Posts filed under activism

BEAUTIFUL IN EVERY SHADE: One Year of Affirming Beauty

Tomorrow marks the 1 year anniversary of the Inaugural BEAUTIFUL IN EVERY SHADE (TM) Open Photo Shoot.  Actually, the inaugural photo shoot wasn't even recognized as part of the trademarked BEAUTIFUL IN EVERY SHADE Campaign when we held it 1 year ago (tomorrow).  

Celebrated, international photographer and photo-culturalist Ross Oscar Knight and I planned a singular event to celebrate the beauty and diversity of the many people who supported 50 Shades of Black, a grassroots movement seeking to utilize the power of art and personal narrative to not only critically examine the role of sexuality and skin tone in the formation of identity, but to celebrate and affirm the beauty of every human being.  Little did we know that a year later, we would have photographed nearly 400 beautiful people all across the world including Africa and Brazil...holding photo shoots on college campuses, at cultural events like an Indian Garba, and at the largest independent book festival in the country.

We look back to that day with amazement at the strength found in community, in the power in each of your stories, and in the reality that we've only just begun.  With BEAUTIFUL IN EVERY SHADE (TM) Open Photo Shoots being planned in other countries and in other parts of the United States, we are committed to our work of "Spreading Beauty".  With so many messages that tell us that we are not, our motto is >> 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

For more information on 50 Shades of Black, visit:

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

Introducing The New Cool Kids On The Scene: The Tenth Zine

As a black, gay writer, I’m always happy when I see people from my community planting a flag in the world of media, whether it be behind the scenes, writing or designing, or giving me LIFE in pixelated in pixelated form in glossy pages or on my computer screen.

Earlier this month, I’d heard about a new magazine geared toward the black gay community called The Tenth, the first independently published project from the Brooklyn-based Pink Rooster Studio. Recently my 50 Shades of BLACK cohorts, Carlton Mackey and Chris Barker, and I checked out the online site and we all raved at what came across our screens.

The creators of Pink Rooster Studio, &nbsp; André Verdun Jones, Khary Septh, Kyle Banks

The creators of Pink Rooster Studio, André Verdun Jones, Khary Septh, Kyle Banks

In the past, friends and I have complained about black gay magazines focusing too heavily on the fluff of party scenes, well-oiled Adonis models, flyers, ads, flyers and more ads. But The Tenth, though only offering a glimpse into its pages on the site, seems to skew left of middle and simultaneously travels the roads of art, fashion, sex appeal and literature.

Boasting more than 80 contributors for its first bi-annual issue, which was released on April 10, The Tenth promises offerings from the likes of performance artist Andre Singleton, fashion designer Telfar Clemens, photographers Idris & Tony, activist Darnell Moore, contemporary artist Rashaad Newsome, and literary critic William Johnson.

"We really talk about what's happening now in our culture and have no agenda to represent an image or counter any perception. We just want to play in the sandbox with other exceptional black gay boys and be faggy and angry and smart and silly and beautiful and ugly and radical and perhaps more than anything just learn to trust each other through collaboration. It really has been an incredible experience," said the founders of Pink Rooster studios to Huffington Post.

"The work is born out of our queerness. We know that we, as black gay men will always be forced into a box. This is us coloring that box, and that is a very queer thing. Making anything beautiful, elegant, and joyous," they added.

Yet, most intriguing, so far, is the Courtney Harvier helmed short film "The Masters." Perhaps playing on the layered opening phrase of “I Saw Africa On His Mind,” the stunning visual piece showcases black men, slaves, on the plantations of the south as they work the fields and their master’s home, all the while yearning for the freedom of their homeland, as well as the solace and familiarity of each other’s bodies and hearts. It’s provocative and immediately enthralling and undeniably an awesome teaser for the work that’s the come from The Tenth.

If you want to know more, check out The Tenth website here. And be sure to watch "The Masters" below. 

Nicholas Harbor

Freelance Journalist, storyteller and blogger for 50 Shades of BLACK

Posted on April 19, 2014 and filed under activism, africa, art, blog, Body Image, LGBT, Masculinity, sexuality.

The New Morlocks Part II: Jamaica Allows LGBT Youth Refuge In Its Sewer Systems

Original Image courtesy of BuzzFeed

Original Image courtesy of BuzzFeed

It was only a few shorts months ago back in December when reports initially hit the global scene detailing the tragic reality that many of New Kingston, Jamaica’s LGBT youth were living in the city’s sewer systems after being kicked out of their homes and discarded by their communities.

Making matters even more grim was the fact that the homeless youths were being routinely arrested and harassed by the police as well as angry homophobic mobs, who could attack them at any time.

Now, after months of raids and attacks, a Kingston court has ruled that youths can legally stay in the sewer systems.

Activist Yvonne McCalla-Sobers, who is chair of the planned LGBT shelter Dwayne’s House, gave an account to and explained that the last raid occurred, ironically, on March 5, Ash Wednesday, when New Kingston police entered the sewers and demanded that the youth leave. The youth, however, refused and some put up a struggle as they simply had nowhere else to go. Some of the youth were arrested for resisting eviction and some were even charged for using swear words, which is illegal in Jamaica.

Police had previously gone so far as to try and burn the youth out of the sewers and had even run them out of the abandoned buildings they were occupying when they weren't in the sewers. Police have now completely torn those abandoned buildings down to stop any chance of the youths coming back. Sadly, that's also helped to keep the youths in a permanent state of homelessness. 

When the youths appeared in court two days later, a judge fined them for their “calumnious language.” However the judge also advised the police that the sewers are a public space and therefore the youths have a right to reside there.

Dwayne’s House paid the small fines for the youths, and in what could only be described as an utterly bizarre and tragic victory, the youths have now returned to the sewers with the hope that they will be left alone by police.

As I wrote in my original article on this matter, this scenario frighteningly mirrors the plight of the fictional X-Universe group The Morlocks, a bizarre, unique and discarded group of mutants who lived in the sewers of Manhattan because they didn't fit in with either humans or human-looking mutants.

Like these youths in Jamaica, The Morlocks were constantly criticized and discriminated against when they walked into the light with the rest of the world and even when they stayed underground in the sewers, they were susceptible to attacks from anti-mutant groups. Sadly, in the X-Men comics, help came to late for the The Morlocks and their group was brutally massacred in their sewer home by, of all things, a group of mercenary mutants. 

