Business - Relationships - Health & Fitness - Entertainment

About Vonetta Booker-Brown

Vonetta Booker-Brown is a freelance writer and the owner of home-based virtual assistance practice Right Hand Concepts, in which she provides remote administrative support, copywriting services and more to businesses & entrepreneurs nationwide. In addition, she has written career, fitness, relationship and entertainment articles for various publications.

Business Articles:

*Viewable PDF/print version

'Rites of Passage' Students to Celebrate Culture Through Food
The Rites of Passage Food Festival, which will be held this Saturday, will feature dishes from various cultures...(Patch.com)
By Vonetta Booker-Brown

Your Content Without Consent
How to handle Internet copy thieves (if you're a writer, this is for you!)
By Vonetta Booker-Brown

Is Running a Home-Based Business Right for You?
It sounds like the perfect business opportunity, but it’s not for everyone. Read on to figure out whether it’s right for you!
By Vonetta Booker-Brown

The Spirit of Holiday Savvy
Tips to keep your sanity (and wallet) intact during the holiday season.
By Vonetta Booker-Brown

Seven Easy Ways to Get (and Stay) Organized
Getting and staying organized isn’t as hard as you think. It’s all about getting the job done in little steps, rather than large, overwhelming ones. These creative (yet simple) tips will help you get started!
By Vonetta Booker-Brown

From "Nine-to-Fiver" to Entrepreneur
Starting and running your own business is exciting, but it’s also hard work. Here are some tips for a smooth transition to full-time entrepreneur.
By Vonetta Booker-Brown

Making the Release
Tips on writing a great press release that will get attention--and free publicity for your business.
By Vonetta Booker-Brown

The Staying Power of E (Fairfield County Weekly)
The Norwalk-based green magazine outlasts its competitors to celebrate its 10th anniversary.
By Vonetta Booker-Brown

How To Pitch: Honey magazine (MediaBistro.com)
Know your 'Honey Girls': They watch Girlfriends but also Sex and the City, listen to Jill Scott but also Dido.
By Vonetta Booker-Brown


Relationships Articles:

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Will You Marry Me? (Essence.com)
One couple's story of love--lost, then found--and happily ever after.
By Vonetta Booker-Brown

Romance vs. Finance (Essence.com)
When it comes to prenups, more women are likely to say "I do".
By Vonetta Booker-Brown

*Cyber Advisor (Honey magazine)
Welcome to the domain of online advice columnist Deborrah Cooper.
By Vonetta Booker-Brown

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Health & Fitness Articles:

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Fitness On a Budget (Poz magazine)
Tips for workouts that keep your bank account healthy, as well as your heart. By Vonetta Booker-Brown

Sweat Inspiration (Real Health magazine)
With gospel aerobics, you can keep the failth--and lose the pounds. By Vonetta Booker-Brown

*In Control (Essence magazine)
Self-defense workouts get you mentally fit. By Vonetta Booker-Brown

*Beyond the Banana Seat (Essence magazine)
Biking is a great, grown-up fitness routine. By Vonetta Booker-Brown

*Don't Worry, Be Nappy (HealthQuest magazine)
For Healthy Hair, Try Locks. By Vonetta Booker-Brown

*Parents shouldn’t overlook the benefits of healthy living for kids (Stamford Advocate)
By Vonetta Booker-Brown

*Bicycles Built for Two: Cycling meets smooching in a very social club (Stamford Advocate)
By Vonetta Booker-Brown

*Food Cravings and the Mom-to-Be (Stamford Advocate)
By Vonetta Booker-Brown

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Entertainment Articles:

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The Tea Party (NYC Soul Guide)
Brooklyn's cup of tea. By Vonetta Booker-Brown

*Nursery Rhymes (Vibe magazine)
Hip-hop tracks are adding a little bit of flavor.
By Vonetta Booker-Brown

*Performing Isn’t Salt-N-Pepa’s Only Flava These Days (New Haven Register)
By Vonetta Booker-Brown

*N’Sync Strays Little from Their Tried and True (New Haven Register)
By Vonetta Booker-Brown

See You at the Green (New Haven Register)
Busy R&B group Cameo hasn't faded from sight.
By Vonetta Booker-Brown

5 Questions For...(Essence.com)
Close-up with Morris Chestnut
By Vonetta Booker-Brown

Soul Sisters With Purpose (Essence.com)
A new age of soulful sirens brings music for the ears of the masses.
By Vonetta Booker-Brown

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Your Content Without Consent: How to guard against Internet plagiarism
By Vonetta Booker-Brown

If you’re a small business/marketing professional who writes, then you’re probably aware that creating articles and other content is one of the best ways to market your business and increase your search engine visibility—I can speak from experience! However, a very real downside to this is the increasing amount of plagiarism (when someone takes another’s written work and tries to pass it off on their own) on the Web. Unfortunately, it’s something that’s fairly easy to do, due to the vastness of the Internet. Many plagiarists think, “Sure, I can lift this copy or ‘borrow’ that sentence—who’s really going to find out?”

As a matter of fact, this article comes from an incident that I recently experienced, in which I happened to come across the website of an Alabama-based virtual assistant. To say her site’s copy looked “familiar” would be a gross understatement; lo and behold, as it turned out, this woman’s entire 6-page site was filled with verbatim copy from my website, www.righthandconcepts.com (even down to the interview-style “Frequently Asked Questions” page, where she left my quotes intact and merely replaced my company name with hers!) It was so blatant and absurd, it was almost funny in a twisted, “no, she didn’t!” kind of way.

But plagiarism isn’t a laughing matter—especially when you’ve worked hard to create good copy that informs customers and increases your sales and visibility. Here are some ways that you can guard against it—and what to do if you find someone’s pilfered your content without your consent.

Utilize anti-plagiarism resources. There are a couple of good ones out there; I like to use Copyscape.com (which is how I found out about the woman mentioned above). At this website, you can enter the URL of your choice, and it immediately pulls up any online instances of copy that looks suspiciously similar to yours. You can then go to the site and check further to see whether they’ve actually stolen your copy (it could also be someone whom you’ve granted permission to post your article on their site). Copyscape is free, and also has little “Do Not Copy” banners that you can add to your site’s pages. Although Copyscape can’t prevent plagiarism, it’s a great way to monitor against copy thieves.

Okay—so, let’s say that like me, you unfortunately did come across someone trying to pass your copy off as their own. Now what?

The first line of defense is to let the offending party know that you know what they’ve been up to. In my case, the woman’s name, address, telephone number and email address was right there on her “Contact” page (ironically, the only copy that wasn’t lifted from my site), so I was able to both call and email her, letting her know that I was onto her & to remove my copy (basically, her whole website) immediately. However, some sites may not have the owner’s info readily available. If you can’t find out who owns the site just from browsing it, you may find vital information by doing a WHOIS search of the owner’s domain registration info. This will usually give you a name, address and phone number. (One way to find WHOIS information is by going to NetworkSolutions.com, and clicking on the WHOIS link at the bottom of the page.)

When you locate and contact the individual, let them know that they’ve infringed on your copyrighted material, and to remove it immediately. If it’s an article of yours, however, another option is to have them credit your work appropriately, along with a link back to your website (this gives you more search engine visibility). “Cease and desist” letters are very effective, as well—you can find samples online at the following websites:

http://www.utsystem.edu/ogc/intellectualproperty/contract/cease.htm
http://builder.com.com/5100-31-5082448.html
http://www.webmastertechniques.com/Insight/cease.html
http://www.rightsforartists.com/examcease.html

Although you can send these yourself, it may be more effective if you have your attorney send it. In any case, be sure to copy any other parties you’ve contacted about the matter (i.e. search engines, the offender’s ISP provider, web host, etc.).

What if they don’t comply? In this case, you have a couple of other options: Alert the site’s web host and ISP provider to what’s going on—under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), they are obligated to respond to and remove any proven copyright infringing material. Oh—and don’t forget the search engines—you can also contact whichever ones the offending site appears on; they’re also bound by DMCA. To find guidelines, you can do a Web search on the search engine’s name and “copyright infringement” or “Digital Millennium Copyright Act.” Google’s guidelines, for example, are found at www.google.com/dmca.html.

Another downside (as if there’s an upside!) to Internet plagiarism is that it might sometimes be hard to distinguish whose copy came first, and your own legitimate text could suffer a decrease in search engine ranking (as they don’t take kindly to that sort of thing!). So, it’s important that you support your case with evidence that your web text was indeed online first. Take screen shots of the involved sites, WHOIS records, evidence of when copy was posted, etc.

As I said, unfortunately there’s no surefire way to prevent someone from plagiarizing your copy—but hopefully, these tips will help you shut the offender down. Oh, and in case you’re wondering what became of the woman who lifted my web copy: When I called her on the phone and confronted her, she claimed that she didn’t know about the site and didn’t know how the information got there. (Yeah, right…) Nonetheless, after informing her of my intentions, her site was down within the next hour—pretty quick for someone who didn’t know what I was talking about, huh?

Internet plagiarist depend on the Web’s vastness to help mask their deceit, but a bit of a watchful eye over your content can keep them in check. Good luck!

© Copyright 2006 Vonetta Booker-Brown. All rights reserved.

Business - Relationships - Health & Fitness - Entertainment

Is running a home-based business right for you?
By Vonetta Booker-Brown

So you have this great business idea that you’ve been dying to launch; the boss has been working your last nerve, and you figure you could use some more time with your family and no commute. In that case, starting your own home-based business seems like the perfect solution, right? Perhaps, but before you take that leap and give Boss Man or Lady your two-week notice, here are some things to consider:

Adapting to a home-biz schedule
With a home-based business, the structure of a 9-to-5 job goes right out the window. Entrepreneurs often find themselves working at all hours of the day (or night), on weekends and/or holidays to get their businesses off the ground & ensure their success. Ask yourself if you’re prepared for this, or if you’d prefer a regular punch-in/punch-out schedule. Then again, if you work long, varied hours at your current job, the transition may be easier to tolerate. “I don’t mind putting in long hours, because it’s my passion,” says Lisa Raymond, who recently resigned from her job to start a home-based greeting card. “I’d rather do it for myself than someone who can fire me at any time.”

Assess your finances
Your financial shape is also something to seriously consider. Before you make that leap, assess whether you can shoulder the upcoming expenses of your home-based business. Do you have enough money saved up to quit your job and work from home full-time? If not, you may want to run your business part-time (while still at your job), and become a full-time entrepreneur only after your business can fully support you financially.

Telecommuting as an option
Do you actually like your job or career, but can’t stand the commute and/or would like to be at home more for your family? If so, you could perhaps explore telecommuting as an option. Telecommuting is when an employee is set up to work for their company from home instead of in the main office, and it’s a growing workforce trend. The best way to approach this situation with your employer is to present a well-prepared proposal that highlights exactly how you plan to effectively accomplish your job duties from your home office. A great resource for proposal creation ideas (and other telecommuting tips and articles) is WorkOptions.com, run by flexible work options advisor Pat Katepoo.

