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Monday, October 30, 2017

Woman Of The Week: Actress Santana Dempsey

By Evan Jackson 

Spotting her first at the INSTANCE film premiere, an indie film written, directed, and starring the extraordinaire Teria Birlon, I struck up a conversation with Actress Santana Dempsey. I had a feeling there was more to meet the eye with her and I was entirely right. With many cultural influences Santana's uniqueness is beneficial not only in her adding a different texture to her characters but also how she chooses her roles. Now what makes Santana original? Well you'll just have to keep reading won't you.

1. Tell us what you knew about the show "Dear White People" before you booked the show. Any trepidation upon taking that role? And how was it on set? 

I saw the movie first and became obsessed immediately.  Anytime I see mixed race people onscreen, especially as leading roles I am tuned in and connected. I simply didn't grow up with seeing people that looked like me onscreen. 

Absolutely no trepidation at all on working on the show. I actually went after the show. Meaning, I knew it was a show I wanted to be on so I did everything I could to be seen. I knew Stephanie Allain Bray one of the executive producers who actually played my mom in the movie French Dirty. I reached out to her for another role that they saw me for but I wasn't quite what the director Justin Simien had in mind. Then when Jenny came along, the campus feminist it was all me. (lol). 

Filming was great. Everyone was so nice. I got to work with Tina Mabry who is this fierce African American director. It was my first time in Hollywood working with a female director. Which is actually pretty sad. We need more female directors. Tina was so nice and made me feel really seen. She is someone I am eager to continue to work with. All of them are! 
2. You mentioned being adopted, how has that help shape your worldview and how you approach acting? What has been the most rewarding part of being an advocate of adoption awareness?

That is an interesting question. In terms of worldview, it has helped me realize that everyone simply wants to belong. Everyone is worthy of being loved no matter where you come from. I feel like that sounds cheesy or generic but I mean those words.  People who are adopted have a lifelong journey of coming to terms with the fact that their biological parents couldn't care for them. In many, many different capacities of not being able to take care of a child. At the core, most adoptees, myself included feel abandoned. We struggle with this. Even if our parents who adopted us are amazing, there is this tiny part that feels left. Honestly, one reason I started acting was to be seen. To be validated. Which is ironic because it is the one place where I receive the most rejection and criticism. Maybe in a backwards way, it is the reason I act. To prove the system wrong. That I too can belong when odds are stacked against me. I do belong! 

The most rewarding part about adoption awareness is meeting so many other adoptees. It's really beautiful to exchange our stories and go "oh, you feel that too?" It's like I have this secret community. A community that completely gets my experience. Adoption is still pretty taboo and not fully understood that being able to talk about it honestly in public to help others understand the realities of adoption brings me great joy.  

3. How do you embrace your Afro-Latino heritage? How do both heritages play a role in your acting and choosing roles? 

I am actually afro-latina and white.  My biological mother was a caucasian woman from Texas and my birth father from what I was told was from Puerto Rico. He was a mix himself. 

Embracing my roots has been a daily journey. Society almost forces me to reject parts of myself to please others that don't understand but I choose not to. I have West African blood. Spanish blood. Taino blood.  French blood. English blood. Irish blood. Italian blood, all running through my veins. They are a part of me and I choose to accept them all. I get to be whomever I want to be. I can highlight a different part of me every day without rejecting the others. That's pretty powerful. 

Truth, being mixed in the entertainment world, primarily as an actor has a lot of challenges. I am never enough it seems. Black enough. Latina enough. White enough. Seriously. For network, I get so excited if a biracial or mixed race role I fit comes around. (It's very rare) When it does, I am hardly seen. It's insane. Things I've learned are: Biracial means light skinned black or black with curly hair and/or light eyes.  Mixed race or ambiguous means a white person with dark hair and maybe they have some Italian in them (haha).... It is not fully representative of what being mixed race is. I have to laugh about it now so I don't cry.  It's almost like the industry still doesn't know what to do with us who don't fit into their categories that they created. It is better than it was 10 years ago but not that much!  So many roles are based on stereotypes, stereotypes I don't really fit.  Especially when it comes to Latina roles.  Meaning, I don't have a Spanish accent. Nor do I speak speak Spanish fluently.  Which is about 50% of the roles. Because you know, you can't be Latino or Latinx without speaking Spanish (eye roll).  Plus, apparently I'm what they call a "dark skinned Latina". I found that out from another "light skinned" Latina actress in NYC. She schooled me. Actually felt more like her Latina lightness was better than my Latina darkness but I kept quiet to learn. Though, this is basically how a lot of the casting goes. It's like producers are afraid to showcase more indigenous or Afro Latino features for fear that middle American and the South won't tune in.  It is total crap. They would tune in if they cast outside of their comfort zone. Or went to different parts of Mexico like Oaxaca, Veracruz, Guerrero where many Black Mexicans live to open their eyes more on how varied Mexican people look.  Or go to Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Panama to see all the beautiful mixes. Not everyone needs to look like Sofia Vergara to play Latina. 

