TIME celebrities

Kelly Rowland Talks Inspirational Women, Raising a Son

Kelly Rowland ESSENCE Festival
Skip Bolen—Getty Images Kelly Rowland attends the Samsung Galaxy Experience at the 2015 ESSENCE Festival on July 4, 2015 in New Orleans.

The former Destiny's Child singer dishes on strong women and race

Kelly Rowland keeps pictures of inspiring, empowering women on her vision board. The likes of Diana Ross and Sade—who she channelled recently in a fierce photo shoot for Mane Addicts—appear next to women like Sybrina Fulton, the mother of Trayvon Martin.

“I think she’s so beautiful and inspiring,” Rowland said of Fulton on Saturday. TIME caught up with the former Destiny’s Child singer at the Samsung Galaxy Experience at the 2015 Essence Festival, where Rowland was able to tell Fulton how she felt about her in person.

In a short conversation between appearances, Rowland dished on what she’s got going on— juggling motherhood, her music, and preparing to judge aspiring singers on an upcoming BET reality show—but also got personal about raising a young black boy at a time when injustices facing men of color dominate the news. She and her husband Tim Witherspoon are already thinking about talking to their baby son, Titan, about how to interact with police.

“It’s a conversation that we have to have,” Rowland said. “We want to teach him to be responsible and to respect authority, but to always stand up for himself. He’s no punk.”

Rowland said, too, that more artists are starting to feel a sense of obligation to be outspoken about issues that impact the world around them—something she’s hoping to find in the artists she selects on her upcoming show.

“I would like to find a group that is very outspoken about issues and their opinions,” she said. Earlier Rowland noted: “It’s been awhile since we’ve had a really impactful girl group.”

TIME cities

Protestors Throw a Confederate Flag on the Grill in New Orleans

Demonstrators used the 2015 Essence Festival taking place in the city to draw attention to a movement

Just blocks from the 2015 Essence Festival, where civil rights leaders are gathering to discuss what’s next in the Black Lives Matter movement, a crowd of a nearly 100 protesters stood in the unrelenting New Orleans heat Saturday to demand action around a subject that’s been gaining steam in the wake of the Charleston church massacre.

Demonstrators burned a confederate battle flag in a charcoal grill beneath a towering statue honoring confederate general Robert E. Lee. The statue and other monuments to Confederate leaders that pepper the city, they demanded, must come down. “Down, down with the racist monuments. Up, up with the people’s empowerment,” the crowd chanted in unison.

At the base of Lee’s figure, which stands atop a 60ft column in a sprawling and immaculately kept circle also named after the general, two organizers of the protests ripped and burned a confederate battle flag that was purchased from the Confederate Memorial Museum, located just steps away.

The flag, according to an organizer who identified himself only as Quess, cost $22. As the flag crackled in the charcoal grill, local trumpeter Mario Abney performed a jazzy melody and the crowd jeered and hooted. It was a far cry from Fourth of July barbecues taking place elsewhere in the United States.

The national campaign to drive symbols of the confederacy out of the American mainstream was lent a sense of urgency by the shooting of nine black Americans in Charleston, South Carolina in June. The alleged shooter, Dylann Roof, posed with a confederate battle flag in images posted online alongside a racist screed.

In the wake of the massacre, the South Carolina legislature moved to remove the flag from outside its statehouse — a previously unthinkable act in a state where support for the flag as a symbol of Southern heritage still rides high.

It was a bitter-tasting victory for a decades-long movement that had been gaining traction even before the shootings. Activists in New Orleans have won a series of concessions over the years — the moving of a monument commemorating a bloody battle that many black residents felt glorified white supremacy; the removal of the names of confederacy figures from a handful of schools. And last week, New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu said he wanted to rename Lee Circle and remove the statue. The change will likely coincide with the city’s tri-centennial celebration in 2018.

But the protestors at Saturday’s march and rally don’t want to wait that long. “We don’t need any more dialogue, we need demolition,” said Rev. Marie Ortiz, a veteran activist in the New Orleans area. Earlier, Ortiz told the crowd she’d been pushing for the removal of confederate symbols since her early 30s. She wants a figure of New Orleans Civil Rights leader Rev. Avery Alexander to replace Lee.

“If his words were sincere and he meant it, it doesn’t matter when he takes it down. Now is the time to do it,” the 75-year-old said.

Ortiz was among those who marched from New Orleans’ Canal Street Ferry Station to Lee Circle Saturday. The group trekked down New Orleans’ Convention Center Boulevard just past noon, occupying the same sidewalks and streets as cheerful tourists in town for the 21st annual Essence Festival. Many stopped to take pictures and chant along in solidarity.

The group later veered onto Magazine Street, which houses the National World War II Museum, weaving in and out of clusters of confused tourists. Once they reached the statue, the protestors sang, chanted, and signed a petition calling for the immediate removal of Lee’s statue and others found throughout the Big Easy, including a statue of Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederate States.

“There are monuments like these all over the city and these symbols create the environment for police brutality and oppression,” said Quess, the organizer who led the flag-burning. “Black lives really don’t matter if there are all of these monuments to our former oppressors.”

TIME Television

How Melissa Benoist Felt When She Put on Her Supergirl Costume for the First Time

"It’s impossible not to feel empowered when you put it on"

Melissa Benoist, the star of the upcoming television series Supergirl, felt a range of emotions the first time she put on her signature leotard and cape to play Kara Zor-El—but most of all she felt empowered.

“It’s impossible not to feel empowered when you put it on,” the former Glee cast member told Entertainment Weekly. “I feel like a different person almost. It really is an alter ego, where I feel inspired, hopeful and empowered.”

Benoist’s new show premieres on CBS in October.

Read more at Entertainment Weekly.

 

TIME society

Utah Teen Bullied for Her Big Ears Gets Free Surgery

The teen said she was called names like "Dumbo"

A Utah surgeon gave free corrective surgery to a teen who was bullied for having big ears.

Isabelle Stark told PEOPLE kids in her high school would walk up to her and tug her protruding ears and call her “Dumbo.” But thanks to a surgeon who was no stranger to ear-related taunts while growing up, the 18-year-old was able to undergo a corrective procedure free of charge.

“I know what it’s like to be bullied about something you can’t control,” Steven Mobley, a Salt Lake City surgeon who runs a foundation that offers free ear-pinning surgery to low-income kids, told PEOPLE. “I’m really happy for Isabelle—now maybe she can move on to the next chapter of her life.”

Read more at PEOPLE.

Read Next: Nip. Tuck. Or Else

TIME Military

Women in the Navy, Marine Corps Get More Maternity Leave

Ray Mabus navy maternity leave
Molly Riley—AP Navy Secretary Ray Mabus testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington on March 10, 2015.

Women now have triple the amount of time they were provided before July 2

Women in the U.S. Marine Corps and the Navy can now take 18 weeks of maternity leave, triple the amount of time they were provided prior to July 2.

Women are not required to take all of the leave at once, but they must take it within the first year of their child’s life.

Navy Secretary Ray Mabus said Thursday allowing women to take more time off will be beneficial to both their families and their service.

“We have incredibly talented women who want to serve, and they also want to be mothers and have the time to fulfill that important role the right way. We can do that for them,” Mabus said in a statement. “Meaningful maternity leave when it matters most is one of the best ways that we can support the women who serve our county. This flexibility is an investment in our people and our Services, and a safeguard against losing skilled service members.”

The new policy is effective immediately and applies to women who took leave after Jan. 1, 2015.

TIME new orleans

Essence Festival Day of Service Offers Snapshot of New Orleans Recovery

The annual Essence Festival kicked off with a day of community service

Thursday morning was bittersweet for Shanti Taylor.

The 34-year-old had returned to the old Frederick Douglass High School building in New Orleans’ Upper Ninth Ward, where she was a student in the mid-’90s. As she walked through the building at 3820 St. Claude Avenue, she recalled the artwork that once lined the hallways, including images of the school’s Bobcats mascot.

“It was a little dated, but we liked it,” she said. “It was fun.”

But Taylor hadn’t just returned to reminisce—she was part of a team of volunteers carrying in stacks of chairs and sorting books in the library, getting the building ready for KIPP Renaissance High School to move in next month.

The school was one of a handful of locations the Essence Festival chose as host sites for its day of community service on Thursday. The annual festival, thrown by Essence Magazine, which is also owned by TIME’s parent company Time Inc., devoted a day to giving back to the local community ahead of the weekend’s entertainment.

The day of service at KIPP Renaissance High school was like a snapshot of the work that has taken place across New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. In the 10 years since the levees broke and flooded 80% of the city, 94% of metro New Orleans’ 2000 population has returned. The economy is on the rebound with big businesses and startups popping up all across the area, though poverty remains pervasive in pockets of the city. The city’s all-charter school system has been held up by local officials as a potential model for the rest of the country, though reports from Mother Jones and Think Progress have found there is cause for concern in some areas, namely standardized test scores. Ask anyone—from the Mayor to Thursday’s volunteers—and they’ll acknowledge how far the city has left to go, but they can’t help but note how far it has come.

“There’s a lot to be proud of,” Ericka McConduit-Diggs, the president and CEO of the Urban League of Greater New Orleans, told TIME via telephone. “The city has made tremendous progress, but [the] reality is communities of color face real inequities.”

“I don’t think there’s any city in America that has suffered as much as we have suffered and as broadly,” Mayor Mitch Landrieu told TIME last week, naming storms including Katrina, Rita, Ike and Gustav, the national recession and the BP oil spill among the disasters the city has faced. “It has been amazing, the resilience that the people of this city have shown and how much they’ve built back and how fast they’ve built back.”

That recovery is due in large part to the individuals and community groups who put the city back together piece by piece. That work was on full display Thursday in a steamy stairwell in Renaissance where an assembly line of folks in sweat-stained powder blue T-shirts carried desks to the second and third floors of the building. As that team worked, older volunteers lent a hand by sorting books in the school library. At every turn, there was movement. Some volunteers, like Efua Darley of Washington, D.C., had come to help out ahead of the weekend’s more lively festivities. Others, like Taylor and her mother Linda Fernandez, 58, felt compelled to give back given their past connection to the school.

Kyle Jones, dean of operations at KIPP Renaissance High School, said Thursday that it was important to have the community’s help in getting the school ready.

“Obviously, as a school we give education, but we want to make sure we give more than just educating somebody’s children,” Jones told TIME. “I’m hoping to become more of a part of the community.”

Jones, a New Orleans native, now works down the street from where his mom Jocelyn Jones spent a part of her 34-year career as an educator. He’s seen a lot of change in the city over the years, which he said can be difficult even as some of the changes are positive.

“It’s always bittersweet, but it’s always great to see new traditions and new growth happen in a city that hasn’t always had new growth,” Jones said. “And to see people come and embrace it is great too.”

One of those changes is KIPP, a nationwide network of charter schools aimed at helping kids in underserved communities succeed, which took over the old Frederick Douglass school after it suffered academically. KIPP Renaissance opened in the Frederick Douglass building in 2010 but moved elsewhere for the past several years as part of a school reshuffling. The program is now returning home to its original spot.

For Taylor, KIPP Renaissance will represent a new tradition for her family as her 14-year-old daughter Breon will start ninth grade at Renaissance when school begins on Aug. 3.

Breon was on hand Thursday, sporting the same powder-blue shirt as the other volunteers, and helping carry desks and chairs to the classrooms she’ll soon occupy.

“It’s going to be her school,” said Fernandez, who brought three of her five grandchildren to Thursday’s service event. “She should be here to help get the school together.”

TIME animals

A Dog Is Running for Mayor in Upstate New York

The 13-year-old pooch is running as "Schenectady's best friend"

The latest candidate to enter the race for mayor in Schenectady, N.Y. doesn’t just have a leg up on her competition—she has two. Diamond, a 13-year-old dog, is running as a write-in candidate in the city’s race. And according to the Daily Gazette, she’s running as “Schenectady’s best friend.”

Diamond’s entrance into the race for mayor—which features three human candidates, Mayor Gary McCarthy, Roger Hull and Chris Gibbs—isn’t the first time a four-legged friend of the upstate town has made a foray into local politics. In 2007, Sparky the cat ran for mayor, followed by Roger the cat in 2011. In 1999, the Gazette reports, Loffredo the dog entered a mayoral race. No furry candidate, of course, has actually won, but McCarthy and Hull told the paper they welcome the competition.

“I assume our paths will cross in the campaign,” McCarthy said of Diamond.

[The Daily Gazette]

TIME White House

President Obama Sang the Davy Crockett Theme Song at an Event

"Is your name really Davy Crockett? That's a cool name"

When a man named James Davy Crockett asked the President a question at a town hall on Wednesday, President Obama had some questions of his own—and also, the urge to sing.

“Is your name really Davy Crockett? That’s a cool name,” Obama said. “But you don’t have that beaver cap?”

“I’ve got one at the house,” Crockett replied. (The frontiersman Crockett was actually known for a coonskin cap.)

Obama then recalled the Davy Crockett show that aired in the 1950s. “”Ya’ll remember that TV Show?” he asked the giggling crowd at Taylor Stratton Elementary School in Madison, Tenn. He then briefly broke into the show’s theme song.

The President’s exchange with Crockett began much more seriously—Crockett told the President he had unsuccessfully tried to get Social Security benefits, but had been turned down four times. Crockett’s story has been highlighted in the past, with an April Tennesseean article detailing his struggles with his health and gaining insurance. During Wednesday’s event, Obama promised to reach out to the Social Security Administration to get Crockett’s application expedited.

Obama took questions for about 50 minutes from a friendly crowd at the elementary school. He said his work on health care was not yet finished and thanked local leaders for their work in getting people in their states insured. The event followed the recent Supreme Court decision that kept the Affordable Care Act in place.

Watch a clip of Obama’s exchange with Crockett:

 

 

 

TIME

Obama Announces Cuban Embassies

But he pushed Congress to go further

President Obama called the reopening of U.S. and Cuban embassies after a half century a “historic step forward,” but pushed Congress to go even further and end the trade embargo with the island nation.

“This is a historic step forward in our efforts to normalize relations with the Cuban government and people,” he said in a brief announcement at the White House that was carried live on Cuban television. “We begin a new chapter with our neighbors in the Americas.”

The reopened embassies are just the latest step in a rapprochement that began in December when Obama announced the U.S. would normalize diplomatic relations with the communist country. The Obama Administration has also removed Cuba from an official terror list, and Secretary of State John Kerry will visit the country at the end of summer, after the expected July 20 embassy openings.

Republican presidential candidates largely oppose the move, with only Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul backing Obama’s decision. The Republican-led Congress is also unlikely to end the longstanding trade embargo, with the House already including provisions to block Obama from the moves he has already taken on Cuba.

But Obama cited one prominent Republican, former George W. Bush Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez, who wrote in a New York Times column in June that he has changed his mind and now supports normalizing ties.

Obama said that “nobody expects Cuba to transform overnight,” but he stressed that he believes a new policy of engagement will advance American interests and the cause of democracy and human rights there.

“This is what change looks like,” Obama added.

 

TIME Essence Music Festival

Essence Music Festival to Get Serious on ‘Black Lives’

Activist Sybrina Fulton participates in a panel conversation at the Manifest:Justice pop-up art space on May 6, 2015 in Los Angeles, California.
Amanda Edwards—WireImage Activist Sybrina Fulton participates in a panel conversation at the Manifest:Justice pop-up art space on May 6, 2015 in Los Angeles, California.

Much of the annual 4-day event will focus on the black lives matter movement

Correction appended, July 1

Civil rights leaders will join survivors of tragedy for a frank discussion on the black lives matter movement in New Orleans this week.

The 21st annual Essence Festival, hosted every Fourth of July weekend, will take on a more serious tone during a series of daytime events at the Ernest Morial Convention Center in New Orleans. At the festival’s Empowerment Series, Rev. Al Sharpton will share a stage with Sybrina Fulton, mother of slain Florida teen Trayvon Martin, in conversations on injustices facing the black community.

Organized by Essence magazine, which is owned by TIME’s parent company Time Inc., the festival comes amid a renewed discussion of race relations in America, especially the relationship between the black community and police and violence against African Americans. Last week, many of the Essence festival’s featured guests were in Charleston, S.C., for the funeral of a pastor gunned down along with eight parishioners by a man allegedly driven by racial hatred.

“The work that the community needs is urgent and pressing,” says Essence Communications President Michelle Ebanks. “We can’t just have a party.”

Essence Editor-in-Chief, Vanessa K. De Luca recently told the Huffington Post that she hopes to focus on positive solutions that can come out of recent tragedies.

“What better place than the festival to bring harsh conversations to light and deliver solutions?”

The event will also commemorate the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, with a series of community service events around the city, focusing on still-struggling areas.

For the past 21 years, the Essence Festival has brought a “party with a purpose” to New Orleans, tackling issues of from gentrification to mental health during the day and rocking out to performers like Prince, Beyoncé, and Mary J. Blige every night over the Fourth of July Weekend. City officials credits the festival with helping add energy to the often-quiet holiday weekend in the Big Easy.

Over the past 20 years, the festival has generated over $2 billion for the local economy, according to Ebanks, including over $240 million that was generated in 2014 alone.

“New Orleans is very early to this discussion,” says New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu. “We’re losing way too many lives on too frequent a basis. It is a conversation that we have had every year in New Orleans around this and we’re going to continue to have it as we go forward.”

Correction: The original version of this story misstated the name of the festival. It is the Essence Festival.

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