The 4th of July and the Declaration of Bondage

New Artwork by the Creator of 50 Shades of Black
Click to Download High Resolution PDF Version

The Declaration of Bondage 24 1/2 Inches x 29 3/4 Inches (Ink on Archival Rag Paper) by Carlton Mackey July 3, 2016

The Declaration of Bondage
24 1/2 Inches x 29 3/4 Inches
(Ink on Archival Rag Paper)
by Carlton Mackey
July 3, 2016

The High Resolution PDF Version is scaled to be printed at 24 1/2 inches x 29 3/4 inches.  These are the exact dimension of the Original 1776 "Declaration of Independence".

I created this piece to be critically engaged and shared widely therefore have licensed it with the Creative Commons License Below.  FEEL FREE TO DISTRIBUTE AS YOU SEE FIT. 

On July 5, 1852, 76 years after the signing of the "Declaration of Independence" and still 13 years before the abolition of slavery, Frederick Douglass gave the best 4th of July speech in American history.   

(Excerpt Below)

What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July? I answer; a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sound of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciation of tyrants brass fronted impudence; your shout of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanks-givings, with all your religious parade and solemnity, are to him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy -- a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices more shocking and bloody than are the people of the United States, at this very hour.

Read Complete Oration
Delivered in Corinthian Hall, Rochester NY
July 5, 1852


Posted on July 3, 2016 .

Black. Cuba. | 50 Shades of Black Creator Travels to Cuba

Excerpt below from Article by  Kimber Williams | Emory Report | June 14, 2016

Excerpt below from Article by Kimber Williams | Emory Report | June 14, 2016

For artist and ethicist Carlton Mackey, a photographer who operates the multi-media project “50 Shades of Black” which explores the spectrum of race and identity, the experience helped “awaken those parts of me that long to be inspired as an artist and didn’t go to sleep the whole time I was there,” he says.

“The journey gave me deeper insight, a new perspective, a deeper appreciation for complexity and a deeper sense of connectivity between my experience as a descendent of Africans who were enslaved in North America and those enslaved in other parts of the world,” he says.

More than one million Africans were enslaved in Cuba, and by some estimates, as much as 60 percent of the Cuban population is descended from them, explains Mackey, who has participated in previous Journeys trips to Jordan-Palestine-Israel and South Africa.

“To see and meet those people gave me a shared sense of struggle and enterprise and triumph,” he says. “It also gave me the ability to not take for granted that the way we see ourselves is not necessarily the way that we are seen by the rest of the world.”

Read Complete Article Here

Posted on July 3, 2016 .

This Afro-Cuban Life: Cuba's vibrant Afro-Cuban community has been photographed by Dr. David LaFevor

50 Shades of Black creator Carlton Mackey is traveling to Havana, Cuba this summer to create a photo series on the "Being Black, Being Cuban: Health and Identity in Havana". 

Leading up to the trip, 50 Shades of Black wants to highlight the beauty, complexities, and realities of Afro-Cuban history and culture as well as prominent figures in Afro-Cuban art and activism. 

Starting with this photo essay by Dr. David LaFevor of University of Texas Arlington. This 12 piece photo series, taken over the last decade, shows a small part of how Afro-Cuban culture and people have made the best of difficult material circumstances. 

Dr. LaFevor captures a mosaic of Cuba's vibrant and beautiful community. The essay focuses on the evolution of race, the expression of race as more than white and black, and current race issues. 

The following three pieces from his photo exhibit glimpses into the dynamic culture in Cuba. To view the rest of Dr. LaFevor's photo essay and read the background on each piece, click here

Posted on May 9, 2016 .

Creator of 50 Shades of Black Delivers Lecture at Bucknell University

Creator of 50 Shades of Black Carlton Mackey spoke today in the Elaine Langone Center Gallery Theater on the campus of Bucknell University as part of the Griot Institute for Africana Studies and the Center for the Study of Race, Ethnicity & Gender spring 2016 series.

This lecture series, "Honoring the Legacy of James Baldwin / African-American Art, Activism & Aesthetics," is rooted in questions about the intersections of identity, race, gender, sexuality, aesthetics, and activism as they affect and inform a wide range of African American artistic and cultural expressions. 

His talk focused on employing the life and legacy of African-American poet, playwright, author and activist James Baldwin, as a way to consider the questions surrounding the intersections of African-American art, activism and aesthetics.

Mackey also discussed his personal sense of the ways that African-American artists engage questions of aesthetic excellence and concerns about social justice.

He tied the focus of the lecture series to his work with D. Abbott Turner Program in Ethics & Servant Leadership at Emory University as well as his project "50 Shades of Black," which explores the intersection and complexities of skin color, sexuality and black identity using multiple forms of artistry such as essays, poems, photographs, personal narratives and paintings. 

To read more about Mackey's talk and the lecture series, click here

Posted on April 6, 2016 .

Ready for this Jelly: Beyoncé's Confrontation Race Issues and Accusations of Cultural Appropriation.

Over the past few months, Beyoncé has made headlines for accusations of cultural appropriation as well as her embracement her race in her new song "Formation" and at the Super Bowl Half-Time Show. 