I have endless stories on this topic . Ones that break my heart because of peoples ignorance. There is much discrimination in my field from everyone. Even people of color.  AlI can do is stand up for myself. Be a voice. Educate others when I see appropriate and keep creating my own stories and mixing into everyone else's. No matter what happens, I know who I am. 

4. Tell us about your recent short story that you've published?

My short story "An Impossible Feat" is published in an anthology called "The Beiging of America".  The book is a collection of personal narratives written by mixed race people. It was my first time writing a short story.  The structure proved a little challenging for me but I did it! I have a tendency to be wordy as you can see. (hahaha).  The story is about my sister and me being taken away from our biological parents and put into a foster home for three years.  It explores how for me being abandoned by my birth mother (she ended up taking her own life) made me have this idea that if someone loved me, they would leave me. It seemed like all the people around me in the first six years of my life who were suppose to love me and want me --- wouldn't stay.  It is what I like to call, backwards love. The story follows me in foster care trying to understand why I was treated differently than they other White kids. At that time, all I knew was that my hair and skin are what set me apart. I was taught that these features weren't as good as the White foster kids. See, I'm talking to much again. I'm going to stop because I don't want to give too much away! I'd love for you all to read it. You can buy it on Amazon!

LOWLIFE where Actress Santana Dempsey plays the lead role of Kaylee, an 8 month pregnant junkie. Photo Credit: Alex Lombardi

5. Tell us about your role in Low Life? How was it like to take on such a role ? Emotionally & mentally how did you prepare? 

I play Kaylee. An eighth month pregnant heroin addict who was sold into sex trafficking when she was younger but later saved by a washed up Luchador named El  Monstruo who becomes her husband. Pretty much everything is stacked up against Kaylee from the beginning of the movie. Throughout the entire film she is fighting to escape being kidnapped and having her organs sold. Pretty brutal stuff.

Taking on the role of Kaylee was really fun. I mean, it was a more physically challenging role but I love a challenge. Wearing a pregnancy belly was pretty different and being made up to look like I was strung out was nuts. I hardly recognized myself most days. I end up having the baby in the film and I remember asking my sister and like two other friends what going into labor was like because I had zero experience having a kid. I wanted to know what it was really like to birth a child. Wow. I am just remembering so much. The makeup artist had to make this afterbirth for me made out of applesauce and red food coloring and put it all over my thighs. Then we actually had a real baby boy as my son. He is my friends son and was such a trooper. It was all so magical and intense. Now that I think about it all, this may be one of the best acting experiences of my life thus far. 

Everything happened so fast I feel like I didn't get a chance to prepare. At times I felt like I just dove in. Splashed around a little and tried to figure out how to swim. Though, as I mentioned I did prepare by asking a lot of question I didn't know regarding being in labor. Plus, the director Ryan Prows always talked with me about every scene and made sure I understood his vision. That helped a lot.  I did do a lot of research on addicts. I also used a lot of my own past trauma and adoption experience for the role. My character is adopted too. Which helped me really understand her better because I already know what it feels like to be abandoned. I imagined Kaylee felt very similarly and turned to drugs to help escape but also she knew no other lifestyle nor had the resources to help her make better choices. Unlike I did. At times, I would find myself becoming emotional when I'd finish shooting. It was so close to home for me but also so very different. I am really proud of this role and I can't wait for you all to watch the movie. It is unlike anything I have ever seen. We have our USA premiere next week in Chicago at the Music Box Theatre on Nov. 4th, 9;45pm! 

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

2017 Taste Of Soul LA

Every year the sun comes out to accommodate the best family outdoor festival in los angeles! Held in the Crenshaw area in Southern California the streets are shut down and filled with natives of LA as the air fills with BBQ, the aroma of different cuisines, and yummy dessert. Black entrepreneurship is at the forefront of this festival.


