Posts filed under personal stories

All Light Skinned People Look Alike

Sister at the Farmer's Market? Are we related?

On my weekly retreat to the farmer's market to collect fresh fruits and vegetables, I heard a woman whispering behind me. "Wow. He has pretty eyes. I bet those two are brother and sister." I turned around and saw this woman (Jocelyn) standing with some of her relatives. We smiled casually and then shared a defining moment that many light-skinned African Americans face. For some reason, if your eyes are blue and your hair is red/brown/blonde and you have African American features then we are all supposed to be related? Its like we are an anomaly or something. 

I'll admit, I had Jocelyn take off her glasses so that I could examine her face further. We share lots of the same features but we are not related. I found out that Jocelyn was young enough to be my daughter! 

So then we did a test. I selected two darker-skinned individuals at random with similar features and I said, "You must be related." They asked me why would I think that. I told them because their skin tone was similar and I noticed features that looked generational. The two people rolled their eyes and went separate ways. Jocelyn and I got a laugh out of that.

- Ross Oscar Knight
(Director of International Initiatives)



Posted on July 24, 2014 and filed under Identity, personal stories, race, skin tone.

World Vitiligo Day: From Michael Jackson to Winnie Harlow

Clip of Winnie Harlow from YouTube Video  - Vitiligo: A Skin Condition not a Life Changer

Clip of Winnie Harlow from YouTube Video  - Vitiligo: A Skin Condition not a Life Changer

June 25th was World Vitiligo Day.  It also happened to be the day the world reflected on the loss of the person with the most well known case of vitiligo -a skin condition also shared by roughly 100 million people.

For some, vitiligo can take an emotional toll...not exclusively because of the condition itself, but because of 'weird adults with malicious ignorance'.  In the recent CNN article titled World Vitiligo Day: Skin disease takes emotional toll, broadcaster Lee Thomas reflects:

"It's not really the ignorance," Thomas said about the lack of awareness surrounding vitiligo. "It's the malicious ignorance. Adults are weird."

He remembers playing a "visual tennis match" with a man in his office. The man would stare at Thomas, then as soon as Thomas looked at him, the man looked away. They volleyed back and forth until Thomas told him, "It's OK if you want to look."

He went through what he calls an "angry spotted-guy" period when he would give menacing looks to those who stared at him.

While visual tennis matches may have also plagued the early life of the young lady below, she has taken these matches all the way to center court.  ACE!

Check out the video below of 19-year-old Chantelle Brown-Young, who goes by the name Winnie Harlow.  This video was filmed when she was 17 years old.  Now, Ms. Brown will be competing in the next season of America's Next Top Model.

Thank you Winnie for bearing witness to the fact that we are BEAUTIFUL IN EVERY SHADE.

Rebecca Knight by Creative Silence for BEAUTIFUL IN EVERY SHADE.   Order Shirts HERE

Rebecca Knight by Creative Silence for BEAUTIFUL IN EVERY SHADE.  Order Shirts HERE



Posted on July 1, 2014 and filed under Body Image, Identity, personal stories, skin tone.

Radmilla Cody: Dine' (Navajo) & Nahilii (African American) Woman

Bridging the Gap with Radmilla Cody of Navajo and African heritage, and her Grandma Dorothy, Navajo (RIP)

Bridging the Gap with Radmilla Cody of Navajo and African heritage, and her Grandma Dorothy, Navajo (RIP)

...To reaffirm the statement on the choosing of my identity, I come from two beautiful cultures which I have embraced, bridged, balanced, and identify with. I am proud to be who I am as a Dine’ (Navajo) and Nahilii (African American) woman.
Hozho’, , & blessings...
— Radmilla Cody

Inspiring Radmilla is the award winner of the Record of the Year for her song "Shi Keyah Songs for the People".

:: RADMILLA CODY ::
With an angelic voice of bluebirds singing, Radmilla Cody, traditional Navajo recording artist, Indie Award Winner and two-time Native American Award Nominee continues to maintain Navajo culture by recording music that the Diné elders can be proud of and that children sing with pride.

