Posts filed under blog

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.

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 

President Barack Obama Delivers Powerful Eulogy for Clementa Pinckney

 Beautiful and moving, please take a moment to watch if you have not seen or heard this in full.

Obama eulogizes pastor in Charleston shooting. Obama sings Amazing Grace at funeral of Charleston shooting victim Clementa Pinckney. Washington (CNN) President Barack Obama on Friday eulogized the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, one of the victims in last week's church massacre, calling him a "man of God who lived by faith."

50 Shades of Social Media: Tumblr #BlackoutDay 6/21

This weekend saw the most recent installment of Tumblr's #BlackoutDay. 

Tumblr user T'von expect-the-greatest) first created Blackout Day in an effort to increase the presence and appreciation of black people online and on social media.  

"I got inspired to propose Blackout day after thinking “Damn, I’m not seeing enough Black people on my dash”. Of course I see a constant amount of Black celebrities but what about the regular people?"

"Blackout Day is a way for black people on social media to say 'Hey. I see you. I appreciate you. I’m here for you.' "

"Blackout Day is a way for black people on social media to say 'Hey. I see you. I appreciate you. I’m here for you.' "

"I thought about the tag #Black Friday, and making it a tradition on the first Friday of every month, because celebrating the beauty of Blackness is of the UTMOST importance. I’m really sick and tired of seeing the “European standard of beauty” prevail. It’s past time for the beauty of Black people to be showcased.  I love all people of color, but this here is for us."

Originally March 6th, 2015, #BlackOutDay quickly became a top trending hashtag in the US. Pictures, vines, selfies, and videos of black women, men, transgender, all body types and shades were quickly uploaded to Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, Vine, and Facebook.  The day, a 24 hour celebration of black and brown people,  had quickly become a point of unity for young "black tumblr" and "black twitter".

It's just a bunch of kids posting selfies, right? Why is this important? 

Representation. Being a regular tumblr user myself, the sight is heartwarming. Selfies of black young men and women often come with small anecdotes about how they had never felt comfortable posting an image of themselves online where the act is common place for young people. Many times these young black men and women felt unappreciated or had been told black people were unattractive. After seeing confident, beautiful people of all shapes and sizes on social media, some that looked like them, they felt reassured and noted that #BlackoutDay helped them to accept their own beauty. It isn't rare to see a selfie of a young individual with similar words and tears of joy and subtle apprehension under the hashtag. 

Starting as a 'first friday of the month event', Blackout Day has continued to evolve. The original blog has evolved into a movement of its own touting the unity and apprecation of black people as its banner. A new schedule aimed at consolidating posts across social media arose "Blacking out" the first day of each season this year. Get ready for #TheBlackOut coming in 2015 and get those selfies ready! Black is Beautiful!

"No matter what your skin tone is, you’re beautiful."

"No matter what your skin tone is, you’re beautiful."

"Like books and black lives", Representation matters. 

Check out some of the #BlackoutDay posts | Twitter | Tumblr 


  1. Color the FutureT'von ( expect-the-greatest), creator of BlackOutDay, speaks his piece
  2. Bring it Love. HI! Tomorrow, March 6 is Blackout Day!!. 2015-03-05.

BLACK. SELF. LOVE. - Just Because I Love Me, Doesn't Mean I Hate You

50 Shades of Black newest blogger Nina Brewton. &nbsp;Photo by Chris Charles (Creative Silence)

50 Shades of Black newest blogger Nina Brewton.  Photo by Chris Charles (Creative Silence)

“Just because I love me,

doesn't mean I hate you.”

These are words that I’ve tried to express the majority of my 35 years of life. First, as a teenager coming of age in the small city of Wichita, KS, that state’s largest “metropolitan” area yet, behind the progressive curve in regards to…well, everything it seems.

Early on I embraced my dark skin and hair

Early on I embraced my dark skin and hair

I’ve always adored my brown skin. Spending summer days soaking up every ray of sunshine I could trying to match my father’s rich, dark chocolate melanin. By the time I was fifteen, I finally began to love the other staple of my Blackness – my thick, nappy, Afro, outstretched, reaching for the sun. With this newfound boldness came a love for everything Black that many in my predominately Caucasian community weren’t quite prepared for. Including my own bi-racial mother who ethnically leaned more towards the white side of town.

My pro-Blackness intimidating to those who refused to understand why I insisted on reading Black, buying Black and dating Black: Embracing and uplifting Black.

Even now, all these years later as I voice my views on the state of race relations in America, having experienced racial profiling and harassment by white law enforcement officers, boutique employees and timid teachers myself, many don’t get it. And many more don’t care to. So many don’t understand that the concept of Black love does not equal Black supremacy or hatred for anyone who isn’t “one of us”. 

Learning these truths, I quickly got over the feeling of needing to make people understand my point of view and the experiences that created it. My heart broken and last nerve plucked trying to get others to just see the world the way I see it. Consider my way of thinking and to just have a little…empathy.

Truth is, when we love others, we'll find that we love ourselves more. It really is a continual cycle of everything that Love is. Embrace you and embrace the world. This is how lives are changed and how we make the greatest impact on the world we live in. -Nina Brewton

As I continue to grow and become more comfortable with who I am as an individual and who I am in this world and the various hamlets that I find myself a part of, I can say with every bit of confidence that, “I love you…I just love me more.”

