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Here and Now: Impact of COVID pandemic in Newark

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On this episode of Here and Now, Mayor Ras Baraka discusses his plans for getting New Jersey's largest city back on its feet.

Video Transcript

- "Here and Now," the program featuring the news and interests of the African-American community. Here's your host Sandra Bookman.

SANDRA BOOKMAN: Coming up, the impact of the pandemic on Newark. Mayor Ras Baraka shares his plans for getting New Jersey's largest city back on its feet. Also ahead, 52 Blocks, the Afrocentric martial art techniques centered on defense. Later, The Road We Came, exploring Black music history on walking tours through three New York City neighborhoods and celebrating 40 years of perfect pitch with Grammy award winning a capella group Take 6. That's all ahead on "Here and Now."

New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut will end most COVID-19 related restrictions on May 19th. Of course, we all know that not even that will mark the end of the impact of the coronavirus on the region. No one knows that better than Newark Mayor Ras Baraka who has spearheaded the charge as New Jersey's largest city has dealt with the pandemic. Joining us today, the Honorable Mayor Ras Baraka. Thank you so much for being with us again.

RAS BARAKA: No problem. Thanks for having me.

SANDRA BOOKMAN: It has certainly been quite the last year has it not?



RAS BARAKA: Absolutely.

SANDRA BOOKMAN: I think we all feel like we're starting to see a little bit of light at the end of this tunnel. Talk to me a little bit about where your city is in terms of, you know, getting people vaccinated.

RAS BARAKA: Right-- right now we are at about 40% of the city adult population having at least one vaccination shot. The state is-- is well over 60%, probably close to 70%. We are lifting our efforts up. We've been doing that from the very beginning. Part of it is that we need more vaccinations. We need more of the actual vaccine. And you know, we are going into the community allowing people now to start without registration, just walk up and get a vaccination whoever you are.

SANDRA BOOKMAN: The issue of vaccine hesitancy, I mean, it's been a big question, especially in communities of color. How are you addressing that with folks at this point? And is that an issue in Newark? Are you seeing that?

RAS BARAKA: Yeah, initially it was definitely an issue. And you know, we brought doctors on of color on our show. We spoke about it consistently. We allow people the opportunity to make up their mind. We didn't force it or push it. We brought Queen Latifah in. She did-- she got vaccinated publicly. We did all the things that we could do.

But I think the most helpful thing is just folks seeing their neighbors get vaccinated. And the more people get vaccinated, the more people get vaccinated. And that's basically how it's been happening here in Newark. So when I'm on my Live Facebook, everybody's saying, I just got my first vaccine, I just got my second vaccine. So it's now catching on to people. Now our job is to make it accessible.

SANDRA BOOKMAN: Yeah, and you know, along with that challenge of getting enough people vaccinated at this point in time, everybody, all communities are dealing with the whole question of how do you jump start the economy? How do you do the reopening in a way that is safe and logical and starts to get people back on their feet? What are your thoughts, and what are you doing in Newark to try to ease that a bit for businesses and folks living there?

RAS BARAKA: Well, just to let them know that we're-- we're trying to be as cautious as possible and that we're not like rushing this and trying to push people into situations they're not ready for. We eased our way back into school. We're easing our way back into businesses. We didn't just jump arbitrarily one day and say everybody's open till 4 o'clock in the morning. We're doing it gradually.

And there's some pain that comes with that. But I think in the long run, people appreciate the fact that we take their health-- we make it a priority. And that's-- that's basically what we've been doing. And we've had conversations with the corporate community here trying to figure out when they're coming back, you know, how far along are they with that, and just keeping them in touch with the-- how to clean, disinfect, making sure people are tested, vaccinated. So making sure all those things are possible.

SANDRA BOOKMAN: What about that question of helping the community, helping local businesses, you know, get back on their feet? Are there some initiatives that you have launched there in Newark to that end?

RAS BARAKA: Yeah, since the beginning we've been giving out our own grants here of, you know, any form of federal dollars that we get or any extra money that we get, we've been giving it to the businesses and giving it to people to pay their rent. We've done that consistently, and we will continue to do that as long as we have the ability to. And with this new American Recovery Act dollars coming in, we're going to use some of that to continue to do that work.

SANDRA BOOKMAN: Talk to me a little bit about the Land Bank and how you're hoping that's going to help lead the way in terms of Newark's recovery.

RAS BARAKA: Well, the Land Bank is really focused on areas where there's been very little to no investment in the city, a lot of vacant lots, abandoned properties, and trying to get Newarkers to invest in those properties. So not just be speculators that come in and buy property and sit on it, but actual Newarkers who want to own homes for the first time or move into another home or build a business or a farm or any other thing that they're trying to do. We want to be able to support that, one, to try to challenge the wealth gap that exists in this state, but also give people an opportunity to get involved in reimagining and repurposing this economy here locally.

SANDRA BOOKMAN: We're going to take a break, and when we come back we will continue our conversation with Mayor Ras Baraka, and we'll talk to him about Newark's approach to police reform and the fight for racial justice. Stay with us.


