Posts filed under community

Biracial is more than Black & White


We had the pleasure of meeting Jovonna Joskdiesel Rodriguez at our 3rd Open Photo Shoot at the Decatur Book Festival (as part of art|DBF, an art and culture showcase within the festival).  She along with over 100 other people were photographed by a team of photographers from across the city who partnered with 50 Shades of Black for the special event.

Since then, Jovonna has been a strong supporter of 50 Shades of Black and engages regularly on our Facebook Page .  Recently she shared a link with us to a deeply engaging, critical, and nuanced article titled Coming Out as Biracial by Stephanie Georgopulos.  We began to exchange back and forth and ultimately Jovonna generously offered these affirming words about 50 Shades of Black.  We are sharing them with you today with her permission.  We are so grateful today for Jovonna.

We are so grateful for you as well.  Share with us your thoughts, critiques, stories.  We'd love to feature them on one of our many platforms for affirming beauty and exploring sexuality and skin tone in the formation of identity.

Posted on November 1, 2013 and filed under community, education, personal stories, race, skin tone.

The 'Dear Dad,' Cast Talks Relationships Between Black Gay Men & Their Fathers on 'HuffPost Live'

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+Since its inception, the Dear Dad documentary, which explores the relationships between black gay men and their fathers. has taken its cast to places in our lives that we’ve never known or dreamed. But last week the film took us all the way to HuffPost Live for an amazing panel discussion with host Ahmed Shihab-Eldin about the lives and experiences of black gay men and how bettering our relationships with our fathers can better our entire community. 

n the interview, Dear Dad creator Chase Simmons explained how his relationship with black men overall was shaped by his relationship with his father, which ultimately helped to inspire his groundbreaking film.

“There was always a certain level of discomfort [with other black men]. I didn’t feel very connected a lot of times. I sort of felt “othered” and a little ostracized so that kind of stems from not feeling really close to him [my father] growing up a lot. And I think that just manifested and rolled as I became an adult,” Chase explained.

“I know that my relationship with my father not only shaped who I am, but also my relationships with men; Romantic relationships with other gay men and also with straight men as well,” added Yoli Akili, author of Dear Universe: Letters of Affirmation & Empowerment For All of Us. “I really see that those early relationships really influence how we understand intimacy, how we are able to connect to vulnerability. Until we kind of do that emotional healing work with our fathers or at least address our relationships with our fathers, our primary caregivers, it’s really difficult to be in love with other men or be in relationships with other men.

Akili explains that part of the difficulty that gay men have in bonding with their fathers and other men comes from our the black community’s strict gender roles and the homophobia that plagues religion, especially Christianity, which is a cornerstone of the black community.

"Masculinity in America is very rigid itself," added Yolo Akili. "When you are African-American, because of the history of slavery and the history of race in this country, that is even more rigid. So when you come out as a queer person, there’s a way in which, historically, that is not connected to ‘blackness’ or 'black masculinity.’”

And as internet blogger Kevin Dwayne Nelson explains, cultural stigmas surrounding the HIV/AIDS epidemic, which has historically been connected to the LGBT community, still influence the way that the black community views black gay men.

“I actually grew up in church, and I still am very much involved in church. Growing up, it was harder. It was being a black person but also I was born in the late ‘80s and so that’s when the AIDS stigma was really starting to push,” said Nelson. “I actually had an uncle who died from AIDS and I got to see at a young age how my family reacted to that. And not to step on anybody’s toes but they kind of rejected him. And I noticed that it was heavier in the black community because they didn’t understand it and they didn’t want to understand it. And then also in church there’s just this whole mentality that you just kind of ex-communicate it and move on.”

For Simmons, those issues are just of things he wants to tackle with the film. But on an even more personal level, he says that he simply wants to help not only himself, but other gay men to heal their psychological wounds and to heal their relationships with their fathers.

“I feel like it’s difficult to have emotional and difficult conversations when you’re not used to it and you’re not taught to do that growing up,” Simmons explained. “We had a lot of things going on in my household when I was growing up so there weren’t a lot of conversations, there wasn’t a lot of emotions exchanged. So as an adult, you just sort of end up doing the same thing and once you get to a point where you’re like, ‘something’s not right or I just don’t feel connected.’ Then you have to start doing the work and it’s really hard and it’s really uncomfortable,”

“I thought the main reason to make this film was to encourage people to heal or try to heal, and to reach out and to take that leap and attempt to try,” said Simmons.