As an individual, I’m committed to shining my Light on the world and truly loving others the way that I want to be loved. I am determined to teach others how to love me by loving me first.

What I know for sure: We shine brightest in our own house before illuminating the world around us. Love begins at home, with self. Home is where the flame is rekindled, giving us what we need to feel confident enough to approach the darkness of the world with every beam of light that is within us. As long as our hearts intention is towards loving others, we can love ourselves all we need.

Truth is, when we love others, we'll find that we love ourselves more. It really is a continual cycle of everything that Love is. Embrace you and embrace the world. This is how lives are changed and how we make the greatest impact on the world we live in.


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

Visit her on her website

Posted on June 3, 2015 and filed under blog, Identity, personal stories, race, skin tone.

50 Shades of Black Invites You to Join Descendants of Enslaved Africans on Butler Island to Create Transforming Portrait Series

Mr. Henry Brooks, ex-slave. Parks Ferry Road, Greene County, Georgia | Photo by Jack Delano;

Mr. Carlton Mackey | Photo by Bryan Meltz

In one week the creator of 50 Shades of Black, Carlton Mackey, will host a transforming photographic encounter as part of the Third Annual Butler Island Plantation Homecoming, --the much anticipated celebration and reunion of the Gullah/Geechee communities of Butler Island.  

This conceptual portrait series titled "BRINGING THE GIFTS THAT THE ANCESTORS GAVE..." was inspired by the conclusion of the late Maya Angelou's poem.

Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave. - Maya Angelou

Through a process that is as much about honoring the ancestors and spiritual transformation as it is about photography, Mackey will invite participants to spend some moments in quiet meditation while looking through the photographs of former enslaved Africans from various parts of Georgia.  Mackey was doing just this when the idea first "awakened in his spirit".

Mackey states that he saw a photo online that essentially instructed him exactly what to do.  He paired this image with one of himself and was overcome with emotion.

"I knew something powerful was about to take place because I was experiencing anxiety all morning.  I knew I needed to make a post about the fact that we had been invited to host an Open Shoot as part of the Homecoming, but I kept putting it off.  I was experiencing fear about the whole event.  This let me know that something of great magnitude was about to happen.  Virtually every endeavor that I'm about to embark upon of significance is shrouded in fear and doubt.  This is my sign that it must be something that I have to do.  I'm learning to push through it until I have the clarity of knowing what is possible is greater than the fear.  What I didn't know was that my entire plan for hosting a traditional Open Photo Shoot was about to be exchanged for a plan that literally came from "the voice" of an ancestor in a photograph." -carlton mackey

Title: "Grandma" Lawrence, ex-slave on the Mercer Reynolds place in Greene County, Georgia | Delano, Jack photographer | Date Created/Published: 1941 May.

Participants will choose a photo (or be chosen by one) to honor.  At various locations on Butler Island, Mackey will photograph participants in a similar fashion.  This pairing is meant to invoke the essence of the living participant being the embodiment of the "dream and hope of the slave".  The pool of photos will mostly be from the Library of Congress (U.S. Farm Security Administration) and have no restrictions upon use and images from the Emory University's Robert Langmuir African American Photograph Collection.  Mackey hopes to secure funds to create an exhibit of diptychs coupling the historic and the contemporary photos.

Free and Open to the Public

This photo shoot will be part of a much larger Butler Plantation Homecoming.  The Butler Plantation Homecoming pays tribute to those enslaved Africans that lived out their lives as the property of Pierce Mease Butler on Butler Island Plantation, and those that were sold in the nation's largest sale of slaves that took place in 1859.

Please join us as we celebrate the culture and heritage of the enslaved people originating from Ghana, Senegal, Guinea, Angola, Whydah and Igboland areas of Africa.

***Breaking News*** The Butler Island Plantation Slave Cemetery has been discovered! The cemetery is potentially one of the oldest documented in the state. This year's celebration will include a commemoration ceremony in honor of approximately 919 enslaved people buried in the cemetery.

The festival features a presentation by Dr. Teresa Singleton - Archaeology Professor of Syracuse University and expert in Butler Island Plantation slave artifacts; Ancestor Cemetery Commemoration; "50 Shades of Black" Open Photo Shoot; "A Taste of Geechee" food and culture; guided tours; a parade of flags; performances; music; vendors; children's activities; family fun and much more.


50 Shades of Black Creator Connects the Legendary Joyce Bryant to Elementary Kids and History Comes Alive

Was she still alive? The question lingered in the minds of 33 Hardy Elementary School’s fourth graders in San Diego, California after their teacher, Christine Bailey, introduced them to a woman they would not soon forget.

Caption: "Joyce Bryant the first Negro to play a top hotel at America's most popular resort.

Bailey had set out earlier this year to teach her students about lesser known figures in Black History and stumbled upon a woman whose beauty had graced the covers of Jet magazine and held spreads in Life and Time. A woman who was a pioneer, as the first black singer to perform at the Casino Royale in Washington, D.C. and several hotels in Miami Beach during the early 50s. Her nickname became the Black Marilyn Monroe. She is, Joyce Bryant.

