VIDEO EXCLUSIVE: Actor Michael K. Williams On Trauma And The Arts, In His Final Message

VIDEO EXCLUSIVE: Actor Michael K. Williams On Trauma And The Arts, In His Final Message

Michael K. Williams recorded an award acceptance speech for the National Council of Black Women in the days before his Sept. 6 death. It may be the late actor's final videotaped message about his life's traumas and how the arts saved him. (NCBW/Zenger)

By Kevin Michael Briscoe

Michael K. Williams has spoken from beyond the grave, thanks to video footage recorded just days before his death.

The late Emmy-nominated actor, known mostly for “The Wire” and “Boardwalk Empire,” left behind a message about his life’s traumas and the character studies he made of them. And an epitaph: “Thank you for seeing me just the way I am.”

He recorded the brief video for the National Congress of Black Women, whose annual awards gala was held Sept. 19. When the organization told him he would be honored with its Dick Gregory Good Brother Award for community service, Williams spoke into a camera for more than a minute, anticipating that the short acceptance speech would be played during the virtual event.

Zenger has obtained a copy of the video, which appears to be Williams’ last before he was found in his Brooklyn, N.Y. penthouse apartment, the apparent victim of a drug overdose at age 54.

Williams wore a black t-shirt to record what he couldn’t have known was a farewell. It read: “Protect Black Women.”

The National Congress of Black Women is a nonpartisan group that advocates for greater participation by black women at all levels of government, civil society organizations and private-sector business.

Williams thanked the group while he downplayed the praise he received for mentoring young people in urban communities of color, and for pressing lawmakers to reform America’s juvenile justice system.

“The work I do deserves no accolades, no pats on the back. In my heart, I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing as a man from the same communities our youth are struggling in today,” said Williams, who grew up in the East Flatbush section of Brooklyn.

“If I don’t come back and bring my goals and my experiences and my knowledge back to the community,” he asked, “what’s it all for?”

Despite a well-chronicled history of drug addiction, childhood sexual abuse and an adolescence peppered with petty crime, Williams channeled his experiences into one of the most memorable and culturally impactful television characters in recent memory.

Michael K. Williams, an actor known for his complex portrayal of Omar Little in “The Wire,” is pictured on March 31, 2021 in Miami, Florida. (Rodrigo Varela/Getty Images)

As Omar Little on “The Wire,” he played a brutal, notorious and gay stick-up man whose sawed-off shotgun added masculinity to a character that Hollywood might have sidelined a generation ago as an explosive contradiction. And in the gritty grime of Baltimore’s drug wars and corruption, Omar’s sensitive private nature gave him complexity that put Williams on the map as a star.

In his final video, he thanked God for talents that allowed him “to exorcise and pour out some of my trauma that I experienced, into the arts. Thank you for seeing me just the way I am.”

Dr. E. Faye Williams, who was not related to the late actor, is the National Congress of Black Women’s national president. She told Zenger that the group’s awards are meant “to honor those people who have made a significant difference in our communities.” She called Michael K. Williams “an activist at heart. Giving back to the community played an important role in his off-camera life.”

This year’s honorees were selected in part because of their efforts to protect voting rights in underserved communities, and for promoting voter registration efforts in parts of the U.S. where those rights are at risk, according to Theresa Buckson, an obstetrician who chaired the 2021 awards committee.

Buxton, who knew Williams for the last 15 years of his life, told Zenger that his death was “an immeasurable loss,” and he “had a heart for social justice and for being a voice for those who had no voice.”

“He also had a kindness about him that was different,” she said. “And through the years I realized that above all, he wanted to be able to help others. He wanted to ‘do good.’ He was genuine.”

Dr. E. Faye Williams, president of the National Congress of Black Women, is pictured protesting against Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in 2017, ahead of a Senate vote to confirm then-Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama as attorney general. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

The National Congress of Black Women recognized 10 honorees during its Sept. 19 ceremony. Reps. Marilyn Strickland (D-Wash.), Nikema Williams (D-Ga.) and Cori Bush (D-Mo.) jointly received an award named after the late Shirley Chisolm, who was the first African-American woman elected to Congress.

National Education Association president Rebecca Pringle and Washington, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser shared an award named for Harriet Tubman. Kizzmekia Corbett Ph.D., a scientist whose work contributed to COVID-19 vaccine development, received the group’s Humanitarian Award.

Black Voters Matter co-founder LaTosha Brown, former WNBA player and now Atlanta Dream co-owner Renee Montgomery and celebrity fashion designer B. Michael were also honored.

Although it is modestly funded, the National Congress of Black Women’s 2019 tax return shows it spent nearly one-third of its income, about $98,000, on outgoing grants that year, the latest for which IRS records are available. One grant helped to develop urban farming as a form of assistance for “underserved and underprivileged communities that are in desperate need of healthy foods.”

Edited by David Martosko and Kristen Butler

CORRECTION Sept. 23, 2021 11:34 a.m

Because of an editing error, the National Congress of Black Women was incorrectly referred to as the National Council of Black Women. Zenger regrets the error.

The post VIDEO EXCLUSIVE: Actor Michael K. Williams On Trauma And The Arts, In His Final Message appeared first on Zenger News.

Entering Third Bout Vs. Tyson Fury, Deontay Wilder Energized By Muhammad Ali KO Of George Foreman

Entering Third Bout Vs. Tyson Fury, Deontay Wilder Energized By Muhammad Ali KO Of George Foreman

Deontay Wilder (left) twice floored lineal champion Tyson Fury in their first bout in December 2018, retaining his WBC heavyweight title via a split-decision draw. Fury twice floored and eventually dethroned Wilder in their February 2020 rematch. They clash a third time on Oct. 9. (Ester Lin/Showtime)  

Deontay “The Bronze Bomber” Wilder aims to give himself an early birthday present by regaining his WBC heavyweight crown from England’s Tyson “The Gypsy King” Fury.

