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BREE NEWSOME, Filmmaker, Advocate: Black History in the Making

Bree Newsome

Born with an artist’s soul and spirit, Brittany AnnBree Newsome has always been sensitive to the essential role that art and symbols play in shaping culture and consciousness. As she watched the funeral of Rev. Clementa Pinckney, one of 9 people slaughtered in the name of white supremacy at Mother Emmanuel Church in Charleston, SC, she recognized the message being communicated clearly by the US flag and the SC state flag at half-mast while the Confederate flag remained fully furled.

Working with a team of activists who also refused to accept the premise of this image — that white supremacy is supreme, untouchable and invincible — she scaled the 30 foot flagpole in front of the statehouse and removed the “stars and bars” declaring, “This flag comes down today!”

Bree’s intention was to create a new image, a new symbol and a new consciousness of the power inherent in direct action. The iconic picture of her on the pole, flag in hand has become a touchstone of empowerment for disenfranchised people around the world.

She and a compatriot, James Tyson, 30, both of Charlotte, NC, were arrested and charged with defacing a monument. Tyson was hit with the same charge for assisting her. A #freebree crowdfunding campaign at Indiegogo raised $97,446 within 23 hours.

A staunch advocate for human rights and social justice, Bree was arrested once before in 2013 during a sit-in at the North Carolina State Capitol where she spoke out against the state’s recent attack on voting rights. “Art is activism and activism is art,” she insists, as she seamlessly blends her talents in pursuit of social and economic justice.

Currently, she works as a western field organizer for IgniteNC, a project of the Southern Vision Alliance and is a founding member of Tribe, a grassroots organizing collective dedicated to empowering underserved communities in her hometown of Charlotte, NC. She has an unwavering belief in the power of the individual to make a difference and the utter inability of hate, injustice and inequality to survive the tidal wave that can be created by the collaboration and united action of individuals and groups committed to creating a better world.

Bree is a graduate of New York University’s prestigious Tisch School of the Arts where she received a BFA in Film & Television. While still in high school, Bree created an animated short, THE THREE PRINCES OF IDEA which earned her a $40,000 scholarship from the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences.

Academy President Peter Price described Bree’s work as a “combination of intellectual horsepower and creative range.” At NYU, she wrote and directed a humorous public service announcement called YOUR BALLOT, YOUR VOICE encouraging youth voter turnout. The PSA went on to win Grand Prize in a PSA competition sponsored by Tisch and MTV. Bree’s short film WAKE won a slew of awards on the film festival circuit and recently made its national television debut on the ASPIREtv network.

Based on her work as an undergraduate student at New York University, Bree was invited in 2011 to serve as the first ever Artist-in-Residence at Saatchi & Saatchi, a global creative communications and advertising company headquartered in New York. In August 2012, Bree wrote and recorded a rap song, “SHAKE IT LIKE AN ETCH-A-SKETCH!”, skewering presidential candidate Mitt Romney and criticizing the Republican Party for policies that promote classism and bigotry.

Bree then directed and edited a music video for the song which she released on YouTube. The video immediately drew attention from political bloggers including The Huffington Post: “The video doesn’t pull punches, and its subtext just might ring true to the ears of voting Americans.”

Bree wrote her first song at the age of 7– the same year she started piano lessons. She began writing music for her middle and high school bands and orchestras even before her first formal lesson in composition at the renowned Peabody Conservatory at age 13. A year later, Bree’s six-part choral piece Revelation 21:4 was performed by the Baltimore Choral Arts Society.

Bree was awarded the coveted Paderewski Medal from the National Piano Guild and won a $12,000 scholarship in the vocal arts portion of the Maryland Distinguished Scholars Competition.