“The littler known people were just as instrumental,” Bailey said. “We should pay homage to them and celebrate what they did.”

Bailey and her students became enamored with Bryant’s style — sexy, with a purpose. Bryant’s signature look included a skintight dress and stunning silver hair.

“In those past times, and some would say they still linger, a woman of Joyce Bryant’s color was not automatically considered as beautiful and gorgeous as she was,” said Jim Byers, Bryant’s biographer and producer of an upcoming documentary called Joyce Bryant: The Lost Diva.

Bryant said her flashy style served a higher purpose — to open stage doors previously closed to Black singers at white-only clubs. Although some of her songs were banned from the radio for reasons more complex than their alleged provocative content, Byers said, her vulnerability and effervescent presence transcended all barriers. Bryant was a hit.

Known as the pit bull of research by her colleagues, Bailey had taken to the Web to find out if she was still alive. In all biographies of Bryant, no date of death was listed. She finally came across the 50 Shades of Black blog where director, Carlton Mackey, had recently posted about meeting Joyce Bryant.

After a few emails, Mackey then connected her with Bryant’s niece and caretaker, Robyn LaBeaud. Black History Month for fourth graders at Hardy Elementary got a lot more interesting. Bailey shared her discovery with the class and the children wrote reports and Bryant’s life while her music played in the classroom. Then, with LaBeaud’s blessing, they wrote and sent her letters asking questions about her life.

LaBeaud read each letter out loud to her “auntie,” but was interrupted by Bryant who laughed at questions about her dancing. She clarified, she was not a dancer. A singer and actress, yes. But not a dancer.

“I don’t know where they got that from,” she said.

Shortly after the letters were exchanged, Bailey and a colleague traveled to Los Angeles to meet Bryant in person. Although the students were not allowed to travel beyond city limits, Bailey shared the pictures, music, stories and joy she experienced meeting the celebrity when she returned.

“We felt like we were like little school girls meeting a super star,” Bailey said. “We were standing outside the house making sure we were on time.”

LaBeaud, a professional chef, cooked lunch for the visitors. They were invited to sit and eat on Bryant’s bed and they spoke with her for more than two hours.

“She’s just an absolute kick in the pants,” Bailey said. “She is as lively and wonderful and sassy as you would just imagine her.”

“I’ve taught for twenty-nine and a half years and I have never had history come to life through this whole process — playing her music, writing letters, then sitting on her bed with her.”

Although Bryant now has Alzheimer’s, she hasn’t forgotten her glory days. She shared stories of her years as an elite in the music industry — rubbing shoulders with other stars like Sydney Poitier, and giving voice lessons to Denzel Washington’s wife.

“She asked us a lot of questions, which made us feel just as important as she was,” Bailey said.

“She made you feel so very comfortable. And to hear how sad it was, her whole life how people took advantage. You’d never know those things when you meet her.”

Bailey made the two-hour trip back home listening to nothing but the sound of Bryant’s voice on her car’s stereo. She placed the two portraits she was given on the walls of her classroom. For certain assignments she still plays the music for the children.

On one special occasion, she and all her students stood up, pressing their legs together imitating Bryant’s iconic dress and sang along to her song. It was in that moment Bailey knew the “teaching moment” of a lifetime.

“I hope they learned that you can be what you want to be if you put your mind to it,” LeBeaud said.

“I think what she taught the kids, and what they picked up is you can be what you want to be. The sky is the limit.”

—Danielle B. Douez

Emory University Grad
 Psychology 2013,
Freelance Writer & 50 Shades of Black Contributor

Meeting the Legendary Joyce Bryant by Carlton Mackey

Joyce Bryant: The Most Famous Woman I Never Heard Of by Carlton Mackey

Posted on September 20, 2014 and filed under blog, education, history, sexuality.

The High Five: The Day a Brother Invented the World's Most Famous Salute

high 5-history2.jpg

The High Five - The Day a Brother Invented the World's Most Famous Salute.

Have you ever reached your hand high in the air for an awesome High Five?  Ever wondered who was the "first" to do it?  Well, in this amazing documentary you'll learn a lot more than you ever thought you could in 10 minutes about the high 5, baseball history, and the first openly gay athlete in any major sport...and no he isn't Jason Collins.  

The High Five - The Legacy of Glenn Burke.

50 Shades of Black examines Sexuality and Skin Tone in the Formation of Identity.

Posted on July 28, 2014 and filed under blog, history, Identity, Homophobia, LGBT, personal stories, sexuality.

Lessons In Colour - Lupita Nyongo Inspired Photo Shoot and Magazine Spread

In January 50 Shades of Black reported how Lupita Nyong'o dazzled in Dazed and Confused Magazine spread.  Inspired by that shoot, 50 Shades of Black featured artist and photographer of our BEAUTIFUL IN EVERY SHADE Open Photo Shoot on the campus of Emory University, Breonca Trofort, shot this amazing spread published by Afro Style Magazine.