Mayor, I also want to touch on something else with you. Newark is certainly, you know, for ages one of those cities, you know, at the forefront of the fight for social justice across this country for a long time. You know, recently we saw the guilty verdict in the murder trial of Derek Chauvin in the death of George Floyd, and so a lot of people thought that perhaps seeing that set an important precedent. So there's a lot of conversation around racial justice and police reform. In your city, where are you at in that conversation?

RAS BARAKA: We're in the middle of it, right? Well, you know what, I think, prayerfully, we are part of trying to come up with innovative ways to address it and deal with it, you know. We- we're under consent decree here in the city of Newark. Our police department, the Department of Justice put us under consent decree. We've been improving the department since. We've had a year where police have not fired a gun in one entire year.

We've been getting different training. The police department is made up of different-- of people that look like the community now. The policies and practices are changing. Everybody has body cameras. So I'm proud of the work that's happening in Newark. Obviously, there's a lot more that we have to do. And the community kind of police relations are consistently improving. It's difficult, but they're improving because of the work that we're doing. And I think it showed recently in the kind of protests that were taking place in the city of Newark and the work that we've been doing.

SANDRA BOOKMAN: And you-- take some credit for being able to facilitate that improving relationship between the police department and the community there.

RAS BARAKA: Yeah, well, you know, just creating the atmosphere and setting the stage for it. And everybody knows what my positions are in pushing it, and then community organizations and, you know, the anti-violence organizations that exist in our cities making it an opportunity for the police to be able to deal with them, to talk to them, to have trauma-informed sessions where we talk about the issues in the community and begin to work to change it. And all of the policies that were created by the consent decree that the people created we brought to the community so they can question them. And so that helps-- helped to stabilize the relationship between police and community.

SANDRA BOOKMAN: I think there's also-- you-- one of the public safety leadership changes implemented the appointment of a deputy director of community relations. This is a newly created civilian position within the police department, right?

RAS BARAKA: Absolutely. And the job there is to make sure that the community is present like in the rank and file, that their voices are always heard around issues of stop and frisk, issues of, you know, over-policing, use of force, all of these things, that the community's perspective is always in a decision making.

SANDRA BOOKMAN: You know, there's a problem that's facing just about every mayor of every large city in the country right now and this whole question of what to do with the homeless. How do you provide the services they need at the same time addressing the concerns this raises for the larger community? Talk to me about some of the initiatives that-- to that end that you guys are working on in Newark.

RAS BARAKA: Well, we just, you know, invested in a new shelter that's being fitted out now, a shelter that will be open 24 hours with services wrapped around in it. We also opened up what we call a village, container village for-- a low barrier shelter for the most difficult to house, folks that you actually see sleeping under the bridges, by the train station, folks who don't want to be in a shelter community, and giving them an option to be in that.

And we obviously need more, and we're going to invest in building more and transitioning those folks into mental health services, drug treatment services, opportunities to get them into transitional housing. And that's really what we've been really focused on a lot, you know. And we have a homeless problem in the city of Newark, and we have to-- and we've been trying to hunker down and figure out how to lift ourselves and lift them out of the situation that they're in.

SANDRA BOOKMAN: Have you had much success in terms of getting folks that don't have an address vaccinated?

RAS BARAKA: Absolutely. We-- early on we tested over 1,000 of our homeless or residents without addresses. We tested them, and their test positivity rate was always low. It's been low from the very beginning. They were at 3% and we were at 60%. So- and then we began to vaccinate them too. So we out here vaccinating them at the shelters and on the street, by the way. So we are doing that.

SANDRA BOOKMAN: You know, and I can't let you go without touching on something that-- your water quality project. You've been getting a lot of kudos for stepping up and taking the lead on this. Talk to me a little bit about what you've been able to do in terms of replacing these lead pipes in the city of Newark.

RAS BARAKA: Wow, you know, we just-- we put our head down and put our-- and put folks together. We were in a bad way. And I think now we are, you know, really, really, really in a good position. As a matter of fact, we've changed over 18,000 lead service lines in less than two years. We'll probably be finished with this entire project of lead service lines underground with streets paved by-- by September.

And that is huge to me for us to be able to do that. And we were able to put local people to work, create opportunities for small businesses, local Black and Brown businesses in the city who made a lot of money helping to change and replacing lead service lines in their hometown.

SANDRA BOOKMAN: Mm-hmm. You know, as we move forward here through the summer, I think people have high hopes, high expectations that perhaps by the fall things will have more of a feeling, a sense of normalcy. You know, what are you hopeful for? What are you hoping to see in your city over the next few months?

RAS BARAKA: Well, by the grace of God, I tell folks, you know, we're going to have to expedite everything we were doing. We're going to have to do it twice as much. But also be empathetic to the fact that what we just went through-- you don't forget what we went through. We just went through a lot of stuff. And people emotionally, psychologically need time to deal with that.

But I just want to see the streets bustling, people out there shopping, development going on, our programs back in action, things that we were already beginning to do that we begin to knock those things out by the fall and really be excited about it. And I think people are revved up to get to work, you know? I think they are.

SANDRA BOOKMAN: OK. Mayor Ras Baraka, nice to talk with you. And let's hope when we talk to you in a few more months from now, the streets are exactly as we'd like to-- all like to see them again.

