Posts filed under family

Meeting the Legendary Joyce Bryant (Part One)

Joyce Bryant on the 1955 Cover of Jet Magazine

Joyce Bryant on the 1955 Cover of Jet Magazine

It’s not every day that you have the opportunity to meet a legend.  Yesterday, I did.  It was a Sunday evening. My plane landed at LAX just hours before.  My singular mission for the day was meeting two women who, by no means other than a divinely orchestrated plan, had entered my life.

During the infancy of 50 Shades of Black, I was researching extensively about the lives of famous black men and women and the stories behind their rise to fame.  As much as wanting to know about them, I was interested in knowing how their skin tone played a role in how we perceived them.  I wondered what the relationship was between their historical context and perceptions of beauty that were commonly held.  How did they understand themselves in that context?  How was their talent, the magnetism of their personalities, their sex appeal, their physical appearance all wrapped up into a package that we would come to uphold as iconic.

The first photo that I saw of the woman some deemed as the Black Marilyn Monroe.

The first photo that I saw of the woman some deemed as the Black Marilyn Monroe.

 …and then I saw a photo of a woman whose image captivated me.  She was unlike any other.  Her radiant skin, her perfect teeth, her hour glass figure…and in photo after photo her signature hair all captivated me.  I wanted to know more.  Who was this woman who many had deemed The Black Marilyn Monroe.  I wrote a blog post about this breath-takingly beautiful woman who I previously had never heard of named Joyce Bryant.

Within days of making the post, I received an email from a woman thanking me for the post, for the work I was doing with 50 Shades of Black, and for my interest in her Aunt.  It was a stunning surprise. Could this be?  Did someone related to a woman who had graced to covers of vintage Jet Magazines just contact me?  Is Joyce Bryant still alive?  How is she?  What would be appropriate to ask?  What would I want to know?

50 Shades of Black Page 60 -  ORDER HERE

50 Shades of Black Page 60 - ORDER HERE

It wasn’t long before many of these questions would be answered.  In a series of email exchanges, phone calls, and what I cannot describe as anything other than spiritual dialogues, we built a relationship.  As we made the turn from our exclusively virtual platform to our first printed volume of 50 Shades of Black, Robyn graciously contributed a written reflection later titled The Black Marilyn Monroe to You, Aunt Joyce to Me.

It was an eye opening, heart felt, honest, and deeply personal reflection.  It spoke of success and fame, triumph and struggle, discovery and memory.  It reflected deep gratitude yet longing.  Yet, it was all undergirded by the utmost respect for a woman who, though incrementally being rediscovered, may still not be completely understood.

And then, there I was.  Standing outside of the house about to knock I began to feel the weight of the moment.  I didn’t know what exactly to expect and I felt humbled by that uncertainty.

Robyn’s smile and open arms were as big as I could have ever hoped for.  Her greeting was just the settling gesture I needed to balance my wariness.  When I walked in there was a familiar-ness about the environment:  the smell of freshly cooked food on a Sunday afternoon, the ambient sound of a television in the background, and the wagging of a puppy’s tail wavering between its enthusiasm to meet a new friend and (like me) the uncertainty of new introductions.

I greeted a lovely woman with a huge smile on her face who I later learned was Robyn’s mother and turned to lay eyes on the woman who I too had been affectionately referring to as Aunt Joyce.  When I reached out my hand to say hello, a handshake was not immediately returned.  I paused.  “She can’t see your hand,” someone murmured from the background.

I reached further to touch hers.  This moment was the beginning of our true ‘seeing’ of each other.  Not limited by physical sight, we encountered each other’s presence and it marked the beginning of an exchange that I will not soon forget.

Carlton Mackey
 -Creator of 50 Shades of Black


"She was called one of the most beautiful black women in the world. And now, for the first time, a dark black woman had become a certified national sex symbol."-Donald Bogle

"She was called one of the most beautiful black women in the world. And now, for the first time, a dark black woman had become a certified national sex symbol."-Donald Bogle

Posted on November 7, 2013 and filed under blog, family, history, music, personal stories.


