OK, first off, in this revival of the 1991 Tony Award-nominated musical Once on This Island, I had no clue that it was Merle Dandrige from Greenleaf playing the death demon, Papa Ge. I’ve watched one-and-a-half entire seasons of the OWN religious drama, and I thought I could pick her out of a lineup, but there is something to be said for makeup and disappearing into a role, which ol’ Grace Greenleaf did in this beautiful, Little Mermaid-inspired musical.
Opening night was pretty fascinating. And I have legendary New York society columnist Audrey Bernard to thank for the experience as I was her guest. Celebrities like Orange Is the New Black’s Laverne Cox and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt’s Tituss Burgess were there looking taut and fierce. Everyone was dressed to impress. Hair done. Nails done. Everything did.
The actors were on 11 because they were giving it their all. The audience was pumped. And the musical was so refreshing and sweet, it was easy to get caught up in the joy it wrought. (The after-party at New York’s Copacabana wasn’t too shabby, either.)
Once on This Island was probably my favorite event of the last two weeks I’d gone to, matched only by a very interesting dinner I had at the home of Loida N. Lewis—widow of legendary businessman Reginald F. Lewis—who commemorated her late husband’s almost-billion-dollar business deal to purchase TLC Beatrice back in 1987—30 years ago.
Lewis was the richest African American in the U.S. in the 1980s and was the first African American to have a billion-dollar business.
But more on that later on Antisocial, my column about going to events as an occasional social anxiety sufferer in order to get over said social anxiety! Sorry that it’s been a minute. I’ve still been going to all the things and meeting random folks while not passing out from said meetings, but was a wee bit busy —then exhausted—from both our The Root 100 gala in November and working through the entire Thanksgiving holiday, then launching our new beauty vertical, The Glow Up, with supermodel Veronica Webb.
No shocker here: I’ve been too tired to blog. But I’m back!
The Root 100 Gala
For me, The Root 100 was like giving birth to triplets at a wedding that’s being televised. Everyone’s asking you questions. Everyone wants to talk to you when all you want to do is pass out, preferably in a dark room with a door that locks. I had plans to be chatty and happy, but alas, my brain wouldn’t allow that to happen because it’s a complete and total asshole.
Some people when they’re really tired or hungry are just mean or crabby; I suffer mass system failure where I can’t really read or form sentences. Our co-hosts, Angela Rye and A.J. Calloway, as well as our founding publisher, Donna Byrd, can attest that my facial expression for the bulk of the evening before I had to get up and speak was “shook.”
Because I was. So shook. Very shook. Shooketh to the core.
I was so stressed that day, I forgot to eat and was extremely nervous about the evening going poorly. But nothing even remotely terrible came to pass; in fact, the whole thing went wonderfully, thanks to our TV team at Fusion and our in-house team at Gizmodo Media Group. GMG’s Victor Jeffreys (the dude who does everything) and Taryn Schweitzer (the woman who also does everything, too, but backward and in heels) made sure I didn’t just sit there and pass out, which was much appreciated. I couldn’t ask for better, more caring co-workers than those who bring you tequila and talk you off a ledge.
Higher Heights: Black Women Lead
After surviving our own very epic, very crazy, very special gala on Nov. 9, I went to Higher Heights’ Black Women Lead event at the Rainbow Room in New York City’s Rockefeller Center on Nov. 13. I was there as a guest of political strategist L. Joy Williams and producer and author Crystal McCrary. There, I ran into BET’s über-booked ’n’ busy late-night host Robin Thede and Page Six TV’s Bevy Smith and met Netflix’s She’s Gotta Have It co-executive producer (and wife of Spike Lee) Tonya Lewis Lee.
At this event, for once, I was very comfortable. Perhaps it was because it was nearly all black women. (I do feel safer when we’re in numbers. Like at that mecca of black womanhood, Essence magazine’s annual music festival in New Orleans.) Perhaps it was because I knew a significant number of people in the room—several who were at The Root 100 a few days prior. Or maybe it was because my brain for once was being nice and letting me just chill and enjoy things. I’m not sure. I only remember being moved by Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams’ speech and agreeing with Higher Heights’ overall mission of electing more black women to public service.
As a black woman who leads (and as someone who took the place of another great black woman who knew how to run things), more black women in charge sounds amazing. More black women in the statehouses. More black women on judicial benches. More black women on the city councils and in Congress. Let’s do this.
The Deadspin Awards
Because our events team at GMG is a glutton for punishment, right after they did The Root 100, they had to put on the Deadspin Awards, a drunken bacchanal of sports-based debauchery and athlete-related jokes. I’m pretty sure the sponsor was Kraken rum because I drank at least six rum and Cokes as I tried to survive my own feelings of death and despair from a venue that was full of so many people hooting and hollering about “the sports,” a thing of which is a source of terror and shame.
You see? “The sports” were the reason that while I may have had a father who was home every night and paid all the bills and whatnot, he did not come home every night from a long day at the math-management mines of McDonnell Douglas to play with his precocious children. No. He came home to watch one-and-a-half hours of news followed by four to five hours of “the sports.”