RAS BARAKA: God willing.

SANDRA BOOKMAN: All right, thank you very much.

- Sandra Bookman and "Here and Now" will be right back.

SANDRA BOOKMAN: 52 Blocks is a martial arts defensive technique that focuses on self-preservation in the event that you are attacked. Now, our next guest has been practicing this survival art form since he was 12 years old, and he now teaches virtual classes to people around the world. Joining us today is the founder and CEO of 52 Blocks Inc. Lyte Burly.

LYTE BURLY: Thank you.

SANDRA BOOKMAN: Thank you so much for being with us.

LYTE BURLY: Thank you for having me. Thank you for having me.

SANDRA BOOKMAN: So when did you first get involved with martial arts? How old were you?

LYTE BURLY: Oh I was very, very young. I went to a boarding slash military school in Philadelphia called Girard College, and they had taekwondo, collegiate wrestling. So I had a chance to start early. My mother had me in the YMCA when the YMCA was the place to be. And we took a variety there.

SANDRA BOOKMAN: You know, she got you out the streets. She wanted you focused.

LYTE BURLY: That's right. That's right. I wasn't good that-- it's funny that I am the martial artist I am now because at the beginning I wasn't too good. My focus was everywhere. I never made it to yellow belt. My mother and brother went to yellow belt. I stayed white belt, but that was my beginnings of my martial art path.

And it picked up later when I had my experience with 52 Blocks, which was a guy that had lived around my way got into an argument with another guy and he did this-- this funny hand gesture. And it was-- it was very attention-grabbing. And you know, he won the fight. Very fast, very quick fight.

SANDRA BOOKMAN: So-- and that-- that spoke to you, I guess?

LYTE BURLY: Oh, that-- it spoke to me. The rhythmatic, the calmness of it, the-- the attention-grabbing of it. And I didn't really understand how big that is in martial arts as I know now.


LYTE BURLY: But I knew it was something special.

SANDRA BOOKMAN: --explain to all of us exactly what 52 Blocks is. I mean, it's a type of martial arts. You seem to do your hands like this like I know what I'm doing. I'm just--

LYTE BURLY: Yes. You're close. You're close.


LYTE BURLY: I can give you some lessons.

SANDRA BOOKMAN: Because I'd never heard of it before, quite frankly.

LYTE BURLY: Mm. Um, it's all defensive. All right, now, this is what makes it special because I've trained in many arts. In a lot of arts, their bottom line is kind of hurt the person in front of you to get home. Understandable if your life is on the line. You've got to do what you got to do. But 52 Blocks is the only art that says self-preservation, which is make sure the person in front of you can't hurt you. And then that opens up a whole different area of what you can do and how a fight can go, you know?

A lot of people don't really want to fight. But if you've been taught to box and you get into arguments, first thing you're going to do is you're going to fire your weapon. You're going to punch. Now, that guy may have not really wanted to fight, but he was upset, now he has to fight. 52, because of its defensive nature, allows that not to happen.

It allows you to kind of leave the fight maybe to a conversation or making a good friend. It was an art that started with Black boxers, Jack Johnson. When they let Black men into boxing, that brought in defense over offense. Now, boxing at this time was a pretty brutal art, and the defense is what made it the sweet science. That's when it became the sweet science when the defense was added to it.

SANDRA BOOKMAN: So you're talking about the arm blocking?

LYTE BURLY: Yes, the blocking, the face. So a lot of the movements are also meant to be attention-grabbing, which is to kind of disguise what you're actually trying to do. Now, you know, instead of just going in with a punch, you kind of use these moves to kind of throw them off to go in with your attack, if that's what you wanted to do.

Because in 52 Blocks, we understand that the eyes are really the problem in the fight. Like if you had to fight somebody with their eyes closed, it wouldn't be a fight. They couldn't see what you were doing. Yeah, so if you can confuse what the eyes believe they're seeing, then you can do a lot more things.

SANDRA BOOKMAN: Now, you're-- and you are teaching this-- this method virtually, right?

LYTE BURLY: Yes, virtually and personally. I started off-- I offered people to come and bring their art against me and we [INAUDIBLE] Sometimes it went well. Sometimes not so good. But it was experience. And then I was able to start doing seminars and going to other schools and really, not challenging it, but putting it up against what they did.

I went to Denmark. I met with the top boxers out there. That was pretty interesting. And I went to Mayweather's gym. I sparred one of his new-- well, one of his new stars, Rolando Romero. So all of that started building up my information. And now I do have two virtual online classes that you can learn from.

SANDRA BOOKMAN: And is this a good technique for-- you know, for women to learn and, you know, to use against, you know, someone who's stronger, say a guy that's stronger, or--

LYTE BURLY: Definitely. My daughter who was going to Morgan State ended up giving me a seminar there, and when I got there I'm expecting like, you know, it's going to be a big seminar. I got all my stuff for the guys to hit the pads. And when I walked in, it was an all female seminar. So I was like, oh, OK. So I had to switch it up a little bit.

So what we taught was defensive and evasive techniques to get away. A lot of these things that are taught to women is to fight, and the fight is a very tricky thing. But if you can learn these evasive movements to escape, way better, you know? I tell my all my students that the Bruce Lee fighting 10 people is what it is. It's just a movie. If you see 10 people, you look for your escape.

