Get your Conversations Visionary Edition 2024 here

Get your Conversations Visionary Edition 2024 here
Click to get your copy of the magazine here.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

R&B Crooner Abraham McDonald To Undergo Vocal Surgery

by Cyrus Webb
We all know how easy it is to take things for granted until it is gone or find it threatened. It is in times like this that you are able to appreciate all that life has to offer.
One musical treasure that I have found over the past few years is singing sensation Abraham McDonald.
He does more than just sing. The Island Def Jam recording artist that was introduced to the world by Oprah Winfrey has been sharing his amazing story and gift everywhere he goes. Through songs like MIRACLE, HEROES and LOVE YOU he has not just entertained but inspired as well. Now the man who has given so much of himself to others is in need of our help.
Fans of the R&B crooner woke up on Wednesday, May 23, 2012 to this message from his website:
"Hello Friends, Fans and Family
"The beautiful voice you love to hear has gone through a change. Abe noticed his voice had gotten more hoarse and raspy after he sang. He attributed this to long nights of writing and singing. He eventually went to an ENT (Ears Nose Throat Doctor) and discovered he had several Polyps on his vocal cords. Polyps can take a number of forms. They are sometimes caused by vocal abuse.  The show must go on pressure. The Polyps appear on  both of the vocal cords. They appear as a swelling or bump (like a nodule), a stalk-like growth, or a blister-like lesion. In Abe’s case one has hemorrhaged causing him to go on vocal rest immediately. The doctor explained his need for surgery as soon as possible to get the Polyps removed. Abe’s voice is a gift from God, it brings a joy to you and Abe, as well as a way of living and surviving.

"Abe needs your help. We need 500 people to donate $20 or more toward Abraham McDonald’s  much needed surgery in July.  Abe is to say the least devastated but still encouraged to sing and know that he will prevail.  Stay connected and follow his recovery on
"Abraham McDonald would appreciate if you can donated immediately using the link below. Accepting Visa, Mastercard, American Express

Let's rally around this man who has given us not only great music but showed through his story what it means to dream big and see those dreams come true.

I would also invite you to visit Abraham's music page on at and share his music with others. Together we can make sure that he is able to come through this challenge ready to give the world more of himself and his gift.

Friday, May 18, 2012

PROFILE: Life Coach Vicy Wilkinson

by Cyrus Webb

You can tell so much about her by just the smile.

Vicy Wilkinson and I were classmates up through high school and after almost a decade apart we were reunited through the power of Facebook. I had no doubt that she was going to do something powerful with her life, but I had no idea that the path she was on was so much in sync with my own.

Vicy is a life coach with the Life Coaching Institute. She is not just finding purpose in her own life but helping others to channel their inner strength and purpose as well.

 I welcomed Vicy to be a guest on Conversations LIVE recently, and through that discussion she shared with me and our listening audience how her own journey had taken her down a path of self-awareness. She was able to realize something that she now shares with others: you have the tools you need to be the person you want to me.

"It's not about starting over," Vicy shared. "It's about beginning where you are." That is something all of us can do. No matter what has happened in our lives or where we might have come from, what unites us all is the ability to be able to begin anew. "Instead of living like a flag blowing in the breeze, you can live like a mountain."

I learned so much from Vicy during our time together on the air, and I think that it shows the benefit of working together. "None of us are an island," she told our listeners. We not only will be in need of help ourselves but may need to be there for others. Helping people get to that place in their lives where they can trust and believe in themselves brings Vicy great joy. As she was able to be assisted to help others, now she finds herself being able to do the same through the Life Coaching Institute. Way to go, Vicy!

For information on coaching and the other work done by the institue visit

PROFILE: Filmmaker Al Greeze

by Cyrus Webb

Finding yourself a little frustrated with relationships? You're not alone.

With that frustration has come different ways that men and women are looking for love, and sometimes that takes them not just out of their face but out of the country.

Filmmaker Al Greeze has taken a conversation about relationships and through his documentary FRUSTRATED created a real dialogue that has really gained ground.

I talked with Al on Conversations LIVE about how the film was giving men an outlet to discuss what was on their minds as well as giving them a voice when it comes to relationships and what people expect of each other.  "It came about when I went on vacation in Brazil, he told me. "When I came back I shared with some of my friends my experience." The response was mixed, mainly because of an article that had been published around that time in a magazine about why some black men go to Brazil and what they were looking for from the women there. Al saw this as an opportunity to give different perspectives and shed some light on the topic. This was the genesis of FRUSTRATED.

What was interesting to me about the film and Al's presentation was that this isn't just an issue that black men are dealing with. "As I look at this project," he told me, "I realized it's not a color thing but a cultural thing. When you travel outside of America the culture is more intact. What you see now is white men (and black men) are going to Asia getting Asian women. There's a problem with the system here. It's not just about color."

Through the help of social media and word of mouth people are not just joining in the conversation but adding to the thoughts about this hot-button issue. Because it has people talking, Al believes he has done his job as a filmmaker, and he look forward to producing other work that will be not just thought-provoking but entertaining as well.

Find out more about Al Greeze and his film by visiting

Actress Elizabeth DeRazzo: Taking The Leap Of Faith Into Her Purpose

by Cyrus Webb

You've gotten to know her from the popular show on HBO "Eastbound and Down", but actress Elizabeth DeRazzo is so much more than just another actor. She is an individuals that is just where she is supposed to be, and she knows it.

