Posts filed under art

Fahamu Pecou Connects Social Justice and Pop Culture with Talking Drum

50 Shades of Black featured artist Fahamu Pecou is on fire...and he's setting every platform that he touches ablaze.  In a Boss move by the Center for Civil and Human Rights, the organization sought to maintain its relevancy to the community by connecting with one of the city's most relevant artists.

Photo by Jeoff Davis

Photo by Jeoff Davis


‘Talking Drum’ puts social justice on blast 

Fahamu Pecou’s Center for Civil and Human Rights exhibit speaks, sings, shouts

By Jacinta Howard

What is an artist's responsibility with respect to social change?

Fahamu Pecou poses the question from inside his cozy Inman Park art studio. It's a question that seems inevitable given the world's current political and social climate. Pecou, who is wearing a college sweatshirt bearing American author/activist James Baldwin's name, smiles when the inquiry is lobbed back at him.

"I don't have an answer," he admits. "That's part of the beauty of it. What's that saying — the best destination is the journey? To ask the question is to begin to answer it. If we're thinking about it, then we can begin to act on it."


Posted on January 26, 2016 and filed under activism, art, blog, Masculinity, race.

Her Name: Kim King

One year after the death of Kim King, Hands Up United leads a vigil to Say Her Name & Ask: Who Killed Kim King.

IN BROAD DAYLIGHT: Tribute by Dontey and Bud Cuzz of Lost Voices - Saint Louis, MO

September 19, 2014 Kim King, a 21 year old and mother of 2 was arrested for a street fight by the city of Pagedale.  Kim had traffic warrants which caused her to be held by the Pagedale PD. The city of Pagedale along with St.Louis county said Kim King hung herself with a T shirt within 10 minutes of her being in the cell.

A year later and we are still asking the same question. ‪


50 Shades of Black reporting from Saint Louis.

Posted on September 23, 2015 and filed under activism, art, community, feminism, race.

BLACK AMERICANA VOL 1: Amore of the Diaspora

Amore of the Diaspora

As an artist and scholar I want to redefine and re-appropriate Black Americana to reflect, and highlight the positive contributions of people of African decent in the Americas and through out the diaspora. The first installment of the project or BLACK AMERICANA: Volume One explores relational dynamics between black men and black women at various points within the African American historical timeline looking to quantify and establish what it took for one black man to love one black woman in the past and what it takes now and cast vision for it will take generations to come. My hope is to create a body of work that encourages healthy dynamics within the Black nuclear family and helps us identify with the love that sustains us in our darkest moments and inspires us during our best, and brightest. The mixed media creative work spans multiple creative platforms, including a coffee table book of fine art photography, scholarship and documented accounts of the lives and love of real black American couples and includes contributions of notable visual artist of color selected by myself working together to expand and nuance the conversation around the legacy of Black American’s, exploring both the pain and pride in our collective stories.

Using the same two subjects, myself and Atlanta based artist, activist, and cultural influencer Devan D. Dunson we seek to embody the "black lovers” who meet at pivotal moments within black history and various meta moments within black consciousness. Visually and creatively placing ourselves in the shoes of our ancestors, experiencing and connecting with truths and moments they endured and discovering "the love" over and over again. Let our collective knowledge of black history, esteem and honor for the countless black couples and families who’s love stories are the foundation for our own be increased as we unearth the SUBSTANCE and fiber of our communal connection. What it is that binds and bonds us as a community, as brothers and sisters, as man and woman? What is the soul, spirit and dynamic power of black love? So few of us are taught, have modeled or EVER really get to experience what LOVE looks and feels like when its healthy because "our love" story has had to unfold in the midst of injustice, poverty and a racially toxic society, to me the art and the artist are one, as I seek to unlock and creatively express what is contained in my own heart, my own pride and pain found, I hope to heal and celebrate the beauty and spirit of "our stories" and find the “love" in our legacy.  

-Tanisha Lynn Pyron

HERE & NOW: Modern Ideas of Slavery in Correlating Historical Landscapes

In the mid-1800s, Richmond VA was the largest source of enslaved Africans on the east coast of America. "Visitors to Richmond today have no way of seeing these stories, and residents have few ways of marking them." The stories of these spaces are worth recalling, as part of our own representational spaces.

In this two part series by 50 Shades of Black featured artist Breonca Trofort, we recall these stories and discover ways these spaces are part of our own narrative.


Silas Omohundro’s Negro Slave Jail - 17th & E. Broad Street 

Photo by Breonca Trofort from her series HERE and NOW

Photo by Breonca Trofort from her series HERE and NOW

Popularized by the Hip Hop culture, the male fashion statement of “sagging” is often displayed through young men wearing pants revealing their underwear, while usually being overly accessorized with jewelry, mostly chains. “Sagging” was adopted from the United States prison system where belts are prohibited to keep prisoners from using them as weapons or in committing suicide by hanging themselves. This style has become a symbol of freedom and their rejection of the mainstream society. Also popularized by hip hop artist are the use of wearing chains. Chains, primarily used in the past as a form of bondage, has now become a symbol of wealth. Since these ideas can easily be linked back to prisons, I decided to photograph this person at Silas Omohundro’s Negro Slave Jail located on 17th and E. Broad Street, present day Exxon Gas Station. 