It’s mind blowing that in the real world a group of young men and women are so oppressed and unwanted by their community that the main issue surrounding the governments response to them isn’t how they can be aided before even more disastser strikes or how to  change th mindsets of citizens to allow for a society that values human life over judgment and irrational hate, instead it's how and where the powers that be in New Kingston can dump these youths off and relieve themselves of responsibility in the matter. 

The shining light in the matter is the tenacity and resilience of these youths to stay alive as well as the efforts of a activists like those at Dwayne's House who are trying to create a safe space in Jamaica for these youths and advocate for their rights and their existence.

I just hope that life doesn't imitate art first and that these youths don't end up massacred and forgottten before real help arrives.

If you'd like information on how to donate to Dwayne's House you can check out their website here.

Nicholas Harbor

Freelance Journalist, storyteller and blogger for 50 Shades of BLACK


Posted on March 18, 2014 and filed under activism, current events, Homophobia, LGBT.


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50 Shades of Black visited Liberia back in October and was inspired by a very special woman we met there to send our signature BEAUTIFUL IN EVERY SHADE shirt back for some of the youth.

Just got the @50shadesofblack African edition T-shirts supply.....yay!!!! The BEST thing about these is...they are FREE.....and there's some for the KIDS!!!!  #50shadesofblack  &nbsp;African edition going nationwide! We are Promoting  #Sexuality  &nbsp;and&nbsp;  #SkinTone  &nbsp;in the&nbsp;  #Formation  &nbsp;of&nbsp;  #Identity  . Website:  &nbsp;@50shadesofblack&nbsp;  #Embrace  &nbsp;who you are. Rocking my tee at work today

Just got the @50shadesofblack African edition T-shirts supply.....yay!!!! The BEST thing about these is...they are FREE.....and there's some for the KIDS!!!!#50shadesofblack African edition going nationwide! We are Promoting#Sexuality and #SkinTone in the #Formation of #Identity. @50shadesofblack #Embrace who you are. Rocking my tee at work today

Thanks to your support, and the help of another great partner on the ground we made good on that promise.  When Ms. Cooper posted this image and tagged us on Instagram, it made our day.

Soon, we'll have more photos for you of some of the youth proudly embracing their heritage and the various skin tones reflected within it.

Show YOUR Support


Posted on February 27, 2014 and filed under activism, africa, art, press, travel.

FREDI WASHINGTON: Why Pass for White? I'm Black...and Proud.

Fredi Washington.jpg

BRIDGING THE GAP: Celebrating Fredi Washington (1903 – 1994) in partnership I LOVE ANCESTRY

You see I’m a mighty proud gal and I can’t for the life of me, find any valid reason why anyone should lie about their origin or anything else for that matter. Frankly, I do not ascribe to the stupid theory of white supremacy and to try to hide the fact that I am a Negro for economic or any other reasons, if I do I would be agreeing to be a Negro makes me inferior and that I have swallowed whole hog all of the propaganda dished out by our fascist-minded white citizens.

I am an American citizen and by God, we all have inalienable rights and whenever and wherever those rights are tampered with, there is nothing left to do but fight...and I fight. How many people do you think there are in this country who do not have mixed blood, there’s very few if any, what makes us who we are are our culture and experience. No matter how white I look, on the inside I feel black. There are many whites who are mixed blood, but still go by white, why such a big deal if I go as Negro, because people can’t believe that I am proud to be a Negro and not white. To prove I don’t buy white superiority I chose to be a Negro.
— --Fredi Washington (1903 – 1994)

Fredi Washington was an accomplished Black American dramatic film actress, one of the first to gain recognition for her work in film and on stage.

She was active during the period known as the Harlem Renaissance (1920s-1930s). She is best known for her role as Peola in the 1934 version of the film Imitation of Life, in which she plays a young mulatto woman.

Throughout her life, Washington was often asked if she ever wanted to "pass" for white. This was a question almost unique to United States society after the American Civil War and Reconstruction. 

It classified people by hypo-descent, that is, mixed-race people were classified as belonging to the race of lower social status, in this case, Black, regardless of appearance and ancestry. Other multiracial countries tended to recognize a wider variety of classes. Washington answered conclusively, "no."

"I don't want to pass because I can't stand insincerities and shams. I am just as much Negro as any of the others identified with the race." --Fredi Washington (Fay M. Jackson, The Pittsburgh Courier (1911-1950), Pittsburgh, Pa.: Apr 14, 1934)

"I have never tried to pass for white and never had any desire, I am proud of my race." In 'Imitation of Life', I was showing how a girl might feel under the circumstances but I am not showing how I felt." --Fredi Washington (The Chicago Defender (National edition) (1921-1967). Chicago, Ill.: Jan 19, 1935)

Washington was fearlessly outspoken about racism faced by Black Americans. She worked closely with Walter White, then president of the NAACP, to address pressing issues facing black people in America.

Her experiences in the film industry and theatre led her to become a civil rights activist. Together with Noble Sissle, W.C. Handy and Dick Campbell, in 1937 Washington was a founding member with Alan Corelli of the Negro Actors Guild of America (NAG) in New York.

She served as executive secretary, and worked for better opportunities for Black-American actors. She also was active with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and worked to secure better hotel accommodations for Black actors, who were often discriminated against while touring. She promoted less stereotyping and discrimination in roles for black actors.

In 1953, Washington was a film casting consultant for Carmen Jones, which starred Dorothy Dandridge, another pioneering Black-American actress.

Washington died of a stroke, the last of several, on June 28, 1994 in Stamford, Connecticut at the age of 90. According to her sister, Isabel, Fredi never had children.

At her death, Washington was survived by her sisters Isabel Washington, Rosebud Smith of Jamaica, Queens; and Gertrude Penna of Orlando, FL; and a brother, Floyd Washington of Hempstead, New York.

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

This is the fifth of a weekly series of posts curated by I Love Ancestry on 50 Shades of BLACK featuring stories of ancestors that contributed to the struggle for freedom.

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

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

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

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

Would you like your story featured?

Share it now at

Janelle Monae's Afrofuturism on Black History Month

Is humanoid equality the next civil rights fight?

Cindi Mayweather

And so she sings, we're all virgins to the joys of loving without fear....

Following her EP: metropolis Janelle Monae has used the analogy of synthetic intelligence to argue topics like civil and gender rights along with giving a new meaning to the ideal of LGBTQA ...perhaps the 'T' can stand for Transhuman or the 'A' for anything. In the five suite chronology of her 3 albums Monae has painted a picture of pop, rock, rap, jazz, blues, R&B, funk, and even folk to keep our attention while ranting about her own frustration with the kind of empowerment which is possible in the increasingly techno-connected world.

