired all of his handlers and hired three young brothers to manager his millions, I rejoiced. Why not give people you trust a shot? How many times have you heard a black elite athlete getting ripped off by so-called pros? These young brothers researched and set about finding the best pros to help them with their mission and so far the industry has been pleasantly surprised.

The second good news, then, this week was the announcement of Johnson Products company being purchased by RCJP Acquisition, led by Eric and Renee Brown who once ran Pro-Line Corporation. Once Alberto Culver purchased Pro-Line some years ago, its founder (and Renee’s father) immediately experienced what Johnson Products’ owner felt: seller’s remorse.

You see, these companies filled the mission of the call to arms that after civil rights, we work for silver rights (a term John Bryant coined). We found that once the laws were changed, the rules changed and without ownership we were still at the proverbial back of the bus.

What Johnson and Pro-Line did by their very existence was grow the black middle class, give opportunities not found other wise, apprentice young college students and employ a whole lot of our people. They funded scholarships, started programs, sponsored TV shows like Soul Train, placed their advertising almost exclusively on black radio and in black newspapers and magazines and in Pro-Line’s case, saved— by purchasing– a struggling Black College, Bishop College.

These companies allowed us to see ourselves “large and in-charge” and dream big. Their physical plants were impressive. They made us stand a little taller with our backs a littler straighter. Plus, they filled the void left by the “other” hair care products designed for straight hair which ruined our hair and left it in a dull and brittle pile in the sink.

You may remember that when Comer Cottrell came through on his book tour, I interviewed him and he talked about his seller’s remorse. There were black hair care companies that rose and fell with the trends–think Jheri Curl, Worlds of Curls and Good Fred. It was good business to take a company he built from an initial $600 investment with a borrowed typewriter to $88 million when he sold it; and Johnson Products, the first African American owned company traded on the New Your Stock Exchange started in 1954 with $500 and was valued at over $100 million at one time.

It is widely known that once sold, Mr. George Johnson tried to buy his company back but was thwarted at every turn. Now that Renee and Eric are running it, he is rejoicing.

So, with the new energy that the presidency of Barack Obama is inspiring, let’s look around and step up to fill the shoes on trails blazed by the generation before. Let’s not sell, let’s buy it back and sustain the next generation and keep this thing going.

Yes, these two are old college friends of mine, but they are consummate professionals and they are heaven-bent on bringing innovation to the JPC brand — something that seems to go away once these companies are sold. The younger generation may not even remember the brands, but stay tuned. You ain’t seen nothing yet!


Looking back…this turn of events predicted my leaving WLAC.  This is a poem written by a program assistant who loved the students as much as I.  It is titled:

A Beautiful Umoja Semester

A dedication written by a poet on behalf of Instructor Person-Lynn

At the start of the Spring Semester, we were all driven and came with goals

To gain all that we could and positively enrich our minds, bodies, and souls
Closed our eyes, tilted our heads back, and reached towards the great heavenly sky

We were ready for the challenge, we were ready for new knowledge,

we were ready to fly!

Pausing as we were taking a deep breath and

entering the classroom for the first time
Instructor, student, and tutor alike, we all wondered

“What sounds this semester would chime?”

The word “spring” signifies new growth

but would education be planted in our minds?

Eager, willing, and curious — we were hoping that

information would be our find

Sailing across the sea they call college,

we encountered many beautiful people and events
We rode both high and low waves of this ocean;

we came to realize what Umoja represents
Throughout the long sixteen-week semester,

we experienced both things we came to love and hate.
We had a full course meal on this one—

we had food overflowing on our plates

Dr. Patricia Banday and Elizabth Evans were the directors,

guiding the program into academic light.

Glen Schenck helped get money and books, while Marty and Ana

made sure the paperwork was right
Leonor, Jack, Alan, and Jaime assessed you

while also doing the basketball tournament event

And everyone pitched in for the college field trips

to which the Umoja students went.

Instructor Isidra Person-Lynn, the first person to greet you on your way in and last person to hug on the way out
So devout, she would go miles for her students,

this is what dedication is all about

Academic blogger by day and secret Facebooker by night,

she keeps in touch

And for this Instructor Person-Lynn, the whole of Umoja Student Body thanks you very much

The beautiful new addition to the Umoja Faculty, Kaci Sewell will teach you how to speak
She sure knows her stuff, now sit up straight in your seat as she teaches you her technique
Perhaps one of the best things about her is her ever-there beautiful, happy,  smile
Always laughing, making sure you make it to her class to make your whole day worthwhile

Professor Tim Russell, Professor Tim Russell, Professor Tim Russell,

where does this poet begin?