All of the men certainly hit the nail on the head with all of their points and as a fellow cast member I’m proud of their message and hope that their words reached the black gay men who need a voice and an image to relate to. Hopefully, this film and all of our life stories can help other black gay men to, as Chase said, do the life work in dealing with our past, learning to be honest about our thoughts and feelings, despite society’s strict gender rules about men and emotions, and ultimately learning how to be vulnerable and better communicate with the men in our lives.

Watch the HuffPost Live interview here and watch Dear Dad below. 

Posted on October 28, 2013 and filed under activism, community, film, sexuality, race.

50 Shades of Black Creator in Ethical Conversation with Renowned Playwright Pearl Cleage and Alliance Theater Cast

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By The Way, Meet Vera Stark @ Emory University


 Emory Center for Ethics and the Alliance Theatre Invites You to the

Ethics and the Arts Program: Ethics on the Stage

Dramatic Reading of By The Way, Meet Vera Stark

October 9, 2013
7:00 p.m.
Rita Anne Rollins Building
Center for Ethics Room 102

Please come join us at the Center for Ethics for an engaging ethical discussion of select scenes performed by Alliance cast, with renowned playwright, Pearl Cleage, Director, Leah Gardner, Dramaturg, Celise Kalke, 50 Shades of Black creator, Carlton Mackey, Moderated by Paul Root Wolpe, Director of Emory Center for Ethics.

By Pulitzer Prize winning playwright Lynn Nottage, By the Way, Meet Vera Stark is the story of an aspiring actress breaking the mold of stereotypical African American film roles of the 1930s and the legacy she leaves on the film industry eighty years later.

Playwright in Residence Pearl Cleage calls the play “a fabulous force of nature!”



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Pearl Cleage is an Atlanta based writer whose work has won commercial acceptance and critical praise in several genres. An award winning playwright whoseFlyin' West was the most produced new play in the country in 1994, Pearl is also a best selling author whose first novel, What Looks Like Crazy On An Ordinary Day, was an Oprah Book Club pick and spent nine weeks on the New York Times bestseller list. Her subsequent novels have been consistant best sellers and perennial book club favorites. I Wish I Had A Red Dress, her second novel, won multiple book club awards in 2001. Some Things I Never Thought I'd Do, was a "Good Morning America!"book club pick in 2003, and Babylon Sisters made the ESSENCE Magazine best seller list in 2005. Her most recent novel, Baby Brother's Blues, was the first pick of the new ESSENCE Book Club and anNAACP Image Award winner for fiction in 2007. 

Carlton Mackey is a visual artist and Director of the Ethics & the Arts Program at the Emory University Center for Ethics. 50 Shades of Black is committed to exploring the complex relationship between race, skin tone, sexuality, and the formation of self-identity. Through collaborations with visual artists, scholars and the general public, this project hopes to offer a deeper understanding of what diversity means. It is in the recognition of this diversity that 50 Shades of Black acknowledges the historical role that race and skin tone have played in shaping the way we engage the world, how we perceive beauty, and our own self-worth.


Posted on October 3, 2013 and filed under art, community, press.

50 Shades of Black (and Brown) - New Partnerships Foster Global Dialogue

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50 Shades of Black is proud to announce its new partnerships with Not Fair Still Lovely, an online platform aimed at changing the perception in the Indian community of color-prejudiced beauty standards defined by the billion dollar fairness cream industry.

Recognizing the global influence of skin tone in shaping identity, our partnership acknowledges and supports the mission of each organization and our efforts to foster a rich dialogue and open the door for communication between diverse communities. As part of this partnership, Tanya Pereira creator of Not Fair Still Lovely will be a featured blogger on 50 Shades of Black offering an authentic voice and a culturally distinct perspective.


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We are also proud to be featured at the 2nd Annual Garba Night: Dance to End World Poverty presented by H.O.P.E. (Helping Organizations & People Everywhere), an organization with a mission of hosting community based events open to all to raise funds to then donate to various charities and causes.  Garba is a traditional Indian folk dance performed by men and women typically in brightly colored fabrics and sparkling jewelry.

50 Shades of Black will also partner with Photography by Vinod to capture images for is growing repository of images of people from across the country for its open photo shoot campaign.  