"It's a little surreal sometimes," she told me with a laugh during our conversation. "I am doing what I absolutely love to do. I don't always think of it the way it appears to other people. I will be talking with my friends and they will say things like 'You're famous!'. I'll tell them 'I'm not famous, some people might just know my name.' It's truly been a wonderful opportunity, and I don't take it for granted."

I told Elizabeth that no matter what interview I have seen with her either on red carpets or promos for the show she always has the biggest smile. It seems she has truly found her place.

"To be a part of something that is so loved by others as well as myself is really a dream come true," she tells me. "I'm thrilled that the fans have such a great reaction to the show."

The first time Elizabeth realized she was bitten by the acting bug was when she came out to L. A. to be an extra for one of her favorite shows X-Files. "The moment I was able to see what it was like behind the scenes I knew this was what I wanted to do. I left my hometown and moved to L. A. so I could pursue it."

That move was part of Elizabeth's taking a leap of faith into her purpose, recognizing what could be if she only put forth the effort. She was able to step outside of her comfort zone and truly believe in her abilities.

There are challenges, however, but Elizabeth firmly believes that those are overcome by your attitude and work ethic. "My being where I am today is a true testament to the people I surround myself with," she explains. "It will be twelve years this summer since I moved to L. A. We all know how easy it can be for this town to swallow you up and spit you out. That is why I have surrounded myself with friends that really keep me grounded and help me to stay true to myself."

Another aspect of the business is the instant response individuals like herself are able to get through social media. "As actors we are pretty hard on ourselves, so to have someone appreciate the work that you do and tell you so is the best thing."

Her advice to all of us? "It's important to pursue what you love and not let go. I've always been someone who jumps in right away. I just know that I will always end up where I need to be. Just go for it. The worst thing is to live with the regret of not trying."

Stay abreast with everything going on with Elizabeth on Facebook and Twitter and at her website .

Angelina Lavo: The Face & Future of Pop Music

by Cyrus Webb

If you are looking for the personalization of what living your life on purpose is look no further than singing sensation Angelina Lavo.

Born in Russia it has taken less than  three years for her to take America by storm, and the world is soon to follow. I was introduced to her earlier this year as she was preparing for the release of her album RISQUE. After just three years in the states and after the release of her Youtube track SPACE COWBOYS the numbers that Angelina has been able to generate to her music and her journey as an artist are truly astounding: over 995k Youtube views and over 136k stay in contact with her through Facebook and Twitter---this from someone who came to the United States knowing no one.

"I first realized that I loved singing when I was about 4 or 5," Angelina told me during our conversation. "I would be running around the house singing and performing for my grandmother." It was that same grandmother who would take her to a musical school at the age of 6. That experience would change Angelina's life. "I knew at that point that I wanted music to be a part of my life."

And be a part of her life it became, and along the way she became a part of it as well. Now she is the one who is inspiring others through her story and her music. "It makes me feel really happy," she says. "I didn't expect when I started that I would have this kind of response. I truly appreciate everyone who connects with me and pushes me to do more work and to work even harder."

Though she will probably be seen as a pop artist, what Angelina Lavo brings to the world through her songs is more than just one genre. I asked her how she defined her sound. "It is pop and dance mixed with club and Hip Hop," she explained. It is impact because of her eclectic sound that she has been able to capture the attention of individuals like Grammy award-winning producer Omen.  He along with others in the industry have definitely been singing her praises, and this is something else that means alot to the talented singer.

"To have someone like Omen in my corner means alot to me," Angelina says. "He respects my work ethic and my business. I even call him my music papa. He's the one who started working with me, believed in me when know one even knew me at that point. He has done so much: supported me mentally and emotionally. When I look back on all of the success he is definitely one of those people I will not forget in my life. He's not just looking at me as an artist. He's concerned about me as a person."

When I talked with Angelina on Conversations LIVE she was celebrating the release of her singles CIRCUS ACT and JEALOUS GIRLS, both of which showcase and celebrate who she is as an artist and entertainer. Because I knew some people would raise their eyebrows at the title of the album (Risque), I asked her what it meant. I have to admit that I wasn't really expecting the answer.
"I decided to name it RISQUE, because it comes from my personal life. I've experienced all of what I sing about on this album. I have taken such great risks, everything from moving to America three years ago not knowing any one to deciding I was going to pursue my music no matter what. I look at what I have achieved, and I know it is directly related to the risks I have taken. I wanted to share with people my journey and let them know through my life that they should never be scared to take some risks because you never know what you can achieve."

This is really the true definition of what it means to live a purposeful life. Angelina was willing to put it all on the line in order to pursue and share the gift she knew she had been given. It is because of who she is and what she believes that I truly think that through her we are looking at the face and future of pop music.

What does Angelina Lavo want her fans to know? "I would like to say that I really love you. I appreciate every single person that I meet in my life. Every time I am introduced to someone I feel like God is giving me someone to add to the next part of my journey in life.  Everybody's support means the world to me."

Find out about everything Angelina Lavo at You can get her music at any online retailer.

Why Living Your Life On Purpose Is No Accident

We've all seen or heard something that makes us say "I could do that". Maybe it has to do with a shared gift we have that someone else is gaining more recognition for. Or maybe you are not as far in your life as someone who you believe is not as talented as you. If you've experienced this feeling the logical question to ask is "why?"

The answer might surprise you.

I recently learned about a product called the Portopong, the world's first inflatable beer pong table. Created by friends Jerry and Sal, it came out of a need that they saw and decided to do something about it. Today the original idea has evolved and has found fans around the world, even capturing the attention of celebrities who enjoyed it.

