Posts filed under community

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.

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 

Being 12: "What Are You?" | Kids Demonstrate Their Interactions with Race.

For many, race becomes a factor in their lives even at an early age. In this video, nine kids discuss their interactions with race. Are middle schoolers old enough to understand something many adults cannot come to a consensus on? Perhaps it's time to start listening more to our children.

These kids know what they are talking about. While children seem to be able to understand and conceptualize how race affects their lives in certain situations, it's perplexing, at least, as to why there is such a lack of consensus on race for adults. 

Originally found through, Upworthy contributor Maz Ali goes on to articulate that as our media continues to report on racially charged events there is still dispute as to the racial significance of these cases. I invite you to check out the statistics there.

But he ends his article with a poignant statement: 

When a group of 12-year-olds this diverse can easily identify ways that racial and ethnic identity play out negatively in their lives, maybe the question shouldn't be, "Is race still a factor?"

Dorian Capers is a contributing blogger for 50 Shades of Black. Using Tumblr for Good; Venturing into the Facebook comment section so you won't have to. 

Posted on July 20, 2015 and filed under community, family, Identity, personal stories, race, Body Image, current events.

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.

Raven-Symoné & Race: Can Black People Afford To See Themselves As Colorless Americans?

Black Flag.jpg

When it comes to America, the issue of race is always ever present. But blackness and the experience of being black have been a topic at the forefront of our nation for the past several months thanks to high-profile police attacks, the much talked about New Black ideology and commentary about blackness from artists like Pharrell and Childish Gambino.

This weekend, Raven-Symone found herself at the center of that conversation when she appeared on OWN's "Where Are They Now?" and spoke with Oprah about her sexuality and her race. Though many fans likely were unsure of what the typically tight-lipped star would say about her identity, she shocked many black and LGBT people when she told Oprah that she doesn't want to be labeled as "African-American" or "Gay."

Raven: In that topic of dating and love, I knew when I was like 12. I was looking at everything. I don’t need language, I don’t need a categorizing statement for it. I don’t want to be labeled ‘gay.’ I want to be labeled a human who loves human.

I’m tired of being labelled. I’m an American! I’m not an African-American. I’m an American.

OprahOh Lord, girl! Don’t set this Twitter on fire. What did you just say? Stop, stop stop the tape right now!

Raven: I will say this: I don’t know where my roots go to. I don’t know how far back they go. I can’t go on…you know… I don’t know how far back and I don’t know what country in Africa I’m from. But I do know that my roots are in Louisiana. I’m an American. And that’s a colorless person — because we are all people. I have lots of things running through my veins.

OprahYou know you’re gonna get a lot of flack for saying you’re not African-American. You know that, right? So I want you to say what you really mean by that.

RavenI don’t label myself. What I mean by that is I’m an American. I have darker skin. I have a nice, interesting grade of hair. I connect with Caucasian, I connect with Asian, I connect with Black, I connect with Indian. I connect with each culture.

OprahYou are a melting pot in one body.

RavenAren’t we all? Isn’t that what America is supposed to be? That’s what it’s supposed to be. I personally feel that way.

Hearing Raven say that personally came as a shock to me and when I wound up discussing the video with a couple of my friends, I found myself in a pecular place, trying to both defend and define blackness while trying to find a connection with Raven's words.

On one hand, I can understand why Raven, as well as many other black and gay and bisexual people, would want to do away with labels.

Labels are difficult to live with when you're not a part of the favored majority and your particular labels come with negative connotations or bring about invasive and insensitive questions from those outside of your community.

Who wants to have to live with a label that's not respected by their peers? And I imagine that's quite difficult when you're rich, black and famous and most of your peers in entertainment are rich and white, and yet you, despite having climbed the financial ladder, are still subject to the same issues, harassment, and questions that every other black person is subject to. I imagine it's even harder when your peers don't even understand your struggles or culture as a black person.

However, simply choosing to cast those labels out of your personal life doesn't solve the root of the problem associated with those labels, which in this instance is racism and homophobia.

Too often people of darker skin tones are stereotyped and vilified in the eyes of the world, and they're oppressed, attacked and violated for it. Even worse, the racism in America has become so refined that it doesn't even have to be expressed through violence to exist. These days, racism lives mainly through the disparity of treatment and opportunites between darker skinned and lighter skinned people.