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As a way of engaging local communities, 50 Shades of Black establishes partnerships between photographers around the country to host "50 Shades of Black Open Photo Shoots".  These photos shoots are free and open to the public and provide people from all walks of life an opportunity to be professionally photographed.  Our goal through this partnership is to offer everyday people a chance to see their natural selves in a way that many of them never have before.  Through this we hope connect with our local communities in meaningful ways and to promote a positive and healthy sense of self image and worth for our participants.


50 Shades of Black affirms the beauty found in all human beings while being committed to exploring the complex relationship between race, skin tone, sexuality, and the formation of self-identity. Through collaborations with visual artists, scholars and the general public, this project hopes to offer a deeper understanding of and appreciation for what diversity means. 

Thank you for supporting each of these organizations.

The Gospel According to Ojo: Reflections from the 3rd Open Shoot

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It brought me great joy to be a part of such a great movement of progressive creative consciousness. In an industry filled with egos and territorial niches, I uniquely smiled in finding a diverse camaraderie with fellow photographers by engaging our community with our gift for capturing powerful moments. The sheer volume of the AJC Decatur Book Festival help us raised new eyebrows and brought new smiles to a notion, we all have deep and diverse feelings about.

That weekend, we collectively took 50 Shades of Black and Typical American Families from just being a verbal dialogue, to a physical engagement of confronting perceptions of social identity, while capturing it live and unscripted. From young to old, from the first shade to the 49th shade, the 3rd open shoot was a HUGE success that I was truly humble to be a part of.

-Jeremiah Ojo

(one of the 6 photographers chosen to be part of the 50 Shades of Black Open Photo shoot at art|DBF, the inaugural art and culture showcase within this year's Decatur Book Festival)

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Posted on September 10, 2013 and filed under community, skin tone.


Photo by Elaine Oyzon-Mast, one of 5 local professional photographers chosen to host the art DBF Open Photo Shoot for 50 Shades of Black and  Typical American Families

Photo by Elaine Oyzon-Mast, one of 5 local professional photographers chosen to host the art DBF Open Photo Shoot for 50 Shades of Black and Typical American Families

I can't even begin to describe my emotions.  Being invited to be among so many amazing organizations that represent the spectrum of the art and cultural landscape of Atlanta was humbling to say the least. 

To see the beautiful faces of hundreds of people as they poured into our space on the main square in Decatur for the Inaugural Art | DBF, an art and culture showcase held within the Decatur Book Festival, made my spirit soar.

The team of photographers who made the 3rd Open Photo Shoot of 50 Shades of Black (and Typical American Families) possible can't be thanked enough.  It was them who offered the community an opportunity to see themselves in a way that many of them never have before.  The event was meant to affirm the beauty of every single one of us...and to help us (and others) to see ourselves anew.

Of the many many moments and faces that I can't wait to share later, one of my favorite moments came when Brian Harrison from the Center for Puppetry Arts, another art|DBF featured organization, came to visit.  In just a matter of minutes he transformed the entire space and in his own way helped us spread on of our most important messages.

I can't wait to share more! 

-carlton mackey

creator of 50 Shades of Black & Typical American Families

*Special Thanks to Showcase Photo and Video for providing the backdrop and other materials to make the shoot possible.
 **Complete list of the photographers who made this open shoot possible 


50 Shades of Black Announces Team of Photographers for 3rd Open Photo Shoot at Decatur Book Festival

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50 Shades of Black, the collaborative artistic and scholarly project exploring issues of race, sexuality, and identity, announces that it has been invited by the AJC Decatur Book Festival, the largest independent book festival in the country, to be part of the inaugural art|DBF, an arts and culture showcase within the Decatur Book Festival. art|DBF recognizes that a vibrant, creative, and economically thriving community can be achieved by elevating the value and visibility of the arts. 

The Atlanta community is encouraged to join 50 Shades of Black on Saturday August 31st and Sunday September 1st 2013 on the Decatur Square.  The Exhibition Pavilion: Decatur’s entire MARTA plaza — the heart of the city — will be transformed into an exhibition, installation, demonstration, conversation, and performance space.  Here, 50 Shades of Black will host its 3rd Open Photo Shoot.  Participants will enjoy a free photo shoot courtesy of a diverse group of 5 local photographers including celebrated photographer and Inaugural Open Photo Shoot host Ross Oscar Knight. Participants will receive link to download a free copy of their photo, as well as have the photo considered for possible inclusion in upcoming 50 Shades of Black projects.