SANDRA BOOKMAN: Yes, exactly.

LYTE BURLY: You do not make a move.

SANDRA BOOKMAN: Yes, because that's really the objective, I mean, is to get away from that person.



LYTE BURLY: Yes, yes.

SANDRA BOOKMAN: Unless you are just, you know, hell bent on killing them.


SANDRA BOOKMAN: Most people are not really in a position to be able to do that.

LYTE BURLY: That's right, yes. With offense, as I was saying, not-- a lot of people are not built to do what a lot of these arts are telling you to do, which is to hurt and maim people.


LYTE BURLY: And this is the reason why-- and I do a lot of martial arts. I meet people that do Krav Maga, and Krav Maga is for like Israel soldiers who are like protecting real people. So they got to do real dangerous things. So a layman's man, it's very hard to pick that up and then to have to do that to somebody. But defense is natural.

SANDRA BOOKMAN: And are people surprised at how effective this 52 Blocks can be in accomplishing the goal of, you know, stopping an attacker and perhaps, you know, getting away or slowing the situation down?

LYTE BURLY: Oh yes, very. Like it's been used by, you know, a lot of our boxers like Mayweather. We see that Mayweather-- you know, boxing is a brutal sport. And we see Mayweather now at the end of his career, he still looks pretty. He's talking OK. No deficiencies. And it's because of defense that allowed that.

And so did-- the use of-- the uses and excellence of defense, you know, can never be argued against. It's just that it's one of those things that's not cool. It's not like-- it's best to just attack the man. Like everybody's set for attack, and that's where mind state goes over let me protect myself. And sometimes because you attack so hard that's what actually helped bring about your end or bad time. So--

SANDRA BOOKMAN: Yeah. So tell me where-- where can we find your virtual courses and classes, and is there a cost?

LYTE BURLY: Advanced.LyteBurly.com is one of them. Advanced.LyteBurly, all one word, dot com. And Learn-MartialArts. All one word.

SANDRA BOOKMAN: Is that Learn-MartialArts.com?

LYTE BURLY: Yes. Yeah, Learn-MartialArts, all one word, dot com. There is 500 lessons. I certify instructors. Advanced.LyteBurly.com is kind of for like the people who already know how to fight and they don't want to go through all the steps of the other one because the other one is very more school-based. You get one lesson a day. At Advanced.LyteBurly, I drop like, you know, 25 videos a month and, you know, and tutorials so they can learn that way.

And we've had-- we- you know, one we have hundreds people signed up. The newer one is still growing. So you know, I believe and I know 52 Blocks to be the fastest growing martial arts of today and the connection of it being a Black American art, I'm getting a lot of reach arounds from a lot of young warriors saying they love what I'm doing. They can't wait to be a part of it. And I think that's the movement is that, you know, defense first. Self-preservation.

SANDRA BOOKMAN: Which is-- that's good advice. And being able to protect yourself and--


SANDRA BOOKMAN: --not escalate a situation is an important skill to have.


SANDRA BOOKMAN: Lyte Burly, a pleasure to meet you today. And those websites again, Advanced.LyteBurly.com and Learn-MartialArts.com.

LYTE BURLY: Yes. And LyteBurly.com is the website where I have books, you know. I wrote a book on defense and a couple of DVDs that I have there. I've been doing this for a while now so we built up a collection of DVDs at LyteBurly.com. Garment's and all types of apparel. And once again, thank you for having-- for given me the stage to put the word of defense out there.

SANDRA BOOKMAN: Thank you. It was a pleasure meeting you as well.

LYTE BURLY: Thank you. A pleasure meeting you as well.

- Sandra Bookman and "Here and Now" will be right back.


TAKE 6: (SINGING) He's a modern day deceiver with a case of falsehood fever. What a shame. It's a game. And then there's dear ol' sister Sarah. Ain't she sweet? Oh, yes she is. She gets the word. Next thing you know it's in the street. Time has been repeated. All the truth has been deleted. What a shame. Another game. Hey! Seems like everything we hear is just a tale. But I've got something that'll never fail. It's called love. Spread love instead of spreading lies. Spread love. The truth needs no disguise. I've often said love could open any door.

SANDRA BOOKMAN: Take 6 has been harmonizing beautifully for almost four decades. Winners of 10 Grammys and 10 Dove awards, they are arguably the best a capella artist on the planet, and they are still going strong. With us today is the founder of the group, Claude McKnight and Alvin Chea. So nice to see you guys.

ALVIN CHEA: Good to be here.


SANDRA BOOKMAN: Yeah, and as I said to you when I-- we first opened it up, you look absolutely marvelous. We know you sound good, but you look good too.

ALVIN CHEA: Oh, bless you.

CLAUDE MCKNIGHT: Thank you so much.

ALVIN CHEA: Kisses from the West Coast.

SANDRA BOOKMAN: Is that what it is? OK. How many years here? We're talking 35-- 40 years since you started forming the group right, Claude? And now 35 years is Take 6. I mean, what is the key to your longevity?