Two traits to have…
Two more must-have home-biz owner personality traits: Discipline & organization. As a business owner, there’s nobody else to watch over your shoulder when deadlines loom, or to motivate you to finish that proposal. Whatever needs to be done is of your doing—you’re the number one driving force that will determine the success or failure of your business. So, procrastination needs to go out the window (or at least reduced to a bare minimum)! Then there’s organization, the other key trait—needed to keep that “driving force” in order! Do you have a system in place to return/make phone calls & emails, maintain your filing system, and track your expenses? Taking the time to make sure you have a workable organization system in place goes a long way in effectively running your business. (For more info on this, check out my articleSeven Ways to Get (and Stay) Organized.”)

So, as the saying goes--“Look before you leap!” Take a moment or two to think about the above tips, and apply them to your success. Good luck!

© Copyright 2006 Vonetta Booker-Brown. All rights reserved.

Business - Relationships - Health & Fitness - Entertainment

The Spirit of Holiday Savvy
by Vonetta Booker-Brown

On your mark, get set—go! It’s that time again—and it seems like the holiday season is kicking off earlier every year. The day after Thanksgiving (aka “Black Friday”) is widely known as the year’s busiest shopping day, and it’s the official start to a month or so of frenzied spending and budget-blowing, in addition to “holiday cheer.” Here are some tips to keep you from going crazy or broke during the season:

Don’t give in to the hype. It seems that according to the commercials and advertisements, you’re a horrible person if you don’t purchase the latest X-Box for your loved one. Don’t worry—you’re not! Although it might be a bit clichéd at this point, there is truth to the saying, it’s the thought that counts—and a gift’s value isn’t necessarily measured by its price tag.

So, don’t be ashamed to create (and stick to) a budget that helps you avoid credit card hangover. With friends, perhaps discuss beforehand foregoing presents and exchanging holiday cards, instead. For family members, give simpler, more meaningful gifts like a nicely-framed snapshot of the kids or grandkids, or a book relating to their favorite holiday or interest. If you have an extensive CD collection, perhaps burn a custom CD of favorite songs. (You can often get “used” books and CDs in brand-new condition at half-price on sites like Amazon.com or Half.com.)

Shop online instead. Every year, we see the “Black Friday” news coverage—5am lines snaking around the mall’s perimeter, folks getting trampled in the stampede that ensues when the doors first open, and fisticuffs breaking out over that last 75%-off digital camera. Maybe that sort of thing gives you a certain rush—but if you’re anything like me, you can’t be bothered with the madness!

Online shopping can be a great alternative to dealing with long lines, pushy shoppers and a hectic pace—but stay savvy. Do business with reputable companies and sites you already know, and really research the ones that are new to you. Review the site’s privacy, security, shipping and return policies—and never give out your social security number (there’s no need for them to have it, and could lead to identity theft).

Also, the safest way to shop online is with your credit card, as you’re protected under the federal Fair Credit Billing Act in the event that something goes awry. (For more online shopping tips, see the PrivacyRights.org article, “E-Commerce and You: Online Shopping Tips.”)

Don’t get scammed! Unfortunately, there are some lowlifes out there who take advantage of the whole “holiday spirit” thing, by preying on consumers with legitimate-sounding scams. A con artist favorite is the “fake charity,” where people (or even kids) will contact you about donating to the cause and “helping those less fortunate.” However, you’ll be the “less fortunate” one if you’re taken by one of these. Keep your eyes open with online auctions, as well—and don’t forget to pay with your credit card, so that you can dispute the charge if you don’t get what you paid for.

“Phishing” is also big—this is when scam artists send you official-looking emails purporting to be from leading banks and companies, asking you for personal info and playing on “security” issues. For more information on how to identify and avoid phishing scams, see the MSN Money article “‘Phishing’ scams: How to avoid getting hooked.”
All in all, the holidays are a time to enjoy with your loved ones, and to appreciate the good, simple things in life. You don’t have to get caught up in the commercial craziness of the season in order to enjoy it—a little shopping savvy can go a long way in preventing holiday headaches!

© Copyright 2005 Vonetta Booker-Brown. All rights reserved.

Business - Relationships - Health & Fitness - Entertainment

Seven Easy Ways to Get (and Stay) Organized
By Vonetta Booker-Brown

Make a list…take some time.
The hardest part in getting organized is getting started. Organize that by first making a list of the things you need to get in order, and then setting a certain amount of time aside each day (over the course of a week, for example) to tackle what’s on your list. Breaking tasks up into smaller areas makes it seem less daunting and easier to manage. (Also--why not have a little fun and crank up your favorite music while you work?)

Templates are your friends.
If there’s a particular form that you use repeatedly, create a general template of it and keep it in a handy place nearby (on your desktop, perhaps). Simply save a new version of the form as needed, and type in the new information.

Say “no” to Pack Rat-ism.
Okay, it’s a made-up term—but the affliction is real! It’s often hard to clean house & throw things out—but how much do you really need those magazines, clothes & random items if they’ve been collecting dust in the closet for six months or more? If it’s been that long, you probably won’t miss it if you chuck it.

Say “no”…period!
We often have a hard time saying no to favors for friends, family & co-workers who mean well—but can be extreme time-suckers! Whether it’s home or business life, it’s important to set boundaries so that you can accomplish your tasks, avoid burnout and simply take time out for you. So, let Mom’s call go to voice mail if she wants to chat about routine stuff in the middle of your deadline; call her back or get together with her later, when things calm down.

Do the “To-Do.”
It’s often easier to sort things out once you put them down on paper. Create to-do lists & get things done in order of priority. (If you’re running errands, a list makes it easier to map out places to visit based on their proximity to each other.) Just be sure to get rid of that list once you’re done—don’t add to the clutter!

The Paperless Wonder
If you’re like me, you attract stacks of read-through magazines like bees to honey. Don’t let them pile up! (After all, how often do we actually re-read a magazine?) If there are articles that may be useful later, simply tear them out, scan them as PDF files, store on a disk—and toss the rest. (This works great for other important documents, as well.)

Get support for your success
No matter how organized we may be, sometimes there’s just too much going on for one person to handle alone. If you’re a small business owner, you’re probably juggling your business work along with the administrative/billing/marketing side of things, as well. A good solution is to get an assistant to help you with the latter, while you concentrate on running your business. Virtual assistants are a great answer to small business owners who don’t have room for an in-house assistant, as they can work with you remotely from their own location via email, phone and fax—saving time and resources.


© Copyright 2005 Vonetta Booker-Brown. All rights reserved.



Business - Relationships - Health & Fitness - Entertainment

From "Nine-to-Fiver" to Entrepreneur

Starting and running your own business is exciting, but it’s also hard work. Here are some tips for a smooth transition to full-time entrepreneur.

By Vonetta Booker-Brown


Assess your assets
Do you have enough money socked away for your transition? As you work at your full-time job while getting your business up and running, take the opportunity (and that still-steady paycheck) to save as much “rainy-day” funds as possible--six months’ to two years’ worth of living expenses is a good rule of thumb. Insurance plans are another important issue for small business owners--how will you get yours? If you’re married, you can probably join your spouse’s plan. If you’re solo, your local chamber of commerce can be a great resource in finding discounted health insurance rates, as well as other business, industry and networking organizations that you’re a member of. Another option is to continue with your employer’s plan through COBRA.

Test the waters
When it comes to your new business…research, research, research! Surf the Internet for information about the industry you’re entering, and keep an eye open for new trends. Who will your competitors be? What do they have to offer? Most importantly, what don’t they offer that you’ll be able to? If you can fill a particular niche or customer need, you’ll have that much more of an advantage over your competitors. Another savvy strategy is to talk to someone already established in the same business, and pick their brain about the rewards and challenges they regularly experience. And don’t forget to handle your business’s legal requirements, such as registering your business name and applying for a federal employer identification number (EIN), any state/city business licenses, tax certificates and zoning allowances.

Resign professionally
During your corporate ladder climb, you’ve probably been in a similar situation: Your boss has once again given that promotion to a schmoozing, slacker colleague—while passing you over despite your hard work and long hours. Office politics? Perhaps. Although the thought of barging into your manager's office and handing him or her your resignation sounds tempting, slow down and count to ten. We’ve all had bad days, but immediately quitting a job based mainly on emotion could prove detrimental to your transition plan if you leave before you’re ready. Instead, take some time to calm down and clear your head—go out for a walk during lunch, or discuss your feelings with a good friend. Then, concentrate on using your energy as motivation for building your business, so that when you do give your notice, you can approach your manager calmly and professionally—and avoid burning bridges in the process.

From employer to client
If you’ve done the above, then bringing your former employer on as a client is a possibility. If your services are similar to your previous job description, the company may see the financial value in continuing to work with you rather than go through the tedious process of finding and hiring someone new. Before you leave, make an appointment with your manager to discuss your services as an independent contractor—and give them a detailed proposal outlining services, costs and areas they’ll save money in (i.e. no employee benefits, payroll taxes, space or equipment, etc.).

Keep it positive!
Starting your own business is challenging enough, so you’ll want to surround yourself with as many positive people as possible. Not everyone understands the entrepreneurial mindset, so you may have some family and friends thinking you’re a few fries short of a Happy Meal for having the audacity to leave the relative security of a 9-to-5. Expect this attitude occasionally; entrepreneurs are still widely considered “outside the norm.” Surround yourself with supportive, encouraging friends and family who “get it”—and utilize the many online communities structured for support within your industry.


© Copyright 2004 Vonetta Booker-Brown. All rights reserved.


Business - Relationships - Health & Fitness - Entertainment

Making the Release

Tips on writing a great press release that will get attention--and free publicity for your business.

By Vonetta Booker-Brown


So, you and your business have a great product, event or “rags-to-riches” story that you’re dying to spread the word about--because you just know that once people hear the news, they’re goin to want to know more about what you have to offer. You can already hear the “cha-ching!” sound as new customers beat a path to your door. The question is…how are you going to get the word out?

The answer…a great press release.

A press release is a great way to gain free publicity (and who doesn’t want that?) for your business & services. How you write one can make all the difference between getting media coverage for your business—and your crumpled-up press release covering the bottom of an editor’s trash can. So, here are some tips on how you can hopefully achieve the former.

Use the proper setup…
Most press releases are between 200-500 words, and no more than a page long—since most editors and reporters are pressed for time to the 9th degree. Print your release on company letterhead or use your company's logo, and right underneath in the page's upper right-hand margin, put the words "FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE" in all caps (or "FOR RELEASE ON…" if you want the media to hold off on releasing your information until a certain date.) On the right-hand side, list your company's contact info (name, phone number, email/website/mailing address, etc.). Add your headline underneath, then begin the body of your release with a dateline (for example, "CHICAGO, Illinois--March 2, 2004"). After the end of your press release, type either "-30-" or "###" to indicate the story's end.

Grab ‘em quick & fast…
Media people barely have time to breathe—so whatever you send them has to grab their attention as quickly as possible. Start off with a catchy, one-line headline that makes them want to read more. For example, “Five Ways to Live Rent Free” is much more interesting and less wordy than “Local Real Estate Agent Offers Tips to First-Time Homebuyers on How To Increase Equity in Upcoming Seminar.” Follow your to-the-point, lively headline with a brief, clear first paragraph and about five to seven bulleted main points.