She is of the Tla'a'schi'i' (Red-Orche-on-Cheek) clan and is born for the African-Americans. Radmilla is the 46th Miss Navajo Nation from 1997-98. Born and raised in the beautiful and picturesque plateaus of the Navajo Nation, Radmilla Cody's childhood consisted of herding sheep on foot and horseback, carding and spinning wool, and searching late into the night with her grandmother for lost sheep and their lambs. 

The highlight of her sheep herding days was standing in the sheep corral singing at the top of her lungs with the sheep and goats as her audience. "All that mattered at that time was the moment of living a dream," says Radmilla about her early life, which today has become a reality for the young musician. A survivor of domestic violence, Radmilla uses her personal experiences to advocate strongly against the epidemic of violence. 

It is an issue she has become very passionate about. As a biracial person she attempts to communicate positive messages about her dual identity to biracial or multiracial children who still bear the brunt of prejudice. 

Radmilla Cody is of the Tlaaschii (Red Bottom People) born for Nahillii (African American) and has traveled internationally to Kenya, South America, Japan, Germany, Netherlands, Russia, and Italy. 

She has earned a BS in Public Relations from Northern Arizona University and is pursuing a MA in Sociology. She was the 46th Miss Navajo and is the subject of “Hearing Radmilla”, a documentary produced and directed by Angela Webb. 

Radmilla is a domestic violence advocate and founder of “Strong Spirit…Life is Beautiful not Abusive” campaign which addresses teen dating violence. Her previous recordings for Canyon Records include Seed of Life, Spirit of a Woman and Precious Friends.

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BRIDGING THE GAP: Contemporary Realities, Our Ancestral Past, & Our Liberated Future 

This is the 15th of a weekly series called BRIDGING THE GAP curated by I Love Ancestry on 50 Shades of BLACK featuring stories of inspiring people and ancestors who contributed to the struggle for freedom.

50 Shades of Black will also be curating a weekly series of stories on I Love Ancestry featuring contemporary stories of people like YOU from around the world. We personally invite you to join us on this journey of discovery and healing.

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

Share your stories, find your voice, speak your truths.

SHARE YOUR STORY:
http://www.50shadesofblack.com/share-stories

 

Posted on June 27, 2014 and filed under africa, family, Identity, personal stories, music, race, religion and culture, skin tone.

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 www.briankamanzi.wordpress.com
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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.

SHARE YOUR STORY:
http://www.50shadesofblack.com/share-stories

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

—Danielle B. Douez

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

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

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

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

Dorian Wanzer: The Fro is Mightier Than the Sword

Dorian Wanzer | Washington DC

Dorian Wanzer | Washington DC

My hair changes each day, so I look unique everyday. Sometimes change is frustrating, other times it's awesome, but embracing that versatility has helped me develop a better sense of self. Folks have suggested that I straighten my hair for special events, jobs, etc. as if straightening my hair would make me look better. However, I KNOW I look my best when I rock my fro.  God intended for my hair to be as it is, and that's all the confirmation I need. 

Dorian is the fourth person in our series:

THE FRO IS MIGHTIER THAN THE SWORD:
Your Photos. Your Hair. Your Voice.

See Complete Series

Posted on May 14, 2014 and filed under Identity, personal stories.

Celebrating Deerheart Hummingbird of African, Mexican & Choctaw Heritage

Celebrating Deerheart Hummingbird of African, Mexican & Choctaw heritage

Deerheart Hummingbird was born in Chicago, IL in 1957 to a Mexican/American Indian mother and African American father. She is a deisgner of Traditional and Contemporary American Indian Regalia.

In 1979, Deerheart moved to Iowa City to provide a better future for herself as well as her children. She has three sons and one daughter.

Growing up Hummingbird was aware of her Choctaw heritage but was not raised around the culture. For as long as she could remember there had been something missing in her life. It was not until she cried out to Creator for help in finding her true self, her purpose, and her destiny. 