CLAUDE MCKNIGHT: You know, it's pretty simple for us. We are a family. And so we deal with each other with a level of respect that makes sense in the healthiest of ways. We know how to disagree with each other. We know how to have the victories and the defeats together and do that in a way that always uplifts each other. And I think that that's what really, underneath it all, keeps us together.

SANDRA BOOKMAN: So you guys are harmonizing even when the camera's not rolling, right?


ALVIN CHEA: We've learned to fight fair.

SANDRA BOOKMAN: Learned to fight fair.


SANDRA BOOKMAN: OK. You know, six people, that's not always easy to do. I mean, you have to really respect and like each other.


CLAUDE MCKNIGHT: We do. Here's the funny thing. So Alvin and I, we've come to find out over the years we-- we had-- what would I say? We would really--


CLAUDE MCKNIGHT: Yeah, we would really--

ALVIN CHEA: We had [INAUDIBLE] with one another.

CLAUDE MCKNIGHT: --bump up against each other a lot. And we had to realize that there are a lot of things about us that are very similar than the things that aren't. So we had to learn how to navigate that relationship. And now we are boys.


SANDRA BOOKMAN: Yeah, that sounds like brothers. You know, my sisters and I over the years, honestly, we could have strangled each other. And now-- well, probably always, but I'll strangle you for one of them.

ALVIN CHEA: I get it. We get it, yeah.

SANDRA BOOKMAN: And you get to that point. Doesn't mean you don't get on each other's nerves sometimes. Does it ever get old, you know, the music? Or do you still feel like-- Alvin, I'll ask you-- that, you know, every time you hear that first bit of harmonizing, and you still get that feeling?

ALVIN CHEA: Yeah, I mean, you know, for us, honestly, the hard part aging is the travel. But the music's still magical. When you're on stage, you hit those harmonies. We've been apart, of course, through the pandemic. We came back together and you hit those things, it's like this is what we were put on this Earth to do, you know? And it's just-- it's just amazing. And we're-- you know, we're believers. So we feel that extra touch. And it's been great. I've been in 36 years, and it's still a lot of fun.

SANDRA BOOKMAN: Yeah, and it's-- I mean, it's a blessing to have that gift to be able to share with people.


SANDRA BOOKMAN: You mentioned the pandemic. How has that-- look, I can just about imagine even as I answer the question. You know, what impact has it had on your ability to perform obviously on stage and with an audience, and have you been able to do any of this virtually?

ALVIN CHEA: We've been able to do some performances that are virtually-- virtual performances, of course. You got to do the "Brady Bunch" window thing and you all sing. But even after a while, you get tired of that. But our live performances, of course, those went away. And like four days after the quarantine call got called, I woke up in a cold sweat one morning like, oh my goodness, everything I know how to do I can't do any more. Now what?


ALVIN CHEA: But you just kind of-- you know, it's again, God. You just put it together day by day. And we call each other when we hear about something. He has a project. He pulls us in. I have a project. I pull them in. And we get through it together as a family again.

SANDRA BOOKMAN: Yeah. And Claude, you know, there's a lot of talk-- not just talk. A lot of jazz clubs around the city and I'm sure others-- some have closed, others are just, you know, hanging on by a thread. Just talk to me a little bit about your feelings in regards to that and what, you know-- at some point when we are getting back to normal, what could be done to save these important venues?

CLAUDE MCKNIGHT: Yeah, well, personally, it breaks my heart, you know? Some of these places have been iconic institutions for 30, 40, 50, 60 years or more. And to hear that they may close permanently is really a shocking thing. But it's understandable because there's nothing that's been going on there. So hopefully, when we get back to some sense of normalcy we can reopen these places or find new places or bring these people who have always been there for us back into the- back into the stead so we can all do this thing together.

SANDRA BOOKMAN: Yeah, I think that we're all hoping that, you know, maybe some of them are dormant right now but there is a way to try to breathe some life back into them. I wanted to ask you about, you know, something that's sort of been out there in the news lately about the alleged use of two of your songs by an artist today.

And I know that you guys have expressed some concerns. The artist H.E.R. I think your song "Come Unto Me" maybe featured and also "A Quiet Place." They may have been sampled in some of this music. Can you talk to me about, you know, what your concerns are there and what action that you've taken at this point?

ALVIN CHEA: Well, at any time you're trying to come together as an artist to-- to share your art with the world. You want credit, payments, or permission, you know? One of the three or all three would be best. And we were in a situation where we didn't receive any of those three-- any of the three.

And we're hearing these tracks. Of course, we don't know how it was put together. We don't know what the producers role was versus the artist and that kind of thing. All we know is we're hearing it. At one time I remember we were on-- we were number one on one of the radio formats with "Sailing," a song we actually we redid from Christopher Cross that we had to get permission for. And then number two was this other performance. It was both us in one and two, except for we didn't get any credit, permission, or performance from the other one.

So it's-- right now it feels very unfortunate, you know? We're probably the nicest guys in the industry. You can ask us and we'll work with you. But it just kind of is just kind of a gut punch when things are not done the appropriate way. So we're trying right now to see if we can get some satisfaction through the legal channels.