“So, what’s in it for me?”
This is the question going through an editor’s mind as she reads your release—the media is all about dispensing news that’s of the utmost interest to the public. The more your press release fits within that category, the better. Does it offer a fascinating story, fabulous event or dynamic interview? The aim is to let producers and journalists know that if they run an article or segment on your business, their audience is in for a real treat, as it would contain information that’s important & interesting to them.

Be a trend keeper-upper…
Another way to pique the interest of your media contacts is to tie your press release’s news in with a current trend or hot topic. For example, your announcement of the new online classes you’re teaching can piggyback on the growing popularity of adult continuing education (both on- and off-line). If you’re a handbag designer whose claim to fame is making good-quality, attractive accessories at affordable prices, your release can mention how fashion-conscious women are demanding a balance between style and budget.

Tap into human interest…
Is there something in your press release that speaks to an emotionally popular issue? If so, make that a selling point. For example, a client of mine followed her passion/dream when she left her teaching job to open a tutoring center for middle- and high-school students. For her press release, I suggested playing up the “pursuing what you really love” aspect—and pointed out that the teaching thing didn’t hurt, either—as being “for the kids” wins extra points in the human interest area!

Target (and I don’t mean the store)…
If you want your press release to hit home, you’ve got to aim well. That means sending it out to a very targeted list of contacts. If you’re a business coach with a release about your new seminar series, the health and beauty editor at the Huntsville Gazette is probably not only going to pass on it—he or she will probably be annoyed that you didn’t research your contact list first. So, you get the picture—health related events go to health editors & reporters, business releases go to the business desk, and so on. Sometimes, you can be a little creative in your distribution, however—as your release might fit into several different areas. If you’re a female business owner, there may be something of interest in your release to a newspaper’s “women’s” section, as well (i.e. a growing business trend among female entrepreneurs.) Study the publication and make sure you direct your release to the right person, re-working your headline & first paragraph for the individual, if needed—and limit your release to one contact per publication.

Be a distribution machine…
Now that you have your press release written, it’s time to get it out there. There are many different options available, depending on your time and budget. Distribution services can send your release to up to 10,000 media contacts at a time (you can also specify particular markets that you want to reach). Fee based services include Business Wire, Major News Wire and I Media Fax, and the usual cost ranges from $150 to a few hundred dollars. However, if you have a little more time and a little less money, you can distribute your press release yourself. There are places on the Internet where you can post your press release for free, such as PRWeb.com, 24-7PressRelease.com, Free-Press-Release.com, PRLeap.com, and PR.com. You can also do a Google search on "free press release distribution" (to find additonal sites like the ones just mentioned), research newspapers, magazines and TV/radio shows that you’d like to distribute to, visit their web sites and find the appropriate contact person (you’ll usually find a staff list in the publication’s “About Us” section). These days, email is an increasingly popular contact method among members of the media.

Once you find your contact’s email address, send your release in the body of the email, prefaced by a quick introduction and query (no more than a few lines long). Avoid attachments when possible—because of virus scares, journalists aren’t likely to open them if they’re from an unfamiliar source.

The big follow-up…
So, you’ve sent out your release…now what? It is okay to follow up with a phone call to an editor to see whether he or she received your release or has any questions about it. However…don't push it! A sure-fire turnoff for editors is when they get multiple phone calls pressuring them to commit to a story or badgering questions on when a story is going to run. "Short 'n polite" is the best way to go--"I just wanted to see if you had any questions" and "thank you very much" will suffice.

Make regular, well-written press releases a part of your marketing campaign, and you're sure to get people talking about & paying attention to your business. Good luck!


© Copyright 2004 Vonetta Booker-Brown. All rights reserved.


Business - Relationships - Health & Fitness - Entertainment

The Staying Power of E

(Fairfield County Weekly) The Norwalk-based green magazine outlasts its competitors to celebrate its 10th anniversary.

By Vonetta Booker-Brown



Ah, the environmental craze of the early ‘90s. Fueled by the good intentions of Earth Day’s 20th anniversary in 1990, everything green was suddenly tres chic; sort of like the “new black.” From hordes of celebrities doing pro-recycling commercials and screaming “Take It Back!” to Halloweeners dress as big, fat, walking globes, not only was saving the planet important—to many, it was also the cool, “in” thing to do. It seemed as though everything was being made from recycled paper—including the slew of green magazines that debuted at that time, such as Garbage, Buzzworm, Trilogy and E (The Environmental Magazine).

“The 1990 Earth Day recruited a whole lot of people, and a lot of them have since gotten out of it,” says Jim Motavalli, editor of E. “But those people weren’t real serious about it, anyway—you have to expect that. But there is a fairly high level of casual environmental awareness among people,” he points out.

A decade later, E is the only one of the aforementioned independent green magazines still in business. The Norwalk-based bimonthly celebrates its 10th year publishing this year.

The magazine’s editorial breadth includes everything from recycling to rainforests, personal to political. “We offer a nice mix of investigative stories and personal lifestyle topics, all aimed at inspiring and empowering readers to make positive personal lifestyle changes that benefit the environment,” says executive editor Doug Moss, during an interview at E’s small, no-frills office. Moss is surrounded by two phones—one for magazine business (“That’s my ‘E’ phone,” he quips), the other for Douglas Forms, his side printing business that’s partly responsible for those annoying subscription “invoice notices” that seem to come in the mail once a week. “I kinda wear two hats in the course of a typical day,” he chuckles.

Moss and his wife Deborah Kamlani didn’t lack the inspirational fodder for starting E in 1988, what with medical waste washing up on New Jersey beaches, fires in Yellowstone Park and other global environmental problems that were garnering increasing media attention. E rolled off the press with its first issue in the midst of the Exxon Valdez oil spill. That environmental disaster showed the world how little a corporation like Exxon really cared about the Alaskan coastline and habitat.

Since then, E has received a number of awards and citations. Noted magazine analyst Samir Husni called E one of the few magazine “hits” of 1990. It won two Utne Reader magazine excellence awards for “Best New Magazine” and “Best Special Interest Magazine.” Not to mention the kudos given by Project Censored for covering “issues and topics overlooked by the mainstream press.”

And Moss wants to make sure the “mainstream” media doesn’t get used to doing just that. “We’re trying to make a case, because we don’t want to preach to the choir,” he says.

“Look at the state of our media—obsessions with Monica Lewinsky and all that stuff,” he points out. “The American public’s being dumbed down by this crap. So, we need to really bolster a good progressive media to support at least some of the points of light, to be successful. That’s one of the reasons we’re good to have around, because we influence other coverage.”

With a circulation of 56,000, E doesn’t have the reach of larger magazines. But the heavy syndication of its articles more than makes up for it. Stories such as “Recycling is Garbage” and articles on male breast cancer have run (respectively) in The New York Times and the Chicago Sun-Times, among many others. And remember that August 1998 Weekly cover story on environmental racism titled “Don’t Dump On Me?” You know, the one with that cute little girl holding her nose while standing in front of a sewage plant? Yep, you guessed it—an E reprint.

“Chances are, there were a lot more people reading the Chicago Sun-Times piece than read our magazine per year,” laughs Moss.

Another thing that sets E apart is that it’s independent and not a mouthpiece of a large environmental group like the National Audobon Society or Sierra Club, for example. “Garbage was a lot like E in terms of the way it looked,” says Moss. “But it was a bit more conservative than we are. A lot of the environmental community didn’t like that kind of attitude like, they would run ads for GE inside their front cover promoting their plastics, and inside the back cover, they would do a little feature trashing some poor little green company for being impure.”

Ah, yes—there’s the rub. What does a small magazine do when it comes to advertising? Sell its soul to run big, money-making “Every Day is Earth Day at Exxon” ads? Or, stay true to principle and eke it out on much smaller revenue?

“It can be a challenge, because we’d accept only environmentally-friendly products or those that are all-natural or organic,” says E advertising director Karen Soucy. In order to make sure a potential advertiser isn’t secretly dumping toxic waste into rivers on the side, the staff does research on the companies, and then shares the information during staff meetings.

“Although we have turned down advertising from some corporations when we’ve felt their interest wouldn’t be best suited for our readers, there still seems to be a healthy group of advertisers we can contact and work with,” she says, citing Aubrey Organics and Maytag as E advertisers.

“It’s certainly not as wide a universe as if we were a mainstream magazine, but it’s fun challenge—especially because they may not know we exist, or vice versa. But when we connect, it’s a perfect combination.”


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How to Pitch: Honey

(MediaBistro.com) Your tip sheet, straight from the editors.

By Vonetta Booker-Brown


Circulation: 350,000

Frequency: 10 times a year

Special Issues: None

Background: That middle-class, successful African-American woman who subscribes to Essence? You'll probably spot her younger, hipper, 20-something fashionista sister on the subway with an issue of Honey tucked in her designer bag. Launched in 1999 by writers Kierna Mayo and Joicelyn Dingle, Honey, with its hip-hop-meets-feminism sassiness, is sort of a cross between Jane and The Source. In 2000, Honey changed its publication schedule from quarterly to 10 times annually. Amy Dubois Barnett has been the editor-in-chief for the past three
years.

The typical "Honey girl," as the editors affectionately call her, is an African-American between the ages of 18 and 34. Front-of-book sections include "Fusion," a mix of short pieces on what's currently hot in music, movies, books, and film, and the "Get Ahead Guide, which features career tips. Features mix saucy relationship articles ("Is He Cheating, Or Are You Just Jealous?") with takes on large social issues, like HIV in the black community. Cover stories, like at many mags, are often celebs. "When we think of our cover subjects," says features editor Denene Millner, "we think of people who are looked up to, and who young women of color appreciate and want to emulate; who they can draw
ideas from."

What to pitch: The small staff of editors is looking for well-structured pitches that reflect the Honey reader's interests. And what are the readers interested in? "They are of a generation that is interested in things not just African-American," Barnett has said. "They watch Girlfriends, but also Sex and the City. They listen to Jill Scott but also to Dido." The best areas for new writers to break into Honey, according to Millner, are the first person, 600-word
experience sections "Makes Me Wanna Holla" and "My Life," which she edits.

The editors are also open to new-writer pitches on relationship articles. For example, writer Alexandra Mace recently contributed "Dating By Numbers," a tongue-in-cheek piece that included items about new places to meet a guy—along with "clues that he's fronting." Millner says that this is the best way for her and her co-editors to get acquainted with a writer's work, and for writers to move up to writing larger features for the magazine. "If it's good, I'd certainly call back and say, 'Hey, this was well-written, you take direction well, perhaps you'd be interested in writing some larger features for us'," Millner says. Cover stories and larger features are generally done by seasoned writers they've worked with in the past.

What not to pitch: Although it may seem obvious, Millner stresses that would-be new writers study Honey's content and back issues before pitching—and that, yes, she sometimes receives pitches about ideas that have nothing to do with the magazine whatsoever. "I've gotten pitches about 50-year olds who own vineyards in California," she says. "It sounds like a great story, but not a Honey story."

Pitches that lack detail are another faux pas. "Don't just send a two-line email," Millner says, "especially if you're not a writer we've worked with or recognize. If all you say is, 'I'd like to write a story on such-and-such,' there's nothing we can do with that, because we don't know if you can write that. We're not going to assign a 2500-word story to
someone we're not confident can write. We need to know who you're going to talk to, what angles you're going to hit in the story specifically, and what it has to do with Honey readers."

