“None of us are beautiful until we acknowledge the fact that all of us are,”—Carlton Mackey.
This philosophy was the foundation of the conception of the 50 Shades of Black and BEAUTIFUL IN EVERY SHADE movements and was beautifully translated into an empowering and affirming discovery workshop at the University of Arizona this past September.
Mackey and Devan Dunson (Mackey's Co-Director of Black Men Smile), partnered with African American Student Affairs and the Black Student Union at the University of Arizona to host this workshop, which allowed University of Arizona students to celebrate, explore, and discover the beauty of black identity.
The event consisted of four “Activation Stations”. One station was the “Black Men Smile” station, which sought to engender discussions on black masculinity in contemporary society and challenge narrowly defined understanding of said identity. Additionally, there was the written reflection station, where the attendees expressed their thoughts identity, dignity, and pride, and a display section on various sexual and racial identities: including Black-Latina, East-African, Jamaican, bi-racial and Black gay male. Finally, and most popular amongst the attendees of the event, was the Photo Booth station, in which Mackey and Dunson sought to “create a mosaic of people’s collective identities.”
These “Activation Stations”, and the discourse that accompanied them, allowed several University of Arizona students to understand, re-affirm, or even discover, the value of authenticity, self-worth, and pride in one’s identity.
This event was widely received by the attending students and directors of the Black Student Union and the African American Student Affairs. The experience meant something very different to each individual, but gave them a chance to share their stories with others. Like Taperra Riddle, a sociology freshman said, “It’s good to know that there are other people with similar problems to talk about.” Even further, the event changed how some students saw themselves, going as far as to change the extent to which they valued parts of their identity.
Isoken Adodo, program coordinator for African American Student Affairs at the University of Arizona, said “I’m 28 [years old] now, but when I was 18, you would never see my hair like this,” she said, pointing to her head. “I would struggle with the fact that I’m not a size four, that I had a bit of a shape… I think this event is great because it gives these young students the opportunity to look in the mirror and say, ‘I love my skin, I love my hair, I love my lips,’”
At the closing of the event, in the open reflection panel, one student beautifully summarized the mission and value of the workshop and Beautiful in Every Shade movement with the statement, “One of the things I really liked about tonight was that black folks came together to take up space, but not around trauma…Today wasn’t about that. It was about coming to celebrate ourselves, just because. I think that is very powerful and I think that is also revolutionary.”
Emory University Center for Ethics
Ethics & the Arts Program Intern