He is the only math teacher to actually make you look at a math test,

and feel you can win
Both the resident math instructor and the Plato expert,

he fits perfectly into the Umoja equation
Red bull in hand, he is ready to instruct and tutor anyone in Math regardless of the occasion

About Professor Clare Norris:

she is well-respected,  her work is well known
So intelligent and composed– if you don’t want to work,

then leave her alone.

Such a lovely dedicated teacher- it is all about the words,

the verbs, and the proper citations
so make sure you follow that MLA style handbook and

you won’t have any complications.

Also a new addition, Instructor Li Lei

will make sure to instruct you in all of math

Teaching Math 117 and instructing all her students

towards a higher learning academic path
Smart in her field beyond compare,

her lectures contain her small jokes to make students laugh
However, don’t forget that you need to write a complete sentence

and don’t forget to graph!

Umjoa was always there for you, every step of the way;

offering students all sorts of help
Tutors in the classrooms looking for people to help

so give us a holla or give us a yelp!
You got that beautiful Nigerian, Tosin Williams:

quick to give you a hug while laying down the rules
While Michael Sanchez is there to offer you both

his English and mathematics knowledge tools

The fashionable Brittany Goodwell, smiling and joking,

always ready to give students a hand
Then we’ve got the musically and artistic Joshua B.,

the nice guy who can make himself a one-man-band

The one and only eccentric Raquel Leatherwood,

who will dance in front of you will teaching grammar

opposite Math tutor Christopher Hall,

who can enter the room with absolutely no clamor

Straight from West Africa, the buff A.K.

will beat the math equations into your head if he has to

Earl Hall knows his math as well,

He is as cool as any shade of blue.

Everyone needs to get to their feet for the one and only

LaShonda Johnson who deserves applause

Completely dedicated to the Umoja cause,

she is a college counselor with not one flaw

More than the tutors, more than the counselors,

more than the instructors, it was about the students

All of them from those you saw once a semester

to those who were early and always prudent

Education is not for the weak

so will the academic warriors please all raise and take a look around

Some may have fallen by the wayside,

but now only true survivors and fighters surround

Dark skin rich and brown, you all overcame the struggles life came

with, please stand tall and proud

Defeated any adversaries that said you could not.

You are all kings and queens– now wear your crowns

Tilt your head towards the heavens and thank Him that gave you the

courage and power
to come to school diligently and pass tests. Like a 12, you stand atop

of the hour.
Whatever comes or whatever it may seem, positivity and greatness is

all that your mouths shall scream
Using your internal passions you shall embrace all and any of these

things to accomplish your dreams

“Head held high, eyes looking toward the sun, your feet are walking

on clouds”
Your young roars are loud, wear your crowns; You are all Umoja

semester graduates and you will hold your heads proud!!!

–Umoja–

By Oluwatosin Williams,
Dynamic Umoja Academic Guidance Counseling Assistant
June 8, 2009

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Let’s talk about this magical thing called social networking. Some are meeting and getting married. Others are reuniting. It is a joy to log onto Facebook and see an old friend (someone who I love but would never think to call) adding me.

Read how it worked for us:
No one had seen or heard from my niece’s dad in 30 years. Moving 3000 miles away probably had something to do with that. My former brother-in-law was quirky,unique, and not exactly what the elder women had in mind for my sister. But I am trying hard not to digress.

Fast forward to today. My niece who returned to the East Coast is now 38 with a great husband and three beautiful children. Now a nurse, she began to wonder about certain family traits on her Dad’s side and told her Mom that she was looking for him. Problem is, everyone involved (except me) had common names and now lived somewhere other than New Jersey. I decided to test my Sherlock skills but kept coming up with zilch. He could have moved anywhere by now. I went to Classmates.com and tried to find him through the college where he met my sister. And after leaving that “message in a bottle” eons ago, I forgot all about it.

But three Fridays ago, on a routine check of my email, I saw a note from Classmates titled “Looking for my long lost daughter.” Inside it said “I am looking for my daughter who I miss so, so much.” Yep, it was my brother-in-law. He wrote that he had always wanted to find her, but it wasn’t until he finally bought a computer that he felt his search was more possible. And now, sending him back my phone number, I thought, “Well, you found her!”

He had used my nickname, and asked how many Isidra Persons could there be? If this was me, would I please let him know where his daughter was? I was so excited I called my sister and giddy, we called my niece. She was ecstatic, but at that point all we could do was wait because Classmates does not give your info out…you have to log on to get your messages. We did not have to wait long–the very next day I heard this familiar voice over the phone yelling “Family!” He was so excited he could barely contain himself. I then called my niece, who was shopping in a mall with her children, and connected the two. I was blessed to witness the excited awkwardness the two exuded as they reconnected.

The next Sunday, a Skype message popped up on my laptop. My niece has packed up her entire family and driven the four hours to visit her dad and her now six siblings, which she did not factor into her quest. Peering through the laptop webcam, for the first time in 30 years, I saw my brother-in-law and also his grown and growing children. They looked like variations of my niece. A talented group, the girls broke into three-part harmony. They were really good! And there was my niece who had basically been raised almost as an only child since her brother and sister out here were so much younger. Now she was surrounded by loving siblings and a doting father. I asked them to take a group picture, which they did and my niece emailed it to me. So, Classmates.com, a camera cell phone, a laptop and some patience all made this reunion possible. I wish I could show it to you!

One good thing about Facebook, is no matter how remarkable you think your life is, you are constantly reminded how remarkable everybody else’s is too: this one is going to Paris, that one is hanging out at the White House, the other is getting back in her groove while that one has a new baby or grandchild. The running status updates kind of remind me of the days back in Harlem when there were always these people standing on a soap box just talking to the world. It didn’t much matter if passersby listened, they just had to have their say.

No Meat, No Sugar
There’s this young mirror of my former self. She is working hard to set the world on fire. I hope hers is bigger than the bonfire I was able to set. She invited me to a gathering at her home, a sort of workshop in which she showed a clip form the movie “Eating.” Well, after seeing that, I have not eaten fowl or red meat. And I threw in sugar for good measure. But when I
stopped eating meat I started craving cheese and have been killing string cheese, cream cheese, cheddar, you name it. It might be a need for calcium. This can’t be good. Today I hope to eat raw and fresh and JUICE everything that doesn’t move.


When You Would Defend Them to the Death…

As you may know I teach developmental English to college freshmen. I love my students. They are a challenge. They are physically beautiful and full of hope. They feel like since they graduated high school they must be educated. But, after 12 years, their first step into college lands them in my lap. In 16 weeks, I am expected to whip their writing into shape for their collegiate studies. So all of us who teach in their program push, prod, cajole, threaten, reward, tutor and do whatever we can to prepare them for the next level, including accepting late work when they have a good excuse.

Enter the nicest student you ever wanted to meet. A sweet-faced, mid 20’s single mother who works all night at a full time gig. We all reach out to her because she is just that nice and you can tell she needs us. Last semester she really tried, but this semester, she was often disheveled, distracted and “off.”

This past Monday, another student sadly told me that my student would miss the midterm because her sister had been hit by a car. I called The Sweet One and left a reassuring message on her cell. The next afternoon (Tuesday) she called me while I was on the road and told me that her sister had died. We in our collegiate community sprang into action, discussing how we could raise funds, send flowers. I made a sympathy card for all the students to sign. When I brought the card in the next morning, I was explaining our mission to my first class when a student told me “Hey! That’s my cousin.” Alarmed, she ran outside to call her Mom. Upon returning, what she said next pierced my side and I bled throughout the day: “My Mom said she just saw [the girl who was deceased] AND SHE WAS FINE.”

Still giving “The Sweet One” the benefit of the doubt, I called her number to see why anyone would accuse her of lying about something so serious. An Aunt answered the phone in a major funk. When I asked her about the funeral arrangements she snapped “WHAT funeral arrangements?”

Just then, my morning student (the cousin) came in flanked by two of “The Sweet One’s” sisters. They were adamant that no one had died. They whipped out a cellphone, called my now souring student and jammed her for telling me their other sister had been killed. At first Sweetness denied it, but when they said “Stop lying! We have your teacher right here!” and then shoved the phone at me, all she could say was “I am sorry, but I lied.”

She lied. She lied. She lied and said her sister had been hit by a car and the next day called to say she had passed. Just to get out of the midterm, she lied. Because she has insisted on coming to school when I told her to take all the time she needed, I was about to hold her up as an example of students who persevered in the face of great personal tragedy. But all that was a lie.

Of course, Sweetness did not show up. Because some students were besides themselves with grief, I began explaining to the class, that it was all a lie. Incredulously, they did not want to believe me until I told them that she confessed. To me. They had been had, too.

I am not proud of telling you this next part, but, triggered by their reaction, I lost it. Through hot tears, I scolded her innocent classmates that I was disappointed. And hurt. I used the opportunity to preach to them the art of negotiation, and how we all fall behind but truth is always best. I scolded the students who had not yet taken the midterm who did not even bother to come and arrange something with me; about not taking no for an answer, and going up the ladder until you get satisfaction. About what my husband always says “stay on top of your work or it will stay on top of you.”

My innocents squirmed in their seats. By that time,the chair of the program made her way in and I was happy for the diversion. I started the monitor so they could get into the next part of the lesson and went outside to brief her.

Life went on but I guess you can tell I am still “bummed” about the whole thing. What needs to happen next is still up in the air. By the end of Spring Break, I need to have a plan. Your thoughts?