Recent freelance stories pitched and published: "How To Tell If a Guy Is Playing You (And If So, Why Are You Still With Him?)," which was featured in Honey's May 2002 issue. "The writer was new and I'd never heard of her, but her pitch was good and her story was really solid," says Millner. "She took direction really well."

Etiquette: The editors at Honey like to get pitches by e-mail. "That's the quickest way for me to look at it," Millner says. Clips should be attached electronically, if possible; otherwise writers should add at the query's end that samples will be coming in the mail. Ideas that may be of interest get "filed" under their respective subject categories, discussed at monthly editorial meetings and are given a go-ahead if agreed upon by the four top editors. "Calling every five minutes is not advisable!" says Millner, recalling a freelancer who chewed out one of the editors over the phone for not responding to a query she sent a few days prior. (Needless to say, they didn't buy her article.)


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Will You Marry Me?

(Essence.com) One couple's story of love--lost, then found--and happily ever after.

By Vonetta Booker-Brown


I'm a true believer in fate. As corny as it may sound, I think Rodney and I were simply meant to be. My intended loved me way back in the fourth grade, when--outwardly--I was a gangly, geeky little brown girl deep in the throes of pre-adolescent angst. Inside, of course, I thought I had it going on. So did he. In 1995, after we found our way back to each other and began dating in earnest. But we broke up 18 months later. Last year we rekindled our romance. During our time apart, I think we both had a chance to mature--making us better for each other the second time around. It soon became clear that this was it. That said, I still didn't see the whole proposal thing coming. At all! This is our story:

Vonetta's Side:
the vibe: We were doing the cute, mushy couple thing in New York City. Strolling around hand-in-hand and making people sick with our lovey-dovey carrying on. Rodney fits me like a glove. He makes me feel like a queen even with a head cold, PMS, morning breath and toothpaste on my face. That's love, y'all. The kind of brother I can grow old with.

the set-up: Rodney wanted to walk across the Brooklyn Bridge. We stopped in the middle to chill. He came up behind me, kissing me on the back of my neck. Cute, I thought. He is the affectionate type. But I still played the coy move. You know the one, ladies-batting the eyes and sweetly asking, "Oh, where did that come from?" Rodney then took a deep breath and launched into how much I mean to him.

the big moment: Rodney's words all seemed to blend into a background "wah-wah-wah," like the voice of Charlie Brown's teacher. See, I was transfixed by what was happening in front of me, playing out in slow motion. Rodney was reaching into his pocket, pulling out a small black box. I thought, "Oh, hell naw. I know that's not what I think it is…" Rodney: (voice back from wah-wah land) "…will you be my wife?" I stood speechless staring at ring, mouth agape in shock. A little voice in my head said "Say yes, fool!" snapping me out of the daze. "Yes!"

the prologue: Marriage? Bring it!

Rodney's Side:
The vibe: I wanted the proposal to be special, something we would always remember. But, it had to feel natural. Nothing about our relationship had ever been forced or contrived. So I wasn't about to start now. Ever since the fourth grade, something about Vonetta has had a hold on me. Maybe it was her eyes. Big, soulful ones that look right through you.

The set-up: It was an unseasonably warm Saturday afternoon. We were hanging out in lower-Manhattan and had lunch at a local pizza shop. At this point, I was sure, Vonetta was getting suspicious. I was too nervous to think about eating; and she knows I can always get a grub on. Afterward, I suggested we take a walk over the Brooklyn Bridge. We live in Connecticut, so visiting the Brooklyn Bridge has been one of top-three things on my to-do list. The others are seeing the Eiffel Tower and a Lenny Kravitz live performance. Since Vonetta's the only one for me, it seemed a fitting place to ask her to be my wife. Besides, I want her with me when I tackle the other two.

The big moment: Halfway over the bridge, while she stopped to read one of the historical plaques, I kissed the nape her neck and said "I love you." You'd think at this point, she'd be used to hearing those words, right? But she turned and asked, "What brought that on?" Bam! I had her. I slowly pulled the ring out of my pocket and said "I want to spend the rest of my life with you. Will you be my wife?

The prologue: We don't complete each other; we compliment each other. Vonetta doesn't need me. She has own income, her own goals. I love that. She's the one.

For more information (and photos!) on Rodney & Vonetta's October 2002 wedding, visit BookerBrown.com, designed by Vonetta Booker-Brown.


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Romance vs. Finance

(Essence.com) When it comes to prenups, more sisters are likely to say "I do."

By Vonetta Booker-Brown


So, you're engaged to "the one"--a man you can see yourself with forever. And he's just as crazy about you. But while gazing into each other's eyes over a candlelit dinner one evening, your honey unexpectedly pops the "other" question: Will you sign a prenuptial agreement?

If you're like 26-year-old Geiselle James, you'd probably look at him like he just dissed your mama. "It's like going into a relationship with no trust," says the graduate student, whose attitude toward prenups is informed by her Trinidadian background. "In the islands, they believe that if you love and marry a person 'until death do you part,' you wouldn't be thinking of having a prenuptial. That's how it's always been." Period.

To sign or not to sign?

Although many of us are financially savvier than our mothers and grandmothers were when they got married, a significant number of sisters share Geiselle's anti-prenup sentiments. When asked, "Would you sign a prenuptial agreement?" nearly a third (32.8 percent) of Essence.com visitors said "No way!" But surprisingly, a combined 41.8 percent (31.1 percent said "Yes," and 10.7 percent said "If the price was right") were likely to sign right up. About one-quarter replied, "Don't know."

Journalist and author Denene Millner is in the "No way!" camp. She playfully debates the subject in her book, Money, Power, Respect: What Brothers Think, What Sistahs Know (William Morrow & Co.) with husband and co-author, Nick Chiles. "I'm against prenups," she says. "They just throw all kinds of negativity on the relationship before you even make it down the aisle."

But many experts agree that in the event of a failed marriage, prenups can at least save you from financial stress.

"They can be a great tool because they force couples to discuss money," says Glinda Bridgforth, money expert and author of Girl, Get Your Money Straight: A Sister's Guide to Healing Your Bank Account and Funding Your Dreams in 7 Simple Steps (Broadway Books). She stresses taking a hard look at your financial status and habits (i.e. what you own and owe, your credit report, saving and spending habits, etc.) and discussing them with your partner before merging finances.

Bridgforth adds that more women are protecting their growing assets these days. "As a financial consultant, I've had a couple of cases recently where my female clients were ordered by the court to pay their spouses' alimony," she says. "Since many women are becoming more aware of alternatives that benefit them, the prenuptial agreement is becoming less stigmatized."

Paula, a 32-year-old independent television producer, agrees. Eager to protect her growing assets, she'll insist that her future husband sign a prenup. To her, it's only fair. "Men have an easier time buying cars, homes, etc., while women still make 68 cents to a man's dollar. Why should men get alimony, too?"

The bottom line--talk about it

So, what do our attitudes toward prenups say about our beliefs regarding relationships and money? While some of us still believe a prenup has no place in a romantic relationship, others are learning that there's nothing wrong with considering what a prenup can provide--protection of the assets you had going into marriage as well as protection from your partner's debts should you divorce.

Whichever side you fall on, the money issue definitely has its place in relationship discussions, especially premarial discussions. Prenuptial agreement or not--are you really trying to get caught up in drama because you didn't knw your man's checks have more bounce than an NBA ball? It's chattin' time, ladies...


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Cyber Advisor

(Honey magazine) Welcome to the domain of online advice columnist Deborrah Cooper.

By Vonetta Booker-Brown

(View PDF of article)


Some people have a knack for giving straight, no-chaser advice about love and relationships. Deborrah Cooper, a.k.a. “Ms. Heartbeat,” has parlayed that talent into a website, Askheartbeat.com.

Wherever I went, people would approach me, seeking a listening ear and thoughtful advice that would work,” says Cooper, who’s also done stints as an AOL advice columnist and cable TV host. Now her comfort and counsel attract more than three million hits per month.

Askheartbeat.com is a one-stop resource for black romance advice. Although the site features a popular discussion board and relationship articles by a myriad of contributors, the main attraction is Cooper’s bi-weekly advice column. She pulls no punches with the “babymamadrama,” mixing warm wisdom with sassy humor and startling bluntness.

Cooper’s biggest surprise was how the site rapidly gained the respect of not only black Internet users, but the entire online community, as well. “I discovered that the issues are the same,” she says. “Trust, cheating, lying and game-playing exist in relationships all over the world, no matter what race, color or creed—nor does it matter what the sexual origin. We all want love and we all have issues with getting it the way we want.”


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Sweat Inspiration

(Real Health magazine) Keep the faith & lose the pounds with gospel aerobics.

By Vonetta Booker-Brown

(View PDF of article)

These days, “going to church” doesn’t just mean walking with the Lord—it means jumping, kicking and high-stepping, too. Gospel aerobics—heart-pumping cardio workouts set to uplifting gospel grooves—are growing in popularity at churches and recreation centers nationwide.

The church is “where the community looks for guidance, direction and spiritual motivation,” says gospel-aerobics pioneer Stephanie Jackson-Rowe, president and founder of the Chicago-based Christian Aerobics and Fitness Association (CAFA). She adds that the church is especially convenient for residents of neighborhoods that lack health clubs or safe recreational facilities.

Since Chicagoan Tammy Daniels, 37, began her thrice-weekly gospel-
aerobics regimen at her church last November, she has lost 10 pounds and gained healthy eating knowledge from her group’s visiting nutritionist. “The experience of praying and asking God to get you through—channeling that higher power to keep you from passing out—is so powerful,” Daniels says.

Fitness personality Victoria Johnson offers a national directory of classes on her website (visit www.victoriajohnson.com/ Ministry/gad.shtml.) To start a class at your church, seek certified instructors who belong to such organizations as the Aerobics and Fitness Association of America (AFAA) or the American Council on Exercise (ACE). Jackson-Rowe’s organization, Joy to Be Fit, helps churches set up their own programs (773-385-6684 or visit www.joytobefit.com). You can also check out fitness guru Donna Richardson’s hit gospel-aerobics workout on DVD, Sweating in the Spirit ($19.98).


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In Control

(Essence magazine) Self-defense workouts get you mentally fit.

By Vonetta Booker

(View PDF of article)


It's late and you're on your way home after work. You feel just a tad nervous as you walk down a deserted street toward your apartment. Does this scenario sound familiar? As winter approaches and the days get shorter, it might. And if an attacker did approach you in the street, would you know how to defend yourself? Would you be strong enough to stop him?

To avoid that feeling of vulnerability, an increasing number of women are enrolling in self-defense classes. Krav Maga, the Israeli Defense Forces' self-defense system, has become a popular workout while teaching a real fighting technique (learn more at www.kravmaga.com). Another new class is yoga self-defense--yoga philosophy coupled with street-smart techniques for protecting yourself. Impact and kick-boxing classes are still favorites among women. Whichever form you choose, it's all about becoming aware--and empowered.