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 - 


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

50 Shades of Black Open Shoot NC.jpg

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


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.

national advisory board-mackey.JPG

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.

Atlanta Music Video by Fahamu Pecou up for Prize at Black Film Festival

fahamu pecou music video black star film festival.jpg

You may recall our earlier post  ATLANTA HIP-HOP MUSIC VIDEO FEATURING BLACK MEN AND THEIR SONS...WHAT? where 50 Shades of Black creator, Carlton Mackey and son were featured alongside other Atlanta fathers and sons for a video shoot by 50 Shades of Black featured Artist Fahamu Pecou.  

Well that video, "HEIR CONDITIONING", has been nominated for the Juried Prize at the Second Annual BlackStar Film Festival this weekend in Philly.

Congrats to Fahamu, the video director Roni Nicole and DP Maurice Evans.

Check out the Video after the Break and more about the Black Star Film Festival


Posted on July 31, 2013 and filed under art, family, film, music.

Taking Notice of the People Used as Samples to Sell Photo Frames

autograph pen.JPG

Today was Father's Day and the family spent some of it shopping for a few things that we'll need for the book signing next Saturday June 22 at Churchill Grounds Jazz Cafe in Atlanta, GA.  One of the top priorities was a nice pen for autographing the books.  (That feels so good to say by the way).  One of the places that we stopped was Michael's -you know (personal opinion here) the cheesy arts and crafts store. 

While strolling through the aisles I came across the section for frames.  I immediately noticed something that stood out to me.  I was actually quite impressed by it.  It showed a level of intentionality and effort on someone in marketing's behalf that simply isn't exerted on a regular basis.  it seems simple and may go unnoticed by some but it certainly didn't by me.

So you know those typical 8.5x11 images that are printed on the cheap white paper that are inevitably thrown know those photos that they put in the frames to help you imagine yourself inside of them...those photos that they include instead of just typing "insert photo here" on a piece of paper...those photos that show beautiful families smiling and striking awkward poses or playing in the leaves...that are either LITERALLY the same family every time or a family that looks like them?  Well today I noticed something completely different.  All of the families looked different.


diversity photo frame 3.JPG

I called Kari over and showed her and she was like, "Ummmmm OK" and kept it moving.  When we started unpacking our thoughts later, I commented on how noteworthy it all was to me.  She let me know that at first it wasn't particularly noteworthy to her because (and I love these types of conversations that we are able to have by the way), "As a white person growing up, you don't stop to notice what the people in the photos look like.  They always look like you and it never even registers to pay attention.  When the make up of the people is different, I still didn't really notice because they just look like people."  

My reply was that I've noticed Every Single Time a black family or a family of another ethnicity is used.  I guess it is because I'm so accustomed to NOT seeing myself when I go shopping for frames that when I see one it jumps out at me

...unless of course it is in the "ethnic expressions" section.  You gotta love that title, huh?

multiracial family photo frame.JPG

As I looked further I knew for certain that there was a level of intentionality made on the part of the marketing team for "Studio Decor".  When I saw a frame with this photo, I thought I had drank too much Sangria at Red Lobster.

The next time I buy a quick plug and go frame, I think it might be a Studio Decor frame from Michaels.  If no one else noticed their tiny bit of effort, I sure did.


Posted on June 16, 2013 and filed under art, blog, family, personal stories, skin tone.

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

Book Cover-web.jpg

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

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

A Shade or Two of Nic: How To Gain Immortality Through The Generations

Me - Smiling Profile Pic.jpg

Serendipity is a thing that happens in all of our lives. Things, people, moments that seem to be preordained and necessary to usher us into the experiences we need to have and the people we need to be. Perhaps it was no coincidence then that last week a man who I’d only had the pleasure of seeing and speaking to twice in my life, Carlton Mackey, who with each meeting proved that you don’t have to know someone to be kind and warm to them, called me up one late weekday morning and asked me to become a blogger for this site.