It was then that Creator led her to walk the good red road, which in turn filled the emptiness that plagued her life. Creator has blessed Deerheart with the gift of listening to her ancestors.

With the guidance of her ancestors, Deerheart has created her own business in which she designs both Traditional and Contemporary American Indian Regalia. She is a Member of the White Horse Nation (Educating the Community) and The Women’s Shell Shakers Society ~ Lake Geneva: Fund Raiser. 

Deerheart has volunteered her services to projects such as the Oneida Cultural Project (Wisconsin) and the Pow-Wow circuit: Midwest Soaring, Aurora, Pleasant Prairie, MacTown, Eagle Creek, Jolie, Fredricksburg and University of Illinois Chicago. 

Hummingbird plans to continue to reach out to the people through her business, speaking engagements (educational), workshops and remains on the “Walk on the Ancient Red Road” that Creator has blessed her to be on.

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Click Banner for more stories from this series

Click Banner for more stories from this series

BRIDGING THE GAP: Contemporary Realities, Our Ancestral Past, & Our Liberated Future 

This is the 13th of a weekly series called BRIDGING THE GAP curated by I Love Ancestry on 50 Shades of BLACK featuring stories of inspiring people and ancestors who contributed to the struggle for freedom.

50 Shades of Black will also be curating a weekly series of stories on I Love Ancestry featuring contemporary stories of people like YOU from around the world. We personally invite you to join us on this journey of discovery and healing.

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

Share your stories, find your voice, speak your truths.

SHARE YOUR STORY:
http://www.50shadesofblack.com/share-stories
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Posted on May 8, 2014 and filed under Identity, personal stories.

Reflections of an Undercover Black Girl from San Francisco

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

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

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

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

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

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

~Stacy Jethroe

Photo submitted by Stacy Jethroe

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

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

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

SHARE YOUR STORY:
http://www.50shadesofblack.com/share-stories

READ MORE STORIES

Poet of Choctaw, Coharie, Cherokee & African Heritage asks: "Who's Afraid of Black Indians?"

Bridging the Gap with Shonda Buchanan of Choctaw, Coharie, Cherokee & African heritage. Award-winning poet and fiction writer, author of "Who's Afraid of Black Indians?"

"Trust the first drum, your heart, for all your answers. The ancestors will follow..." ~Shonda Buchanan

POEM: "The Trail" by Shonda Buchanan
(For the Staffords, Roberts, Manuels and Mathews)

These are the holes
That fill you up
A morning after 4th
Of July
The empty hollow
A memory in the fire
The quiet morning
Rises
Death of father
Suicide of a nephew
Addiction of sister
Another nephew at war
His brother, prison
Pummeling of a mother and aunts
The breaking of lives without a sound.
No honor in their deaths or mistakes
No memory of them, except here

These are the shimmering calcified minutes
The spotted ghosts of a black Indian’s
Midwest life

Where nothing and everything changed
In the fires that burned your farm houses down
And you wonder how you would
Have been or grown
How you would have loved
Had not this or this happened

I remember another July
Years past, under the glass of time
When we were all together, laughing
Spit-polished by hard love
Smoky with hunger for the future
When memory was a thing
Yet to come

~Shonda Buchanan
Photo: Nottoway pow wow in Surry, VA

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BRIDGING THE GAP: Contemporary Realities, Our Ancestral Past, & Our Liberated Future

This is the 11th of a weekly series of posts curated by I Love Ancestry on 50 Shades of BLACK featuring stories of inspiring people and ancestors who contributed to the struggle for freedom.

50 Shades of Black will also be curating a weekly series of stories on I Love Ancestry featuring contemporary stories of people like YOU from around the world.

We personally invite you to join us on this journey of discovery and healing.

Share your stories, find your voice, speak your truths.

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

SHARE YOUR STORY:
http://www.50shadesofblack.com/share-stories

Posted on April 28, 2014 and filed under activism, africa, art, history, Identity, personal stories.

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.