SANDRA BOOKMAN: And as an artist, and it's not just you, it's anybody out there that's doing this work, why is it important, you know, to have that respect and to-- to, you know-- I guess, you know, our parents would say the Golden Rule.


CLAUDE MCKNIGHT: Well, it's interesting the way you frame that. I think that, as an artist, not only do you want the respect from the work that you've done, you want to make sure that if someone else is going to flatter you by using a piece of your work that they do it the proper way.


CLAUDE MCKNIGHT: Because a lot of people don't realize that sampling something isn't the problem. The problem is if you do so without either letting the artist know, the publisher know, or whoever holds those publishing rights. Because you actually have claim, at least to a certain extent, on that new song because it's actually you on that song with them.


CLAUDE MCKNIGHT: So it's not just respect. It's making-- underneath it, of course, it is respect. But you need to go through the proper channels so that everybody is paid commensurately to what the work is.

ALVIN CHEA: I'll give you one more quick mind-blowing fact that just occurred to me as he was talking. A couple of summers ago, whenever that was we were in number one and number two position, we didn't receive-- we haven't received any money on number one or number two. The industry has completely changed.


ALVIN CHEA: So it is really important to protect yourself and your legacy so that you'll be able to continue to be able to share your art with your audience and your blessings with your legacy family.

SANDRA BOOKMAN: Yeah, that's been a fight here for-- for many years. You know, with this digital age, there seems to have been this thought process that, oh, it's just all out there in the atmosphere. And you know, it's for anybody to grab. And you know, that whole thing about intellectual property and it-- and it is a fight worth having because after a minute then, if everything is free and open and, you know, there are no rules, then what do you have? I mean, I think you've been around for so long because there has been this-- it's a business.


SANDRA BOOKMAN: Let's make no mistake about it.

CLAUDE MCKNIGHT: Well, yeah, also the thing that has happened is back in the '90s, there were a lot of these kinds of cases where artists weren't getting permission to use the samples that they were using. And record companies really clamped down on that. I think we're going through a new wave of that because of what you said. There's so much available, and you can find it in ways that maybe you couldn't find it readily before.


CLAUDE MCKNIGHT: And I think what ends up happening, as songs get older and older, certain producers may think, well, that's a very obscure track or an obscure piece of an obscure track. But the really great thing is you always have fans who are like, wait a minute, that's you.



SANDRA BOOKMAN: And you always have you going, wait a minute, that's me.


ALVIN CHEA: Yeah, absolutely.

SANDRA BOOKMAN: So talk to me about any upcoming concerts or performances where we can see and hear you.

CLAUDE MCKNIGHT: Well, interestingly enough, it is starting to open up a little bit.


CLAUDE MCKNIGHT: On Saturday evening, the-- is that the 11th, I believe?


CLAUDE MCKNIGHT: Yeah, we have a virtual concert that is happening for Charlottesville, Virginia.


CLAUDE MCKNIGHT: And I believe you can get that information from our website www.Take6.com as well as Take 6 Official on Facebook and Instagram to get, you know, more information on that. We also have another show coming up around that same time that we're going in and flying in for. It's in Pinecrest, Florida.


CLAUDE MCKNIGHT: And so that should go-- although virtual, we will be there to do it. You can find that information out, again, same way.



SANDRA BOOKMAN: Look, it's going to-- and I'm sure that you guys are going to love being able be able to perform together, even if, I'm assuming, maybe there's not a huge audience as big as there would be?

CLAUDE MCKNIGHT: Well, the Pinecrest-- yeah, the Pinecrest event won't have an audience at all--


CLAUDE MCKNIGHT: Because it's a virtual thing. But you're right. For us, the joy has always come in just the camaraderie of being together and being able to sit in a room and rehearse and perform and learn. It's something that we--

ALVIN CHEA: And catch up.

CLAUDE MCKNIGHT: And catch up, yeah. Yeah and we [INAUDIBLE]

SANDRA BOOKMAN: Hey, men are bigger gossips than women.

ALVIN CHEA: Oh, absolutely.


ALVIN CHEA: Absolutely.

SANDRA BOOKMAN: I know. And honestly, I could-- first of all, I could listen to you sing all day. But both of you, your-- even your speaking voices are so wonderfully soothing.



SANDRA BOOKMAN: Really, really.

ALVIN CHEA: Oh, thank you.

SANDRA BOOKMAN: You had to throw that in there. Thank you both for-- for sitting down with us today. And folks, go to Take6.com to take a look at when you're going to be able to hear these wonderful gentlemen, you know, as live as possible right now, again. And best of luck to you.

ALVIN CHEA: Thank you.


SANDRA BOOKMAN: I suspect you're going to be around for another three, four decades or so?




- Sandra Bookman and "Here and Now" will be right back.

SANDRA BOOKMAN: The Road We Came is a three-neighborhood musical walking tour that explores the history of Black music in New York City. On Site Opera, known for its site specific and immersive performances, is spearheading this project. And here to tell us more is baritone Kenneth Overton and historian and author Eric Washington. Thank you both for being on the show today. Nice to see you again, Eric.

ERIC WASHINGTON: Nice to see you again. Thank you for inviting me.

KENNETH OVERTON: It's a pleasure. Thank you so much.