As it stands, blackness in America comes with the reality that we never come to the table with a blank slate. Our label, our slate, always comes with negative comments, thoughts and connotations. 

In all honesty, I wish that we as black people could just wipe our slate clean and be seen and treated as equals by the rest of the world. And though getting rid of the label of African-American may bring about changes when it comes to our own selves, it doesn't necessarily change the way the rest of the world, mainly white people, see us.

So what good does it do to throw away titles like African-American and Gay when the treatment of these two communities will still be the same?

What good does it do to promote the idea that America is colorless when the reality is that America is full of people of color with rich histories, lives and cultures that far too often are mocked, appropriated or made invisible?

And what good does it do to be a black public figure that is discarding the label of African-American when so many black people in the lower classes don't have the same social and economic privilege to do such an act. 

Perhaps I’m being too narrow minded and perhaps I’m just stuck to the old ways of thinking within the black community. 

But in my eyes, the harsh and inescapable truth is that It does no good for black people to throw away the title of African-American for the sake of being just a "colorless American" when the people who run America, which is white people, remind us every day that we are black. And that that blackness, as we've seen in the latest police attacks and cover ups, is something that is seen by too many white people as something less than human.


Nicholas Harbor

Freelance Journalist, storyteller and blogger for 50 Shades of BLACK

Posted on October 8, 2014 and filed under community, Identity, race, skin tone.

Is There Such A Thing As "The New Black"?

Source: Mizzou News

Source: Mizzou News

For years now, I've been hearing the phrase Millenials or Black Millenials when it comes to the young generation of the black community and our way of navigating the modern world. But recently I've begun hearing less of the term Millenials and more of the phrase "The New Black." 

The first time I can actually recall hearing the phrase and having it sink in for thought is when Pharrell appeared on "Oprah's Prime" and explained his definition of what The New Black is, which he says he's at the forefront of and embodies.

"The New Black doesn't blame other races for our issues. The New Black dreams and realizes that it's not pigmentation: it's a mentality and it's either going to work for you or it's going to work against you. And you've got to pick the side you're going to be on," says Pharrell

"I recognize that there are issues. We get judged on our skin....I don't allow that to run my life. I don't live my life trying to be black. What I do is, I nurture my curiosity in music. I'm proud to be what I am. The New Black is a mentality. You don't do things because you're black. You do things because you're genuinely interested in something," he adds.

After hearing this, I remember trying to soak in the whole interview and not having time to fully process those statements.  But what I do remember vividly was how offended most of my friends were about his statement that The New Black doesn't blame other races for our issues, which seemed to completely overlook the effects of slavery and the state of oppression, poverty and violence that black people still live in - especially the ones who aren't rich and have a "Happy" image.

While I applaud the idea of instilling pride and creativity and self-love in my fellow black people, I also know that's only half the work. It's not about just changing the mentality of black people; it's also about changing the way the rest of the world sees, values and treats us. Because it's fair to say that many of the black men and women who have been victims of racism, inequality and (police) violence thought well of themselves, but that didn't stop them from being oppressed or extinguished by racist people.

It wasn't until I heard the phrase brought up again in a recent Hot 97 interview with Childish Gambino that I heard the phrase, or at least the concept, brought up in a way that seemed to resonate with me. While chatting with host Peter Rosenberg, Gambino talked about the racism he still endures despite his stardom and his so-called non-threatening appearance.

"Being young and black in America is schizophrenic. You have to kind of change who you are a little bit all the time to for people to even respect. Like, for people to even understand you. I have to hold myself a certain way and wear a certain thing to get a cab, and sometimes I may not even get a cab," Gambino explained, later adding that he's been threatened with violence by cops, even though he's famous.

“That’s the thing,” he said, speaking about white people being in places of power. “People feel like that’s an attack on something. It’s like ‘I get it. I understand. You guys are in charge. You don’t want to lose the power. I totally get it’…I’m not hating on that. I totally understand. I get it. I’m just saying there’s got to be a sense of balance. Same thing with cops. It’s like ‘I get it. You’re putting your lives in danger also. But what am I supposed to do when a cop who’s a bad person does something? Who am I supposed to tell? I would call you guys, but at the same time I know what’s gonna happen.’”

Despite the overwhelming racism, Gambino went on to say that Black people are the cultural tastemakers and that we need to understand our value in our capability to shift the world.