Modeled after the many interpretations of the storied Metropolis: a futuristic city sharply divided between the working class and the city planners, the son of the city's mastermind falls in love with a working class prophet who predicts the coming of a savior to mediate their differences. Monae's consistent theme is a love between a human man and a robot women, but in this recent album has evolved into  stories about the her self confessed alter-ego cyborg Cindi Mayweather and her own identity as a seemingly lgbtR (R for Robot).

The album Electric Lady and Archandroid before that, bring to mind the issues surrounding love equality, which are socio-politically related to marriage equality. The age old dowry system of marriage is now a catalyst to normalize love across cultures and preferences, aside from its sustained bride price. Human's ability to create laws that better acknowledge independence of things of sentience will be increasingly tested as human-kind itself grows more diverse.

I'd argue that Gay is the new Asian because of all the unpacked diversity in the culture, but black seems to be the analogy that everyone is going with.

Michael Joseph Gross coined it The Last Great Civil Rights Struggle. Pundits are rightfully quick to make something finite in order to capitalize on it. Aside from marketing, it’s not true. There will always be more struggles, as minorities exist and define their niche forte. We are reverse engineering our way to pure individualism. Imagine 7,000,000,000 cultural labels and counting. LGBT issues are just the latest struggle, but the next or perhaps the one after that, will be Humanoid or even Robot issues. There is an ethnography to everything including the technology that compels and propels our daily lives. As we humans try and engineer our ways out of all labor we've started to create sentience. Just as Edgar Rice Burroughs writes in The Master Mind of Mars we have the potential to fall in love with a beautiful mind transferred to a horrible body. How will our ethical code change legally when Cindi Mayweather a humanoid lady falls in love with Anthony Greendown, a gentleman?

Originally posted on 10/3/2013 in H+ an extension of the World Transhumanist Association by author James Felton Keith


writer, cultural critic, special contributor to 50 Shades of Black

Posted on February 1, 2014 and filed under activism, art, blog, education, Homophobia, Identity, LGBT, music, sexuality.

Race, Sex, and MLK: 50 Shades of Black Creator to Moderate Conversation at Emory University

race sex martin luther king.jpg

Join Volunteer Emory for a social justice dialogue on overcoming inequality in the 21st century.

Moderated by Carlton Mackey from the Emory Center for Ethics, creator of 50 Shades of Black

Zai Air - Emory's own Davion Ziere


The Loving Story: Screening and Discussion with creators of 50 Shades of Black at Emory University

Photo by Villet Grey

Photo by Villet Grey

The Center for Community Partnerships (CFCP) and the Ethics & Arts Program are hosting a film screening & discussion of The Loving Story on January 20, 2014 from9:30 to noon at the Emory 

Center for Ethics, Room 102. 

Discussion led by Carlton and Kari Mackey.  Carlton is the director of the Ethics & the Arts Program at Emory University and the Creator of 50 Shades of Black.  His wife Kari is the Assistant Project Coordinator of the Access to Information Project at the Carter Center. 

Event will also include a presentation by Dr. Pellom McDaniels on the Robert Langmuir Collection of more than 12,000 photographs depicting African American life from the early 19th century to the mid-20th century. 


Audience will include local high school students and parents from CFCP’s Graduation Generation initiative.

Created Equal MLK Day event flyer-web.jpg

50 Shades of Black & I Love Ancestry Announce New Partnership.



50 Shades of Black and I Love Ancestry are proud to announce a new partnership.

January 3, 2014 - With a mission of building an online movement that empowers people to seek knowledge of ancestral heritage, I Love Ancestry works to “build intergenerational relationships between communities, particularly American Indians and Black Americans”.

 “I believe strongly in the mission of I Love Ancestry and feel that it is an extraordinarily valuable resource for scholars and everyday people alike to learn more about history and culture from perspectives and with voices that often to go unheard.  By bridging the narratives of American Indians and Black Americans, I Love Ancestry, also enhances our mission of broadening the often narrowly held understandings of diversity and culture as well as the narrow understanding of blackness.” –Carlton Mackey (Creator of 50 Shades of Black)

As part of this new partnership, 50 Shades of Black will offer a weekly column curated by the creator of I Love Ancestry, Adrien Heckstall, which will highlight the history of an American Indian, Black American, or an Afro Native ancestor and historical alliances between both communities.  50 Shades of Black creator, Carlton Mackey will also curate a weekly column on I Love Ancestry called Bridging the Gap that will highlight contemporary stories of individuals across the globe and share how their individual experiences of race and sexuality give rise to the formation of their unique and complex identities. The two will also partner for an Open Photo Shoot to be held in Miami in Spring 2014.

The two will also work together specifically to collect contemporary stories and artwork of Natives and Afro Natives to be featured in an art exhibit at the end of the year and in the next published volume of the 50 Shades of Black coffee table book series.  Right now the two are designing educational materials and a new series of custom apparel to be released by the end of this month.

“50 Shades of Black is who I am which is why I completely relate to this project and its mission. I am grateful for this partnership opportunity between I Love Ancestry and 50 Shades of Black as I feel both projects complete each other on so many levels in a very unique way by engaging people in sharing their stories about race and skin tone while learning about heritage and diversity." –Adrien Heckstall (Creator of I Love Ancestry)


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, educational curriculums, and workshops, 50 Shades of Black aims to explore the ways in which our individual experiences of race and sexuality give rise to the formation of our unique and complex identities. For more information, please visit:

 About I Love Ancestry

I Love Ancestry is a community driven platform that bridges our past and future, engages people and reinforces cultural diversity. We share stories of unsung heroes and heroines who shaped American history and the struggle for freedom. We explore the historical alliances between American Indians and Black Americans and their contributions to history. We promote inspiring people and organizations who are making a difference in our world.

At I Love Ancestry, we envision a world where people embrace their own and each other’s roots, celebrate diversity and advocate for indigenous cultures. We exist to empower people to seek knowledge of ancestral heritage, preserve historical truth, and unite like-minded people.

For more information, please visit:


The New Morlocks: How Jamaica Has Forced Its LGBT Youth Into The Sewers

Jamaican Gay Youth-001.jpg

As a self-professed geek and a lifelong fan of Marvel's "X-Men" comics, one of the things I've always loved about it is that the X-Men comics are all about art imitating life for the outcasts of the world. It showed us that even the bravest of superheroes, the kindest of souls can be seen as castaways and outcasts when they don't look, act or behave like the majority of people.

