Beautiful and moving, please take a moment to watch if you have not seen or heard this in full.
“…This is proof. Everyone’s plea for your soul is proof that they lived in love and their legacies will live in love. Hate won’t win…” Alana Simmons, Granddaughter of Daniel Simmons, Charleston Shooting Victim
“I forgive you, my family forgives you…”
“Love is patient, love is kind…” Whether we’re believers of these words in the Bible or not, at some point or another, we have all heard the definition of what love is, and what it is not: “…it is not envious, boastful or puffed up…rude, selfish, it is not provoked, thinks no evil…endures all things.”
To the human psyche, in the name of all logic, the very being of all that love is sounds ludicrous. The idea that the loved ones of the Charleston 9, as they’ve been called, can find it within themselves to utter the words, “I forgive you…” to a man who so brutally took love from them is evidence that it does exist.
Many won’t understand, or even agree with these individual’s conscious decision to walk in love. But that is exactly what true love takes: Walking in the teachings of Jesus through every circumstance. As Black Americans, living a life established in the principles of Christianity is a difficult tow to haul. How can the descendants of enslaved Africans worship the God of the very men who enslaved them? How can we believe the words of their book? Or believe that the freedom found in Christ is even meant for us?
These are questions that only a relationship with your creator can answer. While slave owners may have intended to use the Word to keep our ancestors enslaved, throughout the generations, we have gained knowledge for ourselves beyond ritual, establishing individual relationships through Christ. This knowledge and understanding providing peace for our hearts and minds, power in all things and wisdom in our daily living.
Whether one considers themselves a Christian or not, the same principles can be applied and taught as we teach others to love by the way we love…and forgive. -Nina Brewton
Experiencing the love of God through our relationships with others is what will continually build our faith. Displaying that same love is what will help others comprehend our faith and reasoning. Our daily walk will show them how patience and kindness, and as in the case of the family members of the Charleston 9, forgiveness are possible in the face of unthinkable adversity.
Being Black or being Christian shouldn’t be exclusive. Our dedication to living as both doesn’t make sense and it’s not meant to for every person in every space to understand. Forgiveness is a thing that isn’t for those we’re forgiving. Forgiveness brings peace to the heart and minds of those who are strong enough and willing to continuously make a conscious decision to walk in it.
Alana Simmons and other loved ones of the Charleston 9 know that the ability to walk in love and being everything that love is takes a concerted effort every day of our lives. Whether one considers themselves a Christian or not, the same principles can be applied and taught as we teach others to love by the way we love…and forgive.
Nina Brewton is the newest member of the 50 Shades of Black Blog Team. Visit each week for her personal reflections into womanhood, spirituality, black identity, and inspiration.
Visit her on her website baldheadqueen.com
**I utilized this photo from Wanza's Instagram page. The caption he had under this photo was: "Believe you can and you will. Believe in God and he will."
BLACK MEN SMILE is a new signature project of 50 Shades of Black "Celebrating the Way We See Ourselves".
*I put a very challenging image into the universe two days ago to start a conversation not to shut down one.
Images are important to us...to all of us. This is part of the reason I believe in the power of art to change the world. The fact is it already has.
The fact that the most reproduced image in history is a piece of art created in 1940 is testimony of that. Therefore, that piece of art not only has to bear accountability but also comes with a huge responsibility. I believe that now that responsibility is ours: those of us who spread it, those of us who believe in it, and those of us who consume it...and there are consequences for us all.
The images we consume in media and art where the Lone Ranger, Tarzan, Superman, John Wayne, Mel Gibson, or Sandra Bullock comes in to save the day are infinite. This troubles the identity forming process for all: for those who always look like the savior and those who look like the ones who always need saving or defending against. It impacts all of our religious, charitable, philanthropic, personal lives, and relationships. It plays a role in shaping the way we see ourselves and the way we see others. That is in essence what art does and why it is so powerful.
It is super hard for all of us to grapple with the fact that this is the reality...particularly if we are well meaning and good hearted. But we must if we wish to change it. The fight to rebel against this narrative belongs to all of us and it starts with acknowledging not only its existence but its deadly consequences.
If for those who believe that the First Century Palestinian Jew named Jesus is the Savior of the world...who was born to be a liberator, a healer, a revolutionary, and the one who is to reconcile relationships between all of humanity and God, then the way the teachings, message, and images of him are understood, spread, and interpreted...and the consequences of all of the above have to be taken seriously.
If Jesus is the savior of the world and IF human beings must see images of Jesus to truly worship him and IF who he was/is does not have to match a fixed point on a historical timeline AND therefore we are allowed to create images in a way that help us relate to him...to make him personal for us...to make him the embodiment of our hopes and dreams...to make him one's personal savior, then Sallman's Head of Christ may, in all fairness, may be one of those images.