This to me is what it means to live your life on purpose. The success of Portopong shows what can happen when you recognize your ability and act on it.

I interviewed Sal on Conversations LIVE, and he told me that the "what if" questions were discussed with Jerry: What if it didn't work? What if they lost their investment? The decision to move forward, however, was something they knew they had to do. The possibility of failure wasn't enough to keep them from giving it a try.

It was that try and the passion behind it that allowed Portopong to thrive in a big way.

This is just one example that shows that living your life on purpose is no accident. Success is no accident. It comes from understanding that you have something to offer, and you are going to do all you can can to share it.

When I realized that my having a purposeful life was directly related to my living each day with purpose, my entire understanding of what was possible changed. You can experience this, too.

Identify what it is that makes you happy and look for ways to incorporate it into each and every day. Maybe you can't initially make a living at it, but you can begin to lay the groundwork for the day when that becomes a possibility.

How are you living life on purpose? I want to hear your stories! Contact me at or 601.896.5616.

Cyrus Webb, Editor-In-Chief
Conversations Magazine

PROFILE: Musician Jerome Swift

by Cyrus Webb

No matter who you are or where you are from music has a universal appeal and ability to draw you in. Ask musician Jerome Swift.

The 56 year old is originally from Chicago, IL but for the past decade has called Mississippi home. One of the connective tissues that has stayed with him over the years is the power of music.

"When I was a little kid our family had gathers where R&B and Blues music was played," Jerome relayed to me. "My father played Santana, and that just really sent me on another level."

Though many of his friends were into classic R&B, Jerome had gained an appreciation for all forms of music. He described it to me as being not only "melodic" but "transcending", crossing lines of color or circumstances.

At the age of thirteen, thanks to a childhood friend who had a piano, Jerome began creating his own sound. By the age of 21 he decided he wanted to move on to the electronic keyboard. Life, though, began to happen and he found himself with more responsibilities, including a family. Because of that, music couldn't be the priority he may have wanted.

Fast forward to today Jerome is back to creating music, however, at this point it is mostly for himself and friends. Like you would expect from a true passion, he has not been able to let go of it. Something about music keeps calling to him.

What does he think about how the music he creates has changed? "I think the quality if definitely better," he relates. "For me I just want it to be perfect. It comes from the top of my head. I just love to create."

And it is that creating that will keep Jerome Swift active in music, regardless of where his life may take him.

To Unselfishly Give of Yourself

 by Mary E. Gilder*

As many of you know, I love the game of football and on the afternoon of Thursday April 26, 2012, I had an opportunity to tune in to the 2012 NFL Draft.  Prior to each first round player’s name being announced, previously recorded footage was shown of players in their hotel rooms with extended family.

I was inspired by what I observed between several future NFL Stars and their families. It was a moment reflective of so many moments.  Yet, at the same time, very unreflective because within that moment life had come full circle for a chosen few.

Dad’s standing with such pride, as they extended powerful words.  I also watched with intensity as mom’s carefully inspected the suit to be worn for that special day, making sure that every detail was intact from the tie, shirt, cufflinks, socks, shoes, etc.

I was moved to go much deeper as I reflected on the actual journey of those families. I could never truly grasp the full extent of want brought them to that moment. However, I’m certain that the preparation began many years prior. Perhaps, with a small child stating, “I want to play football” or a parent stating, “I’m registering my son for the Pee Wee League.”And within that moment, unbeknownst to most, the journey began with: Tiny Tot, the Peewee League, Pop Warner, the High School Football Team, College Football and the final destination for the chosen few; The NFL Draft.

As I continued to reflect on their individual Journeys, I began to think about the sacrifices that were made by the parents and believe me when I say, it was an enormous one. I can recall when my brother Russell participated in sports. Russell began as a tiny tot and he retired his baseball bat after high school. I can still recall how my mom would rush home from work, prepare dinner and drop him off at practice. I can also remember mom adjusting her schedule week, after week, after week to attend Russell’s baseball games.  My mom was exhausted but she was there.

When my youngest Shana decided to play baseball as a fifth grader, I found myself in a state of semi unconsciousness with just trying to balance a professional career, my many responsibilities within the home and all that was required of me by Shana’s baseball team. I was beyond tired but I like so many parents, was committed to my child.

As I continued to be inspired by the NFL Draft, I was challenged to think about the selfless sacrifices of those parents who stood on the frontline. And if asked, most would do it all again because that’s what parents do for their “cubs”.

During the months of May and June, we as a Nation set aside time to honor our Fathers and Mothers.  As you prepare for this beautiful season of celebration, I want you to reflect on your journey and as you are in the mist of reflection, focus on the countless sacrifices that were made by your parents or by those in a parental role.

There is simply no better opportunity than during this special season to set aside time to extend love and appreciation for the sacrifices made. Sacrifices made so that as you journeyed towards your goals/dreams/passions, the tools needed to propel you towards your destiny would be within your reach.
To all of the Father’s and Mother’s who have stood on that frontline and to the millions that continue to stand faithfully, know that we LOVE you, APPRECIATE you and HONOR you. And as this season of celebration comes to an end, make a commitment to recognize and celebrate your parents on some profound level each and every day of your life.

