Raising Him Alone: An Interview with David Miller
By Vanessa Werts
Across America, in the inner-city and in suburbia, single mothers struggle with raising boys alone. This issue has clearly emerged as one of the most consequential trends facing society today. And David Miller, co-author of the book, Raising Him Alone, is on a personal mission, standing watch, doing his part to support single mothers – Black single mothers in particular – and the positive development of Black males.
During my interview with Miller at the 2010 National Congressional Black Caucus Book Pavilion, his passion was contagious. Miller’s vision is for the well being of everyone involved in the struggle from the son to the mother or caregiver to the absent-father alike. Therefore, it is only natural that he would be co-founder of the Raising Him Alone Campaign, a national movement that executes the foundational principles he and co-author Matthew P. Stevens address in their book [Raising Him Alone].
Single mother parenting was long thought to be primarily an African-American problem, stemming from poverty and poor education. However over the last decade, it has become an epidemic crossing both racial and class lines. “We started the campaign to really focus on Black and Latina moms,” says Miller. “But we get a tremendous amount of calls from White mothers. The issue is beyond an epidemic.”
Miller shared with me insights about the book, the campaign, and the community activities and resources dedicated to inspire and inform the millions of single mothers who struggle daily with the challenges of raising boys.
The David Miller Interview
BMIA: What is the Raising Him Alone campaign about?
D. Miller: The campaign is a movement to provide greater access to resources for single mothers and grandmothers throughout this country.
BMIA: Where does your passion for this movement or your connection to this issue come from?
D. Miller: When I was a freshman in college, my best friend was shot and killed standing next to me and I was 19-years-old. I was at Morgan, he was at Morehouse; some guys tried to rob us…they shot my friend in the back and he died in my arms. And since then I’ve dedicated my life to really improving the lives of children and families in this country. And so, I’m real clear that we’ve got to do this work in our communities, or else we’re not going to make it.
BMIA: When does the campaign kick-off?
D. Miller: The campaign kicked-off in January 2009. We did a major launch in two cities: Baltimore and Newark, New Jersey. I invited some dynamic mothers who’ve raised sons to come and help me kick it off. Common’s [rapper, actor] mother, Dr. Mahalia Hines; Mos Def’s [rapper, actor] mother, Sheron Smith; and Talib Kweli’s [rapper, activist] mother, Dr. Brenda Greene. I brought them on-board to help me launch the two cities, and now we’ve expanded to Chicago and Philadelphia. These are our four main cities. But we’re working in communities across this country really doing some very interesting viable Web-based things like using Facebook to create discussion groups with moms. We’re creating a tremendous movement around serious parenting.
BMIA: What has been the response to campaign?
D. Miller: The response has been absolutely overwhelming. We average about forty phone calls and E-mails a week from mothers who are in some of the roughest parts of say, maybe Memphis, DC, or Newark, New Jersey, to moms that have MBA degrees, PhD degrees from excellent colleges and universities, who got divorced and for whatever reason, dad hasn’t stepped up. And so it’s been an amazing cross-section of parents from different socioeconomic backgrounds.
BMIA: Have you in any way included fathers in the campaign?
D. Miller: Yes. Historically, my background is I’ve written two other books about responsible fatherhood. And so, year one was really to launch the campaign and raise money. Year two has really been focused on launching the largest responsible fatherhood Web site you’ll find in this country which we’re gonna try to connect it with President Obama’s Responsible Fatherhood Initiative. I was in Washington three weeks ago speaking to all of the federal grantees that received responsible fatherhood money. The Web site is going to be for any dad: married dads, divorced dads, military; dads that are incarcerated, to really talk about what does it mean to be an exceptional father. And so dads are an integral part of the campaign.
BMIA: What type of information can single mothers expect from the book, Raising Him Alone?
