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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Courtesy of 8rock.com

“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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Courtesy of 8rock.com

beautiful. 

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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Courtesy of 8rock.com

 

 

 

 

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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Courtesy of 8rock.com

 

 

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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Courtesy of 8rock.com

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Courtesy of 8rock.com

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

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Courtesy of 8rock.com

 

 

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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Courtesy of 8rock.com

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 Amazon.com)

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. 8-rock.com. 3 July 2018. Web.

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The Soulz of Black Folk Spotlight Series: Blogger/Musician Calvin Michaels

First, please introduce yourself!

My name is Michael, stage name Calvin Michaels. I’m originally from Spanaway,

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Image courtesy of Calvin Quincy

Washington and currently work in youth development as the director of a community center in Alexandria, Virginia. I’m also a magazine contributor, freelance screen-writer, stand-up comedian, vlogger, podcast host, and artist/music producer. 

So I’ll ask you this question, like my Pan—Africanist professor Dr. Wright asked me: When did you know you were black? Was there a moment/experience/year that brought you into your black identity?

Growing up I’ve always been aware that I was black. However I didn’t recognize that my plight and experience as black individual in the United States would differ from other groups of people until I was in my early years of elementary.

That’s when I began to notice differences in how my family and I did things in comparison to my neighbors and other kids at school. I couldn’t go to any of the nearby barbershops because they didn’t know how cut my hair. Instead we’d have to drive 15 minutes to Lakewood or Tacoma in order to find a place for a decent haircut.

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http://www.willhiteweb.com/puget_sound_parks/spanaway_park/spanaway_lake_272.htm

Being raised in an area like Spanaway served as a revelation that anytime I stepped out of the house I was unconsciously representing my race since there was such a small black population at the time. When I entered any public space I was usually in the minority. This included my experience in the classroom, the grocery store and in my neighborhood. I was never in a classroom with more than 3 or 4 black students until I started middle school. Some people may question why is that such a big deal? However in reality it’s important to remember that race is also centered in the realm of one’s cultural identity, and it’s essential to be saturated in an environment with people you can relate to based on experiences and identity. The only time I was in a space where the majority of the people in the room could identify with my experience was church, the barbershop, and the lunch table at school.

If I could recall the first significant experience where I recognized my black identity would be the target of other people’s aggressions would have been in middle school. One of the students who wrote for the school newspaper published an article about how he hated rap music. I had no problem with him not liking the genre but the issue was more so that the article was written as an indirect attack on black people as a collective. The article had nothing to do with the actual music or art form but more so the people who he believed were the exclusive listeners of the genre. It was literally a full page of anti-black rhetoric, generalizations, and stereotypes. It made me question the individual who wrote it, the advisor who allowed the article to be published and the staff who felt there wasn’t a need to address the article with the outraged students and parents. The  worst part was that the individual who wrote the article was at one time a good friend of mine in elementary. However by middle school we no longer associated with each other. I noticed that in middle school everyone’s social circles began to change. The innocence of early adolescence had phased out and now everyone preferred to surround themselves with

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Image courtesy of Jon Parri WordPress

those they could relate to culturally.

And then of course there was my driving while black experience that took place when I was 17. Long story short I fit the description of someone in the area the police were looking for. I was met with 6 squad cars, a dog, a Taser gun pointed in my face, having to sit on the side of the road cuffed in the rain for two hours, and then the humiliation of connecting with many eyes from the commuters in the passing cars.

How did attending a HBCU impact your life, and journey as a black man? 

Howard University was the best thing that could have ever happened to me at the time and it was a much needed experience. I can’t imagine the kind of person I would be today had I not attended an HBCU. I was given 4 years to exist and saturate myself in a utopia of black excellence, discipline, and empowerment. Life is pretty much a collection of puzzle pieces that you’re trying to sort out and put together over time. Howard helped me to find those end pieces. This allowed me to create a foundation and center myself.