Love, Peace and Joy,                                                                                                                                                                                                Mary

*   Mary E. Gilder is the author of the award winning novel, “A Misrepresentation of Myself.” Mary can be contacted at or Also visit her website at: 

An Inspirational and Spiritual Lesson from the Life of Whitney Houston

by Jerome Cooper*

Looking at the life of Whitney Houston, it appeared that she had everything going for her. She became a successful icon who changed the music industry for female vocalist. She caused female vocalist competition to be magnified that would have not otherwise been. All went well (at lease that we as an audience and fans) until she began dating and then married Bobby Brown, former lead vocalist for New Edition. Once their connection happens, you then began to see a change in Whitney’s life. You began to hear about the drugs, cocaine, and the fighting. I don’t know if Whitney was 100% innocent of any drugs, drinking, and cocaine before uniting with Bobby Brown. I don’t know and will not make an assumption.

In my book The Battle with Self: Inner Struggle, I talk about how people portray an image that isn’t exactly true because of being afraid of what they are hiding becoming exposed. We all have our demons that we are dealing with. However, it is shocking of Whitney because she was such an AGI (American Girl Icon). The battle and struggle she had is no different than some of ours. As a matter of fact, some of us have overcome those battling demons why didn’t we as fans and over comers write to encourage her? I want you to know that everyone have demons or inner struggle. Some peoples are more obvious than others.

I will say this from listening and watching the story of Whitney’s death, you need to be confident in and knowing who you are. I like Philippians 1:6. It says, “Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ”. If you are not confident in who you are, you will settle for anybody and anything that comes into your life. Some people are not to be in your life. What would her life been like if she and Bobby would have never dated nor married? Would she still be alive? You have to be mindful because you can marry someone and cause a curse to come upon you. They are the forbidden fruit that Adam and Eve ate in the Garden of Eden. You got to be confident and strong.

As an observer, I will also say that Whitney had a battle going on the inside of her. In my book, I call it the battle within. She had two opposing forces wrestling within her just like Rebekah did in Genesis 25:23. However, the one that was catered to the most won the battle. When inner warring of desires are going on in our lives between good and evil, we need to surround ourselves with strong, positive influence. We see on the day that Whitney died, who was in her surroundings. I talk about in the last section of my book about RFD (Released, Freed, and Delivered). There are divine people that God has placed in your midst to help you overcome your obstacles, demons, struggles. They are your personal ministers. God placed them in your life to help loose you from what is holding you bound. You got to be sensitive when it comes to identifying who they are.

We all can learn from the life of Whitney Houston struggle. Her voice will be missed.

*     Jerome Cooper is the author of two books, including the newly released The Battle with Self: Inner Struggle. He currently calls Mississippi home and can be reached at On Facebook he can be found at

Tony Lindsay Presents "A Look At Richard Wright"

Richard Wright’s novel, Native Son, represents a pivotal point in American literature. It is when the “bad nigger” appears in fiction, and his appearance caused white America ask, “Is this our native son? Did we do this?” Not only did the work mark the American canon, it also helped start a renaissance. Not the exotic, fun filled, lyrical one of Harlem, but one labored with the Communist message and the realism of Wright’s societal observations.

To refer to Richard Wright as merely a Chicago writer would limit the range of his life, but his writing career did start in the city of big shoulders. Wright’s early work, including Native Son, is part of the works that initiated the Chicago Renaissance of the 1930s. During this harsh economic period (The Great Depression) few African Americans were able to make a living from writing and those that did were employed by the Federal Writers Project.

From within this hub of writers, Wright’s work gained admiration and respect. His early work was greatly influenced by the Communist Party’s message that the plight American Blacks was analogous to the struggle of the poor American worker. Wright’s work was also influenced by sociologists from the University of Chicago whose studies and reports labeled his own societal observations.

Wright combined the Party’s message with the information from sociological studies that pointed to the damages caused by the racism; through this process he developed a unique writing style. That style attracted writers within the FWP hub. Wright’s style was imitated by Chicago based writers and thus the Chicago Renaissance was born. His most important work of fiction during that period was Native Son and his most memorable character was Bigger Thomas.

Bigger Thomas was the Nat Turner of the 1930s. Wright’s fiction sounded the same alarm within mainstream America as Turner’s South Hampton insurrection; the “negroes” are coming for their due. However, in literature the alarm was a warning of what could in happen, and a reminder that the “bad nigger” is out there and he is closer than one thinks. 

Wright opens the novel with a foreshadowing metaphor,
An alarm clock clanged in the dark and silent room. A bed spring creaked. A woman’s voice sang out impatiently:
“Bigger, shut that thing off!”

At the end of Native Son, an inquisitive the reader asks . . . will the alarm be sounded again? Richard Wright caused America to look at its race problem through his prose. His message wasn’t hidden behind exotic narrative, or lyrical dialect. He put Bigger Thomas “all up in America’s face” and sounded the alarm that something was wrong and the problem required immediate attention. The writing of his career was the precursor to the famous Black Arts Movement.   

Tony Lindsay is an award-winning author and adjunct professor at Chicago State University. His new book ONE DEAD DOCTOR is available now on He can be reached at or on Facebook at

Anthony Ellis: Shining Positivity on HIV

by Cyrus Webb

I can remember the first time I heard the term "package" when talking about HIV, and I remember thinking out sad it seemed. Imagine being the person that is being referred to and having to live with not just the disease but the stigma as well.

Enter Anthony Ellis.

I was introduced to him earlier this year, and was immediately a fan not only of his book He Got That Package but his mission to educate others about HIV and the importance of loving yourself. Diagnosed in 1993 at the age of 23, Anthony thought at the time that his life was over. What the now 41 year-old has since learned is that in many ways a new journey had begun, one where he could not only appreciate his own gift of life but help others to live life on purpose.