"This exploration has given me another way to look at history, realizing the cycle that the past continues to play on the present."

-Breonca Trofort 

Slave Auction - 15th & E Main St

Photo by Breonca Trofort from her series HERE and NOW

Photo by Breonca Trofort from her series HERE and NOW

Common in the African American community, young males are often taught that the only way they can be successful is through becoming a rapper or an athlete. Mainstream media often glorifies these professions and young children believe that is all they can become. I decided to photograph this young child holding a basketball in the location of where a slave auction was held, in order to describe how the process and system of becoming a college-athlete and/or pro-athlete has been compared to a slave auction. Setting aside the hard work and determination that athletes pursuing this dream endure, it is commonly stated that the professional sports "drafts" are looked at as an auction. During drafts, primarily wealthy institutions predominantly owned by white men are "buying" the persons (predominantly black athletes) they feel will "work" the hardest and benefit their business the most.

Stay Tuned for Part 2

Breonca Trofort is one of four Lead Artists of 50 Shades of Black. She is a sports and portraiture photographer for commercial and editorial clients.

Posted on July 2, 2015 and filed under art, education, Masculinity, activism.

50 Shades of Social Media: Tumblr #BlackoutDay 6/21

This weekend saw the most recent installment of Tumblr's #BlackoutDay. 

Tumblr user T'von expect-the-greatest) first created Blackout Day in an effort to increase the presence and appreciation of black people online and on social media.  

"I got inspired to propose Blackout day after thinking “Damn, I’m not seeing enough Black people on my dash”. Of course I see a constant amount of Black celebrities but what about the regular people?"

"Blackout Day is a way for black people on social media to say 'Hey. I see you. I appreciate you. I’m here for you.' "

"Blackout Day is a way for black people on social media to say 'Hey. I see you. I appreciate you. I’m here for you.' "

"I thought about the tag #Black Friday, and making it a tradition on the first Friday of every month, because celebrating the beauty of Blackness is of the UTMOST importance. I’m really sick and tired of seeing the “European standard of beauty” prevail. It’s past time for the beauty of Black people to be showcased.  I love all people of color, but this here is for us."

Originally March 6th, 2015, #BlackOutDay quickly became a top trending hashtag in the US. Pictures, vines, selfies, and videos of black women, men, transgender, all body types and shades were quickly uploaded to Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, Vine, and Facebook.  The day, a 24 hour celebration of black and brown people,  had quickly become a point of unity for young "black tumblr" and "black twitter".

It's just a bunch of kids posting selfies, right? Why is this important? 

Representation. Being a regular tumblr user myself, the sight is heartwarming. Selfies of black young men and women often come with small anecdotes about how they had never felt comfortable posting an image of themselves online where the act is common place for young people. Many times these young black men and women felt unappreciated or had been told black people were unattractive. After seeing confident, beautiful people of all shapes and sizes on social media, some that looked like them, they felt reassured and noted that #BlackoutDay helped them to accept their own beauty. It isn't rare to see a selfie of a young individual with similar words and tears of joy and subtle apprehension under the hashtag. 

Starting as a 'first friday of the month event', Blackout Day has continued to evolve. The original blog has evolved into a movement of its own touting the unity and apprecation of black people as its banner. A new schedule aimed at consolidating posts across social media arose "Blacking out" the first day of each season this year. Get ready for #TheBlackOut coming in 2015 and get those selfies ready! Black is Beautiful!

"No matter what your skin tone is, you’re beautiful."

"No matter what your skin tone is, you’re beautiful."

"Like books and black lives", Representation matters. 

Check out some of the #BlackoutDay posts | Twitter | Tumblr 


  1. Color the FutureT'von ( expect-the-greatest), creator of BlackOutDay, speaks his piece
  2. Bring it Love. HI! Tomorrow, March 6 is Blackout Day!!. 2015-03-05.

Tywanza Sanders: Youngest Life Lost in Charleston Shooting Will Now Smile Forever


**I utilized this photo from Wanza's Instagram page. The caption he had under this photo was: "Believe you can and you will. Believe in God and he will."

BLACK MEN SMILE is a new signature project of 50 Shades of Black "Celebrating the Way We See Ourselves".

BRINGING THE GIFTS: An Exhibit by 50 Shades of Black Creator Reflects on the Hopes and Dreams of Enslaved Africans


January 31, 2015 marked the 150th anniversary of the ratification of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America which abolished the forced labor and enslavement of human beings.  On June 19, 1865, known as Junteenth the last remaining slaves in America were declared free. It was a day that many enslaved Africans dreamed of, struggled for, and died for in an effort to obtain…but never saw in person. 