On her Blog Trofort reflects:

Playing off of [Lupita's] editorial, I wanted to do a male fashion shoot focusing on the contrast of the elements of color, found in the make up, wardrobe, background, and prop choice. Yesterday, I had the opportunity to execute this concept “Lessons in Colour” with a collaborative effort from an amazing team consisting of African Model Kwabena Agyemang, MUA Danielle M, and Wardrobe Stylist Dallas.


Check out the featured spread by Breonca Trofort in the latest Afro Style Magazine

Posted on July 27, 2014 and filed under art, blog, fashion, press.

Eastern Europe's first black mayor opens up to 50 Shades of Black in Exclusive Interview

Eastern Europe's first black mayor opens up to Ross Oscar Knight about race, skin tone, gender equality, family and politics.

Eastern Europe's first black mayor opens up to Ross Oscar Knight about race, skin tone, gender equality, family and politics.

Today Ross Oscar Knight interviewed Mayor Peter Bossman of Piran, Slovenia. Slovenia, part of the former Yugoslavia, was the first country to gain its independence in 1991. Now part of the European Union, the country received ample media attention after Bossman was elected its first black mayor in 2010. The interview details the story of how Bossman fled Ghana in 1977 and eventually settled in Slovenia to become a doctor. Bossman and his wife are parents of two biracial daughters. During the discussion Bossman speaks of pride in his African heritage and how he has balanced his identity with Slovenian culture. 

More on this story from 50 Shades of Black.

Arts + Craft Radio: From Idea to Opening Night feat. 50 Shades of Black

Where does an idea come from?  How do you take that idea from concept to a tangible art form? What preparations need to be made for opening night? These and other questions were at the heart of Episode 5 of Arts + Craft Radio, a podcast exploring process, innovation, and what it takes to be creative with Carla and Dom Brady.

Guests included are: 

- Andrea Chung, San Diego based artist 
- Michael Rooks, Wieland Family Curator of Modern & Contemporary Art 
Mike Germon, Atlanta based artist 
- Sam Parker, Atlanta based artist 
-Carlton Mackey, Creator of 50 Shades of Black

Episode 5 of #ArtsxCraft premiered on

Posted on June 10, 2014 and filed under blog, press.

Brian Kamanzi: My Story as a South African Indian Ugandan

My name is Brian, in 1990 I was born to a South African Indian mother and a Ugandan father in Mthatha, a small city located in the hilly region of what is still often referred to as the Transkei in the heart of the Eastern Cape.

During Apartheid the Transkei (or Republic of Transkei was a designated Bantustan for the Xhosa.

This is my home.

When I introduce myself as someone who grew up in Mthatha it is often accompanied with a great deal of surprise.. And more often than not I am prompted to prove my authenticity by answering a series of questions.. Because, I mean, why would I be from Mthatha right? *sigh*

Surprising as it may be the Transkei has been home for a fairly large, diverse and reasonably well integrated immigrant community for several decades. Many internationals in the area, including my father, were employed by what was then called the University of Transkei. It was there that the unlikely union of my parents began, in the midst of turbulent race relations across South Africa in what was a small town with entire neighbourhoods filled with academics from Kenya, Poland, Uganda, India and many more.. Sounds romantic doesn’t it?

In reality it was probably not as integrated and accepting as I imagined.. But for now please humour my romanticism’s…

It was in this environment that I began my early childhood life, in a suburb called Fort Gale. This suburb was largely owned by the University and many families of the staff lived in apartment complexes and homes across our neighbourhood. In my early years I was very fortunate to be surrounded by several members of my fathers side of the family from Kenya and Uganda. So much of my earliest memories are of thoughts and experiences I shared with them.. They were all older than me and I looked up to them immensely.

Most of my mothers side of the family lived in Durban and while we did not see each other often, I felt a strong connection to them whenever we saw one another. Regular visits from my grandmother often included every Indian dish she could fit into her luggage that would survive the 6 hour bus trip on our roads. I looked forward to those sweet meats and curries and strange deserts packed meticulously in her cases. I remember she always used to ask if we ate “hot” food, this confused me because my parents cooked curries regularly and I didn’t think anything by it.. So answered that same question – year after year. In the early years it did not occur to me in any sort of profound way that I was biracial.. Or that it was unusual, it simply just was. I liked fried green bananas from Uganda in the summer and I loved the jalebi in the spring time from Grandmother’s visits.. That was my experience of my heritage, through our conversations, through shared meals and through the stories of the old days in far away lands. I assumed this is how it was for everyone.. In some ways I was right.. But in painful ways I was very wrong.

As I grew older I started to become aware of this thing called”race”. It was something quite unfamiliar in my house, we didn’t speak about people this way. When it came to start navigating school this started to become an important thing. “What are you?”. In all honesty more often than not this question was answered for me in one way or another. “Well your dad is Ugandan so that makes you Ugandan”. “Doesn’t that make you coloured”. “You kind of look more Indian”. If I’m to completely honest, I was very uncomfortable about all this growing up. I hated these questions. I am ashamed to admit that at several moments, particularly in Primary school, I lied about my heritage in the hope that I would gain the elusive acceptance with my Indian classmates. I wanted to be like them. They had a special regard for their culture, they were always talking about some community event or something, I desperately wanted to be a part of it and feel like I belonged. But I could not. At the end of the day, I was not Indian enough.