Anthony allowed Conversations LIVE to be the first radio show to share his story, and he entrusted me with the opportunity to chronicle his experiences in this interview. This is our conversation...

Anthony, thank you for agreeing to talk with me about your book and your life. I know you were twenty-three (23) years old when you discovered you were HIV-positive. What caused you to get tested?
Cyrus I thank you for this opportunity to share my testimony. The way this all started is that I had gotten sick and went to the Emergency Room. After some tests I was advised to have an HIV/AIDS, because I was told that my immune system was too low for someone my age.

And the test came back positive. What initially was going through your mind?
I couldn't believe it. I was in denial at first. It just couldn't be true. You have to remember most of the information we had at that time made me feel like HIV was pretty much a gay man's disease. Being heterosexual, I just didn't think that I could get it or had to worry about it. After I took the first test I decided to take two more. Each one came back the same. Positive. At that point I knew it wasn't a game. It was real.

I learned that there are four ways you can get the disease: blood, breast milk, vaginal secretions and semen When I found I was kind of angry with myself. I felt like I should have known.
Anthony, had you had any symptions or signs that would have alerted you to anything being wrong?
Not at all. I had felt like my health was pretty good until then. I had never been hospitalized or anything. Growing up I was pretty healthy.

So did you see HIV as a death sentence?
Yes I did. Society told you that if you had HIV that you were going to die. I conditioned myself to live that way. I told myself that since I was going to die there wasn't really any reason to live. Alcohol and drugs became my way of dealing with it. I saw it as a way out for me.

But you're still here. What changed?
After a few years of giving myself over to alcohol and drugs something in me just woke up. It was then that I realized that HIV and AIDS weren't going to kill me. I was doing it to myself. I knew then that I had a chance to live.

That's powerful, Anthony. After you had the epiphany about your being here is when you decided to write the book?
I started writing HE GOT THAT PACKAGE: about 3 1/2 years ago. I hadn't thought about writing a book before, but I realized I had an opportunity to join in the conversation about HIV and try and help slow this disease down and stop it. I had been through so many emotional changes through this disease that I knew I could help someone. I was ashamed of the "package", and that is where the name of the book came from. My goal was and still is to help others get rid of the ignorance still surrounding HIV.

For some people others finding out about them being HIV positive is a concern. Was it for you?
When I first found out the first person I told was my first cousin who was very close to me. To be honest other than family members I didn't tell any one. I kept it a secret. I was really living a double life. I now know that anytime you have to try and hide a part of yourself from society you aren't going to be able to really live. Back then, though, I thought people would judge me.

In the book you discuss the issue of faith quite a bit. How has your belief system changed or evolved since living with HIV?
I was raised up as a child in the church. I knew about God, but I didn't really have faith in Him. That has changed tremendously. Now I know that God is the only reason why I am still here. I thought that life was over for me, but it is my faith in what is possible that continues to keep me strong.

Thank you again, Anthony, for sharing this story with us and the world. What do you hope people take away from your book when they finish it?
The book came out in November 2011. After reading my book I want you to ask yourself this question: Are you positive you are negative? Get tested. The life you save might very well be your very own.

Find out more information about Anthony and his book at

Sunday, May 13, 2012

PROFILE: Nicoye Banks

by Cyrus Webb

When I interviewed Nicoye Banks this year for Conversations Magazine it had been almost 2 years since we last spoke to each other. At the time he was enjoying the fact that two movies he was involved in: Brooklyn's Finest" (co-starring  Wesley Snipes, Richard Gere, Don Cheadle and Ethan Hawk) as well as "Green Zone" (co-starring Matt Damon) had released at the box office.

"I feel immensely blessed to be able to say that I had 2 films debuting in movie theatres a week apart from each other," Nicoye told me at the time. "That is an actor's dream."

Pursuing his own dreams and goals is not the only thing that the talented actor and model is doing everyday. When not working with movies, television, stage plays and family, Nicoye devotes his time to helping and empowering his community, as one of the founding members of the artist collective group called "The Standard", where he serves as Creative Director. Their mission is to serve as a source of inspiration and support and provide a space for individual exploration and discovery nourished by a collective commitment to growth as an artistic community.

As he was preparing for the release of his latest project WOMAN THOU ART LOOSED: On The 7th Day, Nicoye took time out of his busy schedule to talk with Conversations about his journey and how he remains focused.

Nicoye, first congrats on your continual success and the new movie WOMEN THOU ART LOOSED. If I had told you ten years ago that you would be enjoying such acclaim, would you have believed it?
Yes, I would have believed your statement! From your mouth into the universe, to God's ears, it shall be so.

What has kept you focused on your dream of being successful in the entertainment world?
It is that thing that is in me. It keeps me awake at night. It gives me anxiety when I am away from it, and I left my entire family behind---New York unseen---to elevate my pursuit of a career in this thing I love called acting.

As you see how people are gravitating to you and rooting for you, is that validation that you are on the right path?
Absolutely. It is that type of energy that you draw from. As you continue to go further you hope to build on that community and get a larger base of fans.

Tell us about what it was like being  a part of the new movie WOMAN THOU ART LOOSED: On The 7th Day with stars like Blair Underwood and Pam Greer?
On The 7th Day is about a family dealing with their daughter being kidnapped and all that happens in this seven-day period. It's a really good, tense thriller. For me it was a master class every day. To be with an icon--THE Pam Greer---is totally humbling. I got a chance to talk with the other actors and learn from their journey, but when we took our marks we were all equals. This film will bring attention to the growing epidemic of kidnappings in the African-American community. T. D. Jakes' message of faith, forgiveness, family and redemption are sprinkled throughout the film. I believe people will get a lot out of it that they can take with them.

