Sunday, August 30, 2009

Introducing Rick Younger

From Stand-up to the Big Screen

When it comes to landing a role on the small or big screen, an actor can easily get typecast. Which likely explains why for years, Rick Younger has put his hands in a select grab- bag of roles. “All I can say is that it’s been a blessing,” says Younger. His blessings tend to flow in a way only someone glued to their dream can understand. “Everything that’s mine, I’m going to get,” he adds.

Next summer, you can catch him in movie theaters sharing the screen with a cast of industry heavyweights, like Harrison Ford and Diane Keaton, in “Morning Glory”. The movie is about a morning news show, sorting out creative ways to boost ratings. Younger plays a producer. “I was told they were looking for people who were funny and good with improvisation,” says Younger.

Younger was apparently more than just good. After a month of auditions and a three-month waiting period, he beat out the competition. “I was afraid to really tell a lot of people because you have to wait until the movie comes out and hope all your lines or at least two of your lines make it in, so you don’t look crazy to your friends,” says Younger.
It’s his first appearance in a major motion picture. Younger’s improvisation skills have a lot to do with how he got a break in the industry. Seventeen years ago, a friend dared the Baltimore native to hop onstage at a DC comedy club, during open-mike night. “Everything I said that night got a laugh,” he says. From that night on, he was hooked.

The stand-up comedian used a unique experience to cross into the film industry. His self-produced documentary, “Souled Out Comedy” has been selected for the upcoming Mid-Atlantic Black Film Festival. The film chronicles the success of six African-American comedians, including Younger, who partnered together out of frustration and necessity to find steady work in New York. “A lot of black comedians weren’t getting work. We decided to put together a show. I wanted to find a group that could entertain any audience and “Souled Out Comedy” was born,” says Younger.
If you catch Younger at a comedy club, there’s something you’ll pick up instantly. Younger jokes about just about every aspect of life and makes audiences laugh hysterically. The best part, he does it without a vulgar, racially charged or sexually explicit delivery. It was the success of the “Souled Out Comedy” tour in New York, that opened doors for Younger in the world of television commercials. Chances are you’ve seen him sporting a tailored Burlington Coat Factory suit, driving a Chevy vehicle or encouraging you to switch to Verizon. It wasn’t long after commercial spots that Younger began appearing in episodes of “Law & Order”. “I have a supreme belief in my talent. God puts something in all of us that we are capable of doing, if we do the work,” says Younger.

Recently, independent film lovers at the Roxbury Film Festival got a glimpse at Younger’s talent as a jazz musician in “Whistle & Snap”. In it, Younger plays a very successful musician, who’s preparing for his induction into the Jazz Hall of Fame. “I keep seeing like Tyler Perry do it and I said if they can do it, I can do it. You just can’t take no for an answer,” says Younger. "Whistle & Snap" is a project under the umbrella of Younger Child Productions. He co-owns the company with his wife, Vanessa Shealy. “The reviews of the film were great. People were very surprised that it wasn’t your stereotypical black comedy film,” says Younger.
Pulling the curtain back on stereotypes and adding a successful spin on the problem, is nothing new to the self-proclaimed Renaissance Man. His childhood dream was to become an award-winning singer. However, when he booked time in studios with producers, industry insiders encouraged Younger to put a twist on his sound. “They wanted me to sound more like male singers from groups like Jodeci and H-town,” says Younger.

Ironically, the sound that was not cookie-cutter music to the ears of some music producers was perfect for Broadway. Early on in his career, Younger auditioned and got a role as a chorus singer in the Broadway hit musical“Rent”. “I’d never seen the show. I remembered all the rage about “Rent”. The cast was diverse and I thought to myself, there’s a play that has a part for me,” he adds.

In his own way and in just about every show, Younger returns to his childhood dream. As he crisscrosses comedy clubs across the country, he tosses in his version of a number of popular tunes, while doing his stand-up routine. However, his most visible role may be Younger’s appearances on the “Today” show. He’s a member of the “Guys Tell All” panel. The four men offer tips to women, regarding how men generically think, when it comes to relationships. “I like being on the show. It gives me a chance to be myself,” says Younger.

 As for his future, he’s a funny man serious about his success. Younger points to the accomplishments of comedians like Damon Wayans, Eddie Murphy and Steve Martin as fuel for his drive toward the big prize, an Oscar. If “Morning Glory” opens as many doors for Younger, as smaller opportunities have so far, the big break just may get significantly less bumpy for him.

Rick Younger’s story is part of “Acting Up”, a series of motivational and informative features posted on www.newsheels.blogspot.com that will highlight the success, struggles and sacrifices made by people breaking into the entertainment industry.
Click on one of the following links to view Rick Younger's work;
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nQmeSkePAE8, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K-9--brqEBU or follow Rick Younger at www.rickyounger.blogspot.com.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

New Orleans Beauty Shop Owner Lone Ranger in 9th Ward

Four years of progress, plight and possibilities

Anyone would assume that on an average hot, humid and hazy day in a southern city, if you hear an ice cream truck, you’re likely to see a trail of children laughing, smiling and pointing, after buying their favorite cold treat. That’s not, however, even close to the reality in many New Orleans
neighborhoods, especially in the Lower 9th Ward.
Four miles away from the sights and sounds of random melodic jazz bands, street entertainers, flavor bursting restaurants and excited, busy,
happy tourists, you’ll find a gumbo of progress, plight and unfulfilled promises, post-Katrina. “They haven’t built anything new down here except for the school,” says Nedra Bell, 37, owner of Flaminn’ Design, a beauty shop in the Lower 9th Ward.