In 1935 the federal government created a program known as The Federal Writers’ Project (FWP). The project employed photographers and writers, who travelled throughout the United States photographing and collecting stories of Americans across a spectrum of society.  Among the FWP projects was the Slave Narrative Collection [Born in Slavery: Slave Narratives from the Federal Writers' Project, 1936-1938]

The narratives are a collection of over 2,300 personal accounts of rural, southern African-Americans, the last of a dying generation of Africans born into the horrors of North American enslavement.  Though their adult lives were spent in “freedom,” they knew firsthand the limitations of Reconstruction.  Many lived under the harsh conditions of segregation and the debt of the vicious system of sharecropping. Though they had been emancipated from the peculiar and brutal system of chattel slavery, they could still only hope and work tirelessly for equality.

It is their sacrifice, resolve, and relentless commitment to resist any system or ideology that saw them as less than a human being that etched the blueprint for generations to follow. This blueprint is their greatest gift. It would serve as the foundation upon which a future they had faith in would come and would be built. 


In 1978 Maya Angelou penned the now famous poem, “Still I Rise.” The poem was initially popularized by its use in a campaign by the United Negro College Fund and the name Maya Angelou itself became ubiquitous for Black Empowerment Poetry after she delivered the poem “On the Pulse of Morning” at the inauguration of President William Jefferson Clinton in 1993.

The poem “Still I Rise” ends with the refrain: “Bringing the gifts that the ancestors gave… I am the hope and the dream of a slave.”  “BRINGING THE GIFTS,” a series of portraits that pairs historic photographs from the Federal Writers’ Project with the photography of contemporary Atlanta artist Carlton Mackey, is a creative re-imagination of that refrain.

Tiffany Young preserves the history of Butler Island and created the annual homecoming for Butler descendants.

At the invitation of Ms. Tiffany Young, descendant of Africans enslaved on Butler Island and creator of the annual Butler Island Plantation Homecoming,Mackey agreed to conduct an Open Photo Shoot of BEAUTIFUL IN EVERY SHADE ™, a movement created by Mackey to celebrate and affirm the beauty found in every human being. The Butler Island Plantation Homecoming is an annual event comprised of Butler Island descendants, friends,and supporters who wish to celebrate and remember the ancestors that lived and toiled upon the former rice plantation of Pierce Mease Butler near Darien, Georgia. At its peak more than 500 enslaved Africans worked the plantation.  Fanny Kemble, an abolitionist and wife of Pierce Butler, wrote of the life and harsh treatment of those enslaved on the island in “Journal of a Residence on a Georgian Plantation in 1838-1839”. Her harsh opposition of Butler’s practices ultimately lead to their divorce.  The publication of her journal became an effective tool of the anti-slavery movement and is considered one of the “best primary sources from the point of view of the slave owner of slave life on an early 19th Century plantation” (


Just days before the event was to take place, Mackey began searching the Internet with the hopes of potentially finding images of Africans who were enslaved in the area of the Homecoming events. Instead, he found several images from the Federal Writers’ Project archive.  In the archive he stumbled upon the image of Mr. Henry Brooks.  At that verymoment, Mackey claims to have been spoken directly to by the ancestor in the photograph and given instructions for executing a new photo series in lieu of the traditional BEAUTIFUL IN EVERY SHADE ™ Open Photo Shoot. Overcome with emotion,Mackey followed instructions and searched for a digital photo of himself taken earlier in the year by Atlanta photographer Bryan Meltz.  When he placed his photo next to the photograph of Mr. Brooks, the resemblance was uncanny -both in their physical features and the posing of the two in their respective portraits.  The revelation was ultimately clear and the concept for this new series was born.

To create this exhibit, Mackey collected and printed as many photographs taken of Africans formerly enslaved in the state of Georgia as he could from the Federal Writers’ Project and the U.S. Farm Security Administration archives. While at the Butler Island Plantation Homecoming, participants were invited to spend moments in quiet mediation while looking through these photographs.

Each participant was to choose (or be chosen by) one person in the photograph to honor. At various locations on Butler Island itself and throughout the town of Darien, Mackey photographed the participants and invited them to offer written reflections about the process and why they were drawn to a particular image.

The pairing was meant to invoke and awaken the essence of the living participant by creating a direct connection to the ancestor in the photograph.  It was meant to foster a heartfelt acknowledgement that through their living, they were the physical embodiment of someone’s “hopes and dreams.”

This series and the process of creating it are also as much about honoring one’s ancestors as it is about reflecting on the nature and meaning of hope. It challenges us to remember the gifts we’ve been given and dares us to ask: 

  • What are the gifts that we bring to the world?

  • It challenges us to critically reflect on our own hopes for the future and the source of the deep personal longings that reside at the epicenter of these hopes. 

  • What are the responsibilities that we have to make these hopes manifest? 

  • How might our living be a fitting memorial to those who came before us?

BRINGING THE GIFTS was on display at APEX Museum April 25, 2015 

Carlton Mackey was the Healthcare Ethics Consortium artist in residence for the 2015 HEC Annual Conference.  As part of his residency Mackey presented the inaugural display of BRINGING THE GIFTS at the Emory Conference Center Hotel March 19 & 20.