50 Shades of Black founder, Carlton Mackey also announces the Inaugural Open Photo Shoot of Typical American Families, a timely new project created to celebrate and affirm the changing face of the contemporary american family.  

About 50 Shades of Black

50 Shades of Black affirms the beauty found in all human beings while being committed to exploring the complex relationship between race, skin tone, sexuality, and the formation of self-identity. Through collaborations with visual artists, scholars and the general public, this project hopes to offer a deeper understanding of and appreciation for what diversity means.  Mackey and other featured artists and writers of the coffee table book 50 Shades of Black: The Conversation will be on hand to sign copies.   

For More Information please visit

About Typical American Families

Typical American Families –a fresh new look at American families was created to celebrate and affirm the changing face of the contemporary American family. Its mission: To demystify and remove both the 'exoticism' and assumptions that are associated with being a (quote/unquote) 'non-traditional' american family.  Typical American Families is also as much about re-imagining some of our narrowly held, normative understandings of what a family can be and what one should look like. 

For More Information please visit

50 Shades of Black and Typical American Families were founded by Carlton Mackey, visual artist and Director of the Ethics & the Arts Program at the Emory University Center for Ethics.


Carlton Mackey


What are we so happy about? (Team of Photographers for the 3rd Open Shoot of 50 Shades of Black at Decatur Book Festival)

What are we so happy about? (Team of Photographers for the 3rd Open Shoot of 50 Shades of Black at Decatur Book Festival)

Elaine Oyzon-Mast - 

Breonca Trofort - 

Munir Meghjani - Paradoxical Photography

Mechal Roe - 

Jeremiah Ojo - 

Ross Oscar Knight - 

50 Shades of Black Joins Select Group invited to be part of Decatur Book Festival's Inaugural Art DBF

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  About art|DBF

This year, the AJC Decatur Book Festival has invited a diverse group of arts organizations to engage our imaginations with stories, ideas, performances, installations, films, music, artwork, and photographs in order to connect our citizens more broadly with the arts and cultural opportunities in their local community. 

The result is art|DBF, an arts and culture showcase that recognizes that a vibrant, creative, and economically thriving community can be achieved by elevating the value and visibility of the arts—literary, visual, and performing; increasing accessibility, public involvement, and attendance; and working to ensure the long-term sustainability of arts organizations. 

Taking place August 31st and September 1st on the Decatur Square, the 2013 art|DBF 2013 will feature: 

• The Exhibition Pavilion: Decatur’s entire MARTA plaza — the heart of the city — will be transformed into an exhibition, installation, demonstration, conversation, and performance space. 

• Mainstage: a central venue taken over by art | DBF each festival day for a performance center; Saturday is The Dance Studio at the newly renovated Decatur Recreation Center; Sunday is Decatur High School. 

• The Atlanta PlanIt Pavilion: a space where arts and cultural organizations can build audience support and promote upcoming projects, exhibitions, and performance seasons. 

• Community Bandstand: a casual outdoor performance space to engage festival attendees. 

• art | DBF After Dark: a Saturday night arts gala starting at 7 p.m. on the festival plaza featuring a Flux Projection Project (Flux produces exceptional and surprising temporary public art within Atlanta’s public spaces) and several surprise pop-up performances. 

About the AJC Decatur Book Festival

The AJC Decatur Book Festival presented by DeKalb Medical is the largest independent book festival in the country and one of the five largest overall. Since its launch, more than 1,000 world-class authors and hundreds of thousands of festival-goers have crowded the historic downtown Decatur square to enjoy book signings, author readings, panel discussions, an interactive children's area, live music, parades, cooking demonstrations, poetry slams, writing workshops, and more.



Posted on August 27, 2013 and filed under art, community, press.

Is It Time To Embrace A New Way Of Parenting In The Black Community?

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When it comes to black parenting, there's a cultural belief that tough love is always the way to go when it comes to disciplining children and that fostering open dialogue between parent and child is somehow "soft" or "white folks' shit."

