Lil’s World: Three Wise Black Men Came To Brotherhood Sister Sol In Harlem

April 11, 2023

By Lil Nickelson

For more than 25 years, The Brotherhood Sister Sol (“BroSis”) has focused on doing the work that has been changing the lives of Black and Latinx youth since 1995.

On Wednesday, March 29th, 2023, BroSis began their partnership with The Metropolitan Opera to host a series of workshops for BroSis’ youth members by offering them a first look at their highly anticipated production, Champion which runs from April 10th to May 13th. The first workshop took place at BroSis’ building located at 512 West 143rd Street in West Harlem and began promptly at 5 pm.

Jason Warwin, Co-founder, and Associate Director of BroSis began the program by stating how bringing a different form of culture to our community has become an integral part of BroSis and today’s program marks the first time we introduce our members to opera through our partnership with The Metropolitan Opera. Three Black men with pivotal roles in the production of Champion came to give youth members behind-the-scenes access to were introduced. Terence Blanchard premieres his knock- out operatic retelling of the dramatic story of boxer Emile Griffith.

Emile Alphonse Griffith (February 3, 1938 – July 23, 2013) came to the United States from the U.S. Virgin Islands as a teenager and was encouraged to become a boxer by his employer, the owner of a hat factory. The bisexual young hatmaker-turned-professional prizefighter won five world boxing championships—three times as a welterweight and twice as a middleweight. Griffith first won the welterweight belt from Benny (“Kid”) Paret in a 13-round knockout on April 1, 1961; he lost it to Paret in a rematch by a 15- round decision on September 30, 1961; and he regained it by a knockout of Paret on March 24, 1962.

Champion is about this last fight which resulted in tragedy when in the 12th round Griffith backed Paret into a corner and continued to punch him as he slumped against the ropes until the referee finally stepped in to stop the fight. Paret lapsed into a coma and died 10 days later, one of the great tragedies in sports history. Griffith, who insisted that the brutality was not associated with remarks Paret had made prior to the bout about his sexuality, was shaken by the death and was never as aggressive in the ring.

The three wise Black men they brought to the facility to speak with the youth were six- time Grammy Award-winning composer and trumpeter Terence Blanchard, Grammy Award-winning opera singer Ryan Speedo Green, and actor, and boxing consultant Michael Bent. Terence Blanchard’s operatic retelling of the dramatic story of boxer Emile Griffith, along with bass-baritone opera sensation Ryan Speedo Green who stars in the Champion opera as the young boxer Emile Griffith, and, American film and television actor, and former professional boxer Michael Bentt, who was born in London of Jamaican heritage and raised in Cambria Heights, Queens.

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The discussion that these Black men had with their audience was captivating because they shared their truths of how they started in similar settings as we sat to how they arrived at where we saw them that day. Bottom line, they came to speak the truth.

A world-renowned trumpeter/composer/band leader and Blue Note recording artist,
Terence Blanchard is the most prolific jazz musician to ever compose for motion pictures like Love & Basketball and most recently, The Woman King. When Terence Blanchard’s Fire Shut Up in My Bones opened the Met’s 2021–22 season to universal acclaim, it marked a historic moment in the annals of the company, and just the beginning of a beautiful collaboration. The truth that he shared was he grew up in a neighborhood similar to the block we were on. Born and raised in New Orleans he studied with the Marsalis brothers at the famed New Orleans Center for the Creative Arts. Street life was right before his eyes too, and he got teased and ridiculed for being a kid who played an instrument. His advice to the youths was, “Found out what you love and go for it with gusto. Don’t lie to yourself or hate your friends that dedicate their selves to their passion. Trust your training because mine gave me my confidence.”

Related: To find more regarding writer Lil Nickelson’s articles “Dinning With Miss Lil,” or “Miss Lil” and more click here.

Opera singer Ryan Speedo Green shared how he grew up in rural Suffolk, VA in low-income housing and a trailer park. He spent time in juvenile detention for hanging out with the wrong crowd. At 14, mentors guided him to his current path of classical music when he saw an African American woman play the lead role in the opera Carmen. She spoke in French; it blew him away and he proceeded to obtain a higher education. He lovingly encouraged one young man gazing out his cell phone to put it away and become engaged in their conversation asking him when was the last time he had a candid talk with a six-time Grammy award winner, two-time Grammy award winner, and a heavyweight world boxing champion. Upon reflection, the young man put his phone away. Ryan sang an operatic song for the audience.

Michael Bentt has the shortest professional boxing career of any heavyweight world champion in history, for only 1,867 days spanning 5 years between 1989 to 1994. He won the WBO heavyweight title from Tommy Morrison in 1993 and lost the title in his first defense in 1994 to Herbie Hide. As an actor, Bentt is best known for training Will Smith for his title role as Ali and co-starring as Sonny Liston in the 2001 film Ali, and as Biggis/El Plaga in the 2005 film State Property 2. He shared how his chaotic upbringing with a violent father was instrumental in his choosing to go the other way. As an actor and boxing consultants, we walk hard to make fight scenes look easy in the movie. The fight sequences with the strobe lighting effects are unique to opera world productions. I get to work with other professionals like these gentlemen to show you options and another side within your community.

BroSis provides Black and Latinx young people with the atmosphere to examine, define and awaken their power to change the future. This first of three workshops with the Met is just one example of their commitment. As a memento Everlast brand boxing mitts and jump ropes were given at to the youths at the end of the discussion.

Photo Credits: 1)-4) by Lil Nickelson. 5) by The Met Opera Website

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