People are always having to deal with challenges and struggles when they are pursuing their dreams. Can you give some advice on how to not let the lows get you down?
If you do not know what lows are, how can you know what are highs? Lows are a part of it. So, don't look at it as lows. Look at it as a period of transition, a moment of pause to redefine, improve, reflect, and redirect.

Thanks for your time, Nicoye. How can your fans keep in contact with you online?
Please follow me on Facebook and my website

There is seemingly no end to what Nicoye Banks can achieve. With his continued focus, drive and determination, he is destined to be on the minds of many as his career continues to blossom. May we all get to a place in our lives where we feel that secure in our own skin and the road that is our destiny.

Charley Koontz: 'Acting' In Faith

(Update: Charley Koontz returned to #ConversationsLIVE in March 2015. Listen to that interview here. )

by Cyrus Webb

"It's crazy how when you get on a positive train that things start to open up. The hard thing is getting on the train." Those words by actor Charley Koontz said to me during our interview together I believe sum up not just the way he looks at his career path but the results of the choices he has made.

Known to many by his role of "Fat Neil" on the hit NBC show Community, the actor has been able to take what is a genuine love of the craft and couple it with his desire to bring his best to each and every performance.

His path to success began as so many do, but what has been a large factor in his ability to turn a passion into a career is the faith he had not just in his skills but his ability to bring life into each and every performance.

"I did school plays in elementary school and high school. It wasn't until I went to college (being a film major for 2 years) that I realized I had a passion for  it. (The business) is not really what I anticipated it to be. I did plays in college, met directors and other actors It was at that moment when it stopped being a fun thing and became really great work. I realized this is something I want to do. It's a lot of work, but it's the kind of work that fills you up, makes you want to keep going."

"I knew it was going to be a lot of work, but I didn't understand what kind of work it would be. Like anything else it's hard to know until you're in it exactly what that entails. I have made it by being as genuine as you can be. A lot of it is meeting people and the business aspect, but what matters is the genuine craft of it. I have found that stuff won't be credible or viable unless the craft is there.You get people who come to Hollywood who talk about how fake people are. You need someone to be really genuine. It's the genuine people who are living, It's the thing that's rare."

"When I was growing up I got comfortable with myself early on. The community around me was fantastic. I found that when I got comfortable with me that things like being bullied stayed away. The reason I am able to go into characters like Fat Neil is become I am OK with me. It's really important to know where you are and who you are. You have to be comfortable with yourself if you want to be able to play another character truthfully. I have found that it's important to stay who I am. You appreciate when someone connects with you that way."

"I think the biggest thing is that I don't get pigeon-holed into one thing. It's a privilege to play Fat Neil (Community). He's taking a real journey. I like to be able to have gotten to play a lot of different parts. I don't want people to see me as playing Fat Neil because I'm fat. I want them to know I'm playing this role because there is a character there. I want people to come see me because they want to see my performance and not the way that I look. "

"Don't allow the way you see yourself or the way others see you stop you from going for it. Make that opportunity for yourself. Find the thing that is right in the core of yourself and be really honest with yourself. Go right in there, and if this is something that you can not NOT do then you have to do it. Every moment that you have that you're not out there trying to get exposure or working, as frustrating as it might be, you can see it as time to hone your craft. It's hard, but you owe it to yourself to keep trying."

Stay in contact with everything going on with Charley by following him on Twitter at or on his Facebook fanpage.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Abby Miller: 'Justified' By Following Her Dreams

by Cyrus Webb

Anyone that has ever doubted the value of dreaming big and the value in seeing those dream come true should take note of Abby Miller.

From a small town in Nebraska, it was clear to her early in life that there was so much more for her to do in the world. At the age of twelve she found her calling. "The first play I was in was in was a musical," Miller said to me during our conversation. "It was over as soon as I stepped on that stage." It just felt right for her, and she knew that this was where she belonged. "Ever since then I have been very focused on acting, making it not just my passion but my career."

And what a career it has been. Abby Miller has appeared on popular shows on television such as Veronica Mars, Mad Men and most recently Justified, however, she has still pursued her other passions in life such as singing, songwriting and producing her own projects.

Knowing that many people are tripped up by the stumbling block that is fear, I asked her what kept her going throughout the challenges. "It helps to have people along the way who have believed in you and shared their stories with you," she explains. "I have learned what it means to focus on acting and performing in general." Miller says that other actors she has met and individuals from home have aided her in staying focus. She also has to remind herself of what it means to be committed to something. "It's a marathon, not a sprint," she says. "When you come from a small community you learn to hone your skills. At first it can be slightly overwhelming, but having inspirational people around me helps." She then added something that I think individuals of all walks of life with a dream should remember: "If you are doing it and serious then you are in it for the long haul. It was as a decision I made before I moved here, and it has helped with the longevity."

Because she has become known for bringing each character that she plays to life I was curious as to how she was able to do it so convincingly. "It's my favorite thing," she admitted. "It took me a little bit of time to embrace being a character actress. At first I was very focused on being myself, bringing my essence to the table. There was a shift about two or three years ago where it became a very exciting thing to play characters, become someone else. Now both in the writing and acting taking on a character is something I really enjoy doing." Abby then concluded that statement with this: "I hope to do it for the rest of my life."