D. Miller: In the book, we kind of roll out a blueprint of how to raise a son, as well as things like mentoring. Susan Taylor has a national initiative; Michael Baisden has a national initiative on mentoring. The reality is in all those initiatives, we’ve not gotten enough black and brown men to sign up and honor their commitment. So one of the things we talk about is, while we’re trying to find a mentor for the boy, there’s things mom has to do in the home. For example, number one is the boy can never be the man of the house. That’s a mistake that I think mothers make, particularly as boys get to adolescence. Moms say you’re the man of the house because your father is not here. And what happens with a lot of boys is they think because dad’s not here I need to step up and bring money in. So a lot of boys will start steeling cars, selling drugs… You start to see a lot of pathologies exist because mom has told this 13-year-old that he’s man of the house. So a lot of what we’re trying to do is really work with community-based organizations and work with schools. We’ve created an awesome learning community so mothers can go to our Web site, sign up and they can receive free text messages, free voicemail message about being a good parent…about financial literacy tips. We send out an e-mail blast that goes out to about 11,000 mothers and grandmothers across the country. We’ve created a Facebook group, Single Mothers Raising Boys, with over 1,000 mothers connected to that. The goal is also connecting mothers to resources, things like mental health; things like credit repair; a lot of stuff on co-parenting. I mean when you look at the divorce rates in our community, we’re in trouble. We’re in serious trouble.
BMIA: Have you had any testimonials on the impact of the work you’re doing?
D. Miller: We’ve had some amazing testimonials. I’ll start with Ms. Mildred, a 74-year-old great-grandmother living in the projects in the West Ward in Newark, raising five boys by herself… hypertension and diabetes. When we went to go interview Ms Mildred, we were able to stop her from getting evicted from her apartment. We were able to connect her to free mental health services for both herself and for those boys. Even though the boys are all under 12-years-old, you started to really see some behavioral challenges with those boys. We can document many of the families that we’ve reached as well as the dads that we’ve reached. And that’s one of the reasons why we decided to create the fatherhood Web site. We met a brother in Michigan whose children lived in Atlanta, Georgia and we were able to re-connect him with his children. Because he was a long distance dad, we were able to work with him and work with the mom to develop some strategies. One of the first things we did was recommend that the dad buy a cell phone and mail it to the boy so the boy could call his dad. But we had to go through the mom to help her work through her own issues because they didn’t get married to say, this is something that can happen. And so, even being able to work through something as simple as communication with the father and son is another example.
The Raising Him Alone Campaign seeks to create a larger community dialogue around the importance of supporting single mothers raising boys. Through partnerships with a host of organizations, they are mobilizing single mothers and absent-fathers to save our future, particularly our boys.
The siren is blaring. The call to engage the issues in raising healthy, positive boys demands our attention. What price will society ultimately play if this trend continues? The clock is ticking.
To learn more about Raising Him Alone, the book, and the work co-founders, David Miller and Matthew P. Stevens are doing with the Raising Him Alone Campaign, visit www.RaisingHimAlone.com.
- BMIA.com Reporter Vanessa Werts and David Miller
David C. Miller, M.Ed. is the co-founder and Chief Visionary Officer of the Urban Leadership Institute, LLC, (www.urbanyouth.org) a social enterprise that focuses on developing positive youth development strategies. ULI provides strategic planning, professional development, positive youth development concepts and crisis management services.
Thank you Lee McDonald from The Renaissance Group (TRG) for making this interview possible.
Mildred Muhammad Speaks
Former Wife of DC Sniper Breaks Her Silence About Domestic Violence
By Gary Johnson, Founder/Publisher – Black Men In America.com
Mildred D. Muhammad is the ex-wife of John Allen Muhammad – the convicted and recently executed DC sniper who terrorized the Washington DC metropolitan area in late 2002. After several years of silence, Mildred decided to speak openly about her day-to-day experiences as a survivor of domestic violence and how it affected her three children.
I had seen Mildred’s interviews on CNN and FOX News. Some of the questions appeared to be anything but “fair and balanced” and the interviews were short. There wasn’t enough time for Mildred to adequately address the questions.
I decided to reach out to Mildred to give her an opportunity to tell her story uninterrupted.
Mildred agreed to an unscripted and unrehearsed interview. I assigned this task to Janice Wilson and off we went to tape the interview at Mildred’s office a few weeks ago (December 2009). We divided the interview into six parts. Part One of the interview is listed below.
As you watch and listen to Mildred’s story you will learn that Mildred did not seek the limelight. She was thrust into the spotlight because her former husband was John Allen Muhammad. Mildred new book, “Scared Silent,” details her her day-to-day experiences as a survivor of domestic violence and how it affected her three children. A lot has been said about Mildred and why she wrote this book. Mildred has dedicated her life to helping survivors of domestic violence and abuse. I believe in telling her story, she is doing the work of others. Don’t take my word for it, watch and listen for yourself.