"We are cultural influences. That's what black kids are. They really change the culture of not just America, but the world," said Gambino. "The cultural stuff, someone can take ownership of it really easily. Like, "Or Nah?" somebody can trademark that really easily. All of our stuff comes from what we can do...and then it gets appropriated. That's kind of our job, we just have to quantify the worth of it."

However, Gambino went on to dismiss the idea of calling our young culture The New Black, explaining that naming it would just lead to appropriation.

"Like I would like to think I’m a leader of whatever movement is happening. People call it ‘new black.’ People call it whatever, but I don’t want to name it cause it’s bs to name it. As soon as it gets named that’s when you start marketing it. And it’s like ‘Ah, this is hipster.’ Cause hipster was cool until it became hipster...And then it became monetized. Same thing with Hip Hop. So, whatever this thing is. Whatever’s happening. Like whenever Jaden Smith tells me he’s like ‘I’m real excited for whatever’s happening.’ He can feel it. I can feel it.”

Later on, Gambino appeared on "The Breakfast Club" and talked about race again. While chatting with host Charlamagne Tha God, Gambino explained his controversial Twitter poem about Mike Brown's shooting, in which he lamented the violence and racism that all black people face, and said he wished he could be "big and white" to overcome such hardships

Although Charlamagne argued that black people focusing on inequality and seeing white people as being somehow above them was instills an inferiority complex in us all, Gambino responded that his words are not really about wanting to be white, but about wanting the freedom that for so long has only been given to those with white privilege.

“Because whiteness is blankness,” the rapper said. “It’s because they look at it as a blank slate. Like when you come in, you can be anything. When I walk in even if I have a bowtie, they might be like ‘Is he Muslim?’ They’re not going to do that with a white dude. White people are a blank slate. We are not. People bring stuff to it because there’s not a lot of us, so they only judge us on the seven or whatever they know. So, that’s what I’m trying to say. I want to be a blank slate. As a black person, I constantly have to know what a person is assuming about me. That’s what I’m saying.”

I can't necessarily claim to be part of The New Black. I'm not sure that such a phrase resonates with me or honors the black men and women who came before me. But what does resonate with me is Gambino's honesty about racial issues in America and his belief in himself and other black people that we do have the power to create art and change the world in the process. That we do have the freedom to be interested in whatever we want, whether it be considered black or white or alien or whatever. That mindet speaks to the geek in me, the writer in me, gayness of me, and the blackness of me. 

At the end of the day, whether you're a young or older black person, it's safe to say that all we've ever wanted is freedom to be both infinite within ourselves and have an infinite amount of possibilities and chances, like everybody else, in the real world. That idea goes beyond phrases and time; that simply speaks to being human. Hopefully, with each passing generation of black people, we make our way closer and closer to that goal of equality in freedom.

Nicholas Harbor

Freelance Journalist, storyteller and blogger for 50 Shades of BLACK

Posted on September 13, 2014 and filed under community, Identity, race, skin tone.

Being Black and Finding a New Queerness at Dragon*Con

When people think of queerness, they usually think of the word in regards to sexuality and gender expression as opposed to its original definition of unusually different or odd. For me, that's what I did until I had a conversation with the 50 Shades of BLACK creator, Carlton Mackey, about this past weekend's Dragon*Con convention.

While being asked about the geek experience as a black gay man, he described the event as queer. I'd honestly never thought to describe a convention of geeks, freaks and gamers as queer. But if you think about Dragon*Con, really, there isn't much around that's as fundamentally queer as that.

For one weekend in Atlanta, Labor Day Weekend, over 100,000 people flood the city for NASCAR racing, football, Black Pride Weekend, and, of course, Dragon*Con, the biggest sci-fi gaming convention in the Southeast region.

It's quite a sight to see as the jocks, the gays, the trans, bisexuals, the drag queens, and the geeks all come out into the streets at once and paint the town a bright rainbow palette of diversity.

And that's just on the streets. Once you go inside the convention, you're immersed inside a world where being a regular human is just an option, and the simple act of cosplaying can transform you into any race, any gender, any species, or any object that you want to be.

But despite such diversity in creatures, styles, and looks, what many people outside of the geek culture still don't seem to see is the growing number of black people who are unabashed geeks and love comic books, cartoons, video games, manga, and anime.  