Doc Chambers, 50 Shades of Black blogger, recently shared both this video from AJ+ and an article from The Daily Beast, that highlight recent controversy of Beyoncé's recent artistic choices. 

Shared on January 31, this video shows some viewers' disgust at Beyoncé's dress and the use of street kids throughout the video while others said that it highlighted the beauty and tradition in India. 

Beyoncé's clothes and makeup in Coldplay's "Hymn for the Weekend" music video has some accusing her of appropriating Indian culture. 

Contrastingly, as Doc showed with his second post about a month later, Beyoncé was bashed for calling out police brutality and the constant fear black people have of the police in her half-time Super Bowl show. 

Jessica Williams, in the article states, “Race was brought in because Beyoncé was brought in and, brace yourself, you might want to sit down for this, but Beyoncé! And as a black person, you walk around every day constantly reminded that you are black. We're more likely to get paid less, more likely to get sent to prison and more likely to win a dance competition. What? It’s not all bad. The point is, Beyoncé is black and this song is her message,” she continued. “That's what artists do. Their message is in their music.”

Beyoncé's recent choices and the audience's reaction to these choices, brings about an interesting perspective and cross-section. What is the line between appropriation and appreciation? Should the line be drawn differently with respect to your culture and race or someone else's? 

Posted on April 3, 2016 .

Idara Ekpoh: Beautiful in Every Shade Stories


I am Nigerian-American. My parents came to America in 1992 and had me in 1994. I always felt that being Nigerian in America has put me in situations where I’ve always had to explain who I am. When people first see me, they see a black woman. They usually have a list of stereotypes that come with being a black woman in America. Then when I go further in detail and tell them I’m Nigerian, there’s a different list of stereotypes that go along with being African. It was always easier to say that I was just “Black” and only have to deal with that list of stereotypes. I could easily relate  to other black people, but once the subject of African came up, it was harder. I, all of a sudden, have people being ignorant to my culture or making jokes about the lifestyle we have as Africans. People would make fun of the traditional clothing I would wear or the “exotic” foods I would eat. It was difficult for me to accept my culture and be open about who I am. It always felt like its one thing to be black in America, but a completely different thing to be African. The only other Africans I had around me were my family. Coming to the University of Arizona has put me in a group of people who accept who I am as African, and I’ve met other Africans who faced the same struggle growing up. I am Nigerian-American and I love my culture and where I am from. Its what make me who I am. 

Idara with our first Beautiful in Every Shade Story's Chisom at the University of Arizon's Open Shoot. To read Chisom's story,  click here .  

Idara with our first Beautiful in Every Shade Story's Chisom at the University of Arizon's Open Shoot. To read Chisom's story, click here.  

Beautiful, powerful moment.

After each BEAUTIFUL IN EVERY SHADE empowerment workshop on a college campus, we create space for community dialogue to reflect on the shared experience and to offer up lessons learned as a result of being invited into our unique approach of exploring and affirming self identity.
50 SHADES OF BLACK™ is a signature project of BEAUTIFUL IN EVERY SHADE™: a grassroots empowerment movement affirming and celebrating the beauty found in every human being. 

Posted on March 23, 2016 .

MTV "True Life": Kiara Representing Beautiful in Every Shade™


MTV’s “True Life: I Have A Trans Parent”, follows two young people grappling with their parents’ transitions. Kiara, one of people featured on the show, ROCKED a BEAUTIFUL IN EVERY SHADE™ shirt throughout a recent episode.

We appreciated the support and your embodiment of the message. 

Kara is 23-year-old women who lives with her husband and son in Georgia speaks openly about adjusting to but also her heart's desire to support and stand by her parent.  

When asked what advice she had for someone who’s having a hard time dealing with their parent’s transition, she said "Have patience and be openminded. It's important to remember that, in a way, you're going through a transition as well, and viewing your parent as a different gender doesn't happen over night."

At 0:46 and 2:01 of this short "True Life: I Have A Trans Parent" Sneak Peek, you can also find Kiara repping Beautiful in Every Shade™. 

To see an update about Kiara and her relationship with her father, view MTV's check-in interview with Kiara

Posted on January 28, 2016 and filed under family, Identity, LGBT, personal stories, press, sexuality.

Fahamu Pecou Connects Social Justice and Pop Culture with Talking Drum

50 Shades of Black featured artist Fahamu Pecou is on fire...and he's setting every platform that he touches ablaze.  In a Boss move by the Center for Civil and Human Rights, the organization sought to maintain its relevancy to the community by connecting with one of the city's most relevant artists.

Photo by Jeoff Davis

Photo by Jeoff Davis


‘Talking Drum’ puts social justice on blast 

Fahamu Pecou’s Center for Civil and Human Rights exhibit speaks, sings, shouts

By Jacinta Howard

What is an artist's responsibility with respect to social change?

Fahamu Pecou poses the question from inside his cozy Inman Park art studio. It's a question that seems inevitable given the world's current political and social climate. Pecou, who is wearing a college sweatshirt bearing American author/activist James Baldwin's name, smiles when the inquiry is lobbed back at him.

"I don't have an answer," he admits. "That's part of the beauty of it. What's that saying — the best destination is the journey? To ask the question is to begin to answer it. If we're thinking about it, then we can begin to act on it."