Her father, Clarence G. Newsome, is a former president of Shaw University, former dean at Howard University, a trustee of Duke University and now president of the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Bree currently performs as front-woman for the Charlotte-based funk band POWERHOUSE. She also appears as a solo act, playing the keyboard and performing her original songs. Bree is at work on her debut EP and recently released the song #STAYSTRONG: A LOVESONG TO FREEDOM FIGHTERS inspired by her experiences as an activist and organizer in the modern civil rights movement.


Submitted photos: click on photo to start slideshow


Fannie Lou Hamer, Civil Rights Activist

“I am sick and tired of being sick and tired.”

    Fannie Lou HamerFannie Lou Hamer

Fannie Lou Hamer (1917-1977) was a civil rights activist whose passionate depiction of her own suffering in a racist society helped focus attention on the plight of African-Americans throughout the South. In 1964, working with the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), Hamer helped organize the 1964 Freedom Summer African-American voter registration drive in her native Mississippi. At the Democratic National Convention later that year, she was part of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, an integrated group of activists who openly challenged the legality of Mississippi’s all-white, segregated delegation.

Born Fannie Lou Townsend on October 6, 1917, in Montgomery County, Mississippi. The daughter of sharecroppers, Hamer began working the fields at an early age. Her family struggled financially, and often went hungry.

Married to Perry “Pap” Hamer in 1944, Fannie Lou continued to work hard just to get by. In the summer of 1962, however, she made a life-changing decision to attend a protest meeting. She met civil rights activists there who were there to encourage African Americans to register to vote. Hamer became active in helping with the voter registration efforts.

Hamer dedicated her life to the fight for civil rights, working for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). This organization was comprised mostly of African American students who engaged in acts of civil disobedience to fight racial segregation and injustice in the South.

These acts often were met with violent responses by angry whites. During the course of her activist career, Hamer was threatened, arrested, beaten, and shot at. But none of these things ever deterred her from her work.In 1964, Hamer helped found the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, which was established in opposition to her state’s all-white delegation to that year’s Democratic convention.

She brought the civil rights struggle in Mississippi to the attention of the entire nation during a televised session at the convention. The next year, Hamer ran for Congress in Mississippi, but she was unsuccessful in her bid.Along with her political activism, Hamer worked to help the poor and families in need in her Mississippi community.

She also set up organizations to increase business opportunities for minorities and to provide childcare and other family services. Hamer died of cancer on March 14, 1977, in Mound Bayou, Mississippi. Hundreds crowded into a Ruleville church to say good-bye to this tireless champion for racial equality. Andrew Young Jr., then a U.S. delegate to the United Nations, gave the eulogy at Hamer’s funeral. He explained, “None of us would be where we are today had she not been here then,” according to The New York Times. Young said that the progress of the Civil Rights Movement had been made through “the sweat and blood” of activists like Hamer. On her tombstone is written one of her most famous quotes: “I am sick and tired of being sick and tired.”

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Phyllis Coley
Phyllis D. Coley is CEO/Publisher of Spectacular Magazine and Host of Spectacular Magazine Radio Show. With a B.A. in English from NCCU, the Durham native began her professional career as Promotions/Marketing Director for New York City’s WKTU-FM. While at the radio station, Coley discovered the rap group Kid ‘n Play and managed them for five years, guiding their music and movie careers to success. Moving back to Durham, Coley produced a nationally syndicated television show, The Electric Factory, while working as News Director for FOXY 107/104. In April 2002, recognizing a void in highlighting the achievements of African Americans, she started her own business publishing ACE Magazine. Coley launched Spectacular Magazine in November 2004. Recognizing the lack of pertinent and truthful information, Coley began Spectacular Magazine Radio Show in March 2009. Coley is the organizer of Durham's Annual MLK/Black History Month Parade and the Annual North Carolina Juneteenth Celebration. She currently serves on Central Children’s Home Board of Directors, Raleigh Chamber of Commerce’s Board of Advisors, as Immediate Past Secretary of the Durham Rotary Club Board of Directors and is one of the founding members of the Triangle United Way’s African American Leadership Initiative.

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