MLK and Malcolm X: The civil rights movement and the X-Men origins

The American Civil Rights movement inspired many people, including Marvel Comic’s mastermind writers Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. They have created some of the most powerful superheroes in the comic universe but did you know some of these characters were influenced by actual real life heroes in history? Lee and Kirby used the iconic civil rights leaders Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X as the inspiration behind the characters Charles Xavier aka Professor X and Erik Lehnsherr aka Magneto, the creators of the X-Men. Rather than fighting aliens and criminals, they fought against the oppression mutants faced on a daily basis in society, albeit by different methods. Much like MLK Jr. and Malcolm X, Professor X chose a non-violent approach and Magneto took more of a defensive stance against violent oppression and prejudice.

It’s presumed in comic book lore that Magneto is a villain but Stan Lee had a different perspective when he created the character. Stan Lee says about the metal warping mutant, “I did not think of Magneto as a bad guy. He was just trying to strike back at the people who were so bigoted and racist. He was trying to defend mutants, and because society was not treating them fairly, he decided to teach society a lesson. He was a danger of course, but I never thought of him as a villain.”

Even in the film adaptations of the X-Men series, Michael Fassbender who plays the role of Magento, admits the iconic figures were inspiration for their on-screen portrayals.
It came up early on in the rehearsal period and that was the path we took, says Michael Fassbender, These two brilliant minds coming together and their views arent that different on some key things. As you watch them you know that if their understanding, ability and intelligence could somehow come together it would be really special. But the split is what makes them even more interesting and tragic. The Hero Complex, LA Times

Evaluating School Violence Through Glee

The objective of this lesson is for students to evaluate and express their feelings about how the media depicts school violence.

Recently, the TV show Glee aired an episode about a school shooting. Many people were upset about this episode due to the fact that the Sandy Hook elementary school shooting happened only a few months ago. People who were bothered by the episode claimed that FOX and show producers were being insensitive by airing this controversial episode.

Glee producers have said that they stand by their decision to air the episode because the show has made it a point to tackle and address critical social and political issues.

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Female Representation in Video Games: A Real Controversy in a Virtual World


Video games exploded in popularity in the early 1980s and there have been female characters in video games ever since. There’s Ms. Pac-man, Princess Peach from the Mario Brothers games, Lara Croft – the list is extensive.



There is an on-going discussion over Lara Croft’s place in our society, some people claim she represents a strong, leading female figure and others argue that she’s just another objectified, overly-sexualized female character.

Games that have featured female characters have gone on to be some of the most successful franchises in the industry. Ms.Pac-Man is the most popular arcade game of all time, selling more than 115,000 gaming machines to arcades around the world. She was made into toys, t-shirts and even a Ms. Pac-Man cereal merchandised in her name.


Though her name isn’t well known, Princess Peach has been a supporting character in the Mario games. In most of the Mario games the main object of the game is to rescue Princess Peach from the villain Bowser. When Mario succeeds in the rescue, he is rewarded with a kiss.

Tomb Raider debuted in 1996 and it has spawned 14 video games since it first came out. It went on to produce two movies starring Angelina Jolie, which earned over $430,000,000. Lara Croft has been a household name for nearly 20 years. There is an on-going discussion over Lara Croft’s place in our society, some people claim she represents a strong, leading female figure and others argue that she’s just another objectified, overly-sexualized female character.

Such arguments like these, have grown recently in the video gaming community. Some game developers are challenging how females are represented by creating strong leading female characters. These developer’s characters aren’t just a female version of a male characters (like Ms. Pac-Man), weak (like Princess Peach) or sexualized (like Lara Croft). One example is the character Kaitlin who is the main character in the game Gone Home, a realistic dark narrative game. An online group called #GamerGate formed in August 2014 in opposition with these game developers and their new types of games. #GamerGate opposes these more varied roles and content in video games. In one instance, Zoe Quinn, the creator of Depression Quest, a game allowing the player to explore the effects of depression, has been harassed by members of #GamerGate to the point where she and her family have received death threats.
Find out more about these issues in the following lesson and decide where you personally stand and why.


The Art of Fresh: Retro Hip-Hop Style

“Being fresh is more important than having money. The entire time I grew up, it was like…I only wanted money, so I could be fresh.” ~ Kanye West.

Recently, I had the chance to see the indie film entitled Dope. The movie centers on Malcolm, a straight-A student and musician from a rough neighborhood in present-day Los Angeles. Obsessed with 90s Hip-Hop music and fashion, the movie captures his search for identity while navigating the turbulence of his immediate environment. Embracing a retro style patterned after the 90s, he wears a high top fade haircut, stonewashed denim jeans, Nike Air Jordans, and other brands prevalent during the “Golden Era of Hip-Hop”. Unfortunately, he is inadvertently pulled into criminal life when he comes to posses several kilos of a drug dealer’s molly, and presented with the choice of two potential life paths. This choice between two essential life paths is presented to today’s youth on a daily basis, and the search for personal identity is universally experienced during the adolescent stage of development. So why did Malcolm look to a past aesthetic of fashion to represent his present identity?  His choice possibly was made to visually and distinctively set himself apart from the negative expectations for black males in his community.