Mildred Muhammad and Janice Wilson
Mildred has agreed to write a monthly column on surviving domestic violence and abuse. You can read her column and buy her book on the main web site at www.blackmeninamerica.com/abuse.htm.
Any thoughts about Mildred and her story? Click on the links below to watch Janice Wilson’s exclusive six part interview with Mildred Muhammad.
Mildred Muhammad Speaks – The Exclusive Six Part Interview on Black Men In America.com
Part 1 of 6: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4RvvYvLKaCw
Part 2 of 6: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U0Qep8902Q4
Part 3 of 6: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qhz_gP1nCtU
Part 4 of 6: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AxCOVTPuZUY
Part 5 of 6: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WqGWF9J3B-4
Part 6 of 6: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4DLOQI_FibQ
Paul Woodring’s Inventions
What inspired you to write Inventions?
Race continues to be just below the surface in all aspects of American life. I wanted to take my experience in corporate America and express the challenges that blacks face as they try to navigate the subtle racism that still pervades our country, especially in the work place. I wanted to write a novel that provides a blueprint for increasing African American wealth, as well as encourage all to understand our different perspectives of the American experience.
What are the book’s themes or messages?
There are two major themes in the book. The first theme is the African American experience in this country as it developed in the years before the civil rights movement as well as in the 1960s and 1970s following the height of the movement. I also wanted to pursue the experience of African Americans in the white business world that started to open up for some after the civil rights movement. As part of this, I wanted to inspire young African Americans to pursue entrepreneurship as a means of pursuing wealth, and I also wanted to give non-African Americans a look at these experiences through the lens of the African American, a view that most non-African Americans have not seen.
What message would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs?
I feel strongly that young people should pursue the best education they can afford, pursue a profession or craft through experience in that field, then go out on their own and build their own business. I believe this is particularly pertinent to African Americans who need to begin to build wealth they can pass on to subsequent generations. My view is the best way to do this is through creating their own businesses. I also believe that corporate careers and corporations no longer provide the types of jobs and security that can support the American middle class. In today’s global economy, the best future is through creation of your own business.
Are there any takeaways as it relates to the race dialog that has been raised by the Democratic primary?
The democratic nomination process has opened up the dialog about race. With a black man running for the nomination, this was inevitable. Like Barack Obama, I believe there is still much that we can all learn about each other. I hope my book adds to this understanding.
Inventions tells the story of a young man who, like you, became a successful entrepreneur. Is the novel autobiographical in any sense?
You always draw upon experiences in writing. I drew upon many of my childhood experiences in the novel, as well as experiences of others that I observed. Certainly, as an African American, I drew upon life and business experiences. I also drew upon my experience in technology and business in creating the story.
What can you tell us about Robbie’s love interests in the book?
Like most of us, Robbie has flaws. One of Robbie’s major struggles is the battle between his rational self and his emotional self. His rational self is responsible for his professional success and it is difficult for him to sort through his relationship with the women in his life as he distrusts his emotional self. The women in his life offer different perspectives and degrees as it relates to logic and emotion. His challenge is to determine what will make him a more complete person.
Who are your favorite authors, and why do you admire their work?
There are many authors I like, both fiction and non-fiction. It’s hard for me to pick one or two. My interests range from Milton, to Thomas Hardy, to Sinclair Lewis, to contemporary authors such as James Patterson and Richard North Patterson. In most instances, I like the structure of the older authors, the output of James Patterson and the research reflected in Richard North Patterson’s work.
Can you describe your writing process for our readers?
I awake around 4:30 a.m. each day and work out. Around 6 a.m., I read the major news of the day on the Internet. I start my writing process around 7 a.m. I usually outline my book, and then spend five to six hours writing, then revising and refining the outline, and then continuing to write. After the first draft, I go back and assure the plot holds together and sometimes incorporate new passages. I don’t write every day, but when I do, I usually can crank out as much as twenty pages in a session.
What will your next book be about?
My next novel is about global warming and how nature is self-correcting in protecting itself. It is a science fiction/political drama that offers one solution to the challenges we face in protecting our environment.
Click here to learn more about Paul L. Woodring.
Hardcover: 400 pages
Publisher: Arbor Books (September 3, 2007)
Product Dimensions: 8.6 x 5.6 x 1 inches
Shipping Weight: 4.8 ounces
Many of you were introduced to Wilmer “Wil” Cooksey, Jr., through our exclusive interview with him in 2003. Mr. Cooksey was named manager of the world’s only Corvette plant in February of 1993. As a lifelong fan of the car, it was a dream job come true. Last year, Wilmer Cooksey, Jr. was inducted into the Corvette Hall of Fame.