Posted on January 26, 2016 and filed under activism, art, blog, Masculinity, race.


I believe Dr. King wanted folk to actively engage in a process of reformulating the way they thought and felt about themselves. In a society where your ancestors had been enslaved, in a society where you couldn’t vote, it’s not hard to see how people might begin to think of themselves as secondclass citizens. It’s not hard to see how people might begin to think of themselves as inferior to other members of society. So I believe the first step in the Civil Rights Movement was revolutionizing the mindset of Black folks. It was about getting people to see and understand themselves in a new light. Therefore, I believe that certain aspects of the Black Power Movement were essential in advancing King’s efforts. What was required was a movement that would raise the consciousness of a generation. Black people needed to see themselves for who they were and not simply for how they were being treated. Black people had to see themselves as people worthy of more, as people who were more, and as people who must not wait, who must not waiver, and who must be willing to sacrifice much. People had to incrementally begin to see their own strength. King, in his own way, but much like the Black Power Movement, had to be the herald of the banner that said “Black is beautiful.” -cm

Published in HOSPITALITY (June 2015) Vol. 34, No. 5 << Click to Download full article

The Open Door Community is a residential community in the Catholic Worker tradition (sometimes called a Protestant Catholic Worker House). We seek to dismantle racism, sexism and heterosexism, abolish the death penalty, and proclaim the Beloved Community through loving relationships with some of the most neglected and outcast of God’s children: the homeless and our sisters and brothers who are in prison.

Posted on January 18, 2016 and filed under activism, blog, history, race, religion and culture.


In the   Arabic language  ,&nbsp;  Iman  &nbsp;(  Arabic  :&nbsp;   إِيمَان   ‎&nbsp;  ‘īmān  )&nbsp;  denotes " faith ".

In the Arabic languageIman (Arabicإِيمَان‎ ‘īmāndenotes "faith".

Remember that as this political environment becomes predictably even more reactionary, we will feel fear but that this fear can be overcome by reflecting on the history and experiences of Black and Brown people who have dug deep into their humanity and their faith to turn that fear into courage. Courage to be proud of who we are and who we can become, a courage to organize our communities to transform the society that devalues us, a courage to get through the daily difficulties of life by constantly remembering a vision of a better world and being willing to struggle to realize it. Let’s pray for peace but let’s also pray that we can feel the courage necessary to organize our communities to move beyond this culture of violence, this islamophobia, and this very system that has conferred a permanent criminal status on communities of color for far too long.
— Muhammed Malik

Artwork: Carlton Mackey (Creator of 50 Shades of Black)
Adapted from 1968 Civil Rights Poster
Collection of Civil Rights Archive/CADVC-UMBC

Posted on December 4, 2015 .

Beautiful in Every Shade Comes Together with the University of Arizona: Celebrating Black, Just Because

“None of us are beautiful until we acknowledge the fact that all of us are,”—Carlton Mackey.

This philosophy was the foundation of the conception of the 50 Shades of Black and BEAUTIFUL IN EVERY SHADE movements and was beautifully translated into an empowering and affirming discovery workshop at the University of Arizona this past September.

Mackey and Devan Dunson (Mackey's Co-Director of Black Men Smile), partnered with African American Student Affairs and the Black Student Union at the University of Arizona to host this workshop, which allowed University of Arizona students to celebrate, explore, and discover the beauty of black identity.

The event consisted of four “Activation Stations”. One station was the “Black Men Smile” station, which sought to engender discussions on black masculinity in contemporary society and challenge narrowly defined understanding of said identity. Additionally, there was the written reflection station, where the attendees expressed their thoughts identity, dignity, and pride, and a display section on various sexual and racial identities: including Black-Latina, East-African, Jamaican, bi-racial and Black gay male. Finally, and most popular amongst the attendees of the event, was the Photo Booth station, in which Mackey and Dunson sought to “create a mosaic of people’s collective identities.”

These “Activation Stations”, and the discourse that accompanied them, allowed several University of Arizona students to understand, re-affirm, or even discover, the value of authenticity, self-worth, and pride in one’s identity. 

Photo taken by Courtney Talak of the University of Arizona  Daily Wildcat  for the article  "Black Student Union hosts workshop highlighting beauty and sexuality standards"

Photo taken by Courtney Talak of the University of Arizona Daily Wildcat for the article "Black Student Union hosts workshop highlighting beauty and sexuality standards"

This event was widely received by the attending students and directors of the Black Student Union and the African American Student Affairs. The experience meant something very different to each individual, but gave them a chance to share their stories with others. Like Taperra Riddle, a sociology freshman said, “It’s good to know that there are other people with similar problems to talk about.” Even further, the event changed how some students saw themselves, going as far as to change the extent to which they valued parts of their identity. 

Isoken Adodo, program coordinator for African American Student Affairs at the University of Arizona, said “I’m 28 [years old] now, but when I was 18, you would never see my hair like this,” she said, pointing to her head. “I would struggle with the fact that I’m not a size four, that I had a bit of a shape… I think this event is great because it gives these young students the opportunity to look in the mirror and say, ‘I love my skin, I love my hair, I love my lips,’”

At the closing of the event, in the open reflection panel, one student beautifully summarized the mission and value of the workshop and Beautiful in Every Shade movement with the statement, “One of the things I really liked about tonight was that black folks came together to take up space, but not around trauma…Today wasn’t about that. It was about coming to celebrate ourselves, just because. I think that is very powerful and I think that is also revolutionary.” 

