Posts filed under travel

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

Photos and Text by The Travel Guru

Photos and Text by The Travel Guru

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

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

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

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

-The Travel Guru

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

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

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

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.

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.



Ross Oscar Knight Beautiful in Every Shade Rwanda_0002-sm.jpg

50 Shades of BLACK | Rwanda:

50 Shades International Liaison, Ross Oscar Knight, traveled to Rwanda this February to teach a photography workshop to a group of 30 students. He's been planning this trip for the better part of two years. "I'm so honored to have been provided the opportunity to not only teach students there, but to learn from them as well. It was fascinating to see the students eyes and minds light up with curiosity and courage," says Knight. He also spent some time engaging with the community and conducting field research about how skin tone and sexual orientation are perceived and offering the message of our global BEAUTIFUL IN EVERY SHADE Campaign. This image of a young man was taken in Northern Kigali.

Stay tuned to see and hear more stories from Ross Oscar Knight reporting from around the world.

>>Order Shirt to Support Our Efforts


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50 Shades of Black visited Liberia back in October and was inspired by a very special woman we met there to send our signature BEAUTIFUL IN EVERY SHADE shirt back for some of the youth.

Just got the @50shadesofblack African edition T-shirts supply.....yay!!!! The BEST thing about these is...they are FREE.....and there's some for the KIDS!!!!  #50shadesofblack   African edition going nationwide! We are Promoting  #Sexuality   and   #SkinTone   in the   #Formation   of   #Identity  . Website:   @50shadesofblack   #Embrace   who you are. Rocking my tee at work today

Just got the @50shadesofblack African edition T-shirts supply.....yay!!!! The BEST thing about these is...they are FREE.....and there's some for the KIDS!!!!#50shadesofblack African edition going nationwide! We are Promoting#Sexuality and #SkinTone in the #Formation of #Identity. @50shadesofblack #Embrace who you are. Rocking my tee at work today

Thanks to your support, and the help of another great partner on the ground we made good on that promise.  When Ms. Cooper posted this image and tagged us on Instagram, it made our day.

Soon, we'll have more photos for you of some of the youth proudly embracing their heritage and the various skin tones reflected within it.

Show YOUR Support


Posted on February 27, 2014 and filed under activism, africa, art, press, travel.

Maramosa: Kenya, Mandela, Music - Premier of new film narrated by creator of 50 Shades of Black

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The Goat Farm Arts Center Presents:
A Foresee Films Production

Join the Movement, be a whistleblower for peace


When: December 10th 7pm - 10pm
Where: Rodriguez Room at the Goat Farm
Door: $5 

Local production company Foresee Films has produced a documentary about Kenyan politics, tribalism, and possibilities for a different future through the story of a young artist named Nelson Mandela. It premieres Tuesday, December 10th at the Rodriguez Room of the Goat Farm Arts Center at 7pm, $5 admission.

Producer: Ashley Beckett 
Director: Laura Asherman 
Director of Photography: Mike Morgan 

Narrated by: Carlton Mackey (Creator of 50 Shades of Black)

Maramaso is a concept developed by a musician / activist born and raised in the slums of Nairobi. The name is derived from the philosophy’s end goal, a “Man Raise Man Society” in which support for fellow man and youth empowerment are more important than personal gain in one's own life. This is how Mandela, the subject of our film, lives his life. The film illustrates his revolutionary philosophy of love through his life story and his daily struggle to survive in an environment that encourages self-promotion while inspiring the youth in his community to change the paradigm. We partner this micro level look at the concept with a macro level exploration of the political climate in Kenya leading up to the highly anticipated elections of March 2013. This film hopes to be witness to the birth of a movement from one young man's philosophy, that each of us has to do what we can to help those around us.
Falling whistles is a coalition dedicated to ending the conflict in Eastern Congo through advocacy and awareness. We at Foresee Films have partnered with Falling Whistles to use the premiere of our film as a platform for the launch of their new publication, The Free World Reader. It is a quarterly print publication that exposes hidden truths about which we as a global community are often misled. It examines the global system we live in, the structure of our societies, markets and hierarchies, and their byproducts of war, poverty, and inequality. It’s an exploration of the fuel that drives these unfortunate realities in an effort to open a dialog into alternative solutions.


Posted on December 5, 2013 and filed under activism, africa, art, blog, education, music, personal stories, travel.