Perhaps it was serendipity that before I’d gotten the call from Carlton, I’d told my good friend, Christopher Barker, one of the producers of this site, that I was looking to expand my writing – and make some other major moves, but that’s a whole ‘nother story. And perhaps it was meant to be that Chris dropped my name when Carlton told him that he was looking for a voice to represent life from a black gay male perspective.

Maybe this opportunity was written in the stars or spoken into existence by the words of a few creatives and dreamers.

Or, maybe shit just happens. Meh, who really knows?

What I do know is that I’m here, now, and I’m supposed to introduce myself to you and explain a bit of who I am as a man, a gay man, a black gay man, a weirdo, a QUEEN, a nerd, and, most importantly, as Nic.

I guess I don’t have to do ALL of that in one blog post, and really I can’t. But, what I can say is that I’m 27 and a freelance writer. I looove music, models, whodunits and food (one of my nickname’s is King FATass), and I’m a cartoon, anime and manga-loving junkie.

Oh, and I’m immortal.

Now before you began wondering if I’m Amanda Bynes-style crazy (Pffft! As IF I’d ever publicly message Drake. I’d just DM him), or think I’m biting KiDu CuDi (that song is pretty fucking dope, though), let me explain myself.

It may sound strange, but I've gotten a number of my philosophies from the endless amounts of anime, manga and TV shows that I consume every week, and one of the philosophies that I've been enamored with as of late comes from Naruto. It’s the idea that our lives are not just our own, but that we are infinitely connected to the people around us throughout time.

In the manga and anime for Naruto and Naruto: Shippuden, there are these recurring themes about the importance of family and community, and how by sharing our lives with the people around us, we lock them into our hearts and they become a part of us, eternally.

Naruto & Neji - Your Life Is Not Just Your Own-001.jpg

Besides being completely moved by seeing such a concept play out on ink and pixels, I’ve seen proof of its existence in my own life. Take my family for example. In many ways, I think I’m just following in the footsteps laid before me by my father and grandfather.

My grandfather, Matthew, was an unconventional and wild pastor at an A.M.E. church in my hometown of Columbus. And no matter what group he was in, whether it be his congregation, his factory coworkers (yeah, my grandpappy worked for Nabisco) or his crew of friends, he used his voice to teach, influence and care for the people in his family and community.

Then there’s my father, Matthew Jr. He was the “peculiar” child of his family who always questioned the ways of the world. His words held power and influence with most everyone around him, and he grew up to become not only the de facto leader and wise man of his friends and family, but also of the neighborhood we grew up in, much to the chagrin of some of the other people on our block.

And then there’s me. The youngest of three children of Matthew’s and without a doubt the oddest person in my entire immediate family, maybe even my extended family as well. For years, I’ve claimed that I’m just a younger and gayer version of my father (although, my mother is definitely a part of me as well), and I’m sure that, in his own way, my father was just a younger version of my grandfather.

What I believe is that the things that my grandfather passed down to my dad are the things that have undoubtedly been passed on to me, and that includes a desire to learn as much as I can about this world and the people in it and to share what I’ve learned with others so that they can be free, be wise, be empathetic, and, of course, be entertained.

For years, I’ve been doing that by trying – and I do mean trying – to be the best friend, brother, son and boyfriend that I can be, and by letting the people around me have all of the pieces of me that I can give.

But with age, I’ve also come to understand that it’s important throughout that process to let go of the negative behaviors, defense mechanisms, shame and outdated mindsets about my life that hinder me from becoming whole. And even that part of the journey of self-discovery becomes part of the pieces that I can give back to the world.

And now that I’m a writer, I can try to take those pieces of myself, and the pieces of others that have been given to me, and give them to my readers through my stories.

Ultimately, that’s the message I want to bring to my work; that growth, solidarity and long-lasting change is possible if we’re willing to open ourselves up, be vulnerable and really connect with every facet of ourselves and with each other. By doing so we not only change the world, but we live on, free of mortality, through the lessons, the actions and the love we pass on through each generation.