Ashwini Krishnamurthy

Emory University Center for Ethics
Ethics & the Arts Program Intern

Posted on October 30, 2015 .

Black Funk Icon Betty Davis is Finally Getting Her Life Story Told With New Biopic

Unless you're a fan of the deep, hardcore funk, you've likely never heard of a woman named Betty Mabry Davis. Which is a shame because Davis not only was the inspiration behind Miles Davis' 70s jazz-fusion sound, but she was a creative force in her own right and broke ground in music for women to be independent creatives, to be in charge of their sexuality, and to just be in charge of their badassery.

When I first heard of Betty, I was still an undergrad student at Georgia State University and I was rocking out in my parents' kitchen to Joi's "If I'm In Luck I Might Just Get Picked Up" from her amazing Amoeba Cleansing Syndrome album. At the time I thought the hard-rocking, saucy, guitar-fueled sex anthem came directly from the modern funk queen that is Joi herself. But my father, who was cooking up a saucy dish of his own, stopped me mid-song and informed me, to my surprise, that Joi was just the soul daughter of the original queen of funk. "Hey! She copied Betty Davis!" he said. I turned around to him and said "who is that?!" My dad repeated that name that sounded so old and foreign to me and after seeing the look of confusion still on my face, he proceeded to walk me to the hallway closet where he kept his immaculate collection of old records and pulled out Betty's eponymous debut album. 

Listening to her for the first time, I found myself bombarded with a furious feminine roar that I just wasn't used to. Less so of a singer, and more so a creative entity, Betty growled, roared, screeched and seductively sing-talked on the record over 70s funk rhythms and riffs that this late 80s baby just wasn't used to. Betty's voice went against everything I was taught by the media, the radio, and my years of being an R&B fan about what black women should sound like on wax. She seemed like a wild woman whose songs defied the constructs and dams of R&B and Soul and flooded themselves with Rock, Funk and the edgiest of the Blues.  In short, Betty was....different. And I didn't think I was ready for that kind of strange flavor in my ear.

As the days went on though, I found myself seeking out this strange sound from Betty more and more. It got to the point where I was pulling out that old record every day and playing in my parents' living room and my father watched on as he'd converted his youngest son into a fan of one of his musical favs. From that point on, I went on a ferocious search to find out everything I could about Betty and to hear every piece of music of hers that I could get my hands on. I was hooked and I wanted more and I wanted the world around me to know of her too.

What I ended up discovering was that Betty was a small town girl who grew up to become an it-girl and club host in NYC who parlayed her connections into a job as a songwriter in the music world, her first major credit being "Uptown (To Harlem)" for the Chambers Brothers. Betty also became a successful model, posing for the likes of Ebony and Cosmopolitan, and walking the runway for the likes of Halston. After giving up her strut on the runway, Betty befriended the likes of Sly Stone and Jimi Hendrix, and she also ended up meeting and marrying Jazz icon Miles Davis. Betty's relationship with Miles was transformative for the icon, whose sound completely changed after meeting. However, the marriage was lasted only a year, thanks to Miles' violent temper, and Betty struck out on her own to follow her musical dreams. 

Betty went on to write and co-produce/produce, something unheard of for women back then, three albums in the early 70s: Betty Davis, They Say I'm Different, and Nasty Gal. Betty quickly became an underground hit and toured the world to packed venues. Her staged shows even gained comparisons to the top male rock stars of the 70s and it seemed like Betty was finally living the life she dreamt of. 

However, things all that glitters isn't gold and Betty's career had its own sufferings. For one, her provocative lyrics and empowered sexual image left her banned from some clubs and radio stations and she even received bomb threats from angry critics. Also, her albums weren't commercial successes and when she sent in a fourth album, Is it Love Or Desire, to her label at the time, they decided to shelve the project (it wouldn't see the light of day till 2009) and pushing for her to soften her image and relinquish control of her writing and production to paid writers and producers. 

After failed studio sessions, Betty quietly walked away from the industry and fans have heard little to nothing from her over the past 30 years. 

But now Betty is finally ready to talk and tell her story. And thanks to filmmakers Phil Cox and Damon Smith, Betty's story can finally be seen by the masses as they're currently working on the first-ever biopic on the reclusive singer-songwriter, Nasty Gal: The Many Lives of Funk Singer Betty Davis. Betty has even decided to share her story rights with the film's production company, Native Voice Films, and will appear on camera for the first time in decades as a part of the project.

“Although I’ve been silent for a long time,” said Davis in a press release for the film, “I feel it’s important to help shape my legacy while I’m alive by returning my story and music to people who will value it and learn from it. I am excited to be a part of this project and hope it finds the support it needs.”

The filmmakers also reveal that the film will use an interesting blend of fiction and nonfiction to tell Betty's story.