Four years have passed since Hurricane Katrina’s high winds and waters from levee breaches drowned and destroyed homes, businesses,
schools and everything seemingly normal about the predominately African American neighborhood. Sadly and on some level surprisingly, it looks like
the storm of the century hit yesterday.

For several blocks, on average there may be three newly constructed homes, amid seven or eight empty, dry, grass-filled lots where homes once stood. The old homes, churches and corner stores that seemingly survived Katrina’s battering, look depressing, lean to the side and are discolored. Some still have the original markings spray-painted by law enforcement or members of the military days after the storm, indicating the home or structure had been checked for survivors or bodies. Grocery stores are absent, as well as 24-hour gas stations, a hospital is at least a 10-minute drive and the only school in the Lower 9th Ward is the Martin Luther King, Jr. Charter School.

So why would any business owner rebuild in the area, where there is so little progress and not even half of the residents have returned? “I love New Orleans. There’s no place like home,” says Bell.

Her beauty shop, near N. Claiborne Avenue and Lizardi Street is in the heart of the Lower 9th Ward.  She could have easily opened a shop in Houston and made the city where she evacuated with her three children her new home. When Bell returned to New Orleans months after Katrina to check on her property, she was motivated and moved to tears. Her business was still standing. “I felt like God kept it here for me to come back. It felt almost unreal. Everything was black and white. Animals and trees were dead. The smell was awful. You’ll never forget it,” says Bell.

Despite the despair and desolate conditions she found surrounding her salon, none of it outweighed Bell’s determination to come back. Starting over was a financial, emotional and professional challenge.  Ripping out and remodeling the inside of the business cost $60,000.

To cover the cost, Bell took a job as a stylist at a shop in another New Orleans neighborhood,
saved every penny she made, combined the money with funds from her savings account and a small business loan. It took her a year to get back in business. She believed her return to the area hardest hit by Katrina, would motivate other business owners to come home.

A fraction of residents have returned but so far Bell is a bit of a lone ranger.  Flaminn’ Design is the only salon open in the Lower 9th Ward. The doors have been open for nearly three years. Bell’s appointment book stays filled. Flaminn’ Design with its two styling stations, two hairdryers, contemporary artwork on display, is where you can find accessories on sale, get the trendiest hairstyles and openly talk about anything that bothers you.  “Even though they’re around all of this, they feel better when they get their hair done,” says Bell.

Perhaps the better feeling is also tied into how customers come to the shop and their casual conversations swing between everything from rebuilding efforts, returning home, family domestic issues and life away from New Orleans. Everyone has a Katrina flashback.  For some, it helps them maneuver through life. “I saw the news the day before the storm and said, ‘I got to go’,” says Sheryl Morton, 45, a customer of Bell’s for 15 years. “I thank God I left or I wouldn’t be here.”

Others clients however, still struggle with haunting images. “I spent four days on the roof with family, hoping and wishing,” says
Veronica O’Neal-Wilson, 41.” To get to safety, Wilson says she and her family found a boat and rowed to higher ground, using wooden sticks from bunk beds. “My son still has nightmares,” she says. O’Neal-Wilson now lives in Spring, TX but routinely hits the road for the six-hour drive to Bell’s shop. “I come back to get my hair done, fill up on New Orleans seasonings and meat and drive back to Texas the same day.”

Bell remains optimistic that the days of residents not wanting to come home and stay and businesses setting up shop primarily miles away from the Lower 9th Ward will eventually fade. “Five years from now, I see more progress. It’s going to be better because most of the neighborhood is going to be homeowners but I think it might take at least 10 years for this area to fully come back and look better.”

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Katrina Progress Report (1)

Coming up Monday, four years after Hurricane Katrina, progress or festering plight in the Big Easy? Find out what happened when a business owner decided to return to the lower 9th ward neighborhood in New Orleans.

Parenting

It Takes a Village

As school doors open this fall, many children will enter their classrooms hoping for something many of their classmates take for granted, loving parents. During a recent conversation with a child in my family, I complimented the teenager on how well he was doing in a pre-law class, now that he's in high school. I asked several questions about the course and encouraged him to call me daily, with updates. Little did I know, our conversation would become part therapy and eyeopener.

The 14-year-old began to cry and told me how much he appreciated my kind words. He's being raised by his grandmother because both of his birth parents are irresponsible in ways that would disgust the average parent. However, what both parents are failing to understand is that their child, simply wants kind words, a visit to his school for lunch and some quality time. Children have an amazing ability to forgive people and hold on to the good. The problem is that some adults, routinely dismiss children's emotions, leaving room for a terrible emotional whole in the child's heart. Thankfully, I can be of some help and comfort, as my nephew actively seeks encouragement, despite his feelings of abandonment.