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Djimon Hounsou: Never Backing Down

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By Marci Casillas

You may recognize him from Blood Diamond, Amistad, or The Island; either way there is no doubt that the African native, Djimon Hounsou has made a name for himself in Hollywood. This two-time Academy Award nominee is taking on a new facet in his career as a sharp and demanding Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) mentor in the upcoming movie "Never Back Down" with co-stars Sean Faris and Cam Gigandet. 

Djimon Hounsou
Set against the action-packed world of Mixed Martial Arts, Never Back Down is the story of Jake Tyler, played by Sean Faris, who is the new tough kid in town with a troubled past. Pushed into a fight by bully Ryan McCarthy (Cam Gigandet), Jake takes an interest in the fast growing combination of boxing, Judo, Brazilian Jiu-jitsu and many more. Trained under the wing of the MMA mentor Jean Roqua, played by Djimon Hounsou, Jake must learn the patience, discipline and reason within him to succeed; a decision which will define who he is.  

Djimon Hounsou's character, Jean Roqua, is a talented MMA teacher who whips Faris' character, Jake into shape. But Jake wasn't the only one getting a workout, all three stars of the movie spent weeks with stunt choreographer, Damon Caro. Hounsou trained one-on-one with two-time light heavy-weight champion Erik Paulson, learning leg locks, dive rolls, kicks, clinching, takedowns and throws. Hounsou's long standing background in Kung Fu and boxing, diet of vegetables and fish and work-out regimen of stairs, running and cardio vascular helped him prepare for the grueling months of physical training for the movie.

MMA is a growing phenomenon, a new form of fighting whose combination of wrestling, kicks, judo and Brazilian jujitsu makes it irresistible to watch. This MMA aspect of "Never Back Down" is what attracted Hounsou to the script. "Mostly it had to do with the love of the sport, the sport was what I knew and what I have [known] for many years and I also have a background in Kung Fu and boxing myself, so it was good." He was happy to take on a new role, so different than anything he's done before. He believes that there is always a "constant struggle to redefine yourself through the work you do," and when reading a script he always asks himself "What am I gaining out of this project?"

Djimon Hounsou is a Benin born actor, dancer and model. He lived in Benin, Africa until his immigration to Paris at the age of thirteen. Soon after dropping out of college, he was discovered by fashion designer Thierry Mugler, and was made as a model which led to small roles on television shows like Beverly Hills 90210 and ER. His first on-screen performance was in Janet Jackson's video "Love Will Never Do (Without You)". Later, he would receive a Golden Globe Award Nomination for his powerful role as the revolt leading Cinque, in Steven Spielberg's film, "Amistad." 

Even with his Academy Award Nominated roles in, "In America" and "Blood Diamond," he still knows the challenge of an African native trying to make his way through Hollywood. "Once you're accepted [in Hollywood] you still have to prove your existence." He believes that there will always be challenges to be faced in this blockbuster community "in a sense that I have a skin tone, and that skin tone is not of the hour." But once the director has said cut, it's the "mental toughness" and "spiritual attribute as a result" from the film that he benefits from most.

Apart from "Never Back Down," Djimon Hounsou just finished filming the upcoming film "Push" in Hong Kong with co-stars Chris Evans and Dakota Fanning. He is also in the talks about a comic book series that is to be made into a movie. "Never Back Down" is set to release on March 14th.

Historical Society Holds Reception

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On the Sunday afternoon of March 2, 2008, the Riverside African American Historical Society, Inc. (RAAHS) held its 10th Annual Pacesetters/Unsung Hero's reception.  The well-attended event acknowledges and recognizes those who have made significant contributions and had positive impacts on the lives of those in their communities.  Honorees are nominated by the community and selected by a panel of jurors from RAAHS.  This year's honorees are:  Zelma Jane Ballard, Leon Carrigan, Clarence C. Mackey, Ralph Rivers and Belinda Taylor.  Each unsung hero received the prestigious "LOVE YOU" trophy, which symbolizes the sentiments of RAAHS as it continues to pursue the acknowledgement and documentation of African American contributions in the Inland Empire.

Coach Clarence C. Mackey with Jeanette Ward.
Zelma Ballard, first African American woman to graduate from UCR, was recognized for her dedication and volunteerism to the community, most notably for the reorganization of the Sickle Cell Organization, which has served as the catalyst to incorporate other diseases that plague the community, such as HIV. She is a member of the Metropolitan Museum Associates, NAACP, Life member of the UCR Alumni Board of Directors and many others.

Leon Carrigan is a pioneer in the insurance industry in San Bernardino, Redlands and Riverside.  He trained many of the early agents in this area and was the first African American to start his own insurance agency in the Inland Empire.  His volunteering activities included Redlands Boys Club and the American Cancer Society.

Hugh Layton and Jeanette Ward congratulates Zelma Ballard.
Clarence C. Mackey, widely known as Coach Mackey, is a community advocate and youth mentor.  He was coach and recreation director at Jordan High School in Los Angeles for forty-one years.  He founded the Watts Summer Junior Olympics in 1972.  The Mackey family owned a produce farm on Rubidoux Blvd. for 52 years where he was able to donate contributions of produce to the Rubidoux High Booster Club.

Ralph Rivers, a self-motivated community advocate and kind humanitarian has a passion for talking to people.  He is very active in his church and as an ordained minister, is Pastor of Christian Education.  Among the many positions he holds and has held are:  President, Eleanor Jean Grier Leadership Academy Alumni Association founding member; and 2nd president of the Inland Empire African American Chamber of Commerce.