So, let’s grow and become immortal together and help make sure that we pass on things that will make this place at least a little better for the next generation of immortals coming up behind us.

Until next time,

Nicholas Robinson


Get your "Beautiful Shirt"  HERE

Get your "Beautiful Shirt" HERE

I just received another batch of photos from an emerging photographer who blessed us with her presence at our Inaugural 50 Shades of Black Open Shoot hosted by Ross Oscar Knight in Atlanta.  Jovonna Jones initially invited me to speak at the Black History Month Gala hosted by the Emory University Black Student Caucus.  I presented on 50 Shades of Black and was reminded of the talent embodied by so many of the young people I have the pleasure of engaging with on a daily basis on campus.

I didn't really know about Jovanna's skills with the camera until recently.  I'm glad she put them to use on our behalf last Sunday.  I can't thank her enough and can't thank everyone who came out and showed love.

We are about to embark on an entirely new journey beginning next week.  Announcement coming soon.  We're going to need that support more than ever.  I know that together we can accomplish great things.  Let's build something...together.

beautiful in every shade.jpg


How can I even begin to express my gratitude to all of you who showed up, volunteered, or shared information about the Inaugural 50 Shades of Black Open Photo Shoot.  It was truly amazing.  We (ummm...Ross Oscar Knight!) photographed nearly 150 people!

The overall environment was full of love.  I could feel the energy radiating from each of you.  The affirmation that your presence offered is invaluable.  I am eternally grateful.  This entire movement was just an idea less than a year ago.  To see the manifestation in the form of YOU means so much.

I must pause and offer a sincere heartfelt thanks to Ross Oscar Knight and his entire team.  This was a form of generosity that I cannot repay.  Not even stopping for a single break, Ross continued to work until the very last person was photographed.  Unbelievable Talent. Unbelievable Passion. Unbelievable Generosity.  THANK YOU.


Special Thanks To:
Jane Garver for these Behind the Scenes Photos for 50 Shades of Black
Chris Barker, 50 Shades of Black Artistic Director
Christopher Rhodes and High Strung Art Collective for the Video Production
Chazz Pope of Di Versa Phi Screen Printing for hand making our custom garments
Chris Charles of Creative Silence for designing our first Custom Garment

Posted on April 24, 2013 and filed under activism, blog, family, press, community.

The Inaugural 50 Shades of Black Open Photo Shoot Hosted by Ross Oscar Knight - 4.21.2013


Be part of the Inaugural 50 Shades of Black Open Photo Shoot hosted by Ross Oscar Knight. Knight, artist and special contributor to the project, will conduct a half day photo experience which includes a free photo session. 


50 Shades of Black is an affirmation of the beauty in diversity. It explores the role of sexuality and skin tone in the formation of your identity.

WHAT: FREE Open Photo Shoot for all Ages. Music. Refreshments.

WHEN: Sunday April 21st 1 - 4 PM

WHERE: KNIGHT Studio 659 Auburn Ave, Atlanta, GA 

Steps away from the Beltline in Atlanta's Old Fourth Ward at Studioplex



An Open Letter To My Little Brothers: A History Lesson

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Dear Menelik and Tarik,

We are a Jamaican black immigrant family. I’m worried that’s the extent of your knowledge and grasp of both our family history and our heritage. This is no fault of your own and just really a matter of circumstance. As the eldest it is natural for me to feel responsible for both of you. It is my belief that no one can truly know where they are going till they know from whence they came. I think Marcus Garvey puts forth this sentiment most succinctly: “A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots.”  I think I’ve jumped the gun. It would be shameful if you both don’t know who Marcus Garvey is. Basically Marcus Garvey is the first Jamaican global icon. He was an intellectual and essentially a civil rights activist before the Civil Rights Movement. He was instrumental in the emergence of a black consciousness that knew no geographic boundaries. He is also Jamaica’s first national hero. But we’ll get back to Garvey when I return home from Denmark. Being eight and a half years and ten years your senior, we have had two very different upbringings. In addition to you both being able to get away with murder in terms of Mommy and Daddy (smile), you both live very cushioned and insular lives. I’m not saying I didn’t have it easy, because our parents always made sure we were well taken care of; but spending my formative years in Jamaica gave me a more complete view on life at your ages than the both of you have now.

