Cultural Entrepreneur Roland Lair passes

Roland LairdI was saddened to find out about the passing of Roland Laird, CEO of MIST (My Image Studios) a multi-million dollar, state of the art film center in Harlem, and co-owner/founder entertainment firm Posro Media, which promoted positive images of African Americans though a number of multimedia initiatives. Roland was a fellow alum of Brown University whom I met through our Inman Page Council, Brown’s African American alumni network. A genuine person with a passion for film, Roland took an interest in my work and offered advice and encouragement. Roland was an entrepreneur, author, activist, supporter of the arts, family man, and friend to many.

He leaves behind his wife Taneisha Nash Laird, with whom he co-founded MIST and Posro, and two beautiful daughters. He will be greatly missed.



@BushwickBelle is now on Twitter

I am now on Twitter and my handle is @bushwickbelle. I’m Bushwick Belle for the neighborhood I grew up in, Bushwick, Brooklyn. Sandwiched between Bed-Stuy Do or Die and Ridgewood, Queens, it was, for me, the place of buildings low enough that you can always see the sky, elevated trains, the official language of Spanglish, African Americans / West Indians / Dominicans / Puerto Ricans all living together, Carvel ice cream, trained pigeons flying overhead in unison, me and my sis riding our bikes,  our house on Irving Ave, IS 383, Bushwick Bill of the Geto Boys living down the block, RIP wall murals of people gone too soon, the 80s crack era, the people sticking together… I’ve been around the world and back but the neighborhood I grew up in is still my inspiration. @BUSHWICKBELLE. Holla!


Olufunmilayo Gittens will be tweeting about  film, television, and stuff beyond the screening room.

Hip Hop Legend Fab 5 Freddy Shines in Soho Exhibit

On June 8, there was no place I’d rather be but on the scene at the Gallery 151 solo exhibit opening of hip hop legend Fab 5 Freddy, who also happens to be the godfather of yours truly. Guests – a lively mix of hip hop heads, art enthusiasts, media moguls,  everyday New Yorkers and label shunners – lined up down the Soho block to greet the artist and peek at the work.  And the work spoke for itself: a bold new style that deftly mixes digital imagery, painting and shimmering crystal stones with images from sports, entertainment, hip hop and graffiti.

From the Gallery:

“Gallery 151 is honored to present the solo exhibit of Fred Brathwaite, hip-hop pioneer and legendary graffiti artist known as Fab 5 Freddy. In the early 80’s, Mr. Brathwaite was notorious for his 1980 homage to Andy Warhol, an entire subway car covered in Campbell’s soup cans. He was a creative force helping to lead the cultural revolution in which graffiti based artists transitioned into galleries and the art world. On June 8th, Gallery 151 presents NEW YORK:NEW WORK, the New York debut of Brathwaite’s series of stunningly vivid mixed-media works on canvas – some figurative iconography and others an abstract exploration of his graffiti experience. Brathwaite’s is currently a featured artist in MOCA [The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles]’s “Art in The Streets”, the first major museum exhibition in America on the history of graffiti and street art.”

The exhibit runs through Friday, July 1, 2011. Catch it while you can.

Shout out to Fab 5!



FAb 5 Freddy talks with Jazz historian Willard Jenkins about his early influences, including Max Roach, Fred Brathwaite, Sr. and Jimmy Gittens @ JazzTimes

Dare to be Dark: My Trip to a Tanning Salon

Heading home from my gym in the Chelsea section of Manhattan, I had often passed a luxury tanning salon courting new customers.  I would brush off the marketers who seemed to waste my time and theirs by trying to hand me coupon cards for discounts on luxury tans.  But I became more and more curious each time. What was it like to go to a tanning salon? Determined to spread the word about their services like church people handing out ministry tracts, they drew me in. On a whim one day, I finally took one.

 Like Icarus, the mythological Greek figure who was given wings but warned not to fly too close to the water or to the sun, black Americans, conforming to social norms, often hide our hair from water and our skin from the sun, the two ingredients most essential for life.
Colorism, the belief that the darker one is, the less worthy they are of love or admiration, is a way of thinking that has infected much of the world, like polio does the body. Growing up, my sister and I were sheltered from the language and value judgments of colorism within the home. My parents couldn’t prevent its spread through billboards and things we’d hear in the school yard, but they did build us up and teach us to recognize it as foreign, the same way that doctors vaccinate small children by exposing them to tiny doses of a disease that would otherwise kill them. 