Throughout history, all art forms have reflected the cultural elements of communities. As a result, there has been a constant exchange between artists and the communities from which they originate. Essentially, the arts have been impacted and influenced by their communal environments, and inversely, communities have been impacted by the artistic forms emanating from within them. Fashion trends as an art form, especially those prominent in Hip-Hop culture, are exemplary of this mirrored relationship. Furthermore, the art of fashion has been moved forward by the push and pull between forces of innovation and conformity within specific communities. In this vein, Malcolm’s character felt that he did not fit into the stereotypical mold of the young black male in Inglewood, California. In the midst of gangs and drugs that existed within his community, he was considered a “nerd” because he was focused on school, played in a punk band called “Oreo” with his two friends, and he was still a virgin. In his position, I believe that Malcolm and his friends embraced this particular style as a conscious derivative of the past in an attempt to escape the harsh realities of their present. Even though Malcolm and his friends did not actually live through the ‘90s, the concept of their nostalgia as a form of rebellion against the expected norm, paid homage to the idea of “better times”. Consequently, this establishes a direct link between one’s socio-economic environment and their artistic expression of their status within it. According to, socio-economics is “the study of the interrelation between economics and social behavior.”

On Friday, June 26th, a documentary was released that traces the history of Hip-Hop fashion entitled, Fresh Dressed. According to this film, the term “fresh” refers to “a crisp, new-in-the-box fashion look or tidy appearance.” Not only does this film discuss the impact that fashion has made on Hip-Hop culture, but it also notes fashion’s role to express commentary on social and economic statuses. Again, the mirrored relationship exemplified in fashion is explored. So, what is the connection between socio-economic statuses and artistic forms? In this documentary, Hip-Hop mogul, Damon Dash, makes a profound statement on the matter. He mentions that the whole idea of looking fresh stems from “the insecurity of not having anything.” He continues:

“The only way that you can kind of show that you have anything and feel some kind of status is, you know, what you have on your body. What you have on your body is a reflection of how you’re economically doing. It’s just a status symbol based on insecurity.”

Shirt King Phade, Co-Founder of Shirt Kings adds to Dash’s point, “When times are bad, a lot of people tend to gravitate towards art. Art takes our mind to another place.”

What I personally appreciate about the artistic expression of fashion, especially in Hip-Hop culture, is its ability to be both definitive and flexible. While at times a person can clearly take on a specific “look”, that same person remains able to represent his or her own individuality, ideas, or personal philosophy through their stylistic choices. In a sense, fashion can be a reflection of a person’s search for an identity within a paradigm of a specific culture. In the documentary, Pharrell Williams states, “When you’re young, there’s like a sense of wanting to express yourself…an importance of individuality.” This urge to find and establish individuality is a prominent challenge for the main characters of Dope. While Malcolm is not the only exception to the perceived “black male” typecast, through his character, the film examines a spectrum of stereotypes that are projected both inside and outside of an urban community. As seen in the current events that have spurred recent protest movements, stereotypes of black males are in full swing in today’s cities throughout the world, and our youth are continually placed at the intersection between expression of their own values, cultural histories, and pressures within community environments.


The Art of Fresh: Fashion and Philanthropy

“Artists are the gatekeepers of truth. We are civilization’s radical voice.” ~ Paul Robeson

According to the late Paul Robeson, artists have the opportunity to use their platforms to make significant changes in society. However, some would argue that artists have no obligation to address certain issues. Although they may have a point, when I think of artists who have become icons in popular culture, I think of those who have used their voices to raise awareness, especially as it pertains to social and political issues. Artists, such as Bob Marley, Nina Simone, John Lennon, Fela Kuti, Michael Jackson, Tupac Shakur, have all taken a stand against the injustices of the world. In retrospect, they have become bigger than their artistry. They have been philanthropists, humanists, revolutionaries, and activists. They have been individuals who have lived their lives beyond just fortune and fame.

Issues, such as poverty, gun violence, police brutality, gangs, and racism continue to persist. But there is a new wave of artists who are carrying the torch. These artists are not only using their music, but also fashion to make social and political statements. For instance, in the 2004 presidential election, P. Diddy (founder of Bad Boy Records), Sean John, and Citizen Change launched a campaign to encourage more young people between the ages of 18 and 30 to vote. This helped change the face of the U.S. political landscape by encouraging the youth to “Vote or Die”, using celebrities as his support system.