For many of us black geeks, we are a different version of queer. We are anomalies both in and outside of our race who embrace blackness, but also embrace being infinitely more; as much as our fantasy-loving, child-like imaginations can allow. 

And for me and my crew of bleeks (black geeks) and blerds (black nerds), a crew which we've given the awesome title Sasuke Hate, conventions like Dragon*Con are nothing short of an indulgence in that new queerness, that new anomalous existence. It's a place that, while not devoid of social issues surrounding race and queerness, bends them in ways that allows for a new way of seeing the world.

Walking the lobbies and bars of the Hilton, the Hyatt, the Marriott and the Westin, it felt amazing to see so many geeks out and about in the real world, drinking, dancing and posing for row after row of cameras in their cosplay creations. 

Though diversity is praised at these conventions, it'd be foolish to dismiss the fact that it's been a struggle to find diverse black representation in the world of comics, anime and gaming. Although characters like Storm, Blade, Black Panther, Miles Morales/Spider-Man, and Spawn have paved the way for black mainstream superheroes, we still have a ways to go when it comes to seeing these superheroes take center stage and lead films and TV shows. It's can be even harder to find well-rounded and respectable representations of black people overseas in Japan, where black anime characters are often played to stereotypes based around hip-hop and 70s Blaxploitation.

For that reason, and because it feels damn good to see ourselves as authentic and powerful, there's an extra sense of pride taken when we bleeks can cosplay as black characters and show that we can be superheroes, villains and all-around cool characters as well . And my friends definitely represented that idea to the fullest as they cosplayed as iconic black superheroes like Green Lantern, Aqualad and Static Shock and got praise from geeks of every color. 

But race isn't the only thing that's skewed and warped by these conventions. Ideas of gender are played with and twisted as well. When walking through crowds of cosplayers, it's absolutely normal to geeks of all races gender bending to their hearts desire. At Dragon*Con alone, my friends and I saw men as Wonder Woman and the Sailor Scouts, or women dressed as Deadpool and The Flash. Sometimes it was simply bold expressions of sexuality as women dressed in nothing but body paint and underwear, and men donned their own tiny undies and oiled themselves up to show off their bodies.

Truly, it was an anything goes kind of affair.

But no place is a paradise, and as with any convention, there were times when the racial issues of the regular world reared their ugly head.

For us, that moment came not while doing anything particularly geeky, but instead during Saturday night's hotel rave. Not to toot my own horn or the horn of my crew too much, but being the charismatic and fun-seeking people that we are, we happened to dominate an entire side of the dance floor and had nearly half the crowd circling us and trying to dance with us as we grooved, twerked, bounced, and rocked to good ol' hip-hop music. But after perhaps 15 minutes of that dance floor dominance, the DJ abruptly changed the music to softer pop and dance thusly killed our dance circle. Although the DJ could've simply wanted to change the mood and allow for every genre of music to shine, for us it seemed weird that any DJ would want to kill the vibe of a raucous party. For us, it came off as a small reminder that we can't be too black, too unabashed and too in control of the scene. 

As that instance shows, perhaps there are always limits to how queer an event can be and how high those usually on the bottom can soar, but as minorities, it's no unfamiliar script to us. 

As bleeks, though, there's still so much to be said still for the freedom that's enjoyed just taking ownership in expressing different versions of blackness, different versions of gender and sexuality, and different versions of self. 

For us, the new frontier of identity expression lies in the realm of fantasy. Because, as another character, we find ways to tap into parts of ourselves that we may never know or never express. More importantly, we find ways to be bigger than the way society sees us....embracing our blackness, embracing queerness, while at the same time being bigger than it all. 

Nicholas Harbor

Freelance Journalist, storyteller and blogger for 50 Shades of BLACK

Posted on September 6, 2014 and filed under community, Identity, LGBT, race, skin tone.

#TheMikeBrownMurder: Solidarity And Terror In Being A Nigga in America

When you're born black in America, there are some harsh truths about life that you just have no chance of escaping: One being that many people in the world will see you as less than human because of the color of your skin and the culture you come from; Secondly that, whether you like it or not, in somebody's eyes, perhaps your own as well, you're a nigga; And thirdly that, because of your skin tone, the police won't always look at you as a human being who they're hired to protect and serve. Instead, you'll often be looked at as a threat that needs to be harassed, controlled or eradicated.