Although using one's wits to outsmart an attacker is a key factor in self-defense, it also helps to be physically fit and ready to go, toe to toe. "You can't be a weakling when defending yourself," says certified self-defense trainer Beverly Bradley. "Being physically strong is a plus." That means toned thighs, calves, biceps and triceps and a strong back and abdomen. Bradley, who is also a certified trainer in martial arts and kick-boxing and the founder of the Brooklyn-based women's wellness group Kamili Afya, says, "Being able to grab someone and pull them into your knee--that's physical strength!"

In between your self-defense classes and strength-building workouts, stay street-safe with these tips from Sergeant Doris M. Byrd of the Chicago Police Department.

  • Always be aware of your surroundings, regardless of the time of day.
  • Follow your gut. "If you feel something's wrong, then it's wrong," says Bradley.
  • Have your keys ready before approaching your car or the entrance of your home.
  • Don't rummage through your purse in public.
  • Never use a weapon you're unskilled with. "It's easy for an attacker to use it against you," says Byrd.
  • Do not carry all your money in one spot.

Captions:

For punching power, Beverly Bradley suggests strengthening your arms with these moves:

Front raises: Hold dumbbells against your upper thigh as shown. Raise one arm until weight is in front of you at shoulder level. Lower, then alternate with other arm. Do three sets of 12 to 15 alternating reps.

Biceps curls: Standing with feet shoulders' width apart, keep your arms close to the body. Then bend at the elbow, curling the fist up to the shoulder. Lower and repeat. Do three sets of 12 to 15 reps.


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Beyond the Banana Seat

(Essence magazine) Biking is a great, grown-up fitness routine.

By Vonetta Booker

(View PDF of article)


Remember the feeling of the wind on your face as you pedaled through the streets on skinny brown legs? Although your banana-seated baby is probably long gone, cycling is still a thrill—and a wonderful, boredom-resistant way to shape up your heart, hips and legs. It’s a calorie buster, too: According to the American Heart Association, a 150-pound person can burn up to 240 calories an hour while cycling at just 6 miles an hour.

“You have several things going on when you ride, says spinning and aerobics instructor Tanya Brooks of World Gym in Largo, Maryland. “You have the aerobics workout, which burns calories and gets your heart going. And if you want to lose weight, it’s a great activity, because everyone can ride.”

Get in shape for biking with heart-friendly exercises such as low-impact aerobics step classes and elliptical machines. You need strong legs, but upper-body strength is also essential: Try lifting light handheld weights and doing abdominal crunches. Spinning classes (indoor group cycling) at your gym can also help you get into top cycling shape.

Maryland resident Naomi Lewis took biking to the next level—for a good cause—when she rode in the Washington, D.C., AIDS Ride presented by Tanqueray last year—a for-day, 330-mile trip. Lewis says a ride like that requires a fitness level she had to work up to gradually. She prepared by lifting light weights and doing stationary cycling at the gym, and by riding 50 to 100 miles on the weekends.

Whether you occasionally pedal through neighborhood streets or put some serious miles on your bike, the point is to flip that kickstand up and take off!


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Don't Worry, Be Nappy

(HealthQuest magazine) For Healthy Hair, Try Locks

By Vonetta Booker-Brown

(View PDF of article)


Honey-colored baby coils. Thick, brown twists. Regal, waist-length elder locks. Whether you refer to them as dreadlocks or Nubian locks, they’re as diverse and striking as our various skin tones. An increasing number of brothers and sisters are finding locks to be a healthy alternative to processed hair.

For 33-year-old administrative assistant Rhonda Savage, years of wearing her hair “fried, dyed and laid-to-the-side” took their toll. Her once-thick, strong tresses had become weak, damaged “help-me” hair. She knew it was time for a change, but she admits she had reservations about locking.

“I had been wanting locks for a long time, but was too afraid to do it,” she says. “Every time my relaxer would grow out, I’d wind up retouching the roots and burning half my hair out in the process.” Eventually Savage tired of following a European standard of beauty. She embraced her natural, African hair—and hasn’t looked back.

“It’s so easy to take care of, and my hair is a whole lot healthier,” says Savage.

“With proper maintenance, hair is at its healthiest state when locked,” says Troy Harrison, a locktitian (the term for a person who grooms locks) at Afrakuts House of Kham Nu, in Orange, New Jersey. “You’re not cutting, combing or applying any form of chemicals to alter the hair’s natural state. Therefore, it has no choice but to grow out naturally.”

Hair “locks” when strands of unprocessed African hair curl and tangle around each other. Left in this state over a period of time, the hair finally becomes locked: The strands of hair can’t be separated without cutting them off.

Nubian locks are “cultivated”—that is, the hair is groomed so that each individual lock is neat and uniform. But the original locked lock was founded by people in the Rastafarian religion, who wear “organic” dreadlocks—locks that form without combing, twisting or manipulation the hair at all. Some people may start locks with individual braids, twisting the new growth into locks as it grows out. You can also palm-roll the hair between your hands, or twist it into small sections all over the head.

Don’t believe the hype that you must be armed with a hive full of beeswax in order to lock your hair, either. A very light setting gel is optional, but the same holding effect can be obtained by simply twisting wet hair and securing it with clips until it dries.

“Using oppressive substances like beeswax, heavy oils or grease increase the probability that the lock will retain dirt and debris,” said Nekhena Evans, locktitian and author of Everything You need to Know about Hairlocking: Dread, African and Nubian Locks (A&B Publisher’s Group). Instead, she extols the virtues of all-natural products. “For example, aloe vera is great for coily hair. It’s an intensifier, and it speeds up the natural hairlocking process.

Patience, time and effort are the main ingredients for starting and maintaining a lush garden of kinky glory. Depending on your hair’s texture, the locking process can take anywhere from six months to a year. The hair must be unprocessed—and generally, the kinkier it is, the quicker it will lock.

When 29-year-old Mary Sutherlin attempted to lock her hair three different times over five years, she learned a valuable lesson: Don’t overdo it.

“In my first two attempts, the ore I manipulated it, the straighter it seemed to get; I would wind up with Shirley Temple curls,” she says, noting the difficulty she had in locking because of her hair’s fine texture. On the third try, Sutherlin’s hair eventually locked after about five months.

“Basically, I just decided to let it do its own thing, and it eventually came together on its own.”

Though locks have become more mainstream, the people who wear them often face misconceptions about their hair.

“The most common misconception is that they’re dirty and unkempt,” said Annu Prestonia, co-owner of Khamit Kinks natural hair salon in New York City. “However, grooming, care and nurturing are involved.”

Just like anyone else, lock wearers wash their hair regularly, based on its oiliness and/or tendency to collect dirt. And even though natural hair is stronger than processed hair, locks can still suffer from damage and breakage if not treated properly. “Over twisting at the roots, improper moisturizing, conditioning and maintenance—these can all have a detrimental effect on locks,” says Harrison.

Fortunately, maintaining a healthy head of locks isn’t difficult. Basic grooming is essential—shampooing and conditioning on a regular basis, oiling the scalp and hair and twisting new growth as needed.

It’s said that you can tell a lot about a person by the way they wear their hair. For many, hairlocking goes way beyond being a fad. It’s a statement that says, “I embrace all that I am—every nap, every kink is beautiful!”

Sidebar: Keeping Locks Lovely

When you first start locks, avoid washing the hair for at least a month to give it time to lock a bit. Massage the scalp regularly to stimulate hair growth and circulation, and to help prevent dandruff buildup. Cleaning the scalp with an astringent-soaked cotton ball once or twice a week also helps. If you must wash your hair before it locks completely, cover it with a stocking cap and pour a mixture of shampoo and warm water over it. Shampoo and rinse lightly.

Don’t twist your locks too tightly, or stress the hair by wearing it pulled back constantly.

Protect locks from dryness by misting the hair and scalp with a light oil before bed and then covering with a sating scarf or bonnet. For a hot-oil treatment in a hurry: Mist the air with a light oil and cover with a shower cap right before you get in the shower.

Don’t let anyone tell you that locks aren’t versatile! To crimp locks, braid wet hair in small sections, then undo and finger-style when dry. You can also set it on rollers for curly locks.

Want to try out the locked look before you commit? Twists can be a chic look for those who aren’t ready for the permanence of dreads. Simply wash them out before the hair locks.


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Parents shouldn’t overlook the benefits of healthy living for kids (Stamford Advocate)

(View PDF)

by Vonetta Booker

With Valentine’s Day around the corner, hearts are certainly on our minds—and not just the chocolate kind. After all, we must be concerned about our hearts, our parents’ hearts, our kids’ hearts…

It’s estimated that 40 percent of children ages 5 to 8 exhibit at least one risk factor for heart disease, such as physical inactivity, obesity, elevated cholesterol or high blood pressure.

Add to that the fact that researchers have found even mildly overweight adolescents can become substantially obese in only a few years, and only 1-in-3 of America’s schoolchildren is enrolled in daily physical education, and many health experts see trouble ahead.

And the problem isn’t going away anytime soon, not when you consider children’s sedentary lifestyles and the ready access youngsters have to junk food.

“You have all these fast-food restaurants that are super-sizing their meals,” says Patricia Bianchini, program coordinator for cardiac rehabilitation at Norwalk Hospital. “What I’ve seen over the years is that people are getting busier and busier, they’re more prone to eating fast and prepackaged foods, which, of course tend to have higher fat content.”

Advances in technology also serve as a double-edged sword.

Thanks to the Internet and interactive games, kids now have the world at their fingertips without ever leaving their rooms. Pair this with the ongoing, nationwide fast-food orgy, and Bianchini predicts an artery-clogged future for many.

“I think it’s going to be a big problem 20 to 40 years from now,” Bianchini says. “We may see a lot of younger people with premature cardiovascular disease because we’re producing unhealthy, overweight children.”

OK, so telling your daughter to pretend that her carrot sticks are Twizzlers might not work, but experts insist there are many fairly painless ways to introduce healthy fare into a child’s diet.

“One of the things parents can certainly do is to be aware of nutritious, heart-healthy foods that are lower in fat,” says Bianchini, who teaches her adult patients to share the heart-healthy information they learn with their families.

“Get your children involved in the kitchen. There are lots of heart-healthy cookbooks out there, several are geared toward children,” she says. “This also helps them look at portion sizes, so that they can see what a half-cup is versus eating triple amounts of the dish.”
Experts also suggest storing cut-up fruits and vegetables and other healthy snacks at your child’s eye level in the refrigerator, and keeping fresh popcorn, baked chips and raisins on hand for after-school munchies.

At the supermarket, parents and kids can hop on the fruit and veggie bandwagon. Produce and fresher foods are usually found along the store’s perimeter; processed foods tend to dwell in the center aisles.

While instilling healthy eating habits is important, doing so is just one part of the heart-healthy equation; parents must also address that other modern-day bugaboo: exercise.

You may rendezvous regularly with your Stairmaster and always have your running shoes and hand-held weights at the ready, but how do you get your son or daughter off the couch and into some heart-pumping activity?

“Get out there and walk with your kids, even if it’s taking the family dog out for a stroll,” urges Davenport Ridge Elementary School physical education instructor Ronne Garber. “The kids have 30-minute gym periods, but I’ve always thought that wasn’t enough time.”