Born in Fort Worth, Texas, Mr. Cooksey received a Bachelor of Science degree in electrical engineering from Tennessee State University in 1965. He earned a Master’s degree in industrial engineering from the University of Toledo in 1972 and completed post graduate work in mechanical engineering at Michigan State University.
A Distinguished Graduate of the Officer’s Training School, Cooksey served as an executive officer in the U.S. Army Artillery, 1st Lieutenant. His last assignment was a year in Vietnam. For his efforts while in Vietnam, he was awarded the bronze medal.
Mr. Cooksey’s General Motors career is the epitome of achievement beginning with his first job as an assistant professor in industrial engineering at GMI in Flint, Michigan to his current position.
Mr. Cooksey’s accomplishments are long and historic. In 1997 Cooksey received the “Black Engineer of the Year President’s Award.” Also in 1997, Austin Peay University named him “Achiever of the Year” in their Focus Program. He also received a Presidential Citation from the National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education in recognition of exemplary experience that honors Tennessee State University. Dollars & Sense Magazine honored Cooksey in their 1998 “Salute to America’s Best & Brightest Business and Professional Men and Women.” Cooksey is featured on the cover of African Americans on Wheels magazine as they named the Corvette the “Best Urban Car of the Year.” He has been honored as an Outstanding Graduate of Tennessee State and named a “Black Achiever in the Industry” by the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
Here is our original interview with Mr. Cooksey. That interview was conducted by Gary A. Johnson in 2003.
Wilmer Cooksey, Jr.: The Man Behind The Corvette
BMIA.com: How important of a factor was education in your accomplishments?
Education has been critical to my success. In the 1950’s and 60’s you couldn’t expect or dream about opportunities if you didn’t further your education. The same holds true today. Growing up I saw so many people who were not given the professional opportunities available because of a lack of education. My mother taught my siblings as well as myself the importance of education. In fact, all eight of us went to college. An education is something no one can ever take away from you.
BMIA.com: You’re involved in a lot of community service work. Were you taught as a child to be a good citizen or is this something that you learned later in life in the work world?
Growing up in a lower-income, blue-collar family in Texas, we depended on services to help us out during certain times. Even though my mom worked full-time in a hospital, money was very tight. There were quite a few times when services would bring food or Christmas presents to the house for us kids.
Now I am in a position to return the favor and help others. Supporting my community through the United Way and educational institutions, like Tennessee State University (TSU), are very important to our workplace and to me.
BMIA.com: Who influenced you the most?
Wil Cooksey: My mother always had her sights set on earning a college education. However, she was burdened by taking care of our family and working full-time. She took night courses and always kept trying. She was absolutely delighted when I as well as my siblings earned our college degrees. It was her focus and determination that influenced me the most growing up.
My wife, Dr. Elizabeth Cooksey, has also been a great influence in my life. We met while we were in college at TSU. It was with her guidance and example that I saw the importance of getting a great education as well as having a good social life. She’s been a guiding light ever since. This year we’ll celebrate our 40th wedding anniversary.
BMIA.com: What’s your position on Affirmative Action in the workplace?
Wil Cooksey: Affirmative Action is absolutely necessary. I believe that organizations are aware of the importance of diversity. However, many do not have the action steps behind it to support creating a diverse workforce. Unfortunately, you are not going to get the right mix of people automatically.
In today’s competitive market it is very difficult to recruit the best and brightest. It takes a good recruiting program to attract the talent and diversity that companies need to be successful. It requires mentoring, training and hiring practices that bring in people who are going to continue to grow and challenge traditional thought.
BMIA.com: Based on your experiences, how does someone fight racism and sexism in America?
Wil Cooksey: The most important way to fight racism or sexism is not to feed or perpetuate it. You cannot win if you use racism to fight racism. Every individual has to walk the talk and set the example of how you as an individual want to be treated.
Education is the key. I believe that ignorance is the basis for most of the racism and sexism that we see in our society. We will all have a greater understanding of one another if we support educational programs and opportunities for all different kinds of people.
BMIA.com: What was your earliest or most vivid recollection of being “different?”