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Many of the lessons I’ve learned while attending Howard University are still aligning things for me today. HBCU’s are an experience of many extremes that push you past your limits, both good and bad, but needed. I came in thinking I knew everything and quickly learned that I foolishly knew very little. I discovered that literally every person on campus could do any and everything I could while doing it better. It forced me to get over myself, work smarter, become analytical, and work on my craft. The faculty pushes you. They set really high standards and there is an expectation for to surpass them. Settling for mediocrity isn’t an option, and recognizing that you will always have to be 6 or 7 steps ahead of the game is a must. Those lessons have helped me to be very successful in my current career and other endeavors. As a black man, Howard University gave me purpose.

What inspired you to begin vlogging?

I started vlogging in the fall of 2010. I had just finished undergrad at Howard University

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Courtesy of Tublar insights

and was in the process of trying to kick start my career. I had already launched my YouTube channel years earlier to promote my stand-up comedy and choreography. While watching the news I saw a story about a woman named Bethany Storro. Bethany had reported that she’d been attacked in Vancouver, Washington by a black woman who threw acid on her face. The picture of her burned face was plastered all over the news as her story circulated in the headlines for days. It even triggered an area-wide manhunt for the attacker. Later on it was discovered that Bethany made the entire story up and actually mutilated herself by throwing acid on her own face. I remember thinking what must it must have been like to be a black woman in Vancouver Washington (a city of about 160,000 where black women make up roughly only 1.4% of the population) during that manhunt. The entire ordeal really got under my skin and I needed an outlet to express my outrage and concern. I spontaneously decided to upload a video sharing my thoughts. I remember sitting at the kitchen counter with my webcam, pushing record, and just talking until I felt that I made my point. It was euphoric and felt like a release.

I didn’t realize that my energy was rooted in years of witnessing the many atrocities that happen to black people as a collective.

From that moment on I continued to vlog and grow my channel. It’s been a crazy experience because my channel has just now started to gain traction after years of putting out content. No subject is off limits and the channel consists of content centered on current world affairs, pop culture, history, Pan-Africanism, life, and humorous events.

If you had to describe the (vlogging) experience in three words, what would be your choices and why?

Concerning, therapeutic, and amusing.

Vlogging is a unique experience because you never know how people are going to receive your content. When I initially started I used to give so many disclaimers because I wanted to please everyone and keep everybody comfortable. Over time I learned that people are going to be reckless either way so I might as well be direct and transparent, especially when covering heavier subject matter. What’s concerning about vlogging is discovering that so many people live in a world that is very different from the one I experience. It makes me question how every mind on the planet operates. I could literally post a video of a toddler being excited to open a gift and somehow there will still be a person who doesn’t like the content and write an entire dissertation in the comments section about why the video was problematic. When it comes to social issues you will quickly discover that even if you pull out an encyclopedia of facts and additional visual evidence to make an argument you will still fail at getting through to someone who is set in their ways and would rather bask in the abyss of their ignorance. That’s what makes vlogging concerning because there are so many people who operate in that same manner. The heavier the subject matter the nastier the comments get. And then I always wonder how many of those individuals are school teachers, public service workers, ministers, doctors, and non-profit employees. The good thing is that I have a pretty good sense of humor. So nothing ever cuts me too deep.

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Image courtesy of Ranking Squad

However on the flipside vlogging is very therapeutic and amusing. It’s a great way to release what I’ve been sitting on. I’ve actually met some really great people from vlogging and it has opened many doors. People have asked to use some of my content for lectures and presentations. I have some really awesome subscribers as well. Some who have been there for the entire journey. They’ll send messages asking for advice, or just sending encouragement my way. It’s cool when someone sends a message and says “Hey I used your video on Standardized Testing, for my research project and got an A.” It makes me want to stay on top of things and be consistent. I also like to make people laugh so I enjoy uploading lighter videos and content that makes people feel good. And now that I have a decent sized following my channel is a great way for me to also promote my music and my podcast, and well as other projects.

You recently released your first album. Congrats! What inspired the project?

Thank you! I love music, and I’ve always enjoyed making it. The original plan was to come out with an EP around 2013/2014 but life happened and I ended up creating a web series. So when I got the itch to do music again I went for it. But I wanted to do it on my own terms and with 100% creative freedom. I spent 6 months saving so I could build my own recording studio and once I taught myself how to use Protools I went to work. I worked on albumthe project from October 2016-July 2017 crafting all the music, writing all the songs, and recording all the vocals. The first 3 or 4 months was more so me playing around with different ideas and from February to July my project started coming together. I wanted to incorporate many different sounds; R&B, hip hop, jazz, electronica, house, go-go, new jack swing, the Minneapolis sound, dancehall, pop, and 70’s funk. I wanted it to take people on a journey. I don’t really think a lot of acts focus on putting out full albums anymore. Albums are getting shorter and shorter and I think it chips away at the artistry. I’m actually in the process of creating the follow up album and hoping to release it in the fall.

