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upworthy

Rebekah Sager

Images courtesy Chris Paul/Koia

Chris Paul is bringing plant-based food options Historically Black Colleges and Universities

Phoenix Suns guard Chris Paul aka CP3 is not only one of the best players in the NBA, but he's also one of the biggest cheerleaders for Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs).

Paul doesn't just support various HBCUs, he's also committed to helping shine a light on the schools and provide students with healthy plant-based options. The 11-time NBA All-Star has been a vegan since 2019, and today, he's an investor in Atlanta's popular Slutty Vegan restaurants and recently partnered with Koia brands, leaders in 100% plant-based nutritional shakes. His plan is to take the shakes into vending machines across the nation at HBCUs and offer students in places often without a lot of healthy food something he believes in.

Paul chatted with Upworthy about that mission and what led him to embracing a plant-based lifestyle.


UP: What was the initial inspiration to begin eating a plant-based diet?

Paul: I was trying plant-based after games and I saw I wasn't feeling as heavy. So, I said let me try it full-time. It took one week. And I never looked back. I was a fan of pulled pork, and my chef used to make these chicken wings that were pretty fire, but for me, it's bigger than that. I'm so visual, as in "Game Changers" they show you about blood pressure. It stuck with me. In everything I do is about recovery and how your body feels. I'd played so many years without being plant-based and I'd wake up the next morning being achy and sore, and for that to be gone… it's amazing.

UP: With all of the work you've been involved in with the league regarding social justice issues, do you look at plant-based eating as a part of that work? Given the health disparities in the Black and brown community?

Paul: I think there's a lot of synergies there and that's because of the food deserts and the wealth disparity and food access. And alongside all of that is education. I've been playing in this league for a long time, and this didn't impact me until the age of 33 to 34. So, how do you educate people? And when you do educate people? There are so many people who're stuck in their ways. Then there are fast-food and liquor stores on every corner [in Black and brown communities].

UP: When the young guys come into the league, do they look to you? Do you talk to them about plant-based eating?

Paul: I talk to them or show them. I'm always a sponge to give them the tools they need. But I won't force it on anyone. This young guy recently asked me why I never have ice on my knees after games. He said he was gonna try it on All-Star weekend. After that weekend, he's been plant-based ever since.

UP: How did you get involved with Koia? Why this particular product?

Paul: Koia had a lot of the same values that I have and my team has. They're all about educating people and still having a great product. Whenever you partner with any company, besides the health benefits and the quality of the product, you hope your values align. And while we talk about sales, you also want to be able to make real change and educate people along the way.

UP: So, did you say you wanted to have these Koia products in Historically Black Colleges (HBCU)? Was that always part of the plan?

Paul: We're in the process of rolling this out. This was part of the conversation… how do we get these products into these areas where a lot of times these kids aren't exposed to these? So, putting the products into HBCU vending machines becomes a conversation starter and exposes these kids at an earlier age, and by doing that, they have access. In a lot of areas where these HBCUs are located there isn't a Whole Foods or a fresh juice place with these options. So, we're at least starting off making these assessable.


UP: What's the first school where the Koia products will be available?

Paul: One will be Winston-Salem State University, where my parents and all of my family went.

UP: Why do you shine a light on HBCUs? What's the inspiration for that?

Paul: I was in Houston and my stylist and I were trying to figure out what to do for attire for the season, and we came up with the idea of championing Black designers or designers of color. I wore a Texas Southern hoodie, where her dad went to school. Because it's part of my DNA anyway, as everyone from my family went to an HBCU, except me, so, we started wearing clothes from different HBCUs, talked to different designers. In the process, I started learning more about how these schools started. When you dive into and start understanding that HUBCs were created because Blacks were not allowed to attend primarily white institutions, you dig deeper and realize a lot of the HBCUs are folding because they don't receive the proper funding.

UP: Talk about the partnership with the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame series you're hosting between two historically Black colleges and universities -- Norfolk State, Morgan State, Hampton, and Grambling State.

Paul: This gives eyeballs on these schools and similar exposure that other schools are getting and makes sure that kids understand that HBCUs aren't less-than. When I was coming through the system trying to figure out what college to go to, HBCUs didn't even recruit me. They didn't because they felt they didn't have a shot. When I was growing up, that wasn't the blueprint for the NBA. You have to go to one of the big schools to be recruited. But, today these kids have so much power, with social media and entertainment networks, now schools will come to you. So, if you have three of the top schools who decide to go to Xavier, guess what? There'll be so much more money going to Xavier and that school will be all over TV.

UP: Are HBCUs becoming feeders for NBA?

Paul: Not something that's going to happen overnight. But, a lot more kids are aware and understand the power of their influence. Look at what Dion Sanders is doing at Florida State. These things take time and I think they will continue to grow in the next few years.

UP: Are you glad players such as LeBron and Carmello Anthony and other Lakers players aren't plant-based? Do you think that gives you an edge?

Paul: (laughs) I'm never going to say what works for other people. I have to tell my story. But, I will say, your health can dramatically change by what you put into your body.