CONTACT US to inquire about displaying this series


Posted on June 18, 2015 and filed under africa, art, education, history, religion and culture.

OUT IN THE NIGHT: Gender Identity, Homophobia, Racial Profiling, Fighting Back

PBS Premiere: June 22, 2015

Check local listings »

Online: June 23, 2015 – July 23, 2015


In 2006, under the neon lights of a gay-friendly neighborhood in New York City, a group of African-American lesbians were violently threatened by a man on the street. The women fought back and were later charged with gang assault and attempted murder. The tabloids quickly dubbed them a gang of "Killer Lesbians" and a "Wolf Pack." Three pleaded guilty to avoid a trial, but the remaining four — Renata, Patreese, Venice and Terrain — maintained their innocence. The award-winning Out in the Night examines the sensational case and the women's uphill battle, revealing the role that race, gender identity and sexuality play in our criminal justice system. A co-production of ITVS. A co-presentation with the National Black Programming Consortium (NBPC).

The film touches on issues of gender identity, homophobia, street harassment, self-defense, racial profiling and intersectionality. 

Posted on June 17, 2015 and filed under Identity, Homophobia, LGBT, race, sexuality, art, film.

Fahamu Pecou brings the "Black Male" to the forefront of the Atlanta Art Scene

50 Shades of Black contributing artist Fahamu Pecou explores black male identity and representations of Black Masculinity.  He is one of 12 artists celebrated by ArtsAtL for their impact on the Atlanta art scene.  

As both artist and PhD student in Emory University’s Institute of Liberal Arts, Pecou unravels and scrutinizes representations of black masculinity through satire and caricature, acting out various modalities in which such identities are constructed.

To call Pecou’s work ironic, however, is missing the point. And if you think that, you might be among the multitudes lured by a marketing campaign fashioned after the celebrity culture he critiques.
— Faith McClure
Posted on April 7, 2015 and filed under activism, art, Identity, Masculinity, press, race.

Stop Telling Black Women to BE STRONG

Has anyone else noticed the high profile suicides of some notable black sisters this year. Positive sistas who seemed to have it all? For Brown Girls blogger Karyn Washington and Titi Branch of Ms.Jessie are both examples.The myth of the STRONG black woman is literally KILLING sista's.

Why do we sisters wear our strength and independence as a badge of honor? Is it because it hurts to acknowledge few answer the call for help? Why are we culturally esteemed and marveled at for our ability to absorb and tolerate negative situations and trying times? You wanna know a secret. I actually take offense when people worship my black girl strength because it means they NEVER have to acknowledge my need for help or correct ill treatment, or advocate for justice on my behalf. Real family and community both glean and offer strength to those they love. I ask for support and help when I need to. Do I get it? Rarely...(low key I can't even get those I'm in community with to like a facebook post or AMAZING PHOTOGRAHY and my sh*t is DOPE. I guess they are too busy watching me work and marveling at my resilience. lol) But I ask any way.

EVERYTHING in creation has inherent to its design both STRENGTHS and WEAKNESSES. -Tanisha Pyron

I cuss and cry when I need to (I get it out.) I pray AND I get counseling when I need to (cause I ain't got all the answers Sway ) I tend to my heart and those who love and support me acknowledge the truth. That EVERYTHING in creation has inherent to its design both STRENGTHS and WEAKNESSES. It is balance. We handle things we perceive to be strong differently. We apply pressure and heavier weight because we think it can take it. That pressure produces STRESS and TENSION and if we judge incorrectly that which we thought was strong collapses under pressure. We all know what STRESS and TENSION does to the body and mind. Sisters out here having heart attacks, strokes, break downs, or rendered NON functional, or becoming addicted to drugs simply because life handed them more then they could bear, a DISPROPORTIONATELY HEAVY LOAD and no one reached out to lend a hand. Support ya sisters. Gentleness and hugs work wonders. Black women need help too!!! Independent women need support too. Strength is balanced through weakness. 

Tanisha Lynn Pyron

Posted on January 23, 2015 and filed under art, current events, feminism, Identity, personal stories.

Amma Asante: Seeing Myself In Belle - Exclusive Interview (Part 2)

Belle Movie Director opens up about the connection of the film to her personal life, her bi-cultural identity, and why art is a power resource for inspiring positive social change in the world in exclusive interview with 50 Shades of Black Co-Director Ross Oscar Knight.

Posted on January 5, 2015 and filed under art, education, film, history, Identity, personal stories, press, race.