In the world of the X-Men, that point was never made clearer than when the comic's former writer, Chris Claremont, introduced a group called The Morlocks. Like the X-Men, they were mutants, but they were the runaways and outcasts of even the mutant world. They were the mutants whose powers were bizarre, unconventional, or had left them disfigured and monstrous in the eyes of others. And they ended up living in the sewers beneath Manhattan because they were the ones that the fictional people of the Marvel world has discarded and pushed underground because they were just too different.

Eventually though, even their existence in the underworld of society wasn't tolerated and their group was nearly annihilated when their home in the sewers was invaded by a lethal mob in the "Mutant Massacre," one of the most bloody, devastating, heartbreaking and darkest storylines that X-Men fans ever seen.

The Morlocks.jpg

In all my years of reading X-Men comics, I'd always seen how the lives of the superheroes and mutants who live in the light played out in our everyday real lives, but I never thought I'd see the day when I'd see a real-life group of "Morlocks" in our own world. However, that all changed recently when I came across BuzzFeed article about a group of runaway gay youths in Jamaica who literally live in the island's sewer system as rejects of society. 

Jamaica has long been regarded as one of the most homophic nations on Earth. In Jamaica, a British colonial law outlawing same-sex intercourse, called the "buggary law," is still in effect. And in recent years the island nation has seen a dramatic spike in anti-gay attacks, which have included beatings, firebombs and brutal murders at the hands of angry mobs. And that anti-gay mindset is bolstered by Jamaica's government and press, which refuses to run any ads that shine a positive light on the LGBT community. As well, most articles about Jamaica's LGBT citizens describes them as delinquents, vagrants, molesters and all-around villains.

In a climate where homophobia and effemiphobia are so rampant and accepted, many of Jamaica's gay youth (lesbians were not so oddly less affected) have, sadly, found themselves kicked out of the their family homes and pushed to the wayside by society, leaving them few places to go other than the streets.

Recently, BuzzFeed scribe J. Lester Feder traveled to Jamaica and spoke to six of the young gay youths, ranging from teens to early twenties, who have been forced out of their homes and are now living in an open sewer in New Kingston, the Jamaican capital’s financial district, for several months.

Life for the castaways has already been horrifying and turbulent, to say the least, but the group suffered a major blow to their already thread-thin sense of security on Dec. 1 when Cmdr. Christopher Murdock and a team of police entered the sewers and raided their makeshift him, burning much of their belongings and their food. This isn't the first time an invasion of the sewers has happened. In previous raids, police, have pepper-sprayed, beaten with batons and shot the youths with metal marbles fired from slingshots. However, police deny any acts of brutailty.

Murdock and his police team claim that the cause for their raids are the multiple complaints (more than 30) that they've received about theft and robbery ever since the young men began living in the sewer system. And although they admit to stealing to live, they claim that the police are trying to get rid of them because they're LGBT.

“They are trying to pin something on us,” says Michael, who has the blonde hair in the photograph above. “Because I am gay and it’s not legalized in the country, they want to get rid of us."

Even the police department's statement about the raid carries a heavy homophobic message about their reasons for trying to rid the city of the youths.

 “The aim of this operation was to remove men of diverse sexual orientation who continue to plague the New Kingston are," said Murdock in a statement after the raid.

And the police aren't the only threat to the youths. As Davel, the man on the far left with the pink bag in the photograph, notes, his group of friends and comrades are vulnerable to attacks from anyone who would wish to do them harm because of their sexuality.

 “Here in the gully anyone can climb down at any time,” Davel said. “You are probably asleep and they come throw stones at your head, catch [you] on fire. Because that’s what Jamaica is for and all about with homosexuals.”

Jamaican Gay Youth 2.jpg

The threat of such brazen violence is a bitter reality for many LGBT people on th island and in July the world got a devastating glimpse into the anti-gay attacks when Dwayne Jones, a "cross-dressing" 17-year-old teen from Paradise Rowe, was chased and "chopped and stabbed" to death by a mob after a man he was dancing with at a party discovered that he was biologically a male.

And the violence doesn't end there. In October, four homeless men were forced to flee the home they were occupying near St. James after a mob of 14 angry men attacked the house with firebombs. Between 2009 and 2012 alone, there were 231 reports of discrimination and violence against LGBT people in Jamaica.

“They’re out there because their communities are not at all interested in allowing them in being part of that space. They remain out there because we have a society that says, ‘Yes, they are second-class citizens and the state does not feel it needs to provide protection," said Dane Lewis, director of the Jamaican Forum for Lesbians, All-Sexuals, and Gays (J-FLAG).

And though it's painfully clear that these youths are being driven out of society because of their sexuality, the additional problem is that they're left with little resources to find a safe space to call their own away from the threat of persecution and violence. Back in 2009, J-FLAG partnered with Jamaica AIDS Support for Life to set up a shelter for LGBT youth a short distance from the New Kingston sewer. However, due to a lack of funding, the difficulty in dealing with a large group of emotionally scarred teens, the apparent desertion of support for the youths from J-FLAG, the shelter eventually shut down in 2010.

Plans for a new shelter are being pushed by activists like Maurice Tomlinson, who filed a lawsuit to get an LGBT rights ad on TV, and McCalla Sobers, a 76-year-old former schoolteacher and founder of the anti-police brutality organization Families Against State Terrorism. The shelter is tentatively set to be called Dwayne's house in honor of Dwayne Jones. A fundraising campaign was launched this month and organizers expect that it will cost $150,000 to establish a shelter to house 50 youths and will cost a monthly $450 per resident to keep it running.

But with funding still up in the air and no concrete expectations on when or if the shelter will get off the ground, those LGBT youths are left to call the sewers their home and hope that they survive until the day where they have a safe space above ground where they can rest their head, feel safe and feel loved. 

“They just want to get rid of us … but we don’t have anywhere to go. We have to stay right there until something is done for us," said Michael.

One, or rather all of us, can hope that help will come soon enough for those youths and that a shellter will be made soon or that somehow somebody or some group will come to their rescue. But with what seems like an entire nation and culture of homophobia standing against them, it seems like a terrifying countdown until they suffer their own "Mutant Massacre" and the sewers of Jamaica become not only the lone safe haven for these young LGBT people, but also the gravesite for young people that should not have to unnecessarily suffer or die because of who they are.

One can hope that life doesn't imitate that dark and tragic art. One can hope.


Nicholas Harbor

Freelance Journalist, storyteller and blogger for 50 Shades of BLACK

Posted on December 22, 2013 and filed under activism, sexuality, LGBT.

Let Jesus Walk (Part 2)


*I put a very challenging image into the universe two days ago to start a conversation not to shut down one.