“Out of many, one people” is Jamaica’s national motto. This reflects Jamaica’s history of different people of all hues coming to Jamaica throughout its 500 year plus history, mainly people of African descent who were displaced and endured forced migration as part of the Atlantic slave trade to be labor for the sugar-cane plantations of Jamaica. Fortunately for Jamaica it followed a different pathway in terms of race relations post emancipation than the US for instance. In addition to the black population and white colonial masters and other European settlers from Scotland, Germany, Portugal etc., there were also Indians and Chinese who came to Jamaica as indentured servants, there were also pockets of Syrians and Libyans. Eventually all these different people co-mingled or cohabitated if you will (I’m oversimplifying here so as to not get bogged down on the historical details of Jamaica becoming a multiracial democracy). Long story short, by the time we came around, even though somebody was “black”, if you went back in their family history there were a few people who weren’t “100% black” genetically speaking. As a result of this widespread miscegenation --not to say race is never an issue in Jamaica-- the major social division that exists in Jamaica is that of socioeconomic status. Although I’ve always known that I was black, I didn’t have my racial awakening till I was a 12-year-old immigrant having to deal with inane racially charged questions and innuendos from some classmates in South Florida. Up until that point I’ve always just been a middle class Jamaican from Portmore with roots in Clarendon and Trelawny. In the USA, I had become Terrol, the black boy with a Jamaican accent.

You guys joke that I’m a vampire because I don’t sleep much. And I joke that I have two white little brothers because you guys are into Aeropostale, Hollister and like pop music. Part of the reason for this is because you guys have spent the majority of your lives in a predominantly white tight knit bucolic community in Central Florida. In many ways you guys are the “token” black boys. I don’t want you boys to ever be ashamed of academic achievement, being well mannered and being well spoken. And if you face ridicule for being an “oreo”, so be it. Never be afraid to be yourself. In times of doubt, remember Frederick Douglas’ words: “I prefer to be true to myself, even at the hazard on incurring the ridicule of others, rather than to be false, and incur my own abhorrence.”

The two of you spent so much time with me that you wanted to emulate my 13 y.o. penchant for "sartorial splendor" LOL. Me having some fun dressing you boys up, big chain, durag, magnetic earring and all. 

The two of you spent so much time with me that you wanted to emulate my 13 y.o. penchant for "sartorial splendor" LOL. Me having some fun dressing you boys up, big chain, durag, magnetic earring and all. 

But what I want to prepare you for are the more menacing racially motivated occurrences, when having a high gpa, the fact that you are student leaders, that you perform regular community service, that you are good kids and respectful to others won’t matter. All somebody is going to see you as is a black boy. It is my hope that it will be something innocuous like Jacey and I’s experience of being constantly followed in malls and department stores when we used to go to Sawgrass to hang out --we were being profiled because of our style of dress, durags, big chains and tall tees, and if you know your big brother whichever snarky attendant had the audacity to follow and say something to us has never gotten a verbal picking apart like they received that day from a durag clad black teenager-- or my grade nine history teacher overlooking me for an award I deserved and unnecessarily punishing me when I opened the door as the bell rang after the city bus route I took to school in Coral Springs experienced a stoppage in service. You will learn that these situations strengthen your character. But if it happens to be something more emotionally taxing, remember your big brother is always here for you and moreover, you come from a long line of smart, resourceful and resilient people.

Great grandfather, Joseph Gray. 

Great grandfather, Joseph Gray. 