With a father whose color was that of the most rare and exquisite high-cacao chocolate and a mother whose skin tone rivals the Sahara’s golden sands, I could’ve been any shade in the book.  My rich, cocoa brown hue is the one that was made for me.  I am well aware of the hostile relationship that much of this world has with my color – and those with my color often have with themselves – and yet I’ve never felt that my complexion has blocked me from any opportunity or relationship I was meant to have.

But certain attitudes have a way of seeping in. As I held the tanning coupon in my hand, I recalled being at the beach with people I know, also African-American, watching them slather on sunblock, confine themselves to the perimeter of the beach umbrella, and announce that they didn’t want to get “too dark.”  They thought nothing of telling this to me, someone several shades darker than they’ll ever be. I wanted to ask them, “What are you afraid will happen to you?” This is how colorism works. It can make a person see the sun’s enhancement of their beautiful skin as somehow a mark of misfortune, the darkening of one’s skin as something to be feared or disdained.

Fear of the sun, I decided, has no place in my life. With that in mind, I took the trip to cash in my ticket. As I waited for the salon’s concierge, nagging questions came to mind. Would the people at the salon turn me away? Would they ignore me for not representing their imagined target demographic, as though they were the brand new, Steve Stoute-styled Carol’s Daughter? Would they look at me strangely or snicker behind my back, amused by the thought of a black person wanting to (go well past) tan?

Just as my doubts were bubbling to the surface, I was greeted by a friendly hipster named Jarod. He chatted me up, taking a keen interest in my film career, and was amazed that the only time I had ever been sunburned was during my study abroad trip to Kenya. “We get black customers,” he bragged. I later learned that this is a refrain among salons that shows they’re the best of the best, their services desired even by those who don’t “need” tans. Jarod spoke of the black men, Asians and Latinos who ranked among their clients. I was his first black female customer. The black men, he said, enjoyed the tanning bed’s ability to even out their complexions and reduce the appearance of scars. But of course! Hydroquinone creams and sun avoidance versus tanning for an even complexion. Which would you choose?

As I walked along the polished mahogany walls and luxurious, spa-like atmosphere, I became entranced, even more so when I stepped into the dimly lit room. There I was spellbound by a glowing, glass chamber with futuristic, hazy turquoise-purple light. I got naked, revealing my own mahogany-colored skin. Like a suspect behind an interrogation room’s one-way mirror, I looked around for signs that I was secretly being watched. What if I was, I smiled slyly to myself, letting my inner exhibitionist take over. I turned on the timer and stretched out my body on the tanning bed, placing the reflective tabs over my eyes for protection. I relaxed completely, imagining myself on the sunny beach of some other planet, maybe the first or second rock from the sun.

Preventing skin cancer is a valid concern, but so is raising awareness about the long-term health benefits of getting ample amounts of Vitamin D through sunlight. Even the Skin Cancer Foundation, staunch advocates of limiting people’s exposure to the sun, admits to the dilemma that comes with avoiding ultraviolet rays. “Vitamin D produced in the body by solar ultraviolet (UV) exposure may help prevent prostate, colon, breast, and other cancers, as well as bone diseases,” they state.  Could controlled UV exposure in tanning beds help prevent chronic disease? It’s worth some serious study.

Fifteen minutes of heaven passed by before I realized it. The gentle buzz of the timer awoke me from my coma-like sleep. Scientists have theorized that tanning is so addictive because the ultraviolet light releases endorphins, or pleasure hormones. I can attest to feeling that same light-headed high I get after a good jog or… other pleasurable activities.

I got dressed and headed out, getting a warm “Thank you and please come again.” As I stepped out onto the street, I saw two black folks who I greeted with a bright hello. “Are you from California?” they asked. “No. Brooklyn. Why?” “Because you seem so vibrant.”

I danced with my shadow over the next two days as my skin continued to brown in the same way that fresh-baked sweets continue to cook several minutes after being pulled from the oven. Getting to know my skin better fascinated me. Soaking up rays, whether at a salon or by the sun above, is an adventure and a pleasure; the results are a delight to be enjoyed. Being built to withstand the sun’s power, we should damn well be free to partake of it.

Emboldened by my experience, I purchased a frosty purple lipstick that set off my richer hue just right. I decided to call up the salon to make another appointment. I need to do this sort of thing more often.



My Trip to a Tanning Salon, Copyright 2011 by Olufunmilayo Gittens, is registered with the Writers Guild of America East

dare to be dark - coco and creme Dare to be Dark: My Trip to a Tanning Salon also appears in the exciting, new urban beauty and fashion online magazine, Coco and Creme!