And that script of life played out with deadly results on Saturday, Aug. 9, when 18-year-old Ferguson, Missouri teenager Mike Brown was gunned down by a police officer and left to die in the middle of the street for his entire neighborhood to see. 

If you talk with most black people and ask them how they feel about the Mike Brown murder, what you'll like hear is something along the lines of, "Mike Brown was murdered by the Ferguson, Missouri police because he was black and the police tried to cover it up because his life meant nothing to them."

No minced words. No prefacing. No beating around the bush; Just an uncurbed torrent of anger, frustration and sorrow encapsulated in one candid sentence of raw pain.

All around the nation black people are sharing in the pain and tragedy of this murder because, even though none of us want these harsh realities to be true, there's a shared understanding in the terror and sense of solidarity in being harassed, being terrorized and being, well, a nigga in the U.S.A.

For me, that point was driven home last week when I and my group of black gay male friends had a group chat on Facebook about Brown's murder. As we sifted through social media reports from the brave residents of Ferguson, we shared our pain and anger at the photos and videos of Brown's black body lying limp and bullet riddled as his blood turned the concrete streets into a river of crimson. And we continued to watch as resident posted photos of Ferguson's militarized police hurl tear gas, shoot rubber bullets and point their guns as protestors as they held their hands in the air, begging for peace and for justice.

In the end, it was my friend, Chase, who put our collective feeling into one succint and soul-draining statement.

"I'm tired....And I don't want to die like that."

As soon as those words appeared on my computer screen, my heart broke and scattered across my keys, for him, for me and for all of our friends. I know exactly how he feels, and why his heart is tired and weary. Every black person knows exactly how we feel because that terror is attached to both how we're treated by the police and the American government as well as how we're raised by our families.

For most black people, even in these so-called modern times, you learn that you'd better get used to being called a nigga, both as a blood-stained term of endearment from other black people, and as a word of unbridled hate from other races.

And as a so-called nigga, you're taught at an early age that, although it's okay to call the cops if your life is in danger or you've been robbed, don't expect them to show too much sympathy or concern for you, or even show up in a timely manner. Even more grave is that we're taught that any encounter with a cop, especially when you're pulled over or stopped on the streets, can result in the end of your life if you follow a strict set of behavior patterns.

1) Don't dress too black

2) Don't talk or act too black

3) Don't make any sudden movements and always announce whatever move you're going to make.

4) Always say sir, ma'am, or officer.

5) Never raise your voice to them.

6) Always be as cooperative as possible and don't challenge them unless absolutely necessary.

7) Don't fight back

8) Make them feel like you know you're the nigga in this situation, and that you're non-threatening, and that you know who's in power.

9) Stay alive

If you can do all of those things, then there's a strong enough chance that you might not be racially profiled or harassed because you're black, and you may even leave with your life. But the frightening loophole of those rules is that you're still a nigga and the laws that count, laws of the land set up by the majority, police a and the government, weren't all made for niggas and don't always apply to us. So even if you follow all these rules, you could stil end up dead just like Mike Brown, regardless of whether you're innocent, or compliant, or unarmed.

And although there are some black people who we think have transcended their skin tone and are exempt from the harsh realities being just another nigga, a startling tweet posted by Childish Gambino last week reminded me tha all black people know that fear that every black person lives with.

And that last tweet sums up so much of what we feel on a community-wide scale. At the end of the day, regardless of how much money we make, how we dress, how we talk, what we contribute to the world, or what gender we are, the reality is that we are all subconsciously and consciously fearing that "our turn" is next or that someone we love will be next.

We fear that day our father might have his turn, or our mother might have her turn, or our sister might have her turn, or our brother my have his turn, or a beloved family member might have their turn, or our nigga(s) might have their turn.

We're all waiting for that day when the police "turn" on us, just hoping that when it comes, we can just go home safely.

And it's not fair that we feel this way. It's not fair that our loved ones feel this way. It's not fair that we bear the psychological damage that comes from it, the nihilism, the broken hearts, the lost children, and the lost hope. It's not fair that police across the nation disprportionately attack us. And it's not okay that the media continuously portrays us thugs, delinquents and savages even when we're innocent.

It's not fair that when my friend tells me he doesn't want to die that way that I have to muster up every bit of hope and strength I can and tell him "cherish whatever reason you have to smile....honor the anger and the drive to change things....but smile too. Otherwise, you'll die another kind of death."