SANDRA BOOKMAN: This is such a-- just a-- I love everything about this project. So Kenneth, I'm going to start to you. Explain to our audience On Site Opera, the idea behind that.

KENNETH OVERTON: The idea behind the tour-- it's called The Road We Came, which is from a Langston Hughes poem. And it's actually a touring app where guests will go through historically Black places in New York City, and they will be led by an oration tour by Eric K. Washington but a musical tour by me. So yeah, and it goes from Lower Manhattan to Midtown Manhattan, all the way up to Harlem.

SANDRA BOOKMAN: OK, and so the whole idea about On Site Opera is that these performances are done on exactly what it says, on site. Instead of on a stage, you're out there in the area. So it's sort of-- it's-- I think it's a great idea. And it sort of even lends itself to what these tours are about, Eric, that you-- you can really in a way, you know, follow in the footsteps of the folks that we're talking about here, right?

ERIC WASHINGTON: Exactly. I was attracted to it- I didn't know about On Site Opera, but the name is kind of a give away. So I think what they specialized in was doing site-specific projects which kind of got snafued by the COVID pandemic. So how do you do a site-specific project when sites are basically off limits?

So the app-- the idea of doing an app that you could do virtually but also as things start to open up again, you could do live. You could actually walk or not walk even if you can't walk. You could do it from your kitchen while you're cooking as I've been watching it. So it was intriguing.

It was a nice challenge to do that sort of thing, to sort of be on-site and have the addition of being able to provide some backstory to the site with text, which I narrate, and then have it-- these associative opera or song-based and filmed episodes that Kenny takes charge of. I'm trying to figure out a way of getting Kenny to come around the city with me wherever I go from now on. It's just-- it's just incredible.

SANDRA BOOKMAN: Oh yeah, that would be wonderful to have that soundtrack, right?


SANDRA BOOKMAN: And both of you, talk to me a little bit about what you are hoping this-- the folks who, you know, access the app and download these tours, what are you hoping that they get from this, that being able to, you know, fill their heads with this music as the same time you fill their heads with this, you know, information specifically about the Black musical journey in New York City? What are you hoping-- what's the response that you're hoping for?

ERIC WASHINGTON: Well, I have a number of hopes. I think one of them is that I'm always intrigued by things that are off the beaten path. And I think, woefully, but also you sort of magically, when you find things-- when you're talking about African-American history in New York, a lot of-- woefully, a lot of things are off the beaten path because we haven't been taught this stuff.


ERIC WASHINGTON: So I'm excited that people will take away information and a wonder about things that were right in front of them all the time. You know, like, oh my gosh, I live around the corner, or I've worked here all this time. What-- you know, when you're at your office there near Lincoln Center, you know, you go by there all the time, you report to work, you go home, but you might see something that's taken up on one of the the way points on the tour that you didn't realize was just a few feet away, or you're looking at it in an entirely different way, a whole other dimension.

And that's exciting to me, that people will start to revisit the city. And then they can dig deeper on their own and really walk the city. That's one of the marvelous things about being in New York is that you can walk so many places, and you don't have to go very far to uncover-- you know, it's like an onion. You just- you know, you peel off another layer and there's something else of wonder that's right there in front of you.

SANDRA BOOKMAN: Yeah, and Kenneth, being able to provide this beautiful soundtrack.

KENNETH OVERTON: Mm. That-- the soundtrack was really one of the most exciting parts about it because I get to sing the music of my people. And it's just so incredible. And a lot of them have been underrepresented in the world and field of classical music where I live most of my life.

And so to share this music through these stories is such a joy to be able to hopefully open the minds and ears of our listeners and have them dig deeper to know that these Black composers and Black lyricists are out there and they're amazing and their work is beautiful. So yeah, that's a huge part of it for me. And I also want people to get the fact that Black history is not confined to the 28 or 29 days of February.


KENNETH OVERTON: You know, you can experience Black history all through the year. So--

SANDRA BOOKMAN: And we should point out that-- you know, because once you say opera, that says something to a lot of people. You're not just singing opera here.


SANDRA BOOKMAN: This is a musical tour. We are really talking about that.

KENNETH OVERTON: Yeah. I'm singing actually very little opera. I'm singing a selection from an opera by Terence Blanchard that is having its premiere at the Metropolitan Opera in a couple of months. But I'm also singing Negro spirituals and art songs by African-American composers.

And people confuse the two because art songs are literally poetry set to music. So poets like Langston Hughes we have beautiful arrangements by Margaret Bonds setting his words to music or Florence Price setting his words to music, you know? And to do it in front of his home, I mean, what a gift. What an amazing gift.

SANDRA BOOKMAN: And that is the gift that is New York City that just keeps giving. And we're talking about musical tours because we're talking about three individual tours. Lower Manhattan, Midtown, and Harlem. And how do people access-- access these tours? Talk to me a little bit about that.

KENNETH OVERTON: Um, you-- oh sorry, go ahead, Eric.

ERIC WASHINGTON: No. I was going to say, the platform is a PocketSight. So you get the app. You know, you purchase a ticket and it's opened up from there. We launched on May 1st, and it'll be opened for-- through the end of July 31st. And then once you're in the app, you know, you're emailed the code that you will use to access it, and then you basically just use it on your own time at your own pace.