What does the actress have to say about being true to you and not get sucked into the vacuum of the industry? It goes back to her support system. "I have an amazing community that is very supportive and rooting for me," Abby says. "It really helps you to stay grounded.  I just remember what's important. I love the path that I'm on. I've been out here eight years, and I don't regret a single day, a single moment." She has also learned how to put everything in its proper perspective. "You have to focus on stuff outside of your career as well. You have to kind of let go at some point and enjoy the ride, enjoy the marathon. That's been part of my journey as well, finding that space in my brain where I can just relax and enjoy other things, not worrying about what comes tomorrow."

At twelve years old Abby Miller knew where her heart was and she has spent life and the opportunities she has been giving to follow it. So far her efforts have been justified not just her success but the lessons along the way. What does she have to say to all of you about your own purpose? This: "Be present. Don't worry about the future. Just believe that it's going to be great."

To stay abreast of everything going on with Abby Miller bookmark her website and follow her on Twitter at

Actor/Activist Michael Cory Davis: Living A Life Of Passion & Purpose

by Cyrus Webb

When it comes to examples of individuals who know what they want in life and are going after it, you have to give a nod to actor and activist Michael Cory Davis.

Known to some for his roles on shows like the soap opera All My Children or on the SYFY network, Davis has gained international attention and respect because of the causes he has lent his time, energy and resources towards. In late 2010 he was enjoying the success of his latest project, the thought-provoking movie FOR COLORED GIRLS, directed by Tyler Perry.
I have a great deal of respect for Michael not just because of the way he conducts himself professionally but also because of the way he uses the gift that is the public eye to make a difference. In this conversation he discusses when he discovered his love of the arts, how he has chosen to use his celebrity when it comes to helping others and even how he views what he has been able to achieve.

Michael, thank you for taking out the time to talk with us. First of all, congratulations on your achievements on tv and in movies. I want to talk about what it was like to be a part of that project, but I first want to go back to the beginning. When did you realize that you were interested in being in the entertainment industry? Thank you for the opportunity. My parents encouraged creativity. I was involved in a lot of school plays. Growing up I also got involved in debate school. I realized early on that I always had a flair for being on stage.

Looking at what you have done so far and the projects you have been a part of, what surprises you the most about your career and how you are perceived?  What continues to surprise me is that people are surprised that I am a black man that has taken on what has been seen as a woman's cause. Let's face it, when it comes to topics like human trafficking. It tends to be more Caucasians bringing attention to it. It never ceases to amaze me how people perceive me. I welcome the surprise, because I am able to turn over the perceptions and let the world see black men are more than what pop culture says we are.
How I as an independent filmmaker has been able to do so much. I have been able to raise tens of thousands of dollars for orphanages in a country (Bulgaria) where I don't even speak the language. My accomplishments let me know there is a whole lot more that we as artists can do to change the world in a positive way because we have the microphone to do it.

You mentioned your work in Bulgaria. That is, in fact, how I first became aware of you because of your short film. For those who haven't seen it, Svetlanta's Journey is a film you wrote, directed and produced that came about because of a victim of trafficking that you met. It was a 13-year old Bulgarian girl who had basically been sold by her adoptive parents into prostitution. The project has gone on to not only win awards but aired on national television in Bulgaria. What did you take away from that project regarding how we in the United States view issues like that?  I would say how ambivalent we sometimes are. If people are looking at children as commodities, that's a problem. If we have a society that has been victimized because they are not getting the services they need to heal, that's a problem. People don't speak enough about it,  especially in the black community. I think that's why more haven't taken on the cause. At the end of the day it deals with a form of slavery, and we should know about it and care about it. I do understand, though, that alot of the apathy about the subject is because alot of us are so focused on our own problems.

Michael you are in a business that is covered from all angles, both the good and the bad. What are your thoughts about the 24-hour news cycle and the public's desire to know so much about celebrities?What's happened in society today is that we have made the internet a loaded gun. People learn things and share things instantly. What's worse is that you have people who make money off what goes wrong in an individual's life. I don't know why it is that whenever someone is on top and doing well, there is some need for us to wait for that person to do something wrong. When people look at me, I want them to know that I am just as human as they are. I am fully aware of the issues that we as men have with women. Though I have my faults as a man, I have empathy and compassion towards women that are victimized and that's why I do what I do.

Thanks again for this opportunity, Michael. We really appreciate the opportunity to share a snapshot of your life with our readers. Before we let you go, I have to ask you about success. It's something that is relative to most people. What does success look like to you?  Success for me is being able to overcome challenges without having to compromise myself and staying true to my authenticity. It's having the power to create my own content and not having to have my hand out in order to do so. Success is also when I am able to fulfill my purpose being on the planet, challenging myself and using my art and talent to move us all forward.

That's not to say I'm always trying to do deep movies and stuff like that. I just want to do what I love and help others in society along the way. That's when I am most happy. That's success.

You can find out more about Michael by visiting You can also discover more about the work of Artists United For Social Justice, visit

*   Note: Photo courtesy of Alexandra Lee Nurthen Photography.

"Tough Love" by Meg Collins

What is love without forgiveness towards one another in this world?