Back to the oreo comment; you guys may not know this but either Grandma’s grandfather (or her great grandfather) was a Scottish immigrant. Why do you think Grandma has blue-rimmed eyes and really really white hair now? You don’t dare run that joke of her being part white though, just warning you. For the past few weeks I’ve been reading a biography of Andrew Carnegie who also immigrated to America 4 months shy of his 13th birthday like me, but from Scotland. In the early years the biography is set in Scotland and you get the impression that the Scots are a hard nose and industrious set of people.  Carnegie with little formal education after entering the work force at about your age Tarik was able to work himself up to being a millionaire and eventually becoming one of the richest men in history. It was determination, dedication and discipline at its purest. Unfortunately, we never met our great grandfather Joseph Gray. But by all accounts he possessed some of these traits in his career as a pretty successful butcher. He may not have made the millions that Carnegie made, but he was able to provide for his children and amass enough money to leave some land to them.

Maternal grandparents Vasco and Veronica Hendricks (née Gray).

Maternal grandparents Vasco and Veronica Hendricks (née Gray).

As you guys know I spent the first eight years of my life living in Ewarton with Grandma and Grandpa. I loved touching Grandpa’s head because of the soft texture of his hair. It is believed that one of Grandpa’s forbears was the result of a union between a Taino and a Maroon. The Tainos were Jamaica’s indigenous Amerindian population that was decimated due to over-exhaustion and diseases brought on by the Spanish. It is believed that survivors were subsumed into the Maroon population. People commonly refer to the Haitian revolution as the first successful slave rebellion in the Caribbean. But in truth the Maroons of Jamaica defeated the formidable British redcoats by employing guerrilla tactics in the mid 18th century, more than fifty years before the commencement of the Haitian revolution. Moreover Grandpa’s father and grandfather was part of the relatively successful Jamaican agrarian class that emerged in the post-emancipation Jamaica milieu. Luthor Cecil Hendricks was a very wealthy man who owned 100’s of acres of land at one point.

Paternal grandmother, Rona Graham ( née  Mckay)

Paternal grandmother, Rona Graham (née Mckay)

Have you guys ever sat down and listen to Grandma (Ms. Catherine) talk? She is seriously one of the funniest, wittiest and most poetic people I know. This should come as no surprise to you, but then again it may very well surprise you guys. Grandma’s maiden name is Mckay. She happens to be cousins with one of the most outstanding 20th century poets and acclaimed author in his own right, Claude Mckay. He was a pillar of the Harlem Renaissance. I have some homework, for you both. Read “If we must die”. It is then you boys will understand purpose! Claude Mckay was very influential on the architects of the Negritude  (look it up), especially Aime Cesare. I don’t want you to constantly think about your blackness/race, I just don’t want you to forget it!

Paternal grandfather, Colin Graham.

Paternal grandfather, Colin Graham.

Then there is the story of Colin Graham, aka Grandpa. Unfortunately he was taken from us when you boys were 5 and 6. This man had a Horatio Alger story. When you talk about a man who used his ingenuity, work ethic and determination to make something out of nothing, this is that man. Grandpa started out cutting sugar cane on a former plantation where he slept in a tree  at night and after receiving a plot of land from his deceased father’s friend he became a small time farmer where he’d cut cane by day and tend to his small plot by moonlight. Eventually he’d start a very successful bus company called “the Doreen Special” that had routes going all over the island.