I purposely learned how to like “the sports” when I was a teen just so I could have a normal conversation with him, since my father loves to talk about “the sports.” I only know who Terry Bradshaw is because of my father. I only know that the Showtime Lakers were great because of my father. I can read a baseball box score (sort of) because of my father and my pathetic desire to get him to pay attention to me, his middle daughter, back when I was awkward and tiny.
So “the sports” and I have a few hangups. Going to the Deadspin Awards was like confronting all my “Am I good enough?” sports-related anxieties over my dad. While my father and I get along famously now and love each other very much, he will still cut a call with me short to talk to his longtime buddy about “the sports,” because ... priorities. Who does my father love more? Me or several hours of NASCAR? Don’t ask him because I don’t want to know the truth.
The Deadspin Awards were fun, though, and very hilarious. I even got interviewed by Jezebel’s culture editor, Julianne Escobedo Shepherd, for what I assume was a Facebook Live where she asked me my garbage sports opinions.
When she asked me what my favorite sport was, I said, “None of them,” which was honest! Then I lied and said “tennis,” a sport I do enjoy watching if (and only if) an actual Williams sister is involved. Outside of that, tennis can kiss my entire ass.
I wish I’d said that last part out loud, but alas, I was still stone-cold sober when Julianne interviewed me. Lying about liking tennis was about the best I could do in a pinch.
30th Anniversary of Reginald F. Lewis’ Billion-Dollar Deal
There’s no money like a lot of money.
As someone who spent a significant portion of her writing career eating Top Ramen and $1 burgers from Sonic so I could afford my rent in Bakersfield, Calif., of all places, I’ve come to appreciate what my father spent most of my adult life trying to impart upon me.
“Baby, you just need to make more money.”
(The “Stop borrowing money from me” part was implied.)
Now that I’m not a starving writer but a thriving editor, I get to contemplate things I’ve never contemplated before. Like, should I buy property? You ... don’t raid your 401(k) for emergency cash over and over until it’s worthless? What’s a stock and a bond? Savings? I ... I have a savings?
I’m pretty sure if business tycoon Reginald F. Lewis were still with us and heard anything about my bank statements, he would laugh his ass off, being that he was worth more than $400 million at the time of his untimely death at 50 from brain cancer. He, at that point in his life, had acquired and amassed a $1 billion business—the first African American to do so—and had homes in New York and Paris.
These are goals I probably won’t meet. But maybe by learning more about Lewis and his business acumen, I can learn how not to go into massive debt living in one of the most expensive cities in the world. Or I could listen to my dad. Both probably have good advice!
In order for more people to learn the lessons of Lewis, his wife, Loida N. Lewis, held a dinner at her lovely Upper East Side home in New York City on the 30th anniversary of Lewis’ $985 million deal for TLC Beatrice on Nov. 30.
At the dinner, I met Good Morning America’s own, former pro-football player Michael Strahan, who was given the Young Entrepreneur Salute for his own strides in the world of business. Strahan, who jokingly said that he had a million jobs, is clearly someone who ascribes to the belief that if you have more than one revenue stream, you’ll never go broke. With clothing lines, TV production, the GMA gig, acting roles, among many others, he’s someone clearly worthy of recognition just based on the hustle alone. He’s also extremely kind and gracious, charming and friendly, as we bonded over dinner over the fact that both our fathers are graduates of the historically black university Prairie View A&M in Texas.
Most of the guests at the dinner were in the press, including TV journalist Soledad O’Brien; TV personality Bevy Smith; Len Burnett, co-founder and publisher of Uptown magazine; MediaTakeOut’s Fred Mwangaguhunga; iOne Digital President Detavio Samuels; Michael Clarke, vice president of digital advertising sales for Entertainment Studios and The Grio; TV personality, producer and blogger Patrick L. Riley; and several others, including members of the Lewis family.
I had a great time chatting up Loida and Reginald Lewis’ daughter, the founder and director of All Star Code, Christina Lewis Halpern, and her husband, Daniel Halpern—so great that we lost track of time talking about the pending nuptials of Meghan Markle and Prince Harry of Wales (something I wrote about for the Washington Post last week).
As I was very gently coaxed out the door by Christina’s mother while she and I exchanged information and pleasantries, I was proud of myself because unlike nearly every event I went to in October and November, I managed not to have an anxiety attack or die. In fact, I simply had a very good time chatting and eating and trying caviar that wasn’t on a sushi roll for the first time. I’d forgotten all about the two hours’ worth of heart palpitations I had had over whether I would have a meltdown (nothing like worrying about impending doom before it’s had a chance to happen). Once I got there, everyone was so warm and funny and friendly—and gossiping about the latest Matt Lauer news—that I forgot to be the self-conscious nerd I typically am. I was happy and chatty and felt really good. Maybe I’m getting better? Is all this going out working? Am I turning into a normal person who can enjoy things?
Only time will tell.