The campaign was meant to show that the right to vote is a matter of life or death. This notion may not be too far-fetched, as people have literally fought and died for this freedom. I believe this resonated with young people, not only because of the celebrities involved, but also because of its simple, yet powerful position in politics. This campaign was not only successful in 2004, but also in 2008, when President Barack Obama was elected.

Jay-Z, Hip-Hop artist and co-founder of Rocawear, also attempted to use fashion as a statement. Although it was short-lived, he released a new line of t-shirts, which were meant to support the Occupy Wall Street movement in 2011. This movement served as a protest against social and economic disparities between corporations and the American people. The shirt “tweaks the phrase ‘Occupy Wall Street’ by crossing out the ‘W’ and adding an ‘S’ to make it read ‘Occupy All Streets’.”

Unfortunately, this effort led to a little bit of controversy, primarily because he never intended on sharing his profits to the actual protestors. The Business Insider states, “A Rocawear spokesperson sent us a statement confirming there’s no plan to distribute any of the profits, which will surely pour in from shirt sales, to Occupy Wall Street.” According the spokesperson, “The ‘Occupy All Streets’ T shirt was created in support of the ‘Occupy Wall Street’ movement. Rocawear strongly encourages all forms of constructive expression, whether it be artistic, political or social. ‘Occupy All Streets’ is our way of reminding people that there is change to be made everywhere, not just on Wall Street. At this time we have not made an official commitment to monetarily support the movement.”

This leads to questionable motives of certain artists. There seems to be a thin line between legitimacy and sincerity from the public’s point of view, especially in this day and age where there are many cultural capitalists. In my opinion, there needs to be a clear alignment between the art and actions of the individuals, which leads me to Kendrick Lamar’s recently released, “Ventilators 2” by Reebok.

Throughout his career, Lamar has repeatedly shed light on his upbringing in Compton, California, where gang culture seems to dominate the living conditions of his immediate environment. Having been heavily influenced by this reality, he has always mentioned it in both his music and interviews. With songs, such as: “Little Johnny”, “M.A.A.D. City (featuring MC Eight), and “I”, he continues to provide a voice for his constituents by emphasizing social, political, and economic discrepancies that are woven into the American fabric. His response to these discrepancies and pervasiveness of gang culture are the Ventilators 2. Complex mentions, “These Ventilators, which were previewed by, are set against an off-white suede base with alternating blue and red accents on each shoe. The gang references are apparent, and each tongue tag is inscribed with ‘Neutral,’ echoing a sentiment Kendrick has been pushing strongly during his career.”

Other artists, such as Usher and John Legend (pictured below), aren’t necessarily known for making social and political commentary in their music, but they have also been recently seen using fashion to make a statement.

As we continue to face adversities in our lives, it is important to have the opportunity to express ourselves constructively. It may not necessarily be directly based on certain social, economic, or political issues; however, we are undeniably affected by these issues in one way or another. In that regard, we should continue to find creative ways to address these issues for the betterment of mankind.


The New $20 Bill: Harriet Tubman vs. Andrew Jackson


Rewriting History

The phrase, “history is written by the victors’ has been used for many years to describe the tendency seen in many history books to ignore the narratives of common people and instead focus on the stories of the most powerful humans and groups. Andrew Jackson’s legacy in the United States for the past two centuries has often proved the truth in that phrase. However, with the announcement in mid-April that Harriet Tubman’s face will replace Jackson’s on the front of the 20-dollar bill, a small piece of history was written to honor a woman who was not a victor in the traditional sense.



Will The Real Andrew Jackson Please Stand Up?

Jackson, who would later be elected the country’s seventh president, rose to fame as a general in the U.S. Army. A combat veteran of the American Revolution by the age of 13, Jackson led his troops in many victorious battles for the U.S. during the Indian Wars and the War of 1812. As president, Jackson won many political battles, proving that he was a victor in many aspects of his life.

Despite Jackson’s many successes, though, critics point to the fact that he owned slaves and relocated thousands of Native Americans along the infamous Trail of Tears as proof that Jackson should not be remembered so fondly.



Harriet Tubman: An Inspiration To Many

Meanwhile, there is little controversy about Tubman’s life and contributions. After being born into slavery, Tubman escaped and helped many others to do so through her use of the Underground Railroad. Tubman is remembered as a self-empowered woman who fought back against the injustices of her time to improve conditions for many other enslaved African-Americans.


Jackson’s face will remain on the back of the 20-dollar bill, an honor that many argue he deserves. Still, the decision to honor Tubman on the front of the bill was an important symbolic step in recognizing that history is not completely written by the victors.