hs grad pic.jpg

Starting over wasn’t easy. The financial hardships and struggle of our first five or six years are nothing to scoff at. I remember vividly that time. In one specific instance, I remember mommy getting $60 for 24 hours of work, this is around the time when she was staying with old people in South Florida. I remember Daddy even taking a job at one point at a car wash when I just arrived, imagine the sense of responsibility that drives a man who was rather well off in his home country where he was quite successful before the age of thirty (speaking of age, it's already April 10th here in Denmark, join me in wishing "the Don" AKA "Terrol" AKA "Donovan" AKA "Daddy" a happy 48th birthday today!) both as an insurance broker and the owner of two thriving grocery stores and eventually a supermarket to take such a job. And I’m sure you guys remember being with me all the time because of our family situation. I even had to take you both on a double date with Jacey and two girls to see Love don’t cost a thing in 2003. There were times I even had to lend Mommy assistance in doing her hair in a fashion she despised because she didn’t have the expendable income to spend on such luxuries. Eventually Daddy (one of the most driven people I know) was able to start his transportation business and it has grown over the years from him alone to 6 drivers now. One of the best things Daddy ever did for me after catching me sagging my pants on the way to the park the summer after moving to Florida was grounding me and giving me the book Think and grow rich: a black choice by Dennis Kimbro. I guess this is my way of throwing down the gauntlet.

You like myself are the grandchildren of country folk from rural Jamaica, never forget your humble roots; humility is key. Furthermore, we are the descendants of West Indian slaves that worked under some of the harshest and most brutal labor conditions ever. The sugar plantations in the Caribbean and Brazil recorded some of the highest mortality rates and it was a few centuries after the plantation economy had taken root that these places were even able to field a self-sustaining enslaved population. You guys may call me "slave driver" behind my back as it relates to you both and pushing you towards excellence in all your endeavors especially those academically related; and that I’m ridiculously driven. I just want you both to be able to take advantage of the opportunities that I never had. Don’t waste them. Many of the opportunities that I’ve been fortunate to have and that you will have if you stay on the path that you both are on are opportunities that will never be open to family members of ours. Don’t waste them. Although I never lived the life of the indigent, growing up in Jamaica I saw poverty daily. Wanting to help people like the boy you guys saw outside of Grandma’s market stall in Denham Town, West Kingston with torn up clothes in January 2009; that’s my purpose.  I want you both to take a look in the mirror and ask yourselves how can I honor the memory and sacrifices of those who came before me and use my talents to benefit society while reaching my personal goals.

50 shades grand parents and the boys.jpg

I wish our mother didn’t have to worry about letting you ride your bicycle alone to soccer practice Menelik, and also worry that allowing you to wear the Yale hoodies I bought you guys will put you in harm’s way because your presence as teenage black boys in a hoodie is perceived as pernicious and poses some form of imminent danger. Alas, that’s the America we live in where the brownness of our skin evokes fear and antagonism. I just pray that you both are equipped to navigate this minefield that is the life of a black teenage male in America.

"Think of yourself as on the threshold of unparalleled success. A whole, clear, glorious life lies before you. Achieve! Achieve!"-Andrew Carnegie. The sky is the limit for both of you, I’m immensely proud of you both, and I’m pleased with the young men you are evolving into. Just don’t get complacent. There’s always more. Any academic and professional success I attain, it is my expectation that they will be dwarfed by both of your accomplishments.

With love always

-Your  Big bro, Terrol

All grown up.

All grown up.

Facebook: Terrol Mikhail Graham



Choose to Love - Photo by Kari Mackey

...on today when so much is being said, so many arguments being heard, and so much is being decided I have this to say to you, Isaiah:

Son, I choose to love you no matter who you choose to love.


Atlanta Music Video features black fathers and their sons

Atlanta Music Video features black fathers and their sons

A hip hop music video where the entire premise is black men and their sons?  Where they do that at?

Many things have been said about Fahamu Pecou.  That he "is the Shit" is the most common and probably most comprehensive moniker that he has gone by for the last several years.  Just to nuance things a bit, I'd like to add that he is super intelligent, unreasonably passionate...and slightly off.  Yeah the dude isn't like most cats you run into on a daily basis.  And the decision to paint a series of self portraits titled All Dat Glitters Ain't Goals, record an album by the same title, and shoot a music video to accompany each painting is proof of all of the above.