By the time I had reached high school my extended family had all left the Transkei. There where not that many young Ugandans in my age group but we all knew each other and in most cases we were all friends. In all fairness we were not the most cultural lot, growing up spending most of our days watching British and American television and playing video games we did not share a collective cultural identity.. At least not one that I was aware of. I could not find what I was looking for there, I felt. So I kept trying, probably not in the most productive ways but trying nonetheless.

Family holidays *Ugh*
My parents are workaholics, during the year there is rarely a moment when they aren’t doing something productive. So when it came to the end of the year they were adamant that we go on holiday to explore the country and get away from it all. They love nature. I hated these trips. We always went to obscure but beautiful parts of the country, and while I was always grateful to be there I dreaded going outside. Walking around town with my entire family made me very self conscious about how other people where looking at us. I was and I still am ashamed about how I felt about this. I know I shouldn’t have cared but I couldn’t ignore how different we looked to the other families. We all looked so different from each other. I felt somehow embarrassed about what I am, very sensitive to how other people would treat us, increasingly bitter. I regret feeling like this on those trips, it was an amazing opportunity to see the country but no matter where we went I couldn’t bring myself to care about what the landscapes looked like or what the wildlife was up to…

I started to become aware that I had a chip on my shoulder, for some reason I felt defensive and in a sense bitter with the world. I had really begun defining myself in opposition to others. I started to think of myself as an other. This was not how I was raised. My mother would have been very upset if she ever knew I was looking at life like that.. So I kept it to myself.

I was lucky enough to gain entry into the University of Cape Town after high school. I was incredibly excited to head off to the big city. This was a chance to redefine myself. To be just Brian and not have every stare at me when I walk with my family through a mall or when my father fetches me from a local barber shop. I was finally free. Or so I thought. Within minutes of arriving into the residence where I spent my first two years I was faced with that painstaking moment where you need to decide where you’re going to sit in the cafeteria. As I looked out into the hall it may as well have been colour coded. At a glance, white students sat with white students, black students with black students.. And well you get the idea. Luckily I spotted a senior of mine from high school sitting in a fairly mixed table (although it was predominantly Indian) and I chose my seat. It took me a very long time before I developed the confidence to break the barriers that existed in my own mind and decide to sit at other tables. I really wish I had been braver sooner.

Even though it took me quite a while to break out of my comfort zone I was lucky enough to befriend many students from all walks of life quite early on, many of which had similar identity problems to me. I often reflect on many conversations with my dear late friend Steven who was of Taiwanese ancestry but had spent his whole life in South Africa. He had a wonderful spirit and an approach to life that really impacted my thinking. Steven was the among first of the many young people I would go on to meet here who were unashamedly themselves… And were okay with that

In my first year I met a group of students who were born and raised in Uganda. We quickly became very good friends, I was fascinated about them. I gorged myself on their stories and descriptions of home. I learnt the slang and was quickly starting to feel like I was part of a community where I belonged. There are many East African’s here and they formed quite a close knit group, they embraced me warmly and I appreciated it deeply. For the first time many people sounded excited to hear that I was biracial, apparently it was interesting. I started to speak proudly about my heritage… and then as though the universe had conspired to respond to my encounters my father had arranged for us to visit Uganda at the end of that year. This was it, I thought. This would be the moment where I could find out where I belonged… Were I would feel some kind of spiritual connection to my fatherland and magically everything would make sense once and for all…

As you’ve probably guessed my trip didn’t really work out that way. But that’s another story. I hope you found this interesting, let me know what you think and look out for Part 2!

Photo and story submitted by Brian Kamanzi
More of Brian's writings may be found on his website

This is our 15th weekly personal story in a series curated by the creator of 50 Shades of BLACK, in partnership with I Love Ancestry called BRIDGING THE GAP featuring contemporary stories of people like YOU from around the world. 

Each week we will feature one of YOUR stories about your ancestors, your heritage, and/or your coming to understand/celebrate your OWN identity.

We personally invite you to join us on this journey of discovery and healing. Share your stories, find your voice, speak your truths.


Finding Myself in Belle: a review by a biracial woman in America

This film is inspired by the true story of Dido Elizabeth Belle.

This film is inspired by the true story of Dido Elizabeth Belle.

“I don’t know that I find myself anywhere.”

Thus responds Dido Elizabeth Belle (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) in the movie Belle when asked if she finds herself in a book she is reading.

As a biracial woman, I could almost say the same today. I don’t see myself as the subject of many books or movies—which is why 50 Shades of Black is so refreshing, and why I was excited to see Belle in theaters last week.

It tells the true story of a girl born to an enslaved African woman and a white aristocrat in 18th century England. After her mother dies and her father sets out to sea, she is raised lovingly by her father’s uncle and aunt in high society.

The story situates itself around the infamous Zong case brought before Belle’s adoptive great-uncle, Lord Mansfield (Tom Wilkinson), chief justice in Britain’s supreme court. In the case, merchants sued an insurer for monetary compensation for the 143 slaves they purposefully drowned at sea.