Her Blackness/Darkness is Her Beauty…and BEAUTY is Her Name (Part 1)

In October 2010, my second beautiful premature niece was born. As she matured, the conversation of “complexion” resurfaced, instantly drudging up images of my childhood experience on colorism. My sister began the discussion by pausing and leaning her head to the side as she noticed my niece’s ears and fingers. She turned to my mother and said, “Mami, she is going to be dark!” Suddenly overcome by disappointment, she sat quietly as my mother reexamined her features. I learned of the conversation when I visited for the first time since she was born. My mom blurted out, “She’s going to be dark.” I began staring at my niece to avoid indulging in the conversation, however, I couldn’t help thinking of my childhood. I wondered, why did my mom mention this? –why was my sister distressed over her daughter’s complexion? It baffled me! After the awkward silence settled in, I curiously asked, “why, what’s wrong with being dark?” My mother responded, “well, I just don’t want her to have the same complex you had when you were younger?!” I was never fully knew if my mother was aware of my color complex or if she knew how it emerged, until she said this. Was she even aware that my skin complex heightened because of those “make believe” games? The problem for me was that there was a fixated fear of criticisms associated with dark complexions. It was perceived as a stigma instead of a celebration. I quickly realized how detrimental my outlook was needed, and was elated for the opportunity to share my insights. 

The celebration of black skin is first taught through ancient Kemetic history. The Eurocentric narrative of beauty contradicts this history, and caused a detrimental rift in thinking. When introduced to this sacred history, my concept of beauty shifted. There was an immediate growth in awareness and appreciation for all shades of color. I began to piece myself into a history that celebrated blackness, and rejected the narrative that demonized it. My wholehearted conversion to this beautiful legacy enabled me to guide my family through an ancient concept of celebrating beauty in all shades of color, hopefully removing the stigma on colorism. Darkness is celebrated in all aspects of life. I began by explaining my perception of creation: the Creator kissed darkness to bring forth light. All life came through the cosmic uni, which is formed in darkness, and birthed through light. The most vivid demonstration of this is reenacted through childbirth. In the womb, the best force of life is created in darkness. In the labor process, this force of life meets light, but was already created perfect in darkness. In Kemetic history, mother NUT was the personality that continuously gives birth to light energy as she swallowed the sun (Ra) each night and gave birth to him by dawn the next day. She was the black force that oversaw humanity each night, and transferred her power of light through the daily birth to the sun. She represents the night sky: the midnight blackness dressed with millions of stars. Antiquated beliefs of blackness or darkness are perceived as symbols of power, prestige, and royalty. 

The conversation then shifted to dynastic periods with prominent dark skinned queens, kings, and pharaohs. After a long afternoon of conversations on color, I noticed a comfortable change in embracing the shades of color with questions that began with “Sooooo, how could we …? How should we…?” My final comment that night on this topic was that her blackness is her beauty. 

As we approach her 4th birthday, my niece recognizes herself as a princess, a queen in training. Her dainty personality appears to have no problems with identifying herself as a “brown” crayon. She is aware that the “brown” crayon is necessary to the bunch, and is keenly aware when it is missing. As she continues to mature, we know that her concept of color will change as well. My hope is that my family will have the confidence to teach her that her darkness is royalty, and that she will have the courage to immediately reject the negativisms that we are socialized to believe.

-Rayshana Black

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

This is from our personal story series 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.



Posted on October 29, 2014 and filed under africa, art, family, Identity, personal stories, skin tone.

The Instrument of Marley, the Name of Mandela, a Movement in Kenya

The Ethics & the Arts Program and 50 Shades of Black Present:

A Foresee Films Production


When: October 30, 2014  7pm - 10pm
Where: Emory University Center for Ethics

1531 Dickey Drive
Atlanta, GA  30322

Join us for the free public screening of "Maramaso" and conversation with the film director

"Maramaso" is a documentary that follows peace activist/musician Nelson Mandela Akello as he attempts to use his music to dissuade tribal violence during the hotly contested 2013 Kenyan presidential elections.

"Maramaso" was directed and edited by Emory alumna, Laura Asherman, produced by Ashley Beckett and shot by Atlanta-based cinematographer, Michael Morgan. "Maramaso" was an official selection of the Film Aid International Film Festival.

"Maramaso" was narrated by 50 Shades of Black creator Carlton Mackey.

Free visitor parking is available at 29 Eagle Row (on campus).

Posted on October 28, 2014 and filed under activism, africa, art, music.

50 Shades of Black Invites You to Join Descendants of Enslaved Africans on Butler Island to Create Transforming Portrait Series

Mr. Henry Brooks, ex-slave. Parks Ferry Road, Greene County, Georgia | Photo by Jack Delano;

Mr. Carlton Mackey | Photo by Bryan Meltz

In one week the creator of 50 Shades of Black, Carlton Mackey, will host a transforming photographic encounter as part of the Third Annual Butler Island Plantation Homecoming, --the much anticipated celebration and reunion of the Gullah/Geechee communities of Butler Island.  

This conceptual portrait series titled "BRINGING THE GIFTS THAT THE ANCESTORS GAVE..." was inspired by the conclusion of the late Maya Angelou's poem.

Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave. - Maya Angelou

Through a process that is as much about honoring the ancestors and spiritual transformation as it is about photography, Mackey will invite participants to spend some moments in quiet meditation while looking through the photographs of former enslaved Africans from various parts of Georgia.  Mackey was doing just this when the idea first "awakened in his spirit".