"Although substantially based on vital present-day testimonies from Betty's closest confidantes, we will tell this story using never-before-seen archive, interviews, and fact-based, cinematic reconstructions performed by a high-profile actress/music personality and scripted with Betty’s own words. Within the film there will be moments of a large-scale, professionally produced Betty Davis tribute concert in her hometown of Pittsburgh, performed by members of her ’70s bands, legendary contemporary artists, and many of the interviewees in the film. This benefit concert, whose proceeds will go to help Betty herself,  we hope will be the first time that Betty shows herself to the public again," reads the film's indiegogo page.

“We are honoured to be collaborating with Betty on her life story,” said directors Phil Cox and Damon Smith. “She is a larger-than-life global icon whose influence on music and fashion is indelible, from Prince to Erykah Badu, and her celebration onscreen is long overdue. We intend to make this film in the same unapologetically independent spirit in which Betty conducted her professional life, long before it was hip for a woman to be completely in charge.”

However, production on the film and concert aren't done yet and the filmmakers need help from fans to see the project all the way through. Nasty Gal is seeking to raise $65,000 on Indiegogo by November 10 to cover archive and music licensing and support principal photography for the feature-length film when it goes into production later this fall.

Please help this film to see the light of day and contribute to its indiegogo page. Also visit the film's Facebook page, which like the indiegogo page, features several photos, videos and factoids about Betty.

Nicholas Harbor

Freelance Journalist, storyteller and blogger for 50 Shades of BLACK


Posted on October 25, 2015 and filed under current events, history, music.

Say Her Name: My name is Chisom

I am Nigerian-American. Both of my parents came to this country as immigrants, and I’ve been immersed in the culture ever since. After being exposed to the American school system for so long, that identity lost focus. In fact, the society in general began to reshape, not only what I thought was acceptable, but what I thought was beautiful. Dark skin? Nappy hair? Full lips? That never gained as much exposure as the light skin, straight-haired, thin-lipped boys and girls. I felt lost for quite awhile. I kept trying to find where I fit in. This is, until I started school at the University of Arizona. Here, I was able to find a culture, a group, a place I could fit in comfortably. A place I was able to be myself and not have to worry about being or feeling “different”. A place I could essentially come to realize that I am beautiful. My distinct features, an exhibition of my uniqueness, a cry of joy to my ancestral genetics, a beauty that only I possess. This university helped me acknowledge who I am with full force, and for that, I am ever grateful….

I, am beautiful. 

Beautiful, powerful moment.

After each BEAUTIFUL IN EVERY SHADE empowerment workshop on a college campus, we create space for community dialogue to reflect on the shared experience and to offer up lessons learned as a result of being invited into our unique approach of exploring and affirming self identity.

Watch as this University of Arizona student takes one of the most important steps in her journey to proclaim her self identity and inspires an entire room of her peers to do the same.  In one minute she reclaims 18 years of her life
50 SHADES OF BLACK™ is a signature project of BEAUTIFUL IN EVERY SHADE™: a grassroots empowerment movement affirming and celebrating the beauty found in every human being. 

Posted on October 7, 2015 .

Her Name: Kim King

One year after the death of Kim King, Hands Up United leads a vigil to Say Her Name & Ask: Who Killed Kim King.

IN BROAD DAYLIGHT: Tribute by Dontey and Bud Cuzz of Lost Voices - Saint Louis, MO

September 19, 2014 Kim King, a 21 year old and mother of 2 was arrested for a street fight by the city of Pagedale.  Kim had traffic warrants which caused her to be held by the Pagedale PD. The city of Pagedale along with St.Louis county said Kim King hung herself with a T shirt within 10 minutes of her being in the cell.

A year later and we are still asking the same question. ‪


50 Shades of Black reporting from Saint Louis.

Posted on September 23, 2015 and filed under activism, art, community, feminism, race.

I AM SHAUN KING. Question Him. Question Me.

I Am Shaun King. Question him. Question me. Question every light-skinned African American you see. I’m sure you might learn some enlightening HISTORY.

I Am Shaun King.

Wow! I can‘t believe this. For a few days I’ve been following all of the media craziness surrounding my good friend Shaun King. Shaun is an outspoken activist whose race has been recently questioned. Is he black? Is he white? Is he a race fraud? Did he lie to get a scholarship? Is he Rachel 2.0?

Ever since the Rachel Dolezal ordeal I cannot count how many times I, myself, have been jokingly asked:

1.     Can you show me your race card?

2.     Let me see your birth certificate?

3.     Who are your parents, really?

4.     Are you really black?

5.     I’ve always wondered about you…

Shaun and I went to Morehouse College together. We were members of the largest class to ever enter this historic HBCU. I still remember meeting Shaun for the first time. He shook my hand, looked into my eyes and said ‘hello brother’ with the quiet confidence and energy that one would expect from a world leader. Literally, from the instant I made his acquaintance I knew this man was destined for greatness. He was special and I knew it. Shaun and I shared something unique.  It was something I wrote about in my 50 Shades of Black (Volume I) story titled, “Red Bone with Blue Eyes.”  My story in 50 Shades of Black reignites the issues I had growing up as a light-skinned African American child. Some of these painful memories I had repressed for many years.