Wilder is inspired for his third fight with Fury in part by Muhammad Ali, who became a two-time heavyweight champion on Oct. 30, 1974, with an upset, eighth-round knockout of previously unbeaten George Foreman.

Wilder (42-1-1, 41 KOs) gets a shot at redemption on Oct. 9 at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas on ESPN+/Fox joint pay- per-view against the 33-year-old Fury (30-0-1, 21 KOs), whom he battled to a draw in a December 2018 defense of his title before being dethroned in their February 2020 rematch via two-knockdown, seventh-round stoppage.

“Not only will I celebrate my 36th birthday on Oct. 22, but it’s also the same month Ali became a heavyweight champion for the second time,” said Wilder, who won the crown on Ali’s 73rd birthday on Jan. 17, 2015 with a unanimous decision over Bermane Stiverne.

“Muhammad Ali became a two-time heavyweight champion by not only defeating George Foreman, but by knocking him out, which is something almost nobody gave him a realistic shot at doing. People are saying the same thing about me after my last fight with Fury. But just like Ali, I’m going to reintroduce myself to the world as the two-time heavyweight champion.”

Fury landed in Las Vegas from England over the weekend. His trainer, Javan Sugar Hill-Steward, said the champion is holding off from meeting the media.

“Tyson is not doing any interviews. He is just waiting to fight on Oct. 9,” said Hill-Steward, nephew of the late Hall of Fame trainer, Emanuel Steward. “We are both confident and ready. Closer to the fight during fight week, I’m sure we will be talking.”

Four-time heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield watched from ringside as Wilder overcame Stiverne despite injuring his right hand in the third round. Wilder-Stiverne I was the first heavyweight title fight at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas since November 1996 and June 1997, when Holyfield recorded consecutive victories over Mike Tyson by 11th-round knockout and third-round disqualification in the infamous “bite fight.”

“To be there, and to see us [Americans] get one, that was kind of stunning,” said Holyfield, who turns 59 on Oct. 19. “As an ambassador of the sport, you wanted to see that.”

Wilder became America’s first heavyweight titleholder since Shannon Briggs in 2007, fulfilling a vow made to his daughter, Naieya, who was born on March 20, 2005 with the congenital disorder spina bifida and was told she might never walk.

Wilder entered the first fight with Fury following a three-knockdown first-round stoppage of Stiverne in November 2017 and a two-knockdown, 10th-round stoppage of previously unbeaten southpaw Luis Ortiz in March 2018.

Deontay Wilder (right) scored a 10th-round knockout over previously unbeaten Cuban southpaw Luis Ortiz in March 2018 and came from behind to win their November 2019 rematch by seventh-round knockout. (Premier Boxing Champions)

Leading up to his rematch with Fury, Wilder scored a first-round knockout of Dominic Breazeale in May 2019, and a come-from-behind, one-knockdown seventh-round stoppage of Ortiz that November.

The 6-foot-9 Fury earned the lineal title in 2015 from Wladimir Klitschko with a unanimous decision victory, escaped with a draw against Wilder despite being floored once each in the ninth and 12th, and dropped the 6-foot-7 “Bronze Bomber” in the third and fifth rounds of his victory.

“This fight will be a reversal,” said Wilder. “In the end, my hands will be raised in triumph.”

A native of Tuscaloosa, Alabama, Wilder is the second-most popular sports figure in his hometown. Wilder wants to mimic the winning tradition of the University of Alabama football team, which claims 18 national titles.

Wilder has fought nine times in his home state, with four of those battles being sold-out title defenses.

Over a 20-month span, Birmingham, Alabama was home to Wilder’s championship stoppages in 2015 of Eric Molina (June) and Johann Duhaupas (September) in the ninth and 11th rounds, another in July 2016 of Chris Arreola in the eighth and in February 2017 over Gerald Washington in the fifth. Wilder fought Molina at Bartow Arena and the other three at Legacy Arena.

Deontay Wilder (left) defended his WBC heavyweight title with a fifth-round knockout of Gerald Washington at Legacy Arena in Birmingham, Alabama, in February 2017. Birmingham was home to four title defenses by Wilder over a 20-month span. The Tuscaloosa, Alabama native has fought in his home state nine times. (Premier Boxing Champions)

Wilder’s preparation under new trainer Malik Scott alternates between camps at New Era Boxing and Fitness in Northport, Alabama, and “my facility on Bomb Squad Island on my home estate,” Wilder said.

“As always, my training camp is in Alabama, and there’s no place like home,” said Wilder, whose corner will comprise Scott, career-long manager Jay Deas, Damarius Hill and Don House. “There are no distractions at all. No matter where I go, when I’m training, people respect that. I get motivation, energy and encouragement from all types of people.”

Wilder financially supports the Skyy South recreation and boxing facility, which is free for kids in Coffeeville, Alabama, said Deas.

The former champion’s presence encourages local fighters such as Junior Olympic National Champion Obed Bartee of Huntsville, Alabama, who is black, and female three-time National Golden Gloves champion Jadalie Medeiros of Dothan, Alabama, who is Latina, said Deas.

“Deontay’s inspired people across the board, whether you’re black, white, Hispanic or Asian,” said Deas. “Joe Louis, Evander Holyfield, Earnie Shavers, Frankie Randall and Tracy Harris Patterson were all Alabama-born fighters, but Deontay’s local influence is so powerful because he’s really the first fighter born locally and to accomplish everything while staying home.”

