Steady On Her Grind

{December 7, 2010}   The Sky’s The Limit

Words can’t express how excited I am to present this interview with Leslie Nichols, producer for the nationally syndicated PBS program Austin City Limits; which has been airing performances from rock icons such as R.E.M., The Foo Fighters, The Flaming Lips, & Patty Griffin since 1976 and is the longest running music show on American television.

1) What drew you to the world of television production?

Either a fluke or fate. Even though I majored in Radio/TV/Film at The University of Texas at Austin, after several tough post-college years I had resigned myself to working in another field. I first began working at KLRU-TV in Austin (the public television station that produces ACL) as a result of answering a blind ad for an administrative position. Also, I just love television. I’m not ashamed to admit I watch lots of it!

2) What has been your experience as a female working in the field?

I’m in a strange “no-man’s land” between the television & music fields, both of which have come a long way for women in the last 10 years. I’m seeing many more female producers, camera operators, tour managers, audio engineers, guitar techs even. Although still the minority (despite being the majority of the population, ahem).

3) How did you come to join the Austin City Limits team?

I’d worked for KLRU-TV for 4 years and got to know the producers quite well and even helped out on some productions as a driver and production assistant before my position became available. My duties at KLRU also came to involve licensing and station relations for ACL. I guess I made a good impression.

4) What have been some of your favorite episodes thus far?

Some favorites from the last few years are Nick Lowe, The Swell Season, Crowded House, Wilco, Sufjan Stevens and Elvis Costello. From this season, I can’t wait for everyone to see The Black Keys when their episode airs in January. Intense.

5) What is your favorite thing about your job?

I love getting a new assignment– making the first contacts with an artist’s management team and getting the ball rolling logistically speaking.

6) What is your least favorite thing about your job?

The lull between taping seasons. Deadly dull.

7) Have you had a chance through ACL to meet some of your favorite musicians?

I have! And not one of them has disappointed me yet by being a jerk. Whew! And after 10 years I’ve almost reached the point where I’m not nervous anymore to meet them. Except for Dolly Parton. She said hello to me and I was stunned speechless.

8) What is a typical day on the set of ACL like for you?

I’m there from the time the band loads in to when everything is back on their truck or bus and they’re headed out of town. In between I try to make sure that everything proceeds on schedule, everyone has everything they need and the lines of communications are kept open between our crew and theirs for set up, line check, sound check, camera rehearsal and show.

9) Was there a moment in your life when you fell in or out of love with rock n roll?

I fell in love with rock n roll when I fell in love with Elvis, through his movies. The good ones, you know, where he’s in black & white or in Hawaii.

The current season of Austin City Limits features performances from Steve Martin, John Legend & The Roots, and Jakob Dylan.   Check your local listings at for show times in your town or to view past episodes online!


{November 29, 2010}   Ladies First

Yes, I’m Pep and there ain’t nobody
Like my body, yes, I’m somebody
No, I’m sorry, I’m-a rock this Mardis Gras
Until the party ends, friends
Yes, I’m blessed, and I know who I am
I express myself on every jam
I’m not a man, but I’m in command
Hot damn, I got an all-girl band”- Salt N Pepa, “Expression”

“Who the fuck want war?
Fed-Ex beef straight to your front door.
It’ll be a murder scene,
I’m turning Pink Friday to Friday the 13th.”-L’il Kim, “Black Friday”

“Rap is what you do.  Hip-Hop is what you live.”- KRS ONE

This past holiday, Twitter was abuzz over hip-hop’s latest feud between Young Money’s sole female rhyming sensation Nicki Minaj, and Bad Boy’s former sole Queen Bee,  L’il Kim.  Attempting to pinpoint the source of this bizarre beef will ultimately prove to be a futile task.  Instead, ponder this:  Twenty years ago,  in addition to being able to see Salt, Pep, and Spinderella move the crowds in their videos, one could also see Queen Latifah and Monie Love shout out women everywhere on “Ladies First”, and MC Lyte tell the tale of “Poor Georgie.”  A decade ago, Missy Elliott & Eve spit verses alongside heavyweights Nas & Q-Tip on Elliott’s Number One single “Hot Boyz”, which spent sixteen weeks at the top of the charts.  Now, in 2010, as Nicki Minaj rides the wave of both critical acclaim and mainstream success from a style that at least in spirit appears to be partially influenced by both Elliott & L’il Kim, the latter has chosen to enter into another time-honored tradition amongst female rappers (and not to be outdone, reality show stars as well); tearing each other down, rather than build each other up.