I tell all of my friends this because I literally have no other way to protect them. Until the government, the media and society at large decides to engage the black community in honest conversations about race and oppression, and alter their perspective about us in a positive way, all I can do is advise my friends to shift their perspective of the world just to function and survive in this reality.

I have to ask them to smile, even when they want to cry, even when they feel like dying, because that is part of the experience of being a nigga in America.

Nicholas Harbor

Freelance Journalist, storyteller and blogger for 50 Shades of BLACK


Posted on August 19, 2014 and filed under activism, community, current events, race.

WHAT IS GOOD HAIR? In Our Heads About Our Hair Post Film Discussion

50 Shades of Black post film discussion of the movie "In Our Heads About Our Hair" with founder of Loc Livin and African Pride Hair Care Brand Manager at Pan African Film Festival in Atlanta GA with Ross Oscar Knight

50 Shades of Black post film discussion of the movie "In Our Heads About Our Hair" with founder of Loc Livin and African Pride Hair Care Brand Manager at Pan African Film Festival in Atlanta GA with Ross Oscar Knight

"In Our Heads About Our Hair" examines issues Black women confront regarding hair and self-esteem. Despite a current natural-hair trend in some urban areas, many Black women say conforming to mainstream beauty standards makes it easier to find mates and corporate employment. The film encourages viewers to celebrate their natural beauty, but offers differing opinions (and wisdom) from women who have chosen otherwise, while delving into underlying historical and social factors. Women of all ages, opinions, and, of course, hairstyles get In Our Heads About Our Hair. Included are interviews with: Melba Tolliver, the nation's first Black network TV news anchor; Farah Jasmine Griffin, historian and Columbia University professor, environmental activist Majora Carter, Dr. Marc Lamont Hill (host of Our World with Black Enterprise), author and activist Asha Bandele, celebrity makeup artist Roxanna Floyd, TV personality Abiola Abrams and many others. The film also features informal discussions... Written by Maitefa Angaza.

50 Shades of Black hosts the Opening Day of the Film Festival with film introductions, post film discussions, and exclusive interviews with Danny Glover and Amma Asante, director of BELLE, the highest grossing independent film of the year.

50 Shades of Black is committed to using the power of art and personal stories to explore the complex relationship between skin tone and sexuality in the formation of self-identity. Through collaborations with visual artists, scholars, and the general public, this project hopes to offer a deeper & more nuanced understanding what diversity means. It is in the recognition of this diversity that 50 Shades of Black acknowledges the historical ways in which race and gender have been constructed and the role that and skin tone and sexuality play in shaping the way we engage the world, how we perceive beauty, and our own self-worth.


Jazz Is An Art Form that Mirrors the Complexity of Black Identity

Pan African Film Festival Atlanta | Afro-Native Ancestry and Healing Touch Interview

Posted on August 17, 2014 and filed under community, film, Identity.

50 Shades of Black unites Brooklyn Artists for CONVO

50 Shades of Black and Pepper present: CONVO

Drinks | Music | Art | Conversation

Thursday August 21st 
@ Elberta Restaurant
5pm - 8pm
335 Flatbush Avenue
Brooklyn, New York 11217

CONVO is the first of a series of social gatherings and conversations centered around the contemporary re-imagination of The Black Aesthetics in the formation of identity.

CONVO combines the elements of a social unwind event, mix it with a pop up gallery featuring work of artist emersed in a particular city, and infuse it with stimulating conversation. 

CONVO Brooklyn Theme is - The Transatlantic: Becoming Who You Are 

CONVO will couple the illustrations of Adrian Franks with the photography of Dexter Jones and the beautiful designs of Paola Mathe and place them in dialogue with an exclusive essay written by Yahdon Israel to be released at this event.

featured artist:

Adrian Franks
Yahdon Israel
Dex R. Jones
Paola Mathe

Posted on August 16, 2014 and filed under art, community, Identity, music.

Pan African Film Festival Atlanta | Afro-Native Ancestry and Healing Touch Interview

Photo by Carlton Mackey

Photo by Carlton Mackey

50 Shades of Black hosts the Opening Day screenings of the 2014 Pan African Film Festival in Atlanta, GA.  After a screening of "From Above", we sat down with Yvonne Rosegarden to discuss her African American and American Indian ancestry and how the film relates to her work of transforming lives through the healing power of positive touch.  