Atlanta Music Video features black fathers and their sons

Atlanta Music Video features black fathers and their sons

Titled Heir Conditioning, the song that was behind the gathering of men, boys, and babies in an abandoned lot in Atlanta, GA, is about the unfortunate plight of many young black males BUT ALSO about the less commonly told story of the loving, nurturing, strong, positive, examples of so many fathers in the black community.  As much of Pecou's other projects (and Pecou as a caricature of himself), this work is interlaced with high brow wit, humor, and satire.  As he says on his latest blog titled Art.Rap.Scholarshit., "if you're not careful you may learn something before it's done".

Atlanta Music Video features black fathers and their sons

Atlanta Music Video features black fathers and their sons

We arrived on set at 10am...already an anomaly for the hip hop world, and everything was immediately all love.  Kids were playing soccer.  Dreadlocs  and dust was flying everywhere and my son couldn't wait to be in the midst of it all.  What started off as a small gathering of a few early birds quickly turned into something that can really only be described in one word: beautiful.

Atlanta Music Video features black fathers and their sons

Atlanta Music Video features black fathers and their sons

Roni Nicole and Maurice Evans guided, directed, and filmed a group of men who at first glance couldn't have been any more different from each other.  On the set were gentlemen wearing purple pants and others in freshly creased denim with a blazer and necktie.  Tattoos adorned the faces, necks, and arms of some while sunglasses, scarves, and long sleeve button ups did others.  To add to the beautiful display of juxtaposed "Fahamu-ness", Okorie Johnson arrived on set later bearing a chelo and wearing a shirt that read, "this t-shirt helped build a school in Africa".

Atlanta Music Video features black fathers and their sons

Atlanta Music Video features black fathers and their sons

It was something great to be a part of and I can't wait to post the finished product.  I'm honored to be among such a group and look forward to connecting further with those who I already knew and exploring the possibilities of what I might build with those I did not know.

Atlanta Music Video features black fathers and their sons

Atlanta Music Video features black fathers and their sons

Fahamu is growing to be a great colleague, creative partner, and friend of mine.  We are fortunate to have some of his work featured in 50 Shades of Black.  We are lucky to have him and the oh-so-fly Jamila Crawford grace the cover of our upcoming ebook...photographed by TT Coles...who of course was on deck for the video shoot.



There are a lot of folks to check out now and that is exactly how we like it.  We are a growing community of artist who believe that all of our futures as artists is dependent on each other...and you for your support.

Show some love.


(June 10, 2013)


-Carlton Mackey, Creator of 50 SHADES OF BLACK

new website | ebook | Coffee Table Book | Exhibit | Teaching Tools

...coming soon


50 Shades of Black Creative Director and Producer Carlton Mackey and his son

50 Shades of Black Creative Director and Producer Carlton Mackey and his son

I am raising a biracial son. I watch him daily engage in the world with little fear and with bold curiosity. He trusts me. He believes the things that I tell him and assumes that I know the answers to every question that he asks. But sometimes I won't have all the answers. As any young person of any ethnicity or any sexual orientation struggles to understand themselves and the world around them, one day he will grapple with what it means to be...him.

50 Shades of BLACK

 will be there for him as a resource. It is a collection of stories of real people (like you) from around the world who in your own voices share stories of beauty and pain... of struggle and liberation. Maybe from your personal narratives he will be able to better understand his own. Maybe in the act of remembering and retelling your own story you will begin the process of healing...maybe you will experience your first taste of liberation. I believe that your courage in sharing gives permission to others to begin a journey of healing and liberation for themselves.

Maybe him having 50 shades of black along with the wisdom and nurturing of his grandparents, healthy expressions of love and positive examples set by his parents, a group of friends who look like him and many who don't, and the presence, protection, and power of the village, he will grow up fortified with the knowledge of and pride in his multiple heritages, a healthy understanding of the complexities of identity in general, and the eyes to not only recognize but to celebrate the distinct, unique identities of others. -signed Carlton Mackey

THIS IS THE FIRST DRAFT OF THE FOREWORD TO THE BOOK 50 SHADES OF BLACK VOLUME I - a collection of stories and artwork 25+ other wonderful people.


To Share Your Own Story and to be considered for inclusion in later volumes please visit