“We believe that women of color are in a state of emergency.,” says Kathleen Adams, co-founder of Momma’s Hip-Hop Kitchen, an event that since 2008, has exclusively showcased female artists and also aims to serve as a platform for community organizing, as well as empower women on issues that directly affect them such as HIV, and reproductive rights.  “There’s a lack of representation available with mass media.  Women are being attacked and exploited not only via hip-hop but also due to our community’s  culture.  Women aren’t being respected.”  And just what are Kathleen’s thoughts on the Harajuku Barbie?  “If she could be more of an advocate with sexuality like Lady Gaga, she hasn’t taken an activist stance on issues.  When asked about her sexuality, she doesn’t ever give an upfront answer.  She has a lot of personas, you never know [just who she is].  It’s just kind of weird.  I don’t think there should be a feud.  L’il Kim said she wanted to be a black Pam Anderson; Nicki Minaj has her Barbie persona.”

While Kathleen’s love affair with hip-hop began innocently enough with the mid 90’s one hit wonder Skee-Lo’s wistful tune “I Wish” (“I was super young…that’s the first thing I got with my brother.”), she admits to becoming disappointed with it as she grew older.  “I fell out of love with hip-hop at the end of high school, going to college.  I was becoming a woman, turning into an adult, dating and exploring the world.  A lot of the interactions I had with men were influenced by hip-hop.   I didn’t like the way I was treated….I didn’t wanna ‘drop it like it’s hot’.  I didn’t feel like I was respected or valued; it was crazy.”

The idea for Momma’s Hip-Hop Kitchen was born in hip-hop’s birthplace, the South Bronx.  Kathleen, who currently serves on the board of Advocates for Youth’s Young Women of Color Leadership Council, began volunteering in the area when she met emcee Lah Tere of Rebel Diaz, and had “a meeting of the minds.”   “Hip-Hop was initially started to spread messages, feelings, emotions, and make change.  People rapped about their situations….[now] hip-hop/rap changed so much there’s no substance to it all, so let’s take it back to its roots.  We just thought ‘Yeah something needs to be done, women aren’t involved in the conversation at all, let’s just have it focused on women’.”

The first event was held in 2008 in New York City and in addition to musicians, featured visual artists, theatre, dance, and poets.  A typical guest’s experience should go something like this:  “When you walk into the lobby, you’d see a plethora of community organizations, and vendors.  You’d see a DJ doing turntable tricks, bomba dancers.  You can see great artwork from visual artists, you can see spoken word poets, at the end of the event, you’ll receive a compilation of the artists for free.  [One can] meet and network, reunite with old friends.  It’s early in the afternoon, and safe for the family to come.  Sometimes we have an afterparty, it’s just a great free afternoon.”  One can also receive free HIV testing.  “We really encourage our audience to be HIV tested.  The goal is to make sure we’re staying protected.  My goal, my passion is to lower the rate amongst communities of color.”

Much to the surprise of the organizers, MMHK exceeded its attendance expectations.  “We thought seventy-five people were gonna come.  It was all word of mouth, social media.  Five hundred people came.”

Since that auspicious beginning, it has become a yearly event held in the Bronx,  and as a result of the warm reception they’ve received, as well as requests to hold the event in other cities, there are plans to do so in the Midwest.  “We’ve had a lot of great feedback.  Initially we weren’t trying to do this every year.  But now we’ve formed a company, an LLC, we have fiscal sponsorship.”

Kathleen double majored in women’s studies and urban studies with a concentration in architecture and a minor in environmental policy as a student at Fordham University and is currently working to earn a Masters In Urban Studies, (and later on plans to get a Masters In Architecture) there as well.  So naturally her advice to young women looking to get in the hip-hop game is to “stay in school.  You really have to have talent, to know the business, you have to be professional.  Women know ‘If I use my sexuality and sex, I’m more likely to get attention’.” [But] if she had the knowledge of how the industry works, she’d realize, you can still have commercial success and keep your clothes on.”

The next MMHK is scheduled to happen on March 5th, 2011, and applications for artists will be made available on their website.

{November 8, 2010}   She Ain’t No…

The previous post was about a woman who took her activism off the Internet and straight to the streets.  This next piece also concerns activism in the digital age and is about a woman who is using the Internet and mobile technology to address a centuries-long problem that happens to millions of women everyday:  Street Harassment.  I had the pleasure of interviewing Emily May back in 2005 when she and a group of friends began, which has evolved from a feminist blog to a global feminist revolution.

photo courtesy of


“I think the Internet is our new campfire.  We can take a story that’s completely isolating, and make it sharable,” says Emily May, co-founder and Executive Director of, which since 2005, has given women and members of the LGBT community who’ve experienced street harassment a place to air their grievances, and in hip-hop parlance, put those fools on blast if they wish, with an accompanying photo.   On iHollaback, one can read thousands of personal accounts with men that can run the gamut from annoying to terrorizing.