You don't have to-- I mean, I think very few people would want to try to cover all of the ground in one day. So the nice thing is you can kind of spread it out. The nicer thing about not being led by an actual leader is that you don't have to keep up with anybody except for yourself.

SANDRA BOOKMAN: And you can-- yeah. And-

ERIC WASHINGTON: You can make little side trips and, you know, oh, let me stop and eat or let me-- I see something else that I want to look at. So you could pace it yourself, and that's-- that's kind of exciting.

SANDRA BOOKMAN: And as you said, you can actually do the tour, walk the tour as it's laid out. I think that first the lower Manhattan tour, which is about 90 minutes, begins at the African Burial Ground.


SANDRA BOOKMAN: Downtown. And so you can actually walk it, or as you said, you could be home cooking or whatever and kind of go on the tour virtually, correct?

ERIC WASHINGTON: And plus you can treat it-- I mean, you can-- there's the text that's written so you can scroll down and read the backstory. If you choose, you can play the backstory, and I'll be narrating it. Or you could just go to the music, you know, and just listen to it.

SANDRA BOOKMAN: And listen to it.

ERIC WASHINGTON: Or you could do all three. So you have those options. And the great thing about, you know, if you are doing it actually on the street is that any given day, even if you have a regular route, something else changes it, you know? The traffic is different. The people are different on the street.

SANDRA BOOKMAN: Something will come up.

ERIC WASHINGTON: Yeah, so that would make it kind of exciting and sort of iridescent.

SANDRA BOOKMAN: Yeah. Is-- I think it's just a wonderful idea. And I think that New York City, given the city itself, the topography of the city, and then you start talking about the history of the city and then you start talking about the talent in the city and the brain trust in the city, and it's kind of a perfect storm of elements. It sort of-- it makes sense.

ERIC WASHINGTON: And it's great to also to have the opportunity to reiterate that Black history in New York is not just above 110th Street. It's not just Harlem, you know? Because I think many of us who are native New Yorkers, this is coming as new information to us. It's like, oh my god, we lived here, or we-- you know, we were agents of events that took place, you know, in this neck of the woods all the way Downtown or in Midtown literally coming out of the woodwork like yeah, we're here. We've been here.

SANDRA BOOKMAN: In fact, before I let you go, Eric, because I promised you I'd get this in, the book-- we had you on a while ago talking about "Boss of the Grips." which is some of the city's interesting history. And in fact, that's included on one of the tours here, that stop, Grand Central Terminal.

ERIC WASHINGTON: It was really exciting because even in the Downtown tour, one of the way points is the school that was known as Colored School Number Four, which was one of the racially caste schools of the Reconstruction era that James Williams, who was the subject of my biography, that he went to.

And matter of fact, I just posted something about the teacher this Teachers Appreciation Week. So two of the teachers who were there were in it. So it was great to be able to introduce them. And then in the Harlem tour, his house on Strivers Row still looks the way it did when he lived there. And also one of his students who was a Red Cap, Kenny gets to sing-- he was a music student at the Institute of Musical Arts, which became Juilliard, John Wesley Work. And Kenny he gets to sing his soliloquy. So as James Earl Jones once said, we're all connected.

SANDRA BOOKMAN: Yeah. Yeah, we are. What is that? Six degrees of Kevin Bacon?


SANDRA BOOKMAN: Even though he may not fit in here. But-- so it is PocketSights app. You need to go to the App Store and get that app.

ERIC WASHINGTON: Yeah, and it's called The Road We Came, is the--

RAS BARAKA: The Road We Came. Individual tours, they're $60 each.

ERIC WASHINGTON: Right, or you could do a bundle for--

SANDRA BOOKMAN: $165. And I'm going to send folks to the OSOpera.org.



SANDRA BOOKMAN: Because the minute you open up the page, it pops up there. I think in fact I see your face very large in it.

ERIC WASHINGTON: It'll guide you to figure out how to get the tickets, yeah.

SANDRA BOOKMAN: All right. Thank you both for being with us this afternoon. This is such a wonderful project. It really, really, really is. Very creative.

ERIC WASHINGTON: Thank you. Thank you for having us.

SANDRA BOOKMAN: Yeah, and there's a lot of New York history I think that could stand up to something like this.





ERIC WASHINGTON: It's spring. It's time to buy new sneakers and get out there.

SANDRA BOOKMAN: Hey, and we're finally getting to get outside, right? All right, thank you.


KENNETH OVERTON: Thank you so much.

- Sandra Bookman and "Here and Now" will be right back.

SANDRA BOOKMAN: Thank you for joining us on "Here and Now." If you missed any portion of today's show, you can watch at abc7ny.com. If you'd like to comment or share your story, email us at abc7ny or follow us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. I'm Sandra Bookman. Enjoy the rest of your day.

- Every country developed and every community empowered. We need to all turn right side up. We need the raw materials from the earth used to end poverty anywhere it exists. We need the calluses on our hands and the pain in our lowers back to be added to our savings. Here. We need health care to be free and information to be free and ideas to be free and the news to be free and learning to be free and the people to be free. Yeah, the people, they gotta be free too.