But IF all of the above exist, then it can't be the only one. The fact is that Sallman's rendition is an imaginative, historically inaccurate, personally suiting, reflection of Jesus from the perspective of the artist. Since this is true, then there can (and always have been) others...and the others should not be seen as any less valid. The problem is that in a context of Western dominated, classist, patriarchal world, this is a tough sell...and they are hard to seen as anything but "alternatives". Although they were all created by artists just like Sallman, they are often hard to be taken (by people who they are created in the image of or by others) as legitimate options. (Selah)
But nevertheless they do exist. Folks who understand Christ as the "suffering servant" of varying ethnic and gender groups have created images of Christ in (maybe/maybe not) the same way Sallman did.
Just like those of us -all of us who are committed to justice have reached across the aisle to break down segregation and have done everything in our power to erase hate and love our neighbor as ourselves we can continue to do so. Let us challenge ourselves to do just that.
None of these images are sacred simply because they were created. The only thing sacred about any of them is what or who they point us to. What is your image of Jesus? What/Who is it pointing you to?
A transcendent, resurrected savior?
The suffering in the world?
The people you most need to be reconciled to?
Does it call you to action...or does it make you complacent?
When you look at it, does it make you want to love more? Does it make you want to fight against injustice? Does it make you forgive?
Whatever it is, let it be a choice...a conscious choice...a well thought out conscious choice...even if you decide that it is better to not have one at all.
...and may it lead to all of our collective liberation.
Creator of 50 Shades of Black
Exploring Sexuality & Skin Tone in the Formation of Identity
Images of the first century Palestinian Jewish man named Jesus are more prevalent this time of year than any other. Depictions rendered by artists (namely by or inspired by an artist named Warner Sallman) are resurrected and pervade our social consciousness. Images grace the covers of popular magazines that otherwise would never have a religious figure on the cover. They often have phrases under then like “The Real Jesus” (US News and World Report) or “Uncovering Jesus”. They seek to offer readers some historical context for understanding the life and times of arguably the most influential person in human history.
Art is a powerful tool. It can convey emotion, express complex ideas, offer hope, present mystery, and point to things beyond our present reality.
Among the most popular pieces of art (or sets of art) in the world are depictions of Jesus created in the 40’s by an artist named Warner Sallman. Sallman was originally commissioned to create a more masculine image of Christ by Dr. E O Sellers (1924ish). The set of images presented to the world up to that time (as thought by Sellers and members of the institute he was dean of) were too passive. Jesus looked to him too effeminate, too gauntly, and too non-American. [This was 1920’s America]. Sallman woke up the day of the deadline for the submission with an idea and sketched it in charcoal. Sallman integrated other features that had become more and more popular every since the spread of Christianity in medieval Europe to distinguish Biblical characters worthy of veneration from depictions of the “negative” characters like King Herod and Judas who were depicted to have more “Jewish” features. This tradition was inherited in order to perpetuate and solidify the message that it was the “Jews”…a group somehow distinct from “Christians” that crucified Christ. [This was 1920’s America...the height of Anti-Semitism in America].
Sallman’s paintings captured the heart of America. By the 1940’s his pieces began to spread like wild fire. In 1940, based on his earlier sketches, he created what has become the most duplicated piece of art in the world, Sallman’s Head of Christ. His pieces were something unlike other images at the time in that they reflected the deepest held views of America about what the person they would worship should look like. [This was 1940’s America]. Sallman had captured an ideal. For a decade, between 1940 and 1950 pieces that would become as American as apple pie (maybe more so) were created by the same artist who had mastered the formula for what America wanted in their Jesus. To Sallman belongs not only the famous Head of Christ, but the ubiquitous painting of Jesus knocking at the door, and many others.
But 1940s America was a very significant time in American and global history. The ideal figure that Sallman had created or based his images off of held a certain place in American and global society. To that ideal was granted certain rights and privileges not afforded to others. Sallman had created an exceptionally tall, strong looking, beautiful man who could be easily seen as strong enough to fight off attacks from a Japanese enemy, but gentle enough to open the door for a lady. He was John Wayne and George Washington combined! He was perfect! [This is 1940s America]
The nation, or those in power, were complicit with the state of things. There was enough other mess going on. Good Christian folks may not have “supported” the segregation of the day but they weren’t making too much fuss about it. The Civil Rights Movement wasn’t at its peak. That wouldn’t be for another 20 or so years. The country had “enough on its plate”. We were trying to emerge from the Great Depression and FDR was president. Anti-Semitism was not as high as it was in the 20’s and 30’s but it was high.