Wilder was at the White House in May 2018 when then-President Donald Trump posthumously pardoned Jack Johnson, America’s first black heavyweight champion. The pardon came nearly 100 years after Johnson was convicted of violating the Mann Act in 1913 for transporting a white woman across state lines “for immoral purposes.”

“We know the color of our skin and that racism exists from looking at what’s going on in the world,” said Scott, 40. ”Deontay understands that this fight is much bigger than him. Deontay has not just Alabama, but African [Americans] on his back.”

Johnson endured racial epithets and death threats while dominating white opponents and living an opulent lifestyle outside the ring. Johnson served nearly a year in prison from 1920-21 on the federal charge, and was 68 when he died in a car crash in North Carolina in 1946.

“Jack Johnson certainly had it a lot worse than I, but as a black athlete like Johnson, I want to inspire as a positive role model and motivator,” said Wilder. “It’s my mission to be a hero to my people. That was the mission of people like Muhammad Ali and some of our greatest black innovators and inventors.”

A 19-year-old Wilder dropped out of Shelton State Community College to support Naieya, taking one job driving a truck and another at a restaurant. He turned to boxing at a friend’s urging, winning an Olympic bronze medal in 2008.

Now 16, Naieya is the eldest of Wilder’s five girls and three boys. Wilder recently gave her a Volkswagen hardtop with a sunroof as a gift.

Wilder’s church-going minister grandmother, Evelyn Loggins, repeatedly told him as a child he was “special, anointed and ordained” before her death in 2010 at the age of 76.

“Naieya ignited my journey,” said Wilder. “But my legacy was prophesied by my grandmother.”

In October 2012, Wilder spent his 27th birthday serving as the primary sparring partner for Klitschko in advance of the then-unified heavyweight champion’s unanimous decision victory over Mariusz Wach that November.

Deontay Wilder (left) floored Bermane Stiverne three times en route to a first-round knockout to retain his WBC heavyweight title in their November 2017 rematch. Wilder dethroned Stiverne by unanimous decision on Muhammad Ali’s 73rd birthday on Jan. 15, 2015. (Premier Boxing Champions)

Wilder had been invited to Klitschko’s camp by the Ukrainian’s trainer Emanuel Steward, who named Wilder as Klitschko’s successor, calling him “The No. 1 best American prospect for winning the heavyweight title.”

“What are the chances Emanuel Steward would predict I would become the next American heavyweight champion, and that I’d do it on Ali’s birthday?” Wilder said of Steward, who was 68 when he died of cancer on Oct. 25, 2012, three days after Wilder’s birthday.

“It also happened in proximity to Martin Luther King’s birthday, which is Jan. 15. I became the world champion just like Emanuel Steward said. I am anointed like my grandmother said. These things don’t just continue to happen by coincidence as much as they’re happening in my life. I firmly believe all things happen in their appointed time.”

Even the loss to Fury?

Scott thinks so.

“It’s like God is asking Deontay, ‘Are you ready to go through an entire training camp and do it all over again?’” said Scott, a 6-foot-5 former contender Wilder stopped in 96 seconds in 2014. “Deontay’s grandmother never told him any of this was going to be easy. All of this is happening to him to see how badly he really wants it. We know we have a job to do and a mission to accomplish.”

Edited by Stan Chrapowicki and Matthew B. Hall

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Multi-Genre Violinist Finally Free To Explore His Talent Full-Time 

Multi-Genre Violinist Finally Free To Explore His Talent Full-Time 

T-Ray The Violinist will soon debut his latest work, “Visionary.” (Devonte Williford) 

Juggling a full-time job as a music teacher while going back to school and performing open-mic nights became too much for T-Ray The Violinist. Faced with the tough decision of keeping his 9-5 job or becoming a full-time musician, the talented violinist took a leap of faith. For the last seven years he’s been living out his dream.

Louisiana native T-Ray watched his career emerge from playing at private weddings and parties, to performing for the New Orleans Saints and the NBA Pelicans, as well as opening for some of music’s biggest names, including Wale, Erykah Badu, and David Banner. Riding high on the success of his previous album, “Finally Free,” T-Ray The Violinist will soon release his latest project, “Visionary,” which was four years in the making:

Zenger takes a ride on the journey of T-Ray The Violinist from pupil to teacher to musician.

Percy Crawford interviewed T-Ray The Violinist for Zenger.

Zenger: How is everything going?

Percy Crawford interviewed T-Ray The Violinist for Zenger. (Heidi Malone/Zenger)

T-Ray: Everything is good. I actually just got back from a show in Pittsburgh. I went to Houston [to get out of the way of] Hurricane Ida, and it’s been nonstop trying to maintain, keep life together and keep moving forward.

Zenger: Not only COVID, but then we had Hurricane Ida hit Louisiana. For a performer, those situations can be detrimental. How have you handled it?

T-Ray: The pandemic impacted everyone in various ways. For me personally, I was without work for a solid three and a half to four months. I remember my last performance was Friday the 13th, and then I just got email after email saying things were canceled. Just like everyone else, I was in a state of shock. It was something we never dealt with before.

From a business perspective, just having everything taken away overnight… I had a lot of plans last year. I planned on doing “The Unexpected Sounds” tour. That was going to be on the back end of a project that I released in February called “Unexpected Sounds Volume 3.” That got canceled. I was going to release my debut EP, “Visionary,” and that got scrapped. It took some time to recalibrate.

There is always a blessing in disguise from things like this, and for me, it gave me chance to step back and look at life at large, not only as an artist. I said, when 2021 came around, I’m not letting anything stop me. This year has been really good. I have been executing even with the hurricane. September is a busy month for me. It’s a chance to see what we’re made of.