Buy a Beautiful In Every Shade Shirt - Give One to a Youth in Liberia West Africa



50 Shades of Black recently returned from Liberia and is excited to announce that for the next two weeks for every BEAUTIFUL IN EVERY SHADE adult shirt or tank that is purchased in the United States, we will send a kids shirt back to Liberia to give to a beautiful young person!!

Distribution will be handled by our friend, the lovely Ms. Cooper pictured in the photo!


Our goal is to donate 100 free shirts!!!! Get yours at 

Posted on October 2, 2013 and filed under activism, africa, travel.

50 Shades of Alexandria.

50Shades ebook.jpg

How do you introduce yourself to a group of people virtually? For me, an introduction is always the most nerve wracking, intellectually stimulating, and awe-inspiring moment in my life. I mean, that one paragraph of written words is supposed to encapsulate everything important about the person I am! Or, at least, the person I think I am. This past year, especially, I like to think that I have gotten much better at my intros since I have been traveling around the world researching the import and export of Indian hair and the impacts it is having on identity, self-esteem, beauty, and cultural norms for the global Black community. Besides traveling around the world, I own and run my own catering company, Yellow Tomato, with my brother here in sunny Pasadena, California...

i was also born and raised here in the “City of Roses” and love the small town vibe, annual New Year’s Day Rose Parade, and the weather! After spending 4 years in upstate New York attending Hamilton College, I have come to the realization that I do not like the cold or snow! As I tell everyone who insists that snow is beautiful and that Christmas just isn’t Christmas without snow, if God wanted us to live in the snow and the cold, he would have made us with fur.  Needless to say, the warmer the climate, the happier I am! Other than running my own business, I am training to run the LA Marathon and love reading, writing, listening to music, surfing the internet, and my dog Miso plus two cats, Venus and Serena.


Q: What are your dreams?

A: What are my dreams? Short term, wake up in the morning, run the entire LA marathon, find something beautiful to marvel at every day. Long term, expand Yellow Tomato to the size as (or bigger than) Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s combined, become a successful entrepreneur with multiple businesses all over the world. Travel the world by the age of 40. Go back to school and get my Master’s/ Ph.D. in cultural studies. But most of all, I want to be happy.

Q: How do you define physical beauty in a woman and a man? 

A: Wow, how can I define physical beauty when beauty itself is so subjective and individual? I think I will lean on the dictionary definition since I would not know how to define it otherwise. Beauty is “a combination of qualities such as shape, color, or form that pleases the senses, especially the sight.” With this definition in mind, everyone, man and woman alike, is physically beautiful in their own way. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

Q: How do you define inner beauty? 

A: I believe that is a combination of factors that makes a person pleasing to the intellect. I love to be mentally intrigued. When the inner and outer form please me, OMG! If you couldn’t tell by now, inner beauty is definitely more important to me. We change physically all the time. Weight gain, weight loss, illness, wrinkles… however, if you have a sense of humor, a je ne sais quoi, that lasts a lifetime.

Q: If you stood in front of the top ten most influential people of the world, what would you tell them? 

A: Standing in front of the top 10 most influential people of the world, I would tell them to not forget the African proverb, “It takes a village to raise a child.” Don’t forget the people that helped you get to where you are today.  So many times we forget to thank and give back to the communities that have raised us, and supported us. We must all remember the people that helped us get where we are today, and to help others get to where we are now.

Q: If you stood in front of the entire African diaspora, women, men, elders and youngsters, and you had one piece of advice to give, what would it be? 

A: It’s just skin! We are all shades of brown, from deep chocolate to nearly white. Love yourself, your color, and own your beauty.

Q: What needs work in our community?

A: Something that definitely needs work in our community is the amount of self-hate and self-policing we do to one another. As a people, there is such discontent with the situation we are in, and how “the white man is the oppressor”. While I do agree that colonialism set us back both socially and economically, at the same time, we are in the 21st century. Instead of acting like crabs in a barrel and pulling each other down, we must work together to elevate ourselves. We don’t need to look for the approval of others to know what we ourselves half-heartedly believe. Instead of simply saying “Black is Beautiful,” we must fully believe it.


Q: What is exemplary in our community to others?