Images are important to all of us.  This is part of the reason I believe in the power of art to change the world.  The fact is it already has.

The fact that the most reproduced image in history is a piece of art created in 1940 is testimony of that. Therefore, that piece of art not only has to bear accountability but also comes with a huge responsibility.  I believe that now that responsibility is ours: those of us who spread it, those of us who believe in it, and those of us who consume it...and there are consequences for us all.

The images we consume in media and art where the Lone Ranger, Tarzan, Superman, John Wayne, Mel Gibson, or Sandra Bullock comes in to save the day are infinite.  This troubles the identity forming process for all: for those who always look like the savior and those who look like the ones who always need saving or defending against.  It impacts all of our religious, charitable, philanthropic, personal lives, and relationships.  It plays a role in shaping the way we see ourselves and the way we see others.  That is in essence what art does and why it is so powerful.

It is super hard for all of us to grapple with the fact that this is the reality...particularly if we are well meaning and good hearted.  But we must if we wish to change it.  The fight to rebel against this narrative belongs to all of us and it starts with acknowledging not only its existence but its deadly consequences.

If for those who believe that the First Century Palestinian Jew named Jesus is the Savior of the world...who was born to be a liberator, a healer, a revolutionary, and the one who is to reconcile relationships between all of humanity and God, then the way the teachings, message, and images of him are understood, spread, and interpreted...and the consequences of all of the above have to be taken seriously.

If Jesus is the savior of the world and IF human beings must see images of Jesus to truly worship him and IF who he was/is does not have to match a fixed point on a historical timeline AND therefore we are allowed to create images in a way that help us relate to make him personal for make him the embodiment of our hopes and make him one's personal savior, then Sallman's Head of Christ may, in all fairness, may be one of those images.

But IF all of the above exist, then it can't be the only one.  The fact is that Sallman's rendition is an imaginative, historically inaccurate, personally suiting, reflection of Jesus from the perspective of the artist. Since this is true, then there can (and always have been) others...and the others should not be seen as any less valid.  The problem is that in a context of Western dominated, classist, patriarchal world, this is a tough sell...and they are hard to seen as anything but "alternatives".  Although they were all created by artists just like Sallman, they are often hard to be taken (by people who they are created in the image of or by others) as legitimate options.  (Selah)

But nevertheless they do exist.  Folks who understand Christ as the "suffering servant" of varying ethnic and gender groups have created images of Christ in (maybe/maybe not) the same way Sallman did.

Just like those of us -all of us who are committed to justice have reached across the aisle to break down segregation and have done everything in our power to erase hate and love our neighbor as ourselves we can continue to do so.  Let us challenge ourselves to do just that.

None of these images are sacred simply because they were created.  The only thing sacred about any of them is what or who they point us to.  What is your image of Jesus?  What/Who is it pointing you to?  

Your ideal?   

A transcendent, resurrected savior?  

The suffering in the world? 
The people you most need to be reconciled to?
Does it call you to action...or does it make you complacent?

When you look at it, does it make you want to love more?  Does it make you want to fight against injustice? Does it make you forgive?

Whatever it is, let it be a choice...a conscious choice...a well thought out conscious choice...even if you decide that it is better to not have one at all.

...and may it lead to all of our collective liberation.


Carlton Mackey

Creator of 50 Shades of Black
Exploring Sexuality & Skin Tone in the Formation of Identity

Let Jesus Walk (Part 1)

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Images of the first century Palestinian Jewish man named Jesus are more prevalent this time of year than any other.  Depictions rendered by artists (namely by or inspired by an artist named Warner Sallman) are resurrected and pervade our social consciousness.  Images grace the covers of popular magazines that otherwise would never have a religious figure on the cover.  They often have phrases under then like “The Real Jesus” (US News and World Report) or “Uncovering Jesus”.  They seek to offer readers some historical context for understanding the life and times of arguably the most influential person in human history.

Art is a powerful tool.  It can convey emotion, express complex ideas, offer hope, present mystery, and point to things beyond our present reality.

Among the most popular pieces of art (or sets of art) in the world are depictions of Jesus created in the 40’s by an artist named Warner Sallman.  Sallman was originally commissioned to create a more masculine image of Christ by Dr. E O Sellers (1924ish).  The set of images presented to the world up to that time (as thought by Sellers and members of the institute he was dean of) were too passive.  Jesus looked to him too effeminate, too gauntly, and too non-American.  [This was 1920’s America]. Sallman woke up the day of the deadline for the submission with an idea and sketched it in charcoal.  Sallman integrated other features that had become more and more popular every since the spread of Christianity in medieval Europe to distinguish Biblical characters worthy of veneration from depictions of the “negative” characters like King Herod and Judas who were depicted to have more “Jewish” features.  This tradition was inherited in order to perpetuate and solidify the message that it was the “Jews”…a group somehow distinct from “Christians” that crucified Christ.  [This was 1920’s America...the height of Anti-Semitism in America].

Sallman’s paintings captured the heart of America.  By the 1940’s his pieces began to spread like wild fire.  In 1940, based on his earlier sketches, he created what has become the most duplicated piece of art in the world, Sallman’s Head of Christ.  His pieces were something unlike other images at the time in that they reflected the deepest held views of America about what the person they would worship should look like.  [This was 1940’s America].  Sallman had captured an ideal.  For a decade, between 1940 and 1950 pieces that would become as American as apple pie (maybe more so) were created by the same artist who had mastered the formula for what America wanted in their Jesus.  To Sallman belongs not only the famous Head of Christ, but the ubiquitous painting of Jesus knocking at the door, and many others.

But 1940s America was a very significant time in American and global history.  The ideal figure that Sallman had created or based his images off of held a certain place in American and global society.  To that ideal was granted certain rights and privileges not afforded to others.  Sallman had created an exceptionally tall, strong looking, beautiful man who could be easily seen as strong enough to fight off attacks from a Japanese enemy, but gentle enough to open the door for a lady.  He was John Wayne and George Washington combined!  He was perfect! [This is 1940s America]

The nation, or those in power, were complicit with the state of things.  There was enough other mess going on.  Good Christian folks may not have “supported” the segregation of the day but they weren’t making too much fuss about it.  The Civil Rights Movement wasn’t at its peak.  That wouldn’t be for another 20 or so years.  The country had “enough on its plate”.  We were trying to emerge from the Great Depression and FDR was president.  Anti-Semitism was not as high as it was in the 20’s and 30’s but it was high.