For most of us in the black community, we grew up at least sparingly hearing old church sayings like, "spare the rod and spoil the child," and we've all heard every comedian who has graced the stage of any “Comic View” episode, “Def Comedy Jam” episode, “Kings & Queens of Comedy” Special or Tyler Perry production joke about their fond memories of getting yelled at and beat by their parents as a child. We’ve also heard that black parents don't need to explain their thoughts, feelings or their actions to their children because “it's not a child's place to know such things.” Seriously, who hasn't heard explanations like, "because I said so gotdamnit!" or" it's none of your damn business!"?

So many of the traditional cornerstones of the black community support the idea of aggressive disciplining and a lack of open communication when it comes to parenting and throughout generations of black parents and children that thought has gone mostly unchallenged. For most of our parents, grandparents, great-grandparents and beyond, it was all they ever knew of what it meant to be a parent and to take care of and show a child love. And it was also what they both consciously and unconsciously tried to pass on to us, the younger generation of black people.

Recently, I sat in on a conversation between my father and my older cousins and aunts, all of whom are 60 and up, and one of my cousins spoke of his relationship with his father and explained how his dad had provided him all of the material things that a working-class black man in the '50s and '60s could – which, to be fair, was a hard task considering the racial and socio-economic issues surrounding black people back then, all of which made it all the more difficult for black parents to keep their kids sheltered, fed and alive. But while my cousin's tangible needs were taken care of, his father didn't always succeed in catering to his son's emotional needs, such as saying simple things like "I love you" to his son.

When my cousin became an adult, he confronted his dad about that lack of an emotional connection and accused his father of never loving him. Shocked and appalled, his father argued that he never would've worked as hard to provide for him had he not loved him.

However, my cousin then explained to us that, in his older years, he eventually sided with his father's logic, and our other cousins all mentioned how that was a prime example of how today's kids are too soft and whiny. My own father even referenced a joke that his friend often makes about their generation having raised a bunch of weak "white kids" who are too soft to have made it in their day.

After silently listening in, I thought to myself, "Why was it so wrong for a young person to want to hear his or her parents be vocal about their love and their emotions? Why is it NOT a black thing for black parents to foster an open channel of communication and really listen to thoughts and feelings of their children?" I believe that my cousin's father loved him immensely and that he did a great job in providing the tangible essentials for him. That’s something to be applauded. But I believe it can also be true that my cousin genuinely felt a lack of an emotional connection with his father.

It’s always said that actions speak louder than words but for both adults and children language is a crucial aspect of life. When adults speak of their relationships with other adults, one of the key requirements of those relationships is communication and the need to hear their loved ones speak words of acceptance, understanding and love. Nobody wants to have their thoughts and feelings invalidated and no one wants to be brutally punished for simply opening their mouths to share how they really feel. So it stands to good reason that kids want and need the same kind of communication, respect and approbation that adults seek for themselves. They need parents to do more than just keep them alive, they need to hear that their life and their interests matter as well. It’s evident that language has the power to make a world of difference, but it seems that many black parents grew up without learning to communicate their feelings well...or they only learned to communicate their feelings only when they were angered or frustrated with other people, especially their kids.

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When it comes to disciplining children, I was never the biggest fan of the aggressive methods. Whoopings were a rare occurrence for me, but I saw how it would keep myself, my siblings and my cousins in line and a part of me always wanted to have the option of talking to my parents instead of having them yell at me or beat me breathless. However, I still figured that aggressive punishment was okay because it was almost all I everr saw and, in my family, it never seemed to cross the line from whoopings and beefed-up threats every once in a while to what I considered to be abuse.

But as I've gotten older and seen more examples of parenting, both in real life and in the media, I've come to realize that disciplining children is not something that all parents handle with love and care in their hearts and that many children end up suffering mental and physical abuse under what some would consider tough black love.

Recently, I came across a young black couple, both in their 30s, with two kids and after spending some time with them, I was hurt and shocked to hear some of the things that they would say to their children when they were upset with them. When the parents became frustrated, whether over behavior that would upset any parent, like lying or fighting, or small acts like bugging their parents for attention or an extra snack, they would regularly ignore their kids or curse and yell at them or hurl painful insults at them like "idiot," "dumbass," "ugly" or "fat ass."

Granted, I never witnessed any physical abuse, but the feeling I felt when I heard them fire off those belligerent words from their mouths shook me to my core. Suddenly, words that I've heard many black parents say, like “stop that crying before I really give you something to cry about" or "I put you in this world and I'll take yo ass out of it," took on a darker meaning than I'd ever known. They were no longer just jokes or phrases of tough love; they were words of mental and verbal abuse. And if I felt that disturbed and uncomfortable hearing it, I can only imagine how awful it felt for their children to be demeaned and berated with those kinds of hostile words.