Zenger: I’m sure you have a greater appreciation for your craft.

T-Ray: Absolutely! One of the things I have been blessed in my seven years of being a full-time performer is my ability to perform in a multitude of capacities, including weddings, birthday parties and private events. I transitioned to doing shows, and started getting calls to do festivals. It really did make me appreciate everything that much more because last year was supposed to be that transitional year of me becoming a full-blown recording artist with my debut EP. Instead, I had to mentally prepare myself to again doing certain types of performances. I knew it was temporary, I knew it would eventually pass. I just didn’t know when.

Zenger: Your journey started with you being a full-time music teacher, while furthering your musical education, going to school, and booking shows at night to perform. A lot of sleepless nights, and then eventually you leaped out on faith, and it worked out. Tell us about it.

T-Ray: That’s interesting you bring that up. I was a full-time teacher in St. Tammany Parish [in Covington, Louisiana]. Between the time that I graduated from UNO [University of New Orleans] and the time I got hired in St. Tammany was about seven months. I was working two or three days a week with what is now known as “Make Music Nola” in the Lower Ninth Ward [in New Orleans]. In between that, I was doing open-mic nights, weddings and things to build my brand.

Once I started teaching, it was like, OK, I have a job that is an anchor for me, financially stable, and I’m able to build. If I wanted to continue doing these extracurricular activities, I could do so. But there was always something inside of me that said I need to make a decision. I took that leap of faith and went full-fledged with being an artist. It really was just putting myself in all these different spaces.

One of the opportunities I got early on was to play in the Bayou Classic Fan Fest November 2013 [in New Orleans]. I was still teaching at that time. People were still hanging on to CDs, so I remember sitting down in my apartment, me and my best friend, and we burned 200 or 300 copies of “Unexpected Sounds Volume 1.” We just gave them out. It was covers of, Jill Scott-“A Long Walk,” Jay-Z-“Tom Ford” and Jhene Aiko-“From Time.” It was songs that were hot at the time, and I figured while I had the platform of the Bayou Classic, I should give these CDs out for free. It spread like wildfire, and I started getting more and more calls. It was a get-it-out-the-mud situation as far as building a brand outside of education.

A nudge from the son of a famed New Orleans violinist got T-Ray re-energized about playing the instrument. (Courtesy of T-Ray The Violinist) 

Zenger: What made the violin your instrument of choice?

T-Ray: I grew up in Baton Rouge, and when I was in elementary school, they had what was called the Pullout Program that had a visual arts teacher and a music teacher. In my case it happened to be music. They would come to our school on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays and pull us out of class, bring us to the auditorium, and we would learn how to play the violin.

At first it was just an outlet to get out of class. But it transitioned in me developing a passion for playing the violin on a deeper level. However, we’re talking about the early ’90s. Being a black kid, having the perception of that instrument being a feminine instrument, drove a lot of my peers away from doing it. The cool kids were playing, and then once they realized it was going to be a lot harder and take a lot of dedication, they didn’t want to play anymore. I happened to be one of the kids that stayed in class and the repercussions from that was, I got picked on. It drove me away from it after sixth grade.

When I got into high school, my best friend was Shaun Ward, and his dad is a well-known contemporary violinist, Michael Ward. He had just finished his CD “Continuum.” Shaun brought his CD to school, and that’s when I got back into orchestra. That was my sophomore year. Listening to this project, it was contemporary R&B. That sparked my interest, and from there I enrolled in strings again, and I found out about NOCCO (New Orleans Center for Creative Arts).

I auditioned at the center, and I was able to do the weekend and summer program my junior and senior years. I was in the jazz department. It was a different type of atmosphere, but it was inspiring and motivating. I thought I was going to be a bass player, but the violin just happened to be the instrument that I had the initial experience with, and it was also one that yielded a lot of opportunities for me.

Zenger: “Finally Free” can have so many different meanings to so many different people. When you named your last project that, what did it mean to you?

T-Ray: I’ve been a full-time artist for seven years. I’ve had a multitude of different experiences during those years. One of the things I’ve been blessed with is to have people along the way who saw something different in me tell me, “You got it!” On the opposite end of the spectrum, I’ve been in situations where I’ve performed and I felt like I was there and playing, but people weren’t really hearing me. At times, it made me second-guess myself.

I’m thankful for all the opportunities I have had, but one of the things I realized is, I knew I wanted to be a performing and touring artist. That takes me recording my own music, producing my own music and just putting it out there in the world to attract those type of opportunities. I felt like it was time to literally just free myself. I was sitting in the airport in Houston, and the title just came to me: “I’m finally free.”

It’s crazy because a lot of times we put these restraints and restrictions on ourselves. It’s all a mindset. I continued to battle with the mindset and mentality of “I have to be doing this. I have to do everything from A-Z.” When really, if I just concentrate on two or three things, and hone my sound, hone my skills in this particular area, the opportunities will start to manifest. I felt that “Finally Free” was that cleansing and that capstone of being able to move forward.

Zenger: On Sept. 24 we are finally getting your long-awaited project, “Visionary.” You will be cataloging the journey in documentary form as well. I am sure you are excited to finally be releasing this body of work.

Like many artists, T-Ray The Violinist used the pandemic lockdown to think deeply about his next career moves. (Devonte Williford)

T-Ray: “Visionary” has been four years in the making. It’s another stepping-stone within the journey of being a full-time artist. I had a band from 2015 to 2017 and we just went our own way. I sat down and really had to figure out what direction I was going to go in. One of the things was, “OK, I play the violin, cool, but I also produce. What is my sound production-wise?”