Painting attributed to Hohann Zoffany of Dido Belle with her cousin&nbsp; Elizabeth

Painting attributed to Hohann Zoffany of Dido Belle with her cousin Elizabeth

Belle learns of the Zong massacre through her love-interest, an aspiring lawyer named John Davinier (Sam Reid). She shares his convictions about the injustice in treating human beings as property. Together, they attempt to cut away at Lord Mansfield’s inclination to protect the institution of slavery (and his reputation).

This is a story about a woman whose unique position and background created opportunity for the moral advancement of a nation. She seized the opportunity with courage and grace. In that sense I connected strongly with the movie and Belle’s character. Being placed, by God or by chance, at the intersection between divided worlds creates a tremendous opportunity to reexamine unspoken and written rules that dictate the status quo, into which we do not neatly fit.

We are the enigmas that breathe humanity into the people whom hatred, ignorance and bitterness abstract. That is what is captured so well in this movie. Belle’s white family is forced to see black in full human form, with all her intelligence, beauty and virtue. They cannot deny her, as they have already loved her as their own child. What proceeds from this buildup of cognitive dissonance is Lord Manfield’s uplifting and cathartic speech on the immorality of the Zong massacre and the sense that Belle is truly an equal.

That being said, I left the movie wanting more depth and less melodrama.

In one scene Belle desperately rubs her skin, as if trying to remove the color. This was too brief a snapshot of the tumult she must have experienced in coming to terms with the complexity of her identity. Confronting people with the “problem” her existence poses to their beliefs is a scary place to be as a young woman. I expected more attention to the difficult process of developing that sense of self.

That process for me has involved surmounting innumerable seeds of self-doubt planted by subtle gestures and overt comments of “you don’t belong.” My attempts to claim a place in either the white or black communities constantly meet resistance even in the 21st century. It is a back-and-forth dance of asserting myself and retreating in rejection. My parents were open to discussing the issue, yet it is still difficult to navigate. I can only imagine it must’ve been much more difficult in Belle’s conservative upbringing.

It was also difficult to believe Belle was so incensed about equality, yet demonstrated little interest in her black heritage, or developing a connection with the few black people she had contact with. As she grows up, Belle—along with the audience, is sheltered from the harsh realities of the time. Only one other black character enters the screen and Belle’s interaction with her is limited.

Danielle is a writer and special contributor to 50 Shades of Black. &nbsp;Her contribution, "Papa Am I Black?" was featured in  50 Shades of Black Vol 1

Danielle is a writer and special contributor to 50 Shades of Black.  Her contribution, "Papa Am I Black?" was featured in 50 Shades of Black Vol 1

I was disappointed in the predictable and safe delivery of an infinitely complex story. I understand it is too much to ask of a single work of art, and the first of its kind, to tell all aspects of the experience of living between color lines. There is but so much you can explore when taking on historical fiction. At least, it’s a start. I am hopeful more will come in varied forms, and that soon other Belle’s and I will find ourselves more often reflected in the world around us.

—Danielle B. Douez

Emory University Grad
 Psychology 2013,
Freelance Writer & 50 Shades of Black Contributor

Posted on May 22, 2014 and filed under art, blog, family, film, history, personal stories, race, skin tone.

The Stars Line Up: Rashan Ali, Ross Oscar Knight, Christopher Barker, & Fahamu Pecou

Ross Oscar Knight interviewed by Rashan Ali on Atlanta &amp; Co (NBC)

Ross Oscar Knight interviewed by Rashan Ali on Atlanta & Co (NBC)

Sometimes the stars just line up.  Today was one of those days.

You would have thought I was going to be on TV based on how much I was smiling and pushing folks out of the way at work to get in front of the screen to watch what was about to come on.

Today's special guest on Atlanta & Company, a live weekday show featuring local businesses, events, and entertainment (aired on local NBC Affiliate station 11Alive) was Ross Oscar Knight.

Literally moments before Ross walked into the studio for the live broadcast, he and I were on the phone debriefing an international call we just had exploring a potential partnership with 50 Shades of Black in South Africa.  You see, not only is Knight featured in our coffee table book, and not only did he host the inaugural Open Photo Shoot of the BEAUTIFUL IN EVERY SHADE Campaign, he is emerging as what may become an official role as our International Project Coordinator.  And for the sake of today's interview, Ross is clearly a celebrated speaker, author, and photographer.

Clamoring to get a glimpse of the segment where he discussed his latest work HIM -In His Moment, an intimate profile of the wedding experience from the groom's perspective, I couldn't have been more excited for this talented, driven, focused young man.

Ross Oscar Knight, Author - Cover Design, Christopher Barker

Ross Oscar Knight, Author - Cover Design, Christopher Barker

I was equally excited about the coverage and emphasis that the show placed on the cover of the book itself.  Designed the Artistic Director of our book, Christopher Barker, the cover of Knight's first book is a stunning manifestation of elegance and a clear articulation of a vision that could only happen between Knight and Barker.

Twitter: @50ShadesBlack

Twitter: @50ShadesBlack

What was equally as amazing was that Knight, with the Barker illustration in the background, was being interviewed by Rashan Ali!  She and I spent an hour together in the 'green room' at Emory University prior to her featured panel with Fahamu Pecou.  In a lively, heartfelt conversation we discussed the significance of the work...not simply in general but in the very real ways it connected to her own life.  During the panel conversation with Pecou, I felt moved and compelled by Rashan's powerful witness.  I tweeted (and truly meant) this message during the show to which replied.