Mackey states that he saw a photo online that essentially instructed him exactly what to do.  He paired this image with one of himself and was overcome with emotion.

"I knew something powerful was about to take place because I was experiencing anxiety all morning.  I knew I needed to make a post about the fact that we had been invited to host an Open Shoot as part of the Homecoming, but I kept putting it off.  I was experiencing fear about the whole event.  This let me know that something of great magnitude was about to happen.  Virtually every endeavor that I'm about to embark upon of significance is shrouded in fear and doubt.  This is my sign that it must be something that I have to do.  I'm learning to push through it until I have the clarity of knowing what is possible is greater than the fear.  What I didn't know was that my entire plan for hosting a traditional Open Photo Shoot was about to be exchanged for a plan that literally came from "the voice" of an ancestor in a photograph." -carlton mackey

Title: "Grandma" Lawrence, ex-slave on the Mercer Reynolds place in Greene County, Georgia | Delano, Jack photographer | Date Created/Published: 1941 May.

Participants will choose a photo (or be chosen by one) to honor.  At various locations on Butler Island, Mackey will photograph participants in a similar fashion.  This pairing is meant to invoke the essence of the living participant being the embodiment of the "dream and hope of the slave".  The pool of photos will mostly be from the Library of Congress (U.S. Farm Security Administration) and have no restrictions upon use and images from the Emory University's Robert Langmuir African American Photograph Collection.  Mackey hopes to secure funds to create an exhibit of diptychs coupling the historic and the contemporary photos.

Free and Open to the Public

This photo shoot will be part of a much larger Butler Plantation Homecoming.  The Butler Plantation Homecoming pays tribute to those enslaved Africans that lived out their lives as the property of Pierce Mease Butler on Butler Island Plantation, and those that were sold in the nation's largest sale of slaves that took place in 1859.

Please join us as we celebrate the culture and heritage of the enslaved people originating from Ghana, Senegal, Guinea, Angola, Whydah and Igboland areas of Africa.

***Breaking News*** The Butler Island Plantation Slave Cemetery has been discovered! The cemetery is potentially one of the oldest documented in the state. This year's celebration will include a commemoration ceremony in honor of approximately 919 enslaved people buried in the cemetery.

The festival features a presentation by Dr. Teresa Singleton - Archaeology Professor of Syracuse University and expert in Butler Island Plantation slave artifacts; Ancestor Cemetery Commemoration; "50 Shades of Black" Open Photo Shoot; "A Taste of Geechee" food and culture; guided tours; a parade of flags; performances; music; vendors; children's activities; family fun and much more.


A Weekend In The Life of Black Cosplayers at Dragon*Con

A couple of weeks ago, I had the opportunity to spend my Labor Day Weekend in Atlanta at every southern geek's favorite nerdtastic gathering, Dragon*Con, the biggest sci-fi and fantasy convention in the southeast region.

If you live in Atlanta or visited on Labor Day Weekend, then you've likely seen the thousands of geeks walking the streets of Downtown Atlanta in full cosplay gear at Dragon*Con, the Southeast's biggest sci-fi and fantasy convention.

However, most people still have no clue as to what cosplay is -- the practice of dressing up as a character from an anime, manga, movie, book, or video game -- or who or why people even do it.

Like many of those people, I had no clue about that aspect of the geek culture either. That is until I met my crew of black geek friends a couple of years ago, a crew which we've awesomely dubbed Sasuke Hate, and began going to sci-fi and anime conventions with them.

At first I thought that of cosplay as nothing more than some silly extreme fantasy play for geeks. But the more I attended conventions, the more I saw that there's an art and a strong craft to cosplay that requires people to push their imaginations, pick up a tool or a needle and thread, or even a makeup brush, and really put their all into transforming themselves into these fictional characters. 

After immersing myself in the culture, I can see that cosplay really is an underappreciated and misunderstood art form that could stand to use a lot more recognition from the mainstream world.

Not only was it awe inspiring to be surrounded by so many bleeks and blerds (black geeks and nerds) -- which I previously wrote about HERE -- but it was amazing to see that, this year, some of my Sasuke Hate crew decided to come up with a cosplay group, T.H.A.R. Cosplay, and create outfits as a unit for Dragon*Con. 

I personally wasn't able to cosplay this go 'round, although I did make sure to dress as fly as possible. But I was amazed watching my friends put in so much effort and creativity into making their outfits, which included characters like Aqualad, Red Hood, Green Lantern, Static Shock and Shishio Makoto, and go on to wow the crowds of convention goers and random Atlanta residents with their cosplay.

And although I may not be able to broadcast my entire cosplay evolution and experience to the whole world and show them how awesome it can be, luckily for me, I was able to get behind the camera, alongside some other members of our crew and take some amazing pics of our time at Dragon*Con.

So, without further ado, I'm happy to present to our 50 Shades of BLACK readers our photo journal of our Dragon*Con experience. Let's get geeky!