To white Christians (non-Jews), to Sallman, and to the Jesus he had created (to be a perfected image of their ideals, hopes, and dreams) this was the time some historians call the Golden Age of America.

[OK…enough with the history]

During this season of Christmas, where we are bombarded with images, I created (manipulated) an image to provoke thought and to engage in discussion.  The work that I am committed to doing right now in my life as an artist is centered around exploring the role of sexuality and skin tone in the formation of identity.  It is impossible for me in doing this work to not take seriously the function of the art that unlike any other time of the year is all around us, its history, and how it shapes all of our lives.

People aren’t born thinking they are ugly, or inferior, or not good enough, or too black or too white or not strong enough or too fat or too gay or too feminine or too masculine.  These things are constructed…slowly over time…with unbelievable precision.  Us, our institutions, our art, our lack of understanding of history, our fear, and our hesitancy to deconstruct these things keep us here.

I’m one of you.  I’m afraid of what I don’t know.  I afraid of being rejected.  I’m afraid of being judged. I hate the thought of being isolated and unliked.  I was afraid to post this image.  I was afraid of what you might say or think of me. I did it.

This is not an attempt to make people think that Jesus was black.  That doesn’t do anything for us.  I do, in this season of mass consumption: of food, of stuff, of images of a first century Jew from Palestine named Jesus to take a moment to think about what all of it means.  In this time of great discovery, of birth, of mystery, let’s be as imaginative and as hungry to meet Jesus as the Magi.

…to ask ourselves where it all comes from, to ask why is it presented this way, to not be complicit, to think anew about what a Jesus who would have fought against segregation, who would have refused to drink, swim, or be baptized in a segregated pool.  To think anew about a Jesus who may have been, on the flip side, not allowed to drink, swim, or be baptized with others.  To think anew about maybe emphasizing less the images of any figure that has been dictated to us of any particular race and try to discover the essence of the truth within the teachings.

…to fight against the structures: institutional, mental, personal, that separate us…to think boldly but with passion about how to do so…through thought provoking art, through conversations, through how we spend our resources, etc…to think about what we can do to not be a religion/group that performs our holiest of actions on the holiest of days in ways that don’t scream for _________________ only but instead all are welcome.




Carlton Mackey

Creator of 50 Shades of Black

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Posted on December 10, 2013 and filed under activism, art, current events, education, faith, history, Identity, race.

Maramosa: Kenya, Mandela, Music - Premier of new film narrated by creator of 50 Shades of Black

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The Goat Farm Arts Center Presents:
A Foresee Films Production

Join the Movement, be a whistleblower for peace


When: December 10th 7pm - 10pm
Where: Rodriguez Room at the Goat Farm
Door: $5 

Local production company Foresee Films has produced a documentary about Kenyan politics, tribalism, and possibilities for a different future through the story of a young artist named Nelson Mandela. It premieres Tuesday, December 10th at the Rodriguez Room of the Goat Farm Arts Center at 7pm, $5 admission.

Producer: Ashley Beckett 
Director: Laura Asherman 
Director of Photography: Mike Morgan 

Narrated by: Carlton Mackey (Creator of 50 Shades of Black)

Maramaso is a concept developed by a musician / activist born and raised in the slums of Nairobi. The name is derived from the philosophy’s end goal, a “Man Raise Man Society” in which support for fellow man and youth empowerment are more important than personal gain in one's own life. This is how Mandela, the subject of our film, lives his life. The film illustrates his revolutionary philosophy of love through his life story and his daily struggle to survive in an environment that encourages self-promotion while inspiring the youth in his community to change the paradigm. We partner this micro level look at the concept with a macro level exploration of the political climate in Kenya leading up to the highly anticipated elections of March 2013. This film hopes to be witness to the birth of a movement from one young man's philosophy, that each of us has to do what we can to help those around us.
Falling whistles is a coalition dedicated to ending the conflict in Eastern Congo through advocacy and awareness. We at Foresee Films have partnered with Falling Whistles to use the premiere of our film as a platform for the launch of their new publication, The Free World Reader. It is a quarterly print publication that exposes hidden truths about which we as a global community are often misled. It examines the global system we live in, the structure of our societies, markets and hierarchies, and their byproducts of war, poverty, and inequality. It’s an exploration of the fuel that drives these unfortunate realities in an effort to open a dialog into alternative solutions.


Posted on December 5, 2013 and filed under activism, africa, art, blog, education, music, personal stories, travel.

Leading Authors Discuss Colorism and Impact on Global Society


*Why should we be concerned about colorism in 2013?
*How is it impacting our lives and our progress today?
*What are some of the ways that colorism intersects with racism and sexism?
*Why is it urgent that we address colorism, in the midst of "The Browning of America"? 
*What are the solutions? What can we do as individuals? And as a community?


Dr. Yaba Blay: (1) Drop: Shifting the Lens on Race


 Dr. Yaba Blay is a professor, producer, and publisher. As a researcher and ethnographer, she uses personal and social narratives to disrupt fundamental assumptions about cultures and identities. As a cultural worker and producer, she uses images to inform consciousness, incite dialogue, and inspire others into action and transformation

While her broader research interests are related to Africana cultural aesthetics and aesthetic practices, and global Black popular culture, Dr. Blay’s specific research interests lie within global Black identities and the politics of embodiment, with particular attention given to hair and skin color politics.  Her 2007 dissertation, Yellow Fever: Skin Bleaching and the Politics of Skin Color in Ghana, relies upon African-centered and African feminist methodologies to investigate the social practice of skin bleaching in Ghana; and her ethnographic case study of skin color and identity in New Orleans entitled “Pretty Color and Good Hair” is featured as a chapter in the anthology Blackberries and Redbones: Critical Articulations of Black Hair/Body Politics in Africana Communities.

One of today’s leading voices on colorism and global skin color politics, Dr. Yaba Blay is the author of (1)ne Drop: Shifting the Lens on Race and artistic director of the (1)ne Drop project. In (1)ne Drop, she explores the interconnected nuances of skin color politics and Black racial identity, and challenges narrow perceptions of Blackness as both an identity and lived reality. In 2012, she served as a Consulting Producer for CNN Black in America – “Who is Black in America?” – a television documentary inspired by the scope of her (1)ne Drop project. In addition to her production work for CNN, Dr. Blay is producing a transmedia film project focused on the global practice of skin bleaching (with director Terence Nance).