After figuring out what that sound was going to be, I just finally found the name for it, eclectic fusion. After I found that sound, I said, “OK, I need to record a project and I need to put it out, and make my sound and my voice heard as T-Ray The Violinist, not just T-Ray The Violinist who plays the dope covers of the hottest songs.” It was a process of recording the string quartets. I had someone come in to transcribe the string parts that you will hear on the project, aside from the lead violin. There are a couple vocal features on there, as well: Sybil Shanell, Alfred Banks and Gladney.

It’s a very eclectic-sounding project. It has hip hop elements, R&B, soul and house elements. But they all culminate and are reflective of my style, from a production standpoint, but also from a violinist standpoint. Raj Smoove, my big brother— I call him “Mr. Miyagi” — helped me break down all the tracks. When I moved to New Orleans, he was the first person that I worked with. I feel like this is a really good debut of who I am to the world — not just as T-Ray The Violinist, but as my given name, Trenton Ray Thomas.

Zenger: I can’t wait to hear it, good luck with all of your endeavors. Is there anything you want to add?

T-Ray: On Sept. 25, I will be in Biloxi, Mississippi, opening for Frankie Beverly & Maze at the Gulf Coast Soul and Comedy Fest, so it’s like the perfect storm for that weekend, no pun intended. We don’t need any more storms (laughing).

Edited by Matthew B. Hall and Judith Isacoff

The post Multi-Genre Violinist Finally Free To Explore His Talent Full-Time  appeared first on Zenger News.

Driver’s Seat: Female Auto Shop Owner Empowers Women, Gives Back To Community

Driver’s Seat: Female Auto Shop Owner Empowers Women, Gives Back To Community

Hilda Mera is co-owner of S&A Auto Repair in Newark, New Jersey. (S&A Auto Repair)

Hilda Mera’s story defines the classic immigrant experience: She came to the U.S. with nothing — but worked hard and became a successful businesswoman.

In eight years, Mera and her husband Jose Masache transformed a rundown building in Newark, New Jersey, into a thriving enterprise — S&A Auto Repair — that had gross sales of $400,000 during an economically challenging pandemic.

“Our gross revenue increases 10 to 20 percent each year,” Mera said. “My goal is to get to $1 million.  Knowing myself, I know I can do that.”

Mera emigrated from Ecuador at 19 — and worked as a cleaning lady.  Today, she teaches women about cars and how to drive their own businesses.

“Dreams come true if you put in the time,” she told Zenger.

“It’s not just about doing business. It’s about giving back to the community. We don’t just want to be business owners, we want to be someone people can look up to and say: ‘This person came from Ecuador with nothing. Look at what they’ve realized for themselves and their family.’”

A standout

Being a female owner of an auto-repair shop breaks stereotypes. There were 19,236 female auto mechanics (2.1 percent of all such workers) and a total of 130,174 women in the automotive repair and maintenance field in 2018, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Mera, a mother of three children, is happy to defy expectations. Believing that investing in herself meant investing in her future, she attended classes to learn English and eventually earned an associate degree in accounting from Essex County College in 2012.

After working various jobs, she and her husband decided to start a business that would be an asset to the community. Masache always wanted an auto-repair shop, but neither knew how to kick-start a business.

Operating on faith, Masache took auto-mechanic classes at night in New York for 13 months before completing a six-month apprenticeship as a mechanic. Then one day, he came home and told his wife: “I found a place.” And S&A Auto Repair was born.

Hilda Mera and her husband Jose Masache opened S&A Auto Repair eight years ago in Newark, N.J. (S&A Auto Repair)

“We were nervous, but we decided to go for it,” Mera said. “Thank God I had a good credit score. We used credit cards that allowed up to 16 months before charging interest. That’s how we purchased the equipment and everything that we needed.”

The shop offers a variety of repair services for brakes, engines, transmissions, alternators, struts and shocks, and antilock braking-systems, along with tune-ups and computer diagnostics. But the principals still lacked specific business knowledge.

In 2015, Mera found her way to Rising Tide Capital, a nonprofit based in Jersey City, New Jersey, that offers business development services to young entrepreneurs. The information and instruction she received, earning a Community Business Academy certificate, proved invaluable. It also made her determined to succeed.

“I always say Rising Tide Capital is the door that opened the rest of the doors for me,” Mera said. “Since then, I haven’t stopped.”

In growing her business into a staple of south Newark, Mera was named among the top 100 leaders in Transportation and Automotive in 2020-21 by the International Transportation and Automotive Summit. “I believe there’s a reason why I was recognized,” Mera said. “I’m just going to ask God for wisdom and accomplish whatever He wants me to do.”

No one is more grateful than her husband.

“Without her, the business wouldn’t be what it is right now,” Masache told Zenger. “Having her drive and her vision have been a blessing.”

The couple made it a priority to give back to the community by empowering women intimidated by interacting with mechanics. Too many women have come to Mera with stories of being ripped off for unnecessary repairs. Mera and her husband invite women to be hands-on in the repair of their cars, explaining what is being done and why.

They also hold educational seminars, so women understand their cars — how to check fluids, the lighting system, brake system, tires, battery and other basic maintenance.

Workshops held at S&A Auto Repair teach women how to care for their cars.  (S&A Auto Repair)

“I’m a woman, and I don’t like anybody trying to take advantage of me,” Mera said. “Unfortunately, most women don’t know anything about cars, and a lot of mechanics take advantage of that and don’t tell the truth.”

She remembers one telling story.

A mechanic told a woman she needed to replace her transmission, a job that costs thousands. “The lady came here in tears and asked me how much is a new transmission,” Mera said. “I told her to let my husband look at the car and listen to the noise. It turned out to be a piece of loose metal. Nothing was wrong with the transmission. That really upsets me. When women come to the shop, they are hands-on. We want them to look at the car and touch the car and see what we’re doing.”