** All photos courtesy of Charles Gary, Nic Robinson, Jacolby Chatman, Mario Reid. Editing by Charles Gary. T.H.A.R. Cosplay

Nicholas Harbor

Freelance Journalist, storyteller and blogger for 50 Shades of BLACK


Posted on September 16, 2014 and filed under art, Identity, personal stories, race, Bleeks and Blerds.

50 Shades of Black unites Brooklyn Artists for CONVO

50 Shades of Black and Pepper present: CONVO

Drinks | Music | Art | Conversation

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

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

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

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

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

featured artist:

Adrian Franks
Yahdon Israel
Dex R. Jones
Paola Mathe

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


"Black is Busting Out All Over" is what the title read and underneath it was a beautiful array of beautiful black people -some men, some women, some light, some dark, some with hair bone straight and others rocking afros.  To the far right of the group was a GORGEOUS sister with an afro so big you couldn't even see her ears.

This was 45 years ago and an article in Life Magazine began with these words:

When ad agencies and fashion houses began hiring black models a few years ago under pressure from the civil rights movement most of the models were not really all that black. Cautious businessmen sought out the most Caucasian looking black models they could find. Today they want blackness —Afro hair, discernably Negroid features, truly black skin.
— Vol. 67 No. 16 LIFE Magazine | October 17, 1969

It is here that we pause to celebrate an article like this being featured in LIFE Magazine AND as the creator of a project that is about celebrating blackness and its many manifestations (indeed its global presence, its multiple shades and hues), reading this with a particular type of sensitivity and caution.

I am more keenly aware than ever how statements like "not really all that black" play out in society writ large and the particular divisions it has caused in the black community in particular.  I am also keenly aware of the reality that this sentiment of 'authentic blackness' has caused an even more rigid polemic based on the TRUE historical glorifying of light skin (as evidenced by the writers reference to the preference of "Caucasian looking models by cautious businessmen").

Though the entire article doesn't necessarily carry on this tone, I'm struck by the stark dichotomy the introduction creates.  "Today they want blackness" and the litany of characteristics that the writer suggests connote black really stand out to me.  The phrases "afro hair" or "Negroid features" which I've actually never heard anyone black say, make me wonder about how the author would identify.

It also makes me wonder about Lupita in this whole scenario.  Again 45 years later, what are the wonderful wonderful wonderful implications of her face and presence on well...everything.  Also what does it mean to, as I would like to say, Leap Forward Back Down Memory Lane with an article like this?  Is her blackness being fetishized by voyeurs?

What are your thoughts?  What are the ways in which you celebrate and exercise caution with these types of approaches to "blackness"?  What are the realities this article presents?  What challenges does it present?  What are the difference between 45 years ago and now?  How would you write this article today?

Carlton Mackey
Creator of 50 Shades of Black

Posted on August 14, 2014 and filed under africa, art, Identity, race.

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

Film producer, writer, and cellist Okorie Johnson reflects on the award winning independent film Titus & its themes of black identity, jazz music, the movie's cinematography/photography.  

Johnson was joined by Jazz WCLK personality RivaBlue for a post film conversation led by 50 Shades of Black creator Carlton Mackey on the 2014 Opening Day of the Pan African Film Festival.

Loosely based on the life and death of unsung jazz hero Clarence C Sharpe, ‘Titus’ is the story of an alto saxophonist whose prodigious gifts go largely unnoticed.  The film contains amazing artistic cinematic qualities and an original score by jazz giant Archie Schepp. Directed by Charlie Cattrall.

Posted on August 12, 2014 and filed under art, film, Identity, music.

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

Photo by Carlton Mackey

Photo by Carlton Mackey

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

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

50 Shades of BLACK Stirs Up Magical Energy At The Pan-African Film Festival

Director of Till Infinity with Aishah Rashied Hyman of Spread Love and Carlton Mackey of 50 Shades of Black&nbsp;

Director of Till Infinity with Aishah Rashied Hyman of Spread Love and Carlton Mackey of 50 Shades of Black 

The Pan-African film festival has been a staple in the Atlanta scene for nearly two decades now, drawing countless fans of independent black films each year to local theaters as a part of the larger National Black Arts Festival. But this year, for the first time in 15 years, PAFF ventured out on its own and started out its inaugural year as a standalone film festival with a bang, bringing in critically acclaimed films like the African and Native American love story "From Above," starring Danny Glover, as well as the hip-hop documentary "Til Infinity: The Souls of Mischief," about hip-hop group Souls of Mischief's landmark 1993 album 93 Till Infinity.

50 Shades of Black information table outside two main screens of Pan-African Film Festival at Plaza Theater

50 Shades of Black information table outside two main screens of Pan-African Film Festival at Plaza Theater

Of course, no film festival happens without community partners and this year PAFF welcomed 50 Shades of BLACK as a community partner and invited them to host the opening day of the festival. And the opening day was nothing short of remarkable as hundreds of Atlantans flooded the Plaza Theater in Midtown Atlanta to see what PAFF had to bring to town this year.