“Feminism had addressed harassment in the workplace in the 80s and 90s, but hasn’t addressed harassment on the street, because they haven’t had a way to address it. With harassment in the home, one can file a legal charge, in the workplace, sue the pants off companies, ” says Emily.  But what to do on the street, where a frustrated woman’s decision to fight back with her own words could end in her being assaulted or even murdered?

“I really think our generation can address this daily form of discrimination and harassment in a way others couldn’t because of the Internet.  It really comes down to education and awareness.  Street Harassment is already illegal in New York City, but it’s not enforced.” was inspired in part by the actions of Thao Nguyen, who Emily calls “the Rosa Parks of street harassment.”  During the summer of ’05, Ngyuen used her cameraphone to take what turned out to be a crucial snapshot of restaurateur Dan Hoyt, who masturbated in front of her while they were in a subway car.  After learning that the authorities weren’t interested in her piece of evidence while filing a report, she posted Hoyt’s photo on the website, where it was seen by nearly 45,000 people.  It was also featured on the front page of the Daily News, which led to more women identifying Hoyt.  He was eventually arraigned on four counts of public lewdness the following fall.

“She was young, a woman of color, she was a girl, and this guy was middle class, lover of extreme sports, white guy.  She was really able to turn the lens off of her and back onto him. She also created a citywide conversation about public masturbation.  She just did it because she thought it was the right thing. [We thought]  let’s take this model and let’s use it, to not discuss just masturbation, but groping, and other things that happen on the street.”

A year after the launching the blog, HollabackNYC was contacted by women who wished to start Hollaback chapters in their own cities.  “We really felt strongly about what local activists could do, instead of just having a warehouse of street harassment stories.  We wrote a startup packet, and whenever someone contacted us, we gave them a startup packet.”

According to Emily, in 2009, twenty Hollabacks had been formed and by 2010, only three remained active.  “ …the model of giving startup packets didn’t really work.  What we wanted to do was something that really maintained this idea of giving local control to different Hollabacks.  We wanted people to really own it…we wanted people to be part of a larger movement.”

One of the ways iHollaback has done that is by continuing to embrace new mobile technologies that have emerged during the past five years.  Their applications for both the iPhone and the Droid have been launched in the United States this past Friday, and Emily also partnered with RightRides on a mapping project that lets people map their encounters with street harassment experiences in real time.  There are currently chapters of Hollaback that have been started in France, England, and even in Israel.

iHollaback are themselves part of a renewed reaction to the problem of street harassment.  This past September, after writer Elizabeth Mendez Berry’s op-ed piece Street Harassment:  The Long Walk Home appeared in the newspaper El Diario, Queens Councilmember Julissa Ferreras, whose district was already receiving complaints from school administrators about students being harassed on their way to school,called a two-day hearing on the topic.  It was the first of its kind held in an American city.

“It was really incredible, there was an all women crowd.  Fourteen people ended up testifying, it was so beautiful.  So many people came forward,” says Emily.

Some of the possible solutions iHollaback proposed in their testimony were a study that would examine which communities were directly affected by street harassment and its resulting consequences, and also a “harassment free” zone near schools.

“It was a positive response, the City Council latched on to the first two ideas, they were hesitant  about the [harassment free zone] idea, because of free speech.   We got ridiculous press on it, because the AP wire was there.   The story got picked up by 200 outlets, we’ve been watching the story on the news, there’s been really positive feedback.   It was totally historic.”

The Astronomical Kid’s “Stop Lookin’ At My Moms” Video, which was screened at the hearing.

Emily earned her Bachelor’s Degree from NYU and her Master’s from the London School of Economics, and in 2008, she won the Stonewall Women’s Award.  Last year she was a 2009 Progressive Women’s Voices Fellow and the Women’s Media Center also recently selected her as one of thirty “Women Making History”.  Before  beginning her work with iHollaback, she helped teenagers obtain their GEDs and find jobs, and also worked with mentally ill adults.  “It’s a pretty dramatic shift in gears for me.  From doing that work to this work, there are very different cultures surrounding it.  I think these issues interest me, front and center.  I think that moving forward, I will have more space for it.”

Her advice for younger activists is “to be a badass.”   “I still feel like I’m learning so much.   I think being in a leadership role is terrifying but being a lady on top of it, we’re socialized to be mediators, socialized to think before we speak; if all you do is trying to do all the things you’ve been socialized to do, you won’t be able to kind of break out and inspire people.  I think that the number one lesson I’ve learned, is if you want to be change the world, you have to be a badass.  Believe in yourself, know you are coming from a good place and a right place.   One voice can’t change the world, but one more voice in the conversation is the only voice that does change things. ”

et cetera