My daughter Addison is a spitting image of me as a child. She is called “beautiful” on a daily basis. Thirty years ago my look was called, “weird.”  Growing up in Pensacola, FL during the 80’s and 90’s I was the victim of constant verbal abuse and often provoked into fights. I had to prove my blackness to my own African American community. Yes, I was a pretty popular kid. That’s how most of my classmates probably remember me, but there was a part of my life, my horror, lurking in the shadows. I remember waiting for the bus after school and receiving a tip that I was about to get ambushed. For a while I started sneaking to get on the bus first so that I would not be subjected to hateful words or bullying.  A student once cornered me in the bathroom with a knife. Many of my friends (lets just call some of them acquaintances) would say to me that I thought I was better than them because I was lighter...that I thought I was more intelligent...that I was the teacher’s favorite because of my skin. I was called a reverse Oreo cookie just because of my appearance and because I had friends of all races.


The verbal abuse did not end with kids from school; there were adults that took part in this foolishness as well. “That can’t be your dad? What are you? Where did you come from? What’s wrong with your hair? I wish I had your fair skin color. You’re going to make some pretty babies one day.”  A lot of this pain led to my search for a racial identity. It has shaped the person I am today and the sensitivity I have as a photographer.


Photo of Shaun King by Ross Oscar Knight

Photo of Shaun King by Ross Oscar Knight

In August 2008, I photographed Shaun. He needed portfolio images to use for his ministry, The Courageous Church, as well as other endeavors. We shared stories about Morehouse, our family, and our future. It was like we were two brothers plotting a world takeover. Since then, Shaun has supported all of my international trips and in 2010, he gave me the opportunity to visit Haiti. My images of Shaun and his projects have been used around the world in magazines/books and on television.


I know Shaun as an honest person who stops at nothing to help people (cue You can’t hold him back from achievement. That only fuels his passion to make a greater difference in the world. He has constantly used his voice and influence for justice. He has risked his life to create positive change. He doesn’t just start conversations about race; he is the conversation about race. 

"He doesn't just start conversations about race; he is the conversation about race."

Ever since his involvement in the #blacklivesmatter movement, he has been under constant scrutiny. He is facing a character assassination in the media. His race and his intentions have been taken into question. I know him and I’m just not having that!!

Although he didn’t have to respond to the attacks, Shaun decided to explain his painfully private story:

Race, love, hate, and me: A distinctly American story


I Am Shaun King. Question him. Question me. Question every light-skinned African American you see. I’m sure you might learn some enlightening HISTORY.


50 Shades of Black examines the complex role Sexuality and Skin Tone play in the formation of Identity.


Ross Oscar Knight is a photo-culturalist,  Owner of Ross Oscar Knight Photography, and Co-Director of 50 Shades of Black

Posted on August 21, 2015 and filed under current events, Identity, personal stories, press, race, skin tone.

THE TALK: 10 Heartbreaking Instructions To Stay Alive if Confronted by Police

Dear son,

As your father, I feel there are some very important things that I must tell you right now.  Many of them may seem totally contradictory to things I’ve told you in the past but I need for you to listen carefully and do everything exactly as I tell you.  It breaks my heart to tell you this, but it seems apparent from recent events that these measures are what are required to ensure you stay alive if confronted by police.

If you are ever pulled over by police:

1)   Avoid Extended Direct Eye Contact

Yes. I know son. I always tell you to look each person you encounter directly into their eyes as a sign of mutual respect for yourself and as a way to acknowledge the other individual’s shared humanity, but this is a different encounter...and you are black. Because of the confidence you have in who you are, your extended direct eye contact will force an officer to immediately grapple with their own fears and insecurities.  They need to feel in control of the situation, and that they have an upper hand.  Eye contact for too long may be interpreted as a) a challenge or b) a threat…and these are bigger crimes than anything you were stopped for.

Direct eye contact may force an officer to immediately grapple with their own fears and insecurities

2)   Say Yes Sir - No Sir 

Yes. I know son.  Your mom and I don’t require it nor do your teachers.  But (pause, deep breath), I guess police officers think they need more formal signs of "respect" than even your father.  Never say “yeah,” and if the answer to one of their questions is “No” and you forget to say (or can’t make yourself say) “No Sir” DO NOT say “No” with any intonation or with any emphasis.  Saying “Yeah” or “No” may be interpreted as a) a challenge or b) a threat…and these are bigger crimes than anything you were stopped for.

Police Offices think they need more formal signs of respect than even your father.

3)   Don't Ask Why

Yes. I know son. I taught you to question everything.  I know that even when you are in trouble with me you are always allowed to ask questions because I feel you entitled to know why you are in trouble.  But (long pause, suppresses anger) you are not to expect the same level of respect by police you are shown at home.  Sandra Bland asked why she was asked to step out of the car and why she was being arrested 14 times and the officer's response was get out of the car or "I'll light you up". I don't want this to be you.  It seems that asking ‘Why’ may be interpreted as a) a challenge or b) a threat…and these are bigger crimes than anything you were stopped for.

You are not to expect the same level of respect by police you are shown at home.

4) Ask for Permission

If asked for license and registration, ask for permission to reach and get them.