Jeanette Ward and Hugh Layton congratulates Ralph Rivers.
Belinda Taylor's career path took her into law enforcement for twenty-four years with the Los Angeles and Riverside County Sheriff's departments.  She is a dedicated and hardworking individual and spends countless hours volunteering with the Inland Valley Hospice.  She has volunteered as a Court Ordered Supervised Visitation Monitor for over 11 years and has held membership and offices in numerous organizations including Martin Luther King H.S. Theater Booster Club and American Cancer Society Volunteer.

In his brief remarks, Mayor Ron Loveridge stated that this event was about stories...stories about the significance of the presence of African Americans in the Inland Empire.  Dr. Alan Pauw, as he reflected on others who have received this award referenced "The Black Church in Riverside" (Black Voice News, Feb. 21, 2008) and further stated that these are the types of things RAAHS aims to record, document and perpetuate.  

Videotaped DVD's of this historic event are available by calling (951) 784-7125 or (951) 682 5062.

Ernest Levister Jr. MD.F.A.C.P., F.A.C.P.M. to Speak on Health Disparities

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The Training of African Americans Physicians and Biomedical Scientists


ImageOn Thursday, March 6, 2008, Black Voice News columnist Dr. Ernest C. Levister Jr. will be speaking at the University of California, Riverside (UCR) in 1208 Olmsted Hall, from 5pm to 6:30pm.  Dr. Levister is the first speaker in a series focusing on health disparities in the African American community.  The title of his talk is "Impacting Health Care Disparities A Case for Diversity:  University of California Riverside".  He will address barriers to the training of African American physicians and biomedical scientists at UCR, as well as nationally.  Dr. Levister is an Internal Occupational Medicine physician in San Bernardino, CA, and the Chair of the James Wesley Vines, Jr. M.D. Foundation.

Health disparities have been documented in the United States for over 100 years. In 1906, W. E. DuBois reported, in The Philadelphia Negro, an excess of Black (compared to White) deaths from heart disease, stillbirths, consumption, and other ailments. In the mid 1980s, Dr. Margaret Heckler, then Secretary of Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, commissioned a special task force to investigate the excessive death rate of Black Americans. And, again in 2003, the Institute of Medicine's (IOM) landmark report, Unequal Treatment: Confronting Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Healthcare, presented clear evidence that Black Americans receive differential treatment in healthcare and that this differential treatment results in adverse health outcomes. 

According to Dr. Carolyn B. Murray, the series' coordinator, "this situation has worsened with an epidemic of increasing obesity within the African American community."  Dr. Murray also points out that "both the causes and the solutions are complex, ranging from life style choices to a racist health care delivery system."

Throughout 2008, the series will feature other speakers and activities designed to inform, mobilize, and address this life-threatening issue. The series is free to the public.

Fairmont Park Run

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University Heights Middle School teacher Doug Frey recently participated with a group of eighth grade students in the Fairmont Park Riverside Raincross Run. The students gathered for the 5K run. "This was their first time running the Riverside Raincross run," stated Frey.Image

Photo by Sam James

Women Celebrated in Major Touring Quilt Exhibition at National Afro-American Museum

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In the nearly four centuries since the 1619 arrival of three African women in Jamestown, Va., the history of African-American women has often been neglected. Changing that is the National Afro-American Museum & Cultural Center in Wilberforce, Ohio. Its latest exhibition Quilting African American Women's History: Our Challenges, Creativity, and Champions will open March 8.

This unique and exciting quilt show is curated by internationally known quilt artist, author and historian Dr. Carolyn L. Mazloomi solely for the National Afro-American Museum, a part of the Ohio Historical Society, and commemorates the 2008 National Women's History Month (March) theme Women's Art: Women's Vision. The show will run through Nov. 8 and then tour the country.

"In Quilting African American Women's History: Our Challenges, Creativity, and Champions, the vitality of quilt making and the resilient, creative spirit of Black women come alive," said Dr. Carolyn L. Mazloomi. "This exhibition is a validating expression of cultural genius."

The exhibition - the largest of its kind - showcases more than 100 contemporary quilts created by 53 women and three men. Some of America's best known African-American quilters like Tina Williams Brewer, Adriene Cruz, Michael Cummings, Peggie Hartwell, Viola Burley Leak and Jim Smoote are featured. 

Each quilt is accompanied by an artist's statement that provides a glimpse into the artist's background and the motivation behind the piece. The diversity of genre and technique represented in the works reflects the diversity of African Americans today. Yet, collectively, these quilts combine to tell the story of African-American women, their profound contributions to American society, and their crucial role in the survival of their people from slavery to the present.

Sponsors for the exhibit are Ohio Arts Council, AK Steel Foundation and AEP Ohio.  Media sponsor is WHIO-TV 7 in Dayton.

Admission to the museum is $4 for adults, $1.50 for children ages 6-10 and college students with I.D. and free to Ohio Historical Society members and children ages 5 and under.

A full-color catalogue and poster will accompany the exhibition. For more information about the exhibition and other National Afro-American Museum & Cultural Center events, call 937.376.4944/800.752.2603.

The Ohio Historical Society is a nonprofit organization that serves as the state's partner in preserving and interpreting Ohio's history, archaeology and natural history. For more information about the Ohio Historical Society and its programs, call 614.297.2300/800.686.6124 or visit www.ohiohistory.org.  

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BVN National News Wire