Rebekah Sager is an award-winning journalist and published author. She has contributed to The Washington Post, The Hollywood Reporter, Playboy, VICE, and more. She is a senior staff writer at Daily Kos

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When my friend Jenny Levison told me she was launching what she called a "Kindness Tour," in the middle of the pandemic last year, I thought she'd lost her mind.

Levison is a celebrity chef and the owner of five "Souper Jenny" restaurants in the Atlanta area. To say that she walks to the beat of her own drum is an understatement. Once she makes her mind up to do something, there really isn't any stopping her. And she is someone who is committed both in her life and her work to giving back, paying it forward, and helping those who need it -- even if that means renting an RV, covering it with peace stickers, and heading out on the road to give away free food for weeks at a time.

Levison tells me that the first "Souper Jenny Kindness Tour" was born out of a drive to help people having a rough time in 2020. Knowing how hard the restaurant industry was hit and all the people who were impacted by it, she launched a six-week tour from Atlanta to California last October.

"Everyone was struggling and frankly, I needed some hope as well. I called one of my besties and told her what I wanted to do. I wanted to hop in an RV, drive west and start to spread the word that hope and joy were still alive and kindness was the new cool."

She says the first trip was "life-changing."



"We walked the bridge in Selma, which I've never done before and I could feel the weight of our history. We brought a wagon filled with quarts of soup and we handed them out on the bridge. Someone told us about some low-income housing in the area. So, we headed over. This white Jewish girl showed up in their neighborhood and I was welcomed with open arms by the community," Levison says.

She and her friend, and co-captain on their wild adventure, Meg Gillentine Morris, stopped at local farms and bought out their produce. They'd use the produce to make soup and find ways to feed communities in need. They'd set up socially distant takeout tables and give away free soup in the RV parks where they stopped. They'd leave quarters for people to do their laundry in laundromats. They did a free grocery drive in Lake Charles, Louisiana, after a double hurricane hit the area. They fed firemen in Irvine, California, after the wildfires, visited a South Los Angeles cafe to help support their weekly free grocery drive, and fed the homeless in Skid Row.

"We not only wanted to touch those in need but also just random strangers that could use a smile that day."

Fast forward to today -- the Souper Jenny Kindness Tour 2.0 launched on April 26.

Levison and Morris made their first stop in Colliersville, Tennessee to meet a very special 10-year-old girl who started her own kindness journey this year. Levison says her name is Deontra and she shows up at her favorite places, like a hospital, fire station, Target, or a local restaurant, with snack bags and drinks and simply thanks people for their service. Levison supplemented her snack bags with quarts of soup.



While in Colliersville, Levison also handed out 50 quarts of Turkey Chili to bus drivers and anyone else they came across.

Levison has her own nonprofit called The Zadie Project dedicated to feeding Atlanta's hungry children, families, and seniors. The name honors her father, Jarvin Levison who is known as Zadie (Yiddish for grandfather).

"He is my inspiration for cooking and my motivation for getting involved in my community. He also gave me my very first soup recipe, My Dad's Turkey Chili. In our 18 year history, it is still our most popular soup."

Their next stop was Nashville, where they scrubbed and filled two community fridges, and showed up at the local Waffle House and other local fast-food restaurants to thank workers with free gift cards.



But Levison and Morris aren't just about giving away free food or money, they also take the time while hiking around and exploring wherever they're staying to just bring a smile to someone's face by complimenting them. "Kindness is easy. Kindness can be free," Levison says.

When the two kindness queens landed in Washington D.C. they treated 50 to 60 vaccine workers to an afternoon of pastries and coffee -- just because.



"People ask how I've funded this and let me tell you the answer -- I'm prepared to figure it out! I may end up using my paycheck to spread the kindness gospel, but humanity has been incredibly generous. People hear what we've been doing and they want to get involved. Sometimes, you don't have the time to do the deed and we can do it for you!"




There were people who have donated to make both of the Kindness Tours possible via a GoFundMe page, in addition to dozens in the Atlanta community and Levison's close family and friends, and a significant donor in Sara Blakely and The Spanx Foundation.

The tour ends May 15, if you're interested in following along you can just use @followingsouperjenny or @Meggillentine via Instagram or Meg Gillentine Morris or Jennifer Levison on Facebook.


Rebekah Sager is an award-winning journalist and author with over a decade of experience as a general assignment reporter and writer. She has contributed to the Washington Post, Hollywood Reporter, Playboy, VICE, and more. Her essay is featured in "Chicken Soup for the Soul: I'm Speaking Now: Black Women Share Their Truth in 101 Stories of Love, Courage, and Hope," available June 2021.

Photo credit: Roger Fountain

Dear media,

As a Black writer, I'm torn.

At this moment, I know you need me, and although I want to capitalize on that need, I need you to reflect, focus and institute significant and sustainable changes in your outlets. George Floyd is the news cycle now, but black bodies have been a casualty to white supremacy for hundreds of years. Too many Black people have died at the hands of police officers. Is this finally the moment of change? Think for a minute, why now?