“The priorities in our culture and society have change,” she adds. “It became important for adults to get fit during the ‘70s and ‘80s, but that wasn’t the case with the children. The idea was, ‘Children are children; it doesn’t matter what they eat or do.”

Garber, who’s taught physical education for 25 years, says that to fill the activity void, she started the Free Gym and Free Gym P.M., before- and after-school programs through which students can play basketball, jump rope and, during warmer months, Rollerblade.

Maria Fox, health enhancement director at Stamford’s YMCA, also sees the benefit of keeping kids moving. She says, “The more younger kids get involved in physical activity, the more likely they are to keep it up as they get older.”

Fox should know; her involvement in athletics and fitness from an early age led her to her current position, running YMCA youth programs like the new teen strength training class.

In addition to promoting exercise, Fox stresses the benefits of a mentally and physically healthy lifestyle.

“The main thing is self-esteem, getting teens involved and away from the TV, computer games and out meeting people,” she says. “In class, we discuss things like stress management, nutrition and peer pressure, things they’ll encounter at school and on the playing field. It really helps them set realistic goals for themselves.

“We all need to find our motivation,” says Fox. “It’s just a matter of experimenting with different ways of finding what works for you.”


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Bicycles Built for Two: Cycling meets smooching in a very social club (Stamford Advocate)

(View PDF)

by Vonetta Booker

So, the weather’s getting warmer and the days are getting longer. You’ve bought a bike that’s right for you, and you’re now out (safely) getting into the swing of things, when suddenly…the person of your dreams pedals right into your life. Far-fetched? Not really, according to some members of local bike clubs. Although they ride for the love of it, they say cycling tends to bring people together socially—and romantically.

“Many people meet on these rides; there’s a great deal of socializing,” says Paul Serratore, chairman of the local Sound Cyclists club. He met his fiancée, fellow cyclist Anne Spelman, about three years ago on the club’s weekly Friday night ride.

Over many weeks, the two developed a friendship, which in turn led to a relationship. “One distinguishing characteristic of Sound Cyclists is that it’s a very warm and social club—we try to discourage any kind of elitism,” Serratore says. “People regularly hang out and go places together after the rides.”

Sound Cyclists offers rides throughout the year, at no cost to cyclists of all abilities, winding along the quiet country roads and scenic coastline of lower Fairfield County. Routes range from slow-paced, 12-mile flat rides to 62-mile jaunts over rolling hills. The rides are led by experienced cyclists and usually include a “sweep,” a cyclist at the back of the pack who assists other riders if they encounter difficulties.

Sound Cyclists members Gary and Marsha Jones met at an annual biking picnic in New Canaan in 1989, and have been married now for nearly seven years. After their first meeting, conversation led to a first date—a bike ride into the Hudson Valley.

“We really enjoyed each other, and did a lot of riding together after that,” says Jones, an actor. The couple began dating in 1990 and were married in October 1991. Jones admits the situation caught him off guard, since both were divorced. “Neither one of us planned on getting married again,” he says. “I was pretty surprised that I proposed. But marriage is the best. I’m really glad we did it.”

Jones says there is a big difference between singles bars and cycling clubs. “I’ve heard horror stories about singles clubs, and I’ve found that scene depressing myself,” he says. “It’s always been important that the women I dated had things in common with me. It’s good to have something in common at the outset more than a drink—experiences to share, etc. with cycling in common, you don’t have to worry about that.”

Jones says that he and his wife, who’s a decorative artist, have “about 10,000 things in common,” among them being members of a local folk-singing group, The Walkabout Clearwater Chorus. “Biking was the tip of the iceberg—there are so many different activities we share,” he says.

What love? We’re just breathing heavy

Cycling may lead to clarity in relationships—it is hard to hide anything under tight, black spandex shorts—but advocates say it also leads to a slimmer waistline.

“Cycling is a very good workout—it’s non-weight bearing, making it less injury-prone,” says Brian Sharkey, personal trainer and owner of Cycology, a Stamford fitness center. “For a beginning exerciser, it’s the perfect activity.”

Sharkey breaks down the fitness benefits: 40 minutes, or six miles, of pedaling can burn 400 to 600 calories. “It’s a great exercise for your cardiovascular routine,” he says. Sharkey recommends combining cycling with strength and flexibility training and a healthy diet for an overall, ongoing fitness routine.

You probably don’t have to look much further than your garage or basement to find the equipment. If you do decide to buy a bike, it’s worth noting the sport has undergone a revolution in the past two decades—and today there are more choices than ever before.

“The first thing you should do is determine what type of cycling you want to do,” says Steve Fishman, owner of Cycle and Fitness of Stamford. He explains that there are different types of bikes for different cycling activities—mountain bikes are best for off-road cycling, road bikes are great for biking on, yes, roads, and hybrid bikes (which possess the low gearing and comfortable seating of mountain bikes but the narrower tires of mountain bikes) are best for a combination of on- and off-road cycling.

“Once you make that decision,” Fishman says, “think about how much you want to invest.” Bicycle prices range from about $250 to $5,000, he says. Generally, a bike’s performance is based on how light and strong it’s made—thus the wide price range. Cheaper models are serviceable around town, but long rides or off-road adventures cry out for the lighter weight and stronger components of high-end models. (Cycling is also easier, ahem, if you get stronger and lighter.)

And what should you look for? “A professional fitting, relative to your leg extension, and a good arm fit from the seat to handlebars for safety and comfort,” Fishman says. “Most bike stores will take you outside for a test ride, break and gear lesson. Also, make sure the break levers fit for finger length.” A helmet is imperative (children 12 and younger are required to wear them by state law), and optimal accessories include gloves, and water bottles that either mount to the bike or are carried in backpack form. It is worth noting for neophytes: Those funky spandex shorts have a leather pad inside that is o-so-comfortable.

For the casual rider, a big question is how to stay safe on roads dominated by fast-moving cars. “Remember that by law, bicycles are vehicles. Act like a vehicle to be treated like one,” says Serratore of Sound Cyclists. He also stresses the basics—wearing a helmet at all times obeying stop signs and traffic lights, and riding with traffic, not against it.

Of course, road courtesy goes both ways, Serratore says. “Drivers should yield also. What cyclists should do is make their intentions clear to drivers, and look out for opening car doors, especially. Try to stay at least 3 feet from cars, and drivers should give cyclists the same clearance distance.”

When riding with others, the buddy system always comes in handy, says Sound Cyclists member Steve Dorso. “Make sure everyone rides single file. Alert other cyclists if you spot something potentially dangerous, cars, sand, potholes, etc., also if you’re stopping or slowing. Everyone should look out for one another.”

“It’s a great sport for anyone to get into,” Dorso adds. It’s non-competitive, and you don’t need reservations. Basically, all you need is a good bike, helmet and a water bottle.”


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Food Cravings and the Mom-to-Be (Stamford Advocate)

(View PDF)

by Vonetta Booker

Ah, food cravings—something many pregnant women know all too well. As your belly grows, you may find you’re on a first-name basis with the people at the neighborhood Chinese restaurant, or that the Burger King employees know your request by heart.

The fact is, the kinds of food cravings pregnant women experience are vastly varied.

Food cravings are also normal, according to Dede Farnsworth, physician’s associate at Women’s Medical Associates in Norwalk. She says most of their patients are aware of this, and as a result, don’t discuss it as much as in years past.

“We have a pretty educated clientele; they probably realize nowadays that cravings are normal,” Farnsworth says.

Common cravings include spicy, salty or sour foods; there are also well-documented cases of a condition called pica, where patients crave things such as plaster, clay or dirt.

Dr. Harold Sherrington, a Stamford-based obstetrician, says that pica is often the body’s way of identifying a calcium deficiency.

“It’s not as common now as it was in past years, since people are getting more nutrition in their diets,” says Sherrington, who has been practicing in Stamford for over 30 years. “However, I still occasionally come across patients who have strange cravings—one craved toilet paper, and another craved toothpaste.”

“At least 30 percent of my patients have cravings,” says Dr. Denis M. Sivak of Avery Center for Obstetrics-Gynecology in Norwalk. Not even labor could stop the cravings of one of his patients—she went out for a pizza while waiting for her bundle of joy to arrive. “I’m hoping a patient will come in with a craving for caviar,” Sivak quips.

Linda Gerin should have been his patient, because that’s exactly what she craved during her first pregnancy—along with lots of smoked salmon, fish and oysters.

Gerin and husband Jean Louis own and operate Restaurant Jean Louis in Greenwich, and have two sons, ages 10 and 3. She says her first-pregnancy cravings were healthy; another favorite was endive salad—a popular dish at the restaurant made with chives, caviar and sour cream.

But that changed in her second pregnancy.

“Because my husband’s cooking is very healthy, I just binged during my second pregnancy,” Gerin explains. For her, bingeing meant lots of junk food, including peanut butter and Triscuits.

Says Bonnie O’Leary, a nurse at obstetrician Marilyn Kessler’s office in Stamford, chocolate is on the minds of many patients when it comes to cravings.

“For some reason, cravings aren’t’ as common as they were years ago,” she says. “Probably because women are working more, with less time to crave, and they have better diets.” O’Leary says that she’s never come across the infamous “ice cream-and-pickles” craving, although she’s seen plenty of both, separately.

Corrine Thomas of West Haven liked to keep things on ice during her pregnancies—ice chips, that is.

“I think there’s something about the way it feels when you chew them—it’s addictive, in a way,” says the mother of Jacob, 2, and Samuel, two weeks. Thomas also became quite familiar with Chinese food buffets, especially chicken fried rice and lo mien noodles.

For Melanie Barnard, restaurant critic for The Advocate and Greenwich Time, cookbook author and mother of three, ages 26 to 28, her pregnancy cravings spelled one word: D-O-N-U-T-S.

Never having experience this craving outside of pregnancy, Barnard jokes: “When I stopped craving donuts, I knew it was time to go to the hospital and deliver.”

With some women, though, cravings can hit hard in one pregnancy and be nonexistent in the next. Dana Branch, New Haven resident and mother of sons Bryant, 7 and Desmond, 2, says, “When I was pregnant with Bryant, all I wanted was Cream of Wheat and oranges.”

During her second pregnancy, however, the 20-something bill processor says she didn’t have any cravings.

“I ate lots of ice cream and good, home-cooked food—chicken, rice, beef, etc. I gained 50 big pounds,” says Stamford resident and retail manager Lisa Whittaker. Interestingly, many of the foods she ate before her pregnancy failed to hold her interest. “Chinese and Italian food didn’t agree with me,” says Whittaker, whose daughter, Nikkeda, is 9.

The fast food franchises must have loved Stamford receptionist Natasha Grasty.

“I ate pizza, Mrs. Fields and Subway 24-7,” says Grasty, the mother of Jordan, 7. Although admitting to the 24-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week addiction to certain fast foods, there was one she didn’t touch. McDonald’s made me deathly ill,” she jokes. “I never craved pickles, onions, sardines or anything like that.”

Whether you have a burning desire for Corn Flakes and Chips Ahoy, or you just can’t live without ham, cheese and banana sandwiches on wheat, keep in mind Gerin’s advice: “Being pregnant sort of gives you an excuse to indulge, within limit.”


