It’s been more than a year since 50 Shades of BLACK was first conceived by Carlton Mackey. And after months of brainstorming, planning, hard work and simply believing, 50 Shades of BLACK finally saw the release of “50 Shades of Black Vol. 1: The Conversation,” the first in a series of coffee table books meant to show the beauty in diversity and sexuality, and stir up dialogue about the realities, both good and bad, of the lives all people and the skin they embody.
For the book release, several of the book’s writers, including Fahamu Pecou, Alvin Agarrat, Afia Cayee, Charles Stephens, Cree Southern Belle Davis, and Fikrejesus Amahazion all gathered together with Mackey at Churchill Grounds in the heart of Downtown Atlanta on June 22, 2103 to share pieces from the book with a crowd of welcoming fans and supporters all gathered on a warm Saturday evening to experience “50 Shades of BLACK” firsthand.
From the start, the audience was given quite the aural experience as they were serenaded by writer and cello player, Okorie Johnson, who supplied a deep and undulating soundscape reminiscent of melancholy chamber music.
And like the music, the readings themselves were abundant in feelings and moods, ranging from the confusion of Danielle Douez’s “Papa, Am I Black?” as she, as a biracial person, questioned her blackness and what that meant for her, or the pain of Christelle’s “Blacker The Berry,” in which the writer shed tears, both on paper and in person, about the criticisms dark-skinned women face about their color every day.
Others, though, like Johnson, covered lighter topics - no pun intended - providing the audience with great moments of laughter as he read his piece, "Lisa Bonet," with which he recalled his love for actress and how it wasn’t her “high yella” features – like the ones most ‘90s actors had – that attracted him to her, but her inner being, and how it led him to the woman he would eventually marry.
Besides being treated to exclusive readings, the audience was also on hand for the big reveal about 50 Shades of BLACK’s next venture, 50 Shades of BLACK Music, a new branch of the project which will focus on celebrating the diverse sounds of African-American music and produce original music, such as a new mixtape by Kwame Phillips. And there to promote the new venture, as well as the dynamic cover art for the mixtape, was Craig Flux Singleton, the first artist to partner with 50 Shades Of BLACK Music.
But perhaps one of the best and most engaging moments of the night came when the writers, Mackey and the book’s art director, Christopher Barker, all gathered together for a discussion with the supporters. Fielding questions from the audience, everyone engaged in dialogues ranging from the beauty and storied pasts of all skin tones, to the ways in which racism has transformed, to the need for ally help in combatting discrimination and to the struggles of being an LGBT person of color.
But the heart of the conversation, rightfully, came from the source of its inspiration: Mackey’s son, Isaiah. At its core, “50 Shades of BLACK” is a letter of love, wisdom and hope from father to son, a blueprint for the younger generation to use to see the world through eyes that appreciate diversity of all kinds and to speak from their mouths words of freedom that invite acceptance and equality into our everyday lives instead of stifling them with words of hate.
And as Mackey’s wife, Kari, thanked the writers for sharing their stories, thus providing a blueprint for their son, the audience got to see the true intent and power of the book; that, by telling the stories of our lives, this collective of artists and writers can spark “the conversations” necessary to ensure that Isaiah and all of the other children of his generation and beyond will walk a world that is freer than the one we walk today.
Luckily for us, this only the first of many books – and book releases – to come from 50 Shades of BLACK.
Photos by Mariangela Jordan