Dr. Blay received her BA in Psychology (Cum Laude) from Salisbury State University, M.Ed. in Counseling Psychology from the University of New Orleans, and M.A. and Ph.D. in African American Studies from Temple University with a Graduate Certificate in Women’s Studies. She is currently co-Director and Assistant Teaching Professor of Africana Studies at Drexel University. Dr. Blay is also the publisher and editor-in-chief of BLACKprint Press.

Carlton Mackey:  50 Shades of Black

@ carltonmackey @50shadesblack

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.

Marcia Alesan Dawkins: Clearly Invisible: Racial Passing and the Color of Cultural Identity


Marcia Alesan Dawkins, Ph.D. is a technology-loving, diversity-oriented intellectual entrepreneur from New York City and communication professor at USC Annenberg in Los Angeles.

An award-winning author, speaker, and educator, Dawkins -- known to "tweeps" as @drdawkins09 -- is a leading authority on how diversity, technology and creative storytelling are changing everything.

Her expert opinion has been sought out by Google, NPR, WABC-TV, TIME Magazine, The New York Times, HuffPo Live, The Leadership Alliance, The Mayo Clinic, The Nashville Public Library Foundation and The Public Relations Society of America.

Her first book, Clearly Invisible: Racial Passing and the Color of Cultural Identity, was released in August 2012 to rave reviews. Most notable among these is Valerie Jarrett, Senior Advisor to the President, who remarked, "Clearly Invisible is a thought-provoking analysis... that challenges the way we view race and culture in our society." Dawkins's second book, Eminem: The Real Slim Shady, is now available and nominated for the 2013 USA Best Book Award.

Dawkins has received grants and awards from organizations such as the National Communication Association, the Eastern Communication Association, the Irvine Foundation, the California State University and Google Project Glass. She has been recognized by the University of Southern California for outstanding teaching and mentoring. In addition, she has been awarded residencies and fellowships from Brown University, Vanderbilt University Law School, New York University, Villanova University and the USC Graduate School Office of the Provost.

Dawkins holds a doctorate in communication from USC Annenberg, master's degrees in humanities from USC and NYU and bachelor's degrees in communication arts and honors from Villanova.

Lakesia D. Johnson, JD, PhD
Grinnell College Department of  Gender, Women's, & Sexuality Studies and English

Lakesia D. Johnson has a law degree, M.A. and Ph.D. in Women's Studies from The Ohio State University. Her areas of teaching and research include visual and narrative culture, Black women's studies, Chicana feminist theory, critical race theory and feminist legal theory. Her essay, "Othermothers, Amazons and Strategies of Leadership in the Public and Private Spheres" is featured in Black Womanist Leadership: Tracing the Motherline (SUNY Press 2011) edited by Toni C. King and S. Alease Ferguson. Her book Iconic: Decoding Images of the Revolutionary Black Woman was published in August by Baylor University Press.

Book:  ICONIC: Decoding the Images of the Revolutionary Black Woman
When Lakesia D. Johnson set out to write her book – ICONIC: Decoding the Images of the Revolutionary Black Woman – she had two primary goals in mind: to explore how representations of strong, revolutionary black women within pop culture are used to reinforce mostly negative stereotypes about black women and to trace the numerous ways that African American women activists, actors, writers, and musicians have negotiated, confronted and resisted stereotypical representations of black womanhood by taking control of their public images and constructing iconic depictions of and narratives about African American womanhood.  

One image that has circulated the Internet for months was the mugshot of recording artist Lauryn Hill. Once viewed as a strong, independent, extremely successful pop cultural figure, one which extended beyond the boundaries of her music, Lauryn is now depicted through this very photograph as an unhappy, sad woman.  And in many respects, it might be easy for some who view the picture to categorize her blank, empty stare as typical of the "angry black woman."  Johnson is able to discuss this present-day image of Lauryn Hill, what it means to her musical legacy and how it may or may not change the scope of how she is viewed today as a once iconic black woman figure. 

Further, Johnson can focus on how ICONIC chronicles how strong black women, from the past to the present, have taken control of their own imaging despite consistent negative characterizations.  Through their speech, demeanor, fashion, social relationships and historical contributions, women from Sojourner Truth to Michelle Obama have counteracted these negative depictions.  With ingenuity, fortitude and focus on the greater good, these women transformed the cultural images of themselves and, simultaneously, those of American black women as a whole.

Sophia A. Nelson, Esq 
Author. Columnist. Political Pundit. Speaker. 

Book Title: "Black Woman Redefined - Dispelling Myths and Discovering Fulfillment in the Age of Michelle Obama"

Sophia A. Nelson, Esq.  is “redefining” the rules for 21st Century living and success. She is the author of the award winning book “Black Woman Redefined: Dispelling Myths and Discovering Fulfillment in the Age of Michelle Obama” (May 2011). 

Sophia A. Nelson writes a national lifestyle & political column for Newsweek/Daily Beast, and does various opinion columns for Huffington Post Healthy Living, Black Voices & Women.  She also writes for NBC's theGrio , and is a contributor to MSNBC, Essence Magazine, USATODAY and NPR. You can watch Sophia regularly as a noted political pundit & social commentator on MSNBC & TVOne's Washington Watch with Roland S. Martin. Her second book "The WOMAN CODE" is due out in late 2014. You can learn more about her on

Black Woman Redefined was inspired in part by what Nelson calls “open season on accomplished black women,” which reached a tipping point in 2007 when Don Imus referred to black female Rutger’s University basketball co-eds as “nappy-headed hos.” Since then, we’ve seen First Lady Michelle Obama caricatured on the infamous New Yorkercover, when she was called “angry” and “unpatriotic”; the 2009 groundbreaking Yale University Study on professional black women titled, “Marriage Eludes High-Achieving Black Women”; ABC’s “Why Can’t a Successful Black Woman Find a Man?” and the Internet video that went viral, “Black Marriage Negotiations,” featuring a successful black woman interviewing a nice black man to be her mate in a robotic, controlling, emasculating, Bible-thumping demeanor. 

More recently, we were subjected to the 2011 Super Bowl commercial that started a national firestorm featuring an “angry black woman” throwing a soda can at her mate, after first kicking, slapping, and emasculating him.  Nelson says black women are tired of such depictions that portray them as manless, childless, angry, and unfulfilled. Nelson sets out to change this cultural perception, taking readers on a no-holds-barred journey into the hearts and minds of accomplished black women to reveal truths, tribulations, and insights like never before.  She says it is time for a REDEFINITIONamong black women in America.

TaRessa Stovall: Other People’s Skin: Four Novellas


TaRessa Stovall is an author/blogger/identity activist committed to honesty, healing and progress. She co-edited and contributed to the anthology, Other People’s Skin,crafted with fellow sister-authors Tracy Price-Thompson, Desiree Cooper and Elizabeth Atkins to explore ways of healing the rifts between Black women caused by colorism and hairism.