...and guess what?  That panel host that I referred to...Fahamu Pecou is also a featured artist of 50 Shades of Black.  As a matter of fact, he and his wife to be grace the cover of the book!

Cover design by Christopher Barker featuring Fahamu Pecou and Jamila Crawford based on photograph by Terra Coles.

Cover design by Christopher Barker featuring Fahamu Pecou and Jamila Crawford based on photograph by Terra Coles.

Sometimes the stars just line up and the degrees of separation decrease to even less than six.  We couldn't be more proud of everyone on the team for their amazing individual and collective success.

Show them all some love!!

Reflections of an Undercover Black Girl from San Francisco

My skin is tan. My hair is wavy. In Nina Simone’s “Four Women” I might be considered a Saffonia, though my father was neither rich nor white.

As a child living in a 1970’s San Francisco, I looked exactly like what I was: a nappy-headed mixed child. Born to a fair-skinned, Caucasian mother and a medium-toned Black/Italian/Cherokee father, I have been told I look Brazilian or Cape Verdean or just Plain Ol' Regular White Girl. As I aged, my skin naturally lightened and my hair relaxed of its own accord.

At the age of nine, I moved to the Midwest. I wasn’t exactly Black or White or what was easily recognized, and my racial backstory became a constant topic. As a nappy-headed mixed child in San Francisco, I never lied about my ethnicity; there was no need for it. But, living in the Midwest, even my maternal grandmother held issue with my color; she lied to protect herself against the judgment she believed would be passed by others and, I believe, her own loathing of her non-White grandchild. Following suit, I began to tell the same lie. I hated the curliness of my hair and spent hours each day straightening it, trying to look White. White is right…right? I don’t believe that now, but I believed it then.

Living with White family members, I internalized the bigotry around me. As I matured, I finally accepted who I was; I remembered who I was; I forgave myself for believing those fear-induced lies and again became…A Mixed Girl. I am very proud to be a Mixed Girl. I am more than Black. I am more than White. I am more than simply “Other”.

While there is more to my story, I will say that as an Undercover Black Girl, I have been privy to some of the most unbelievable racist views and statements. See, I don’t look the part, so I hear it all. And, even when some know, they still share bigoted parts of themselves, I believe, in an attempt to better understand the things they don’t. I will never know the racism my Black brothers and sisters experience, because I am rarely perceived for being what I am. But, I have seen much. And my truth is this: racial fear, racial prejudice, entitlement, “White is right”, self-imposed limitations, and denial of all these things are very real.

I am an Undercover Black Girl—a Mixed Girl—whose life experience has been mostly that of a White Girl. I am an American Girl, so add that to the equation, ‘cause most of my International friends don’t have this same issue with race, though they still deal with plenty of ‘isms. I have faith in the changes that can be made in this country, in the new conversations that can take place, but everyone has to be willing to get dirty…to get naked about their fears, their expectations and their suppositions. ‘Cause it’s the subtle, clothed, barely buried-beneath-the-surface stuff that really is the most telling.

~Stacy Jethroe

Photo submitted by Stacy Jethroe


This is our 14th weekly personal story in a series curated by the creator of 50 Shades of BLACK, in partnership with I Love Ancestry called BRIDGING THE GAP featuring contemporary stories of people like YOU from around the world. 

Each week we will feature one of YOUR stories about your ancestors, your heritage, and/or your coming to understand/celebrate your OWN identity.

We personally invite you to join us on this journey of discovery and healing. Share your stories, find your voice, speak your truths.



50 Shades of BLACK vs. 50 Shades of HUMANITY

The title 50 Shades of Black is a word play. What is often lost in the word play is its reference to sexuality. A major function of our platform is to examine the ways in which both sexuality AND race are constructed and the similar ways in which they are regulated, made exotic, placed into a structural hierarchy. We seek to explore the intersection of both as well as the ways in which normative views are established and maintained. Both represent a spectrum of identities and both represent real life people like you and me who are trying to make sense of those identities in a very narrowly defined framework. It started off with voices of people who see themselves as and identify as black. The spectrum was unbelievable.

It moved quickly to include voices of people from India and other Asian countries, Brazil, and varying African countries who offered insight into the global influence of skin tone in the shaping of identities across the world and in hetero-normative views. The closer you fit patriarchal, heterosexual, european, Christo-centric norms in look, actions, belief, the better you faired across the globe. We see ourselves as contributors to a nuanced conversations about identity formation in the world.

Because "Black" is stigmatized and, based on the framework and construction of race (as opposed to identity), is often marginalized, we seek to affirm black identity...across the spectrum of the diaspora and among the many people who seek to align themselves with it. We also seek to affirm the LBGTQ community. "There can be no hierarchy of oppression".  At the intersection of sex and race is a depth of assumptions about masculinity and femininity and, believe it or not, the assumptions are different based on shade AND sexuality. 