5 Things Students Can Learn from a Trump Presidency


The results of the 2016 Presidential Election took most of the country by surprise. The last regime talked of hope and change, Trump’s campaign talks about greatness and opportunity. There’s no doubt that the country is divided on this decision, but it’s no different from the previous 44 elections. This is a country built on differences of opinion, giving each side an equal chance to share their point of view and also have their turn at running the country. With every new president, comes a change in the way of doing things, a change in priorities and a fresh start to become more involved and better understand how the government in this country actually works. Now that Trump is President, here’s 5 things students should learn from this election and the next four years to come under the Donald.

Anyone Can Become President

And I mean anyone…this was already proven to an extent when Obama became president, breaking color barriers and becoming the first African-American president. This is historical for different reasons. Studies have shown that young people will likely change their careers several times over the course of their lifetime, along with managing multiple side hustles. Donald Trump has proven that you don’t have to devote your life to a career in politics in order to become president. Typically, it was assumed that you had to commit yourself to becoming a politician and work your way up the political ladder as early as your 30′s or even 20′s. This is the traditional approach Hillary Clinton took, having 30+ years experience in politics. However, Trump proved that you can take your experience of being successful in doing what you love and transfer those skills to becoming President. His first political job will be President of the United States. Wow.

how to become president

Social Studies is Now More Important Than Ever

I know, I know, we’ve all dreaded those boring classes in school and wondered “Why do I need to learn this? I’m never going to use this in real life.” Well, for those of you who are wondering how did a reality TV host become president, go ask your social studies teacher. The electoral process in America is weird, confusing and yet fascinating at the same time. Once you better understand how presidents are elected, you will soon appreciate and understand that every single vote counts. Donald Trump is also likely to become one of the most powerful presidents in history because the Republicans also control the House, Senate and the Supreme Court. If you don’t know what that means, you know what I’m going to say…go ask your social studies teacher.


Learn a Vocational Skill

Part of Trump’s plan to “Make America Great Again” is to bring back a lot of the manufacturing jobs that have left this country for cheaper labor overseas.  If Trump gets his way with changing our existing fair trade acts, you will likely see more factories open here in the states, possibly creating more jobs that require skills working with your hands. Over the past few years, the country has shifted towards creating more jobs in the business and technology sectors which require computer, management and design skills. However, if there is a resurgence in American made products, there will likely be a new demand for people with skills learned from vocational schools. Expect to see an increase in blue collar jobs and a demand for skills such as manufacturing, engineering, construction, agriculture, farming, architecture and auto-mechanics.


Learn Debate Skills and Articulate your Point of View

Violence fills the void left by a lack of words. Many people are either feeling overjoyed and redeemed or are left feeling frustrated, afraid and angry as a result of the 2016 Presidential election. The country is more divided today, it feels, than any other time in recent history. You are almost guaranteed to encounter someone who is on the opposite side of the spectrum from you and will likely and loudly brag about everything you stand against.


The answer is not to punch them in the face, but to try and have a constructive dialogue. The only way to do this and prevent violence is to not get frustrated by their ignorance or your own lack of articulation. Take a debate class and learn how to have a healthy argument by articulating your emotions. Developing a well thought out argument is one of the most important skills you can learn today. Practice arguing in school, practice at home over dinner with the family, or have someone play devil’s advocate and challenge your opinions. Make sure to also research the facts to back up your statements so you have evidence to support your argument. The best way to fight back is to be informed and to know what you’re talking about.

Become an Entrepreneur

Not everyone is cut out to run their own business, but if you have thought about it, now would be a good time to start. One thing we can all agree on with Trump, is that he values the entrepreneurial hustle. We’ve seen it in his own life story and in his TV shows, he appreciates people who grab themselves by the bootstraps and chase their dreams. You would hope, that during his presidency, there will be an increase in government support for small business owners, startups and entrepreneurs.  If he truly believes in homegrown industry and trade, than you would expect to see more federal support to launch new American businesses. Creating a new business idea or starting a new venture will teach you valuable work and life skills, even if the business goes nowhere. Many of the top jobs today are looking to hire people with previous entrepreneurial experience. They don’t care if the business failed, they just want to see the leadership and innovation skills you learned along the way.


The Economic Impact of Hurricane Sandy

In this lesson, students think about the economic impact of a natural disaster such as Hurricane Sandy, learn the difference between macro- and micro-level effects of natural disasters, and allocate funds to recovery efforts following Sandy.

The Elements of Product Placement

The objective of this lesson is to have students look at existing product placements with a critical eye and develop a product placement plan for an existing product.

Product placements in movies and television shows have become quite a common practice in media. Companies commonly use product placements to promote their brands in an unconventional and sometimes hidden way. If you pay close enough attention to any movie or TV show, you can probably spot a few cleverly placed products ranging from sports drinks to electronics to clothing brands. An example of product placement can be seen in Steven Spielberg’s hit movie E.T. with his inclusion of Reese’s Pieces and television shows like American Idol, which has Coca-Cola logos strategically placed throughout the competition.