You need my voice, insight and ability to help you navigate and understand our exploding racial powder keg. But most of all, you need my stories, my insight and my perception to speak to the moment. My question is, where will you be when I need you after this moment has passed?



Today, you fill your pages and websites with our bylines and content, hoping to infuse perspective and color into predominantly white content. You mine our pain with op-eds explaining systemic racism and the unyielding murders of our fathers, brothers, lovers, sons and daughters.

Will you still love us when the news cycle shifts? Or will we hear what we've heard so many times before? Crickets.

Will you be there to offer us the coveted jobs, with full-time benefits and paychecks that pay the bills? Or are your mastheads so full of white faces that you can't see us staring at you?

I've worked on staff in several television and radio newsrooms and gotten plum assignments as a freelance writer. I've even been fortunate enough to have stories published in prominent outlets and have been a journalist for eleven years. But I've seen firsthand the extreme racial disparities in the media. I've been the only person of color on a web team or in a newsroom. I've seen how few people of color are employed full-time at many organizations. I've rarely seen people who look like me inhabit the coveted seats of power.

You may ask: Why should we care?

These positions give writers like me the freedom to continue our craft, establish stable careers and support younger writers. It also provides us with the fantasy to explore our communities and the world at large—not just when one of us is struck down in cold blood.

Ebonye Gussine Wilkins' work focuses on media inclusion and better representation. She helps corporations, nonprofits and individuals assess their content and revise or create better work to reflect the communities they serve. Wilkins explains it like this: "Part of preventing this kind of scramble at the last minute would be to hire writers of color much earlier," she says. "Hire them more regularly, pay them proper rates, not the bottom of the barrel rates, and give them an opportunity to write about things other than just 'black issues.'"

In other words, editors, you're the gatekeepers. It's not enough for your outlets to hire the "one." The token African American, Asian, Native American, or person of Latin origins to sit in your newsroom and write, edit and assign all the stories about people in underrepresented communities. One is not enough.

Solomon Jones recently wrote an op-ed for the Philadelphia Inquirer about being the only Black male news columnist. He described the issue as a problem that exists at most major outlets. "It is whiteness — the structures and social phenomena that produce white privilege — that causes outlets like The Inquirer to publish racially offensive material," Jones wrote. Adding, "I truly believe it is not always intentional. However, when your editors are overwhelmingly white when you are self-congratulatory in your white liberalism, and when you routinely ignore the input of black people, you end up with headlines like "Buildings Matter, Too."

This month, Hearst Magazines named its first Black editor-in-chief. Samira Nasr to helm Harper's BAZAAR. She is the first black editor-in-chief in the history of the 153-year-old Hearst-owned publication. Let that sink in for a moment.

Condé Nast beat Hearst eight years ago when Keija Minor was appointed as the first African American editor-in-chief of a Conde Nast publication in 2012.

But let's not get too excited about Condé Nast. Amid ongoing allegations of racism and unequal treatment at Bon Appétit, editor-in-chief Adam Rapoport resigned. Days later, Anna Wintour, editor-in-chief of Vogue since 1988, artistic director for Condé Nast, and Vogue's publisher, since 2013, released a letter of apology for the lack of diversity at Vogue.

"We have made mistakes too, publishing images or stories that have been hurtful or intolerant. I take full responsibility for those mistakes," Wintour wrote. "It can't be easy to be a Black employee at Vogue, and there are too few of you. I know that it is not enough to say we will do better, but we will — and please know that I value your voices and responses as we move forward."

Jonita Davis is an Indiana-based writer who covers social and cultural topics. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, The Guardian, Vox, Sisters from AARP, and others. She explained that outlets that had previously ghosted her are now clamoring for her stories. She says that as much as she has "FOMO" aka "fear of missing out," she's too pissed to take the assignments.

"If you can't go to your staff now to cover protests and all the issues happening now, then maybe that's a problem," Davis says. "If you have to go running and looking for Black writers, then you don't have a diverse staff. Instead of publications looking to this moment as a call to action to change things, they're patting themselves on the back for hiring Black freelancers."

Just in case you don't know the rates for freelance writers at major outlets – they range from the rare outlet that pays $1 or $2 a word to $100 for thousands of words – which is not enough to survive on.

So, here we are, and here are the facts. Real and lasting change comes from hiring people of color for full-time writing, editing and management positions that pay good salaries with benefits. The truth is, it's great that Black voices are being heard now, but it should have happened long ago.

The question is simple. But, the answer is far more complicated. You need us now. But will you still want us tomorrow?


Rebekah Sager is an award-winning journalist with over a decade of experience covering news, lifestyle, entertainment, and human-interest stories. She's contributed to Playboy, Cosmopolitan, Vice, The Hollywood Reporter, GOOD, and more. She's profiled Billy Porter, Ru Paul, Kathy Griffin, Amber Rose, Danny Trejo and the founder of Kind Bars, and the co-founder of the Black Lives Matter movement, Patrisse Cullors to name a few. Sager is currently working on a book about her years working in media called "Clickable & Sharable," a Black girl version of "Bridget Jones Diary," meets "A Devil Wears Prada."