The Bible teaches us to forgive 7 times 70 and people questions Reverends, Pastors, and Clergymen, “What do I do after I have forgiven the same person more than 7 times 70 in my life?” My friend Catherine is very active in church and children’s ministry and she approached her Pastor about a family member and a situation in which she had to forgive the impossible it felt in her life and walk with Christ and this one person. She was told this, “You can forgive someone completely through prayer, repeated prayer; however that does not mean that you have to let them back into your life ever again, Catherine.” My friend was able to forgive, let go, and move on with this situation in her life and love from a distance, without any conversation needed for the rest of her life. A lesson of faith was taught to me that day. Forgive and pray for removal of any ill feelings towards another.
I recall a time in my life where I had a gratitude journal and a dump journal. The gratitude journal was bright and cheery and the dump journal was bleak and morbid in its appearance. I did this for six months of my life fifteen years ago, to remove ill feelings from my life. This was a daily chore for me that I made a habit of doing every morning that I woke up; even before I ate my breakfast, I would meditate and write on these two notebooks. The trick was this: gratitude before dumping in your journals. My gratitude list had to be 20 things in which I was grateful for on that day. Once I completed that task, I was then able to move on to the dump book. I would list ten things that were problems in my life, things I was furious about in my life, and people that I was mad at in my life. Eventually the gratitude list grew in its size and the dump lists were removed, because I found myself in a repetitious cycle, spiraling through the same exact dump lists and eventually, God removed them for me, in His time and not my own time; I prayed for their removal.
There are many things to learn about love and loss, grief and suffering, healing and emotions, thoughts and actions, reflection and contradiction, honesty and integrity, soul hunger and humility. I always have said that humility is not something that you just get one day in life; it is something that a person must tell you that you have in your spirit in order for it to be a spirit and soul characteristic. In working through so many of life’s lessons and struggles, trials and tribulations, it is imperative that we as individuals find the good in the bad in our days and just roll with the punches; God never promised us no trials in life nor did He promise a bed of roses for us each and every day. What He did promise us is that, “We reap what we sow”.  Today, what are you reaping and what are you sowing in your daily walk with God? Are you a person of measure or a person of meanderings? Are you a dumper every day or are you a giver to others in your life? My challenge for you this month is to attempt to do a 60 day journey with me of gratitude and dump booking. Go out and purchase two journals-label one gratitude list 2012 and one dump list 2012. 

Let us begin our journey of a lesson of faith together, that in life, anything is possible, no matter what the circumstances may be in your life today, honor yourself and your feelings and take this journey with me for 60 days within yourself. In finding a partner in your life, it takes releasing the negativity and getting to the core of your inner being before you can offer you heart to a man or a woman completely. Together, let us get to the inside layers of our spirits and souls and transform our lives, our though processes, and move forward not in fear, yet in faith this month.

Meg Collins
Columnist, Author, Radio Host, Editor, Ghostwriter, Poet, and Children’s Book Author.

Alexander Gibson: Using Words To Fight the Stereotypes

For 25 year old Starkville, MS native Alexander Gibson words are not just something he does to pass the time. They are a way of letting others into his world and sharing what can be possible for anyone, no matter where they are from or what they had done in their past.

It was during his Freshman year in college that he came to the realization that he wanted to write and share it. "I was at a point in my life when I was really soul-searching," Gibson says. Jaded by the progress he had been making in his life, he started to analyze a lot of what people had told him up until that point. "Everyone told me that I had to get an education in order to get a great job. I learned through personal experience that where I was education promised nothing. It was at that point that I started writing."

His feelings about his life and the possibilities for his future were the spark that led him to keep a journal. As it progressed, however, Gibson says that things took a turn. "As I was writing and reading what I had wrote, I began to think that maybe something else could come from this." From there he started to write a book, sharing his thoughts about life in general, not believing everything you were told and the importance of finding your own way. One day after finding himself frustrated and stalled in his own efforts to really make a difference, he threw his work away. "I now see doing that as one of the biggest mistakes of his life," he confesses.

That was in 2006.

For the next couple of years Alexander Gibson didn't write anything. That changed in 2008, though, when he  began to see the need for someone to speak up for those around him that he felt was getting a fair shake. He began putting pen back to paper and decided to start his own organization to fill the gap for those seen as less than. This was the basis for Help For The Helped which was founded in 2009. "I wanted to change the way certain types of people in society were seen," he says. "I know the playing field will never be completely level, but we can do our part to make sure that others are getting their chance. Help For The Helped's mission includes helping individuals find employment, offering scholarships and even aiding in the rehabilitation of convicted felons.

This is something that touches close to home for Gibson, who admits that he hasn't always made the best choices in life. In 2010 he was facing 43 years in prison for selling marijuana. A college student at the time, he spent six months in a county jail with nothing but his thoughts. He admits that it took a lot of faith to believe he could get out of that situation with a favorable response, but he did. "I'm worth more to society in the world making a difference than behind bars," he says. "There are some people that just made mistakes. Not everyone had the support system to do what I have done. Building up Help For The Helped and sharing my story is my way of giving back some of what has been afforded to me."

In 2011 Gibson saw another dream realized with the release of his first book of poetry FIGHTING THE STEREOTYPE (published by Publish America). Through the book he is using his voice to remind individuals young and old that they don't have to be a statistic or just another face in the crowd. "That is the sole basis of what I do," he says. "What has happened to me can happen to anyone. Everyone has been stereotyped at one point or another. The question becomes are you fighting the stereotype or living up to it? Never doubt your potential. You have no reason to hang your head. Make the best of the life in front of you."

Stay abreast of updates by Alexander Gibson on Facebook by visiting He can also be reached by email at You can find out more about his book FIGHTING THE STEREOTYPE on at .