Wil Cooksey: I never really realized that I was different until I started wanting to go to the movies with my friends. Not only was I black and had to sit in the upper balcony but I was also tall. In fact I was so tall for my age that I had to carry my birth certificate with me so the movie attendants would believe that I was 10 years old. Otherwise, I would have had to pay more than 10 cents to see some of the greatest westerns ever made.
It is at that age that I realized the inequities between the races. By working and being surrounded by all types of people, I quickly learned that if I was going to be successful you have to have a better understanding of all people.
BMIA.com: What would you say has been your biggest success to date? (Personal and/or business).
Wil Cooksey: My entire career I have focused on becoming the plant manager of the world’s greatest sports car, the Chevrolet Corvette. The success that the car and the plant have had – winning more than 55 industry awards – in the past 5 years and launching the brand new Cadillac XLR means a great deal to me. It has taken the teamwork and focus of everyone at Bowling Green Assembly.
Personally, my greatest success is being happily married to my wife for forty years. We’ve been together through degrees, moves, wars, children and careers. I am very proud of her and her accomplishments. Most recently she earned her doctorate in secondary education. It is with her unending support that I am most successful.
BMIA.com: Did you have any mentors growing up?
Wil Cooksey: When I first hired into General Motors your mentors were people you didn’t even know. They worked behind the scenes making sure that you were given opportunities that you would traditionally be looked over for. I began my career as a professor at GMI, now Kettering University, and teaching statistics. However, my goal was to get back into production management and to become a plant manager. At that time GM’s Chairman of the Board was Dick Terrell. It was as a faculty member that I met Mr. Terrell. The board used to come and have lunches with the faculty quite frequently. He took an interest in my career and helped me transition to a career in manufacturing where I eventually became a plant manager. Little did I know that he was pushing my career from behind the scenes.
Now I serve as a mentor to many students at TSU and I can proudly look at the careers of employees who have grown up through my ranks. It is my pleasure and greatest achievement to help mentor those who have ambition, talent and a drive to succeed.
BMIA.com: What makes the Corvette so special?
Wil Cooksey: There is no one thing that makes Corvettes so special. I could talk about all the specific reasons for hours.
Corvettes have to be in your blood. When I lived in Atlanta I decided that it would be for the best to sell my Corvettes since I had so many different interests. It didn’t take long before a sense of loneliness and emptiness set in deep inside me. Corvettes take a place in your life whether you are driving, washing or showing them. Very quickly I went to Tom Juniper Chevrolet because I was having Corvette withdrawal. He let me take a two-toned white and silver ’82 home right off the lot. I was happy once again. Since that day I have never been without a Corvette.
Basically Corvettes end up being members of your family. It doesn’t matter the year or body style, they are all special. You depend on them and they take car of you.
BMIA.com: Under your leadership, Corvette has won a number of prestigious awards. What did you do to re-establish the Vette and win these awards?
Wil Cooksey: Bowling Green Assembly has been very successful due to entire team working together to achieve one common goal. And, that is to be the best assembly plant in the world. Our organization had to improve its productivity, performance and quality in order to be more competitive. It took the partnership of the local UAW to take some bold steps and training of the entire workforce. We focused on safety and quality.
We also created enthusiasm by listening closely to our customers. We started to use customer feedback from JD Power, Corvette shows and other mechanisms to solve quality problems. It took teams of engineers, management and UAW members working together to get our quality where it is today. We have learned that if you develop close relationships and listen to your customers you will be successful.
BMIA.com: How important is diversity in today’s workplace?
Wil Cooksey: Diversity is essential. In fact it’s mandatory if you are going to be successful. Our customers are diverse just as the people would build our products are diverse. Companies today will not meet the needs of their customer base if they don’t have the same diversity in the workplace.
There’s strength in diversity, which means there is more than one way to always look at something. As a leader, if you have a diverse organization there is a greater probability that you will make the best decisions for the entire workforce.
BMIA.com: As you climbed the corporate ladder was it difficult to find a happy balance between work and family?
Wil Cooksey: Unfortunately, you sacrifice a little bit of your time. However, you have to take on the challenge to support your career as well as your family. I didn’t get to go to all of my son’s track meets or my daughter’s band activities as they were growing up, but I did go to a majority of them.
It has helped that my wife is a professor and has a demanding schedule as well. It is important that we both remain flexible and know one another’s schedule.
BMIA.com: You are a trailblazer. What advise would you give to someone who wanted to make a career in corporate America?