As a child, I remember the sting I felt whenever my own parents would make the rare mistake of calling me out of my own name. As I recall, the first time it happened was when I was a small child and my father calmly scolded me about something that I did wrong. I thought all was well until I walked to the door of our den later that night and overheard him telling his friends about the incident and how stupid I was for doing it. After he said it, he looked up and found my face staring back at his and I remember feeling hurt, embarrassed and ashamed because my father thought so little of me. Evidently, that pain read on my face because my father immediately dropped what he was doing, came and scooped me up, and told me how smart I was and how he was always happy with me and proud of me.

Although it seemed small at the time, that moment has stuck with me since then, as did the times when my mother also claimed I was being stupid or unconsciously said something negative about my looks (joking about a kid's puberty pimples is NOT a good idea).

Recently, my father and I spoke with each other about the verbal and emotional abuse I saw those kids endure and he explained how it's important for parents to understand the power of their words because "kids internalize everything." According to him, if you recklessly talk down to your kids at home and call them names then, "you're killing 'em before they even get a chance to really live."

What my father and I both agreed upon is that parents ultimately pass on to their kids whatever they have inside. If it's love, concern and wisdom, then that's what a parent will give to their child through both actions and words. If, like most parents, it’s a balance of good and bad, then that is what will be passed on. But if all you know is aggression, chaos, shame and dysfunction, then that is what you will imprint onto them and their spirit and they will ultimately pass that on to their kids as well when they have some of their own. Whatever we give to our kids creates a cycle, a pattern of behavior that is passed on from generation to generation to generation.

But, as Keenan, Marlon and their famous Wayans siblings explained while chatting with Oprah Winfrey about parenting, none of us have to be bound to the trauma and teachings of our past, even those that have been passed down from our parents. In fact, we have the power to change ourselves and every generation coming behind us just by making a choice to change the way we see ourselves and communicate to our children.

I know that parenting is no easy task and that it’s something that does not come with a perfect instruction manual and I applaud all the parents who really tried to be the best they could be to love their kids in a healthy and functional manner. But as a young man who is seeing the patterns of parental dysfunction in both his own family and the families of others, I can’t help but to think that the old ways of parenting, which put little value on compassion, transparency and communication, left indelible scars on all of us that have marred the way we as black people communicate with ourselves, the people around us and, in this specific case, our kids.

Perhaps it’s time to let go of the idea of sticking to traditional stereotypes of hyper-aggressive, take-no-shit blackness when it comes to parenting – and really life in general – and open our minds and hearts to parenting with a healthier balance of compassion, communication and regulation.


It was exactly one week ago today that I arrived in Durham, NC for the 2nd Open Photo Shoot of 50 Shades of Black.  My anticipation was high and I was thrilled about the promise of building new relationships, furthering the mission of 50 Shades of Black, and physically meeting Chris Charles (50 Shades of Black featured artist and 2nd Open Shoot Host) for the first time.  Standing outside of 300 E. Main was his lovely partner and amazing artist Rachel Stewart and two burgeoning NC photographers.  One of them was Kimberly Joy.  The photos that she captured, the friendship that we formed, and this reflection below that she offers have all been a pleasant surprise.  I am ultimately grateful for her contribution, her growing talent, and for all that is to come from this inspiring young talent. -Carlton

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I would like to thank Carlton for asking me to blog about my experience at the 50 Shades of Black Event held in Durham, NC with featured Artist Chris Charles (my mentor). I normally express myself with photography instead of words but I am grateful and honored for the opportunity to share my experience.  I do not know when the last time I felt a room full of positive energy and love.  The genuineness at 300 East Main, where the event was held, was amazing.  I was in a room full of people whom I have never seen before and it felt like we were all kindred spirits.  Every conversation filled the room with laughter and every smile was welcoming.  I did not realize how much my soul desired the positive energy of my people until that day.  I strongly believed we needed each other’s beauty and as a result it became a blessed event.  My heart aches when we cannot get along as a community.  A piece of me die when one of our youth dies a senseless death or when we tear one another down with unpleasant words.  So my soul celebrated with joy, capturing behind the scene moments of everyone enjoying one another while waiting to have their photograph taken.   