"From Above" is an award-winning Shakespearean love story between African American and American Indian main characters so in love with one another that they are entangled beyond life itself starring Danny Glover.

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

Ross Oscar Knight interviewed by Rashan Ali on Atlanta & 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!!

Emory Black Star Magazine & 50 Shades of Black Release Special Edition Magazine

Screen Shot of Digital Magazine Release.  Print copies available this week!

Screen Shot of Digital Magazine Release.  Print copies available this week!

Emory Students at Black Star Special Edition Magazine Release Party.

Black Star, Emory University's first and only black student publication partnered with 50 Shades of Black to release a special edition magazine to close the year.  Dressed to impress, students crowded into the Emory Black Student Union (EBSU) for the unveiling of the magazine.

This special edition magazine comes on the heels of the two organizations successfully executing the first college campus open photo shoot of the BEAUTIFUL IN EVERY SHADE (TM) Campaign, the signature empowerment campaign of 50 Shades of Black.  Atlanta Sports and Fashion photographer Breonca Trofort captured over 100 Emory University students, faculty, and staff.

A collage of images from the BEAUTIFUL IN EVERY SHADE (TM) Open Photo Shoot grace the cover of this Special Edition Magazine.  The magazine also includes a 10 page spread featuring deeply personal reflections from students who explore their own identities ranging from black Latina, biracial, queer, Jamaican, and East African.

Samantha Scott, the editor and chief of Black Star, wanted to offer a platform for exploring the question: "What is it like being black at Emory University?"

We couldn't be happier that she chose 50 Shades of Black as a partner for helping navigate that exploration.  We are so grateful for the entire Black Star Staff, and the 100's of people from the Emory community for their powerful witness and testimony.


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 >> 

50 Shades of Black Creator in Featured Podcast at Wonderroot

Floyd Hall in Recording Studio at WonderRoot in Atlanta, GA

Floyd Hall in Recording Studio at WonderRoot in Atlanta, GA

This morning I had the distinct pleasure to sit down with Floyd Hall, the Interactive Media Manager for Wonderroot for an interview.  Floyd curates the WonderRoot Podcasts series which offers listeners a vast array of conversations and insights into WonderRoot, artists and the Atlanta cultural community. Each podcast is recorded in the audio studio at WonderRoot Community Arts Center.

I can't wait to share to share more with you.  Expect podcast release early next week.

50 Shades of Black Creator Carlton Mackey and Floyd Hall at WonderRoot - Atlanta, GA

50 Shades of Black Creator Carlton Mackey and Floyd Hall at WonderRoot - Atlanta, GA

'Dear Dad' Letters from Same Gender Loving Sons Screening At Emory University [New Date]

Dear Dad - Feb Screening Poster.jpg

After being postponed last month due to Atlanta’s first Snowpocalypse of the year, the “Dear Dad” screening is finally back on.

Following a successful launch of the “Dear Dad” film last year, the film’s creator, Chase Simmons, and 50 Shades of BLACKs own, Carlton Mackey, have teamed up to facilitate a public screening for the film at Emory University.

For those who haven’t watched the film yet – and you should. No, really. Why haven’t you watched it yet? What’s wrong with you?! – “Dear Dad: Letters From SGL Sons” is an aptly titled documentary about eight same gender loving men from the Atlanta area who have allowed cameras into their world as they explore their relationships with their fathers, whether good or bad, and confront those feelings head on as they write their fathers "Dear Dad" letters. Through these letters, the eight men, including myself, discuss the ways in which their relationship has shaped them and, if possible, where they want that relationship to go from here. 

Sounds utterly, completely and undeniably interesting right? Of course it does!

So, if you haven’t seen the film already - or even if you have - and you live in the Atlanta area, come by Emory University on Wednesday, Feb. 19 at 7 p.m. and watch the film with Chase, Carlton and myself as well as the rest of the cast. Afterwards, you can chat with us and ask us all the questions you want – but don’t get crazy – as the cast sits down for a Q&A session with the audience.

Trust me when I say it’s going to be an amazing experience and there may even be Oprah/Iyanla, Fix My Life tearjerker moments, and who doesn’t love those?!?

See you there and check out the trailer as well as our interview segment from HuffPost Live below.