Yes. I know son.  They just asked for it and asking them for permission to do what they just asked you for sounds crazy but because your license will inevitably be in your pocket and your registration will likely be in your glove compartment, you will need verbal affirmation.  Reaching to grab either one without this verbal affirmation may be interpreted as a) a challenge or b) a threat…and these are bigger crimes than anything you were stopped for.



5)   Open Door Using Outside Handle and Move Slowly

If you are ever asked to get out of the car, slowly show both of your hands and open the door using the OUTSIDE handle.  Looking down and reaching for the car door on the inside may be interpreted as reaching for something else.

Please make sure every move you make is slow from this point forward. 

*You are about to enter very dangerous territory. 

Once an officer sees your entire body, they will begin to IMMEDIATELY hone in on your physical attributes and no matter what your size is, your physical presence alone, as a black man, will somehow pose an immediate threat…and this is a bigger crime than anything you were stopped for.

Your physical presence alone as a black man will somehow pose an immediate threat.

6) Raise Both Hands Above Your Head

Yes. I know son. You have no idea why you were stopped or what you are being asked to step out of the car for but if you find yourself at this point it is of CRITICAL importance that you do exactly what I say.

7)   Bite Your Tongue

While you are being frisked do not move and do not say a word unless you are asked a question.  If you are inappropriately touched, or groped, or if your genitals are fondled, please Son, do not react in anger.  If you say, “What the hell are you doing?” or “Don’t touch me” like Eric Garner or move suddenly or kick or even snatch away from these violating gestures, your life is now certainly at risk because it is already evident by their actions that you are dealing with an individual who is now intentionally trying to provoke you (because up to this point, you have literally done everything right).

8)   Let Them Cuff You

If they attempt to put cuffs on you, let them.

Yes. I know son.  Your heart will be beating fast.  You will be afraid.  You have never been in this position before.  You will be angry.  You will be confused.  You will be embarrassed.  But PLEASE DO NOT LOSE FOCUS!  If you turn to your emotions now, anything that comes out of your mouth or any movement of your body will bee seen as a threat and WILL BE met with violence.  Please son, hear me!

9)   Remain Silent

You are being arrested and though you may feel as if you have been wronged and your rights violated, this may be the only right you have left.

10)   Know That I Love You

No matter what the situation is. No matter if you turned without a signal or not.  No matter what they said to you or what they did to you or how they made you feel or your sense of helplessness or how stupid you think I was for making you follow all these rules to only end up in jail.  No matter how much the “burden” of your blackness may make you want to wash it all off.  No matter how much confusion comes flooding your mind, know that I am proud of you.  Know that you are a man even if you don’t feel like one right now.  Know that your dignity is not something anyone else determines. 

Know that hate is rooted in fear and fear is rooted in ignorance and ignorance is rooted in being too arrogant to learn and arrogance is rooted in privilege and privilege is the direct result of a well crafted, calculated, systemic plan initiated many years ago to build a wealthy independent empire…and empires don’t work if everyone benefits equally.  Though privilege itself doesn’t make a person bad, it is a very difficult thing to let go of or to use constructively…particularly if there is no acknowledgement of its existence in the first place.

And since "Power" is the bastardization of Authority, it is the most abused privilege of all…with the harshest consequences.


But Love.

The love I have for you.

The love we have for each other

can overcome this situation, Son.

Don't do anything now to harm yourself.  

I am coming to bring you home.

And you have permission to be angry when you get there.

And you have permission to cry.

I am crying right now.

May our collective tears serve as baptism

And may we emerge from the water with clearer vision for what to do next

To restore justice
To dismantle this system and its “empire” ideology that put you through this to start with. 

Pick your head up.  Let’s work. 

I love you son. 

Carlton Mackey

Director of the Ethics & the Arts Program at the Emory University Center for Ethics
Creator of BEAUTIFUL IN EVERY SHADE™ and its signature project 50 Shades of Black 

BLACK AMERICANA VOL 1: Amore of the Diaspora

Amore of the Diaspora

As an artist and scholar I want to redefine and re-appropriate Black Americana to reflect, and highlight the positive contributions of people of African decent in the Americas and through out the diaspora. The first installment of the project or BLACK AMERICANA: Volume One explores relational dynamics between black men and black women at various points within the African American historical timeline looking to quantify and establish what it took for one black man to love one black woman in the past and what it takes now and cast vision for it will take generations to come. My hope is to create a body of work that encourages healthy dynamics within the Black nuclear family and helps us identify with the love that sustains us in our darkest moments and inspires us during our best, and brightest. The mixed media creative work spans multiple creative platforms, including a coffee table book of fine art photography, scholarship and documented accounts of the lives and love of real black American couples and includes contributions of notable visual artist of color selected by myself working together to expand and nuance the conversation around the legacy of Black American’s, exploring both the pain and pride in our collective stories.