I left the 50 Shades of Black Community photo-shoot inspired and motivated.  This experience made me think hard about my photography and if I am making a difference in my community.  So, as a result of my self- reflection, I decided to a photo series on black women entitled, “I Am B.E.A.U.T.Y”.  This series will explore how black women define beauty and if skin color affects whether a person is regarded as beautiful. I am very excited about this project and I cannot wait to share it with all of you.  Until then let us continue to uplift our community through our God given talents! Iron sharpens Iron.


Kimberly Joy



Typical American Families - A Fresh New Look at Families Across America


Photo of 50 Shades of Black Creator Carlton Mackey and family by Loni Schick

What is Typical?

What is American?

What is a Family?

Who gets to define any of the above? 


  What does your family look like?

What if "Typical", "American", and "Family" could be re-imagined...and be more inclusive?


To be considered to be featured in our new project please send photos of your family to with a brief statement about why you'd like to be included.

*Some couples may be chosen to be photographed by a member of the 50 Shades of Black Artist Team

Please Read Terms and Conditions

50 Shades of Black -exploring sexuality and skin tone in the formation of identity


See Yourself Differently - This Weekend

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50 Shades of BLACK + Creative Silence Present:

The 2nd 50 Shades of Black Open Photo Shoot | Saturday August 10, 2013 | Durham NC

This event is Free & Open to the Public but you must RSVP.   

Of the 125 possible slots, there are only 10 left.  Don't wait.


After this weekend you will see yourself in an entirely different way. 


Posted on August 7, 2013 and filed under community, art, skin tone, sexuality.

Loving Children of Incarcerated Parents


I have the pleasure of serving on the National Advisory Board of an organization that I want you to know about.  The work that they do, is one of the most important and critical tasks of our community.  That work is loving, affirming, and making visible those in our communities who are often forgotten.

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Foreverfamily's mission is to surround children with one or more parent who is incarcerated with the love of family and to provide regular monthly visitation trips to prisons in GA.  

Ultimately that is the work of 50 Shades of Black and as its creator, I want to align it with other individuals and organizations that are about that mission.  Even before 50 Shades of Black was created, I've so gratefully served Foreverfamily and want you to know about the work they do so that you may support us too.

This weekend was our board retreat in Tampa, FL and it was the pleasure of 50 Shades of Black to provide the youth who joined us with another gift of affirmation because they too are indeed BEAUTIFUL IN EVERY SHADE.


creator of 50 Shades of Black


Posted on August 4, 2013 and filed under activism, community, family.

50 Shades of Black Announces its 2nd Open Photo Shoot


50 Shades of Black, the collaborative artistic and scholarly project exploring issues of race, sex, and identity, announces its Second Open Photo Shoot.

50 Shades of Black, having recently released its beautifully designed 120 Page Coffee Table Book is proud to announce that it will be holding its second major community engaged event on August 10, 2013 in Durham, North Carolina. 

The local community is encouraged to join 50 Shades of Black on Saturday, August 10, 2013 for its 2nd Open Photo Shoot to become a part of the movement! Participants will enjoy a free photo shoot courtesy of celebrated photographer Chris Charles of Creative Silence Photography and Design  

Participants will be featured on the 50 Shades of Black website as well as have their photo considered for possible inclusion in upcoming 50 Shades of Black exhibits and projects including its next published printed volume.

Founded by Carlton Mackey, visual artist and Director of the Ethics & the Arts Program at the Emory University Center for Ethics, 50 Shades of Black is committed to exploring the complex relationship between race, skin tone, sexuality, and the formation of self-identity. Through collaborations with visual artists, scholars and the general public, this project hopes to offer a deeper understanding of what diversity means. It is in the recognition of this diversity that 50 Shades of Black acknowledges the historical role that race and skin tone have played in shaping the way we engage the world, how we perceive beauty, and our own self worth.

The 50 Shades of Black Open Photo Shoot will take place on Saturday, August 10 from 1PM to 4PM at 300 East Main St, Durham, NC 27701. This event is free and open to the public. Participants must RSVP online at:  For more info regarding the Photo Shoot, please call Creative Silence (host photographer) at 919-930-5151.

