The Soulz of Black Folk Spotlight Series: Artist/Academic Ajuan Mance and 1001 Black Men

Almost six years ago, a twenty-four year old African displaced in New York, jumped on a plane and moved to California for graduate school. She sat nervously at a departmental orientation, listening to professors introduce themselves. Afterwards, she walked alone on campus giving herself an unofficial tour. While acquainting herself with what would become her home for two years, she encountered a smooth, caramel-skinned professor with honey eyes reminiscent of  her grandmother back in New York. This professor, like the twenty-something student, was also a black woman.  

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“Hi” the professor said with a head nod. 

At that moment she felt that things would be okay, but perhaps more importantly she felt “seen.”

The “she” in the story, was of course me, and the black female professor who gifted me this unofficial welcome, was Dr. Ajuan Mance.  The same sight that comforted and guided me all those years ago, anchors Dr. Mance’s project: 1001 Black Men. 

1001 Black Men, took the tenured professor six and a half years to complete. Her project is a phenomenal feat as an artist, but also as a member of the black collective. 

Dr. Ajuan Mance’s 1001 Black Men project, captures black man through the gaze of a black woman. The result is colorful, in hue, perspective, angle, and expression. The images succeed in capturing the story a face tells, the featured faces and their stories appearing quite familiar in the shared experience they speak in their features. The lines on their spaces speak of lives lived in a fierceness that is vulnerable, salient, and

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A quick look on Dr.Mance’s 8rock site, presents visitors with “quick links” as a guide to her prodigious project. Mance plays homage to black male elders, the suited black man, the “around the way” men of the black community, the “Afro-Geek,” and the black man in New York City. The pictures display a variety of colors, surpassing the black and brown hues typically assigned to the black race. The colors seemingly represent the diverse auras and energies encased in the black male body— depicting a diversity too often denied to the black collective as a whole.


Here are some of my favorite images and captions from Dr. Mance’s online sketch book:   


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In his eyes there was both the hope he would never have to confront other people’s hatred of Black men and the fear of what might happen if he did.





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He didn’t see any of our glances, though; he was staring straight ahead, focused on whatever music device he was holding in his hands.






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Every Black man I see in a hoodie looks like a hero to me.








1001BlackMenchurch clothes
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 certainly parts of the country, church clothes and nightclub clothes look pretty much the same.





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I loved the way his wonderfully curly head of hair seemed to suggestion both awareness of and indulgence in the pleasure of embracing exactly who you are.






Though the bulk of Dr. Mance’s project is dedicated to her diasporic brothers, she does add a personal touch to the project. Dr. Mance’s 1,001 image is that of her father.

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Despite the collection being a product of Mance’s gaze, Mance’s physical absence is perhaps anticipated in the project’s title. Mance’s concluding image, one of her scholarly and socially decorated father, alters this truth in perhaps the most poignant moment in the collection. Our stories start long before we are born. As these stories are essentially our faces, Mance offers readers a collective self-portrait in drawing her dad.

For anyone who has seen the four of us together–me, my parents and my brother–it should come as no surprise that I’ve spent the last 6.5 years exploring a single line of creative inquiry. The only real surprise is that I decided to stop at only 1001. 

Mance’s parents, educated and cultured, ignited a love of the arts in their children. The extraordinary results of their parenting illustrates that despite whether one employs pedagogy as profession,”teacher” is one of the most significant hats a parent wears.

Concluding Thoughts

Though presented as prose, the captions beneath these portraits read like poetry. Perhaps the most resonant of all is the following: 

No matter what my imagination brings me, in terms of future projects, I will miss the way this series has changed the way I look and myself and my place in the world, in my city, and in my Black community.

As you scroll through the many faces Dr. Mance encountered during the six and a half years of her project, I encourage you to contemplate the faces that you’ve encountered during your lifetime. What colors do you shade the sketches of your mind? What lines do you draw?

Through the creative contemplation of 1001 Black Men, Dr. Mance illuminates the diversity of intellect. Specifically, that the intellectually curious are inevitably artists who draw, shade, and display portraits painted with words, illustrations, and actions. 

May the brazen beauty of Dr. Mance’s project inspire us to see the best in ourselves and one another.


Check out her online sketchbook here, and Etsy store here.

Also, check out some of Dr. Mance’s books:

“The first historical and thematic survey of African American women’s poetry, this book examines the key developments that have shaped the growing body of poems by and about Black women over the nearly 125 years since the end of slavery and Reconstruction, as it offers incisive readings of individual works by important poets such as Alice B. Neal, Maggie Pogue Johnson, Alice Dunbar Nelson, Sonia Sanchez, Lucille Clifton, Audre Lorde, and many others.” (taken from

Inventing Black Women, Before Harlem is a gem because it focuses on canonical and non-cannonical black writers and their writings specifically for black audiences.

Black Power ❤

Images: Mance, Ajuan M. 3 July 2018. Web.


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