S&A Auto Repair is at 168 Clifford Street in Newark, N.J. (S&A Auto Repair)

It’s also important to Mera to leave a legacy.

She and her husband plan to open a tire shop this year and utilize that space to hold workshops during off-hours. “Everything is getting better because I have a purpose. I’m going to do things honestly and do the right thing,” she said.

Mera also has gone from being a student to an instructor at Rising Tide Capital, sharing her experiences and knowledge as a Latina entrepreneur and business owner. “I want to be a role model for women who want to do something but might be afraid,” she said.

“I’m here to let them know not to be afraid, and that we can do whatever we can, if we want to.”

Edited by Fern Siegel and Matthew B. Hall

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Gary ‘G7’ Jenkins Serving A Life Sentence In The Music Industry 

Gary ‘G7’ Jenkins Serving A Life Sentence In The Music Industry 

Gary “G7” Jenkins plans to release his latest project, “G7 No Parole,” by the beginning of November. (Kimberly Jane)

Peeling back the layers of Gary “G7” Jenkins’ musical talent could be an endless process. Jenkins — also known as Lil G from famed R&B group Silk — is back in the studio working on his solo album, “G7 No Parole,” a title which symbolizes his devotion to making music.

His first single, “That’s My Baby”, provides authentic R&B lovers with a sense of relief by delivering offering a sound that’s seemingly absent from today’s genre. Feeling as though his supporters have waited long enough, Jenkins plans to release “G7 No Parole” before the holiday season.

With more than 30 years in the industry under his belt, Jenkins admits that life keeps him connected and inspired to continue using his gifts.

Zenger News talks with Jenkins about “G7 No Parole,” his collaboration bucket list and which Verzuz battle he enjoyed the most.

Percy Crawford interviewed Gary Jenkins for Zenger.

Zenger: What an honor: The new single is available. It provides a sound I’ve been missing. What made “That’s My Baby” the lead single?

Percy Crawford interviewed Gary Jenkins for Zenger. (Heidi Malone/Zenger)

Jenkins: Man… just the way we started putting that thing together, my dude, producer extraordinaire Mr. Jhot Scott. He was playing a track, and he wanted me to add some guitar to it, right. When the beat came on, I strapped on my guitar, I started listening to it, and I said, “This dope.”

So, I started doing my little riffs or whatever. The more I got to playing the song, the more I started grooving to it, and then lyrics started popping in my head. Soon after I got the guitar part laid, I said, “Put the microphone up. Let’s go.” I didn’t even put it down on paper. I went right off my head. I wrote the song, did all the vocal parts and it just came together. It was so fire the way it just came together.

Zenger: Sounds like when a baseball player knows he got the perfect swing, or when that basketball player leaves his hand in the air after a shot.

Jenkins: Yes! I had done some other stuff, too, but when we started that one, and it started coming together, I got a feeling, man. I said, “This is the one.”

Zenger: It’s that R&B that’s not afraid to tell a woman how you feel about them, and we miss that. Trust me.

Jenkins: That was my intent and that’s what you can expect to hear from me, because I’m taking it back to true R&B. Ninety-five percent of R&B is about who?

Zenger: The women.

Jenkins. The women. There you go. And with music today, some of it I like, some of it I love, and some of it I’m not crazy about. Our music used to uplift the women. We used to praise the woman and make her feel like she wanna give you those panties (laughing).

Zenger: I could thank you for many nights during my younger days (laughing).

Jenkins: (Laughing). It was all about that. Women appreciate you more, the more that you show them that you appreciate them. The more that you show them that you see who they are.

Gary “G7” Jenkins recently released the single, “That’s My Baby” (Courtesy of Gary Jenkins)

Zenger: When I watch you speak about music and obviously through your vocals, that passion is real. What’s the driving force behind that 30 years later?

Jenkins: Life! Not everybody is afforded this opportunity. I thank God every day for every instrument that he’s allowed me to play, for giving me this voice and for allowing me to continue to have the same voice and to keep it safe and proper. Music is my life. I’m calling my album, “G7 No Parole.” G is the seventh letter of the alphabet, I’m the seventh child, and seven is the number of completion.

And I said, “No parole,” because I’m sentenced to life in music. I’m not getting out. That’s the whole process behind my whole album, to bring real raw music back to the way it used to be back in the day. From the ’70s, to the ’90s, up to the 2000s. You know what that era was.

Zenger: Now that you are serving this life sentence, what’s the creative process to “G7 No Parole”?

Jenkins: You can expect instruments, collaborations, my writing abilities, my production abilities, along with Jhot, other fire producers, Wally Morris, Chip. I’m trying to do it all. I got a couple of rappers on there that I will be giving an opportunity to later on with my company and bringing them along. I have a live band that I plan on doing some things with called Salty Suga. I got some big ideas. I’m bringing that whole vibe back.

Zenger: You are a musical cheat code because not only do you have the voice, but you also play several instruments, and are an amazing writer. What makes you branch out and not do it all yourself?

Jenkins: I’m one of those who likes to spread the wealth. I believe that there is room in this industry for everybody. I believe there is power in numbers. Somebody can always do something a little different than you and give you a different feel. Some songs just hit me like that, and I have to go ahead and do it right then. Or Jhot will tell me, “You need to play that, bruh.” Sometimes I’ll call him in quick and be like, “Put your flavor in for me.”

Zenger: Are we going to have to wait on “G7 No Parole,” or is it coming soon?