A: We are the birthplace of civilization, the original race! The richness of our cultures continues to affect and recreate how we connect and communicate with others. We are master linguists, and the hundreds of traditional languages spoken all over the continent, as well as the rich and colorful traditional clothing and food, only continue to distinguish our community from the rest. Our community is so industrious and creative, and our ability to take something mundane and turn it into something completely our own is incomparable. The different tones, waves, and intonations that our voices make here in the States have created its own culture. No matter where in the world you are, you can always see the signature Black woman hand-on-hip stance! The thing that I love the most, however, is our skin, and all the shades that we come in. What can I say? I simply love blackness, and all that it encompasses.  


Q: What is the one dream that you will make happen, no matter what? Why and how? 

A: One dream? Only one??? Well I guess I would have to settle on doing something that pretty much combines two dreams in one – travel the world by the time I am 40. I love traveling, and the more I do it, the more addicted to it I become! I feel truly happy and at peace with myself and the world around me whenever I am outside of my normal comfort zone and experiencing other cultures, communities, and ways of life. Being someplace else forces you outside of your comfort zone and makes you realize so much about yourself, the world, and life in general. Every time that I have the opportunity to leave the U.S., I am always humbled by the genuine kindness and happiness I see and experience at the hands of everyday people, and relearn how to marvel at the sheer beauty of this world. How I am going to do this? Keep buying plane tickets!

Q: Tell us about your definition of success and why you think that’s the best definition of success; who does it apply to, do you embody it? Who embodies it?

A: What is success? Well this is a tricky question. I think my definition of it may differ from the norm, but I would define it as the completion of a goal, no matter how small or large. Success depends completely on each individual person and the goals they have set for themselves. In my opinion, everyone is successful in their own way. For me, I do believe that I am successful. The goals I set out for myself, I complete, no matter how inconsequential they may seem. I definitely feel that success is a constant battle to maintain because it requires a constant reevaluation of the self and the goals that have been set out by the individual. Obtaining success is easy, but maintaining it is difficult.

Q: Who/what inspires you to be successful?

My mom and my brother both inspire me to push myself to be successful. My mom has always encouraged me to dream big and to never let myself get in the way of what I want to achieve.

Q: The book you would recommend to all Tamaji readers? Why?

A: One book that I would recommend to all Tamaji readers would be Naked: Black Women Bare All About Their Skin, Hair, Hips, Lips, and Other Parts Edited by Ayana Byrd and Akiba Solomon. I read this book while in the Dominican Republic, and it honestly changed my life! As a Black woman, this book allowed me to connect with other Black women whose experiences with how their bodies are experienced by others has affected (both positively and negatively) their sense of self. Reading this book it allowed me to realize that so many other people consume the Black female image and that although my body is mine, as soon as I walk down the street, it no longer belongs to me, but to society at large. If there is any book a Black woman should read to make sense of herself and her place in society, it is this book.

Q: If you left the world tonight, what would your footprint be?

A: If I left the world tonight, my footprint would be that I have changed someone’s life for the better, brought them true happiness, put a genuine smile on their face, and caused them to dream of greatness.

PS – Alexandria Dotson is a Bristol Fellow. She will give a talk about her fellowship on May 20th, 2013 at 5pm at the Altadena Community Center 730 E. Altadena Dr. Altadena CA, 91001. Tickets are $10.00 ($7.00 for students with proof of I.D.). You can call or email for purchase (626) 676-5105 or  

50 Shades of Black is proud to partner with Tamaji Magazine.  The column features personal interviews with men and women from the African Diaspora whose voices reflect a unique perspective.  This week’s feature is Alexandria Dotson from Pasadena, CA.  Be sure to tune in next week!


Posted on April 19, 2013 and filed under tamaji, travel, skin tone, blog.

Ross Oscar Knight Brings 50 Shades of Black, Ethics, & Art Together at Emory University

I have the great pleasure of working with amazing artists on a daily basis.  As the Director of the Ethics & the Arts Initiative at the Emory University Center for Ethics, I have the pleasure of working with artists across artistic disciplines whose work (like this project) address social issues and is used as a vehicle for positive social change.  50 Shades of Black has also exposed me to an entirely new set of  talented artists and has allowed me to build personal relationships with them that I otherwise may not have been able to build.