To white Christians (non-Jews), to Sallman, and to the Jesus he had created (to be a perfected image of their ideals, hopes, and dreams) this was the time some historians call the Golden Age of America.
[OK…enough with the history]
During this season of Christmas, where we are bombarded with images, I created (manipulated) an image to provoke thought and to engage in discussion. The work that I am committed to doing right now in my life as an artist is centered around exploring the role of sexuality and skin tone in the formation of identity. It is impossible for me in doing this work to not take seriously the function of the art that unlike any other time of the year is all around us, its history, and how it shapes all of our lives.
People aren’t born thinking they are ugly, or inferior, or not good enough, or too black or too white or not strong enough or too fat or too gay or too feminine or too masculine. These things are constructed…slowly over time…with unbelievable precision. Us, our institutions, our art, our lack of understanding of history, our fear, and our hesitancy to deconstruct these things keep us here.
I’m one of you. I’m afraid of what I don’t know. I afraid of being rejected. I’m afraid of being judged. I hate the thought of being isolated and unliked. I was afraid to post this image. I was afraid of what you might say or think of me.
...so I did it.
This is not an attempt to make people think that Jesus was black. That doesn’t do anything for us. I do, in this season of mass consumption: of food, of stuff, of images of a first century Jew from Palestine named Jesus to take a moment to think about what all of it means. In this time of great discovery, of birth, of mystery, let’s be as imaginative and as hungry to meet Jesus as the Magi.
…to ask ourselves where it all comes from, to ask why is it presented this way, to not be complicit, to think anew about what a Jesus who would have fought against segregation, who would have refused to drink, swim, or be baptized in a segregated pool. To think anew about a Jesus who may have been, on the flip side, not allowed to drink, swim, or be baptized with others. To think anew about maybe emphasizing less the images of any figure that has been dictated to us of any particular race and try to discover the essence of the truth within the teachings.
…to fight against the structures: institutional, mental, personal, that separate us…to think boldly but with passion about how to do so…through thought provoking art, through conversations, through how we spend our resources, etc…to think about what we can do to not be a religion/group that performs our holiest of actions on the holiest of days in ways that don’t scream for _________________ only but instead all are welcome.
PLEASE READ LET JESUS WALK PART 2
Creator of 50 Shades of Black
Most known for his religious thought, reflections on race, and his pivotal role in the ending and transitioning from apartheid in South Africa, Archbishop Desmond Tutu is now passionately using his voice to denounce religious practices that discriminate against the LGBTQ community.
50 Shades of Black explores the intersection of sexuality and skin tone in the formation of identity. Referring to the UN's launch of its new anti-gay initiatives, Archbishop Tutu makes a statement that only he could make... connecting the two issues and his fervor for both together.
I am as passionate about this campaign as I ever was about apartheid. For me, it is at the same level. -Desmond Tutu
Serendipity is a thing that happens in all of our lives. Things, people, moments that seem to be preordained and necessary to usher us into the experiences we need to have and the people we need to be. Perhaps it was no coincidence then that last week a man who I’d only had the pleasure of seeing and speaking to twice in my life, Carlton Mackey, who with each meeting proved that you don’t have to know someone to be kind and warm to them, called me up one late weekday morning and asked me to become a blogger for this site.
Perhaps it was serendipity that before I’d gotten the call from Carlton, I’d told my good friend, Christopher Barker, one of the producers of this site, that I was looking to expand my writing – and make some other major moves, but that’s a whole ‘nother story. And perhaps it was meant to be that Chris dropped my name when Carlton told him that he was looking for a voice to represent life from a black gay male perspective.
Maybe this opportunity was written in the stars or spoken into existence by the words of a few creatives and dreamers.
Or, maybe shit just happens. Meh, who really knows?
What I do know is that I’m here, now, and I’m supposed to introduce myself to you and explain a bit of who I am as a man, a gay man, a black gay man, a weirdo, a QUEEN, a nerd, and, most importantly, as Nic.
I guess I don’t have to do ALL of that in one blog post, and really I can’t. But, what I can say is that I’m 27 and a freelance writer. I looove music, models, whodunits and food (one of my nickname’s is King FATass), and I’m a cartoon, anime and manga-loving junkie.
Oh, and I’m immortal.
Now before you began wondering if I’m Amanda Bynes-style crazy (Pffft! As IF I’d ever publicly message Drake. I’d just DM him), or think I’m biting KiDu CuDi (that song is pretty fucking dope, though), let me explain myself.