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The Tea Party

(NYC Soul Guide) Brooklyn's cup of tea.

By Vonetta Booker-Brown


Dig, if you will, the scenario:

You’re lost in a desolate place where nightclubs resemble meat markets and chicken coops—and open mikes are being bum-rushed by wannabe poets who think that the spoken word scene began with the movie Love Jones. Suddenly, the dust clouds clear, and you stumble upon a Sunday evening oasis—where pretentious attitudes are knocked to the side by a down-to-earth, jeans-‘n-tee shirt vibe that lets you know you don’t have to fake the funk. In other words: The Tea Party.

Held every Sunday evening at Brooklyn’s YWCA and hosted by its founder, artist/DJ Ian Friday, the Tea Party tends to stand out from other open-mic spots. Perhaps it’s the feel of the spacious, candlelit old theater space it’s held in, or the folks who aren’t trying to have any worries as they dance to the bass of soulful house, classic soul and conscious hip-hop pulsating throughout the place. Maybe it’s the Circle at the open mic’s start—where everyone joins hands to give thanks, shout-outs and positive energy. Performers such as Erykah Badu, Saul Williams, jessica Care moore, and Basheba Earth have blessed its mike with their performances.

“Performing [at the Tea Party], I felt that I was at home,” says Earth. “The vibration there is wonderful, and it allows artists to express and be themselves rather than compete with other poets to see who’s ‘the best.’”

The Tea Party began at Frank’s Lounge (located in Fort Greene, Brooklyn) in October 1994. Since 1992, Ian Friday and his friends had been having “expressions” get-togethers where everyone would share poetry, song and food. Then came a successful fill-in DJ gig at Frank’s, and he was able to combine the two into what became the Tea Party. “I felt an urge to bring these different people and aspects together, and I finally had the opportunity to do it. I thought partying on a Sunday was cool, a little ‘bohemian.’” In June 1997, it was moved to the YMCA.

Since then, the actions of Tea Party members have spoken just as loudly as the words of the poets. Along with sponsoring ongoing food and clothing drives, its director’s board and committee collaborate with collective DeeperLite, whose vendors sell everything from snacks and vegetarian dishes to incense and jewelry during the Tea Party. Other entrepreneurs are in on the business action, as well; the Tea Party also displays their books and artwork for purchase, in return for a percentage of the sales.

“The essence of the Tea Party is to nurture people and their art,” says Mia McCloud, Treasurer and Director of Operations. “It’s a way for people to put their stuff out there, and have it exposed.” Officially registered as a business under the name Tea Party, Inc., its bard is also in the process of having the place registered as a non-profit organization.

If the Tea Party’s vibe is similar to that of an exuberant Sunday church service (without the preachiness), then spoken word is the religion here—every poet’s piece gets love from the audience; whether it’s an arguable classic or an unfinished, somewhat awkward work in progress.

“One of our trademarks was that we were a place where people who’d never read poetry before would feel comfortable enough to get up in front of everyone and read,” says Shelley Jefferson, Media Director. “I think that’s a very important aspect of what the Tea Party’s about; that people can come, learn and hopefully be inspired.”

And if one listens closely, a collective sigh of relief can also be heard from newcomers discovering refuge from spots overrun by psuedo-mack daddies and “yo, baby” types. “The Tea Party’s not made out of the regular ‘club/lounge’ mold,” says Friday. “We want people to talk to one another and meet others minus the ‘meat market’ atmosphere, and this environment supports that. The idea is about nurturing creativity—an exchange, if you will.”


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Nursery Rhymes

(Vibe magazine) Hip-hop tracks are adding a little bit of flavor.

By Vonetta Booker-Brown

(View PDF of article)


Hip hop has gone through more styles than Gucci. We had the James Brown beats of the late '80s and the R&B bass blends of the '90s. Now, gangsta lyrics and hard-core beats are being sprinkled with something straight from the playground--kiddie choirs.

Sampling children's voices for a street anthem was a far-fetched idea, until Jay-Z added the vocals from Broadway's Annie to his 1998 hit "Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem)." In 2000, Busta Rhymes followed suit with "Get Out!!," as did R. Kelly with "I Wish." Now juvenile vocalists are back on the charts, featured on Trick Daddy's "I'm A Thug," and Krumb Snatcha's police brutality song "W.O.L.V.E.S," from the Training Day soundtrack.

According to Krumb Snatcha, kid-crooned hooks draw attention to songs about sensitive issues. The Soto twins, 12-year-old boys, lend their haunting vocals to the "W.O.L.V.E.S." track. "Now, even teenagers are getting murdered by police in the streets," Krumb says. "The best way to get the song's message across was to have kids speak up on it, because that's the next generation."

Artists searching for young voices to enhance their tracks often enlist the services of industry veteran Betty Wright. Her Miami, Fla., youth choirs Wrighteous and Little Project People sing on trick Daddy's track. The children, ages 4 to 14, have also accompanied Juvenile and Michael Jackson. Although he may be hard, Trick's still got a soft spot for the kids. "He always shows us love," says 14-year-old Asher, a choir member and Wright's daughter. "He puts us first. It's not like, "Little y'all and big me."

Wright, best known for her '70s hits "Tonight is the Night" and "Clean Up Woman," says she's not overly concerned with Trick's grown-up subjects. "That's always an issue, but it's entertainment," she says. "When you give your child a good upbringing, they know right from wrong." Though Wright admits her work requires a lot of patience, she says it's time well spent. "It gives them an early start, so this industry doesn't scare them to death." And for the kids, it's a way to be a part of the music they listen to. As Krumb Snatcha syas, "Hip hop is for the youth." Now that's keeping it young.


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Performing Isn’t Salt-N-Pepa’s Only Flava These Days

(New Haven Register)

By Vonetta Booker-Brown

(View PDF of article)


It was fall, 1985. Pumas with fat laces walked the urban streets, while lots of legs in Lee jeans did the Prep to Doug E. Fresh and Slick Rick’s “The Show.” Hip hop was hot and getting hotter—although the radio shows and microphone battlefields were still 99.9 percent testosterone as far as the eye could see.

But then, my preteen ears got a sneak preview of the genre’s estrogen-enhanced future: Two young ladies from Queens burst onto the airwaves from seemingly out of nowhere, their high-pitched voices taking the streets by storm with “Showstoppers,” the hit answer record to Doug E. Fresh and Slick Rick’s aforementioned classic. No doubt, Salt-N-Pepa were sexy, spunky and had lots to say—but would they still be around in six months?

Fast-forward nearly a decade and a half later—the “Queens from Queens” have definitely proved their dissenters wrong. A whirlwind of crazy accolades have made Cheryl (Salt) James, Sandi (Pepa) Denton and their DJ, Dee Dee (Spinderella) Roper, the most successful female rap group ever. They’ve gone the Grammy-winning, multi-platinum selling route with albums like 1990’s “Black’s Magic” and 1993’s “Very Necessary.” They gave audiences heavy doses of womanism-with-flava with hits like “Let’s Talk About Sex” and “Whatta Man.”

And then, after the 1997 release of “Brand New,” Salt-N-Pepa went low-profile.

“No, we haven’t broken up,” Salt quipped last week from her Long Island home, juggling phone interview and last-minute packing before heading for Indianapolis to kick off Salt-N-Pepa’s “Greatest Hits” tour, which comes to Milford’s Kangaroos Nite Klub tonight.

“I mean, it’s been 13 years that we’ve been together—three girls for 13 years is a miracle within itself, she said. “So, of course, growing up and being adults, we want to do our own thing. But the group is the coure and heart of us being able to go off and do these other things, so we will continue to come back together from time to time and do things that make sense for us. But I wouldn’t call it a breakup at all.”

Salt-N-Pepa’s plates are full, indeed—the equivalent to a heaping, Sunday soul food dinner. But that’s something that seems to come naturally to the three, taking them beyond their strong, sexy lyrics, diva attitudes and in-your-face stage personas. Spin has her manicured hands full with She Things, a highly successful salon and day spa in Queens. Having appeared in a couple of feature films along with operating Atlanta hip hop clothing store HollyHood, Pepa is deep into the new-mommy thing after giving birth in August to her second child, daughter Egypt.

Salt is set to open a hair salon called First Impressions with the group’s longtime hairstylist, Elena George. And the petite MC is quick to point out that the Valley Stream, N.Y. salon isn’t in competition with Spin’s salon.

“It’s Elena’s salon, really,” she said about George, whose clientele includes Aretha Franklin, Vanessa L. Williams, Star Jones and Vivica A. Fox. “She’s always wanted to open her own salon, but she’s always been on the road with us.”

But regardless of what the three are up to outside the studio, talk will still make the rounds among an increasingly fickle industry and audience that seems to demand a new release bi-monthly from an artist, lest he or she fall into the pit of obscurity. Salt-N-Pepa aren’t daunted, but it would be naïve to say they haven’t noticed.
“It really snuck up on us,” said Salt of the industry’s increasingly short attention span. “It was never like that before; the market wasn’t as flodded. So there wasn’t as much competition, and there wasn’t this frenzy to put out an album or two a year.

“We’ve always had two- and three-year hiatuses between albums, and were always able to come back,” she pointed out. “Now, there are so many rappers and artists out there that one can barely keep up—I know I can’t. But we’ve been doing this for a long time, and we don’t have anything to prove to anybody. We’re not jumping fast and furious into trying to compete, like, ‘OK, that didn’t work, now we have to come out with a new album,’” says Salt with the confidence of someone who’s truly been there, done that and gone back for more.

“We have kids, families and homes to cater to,” she said. “We’ve already been out there, so I think that everybody would agree that right now, we feel like chilling. We don’t even feel like moving that fast and competing with everybody right now.”


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N’Sync Strays Little from Their Tried and True

(New Haven Register)

By Vonetta Booker-Brown

(View PDF of article)


Reinvention is the name of the game for those who want to stay on top in the music industry. “That, to us, is the key to longevity,” said N’Sync’s Chris Kirkpatrick in a recent interview.”

Looks like members Lance Bass, JC Chasez, Joey Fatone, Chris Kirkpatrick and Justin Timberlake tested it out during their Hartford Civic Center concert on Friday night.

But the question is, did they pull it off? Although the effort was respectable, perhaps a bit of fine-tuning is in order.

Show opener Sean “P. Diddy” Combs and his crew got into the reinvention thing as well, ditching shiny suits for jerseys and sweatpants in an oh-so-patriotic red, white and blue theme, and giving the capacity crowd an energetic and engaging performance.

As he ran through staple Bad Boy hits like “It’s All About the Benjamins” and “Mo’ Money, Mo’ Problems,” the throngs of adolescents screamed like they had enough funds to relate. Combs lost them a bit, however, when he performed current hits like “Pass the Corviosier” with rapper Busta Rhymes (appearing via video)—considering the average age of the audience, perhaps it should have been “Pass the Kool-Aid” instead.

Things moved along fairly quickly, and the crowd went wild at the sight of the black-and-white video montage that began the group’s 90-minute show. “We’re just five guys doing what we’ve always done,” Chasez told the camera. Although “Celebrity is the title of the band’s latest CD, the absence of glittery dancers and over-the-top effects sent the message that they’re just trying to make music sans the superstar-fabulous attitudes.