And what they had to bring was an amazing set of films for fans to enjoy. Charlie Cattrall's award-winning "Titus," about a troubled and displaced black Jazz player and his relationship with his estranged daughter, burrowed deep into the mind with it's moody, haunting and beautifully shot black-and-white scenes and stunning Jazz score, while Hemamset Angaza's documentary "In Our Heads About Our Hair" literally took viewers into the minds and scalps of others as it explored the notion of "good" versus "bad" hair in the African American community.

Yvonne Rosegarden of African American and American Indian ancestry sits down with 50 Shades of Black to discuss "From Above" starring Danny Glover.

Yvonne Rosegarden of African American and American Indian ancestry sits down with 50 Shades of Black to discuss "From Above" starring Danny Glover.

The festival also packed indie film heavy hitters, like "From Above," a Romeo & Juliet-syle love story starring Glover as an African American man named William retelling his sordid love story with a Native American woman, Venus, from the mythical lightning tribe. As 50 Shades of BLACK creator Carlton Mackey explained, seeing tales like "From Above" from director Norry Niven showcased a whole new range of stories about people of color.

"You might see all kinds of love stories, but it's rare in Hollywood that you see major motion picture of a love story between an African American and a Native American," said Mackey.

But it wasn't just the films that made the festival experience enriching. Undoubtedly, the heart of the film festival was the films themselves, but the life blood of the festival was certainly the fans and the Q&A discussions, hosted by Mackey and 50 Shades of BLACK co-director Ross Oscar Knight, that happened after each film.

Ross Oscar Knight post film discussion of "In our Heads About our Hair" with brand manager of African Pride Hair Care Camila Crews and "Loc Livin" founder Eleasha Sledge.

Ross Oscar Knight post film discussion of "In our Heads About our Hair" with brand manager of African Pride Hair Care Camila Crews and "Loc Livin" founder Eleasha Sledge.

And if the fans were the life blood of the festival, then certainly the veins and arteries were the theater hallways as filmgoers hustled through them, mixing and mingling with each other as they carried the messages and conversations from the films and the Q&As into their own circles.

Just standing and watching the crowds, you could see filmgoers breathing continued life from the films and their Q&As into these much-needed community conversations that covered everything from expressions of black art and music, interracial love, the black communities grossly overlooked roots with the Native American community, as well as our issues with our own hair roots and our struggle to embrace all hairstyles, whether it be natural or not. 

"I think the films provided a catalyst for specific conversations to be had. I think the table itself and our presence lended, on some level, a conversation around issues surrounding black identity. Whenever we left out of a particular screening, that generic conversation took a particular shape and people walking up and down the halls were able to witness conversations formed by the films.

Certainly though, a highlight of the festival was not only the conversations between the fans, but also the conversation between Glover and the audience who attended the screening of his second film of the day, the critically-acclaimed "Supremacy," which tells the real-life story of a cop-killing white supremacist and his unstable "girlfriend" as they take a black family hostage just hours after he kills a black cop after his prison release. The film also stars Lela Rochon, Derek Luke and Evan Ross.

While chatting with fans about the racially-charged drama and it's surprising themes of redemption and finding the humanity in even the most hateful of people, Glover discussed film festivals such as PAFF and the responsibility of black actors and filmmakers to tell stories that not only uplift our community, but spark transformative dialogue amongst all people.

Carlton Mackey in exclusive interview with festival founder and leading actor Danny Glover.

Carlton Mackey in exclusive interview with festival founder and leading actor Danny Glover.

"For us to talk about whatever we say about what black artists should do or should not not, I'm not into any kind of asessment in determining that. I know that the bottom line is how do we discover the kind of relationship, the transformative relationships that are necessary for us to survive as human beings? How does art play a role in that?" Glover asked. "Those are the kinds of things I think about in terms of art, whether it's black, whether it's green, whether it's yellow or whatever it is."

If art can be that transformative, then certainly PAFF has been a hotbed for change, or at least the place to take the seeds of transformation. 

50 Shades of Black Co-Directors Ross Oscar Knight and Carlton Mackey with Belle director Amma Asante.

50 Shades of Black Co-Directors Ross Oscar Knight and Carlton Mackey with Belle director Amma Asante.

And for those looking to get a taste of PAFF and those great community conversations, the festival is still ongoing and concludes on Sunday, August 10, with a special presentation of the highly-acclaimed British drama, Belle, which tells the real-life story of Dido Elizabeth Bele, the biracial daughter of a Royal Navy Admiral, as well as a pre-screening reception with director Amma Asante and lead actress Gugu Mbatha-Raw.

And fans who can't make the film can still get their PAFF fix because 50 Shades of BLACK will be  posting exclusive interviews with Danny Glover and Amma Asante in the coming days.

For more information on the Pan-African Film Festival check out there official site

Nicholas Harbor

Freelance Journalist, storyteller and blogger for 50 Shades of BLACK


Black Indian Ancestry and Healing Touch -  Post Film Interview

Jazz Is An Art Form that Mirrors the Complexity of Black Identity - Post Film Interview

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