Wil Cooksey: Here’s the advice that I would give any young professional wanting to make a career in corporate America:
– It is important to have an excellent education. Excel in your studies and take educational opportunities such as internships and work programs that will give you professional experience in your field.
– As a student, make sure that you attract company representatives that can give you good advice and take on a mentorship role. As a student or young professional, you are going to have to help navigating your career.
– If you are going to be successful it is imperative that you have strong people skills. Essentially, all people want to do the right thing. When entering a new organization you need to be part of the team and not come in a threatening manner.
– Always show initiative. Remember, it is deeds not words that get the job done. You have to be known for getting the job done successfully.
– Finally, no matter what the job is remember to always do your best. Never let anyone see your displeasure with a certain job or let them see you sweat. Go into each job to make the most of it. If you always do your best, no one including yourself, will ever be able to question your integrity.
BMIA.com: What’s next for Corvette?
Wil Cooksey: We’re very excited about the future of Corvette both with the 2004 model and the upcoming C6. It has been a great pleasure to be involved and contribute to three generations of Corvettes.
BMIA.com: What’s next for Wil Cooksey?
Wil Cooksey: It’s my goal to have a pleasant and enjoyable end of my career. The most rewarding thing is to see the people’s lives that I’ve touched as they go on ahead and achieve great things. There’s never a dull moment in my life. I am always ready for the next challenge.
BMIA.com: Is there anything you’d like to share with our readers that I didn’t ask?
Wil Cooksey: People are your greatest resource. It’s amazing what you can achieve when everyone works together. You’re greatest strength is those who surround and support you.
The Many Talents of Darrin Henson
By Vanessa Werts
Exclusive To Black Men In America.com
Remember the adage: jack of all trades, master of none? Well sometimes it doesn’t apply. Occasionally a person comes along with an unrelenting determination to do it all. Award winning choreographer, actor, producer, and director, Darrin DeWitt Henson is not only mastering his craft, he’s taking the entertainment industry by storm.
In an unforgiving business where you’re only as hot as your latest project, Henson is proving that he has staying power. Best known for his role as Lem, a reformed thug on the hit Television series Soul Food; and most recently for his leading role in the box office hit Stomp the Yard. Other motion pictures to Henson’s credit include the HBO Film Life Support, and The Salon. His repertoire also boasts the musical stage play Fabric of A Man, and his directing debut, Violations, starring Malik Yoba and Cynda Williams.
A true renaissance man, Henson continues his momentum with four new projects scheduled for release later this year. Sounds like a man too busy for much else, right? Wrong. Henson’s love of music and dance has set him on yet another journey. He is currently touring cities throughout the country with his seminars and workshops, Darrin’s Dance Grooves Seminars, teaching both children and adults the importance of exercise and good health. Henson is also promoting his second DVD, Darrin’s Dance Grooves 2.
When Henson’s tour brought him to the Washington D.C. area, BMIA had the opportunity to sit down with him for a most intriguing interview. During an hour long lunch at a D.C. suburb restaurant, Henson shared his approach to achieving and maintaining a healthy lifestyle, and details of his upcoming projects.
To my pleasure, Henson was incredibly genuine, personable, and full of wisdom.
BMIA: Tell me about your seminars and workshops.
Henson: We have two workshops: public and private. Anyone can attend a public workshop…they fill up pretty fast…we work with up to 75 people at the same time. We also do workshops for groups, where a group can have me come in to conduct a workshop, and it’s not open to the public. Our private sessions are for small groups [up to 10] or one-on-one where we focus on them and work with them individually. We find out what their goals are…what they want to do…then we design a plan to help them get there.
BMIA: Do private workshops include help with dieting?
Henson: Loosing weight is all a state of mind…it’s about conditioning the mind. We don’t call them diets we call them ‘livets’ because most of the time when people are dieting that’s exactly how they feel, so we want to create an infrastructure and base for people in their lives, to create a mental, physical, eating, ah…pattern for them to feel good about. We want them to have a feel good relationship with themselves. So we call them livets. So we use the taste, touch, and smell sensory system…and feeling system, to work for the actual person. If you eat something and it tastes good then we’re gonna construct it and teach you how to eat it where it actually supports your taste buds; exercise where you start to desire more of it opposed to less of it in the way that you exercise. So this is what’s important about how we approach our way of moving forward into our new selves.
BMIA: When you have a private workshop, do you tailor the program to meet each individuals needs?