As far as choreography, it was more of the same—and the staccato, Michael Jackson-inspired movements had certain band members struggling. (Memo, Joey: Try not to look like you’re actually counting the steps in your head.)

But as the group ran through crowd favorites like “Tearin’ Up My Heart” and “Bye Bye Bye,” it was understandable why teenage girls (and grown women) go crazy over lead singer Justin Timberlake. He’s got presence, and actually looked comfortable and natural performing his steps onstage.

Things got interesting when the band changed from casual jeans to black suits for covers of Beatles, Temptations and Christopher Cross tunes. But the suits they wore—and ultimately, the whole segment—screamed “Vegas!” instead “cool and retro.”

For the most part, though, N’Sync stuck with the formula that’s paid off so far—but it seems that they at least recognize the importance of change. I guess they’re still taking notes.


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See You At the (New Haven) Green

(New Haven Register) Busy R&B group Cameo hasn't faded from sight.

By Vonetta Booker-Brown



Yes, we know--mention the word "Cameo," as in the R&B/funk supergroup of the '70s and '80s, and you think, "red codpiece." Larry Blackmon's high-top fade (dubbed "The Cameo," which sparked a hairstyle craze among young black men during the late '80s). Hits like "Strange" and "Word Up." But beyond the '80s, the group seemed more like a surefire candidate for VH1's "Where Are They Now?"

Cameo frontman Larry Blackmon would advise the naysayers out there to be aware, because the group's alive and kicking. In fact, it was a bit hard to even catch up with him for this interview--between just returning fro a show in Amsterdam, collaborations with Mariah Carey (for her single "Loverboy," sampled from Cameo's 1987 hit "Candy") and hip-hop group Dead Prez, a starring role in a new stage play and this Saturday's performance at New Haven's International Festival of Arts & Ideas, let's just say that Blackmon's still a very busy guy.

"It's just a life, really," he said during a phone interview. "For us, it's more than just what we're doing musically--we really enjoy what we do. I thank God for it."

Indeed, Cameo's members have had the kind of career many would envy. Founded by ex-Julliard student Blackmon in the early '70s as an antidote to the disco thing, the group was originally called The New York City Players and included Tomi Jenkins and Nathan Leftenant, who are still with the group.

Along with a rigorous touring schedule and standout singles such as "I Just Want to Be," the renamed Cameo built a name for itself during that decade. But it was their 1984 single "She's Strange" that crossed Cameo over from R&B/funk into the top 40 pop market realm, followed by 1985's "Single Life," a smoothly raucous ode to the beauty of bachelorism. And the 1986 hit "Word Up," with Blackmon's funky, joyfully obnoxious nasal vocals, was probably funk's defiant last stand before the heyday of hip-hop. But as Blackmon will tell you in a heartbeat, going against the grain is what Cameo does best.

"If you were to look 'different' up in the dictionary, you'd see Cameo's picture," he said, listing a slew of varied musical influences from Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young to Earth, Wind & Fire. "Radio and promotion people would say, 'You need to come with a ballad now' or suggest something uptempo--and we'd always go in the exact opposite direction."

Of course, when you think of Cameo and its offbeat quirkiness, you can't help but think of Blackmon's fire-engine red codpiece, an outrageous staple of his outfits during concerts and videos. It was the brainchild of late artist/fashion consultant Toyce Anderson, who worked with Blackmon during shooting of the "Word Up" video. Taken aback when he first saw it, Blackmon decided to go with it--and the rest, as they say, was history.

"There were a couple of tours where we were like, 'Man, we're tired of the codpiece,'" he said, "and the audience just wasn't having it!"

The group may have faded from the charts, but it continues to record albums, the latest being last year's Sexy Sweet Thing. What has held Cameo together all these years, while other groups have fallen into oblivion?

"That's a good question," said Blackmon. "It's a strange kind of situation--it's not like we consciously made a decision like, 'OK, we're going to be together 20 years from now.' We're continuing on with the work because the work's not done, in our opinion."

So, for Blackmon, the beat goes on. Aside from performing around the world with Cameo, he'll also be exercising his acting muscles this fall in the Shelley Garret-produced stage play, "You're Going to Make Me Love Somebody Else."

Having a full plate is definitely a blessing, said Blackmon--and there's no end in sight for him.

"There's lots of other things I'd rather not be doing!" he said.


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5 Questions for...Morris Chestnut

(Essence.com) Close-up with Morris Chestnut

By Vonetta Booker-Brown



He’s what chocolate dreams are made of—flawless Godiva-rich complexion, barrel chest, pearly whites and succulent lips. Morris Chestnut is an actor in demand and he’s taking it all in stride. At MTV’s Manhattan studios, his gear is casual chic—buttery black leather pants with a sky-blue, V-neck sweater that seemingly caresses his six-foot physique. And in the midst of the media frenzy surrounding his latest project, The Brothers (it opened in theaters nationwide March 23rd), Chestnut is pleasant and laid-back.

And oh, did I mention fine? Undoubtedly, Chestnut has blossomed since his debut as the doomed high-school athlete Ricky Baker in John Singleton’s 1991 breakthrough flick, Boyz N the Hood. And if that screen credit doesn’t jar your memory, how about Patti LaBelle’s television series Out All Night, and 1999’s blockbuster The Best Man, which garnered him a NAACP Image Award nomination?

Now, Chestnut stars with Bill Bellamy, D.L. Hughley and Shemar Moore in the romantic comedy that chronicles the lives of four successful Black men as they navigate through love, marriage and commitment. ESSENCE.COM recently kicked it with Chestnut, talking about his current role, relationships and how he manages to keep a job in this manic industry.

You play Jackson Smith, a brother who has a fear of commitment. Can you relate to him or do you think he’s just trippin’?

[Laughs] No, I can relate to Jackson and the rest of the characters except Bill Bellamy’s [the resident woman-hater]. Honestly, I brought my life experiences to the movie. I love that Jackson shows his vulnerability. Women don’t know it, but [most] brothers are like, ‘Oh, I’m cool; it’s all good’ and then go home and cry. It’s great you get to see it in this movie.

Naturally, the ladies want to know if there’s someone special in your life and if so, what do you love most about her?

That question gets asked quite a bit, but yes, there is someone special. [And that’s about all he would say: this brother keeps his personal life on the down-low.] I admire a lot of wit, sensitivity, honesty and intelligence; I admire those things even among my male friends—not to the point I’m attracted to them or anything, but I think I’m just prone to being around people who are smart, witty and respectful.

What don’t you like about being in front of the camera?

I love acting and the lifestyle it affords me, but I don’t enjoy a lot of stuff that comes with it. The difficult part is I’m a shy person—almost to the point of being introverted—doing interviews and photo shoots are difficult for me.

You’re a 10-year veteran in this game. What’s your secret for longevity?

A lot of times, people come out in a hit movie and then they fall by the wayside. It could have happened to me because Boyz N the Hood was my first movie and it was successful. You start thinking, ‘Hey, this is easy,’ and you get complacent instead of working on your craft. So, when it happened to me I said, ‘Man, things aren’t going the way I want,’ but I never blamed anyone else. Instead I said, ‘Let me look at me and what I can do to sustain my career.’ And I decided I needed to get better as an actor, and that’s what I did. I started reading books on acting and focused on my work. I reevaluated me rather than feel sorry for myself. It’s tough, but it’s important [to hone your craft].

When’s the next time we can catch you on the big screen?

I’m doing The Killing Fields [early this fall], the Showtime collaboration about the Attica prison riots, How to Make Your Man Behave in Ten Days or Less (early fall) with Vivica A. Fox and Anthony Anderson and Scene of the Crime (no release date) with Jeff Bridges and Noah Riley. So, I’ll be pretty busy this fall.


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Soul Sisters with Purpose

(Essence.com) A new age of soulful sirens brings music for the ears of the masses.

By Vonetta Booker-Brown


A new wave of soulful sirens have embraced the so-called alternative R&B movement--that musical convent for songstresses like India.Arie, Jill Scott, Erykah Badu and Angie Stone. Joi, Ledisi, YahZarah and Karen Bernod are innovative voices, characterized by a strong sound and lyrical creativity. And they offer music lovers a refreshing alternative to the bump-and-grind sensibilities that dominate the airwaves.

Essence.com gives a respectful nod to these sisters who are making music their own way--sensual, bold and uncut.

Joi
This rock-'n-soulstress has been called a modern day Grace Jones with a southern-fried twist. The Nashville belle's racy, hip-hop punk-inspired style is befitting her retaliatory third effort, Star Kitty's Revenge (Universal Records). "Star Kitty is a part of me. She performs, makes appearances, talks [trash] and gets down and gritty," says Joi, who has been married to Atlanta's Goodie Mob Big Gipp for two years. "I used to just be that way [naturally], but now I'm 30 and I have a husband, child and other responsibilities. I just can't wild out all the time. I have to present an appropriate appearance and my stage persona Star Kitty offers me an outlet." This time around, Joi is committed to breaking out of her underground status to reach a broader audience. "I'd like to share [my music] with the masses," she says. For more info, visit Joi-Online.com.

Ledisi
Ledisi doesn't like labels. But if the industry classifies her sound as neo-soul, "then so be it," says the 20-something New Orleans native. "None of this is new. It's just recycled from Chaka Khan and Rufus, Roy Ayers and jazz." Her sophomore indie album, Feeling Orange, but Sometimes Blue (Le Sun Music)--a musical potluck of jazz, funk and soul, is a fitting follow-up to her 2000 debut, Soul Singer, which has garnered her a cult following domestically and abroad. Along with her talented keyboardist and partner-in-rhyme, Sundra Manning, Ledisi has created a solid foundation for innovation. "Our music was created to inspire people," says Ledisi. "I hope that's what we've done--inspired people to love themselves." For more info, visit Ledisi.com.

Karen Bernod
Everybody knows that behind every great singer, there's an even greater back-up singer. Erykah Badu, Luther Vandross and Mos Def are a few of the superstars who can attest to Karen Bernod's talent. If her name doesn't jog your memory, then her performance on Erykah Badu's 1997 Live CD should. Bernod riffed and scatted so fiercely that some have dubbed her Ella Fitzgerald's incarnate. Now, the siren has emerged from the shadows with her indie debut, Some Othaness For U (Natively Creative Music). "I've been offered deals, but I didn't want to get mixed up with all the political stuff that goes on with record companies," says the 30-something Bernod. "The indie approach offers more for autonomy." For more information, visit KarenBernod.com.

YahZarah
Dana "YahZarah" Williams may be young, but she is wise beyond her 22 years. "I believe if you let your fruits speak for themselves, you'll be seen by the world," says the former backup singer for Erykah Badu. YahZarah's indie debut, Hear Me (Keo Music) is a melodic brew of gospel, funk, soul and hip-hop. "I'm moved by the music of the church," says the Washington, D.C.-based singer who's been performing in the church since the age of 11. With influences like Parliament, Sly Stone and Aretha Franklin, Yah's performances are electrifying. "My shows are like a funky, juke-joint experience--we go from hot church to [funk] in a heartbeat," says the soulstress. "I just want to bring grittiness and personality back to music."


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