About 50 Shades of Black

50 Shades of Black is a multi-faceted platform for creating an interactive global dialogue around issues of race, skin tone, sexuality and identity. Exploring these themes through visual art, literature, curated blogs, and educational curriculums, 50 Shades of Black aims to explore the ways in which our individual experiences of race give rise to the formation of our unique and often conflicting identities. For more information, please visit:


Carlton Mackey



May I Touch YOUR Hair? Different Voices. Different Answers.

Top left:  

Facebook was set ablaze on July 25 after Frank Somerville, a white TV reporter in California posted a photo on his page of him combing his adopted black daughter’s hair with the caption:

So for those of you who think tv can be glamorous, this is how i spent my morning, learning how to take out my daughter’s braids. It takes a long time and a lot of patience!

Top Middle:  Mommy can I comb your hair too?

Top Right:

Middle Left:  

This photo Nas shared on his Instagram qualifies as cute and he included the caption “In the streets of NY… I ran into a kid with the same hair cut as me.”

Read more:

Middle Middle: 

The above photo, shot by The White House photographer Pete Souza, is over three years old, but still hangs in the West Wing today. In it, President Obama’s leaning forward to solve the curiosity of a then five-year-old Jacob Philadelphia.

Middle Right: 

Bottom Middle: Model Malliha Ahmad holds a sign inviting passersby to touch her hair.


What is YOUR Response?

Posted on June 28, 2013 and filed under blog, community, personal stories, race.

50 Shades of Black feat. in Music Video by Fahamu Pecou ft/ and Okorie Johnson


You may recall from my earlier post with a photo series about the filming of an Atlanta Hip Hop Music Video featuring Fathers and their sons.  Well...the music video is here!

What more could I ask for for Father's Day? So blessed to know these men, to be transformed by their witness, and to be invited with my son to take part in a revolutionary act. The more I meditate on it, the more it is making sense that Fahamu Pecou and Jamila Crawford are on the cover or our upcoming book...and that Okorie Johnson, the brother playing the cello is featured inside its pages. I salute you both, all the men featured in the video, Roni Nicole and Maurice Evans for bringing it to life and Kari Mackey for making me a father in the first place. WATCH!


50 Shades of Black - Book In Production

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Ladies & Gentleman, It's official. A Book Is About to be Made.

ORDER TODAY Book Release June 22. Details to Come.
(More Tears)

ARTSpeak: Carlton Mackey Burnaway Magazine 50 Shades of Black Radio Interview

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Thank you so much to Burnaway Magazine for this wonderful opportunity.  

CLICK HERE to Listen to Radio version (5 minute interview) and Extended Version (12 minute interview)

Episode 82: This week Claire Maxwell speaks with Carlton Mackey, creator of 50 Shades of Black, a project that examines the relationship between skin tone and sexuality in trying to shape one’s identity. Through several different platforms, the project offers visual artwork and conversations among artists, scholars, and the public to create dialogue about diversity and what it really means. 

Special thanks to AM1690, The Voice of the Arts, our partners in producing ARTSpeak with BURNAWAY. The radio program broadcasts over the airwaves every Tuesday in two rotations, 8-8:30AM and 6-6:30PM.

This program is supported in part by Georgia Council for the Arts through the appropriations of the Georgia General Assembly. Georgia Council for the Arts also receives support from its partner agency, the National Endowment for the Arts.


We are trying to make it hard for you to tell us no!

We are so proud to release this 50 Shades of Black Signature Poster as a perk on our Indiegogo Funding Campaign.  With over 80 beautiful portraits by celebrated Atlanta photographer Ross Oscar Knight, this poster celebrates the beauty, diversity, spirit of YOU!  We couldn't be happier to release it to you.


We are passionate about this work and are committed to offering beautiful products, providing a platform for discovery and dialogue, engaging artists and our local communities.

...but we can't do it without you.  By owing our Custom Shirt, Pre-Ordering our Book, or Purchasing this Signature Poster you enable us to do even more.  With what you give us, we hope to give it back to you.

Together we can do great things.

Help us reach our goal of $25,000 one shirt, book, or poster at a time!!

Time is running out!

Posted on May 8, 2013 and filed under community.


An exclusive behind the scenes look at the 50 Shades of Black Inaugural Open Photo Shoot hosted by celebrated Atlanta photographer and special contributor to 50 Shades of Black, Ross Oscar Knight on April 21, 2013 at Studioplex!

Produced by the High Strung Art Collective for 50 Shades of Black

Posted on May 8, 2013 and filed under film, activism, community.