>>HOST A BEAUTIFUL IN EVERY SHADE OPEN PHOTO SHOOT AT YOUR SCHOOL<<

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 >> 

Mexican, French Creole, Gang Interventionist: The Story of the Future Mayor of Inglewood

Mexican, French Creole, Gang Interventionist: The Story of the Future Mayor of Inglewood

I am a 2nd generation gang member born in raised in Inglewood, California. I'm Mexican mixed with French Creole. My father is born in Mexico but DNA says he is Aztec, Mayan, Greek, Russian & British. My mother's father is Mexican and her mother is French Creole (Broussard family: French, German, African Islander, and Magician Chinese) (DeRouen Family: Cajun which is French and Native American plus African and Spanish). 

I grow up in California not being excepted by the black girls because I wasn't black enough. I wasn't excepted by Mexicans because I didn't speak spanish.

I started junior high school and became a gang member from a well know Mexican Gang in Los Angeles area. Being mixed was a little complicated because to every one I was every thing BUT Mexican and Creole (LOL). To the world, I was Cambodian, Puerto Rican, Mulatto, etc. As I explored my heritage I learned to accept myself as a Mexi-Creole. I'm proud of my mexican blood AND very excited about my rich culture of being Creole. My Dad side gives me spanish and bomb Mexican food and the integrity of the Mexican belief of being a woman of your word. Mom side gives me the enjoyment of broken french, bomb new Iberia style gumbo and boudin. Dancing to Zydeco music and knowing my DeRouen side came from Normandy France to Quebec then to Avery island to New Iberia Louisiana. 

I'm blessed to survive the gang life. I earned my BA Degree, got married, was blessed with twins and a daughter. I am a community activists and in the future will be Mayor of Inglewood.
~Reina Carrillo
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BRIDGING THE GAP: Contemporary Realities, Our Ancestral Past, & Our Liberated Future

This is our 13th weekly personal story curated by the creator of 50 Shades of BLACK, in partnership with I Love Ancestry featuring contemporary stories of people like YOU from around the world.

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

>>SHARE YOUR STORY<<

 

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

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

For more information on 50 Shades of Black, visit: http://50shadesofblack.com

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

http://wonderroot.org 
http://facebook.com/wonderpage 
http://twitter.com/wonderroot 
http://instagram.com/wonderroot

Do You Believe In Magic? The Story of a Little Black Princes

Photos by Carlton Mackey, Creator of 50 Shades of Black

Photos by Carlton Mackey, Creator of 50 Shades of Black

Several years ago, the mother of this little princess contacted me about capturing some images for her daughter's 4th birthday. She knew the party would be princess themed, and she knew that that she wanted the pictures that would be given as keepsakes to be special.

As the day approached we talked about ways to execute the shoot. At first, I proposed some areas near downtown Atlanta that might look "castle-like". At the last minute, I shifted my thoughts to trying to pull off an "enchanted forest" look.

Of course, the day of the shoot was colder than the rest of the week. We covered the princess in a big coat and took it off just as we began shooting. We literally shot for 15 minutes. I captured only 24 frames before we were headed back to the car. It was too cold. We finished the shoot in the studio and hoped that at least one of the images from the forest would work.

I don't think the princess was worried at all. She believes in magic.

Photography, Concept, and Digital Editing by Carlton Mackey

Interested in having your magic captured by me or a member of our creative team?  Email me at carltonmackey(at)50shadesofblack(dot)com

Posted on April 15, 2014 and filed under art, blog, personal stories.

ITALIAN, BLACK, NATIVE: I AM WHOLE

In school, or even outside of school, I have always been gawked at just because I looked different. I have thick long hair down to my waist, tan/medium skin, and almond, deep set eyes. People would always ask me what my race was, and I would always say "Human" I asked my Mom when I was younger what I was, then she told me her story and then my Father's story.

Firstly my Father is full blood Italian. And both of his parents roots were in Southern Italy. My Mother's on the other hand is African and Blackfoot Native American. She told me about her parents, which in fact both had Blackfoot Grandparents.  This intrigued me even more. She also told me about how her Great Grandmother, how she used to speak in her native tongue, and how she was beautiful beyond belief.