Nicholas Harbor

Freelance Journalist, Storyteller and Blogger for 50 Shades of BLACK

Posted on February 13, 2014 and filed under community, family, Identity, LGBT, Masculinity, sexuality.

Race, Sex, and MLK: 50 Shades of Black Creator to Moderate Conversation at Emory University

race sex martin luther king.jpg

Join Volunteer Emory for a social justice dialogue on overcoming inequality in the 21st century.

Moderated by Carlton Mackey from the Emory Center for Ethics, creator of 50 Shades of Black

Zai Air - Emory's own Davion Ziere


The Loving Story: Screening and Discussion with creators of 50 Shades of Black at Emory University

Photo by Villet Grey

Photo by Villet Grey

The Center for Community Partnerships (CFCP) and the Ethics & Arts Program are hosting a film screening & discussion of The Loving Story on January 20, 2014 from9:30 to noon at the Emory 

Center for Ethics, Room 102. 

Discussion led by Carlton and Kari Mackey.  Carlton is the director of the Ethics & the Arts Program at Emory University and the Creator of 50 Shades of Black.  His wife Kari is the Assistant Project Coordinator of the Access to Information Project at the Carter Center. 

Event will also include a presentation by Dr. Pellom McDaniels on the Robert Langmuir Collection of more than 12,000 photographs depicting African American life from the early 19th century to the mid-20th century. 


Audience will include local high school students and parents from CFCP’s Graduation Generation initiative.

Created Equal MLK Day event flyer-web.jpg

50 Shades of Black & I Love Ancestry Announce New Partnership.



50 Shades of Black and I Love Ancestry are proud to announce a new partnership.

January 3, 2014 - With a mission of building an online movement that empowers people to seek knowledge of ancestral heritage, I Love Ancestry works to “build intergenerational relationships between communities, particularly American Indians and Black Americans”.

 “I believe strongly in the mission of I Love Ancestry and feel that it is an extraordinarily valuable resource for scholars and everyday people alike to learn more about history and culture from perspectives and with voices that often to go unheard.  By bridging the narratives of American Indians and Black Americans, I Love Ancestry, also enhances our mission of broadening the often narrowly held understandings of diversity and culture as well as the narrow understanding of blackness.” –Carlton Mackey (Creator of 50 Shades of Black)

As part of this new partnership, 50 Shades of Black will offer a weekly column curated by the creator of I Love Ancestry, Adrien Heckstall, which will highlight the history of an American Indian, Black American, or an Afro Native ancestor and historical alliances between both communities.  50 Shades of Black creator, Carlton Mackey will also curate a weekly column on I Love Ancestry called Bridging the Gap that will highlight contemporary stories of individuals across the globe and share how their individual experiences of race and sexuality give rise to the formation of their unique and complex identities. The two will also partner for an Open Photo Shoot to be held in Miami in Spring 2014.

The two will also work together specifically to collect contemporary stories and artwork of Natives and Afro Natives to be featured in an art exhibit at the end of the year and in the next published volume of the 50 Shades of Black coffee table book series.  Right now the two are designing educational materials and a new series of custom apparel to be released by the end of this month.

“50 Shades of Black is who I am which is why I completely relate to this project and its mission. I am grateful for this partnership opportunity between I Love Ancestry and 50 Shades of Black as I feel both projects complete each other on so many levels in a very unique way by engaging people in sharing their stories about race and skin tone while learning about heritage and diversity." –Adrien Heckstall (Creator of I Love Ancestry)


About 50 Shades of Black

50 Shades of Black is a multi-faceted platform for creating an interactive global dialogue around issues of race, skin tone, sexuality and identity. Exploring these themes through visual art, literature, curated blogs, educational curriculums, and workshops, 50 Shades of Black aims to explore the ways in which our individual experiences of race and sexuality give rise to the formation of our unique and complex identities. For more information, please visit:

 About I Love Ancestry

I Love Ancestry is a community driven platform that bridges our past and future, engages people and reinforces cultural diversity. We share stories of unsung heroes and heroines who shaped American history and the struggle for freedom. We explore the historical alliances between American Indians and Black Americans and their contributions to history. We promote inspiring people and organizations who are making a difference in our world.

At I Love Ancestry, we envision a world where people embrace their own and each other’s roots, celebrate diversity and advocate for indigenous cultures. We exist to empower people to seek knowledge of ancestral heritage, preserve historical truth, and unite like-minded people.

For more information, please visit: