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November 28, 2014

Response to Ferguson: Systemic Problems Require Systemic Solutions

Ferguson ASSOCIATED PRESS

Decades of segregation and inequality in Ferguson, as well as most American metropolitan areas, have fostered a racial inequality exacerbated by the criminalization of not just poverty, but the criminalization of black and brown bodies. Too many whites are too willing to believe that a black body poses a threat.

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VIDEO: Vy Higginsen Brings 'Mama, I Want to Sing' To A New Generation

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It's no secret that New York radio personality and theater producer Vy Higginsen is on a mission to save today's teens. Not only is Higginsen concerned with educating America's youth, she is also determined to redeem the art and history of Gospel music through her Harlem organization 'Gospel for Teens.'

Each fall, Higginsen, who also serves as the Executive Director of The Mama Foundation for the Arts, recruits teens ranging from the ages of 13 to 19 to join her upbeat Gospel crew. In addition to the programs and many initiatives to formally train aspiring singers, Higginsen and her team are also adamant about developing mechanical skills in each student.



In the midst of a recent Saturday session, the seasoned theater vet noticed that many of her students were soft spoken and appeared self-doubting about where they were raised. Their behavior struck a cord with Higginsen, which led to an exercise featuring each student shouting their name along with the town that they resided in.

"They were mumbling and they were saying it under their breath," she explained during an episode of '60 Minutes' earlier this month. "And I was like, 'this is terrible' [It's like their saying] 'I'm ashamed of who I am and where I come from."

The demonstration was nothing new for Higginsen, who has broken down barriers throughout her career, including becoming the first woman in advertising sales at Ebony magazine and the first black female writer, producer, and director of the Off-Broadway musical 'Mama, I Want to Sing.'

Higginsen's track record has helped to fund 'Gospel for Teens' solely from grants, small donations, and ticket sales from 'Mama, I Want to Sing.' Implementing a non-profit business model for the organization allows the participating teens to focus on their talents and not worry about tuition.

"Any worry, any pain, any problem with your mother, your father, your sister, your brother, the dog, the boyfriend. I want that out now of your consciousness," Higginsen declared to the class later in the '60 Minutes' episode. "That's your baggage; leave the bags outside, because this time is for you."

Check out an exclusive excerpt of 'Mama, I Want to Sing' featuring the students of 'Gospel for Teens.'

PRODUCTION PLAYER! DO NOT DELETE.



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Stars of Broadway

Phylicia Rashad, who warmed millions of TV viewers' hearts in the 1980s as Clair Huxtable on the groundbreaking NBC sitcom 'The Cosby Show,' has taken on a role like none other. Making a triumphant return to Broadway in the spring of 2009, the Tony Award-winning star of plays such as 'A Raisin in the Sun,' 'Gem of the Ocean' and 'Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,' exposed an emotional depth and acting range that is unparalleled. In the Pulitzer prize-winning play 'August: Osage County,' Rashad portrayed Violet Weston, the pill-popping, acid-tongued, no-holds-barred central figure of a dysfunctional clan experiencing the sudden loss of its patriarch.

Stars of Broadway

Hip-hop superstar Sean "Diddy" Combs won rave reviews as Walter Lee Younger in the 2002 revival of the classic play 'A Raisin in the Sun.'

Stars of Broadway

On the big screen, he's best known for voicing the character of Darth Vader in the 'Star Wars' franchise, but Mississippi-born James Earl Jones is an accomplished stage actor. Over his career, he's won seven Tony Awards since his 1969 breakout role in 'The Great White Hope.' Some of his notable performances include Oberon in 'A Midsummer Night's Dream,' and more recently as Big Daddy in the 2008 revival of Tennessee Williams' Pulitzer Prize-winning drama 'Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.' In October of 2010, he returned to the stage in 'Driving Miss Daisy' opposite Vanessa Redgrave.

Stars of Broadway

It takes some serious vocal chops to be the youngest winner of 'American Idol.' Given that's how Jordin Sparks got her start, it would come as no surprise that the 'No Air' singer would nail the role of Nina in the musical about growing up in Washington Heights, 'In the Heights.' Sparks made her Broadway debut late summer of 2010.

Stars of Broadway

After years of toiling on TV shows and films, acclaimed actors Ernie Hudson (of 'Oz' fame) and LaTanya Richardson Jackson (previously seen in 'The Fighting Temptations') made their Broadway debuts in the critically acclaimed revival of the August Wilson play 'Joe Turner's Come And Gone,' which opened at the Belasco Theatre on April 16, 2009. The story is set in a Pittsburgh boarding house circa 1911 and features a colorful cast of characters played by Chad L. Coleman, Roger Robinson, Aunjanue Ellis, Andre Holland, Marsha Stephanie Blake, Arliss Howard, Danai Gurira, Michael Cummings and Amari Rose Leigh.

Stars of Broadway

Fans of Disney's 'High School Musical' franchise headed to Broadway to check out Corbin Bleu's Broadway debut in the Tony Award-winning musical 'In the Heights.' The 21 year-old thespian, who is a native of Brooklyn, New York and trained under Debbie Allen's tutelage, took over the lead role of Usnavi in the spring of 2010.

Stars of Broadway

Hollywood heavyweight Cedric The Entertainer joined Tony Award nominee John Leguizamo and Academy Award nominee Hayley Joel Osment in a November 2008 revival of David Mamet's classic play, 'American Buffalo,' which played a short riun at the Belasco Theatre on Broadway. Following three small-time crooks who wax philosophically about society while conspiring to steal a rare and valuable coin from a neighborhood collector, the Oscar Joyner produced production marked the funnyman's debut on The Great White Way.

Stars of Broadway

'American Idol' Season 1 finalist Tamyra Gray blazed a new trail on Broadway when she revamped the look of lead character Mimi, a drug addicted HIV positive spitfire in the Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award winning musical 'Rent.' It wasn't the first time around the track for the former Georgia pageant queen; she previously starred in the Indian inspired outing, 'Bombay Dreams.'

Stars of Broadway

Patti LaBelle joined the cast of the Tony Award-winning Broadway musical 'Fela!' on Sept. 14, 2010. The Grammy Award-winning diva took over for Lillias White, who originated the Broadway role of the African musical pioneer's mother. The musical's big-name producers, Will and Jada Pinkett-Smith came out to cheer on Patti for her first performance.

Stars of Broadway

Having already criss-crossed the world as a member of the most successful girl group of all-time, Destiny's Child, and appeared on Broadway replacing Toni Braxton as the title character in 'Aida,' in 2003, Michelle Williams took her return to The Great White Way seriously. She first played the lead role of Roxie Hart across the pond in the West End production of 'Chicago' in July of 2009 before shaking it up on Broadway.

Stars of Broadway

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