Tuesday, October 24, 2017

The Special Needs Network "A Night Under The Stars"

Bonnie Barry LaMon ESQ (VP Special Needs Network) Herb Wesson (Los Angeles City Counsel President) Areva Martin (CEO/Founder Special Needs Network) Anna Maria Horsford (Actress) (Left to Right)

 by AndrĂ© Hammonds

Truthfully, from the moment I heard about The Special Needs Network, "A Night Under The Stars", I was immediately sent into a frenzy! I mean, what's a guy to wear to a swanky evening of charity that boasts names like Vanessa Bell Calloway, Anna Maria Horsford, Kym Whitley AND a special performance from Macy Gray? Ultimately I settled on a nice pair of wine colored Marc Jacob Trousers paired with a burgundy velvet jacket and my favorite sparkling Steve Madden loafers, all of  which made  quite the statement as I arrived to my own personal "cheering crowd" at the venue! Yes, literally a small organized crowd of people cheering, clapping, and  welcoming me into the beautiful courtyard of the California African American Museum. The aptly named award show and gala was hosted by Special Needs Network Founder Areva Martin ESQ. Areva, an award winning Civil Rights Attorney, TV Host, and Autism advocate stunned on the red carpet as she wore a beautiful blue gown that shined only half as bright as her amazing spirit while she spoke of the great works her SNN organization has done in Los Angeles County. "Advocacy found me", Areva cited, while speaking of her call to action through her son Ryan's Autism diagnosis at age 2. 

Areva Martin (Founder Special Needs Network)
 Many of Areva celebrity friends were in attendance and showed up on the red carpet to share their support for Special Needs Network, including actress Vanessa Bell Calloway telling Young Bold and Regal "the special needs deserve a little more love, thought, concern, and care" and Dancing With The Stars producer Steven Price saying "events like this show that there are people that do care".
Vanessa Bell Calloway (Actress)
Christy (SNN Recipient) André (YBR) Kym Whitley (Comedian)
 As the evening continued, a transformed museum foyer housed Hollywoods finest as we celebrated a night of heroes and the partners who help them fight! Opening the awards show was a SNN Youth Leadership Counsel performance that included tunes from Kanye West and Kendrick Lamar, followed by Beverly White of NBC4 taking the stage to serve as Mistress of Ceremony for the evening. While recognizing the partners and donors who make the works of SNN possible, the awards ceremony honored Los Angeles City Counsel President Herb Wesson (Man of the Year) and Anna Maria Horsford (Vangaurd Award) who exclaimed "Special needs children are buried treasures". Comedian Kym Whitley llater took the stage asking "what can happen when kids are connected to Special Needs Network" before hilariously presiding in a live donation event raising over $40k for the Special Needs Network's new campus. As with a every nice charity event, after the show is the after party and this after party included the sounds of none other than Macy Gray. What a treat! Macy wooed the crowed with the sultry sounds of some her biggest hits including "I Try" and I must say, for a swanky event this crowd really knew how to party! It was truly an "Evening Under The Stars" as we danced the night away in the courtyard to the sounds of Macy Gray and celebrating those who need celebrating the most.

Macy Gray

Sunday, October 22, 2017

The Underground Network Launch Party

Chief Operating Officer of The Underground Network Evan McCrary.. & Founder of The Underground Network Amani Odom at the Underground Network Launch Party
I came across The Underground Network via Instagram and I was automatically on board. A forward thinking Black Millennial organization which sole purpose is to link with like-minded individuals and help cultivate their ideas, dreams, and businesses ventures ? sign me up, immediately. Looking further I had to know, who created such an innovative platform and more importantly what was the driving force behind it. The genius of The Underground Network is laid out by their founder Amani Odom, working in the field of Social Work she wanted do more and with this organization she does. Through community involvement, connecting Black professionals, and advocating for social justice this organization was created for black men and women to have a space to share ideas have them nurtured and eventually grow into a reality. COO (Chief Operating Officer) of The Underground Network Evan McCrary is just as integral to the organization bringing her insight, I saw her work behind the scenes first hand at the Young, African American Women's Conference. She's sharply smart, knows how to organize and is the perfect fit for Amani when it comes to conducting The Underground Network.

   The Underground Launch Party commenced at the Bayou Grille on Labrea in Los Angeles, California and when I walked in the establishment it smelled like home and it felt like Black Excellence. The atmosphere was buzzy with folks getting Cajun food courtesy of the black owned restaurant, music playing, and intellects mingling. Amani was prepping for the keynote speaker, BlackBookLA founder Tyree Byrd while Evan McCrary was at the point,  making sure I knew who to get photos of and interviews with. Introducing me to the team -  Head of Social Media & Community Engagement Ashley Lipkins-Scott and Kelsie Bonaparte and Head of Marketing/Sponsorship Geoffery Stanton - I noticed a common theme. They are all young Black professionals striving for one goal, creating a platform for the betterment of their people. That's the common link, that's why this organization will thrive.

Coming up to speak was BlackBookLA founder Tyree Byrd, he created the platform to find the most lit Black events in the Los Angeles area and share them with his Social Media audience. As he spoke about, often quoting Director Ava DuVernay, black empowerment and the need to create spaces for Black women and Black men to bond, to build, and succeed the entire crowd was enamored. You felt it in the air, people wanted to reach that point where their dreams came to fruition and Byrd was giving the gospel on it. But how? How do you start, and his simple yet succinct response was yes, an Ava DuVernay quote "Just Start...". And if this isn't another reason for you to come to The Underground Network, I don't what is. With the Underground Network as Black Millineial you have a place where you can meet new people, have your accomplishments not only acknowledged but better yet applauded, and most importantly be a part of something special. So come on down, join the movement.

To Love, Live, And Laugh

To Love, Live, And Laugh: Ariana Sanchez Interview 

When you think of Comedy you don't think someone having a debilitating illness being bed ridden, you don't think of someone who had to struggle mightily. But that's the case with Comedian and Actress Ariana Sanchez but no her story doesn't end there that's where it actually it starts. Doing stand-up Comedy and landing lead roles in film like 'Small Things', Ariana is a budding Hollywood talent with a steely resilience. With Ariana I quickly realized you can laugh at her pain, not taking her self too seriously it immediately puts you at ease. Her love for her culture is boundless growing up in Denver, Colorado in a Mexican American household her family provided the funny moments and planted the seed in her comedy roots. The warm and comic side of Ariana is balanced out with a levity, a sophistication that now I realize is the bedrock of her go getter mentality. Obstacle after obstacle Ariana doesn't cower away she steps in and defies the odds. She plans on being in the entertainment industry a long time and she's already figured out the keys to success. Love the challenges as they come because she's proven it will make you stronger. Live through the performances because what you deliver someone will certainly be influenced. And laugh at yourself when necessary and remember there is always a new day.


Ariana Sanchez On Her Love For Acting & Honing Her Comedic Skills

Ariana On Her Stand-Up Comedy & How Nothing Is Off Limits! 

Ariana On The Power Of The 'Me Too' Campaign And Ending Sexual Harassment In The Industry 

2017 SS18 Style Fashion Week LA

2017 Style Fashion Week LA Opening Reception

Day 5 Of The 2017 LA Fashion Week

Day 4 Of The 2017 LA Fashion Week

Day 3 Of The 2017 LA Fashion Week

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Travelista Tuesday - Soullo Traveler Geena Ashlee

As a self-described Oakland girl living her life as a foreigner I wanted to feature Geena Ashlee as not

only a traveler but more importantly a global citizen. She doesn't simply visit the beautiful countries

or exotic locations she breathes new life into them - makes them better with her perspective and

almost makes you jealous you didn't go there yourself. As graduate of California State, Los Angeles

Geena started to trek the world and document those trips in her blog the Soul•lo Traveler. A clever

double entendre title Geena travels solo, by herself sometimes halfway across the world but not as  a

timid visitor but as a soulful spirit ready for a new adventure. What drew me to her blog was the

sheer joy I had seen as she traveled to these culturally specific places. She's knowledgeable about the

 history of the places she's inhabited and in turn we benefit from her insight. She highlights the

beauty of these pockets of the world not with over-glamorized photos on Instagram but with real

moments. Her laughing among her friends walking down a dirt road, her gazing at a waterfall, or

her simply relaxing on hammock. Ironically you can say she puts your soul at rest by see hers come

alive. So join in the journey with her as she ventures across the world and yes, be inspired to travel

as well.


Monday, October 16, 2017

Mogul Monday - Fashionista & Marketing Maven Gabrielle Kirven

Sometimes when it comes to your dreams you have to wade in the water but always you must trust

and believe. This is especially true with fashionista & marketing maven Gabrielle Kirven. A bubbly

Texas born bright star Gabrielle culminated her love for fashion, beauty, modeling, and inspiring

women with her writing to create her blog, A Bit Of Gabs. When I speak with Gabrielle about her

journey she alludes to her written piece "Why Settle". She was trying to avoid a post-college malaise

and in the piece she held everyone to a higher standard to live out their dreams. Which she is

currently doing as a marketing specialist for "Grand Time". When she isn't doing a marketing deal

she is writing uplifting posts!

Instagram: @iam.gabrielle_


Feel Young, Be Bold, Live Regal

Feel Young, Be Bold, Live Regal