When I look at my Mom, I really don't see black, other than her skin.  Everything else is all Native: her nose, her eyes, even her hair, stands out from other black women. My Mother, also told me how in school people, other black students, would make fun of her looks because she wasn't "black enough." I compared my own situation to hers...how I was always looked at and probed...how I was never enough of anything because I was multiracial.

I felt so alone until I branched out into the Native American community and to other multi-racial people who felt as I did and who weren't accepted like I was. Even my Italian family, disowned me because I connected more with my Mom's heritage then their own. To me you can be a million things, a million different bloodlines intermingled into one, but if you don't feel connected spiritually then you aren't part of the circle. I feel and have always felt close with my Native and Black side..and always will. But, that doesn't mean I disown my Italian side. I am three parts to one puzzle, and I fit together perfectly.

Now that I am twenty years old, I am still learning so much about my self and about my family's history. I learnt some words in my tribal language. Pretty soon I will jingle dance in the up and coming powwows, and I hope to one day act and model and speak for my people, my ancestors, and ALL the bloodlines that are in me.

No I am not just one part, I am a whole.

Read Full Press Release about New Partnership

Read Full Press Release about New Partnership

This is our 11th weekly personal story curated by the creator of 50 Shades of BLACK, Carlton Mackey, in partnership with I Love Ancestry (facebook) |  www.iloveancestry.com 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.

SHARE YOUR STORY:
http://www.50shadesofblack.com/share-stories

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


African, Native American, Irish, & Italian: I Am Here

I AM HERE

I AM HERE

My name is Linda Simpson [Bradford] Jenkins. I am the youngest of three siblings, and the only biological child of my parents' union. I grew up in a deeply spiritual family who loved and fought fiercely for what they believed in. 

My father, the great grandson of freed mulatto slaves, was raised by his maternal grandparents. Although my grandparents weren't married, cemetery records and oral accounts from my father's second cousin, reveal a long history of connectedness between both families (Simpson and Bradford). 

The Bradfords (African and Cherokee heritage), and the Simpsons (African, European and Cherokee heritage) have been buried in the same Tennessee cemetery dating back to the 1700s. 

My mother's lineage on her mother's side is Ethiopian and Choctaw. I remember my mother talking about conversations between her mother and grandmother (who she described as Black Indians "with coal black skin and long straight coal black hair that shined as if it was always wet). She said they would "shoo the children outdoors to play" as they talked in the Choctaw language. 

To both my mother's and my dismay, my grandmother's children never fully learned, and ultimately lost the language of their mother because my grandmother was insistent that "You kids must learn to speak English". I always felt "different" as a child--never really feeling as if I "fit it" or "was accepted". At visual appearance, I was African American, but I was always reminded at some point, that I "don't talk like us". I remember being teased by a young classmate who called me "pie face" for years. Almost 50 years later, "it all makes sense". In recent years, I started conducting my ancestry research, and the discovery has been nothing short of "liberating". 

Every child and individual should know and have access to their "culture and heritage". We are a magnificent sum of our parts, and I have much to celebrate, as do we all. I am proudly African Native American, with a dosing of Irish and Italian. I celebrate life and my ancestors each and every day, and I am loving the reddish-brown skin I'm in!

~Linda Simpson Bradford Jenkins
Photo by: Creative Silence and Edited by Carlton Mackey

Order Coffee Table Book Today from http://www.50shadesofblack.com/shop
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BRIDGING THE GAP: Contemporary Realities, Our Ancestral Past, & Our Liberated Future

This is our 10th weekly personal story curated by the creator of 50 Shades of BLACK, Carlton Mackey, in partnership with I Love Ancestry (facebook) www.iloveancestry.com 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.