When we established our signature empowerment campaign and called it beautiful in every shade, it was b/c of how clear it was made through the stories that we received that people didn't believe it to be true. Now in incremental ways, people who identify ALL KINDS OF WAYS are appreciating the ways in which we are working to critically examine AND affirm.

Someone asked why don't you change it to 50 Shades of Humanity then?

I'll change the name to 50 Shades of Humanity when people find it as easy to say Black as they do Humanity.

Carlton Mackey
Creator of 50 Shades of Black

Posted on May 7, 2014 and filed under activism, blog, LGBT.

BEAUTIFUL IN EVERY SHADE: One Year of Affirming Beauty

Tomorrow marks the 1 year anniversary of the Inaugural BEAUTIFUL IN EVERY SHADE (TM) Open Photo Shoot.  Actually, the inaugural photo shoot wasn't even recognized as part of the trademarked BEAUTIFUL IN EVERY SHADE Campaign when we held it 1 year ago (tomorrow).  

Celebrated, international photographer and photo-culturalist Ross Oscar Knight and I planned a singular event to celebrate the beauty and diversity of the many people who supported 50 Shades of Black, a grassroots movement seeking to utilize the power of art and personal narrative to not only critically examine the role of sexuality and skin tone in the formation of identity, but to celebrate and affirm the beauty of every human being.  Little did we know that a year later, we would have photographed nearly 400 beautiful people all across the world including Africa and Brazil...holding photo shoots on college campuses, at cultural events like an Indian Garba, and at the largest independent book festival in the country.

We look back to that day with amazement at the strength found in community, in the power in each of your stories, and in the reality that we've only just begun.  With BEAUTIFUL IN EVERY SHADE (TM) Open Photo Shoots being planned in other countries and in other parts of the United States, we are committed to our work of "Spreading Beauty".  With so many messages that tell us that we are not, our motto is >> 

Wonderroot Podcast: Interview with the Creator of 50 Shades of Black

In this WonderRoot Artist Feature Carlton Mackey, creator of "50 Shades of Black", talks with WR Interactive Media Manager Floyd Hall about the origins of the project, its evolution as a platform for dialogue about race, sexuality, and identity, and why the tag line "Beautiful In Every Shade" is so meaningful.

For more information on 50 Shades of Black, visit:

WonderRoot is an Atlanta-based non-profit arts and service organization with a mission to unite artists and community to inspire positive social change. By providing production facilities to Atlanta-based artists and coordinating arts-based service programs, WonderRoot empowers artists to be proactive in engaging their communities through arts-based service work. For more information, please visit:

Introducing The New Cool Kids On The Scene: The Tenth Zine

As a black, gay writer, I’m always happy when I see people from my community planting a flag in the world of media, whether it be behind the scenes, writing or designing, or giving me LIFE in pixelated in pixelated form in glossy pages or on my computer screen.

Earlier this month, I’d heard about a new magazine geared toward the black gay community called The Tenth, the first independently published project from the Brooklyn-based Pink Rooster Studio. Recently my 50 Shades of BLACK cohorts, Carlton Mackey and Chris Barker, and I checked out the online site and we all raved at what came across our screens.

The creators of Pink Rooster Studio, &nbsp; André Verdun Jones, Khary Septh, Kyle Banks

The creators of Pink Rooster Studio, André Verdun Jones, Khary Septh, Kyle Banks

In the past, friends and I have complained about black gay magazines focusing too heavily on the fluff of party scenes, well-oiled Adonis models, flyers, ads, flyers and more ads. But The Tenth, though only offering a glimpse into its pages on the site, seems to skew left of middle and simultaneously travels the roads of art, fashion, sex appeal and literature.

Boasting more than 80 contributors for its first bi-annual issue, which was released on April 10, The Tenth promises offerings from the likes of performance artist Andre Singleton, fashion designer Telfar Clemens, photographers Idris & Tony, activist Darnell Moore, contemporary artist Rashaad Newsome, and literary critic William Johnson.

"We really talk about what's happening now in our culture and have no agenda to represent an image or counter any perception. We just want to play in the sandbox with other exceptional black gay boys and be faggy and angry and smart and silly and beautiful and ugly and radical and perhaps more than anything just learn to trust each other through collaboration. It really has been an incredible experience," said the founders of Pink Rooster studios to Huffington Post.

"The work is born out of our queerness. We know that we, as black gay men will always be forced into a box. This is us coloring that box, and that is a very queer thing. Making anything beautiful, elegant, and joyous," they added.

Yet, most intriguing, so far, is the Courtney Harvier helmed short film "The Masters." Perhaps playing on the layered opening phrase of “I Saw Africa On His Mind,” the stunning visual piece showcases black men, slaves, on the plantations of the south as they work the fields and their master’s home, all the while yearning for the freedom of their homeland, as well as the solace and familiarity of each other’s bodies and hearts. It’s provocative and immediately enthralling and undeniably an awesome teaser for the work that’s the come from The Tenth.

If you want to know more, check out The Tenth website here. And be sure to watch "The Masters" below. 

Nicholas Harbor

Freelance Journalist, storyteller and blogger for 50 Shades of BLACK

Posted on April 19, 2014 and filed under activism, africa, art, blog, Body Image, LGBT, Masculinity, sexuality.