Other People Skin, which kicked off the Sister for Sister Empowerment Series, was followed by My Blue Suede Shoes,four novellas exploring what lies behind and ways of healing from various forms of intimate violence/domestic abuse.

TaRessa, a native of Seattle and graduate of The Evergreen State College, co-authored the book A Love Supreme: Real-Life Stories of Black Love, which was featured on Oprah, and has authored, co-authored and/or co-edited (with Tracy Price-Thompson) several other works of fiction and non-fiction.

TaRessa blogs at


Ella Curry, President of  EDC Creations 
About Me:
Black Pearls Magazine Online-Founder
Black Authors Network Radio-Founder
Social Media Expert - Internet Publicist - Brand Strategist


TONIGHT, Nov. 22. 

Call in number:  (646) 200-0402

Listen here:



Let's Be Honest, Black Men Have Body Image Issues, Too

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Earlier this month, the staff of Morehouse College's Maroon Tigers student newspaper did quite the amazing thing when they published thier Body Issue, which featured more than 30 students from Morehouse, Spelman and Clark Atlanta posing nude (sometimes with each other) and discussing their similar issues with body image, sexuality, sexual abuse, addiction and a cadre of other issues as they ultimately hoped to empower themselves and their bodies as well as help their readers do the same.

Of course, we all know that body image is an issue for women (and the hordes of emaciated models that I and the rest of the world enjoy seeing stomp down the Paris runways every season), but for me and all of my male friends body image is a major issue for us, too. 

In the past, it seemed like we men were exempt from worrying about how our bodies looked in and out of clothes. Being an object of sexual desire isn't really a concern when you're a part of the same group that created the ideas and rules that your society has a about sex and bodies.. For us men, our job wasn't to be praised for how our bodies looked on a pedestal. We were praised for the power we had over others, mainly women, and for what our (big) dicks could do to them. The only ones getting looked at and judged for every inch and curve of their body were women, the real stars of the ever powerful male gaze that is without a doubt the lens we all have to see the world through.

But the days of strict sexual objectiifcation are slowly fading, or rather changing, and now men are subject to a certain degree of that same objectification as well. Thanks to examples like mens magazines, music videos, and all of the hunks we see in the media,we men are all now expected to look like Trey Songz or The Rock...or maybe the Wanted...I'm not really sure about them but I know young girls (and guys) like them. We're expected to all have toned, chiseled bodies and we get shamed by both the men and women in our lives, our friends and lovers, even our families, for not fitting that physical mold. 

Even here in the south where we expect everyone to have a little meat on their bones, having too much meat and not enough muscle can stilll get you ridiculed for not being sexy/objectifiable enough. Yeah, we want meat down here, but for both men and women, we only want that meat on booties, pecs and thighs, never the gut. Men are expected to have big chests, big butts, big arms, big legs and, well, you know the other part that's supposed to be big. Basically, we're expected to have an hour-glass frame with a gigantic tea spout hanging in the front. And if you don't fit that model, you are not allowed to be proud of your body, you are not allowed to speak of it with confidence, you are not allowed to show bits of skin in public, and you are certainly not allowed to go nude because that would somehow be an affront to everything proper in this world and the eyes of anyone watching your supposedly flabby, ugly behind.

So, in the same way that girls aren't "allowed" to wear certain shirts or pants unless they look like "bad bitches," men aren't "allowed" to, say, go shirtless unless they have Shemar Moore pecs and stomach.

Because of all that, I was really really happy to see the above photo where the guy on the right be featured prominently for the issue. As a black man who is not the picture perfect model of chiseled Adonis perfection, it was freeing to see a body like his be included a body like his be praised as beautiful. It was freeing to see the guy on the left and every other various male body be praised on the same level playing field as everyone else. I may be a not-so-regular guy with an average body, but I still want to feel like my body is beautiful and that it's worthy of being seen by another human being, regardless of whether I have a six pack, barrell chest and big booty to show. We all want to be seen and embraced as is.

And equally as important, we as men want to be embraced by one another. I can't tell you how freeing it was to see two men look completely comfortable being vulnerable enough to be nude with each other and letting the whole world see that on camera. Too often, we men aren't allowed a social space to open up our hearts and minds, let alone our naked bodies, with other men in a non-sexual manner (hell, sometimes a sexual manner as well. Damn homophobia). And I think, despite society's unwritten rule that men don't need or want to open up to each other, we all just want to be able to, well, let it all hang with the people we share our lives with. Really, we all just want to feel like we're free with the men (and women) in our lives and not worry about being judged, and this photo does an amazing job of showing just how that desire can turn into a beautiful reality.

I applaud Morehouse for not only tackling the body image issues that we all face, but ultimately the issues of vulnerability that keep us from really seeing each other in totality and applauding each other's truths, bodies and courage. But don't just take my word for it. Check it out for yourselves below Maroon Tigers Body Image Issue.


Posted on November 17, 2013 and filed under activism, Body Image.

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 Tribute to John Carlos feat on Carlos' Official Website

    The goal of this photo shoot was to honor this iconic act with a unique creative twist. Shakira both as Carlos and as Smith embraced the singular power of those two men in that defining moment in 1968 while simultaneously acknowledging the same potential for inspiration that is possible through black women today.


The goal of this photo shoot was to honor this iconic act with a unique creative twist. Shakira both as Carlos and as Smith embraced the singular power of those two men in that defining moment in 1968 while simultaneously acknowledging the same potential for inspiration that is possible through black women today.

We are so honored to have the concept photo shoot with our friend Shakira featured on the official webpage for Dr. John Carlos!  

According to his website: October 16 marks the forty-fifth anniversary of the day two young athletes brought protest to that most unlikely of places: the Olympic Games.

This entire shoot and tribute was a collaborative effort and would not have been possible without Shakira herself, her husband Brooks Pollard, Kari Mackey who sourced and styled the shoot, and  Chevon Dominique who did an amazing job with the makeup.

We honor the legacy of John Carlos and are humbled by the decision to include this tribute on his official webpage.  Special thanks to Mark Stoddart at L.I.W.I. the acronym for LIVE IT WEAR IT -a Toronto based clothing company with a vision to create a brand representative of an individual’s journey to strive for their passion, dreams, and desires.    L.I.W.I. creates the official John Carlos 68 shirt worn below.

Posted on October 24, 2013 and filed under activism, history, personal stories, press.