This isn't exactly the case though with Ross Oscar Knight, though.  Based in Atlanta, but with suitcase packed to travel to any part of the world at any given time, Ross and I go back to pre 50 Shades of Black days.  To have him play an intimate role in its development and future means a lot to me.

Tonight both worlds come together with Ross because he is a featured artist for both the  Ethics & the Arts Program and for 50 Shades of Black.  His exhibit Beauty in the Face of Destruction is a set of breath taking images taken in post earthquake Haiti.  Having returned from a second trip to Haiti less than 2 weeks ago, Ross will have fresh insight and (I'm sure) renewed zeal for the country and the people who embraced him while he was there.  Learn more about Ross on our Featured Artist Pages.

Related Article From KNIGHT Blog >> Ross Oscar Knight Haiti Exhibit Toured by International Visitors to Emory University


Mercy Oduyoye - Ghana, Vera Baboun - Palestine, Vandana Shiva - India, Lisette Guedo - Nicaragua.  Photos by Carlton Mackey

Mercy Oduyoye - Ghana, Vera Baboun - Palestine, Vandana Shiva - India, Lisette Guedo - Nicaragua. Photos by Carlton Mackey

Today is internationally recognized as Women's Day.  As many people are saying about Black History Month or Mother's Day or...ummm, your birthday...there is no way to adequately celebrate the fullness, value, or contributions of women in a singular day or month.  We do pause however to give thanks to women world wide and their contributions to all of our lives.

I have had the great pleasure of meeting and photographing some powerful women across the world.  They have shaped my understanding of the world.  They have forced me to grapple with the implications of my theological views.  They have helped me to ultimately be a better human being.  I'm grateful for their example, their commitment, and their leadership.

This is certainly not an exhaustive list and nothing can compare to the impact that two of the most important women in my life, my grandmother and my wife, have made on me.  It is with great pleasure to introduce:

4 Women, From 4 Countries, and 4 Reasons to Celebrate

mercy oduyoye ghana

mercy oduyoye ghana

Mercy Amba Oduyoye is Africa’s first and foremost woman theologian. While her life reads like a story, Oduyoye’s theology itself can best be described as a theology of stories that have changed worldviews on gender, ecumenism and restorative historiography.

Mercy Amba Oduyoyeis a theologian known for her work in African women's theology. She is currently the director of the Institute of African Women in Religion and Culture at Trinity Theological Seminary in Ghana.  I had the pleasure of being a student of Dr. Oduyoye while at Candler School of Theology.  Traveling with Dr. Emmanuel Lartey, I was able to visit her at Trinity Seminary in Ghana some years later.

Oduyoye has written four books and over eighty articles focusing on Christian theology from a feminist and African perspective. One of her central subjects is how African religion and culture influences the experiences of African women. In particular, she has addressed the effects of economic oppression on African women.

Journey to Jordan Israel Palestine

Journey to Jordan Israel Palestine

Vera George Mousa Baboun (Arabic: فيرا جورج موسى بابون) is a Palestinian politician and the first female mayor of Bethlehem.  I had the pleasure of meeting her in her office in Bethlehem.  She is one of the most intriguing and captivating women I've ever met.  Baboun has a Masters degree in African-American literature.  She is a gender studies researcher looking at the role of information technology in empowering women in the Arab world. At the time of her election, she was a Ph.D. candidate in Arab-American women’s literature. Baboun is the mother of five children. She is an Arab Christian.

As mayor, Baboun presides over a city with the highest unemployment in the West Bank. Bethlehem has a changing demographic, due to an outflux of the Christian population. She cites the presence of the Israeli West Bank Barrier as an obstacle to growth by restricting the movement of people, ideas and goods.  Of Bethlehem she states, "We are a strangulated city, with no room for expansion due to the settlements and the wall." She hopes to stop the flow of emigration by creating job opportunities for young people. She also hopes to regain international support for Palestine.

vandana shiva eyes smile

vandana shiva eyes smile

Vandana Shiva is a world-renowned environmental leader and thinker. Director of the Research Foundation on Science, Technology, and Ecology, she is the author of many books.  Shiva is a scientist, philosopher, feminist,environmentalist, and activist. Dr. Vandana Shiva is a one-woman movement for peace, sustainability and social justice.

Shiva is a leader in the International Forum on Globalization, along with Ralph Nader and Jeremy Rifkin. She addressed the World Trade Organization summit in Seattle, the World Economic Forum in Melbourne. In 1993, Shiva won the Alternative Nobel Peace Prize (the Right Livelihood Award).

