It was a typical upbringing in a middle class environment – teacher mother, police officer father. For Dana Elaine, life was about basketball and singing. For many of her ethnicity, though, life was not so simple. Raised in one denomination while attending the parochial school of another, Dana refused to be a small dot on the map and ease into obscurity and fit in the mold someone else had made.
For many young black teenagers growing up in the late 1980’s, rap was the music that seemed to speak to their soul. Most rap music, however, spoke of violence and male domination. Women were relegated to subservient roles and none would have ever been imagined to be rap stars. Dana Elaine didn’t get the message.
Any tall child will tell you that at some point someone is going to put a basketball in their hands. The nature of the game leads itself to the tallest among us and Sana Elaine was no different. She played power forward on her high school basketball team.
The power forward is one of five positions on a regulation basketball team. It is sometimes called the post position and is sometimes compared to the center position on a football team. The power forward is often found under the basketball goal in a defensive posture. They rebound but are also importantly offensively with jump shots being their specialty.
Dana began in the rap music world playing a similar role to that she had played on her high school basketball team. Beat boxing for a hip hop group she attracted attention and in 1989 released her first single. Adopting a name she had found over ten years earlier she used her height and ethnicity to become professionally known as Queen Latifah. She has since made her mark on the small screen with her own talk show as well as in movies. She created new opportunities for women in the rap world but also had an album nominated for a Grammy in the traditional pop vocal category.
Her on-stage persona as Queen Latifah was one of empowerment with African print clothing and a turban fit for a queen for all the ages. This year the movie publication Variety Magazine will honor Dana Elaine Owens, Queen Latifah, for her charity work as the founder of the Lawrence H. Owens Scholarship Fund.
Queen Latifah has proven herself a power forward for struggling students. Through her scholarship foundation which she started following the death of her brother, she has helped many find their own way, escape the poverty of their youth and thrive.
Three years ago her hometown of Newark, New Jersey for her support of a number of charities. She received the Newark Beth Israel Medical Center Community Award for her philanthropic efforts. Her Lawrence H. Owens Foundation targets high school minority students and affords them “educational leadership development opportunities”. In short, the foundation empowers these students to have and create bright futures, not only for themselves but for their communities. As Queen Latifah, Dana Elaine Owens has also supported the Newark Little League program and encouraged residents to participate in home ownership programs.
The little girl who grew up to play power forward found a way to empower many through her music and charity work. It may be easy to say she could do this because of her fame but the truth is, any of us could be Dana/Latifah Owens and accomplish charity work in our own neighborhoods. After all, not all power forwards are super tall players.
Charles Barkley is known for being a “short power forward” although to most of us, his six foot-four inch frame would not seem “small”. Compared to other NBA players, though, it all becomes relative. Anthony Bennet was six foot-eight inches, Cody Zeller an even seven feet tall, Tony Mitchell six foot-nine inches, and Erik Murphy six foot-ten inches. When one si guarding this guys, those six or eight inches can make a big difference.
We can go that extra mile and help empower someone ourselves. We might not have ever played power forward but we can be a powerhouse in someone’s life. And it can start at home. Refusing to listen, purchase, or support music that denigrates a class, gender, or race of people is the first start. Opening our eyes and really seeing people is a great start as well. That homeless person on the street corner is no less of a person than you or I. We need to give them respect.
Queen Latifah describes her professional brand as “Love who you are” and through her charitable work, she has strived to help others do just that. True empowerment is not achieved by stepping on others but rather by being comfortable in one’s own skin. Life is not about being perfect but being able to accomplish. We cannot all be seven feet tall but we can make each day count and help others find their own winning moments. Today’s post is not about action. It is about attitude, an attitude that respects the place we all have in this world, an attitude that encourages growth and success for every living thing.