Jenkins: I’ve had the people waiting long enough. That’s why I did the single release and the video on Sept. 7. Shout out to Jazsmin Lewis, who was my leading lady. And to Free Boogie, who shot the video for me. He called himself “Quarantine Tarantino.” It was a great experience. I’m probably going to do one more single after “That’s My Baby,” and then I’m planning on having the whole project ready for Nov. 1, or maybe sooner, like the end of October.

Gary “G7” Jenkins, also known as Lil G from the legendary R&B group, Silk. (Courtesy of Gary Jenkins)
Gary “G7” Jenkins, also known as Lil G from the legendary R&B group, Silk. (Courtesy of Gary Jenkins)

Zenger: Who would you like to share the studio with that you haven’t worked with yet?

Jenkins: Stevie Wonder! Yes lawd! Also H.E.R. 

Zenger: It’s crazy how many legends name H.E.R. as someone they would like to work with or whose music they love. She’s special.

Jenkins: She’s real special. You got some other ones out there; Summer Walker is good. There’s just something about H.E.R., though.

Zenger: Did you still enjoy the process of creating “G7 No Parole”?

Jenkins: Ah man, yes! Anytime I’m able to put my creative juices out there in the synergy, I’m right with it. It’s something I can’t get rid of. I can’t put it away. Sometimes it will wake me up while I’m sleeping. I did this song in Memphis, it’s called “I Am Amazing.” You can see it on my social media. There was a young lady, Tenia, and she had cerebral palsy. Her dad asked me to come over to the house and sing “Happy Birthday” to her. They had the news channel down there in Memphis. I just took to her.

I adopted her as my little niece. Her mother is a gospel singer, JustTina. Something came to my mind—  I said, “We need to do something in honor of Tenia.” I said, “I’m going to do a song.” I came home to Atlanta, and I was in the bed sleeping. At about 5 in the morning, it hit me like a ton of bricks. I woke up and the words just started flowing. I started writing them down. I went downstairs to my studio and started putting it together.

Zenger: Great story. However, I can’t let you go without bringing up these Verzuz battles.

Jenkins: (Laughing).

Zenger: You already know where I’m going with this.

Jenkins: Jodeci (laughing).

Zenger: Silk Verzuz Jodeci. Do you enjoy that?

Jenkins: That’s what I’m talking about, man. I’m digging them, dog. They are fire.

Zenger: I love the R&B Verzuz battles because it went from being a competition to a celebration. That seems to have started with the R&B side of things.

Jenkins: That’s it right there! It did become a celebration. That Isley Brothers/Earth Wind & Fire Verzuz was the beginning of that — it was amazing.

Zenger: It has been an extreme honor, the single is amazing, and I’m sure the entire project will follow suit. Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Jenkins: Tell everybody to keep up with me on my social media pages. My website will be up really soon.

Edited by Matthew B. Hall and Stan Chrapowicki

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Shawn Porter On Being ‘The Dictator Of The Ring’

Shawn Porter On Being ‘The Dictator Of The Ring’

strongShawn Porter (left) overcame an injured left hand to win the WBC’s vacant welterweight crown by unanimous decision over two-division champion Danny Garcia in 2018. (Amanda Westcott/SHOWTIME)/strong

Two-time welterweight champion Shawn “Showtime” Porter wants to be the first man to knock out undefeated three-division title winner Terence “Bud” Crawford.

Porter, who will challenge for the WBO’s 147-pound title owned by the switch-hitting Crawford (37–0, 28 KOs) on Nov. 20 on ESPN+ Pay-Per-View from The Michelob ULTRA Arena in Las Vegas, recently caught up with Zenger News.

Porter (31–3–1, 17 KOs) discussed his split-decision victory over current WBC champion Yordenis Ugas in March 2019 and his subsequent split-decision unification loss to unbeaten southpaw IBF/WBC titleholder Errol Spence in September 2019.

In addition, Porter also sheds light on why a fight with eight-division champion Manny Pacquiao did not materialize in advance of the Filipino superstar’s unanimous decision loss to Ugas last month and talks about an undisclosed left hand injury he suffered before earning a unanimous decision victory over Danny Garcia (September 2018) for the WBC’s vacant crown.

Zenger: How do you plan to defeat Terence Crawford?

Porter: Like with Errol Spence Jr., it’s going to take everything that I have and all of my experiences in order to beat Terence Crawford. Replaying the Spence fight in my mind, I know there are things I left out of the ring. I also know from an intellectual standpoint, I was a step or two ahead of Spence.

I think the same thing happens in this fight with Terence Crawford. I think we’ll be able to find something, whether it’s counterpunching, aggression, or boxing from the outside. We will be able to find certain things that are going to work for us for a significant portion of the fight, making adjustments as we go.

Zenger: How do you see the fight with Crawford going?

Porter: Everybody feels that my style is based on aggression and speed, but my style is solely based on being the dictator in the ring. Sometimes my style of dictating may be going forward, and sometimes it may mean going backward.

But I can assure you of one thing, and that’s that you will see one person controlling the fight with Terence Crawford and that will be me. For anyone who doesn’t see that, look at the fight with Errol Spence Jr. and Keith Thurman and Danny Garcia.

Those guys were forced into fighting out of positions they had never been put in before, and that’s because of me. I told y’all that I was going to do it, and I did it. My record speaks for itself. I dictate what happens and how the fight goes.

Everybody’s always reacted to Terence, but just like with Errol Spence Jr., prior to me, he was always the dictator. I don’t think that’s something he’s had to deal with as a professional — being forced to react.

Zenger: How does the Crawford fight end?

Porter: I really do see myself being able to — like I did against Errol Spence — put him in uncomfortable situations that he’s never been in, forcing him to react, being able to overwhelm him, and, ultimately, to stop him.