Before becoming an activist, Shiva was one of India ’s leading physicists. She holds a master’s degree in the philosophy of science and a PhD in particle physics.



Lisette Guedo You may recall my post I Guess Someone Asking to Touch Your Hair Doesn't Always Have to be a Bad Thing about my experiences of hospitality and love in Los Brasiles Nicaragua.   The school that I photographed the kids for a yearbook is run by Lisette Guedo.  Guedo has been praying and sowing into the lives of children in Los Brasiles for more than a decade with Compassion International.  Lisette helps to run the organization as Director of Programs.  She sets the standard with her professional approach to working with the children and making decisions on how to move forward in the face of challenge.  With compassion, gentleness, wisdom, and courage she is a central leader of that town.  Lisette lives with her husband and 3 children in Los Brasiles Nicaragua.


Carlton spends time with Nancy and Shelvis Smith-Mather to discuss faith and the experience of their child's birth in South Sudan.
Carlton spends time with Nancy and Shelvis Smith-Mather to discuss faith and the experience of their child's birth in South Sudan.

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.

-Carlton Mackey Creator, 50 Shades of Black

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Jamaica has been on my mind a lot lately.  My new fine art collection is a series of portraits titled FACES OF JAMAICA.  Five images from this collection of 22 portraits are currently being exhibited at the Southwest Art Center in Atlanta, Georgia as part of an Atlanta Celebrates Photography exhibit titled EYE TO THE WORLD curated by Briana X. Camelo of the Fulton County Arts Council.  I give an artist talk about that exhibit this Sunday October 28th.



Tonight another image from that collection will be auctioned off and exchanged as part of THE IMAGINARY MILLION, a curated exhibit, an art auction and gala sponsored by Wonderroot, MOCA GA, and The Zuckerman Museum of Kennesaw State University as part of ELEVATE, a week of "free contemporary art happenings" organized by the City of Atlanta's Office of Cultural Affairs.

As it relates to 50 SHADES OF BLACK, I saw this vintage ad from Jamaica's Tourist Board on the Tumblr Blog of Jamaican Blogger Hillside Matahari.  It's caption reads:

Her ancestors were African, German, Welsh, Indian French and Costa Rican.

She's pure Jamaican.

One of the objectives of 50 SHADES OF BLACK is not only broadening the spectrum of what is considered beautiful and examining the complexity of skin tone, it is also about unpacking the definitions of diversity.  Being "Black" or "Jamaican" is often seen as a homogeneous designation.  This can't be further from the truth.  What this ad offers our project is added affirmation into the multi layers that shape each of our identities.  It poignantly challenges our assumptions, heralds the beauty of the woman featured, and champions the ethos of Jamaica -one that celebrates its rich diversity and acknowledges the sources of that diversity.

Vintage Jamaica Tourism Poster

Vintage Jamaica Tourism Poster

In this new collection, I also try to offer a glimpse of yet another view of Jamaica.  In the Fall of 2011, I traveled to Jamaica with Dr. Noel Erskine a trained theologian who was raised in the Jamaican village in which the Rastafarian faith originated.  We traveled from Ocho Rios to the remote Bobo Shanti in the hills of Bull Bay.  Dr. Erskine is the author of the book From Garvey to Marley: Rastafari Theology.

Through this collection I seek to gain and to promote a deeper understanding of each of the distinct people who grace its pages and of the Rastafarian faith that, for some of them, is at the core of their understanding of themselves.  My primary objective, though, is for the viewer to peer deeper into their own lives.  This collection is as much about an examination of the self as it is about studying the faces of any of the individuals in these photos.

These are the faces of everyday folks just like you and me.  These are folks who call the same place home as the legendary Robert (Bob) Nesta Marley and the contemporary track sensation Usain Bolt.  These are folks, however, who are not singularly defined by icons of popular culture by a particular faith.  They worship, sing, dance, work, make love, play, and express themselves in as many distinct ways as anywhere else in the world.  They are certainly, however, shaped by the place they call home.



See the FACES OF JAMAICA Collection and order prints.  Prints are discounted for the initial debut of the series through November 7.

Posted on October 24, 2012 and filed under blog, art, travel.