Henson: Absolutely. What we do is, we find out how the person moves, what they’re used to doing, what their abilities are…and I have A, B & C routines; I have a beginners routine, I have a middle stage routine, and then I have an advanced routine depending on the particular individual. If there’s a person who wants to lose weight and dance, what I do is I sit down with them and go over a number of different exercises to see what level of intensity they’re at. I have them exercise before the actual dance class, and then we start the dance class and I construct moves that go along with their ability. And what I have them do is…I have them do it three times a week for at least one hour. So it’s an aerobic activity as well as a fun activity. Everybody loves hearing music, everybody loves some form of dancing whether it’s line-dancing that you would. You do the Cupid Shuffle for an hour, you’re moving to different songs like the Cupid Shuffle or the Cha Cha Slide, Electric Slide; these are all theme dances that you do which deal with health, fitness, and exercise. And after an hour of sliding you’re working your thighs, you’re working your abs, you’re working your arms…you move everything. Many different things are constructed for them.
BMIA: What age group do you work with in your dance workshops?
Henson: The demographics are ages 5-30.
BMIA: What brings you to the DC area?
Henson: I’ve been teaching in the local schools. Yesterday, I taught at Thomas G. Pullen school [in Maryland]; today I’m doing a dance school…and basically what I’m trying to do is bring an awareness to people’s minds and bodies about goals. In other words, if you set a goal, then that means that you have to constructively think about what your goal is, and you have to make decisions daily according to what your goal is. If there’s something that you’re gonna do, eat, or think that doesn’t support your final goal then you have to change your way of thinking…you see? So if you say you want to loose thirty pounds, but eating a certain type of food doesn’t support loosing that thirty pounds then you’ve got to change what you order. If you know going to a place promotes loosing more energy opposed to gaining energy and awareness, maybe you should go to a different place. Maybe what you watch on television, what you read…if it does not support that final goal then you have to change it…it’s about reaching that final goal. So sometimes we have to ‘think about’ what we’re thinking about.
BMIA: It sounds like you work with kids a lot. What drives you to work with the youth?
Henson: Pure spirits. I think that you have to spend less time being, ah…I just think working with children is a lot easier; they’re a lot more unaffected than adults. You have to spend a lot more time reconditioning an adults mind than a child. And if you give them the proper information they’ll use it. It’s kind of like, I look at children and watch them play their PS2 [Play Station 2] games or PS3 [Play Station 3] games; they just pick up and start playing. Next thing you know they know how to play that game. So you know dealing with a child’s mind is a whole lot easier…they’re much faster learners than adults are, because adults start to deal with fear. Children aren’t afraid of anything.
BMIA: Do you find that the kids are engaged when you’re there; are they hanging on your every word?
Henson: Absolutely. What happens is you’re a person walking in there who’s known for his dance ability…you know, television series Soul Food of course…hit movie Stomp the Yard, you have a lot of influence over children and what they do. So I look at it as you know, they listen to certain radio stations and hear certain music, watch certain television programs, but I’m in the flesh with them. So if I can shake their hands and inspire them then I’m ah, you know…not infecting them, I’m affecting them. So you know, that’s how I like to look at it. So I like to, at any available time participate in that gathering of the minds. It’s powerful in an hour with them. What you have is the children start changing their parent’s minds about things. The child says mommy I don’t want to go to the movies, I want to go to dance class. The next thing, the parents find after watching the dance class for an hour they say that’s fun I want to do that. And then you’ve created a parents class. You know I’ve done so many workshops for so long, so now we’re creating parent classes because so many parents bring their kids to the workshop and they come there from nine to five you know, when we do the big ones [workshops]. And so parents are like…we want to take classes. So we created a three hour workshop for parents now. That’s what Darrin’s Dance Grooves Part 2 is constructed for…it’s to do it in the privacy of your own home but with your family. And the DVD is created where you can see both back and front of the instruction now. And it’s broken down a whole lot slower…and I just think it’s a lot more fun than the first one. It was great to see Britney Spears, it was fun to see N-SYNC in the first one, but right now we are living in a reality based world. And reality means that it’s about what’s real to you. It’s not about what Justin [Timberlake] is doing, it’s not about what Beyonce’s doing…it’s about what you’re doing. You can take the influences of Beyonce…you can take the influences Mya, you can take the influences of Justin, of Omarion, the influences of Chris Brown, and do it [dance] in your own home.