Two-time welterweight champion Shawn Porter (left) lands a right hand on IBF/WBC champion Errol Spence during his split-decision loss. ”I see myself being able to — like I did against Errol Spence — put [Terence Crawford] in uncomfortable situations, and, ultimately, to stop him.” (Premier Boxing Champions) 

Zenger: What separated you from victory against Errol Spence?

Porter: It was clearly the 11th-round knockdown. I hate when people try to convince me that it wasn’t a knockdown. I ask people, ‘Did you enjoy the fight?’ Some people say, ‘Yeah, I enjoyed the fight, but you should have won.’

After the 10th round, I went back to the corner saying to myself, ‘Somebody’s gotta get knocked down and that’s going to decide the fight. I’ve gotta knock him down.’ I wasn’t thinking knockout, I was just thinking, ‘I gotta knock him down.’

I knew that would be the separation between winning or losing that fight. Errol ended up getting the knockdown, and I tell people, ‘I was more upset that I got knocked down than I was not getting my hand raised.’ I knew that that was going to be the separation.

Zenger: It seems as if Manny Pacquiao has mentioned Mikey Garcia, Errol Spence, and, ultimately, Keith Thurman as potential opponents, but never really you — why not?

Porter: I don’t think that Manny, himself, has ever mentioned my name, but I do know that there have been interviews where he’s been asked, ‘What about Shawn Porter?’ and ‘Would you fight Shawn Porter,’ and it was always, ‘Well, we’ll see,’ or, ‘We’ll think about it.’

There was a tendency to look at everyone else’s name, but my name wasn’t really pushed forward. The reason why is because if you think about it, I sparred with him in 2010 and 2011. They saw what I had back then, and they see what I have now.

I do think that, with all due respect, they know that I’m better than I was back then. Sparring is sparring, and we all know that, but sparring me was always a challenge. So I think they know that if they had a challenge with me in 2010 and 2011, you can just imagine what it would be in 2021.

Zenger: How difficult was it to train for, and ultimately, defeat Danny Garcia, post-surgery on your broken left hand minus the full complement of sparring in camp?

Porter: The training camp that I had for Danny Garcia was so far beneath the typical training camps that we’ve usually had. I don’t think people would even believe it if they heard it, especially if they watched the fight and think about what went on in camp while watching the fight.

Sparring, hitting the bag and all of that was second to the things I was dealing with. Without going into too much detail, there was the battle of the injured finger, but there was an even bigger battle that was internal, emotional and mental with my dad.

It was not the typical training camp, but I was able to do some things from a mental standpoint to keep everything together and to not be denied the WBC title. Eventually, I will go into detail, and when I do, I think it will bring a lot of motivation to people.

“Yordenis Ugas is an avoided fighter,” said two-time welterweight champion Shawn Porter (right), who earned a split-decision victory over the current WBA champion in 2019. “People don’t want to deal with a hard night with Yordenis Ugas.” (Premier Boxing Champions)

Zenger: Is Ugas an avoided fighter?

Porter: Ugas was avoided. I’ll keep it real. The IBF mandated the fight between myself and Ugas. But at that time, my dad and I weren’t really clicking on certain levels, and he didn’t want me to get into the ring with Ugas because maybe things weren’t going to click between him and I in the corner.

My dad felt like Ugas was a threat given the risk-reward factor. But for me, the reward led to a unification bout with Errol Spence Jr., so there is no telling what would have happened if I had decided not to take the mandate. But he is an avoided fighter. People don’t want to deal with a hard night with Yordenis Ugas.

Zenger: How difficult was the fight with Ugas, and what game plan earned you the victory?

Porter: My dad said, ‘Move on him and out-box him, he does not have the feet that you have and he can’t catch you.’ That’s what we decided to do for the entirety of that night. With Ugas, he never forced me to do anything else.

He was plodding and he walked into shots. He stood in the middle of the ring telling me to come at him. I didn’t oblige. So the fight carried on, and it stayed the exact same way for 12 consecutive rounds. He learned from that.

Someone close to him told me that he said, ‘I was confused for the first six rounds of the fight.’ If you’re confused for the first half of the fight, then you probably lost the fight.

Someone else close to him said, ‘I knew you were going to box like that.’

They said, ‘I told him that, and it gave him problems.’ The thing is we knew exactly what we needed to do to beat him, no one else expected it, and when they didn’t expect it, their minds were blown by what we were doing.

Yordenis Ugas (right) defended his WBC welterweight title by unanimous decision over eight-division title winner Manny Pacquiao after having lost to a split-decision to two-time champion Shawn Porter. “I don’t think that Manny, himself, has ever mentioned my name” as a potential opponent, said Porter. (Premier Boxing Champions)

Zenger: How impressive was Ugas’ victory over Pacquiao?

Porter: What I learned about Yordenis that I didn’t know is that he can box. He has real boxing skills, and I had not seen that in any fight before we fought — not until he fought me and Pacquiao. In the fight with Pacquiao, he did something that they weren’t expecting.

I was very impressed with what he did against Manny Pacquiao. Yordenis Ugas is an avoided fighter, and now it’s going to be difficult because he has a belt. That’s the only reason people are going to want to get into the ring with him — because now, they have to.

Zenger: How do you want to be remembered, given your impressive resume?

Porter: Like the ones with Errol Spence, Keith Thurman and Danny Garcia and, hopefully, Terence Crawford, the Ugas victory was a fantastic fight.

Hopefully, people think it’s a classic because that’s a goal for me as a fighter — to have those battles and the moments in those fights that will last a lifetime.

Edited by Stan Chrapowicki and Matthew B. Hall

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