It may sound strange, but I've gotten a number of my philosophies from the endless amounts of anime, manga and TV shows that I consume every week, and one of the philosophies that I've been enamored with as of late comes from Naruto. It’s the idea that our lives are not just our own, but that we are infinitely connected to the people around us throughout time.
In the manga and anime for Naruto and Naruto: Shippuden, there are these recurring themes about the importance of family and community, and how by sharing our lives with the people around us, we lock them into our hearts and they become a part of us, eternally.
Besides being completely moved by seeing such a concept play out on ink and pixels, I’ve seen proof of its existence in my own life. Take my family for example. In many ways, I think I’m just following in the footsteps laid before me by my father and grandfather.
My grandfather, Matthew, was an unconventional and wild pastor at an A.M.E. church in my hometown of Columbus. And no matter what group he was in, whether it be his congregation, his factory coworkers (yeah, my grandpappy worked for Nabisco) or his crew of friends, he used his voice to teach, influence and care for the people in his family and community.
Then there’s my father, Matthew Jr. He was the “peculiar” child of his family who always questioned the ways of the world. His words held power and influence with most everyone around him, and he grew up to become not only the de facto leader and wise man of his friends and family, but also of the neighborhood we grew up in, much to the chagrin of some of the other people on our block.
And then there’s me. The youngest of three children of Matthew’s and without a doubt the oddest person in my entire immediate family, maybe even my extended family as well. For years, I’ve claimed that I’m just a younger and gayer version of my father (although, my mother is definitely a part of me as well), and I’m sure that, in his own way, my father was just a younger version of my grandfather.
What I believe is that the things that my grandfather passed down to my dad are the things that have undoubtedly been passed on to me, and that includes a desire to learn as much as I can about this world and the people in it and to share what I’ve learned with others so that they can be free, be wise, be empathetic, and, of course, be entertained.
For years, I’ve been doing that by trying – and I do mean trying – to be the best friend, brother, son and boyfriend that I can be, and by letting the people around me have all of the pieces of me that I can give.
But with age, I’ve also come to understand that it’s important throughout that process to let go of the negative behaviors, defense mechanisms, shame and outdated mindsets about my life that hinder me from becoming whole. And even that part of the journey of self-discovery becomes part of the pieces that I can give back to the world.
And now that I’m a writer, I can try to take those pieces of myself, and the pieces of others that have been given to me, and give them to my readers through my stories.
Ultimately, that’s the message I want to bring to my work; that growth, solidarity and long-lasting change is possible if we’re willing to open ourselves up, be vulnerable and really connect with every facet of ourselves and with each other. By doing so we not only change the world, but we live on, free of mortality, through the lessons, the actions and the love we pass on through each generation.
So, let’s grow and become immortal together and help make sure that we pass on things that will make this place at least a little better for the next generation of immortals coming up behind us.
Until next time,
Now that "Black History Month" is officially over, 50 SHADES OF BLACK presents this latest art series that asks what is it that was just celebrated and how would you explain it to someone else titled: WHAT IS BLACK HISTORY?
If a Buddhist Monk asked you "What is Black History", how would you answer?
All photos in this series by Dietmar Temps, Cologne and adapted by 50 SHADES OF BLACK Creator Carlton Mackey under Creative Commons licence 'Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike' Agreement.
Share your Thoughts. More to Come in the Series.
When I got an email from my friend Shelvis Smith-Mather a couple of months ago asking me to pray I knew it was serious. He emailed me from Keyna and in the email he described in detail the moments before, during, and after the birth of he and his wife Nancy's first born son. I was motionless. In the vivid details of the email I felt like I was reliving the chaos, the confusion, the fear, that they were experiencing. But through it all, there was a resolve...a hope...a trust...a belief...a faith in God that was undeniable in his words.
Three days ago, I am so delighted to say that I had the pleasure of holding Baby Jordan (the first American born child in the new country of South Sudan) in my arms. I had the pleasure of sitting down with my family and the Smith-Mather family in my home. They had come to sit down with me and to share their story. I had the pleasure of offering them a video recorded conversation, baby Jordan in their arms, of them recounting to him the early days of his life. We laughed, we prayed, shed tears. I could write a book about that experience alone with them.
They told me that the following day, they would be interviewed by another friend of theirs on CNN. Below is the video from that CNN interview with them. Their commitment to the work that they are doing is unwavering. They are returning to South Sudan to do their work of ministry, and they believe that their experience is all the more reason to try to make sure that there is justice, equality, and hope for its citizens. Please offer them your prayers, financial support, and kind words. I can tell you personally, that they read every one. nancyandshelvis.com/