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#BackChannel: A Black Billionaire & Queen Latifah Pay It Forward, Rihanna’s Empire, And Wu-Tang Clan

The richest black man in America pledged to pay off the student debt for all 2019 graduates of Morehouse College. Billionaire Robert F. Smith shared the news in a commencement speech at the historically black men's college earlier this month. His approximately $40 million gift has renewed the public conversation about America’s student debt crisis, which disproportionately impacts black students.


'However important this gesture is, it doesn't alleviate a fundamental crisis for this generation of college students around student loan debt. If I had to face the amount of student debt kids are facing now, I probably would not have chosen to go to school.' - Mark Anthony Neal

Can philanthropy be a substitute for public policy? Popular culture experts Mark Anthony Nealand Natalie Bullock Brown take on that question with host Frank Stasio in the latest installment of #BackChannel, The State of Things’ recurring series connecting culture and context. They also discuss the new Netflix political documentary “Knock Down The House” which follows four progressive women who challenged incumbent Democrats in the 2018 election, including Rep. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez (D-NY).

They review “See You Yesterday,”a Netflix time-travel flick from director Stefon Bristoland producer Spike Lee which features two Brooklyn teenagers hoping to prevent a police shooting. And they share their critique of “Wu-Tang Clan: Of Mics & Men,” a four-part Showtime docuseries from Sacha Jenkins about the iconic group.

'This documentary demonstrates all these ills that exist in the black community, and here's this group of guys [Wu-Tang Clan] trying to legitimately negotiate the hardships their families are dealing with.' - Natalie Bullock Brown

Plus, how well do Norman Lear’s shows “All in the Family” and “The Jeffersons” hold up in 2019? ABC tested it out with a one-night live special hosted by Jimmy Kimmel. Bullock Brown and Neal share their take on that and Rihanna’s newFenty fashion line, which makes her the first black woman at the helm of a luxury fashion house. The two popular culture experts also preview Queen Latifah’s new project “The Queen Collective”which aims to help women of color filmmakers get off the ground. Natalie Bullock Brown is a filmmaker and teaching assistant professor at North Carolina State University, and Mark Anthony Neal is the James B. Duke professor and chair of the department of African and African American studies at Duke University in Durham.


Anita Rao is an award-winning journalist, host, creator, and executive editor of "Embodied," a weekly radio show and podcast about sex, relationships & health.
Longtime NPR correspondent Frank Stasio was named permanent host of The State of Things in June 2006. A native of Buffalo, Frank has been in radio since the age of 19. He began his public radio career at WOI in Ames, Iowa, where he was a magazine show anchor and the station's News Director.
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