Using the same two subjects, myself and Atlanta based artist, activist, and cultural influencer Devan D. Dunson we seek to embody the "black lovers” who meet at pivotal moments within black history and various meta moments within black consciousness. Visually and creatively placing ourselves in the shoes of our ancestors, experiencing and connecting with truths and moments they endured and discovering "the love" over and over again. Let our collective knowledge of black history, esteem and honor for the countless black couples and families who’s love stories are the foundation for our own be increased as we unearth the SUBSTANCE and fiber of our communal connection. What it is that binds and bonds us as a community, as brothers and sisters, as man and woman? What is the soul, spirit and dynamic power of black love? So few of us are taught, have modeled or EVER really get to experience what LOVE looks and feels like when its healthy because "our love" story has had to unfold in the midst of injustice, poverty and a racially toxic society, to me the art and the artist are one, as I seek to unlock and creatively express what is contained in my own heart, my own pride and pain found, I hope to heal and celebrate the beauty and spirit of "our stories" and find the “love" in our legacy.  

-Tanisha Lynn Pyron

TAXI! -On Being a Black Woman Catching a Cab Ride In Cuba

Photos and Text by The Travel Guru

Photos and Text by The Travel Guru

Click to Enlarge

hen I travel I am always surprised at how safe I feel. I have traveled all over the world by myself and for the most part, have always felt safe when walking down the street. I was recently in Havana, Cuba and from  American news outlets I’ve heard all of my life that Cuba is a place where I should have been scared. However, my black skin was well received and I was treated with dignity and respect by all I met.

Traveling to a country where your color isn’t a factor in how you are treated is an amazing feeling. When I was in Havana the blackness of my skin wasn’t an issue. From the moment I walked out of the airport until the moment I left I felt as ease. There was never a moment where I was reminded that my blackness was considered inferior. I am in no way saying Havana doesn’t have racial issues because they do. Many dark skinned Cubans have a much harder time than their light skinned brothers and sisters but as an American, my Black skin wasn’t a factor.

Sometimes when I travel I don’t realize how much my race is a factor in America until I leave and visit a country where I’m celebrated and appreciated. Being able to walk down the street and not feel judged is freeing in ways unimaginable. Getting most of my information from American news, Havana has been vilified. It has been portrayed as this evil third world place that no one should dare visit. However, my experience was the complete opposite. Seeing people all around me with the varied hues of blackness was refreshing. Hearing the first foreign language I learned being spoken daily put a smile on my face that hardly ever left. For me, my blackness in Havana was empowering. Even though the city is poor, the feeling of having my skin valued and not questioned made me feel rich in ways unimaginable.

One example of how my blackness wasn’t an issue and safety not a concern was when I was coming home from a night on the town. I was hanging out with some of my Black American friends and we got into a taxi, there were 5 of us. I was staying in a different part of town so one of my girlfriends said, “Roni, we will drop you off first so you don’t have to be alone.” Because I had felt so safe in Havana I didn’t think it was necessary but I wanted to appease my friends so I agreed. When I told the light skinned driver in Spanish that I wanted to be dropped off first he said that wasn’t the best way and he was going to drop them off first. I told him my friends were concerned with my safety and the look he gave me was one of incredulity. He merely waved his hand and said in Spanish, “What’s gonna happen?” When he took me to my apartment he waited until I got into my door before he drove off.  The thought of harming me or that harm could come to me didn’t even seem to be part of his psyche and the cab ride was easy which isn’t always the case as a Black woman trying to catch a cab in America.  Again, I am in no way saying Havana doesn’t have issues with skin color but from my perspective as an American visiting, I felt welcomed and free which is always liberating. 

-The Travel Guru

My name is Roni Faida (pronounced fie-e-da) I'm a former tour guide and a trilingual travel expert who is now traveling for fun and sharing my adventures and advice with you.

>> AND Join the Travel Guru here on 50 Shades of Black Blog for reflections on race, culture, adventures from around the world from the perspective of a black woman. 

Posted on July 27, 2015 and filed under personal stories, race, skin tone, travel.

TRINITY: Blessed, Black, Beautiful

Words by Nina Brewton | Photo by  Creative Silence

Words by Nina Brewton | Photo by Creative Silence

I won't ask for forgiveness for embracing my Blackness. I will not put it on the shelf for you to gaze upon as a novelty

Deep within my Melanin is grace beyond measure. My blackness, used against me for so long that the beatings nearly broke me

I won't apologize for owning my femininity 
I am Mother Earth, as I was created by the Creator to bring forth life anew

My hands, loving and nurturing, cradling hearts that have been broken
My smile, the sun, replenishing each seed in a cold and dark world

I will not apologize for my spirituality
I am a Believer
I am a Lover
I be the Light, as His Light shines from within

Made perfect by His Love
Sinner, yet righteous through He who created this...

Born of spirit
Reborn by the Spirit

I am a trilogy
My story three fold
I am a deity
Made in the image of The Trinity

Holy Spirit 
Alive within me for the world to see

I will not beg your pardon for loving all of humanity. I will love as God loves me
Spreading Peace, Love and Light, Divinity Alive in threes


Nina Brewton is the newest member of the 50 Shades of Black Blog Team.  Visit each week for her personal reflections into womanhood, spirituality, black identity, and inspiration.

Visit her on her website

BLACK. SELF. LOVE. Just Because I Love Me Doesn't Mean I Hate You
Slavery and Salvation...Fury and Forgiveness: Reflections of the Charleston 9

Posted on July 26, 2015 and filed under africa, Identity.