SHARE YOUR STORY:
http://www.50shadesofblack.com/share-stories

READ MORE STORIES

Red Bone with Blue Eyes - Ross Oscar Knight Reflects

a reflection on my journey for personal self-identity | &nbsp;photo-culturalist and International Project Coordinator of 50 Shades of Black

a reflection on my journey for personal self-identity |  photo-culturalist and International Project Coordinator of 50 Shades of Black

Does the lack of melanin in my skin make me any less black? Does the absence of a darker pigment in my eyes distance me from my cultural roots? Who am I?

I was called a "reverse-oreo" cookie growing up. The kids in my middle school told me that I was white on the outside and black on the inside. Even though I wore urban clothing and cut my hair into a "gumby," I was still ostracized by my black brothers and sisters. I was searching for my identity as a "red-bone" as I was called on the basketball court and in the black community. I felt that the color of my skin made me both intriguing and an outcast in different situations. It was depressing, and I can still clearly remember when the color divide was evident from grade school inclusion to high school segregation. I still sat on both sides of the cafeteria. No one noticed. Especially when I was wearing a hat.

By the time I made it to college I learned to be more political with the color of my skin and the color of my eyes. I felt that getting jobs was easier because I was seen as the "safe" choice. Or better yet, the "lighter face" of diversity. If I went into a marketing department at my internships, I was always chosen as the "racially ambiguous" poster child. Back at my HBCU campus I met more people that looked like me from all over the world. It made me wonder even more about my roots. Jamaican? Italian? German? African? French? Still, there was the ultra "black power" crew that told me I was only 10 percent black. They made it certain that the lack of melanin in my skin made me inferior to them. They said that my lighter skin diluted my intelligence, and their darker skin tied them closer to the Motherland and to black culture.

Today I fully embrace the beauty of my culture and mixed ancestry as well as others'. Furthermore, I feel a deep appreciation for diversity both within my own race and outside of it. My experiences as a youth planted a seed in me, a desire to understand the commonalities of the human experience despite the outward differences of culture, upbringing, appearance, and origin. I am a photo-culturalist who travels the world documenting the pinnacles of joy and the depths of sorrow in people's lives. As I continue to grow as an artist, my professional experiences coupled with my past, help me to understand the complexities surrounding identity formation from a global perspective.

~Ross Oscar Knight

(chapter 3, page 47)
50 Shades of Black Coffee Table Book Vol. 1
Photo by: Yvonne Lin for Ross Oscar Knight Photography

PLEASE ORDER YOUR COPY TODAY

READ MORE STORIES

Posted on March 13, 2014 and filed under Identity, personal stories, race, skin tone.

We don't look the same, but our Great (x3) Grandfather was Solomon Northup of 12 years a slave

12 years a slave family collage.jpg

My great (x3) grandfather was Solomon Northup. His life was depicted in 12 Years a Slave , last night's Oscar winner for Best  Picture.

50 Shades of Black explores sexuality and skin tone in the formation of identity.

23, 5th great-grandson. The recent college grad has received many queries about Northup’s story and is thankful “people are interested in [my] family’s history.”

23, 5th great-grandson. The recent college grad has received many queries about Northup’s story and is thankful “people are interested in [my] family’s history.”

46, 4th great-granddaughter. “I’m proud I came from that bloodline,” says the real estate agent who read&nbsp;  Twelve Years a Slave  &nbsp;when she was in the military. “I’m glad his story was told.”

46, 4th great-granddaughter. “I’m proud I came from that bloodline,” says the real estate agent who read Twelve Years a Slave when she was in the military. “I’m glad his story was told.”

4, 5th great-granddaughter, daughter of&nbsp;  Justin Gilliam.

4, 5th great-granddaughter, daughter of Justin Gilliam.

Kyle Farr  27, 4th great-grandson

Kyle Farr

27, 4th great-grandson

Allan Scotty Cooper  63, retired, 3rd great-grandson

Allan Scotty Cooper

63, retired, 3rd great-grandson

"Bearing the gifts that the ancestors gave, I am the hope and the dream of a slave" -Maya Angelou

See More of Northup's descendents at http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/gallery/12-years-a-slave-portraits-683439