BMIA: Do people stop you on the street wanting to show you their moves, or what they’ve learned from the video?
Henson: We have tons of videos on Youtube, people imitating the moves…and they’re on Youtube and people are doing the dances and it’s great. And I’m really happy about that because like I said, we’re affecting people, not infecting them. And if it is infectious, then it’s infectious in a good way. Because it’s changing people’s lives, and I’m very proud of that…I’m proud of that. And you know, Darrin’s Dance Grooves 2 is still an unknown DVD, literally…it’s an unknown DVD because although we have a commercial for it, it’s an internet commercial. We haven’t expanded to do a, ah…you know we have yet to do a national or international commercial like the first one. Basically, the first one was a great DVD that I had created…and pitched the idea… it was a wonderful small company, they put a lot behind it…it took about 2 million dollars to advertise, you know; that’s a whole lot of money. If we had a million of that to advertise right now, just to put it on the commercial then we’d do it and it would be as big. You know we sold 4 million copies the first time. I sold about a hundred thousand copies of the second one…direct sales on my Web site. But you know we’re looking to expand. You know those are great numbers but you know we’re looking to do a lot bigger number because we know how good the DVD is.
BMIA: You weren’t formally trained, yet you are an award winning choreographer. What would you tell an aspiring dancer who wanted to take the same path as you?
Henson: What I tell people is afford themselves the opportunity to have education with anything and everything…ah, Darrin’s road is going to be different from your road. Individually I tell people whatever you feel innately, go with it because that is your road to success. What you feel…that thing in your head that makes you go…. Somebody called me two days ago and they said, man you know I’m in my third year of college and I’m really thinking about changing one of my subjects…I want to take an acting class, but I don’t know man…are there a lot of people in Hollywood who went to college and took acting class. I said yes and no. You know I didn’t go to college…I’m not saying that you shouldn’t, I’m just saying, Darrin didn’t…but I still ended up on the screen. I still have three companies, I still have you know, a successful DVD; I still have creative career. What I tell you to do is follow your heart. I say, don’t make a living…live your making. Because when you do that then you’re following what is given to you and what is naturally innate inside of you and you’ll never go wrong with it. You know; if you love swimming, swim. If you love dancing, just dance; it doesn’t cost anything. If you love acting then read about acting; go and get a book, you know, on acting. Go take an acting class. Don’t worry about what the person next to you is doing. That’s their life and those are their choices. You follow you’re hearts desire without fear, without hesitation, without procrastination, and you’ll always advance.
BMIA: As a choreographer, actor, producer, and director, which presents the most challenge?
Henson: They all present their own challenges. Ah…as a dancer, your challenge is to dance for other choreographers, with their style on their body types, right. As a choreographer your job is to create dance steps and stage shows that look completely different from other people’s stage shows. As a director your job is to tell a story. I directed a movie for Showtime called Violations, starring Malik Yoba and Cynda Williams…. You know I started a company a couple of years ago and they gave us the money and said you’ll own this movie, you direct this movie, you produce this movie…you get the company together it’s your movie, here’s the money. It was wonderful. And ah, you know that was one of the hardest things I had ever done in my life because you really have to live in each one of the characters heads as well as be able to tell the story in a way that’s going to be efficacious where people get it. Ah…and as a producer your job is to get other people to believe in your project and ah, you know, win them over; so they all present their own obstacles. I never call things problems because they’re not. And if you do then every problem has a solution so then it’s just an obstacle. And ah…but all of them are different and I love all of them for different reasons.
Henson went “submarine deep on us,” says Gary Johnson, founder of BMIA.com, as we switched from interview mode to dialogue, following my last question. Before it all ended, we talked sports, history, ideologies about race, and philosophies on life, and even dropped some trivia. Henson also showed his sense of humor when I joked him about the pompous character he played in Stomp the Yard.
You can catch Henson on the big screen this year in these high-powered films: The Express, where Henson plays Heisman Trophy winner Jim Brown; The Hustle, a comedy starring Charlie Murphy, where Henson plays a church pastor, and A Good Man is Hard to Find, starring Hill Harper, and Debra Cox.
To find out more about Darrin’s Dance Groove Seminars and workshops contact Donnese Tyler in the Darrin’s Dance Grooves MD Office at 301-341-1571 or email@example.com? To purchase the Darrin’s Dance Grooves 2 DVD, go to http://www.darrinhenson.com/.
Darrin Henson and Vanessa Werts
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