What inspired the name Symphonic Euphoria?

The album has a lot of musicality, layered vocals, and temperatures so that inspired the word symphonic. And because I think the album is very upbeat and sincere, euphoria was the perfect word to use. The project was initially going to be called “Project Nostalgia” since there is a heavy influence from acts like Patrice Rushen, Prince, Michael Jackson, The Emotions, Brand New Heavies, Aaliyah, Jodeci, Janet Jackson, Tevin Campbell, Nas, Mos Def, TLC, and Toni Braxton. But I didn’t’ think the name stuck out in a way that complimented the album cover.

My personal favorites are “Charades” and “Get Down.” I also found the “Family Values” interlude hilarious and touching. What are your favorites? Were there any songs that were particularly enjoyable or challenging to create?

I really like the music arrangements on “Euphoria” and the build-up on “To You And More”.

But my favorite song on the album is “Breathe”. It was a song I actually wrote to myself.

smsymphonic.jpgIt has a more simple production in comparison to the other songs on the album but it really solidifies and completes the album. There were plans to do a video for that song and “Get Down”. Maybe I’ll revisit that idea once I finish this new project and promote both albums at the same time. I also like the funky arrangements for the verses on “The Edge”. “Get Down” was probably the most fun track to record. I couldn’t stand still while I was recording it so I had to do a million takes, fortunately the song didn’t require too much in the realm of singing so it all worked out.

The most difficult song to record was “Pops”. The song has so much going on in terms of production and I was trying to sing on top of all of it. The same can be said with the songs “Fast Lane” and “High Tide”. I’ve learned that it’s better to mute most of the music aside from the drums and maybe the baseline or lead synth/piano when recording the vocals so you’re not competing with music. “Pops” was initially going to be a ballad but I wanted to do something more upbeat since the content of the song was already sad. The song was influenced by Chance the Rapper’s “Good Ass Intro” and Janet Jackson’s “Empty”. There was actually a chorus written for the song but I pulled it and let music carry the song. The song would have ended up being too crowded.

How does creativity correspond/influence/affect your experience as a black man?

I believe creativity and working on my passions have helped me to stay centered and balanced in this crazy world. There was a time period around 2011/2012 where I was just going to work, coming home to watch TV, and hanging out. It was cool, but I didn’t quite feel that I was investing in myself and I honestly had no vision for the following years. I was going with the motions and it quickly got old. It also didn’t help that around this time my perception of the world was changing, especially after watching George Zimmerman get

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Google Images

away with murdering Trayvon Martin and half the world celebrating.

I think it’s easy to become unhappy in life if you haven’t found your purpose and don’t feed enough into your passions. I’ve been hit by many blows including being unemployed for a year and half, being rejected from grad/film school 5 times, my father transition, my mother having cancer, and one of the kids I worked with passing away from a brain tumor. Using my creativity to educate, influence, and entertain has served as a great remedy to the negative things that happen around me. I also try and use those darker moments as a life lesson to prepare me for what other blows my come in the future.

Whenever something doesn’t go the way I hoped it would go I’m usually fine because I have 20 other things lined up that I’m excited about. This is where that lesson about always being 6 or 7 steps ahead of the game kicks in. However it’s also important to address those hardships head on and not just hide being your passions as a blinding remedy.

I know you have dedicated your post-college life to community outreach. Thanks so much for your work! What are rewards and challenges of this experience?

The reward of working in the community is that not only are you helping other people but

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Image courtesy of Amazon.com. https://www.amazon.com/Funny-Black-Canvas-Shopping-Shoulder/dp/B06XRD9MRY

you’re learning in the process. You’re introduced to lessons that will help you grow over time. I think many people go into the non-profit world thinking they’re God’s gift to man and that the people they are serving can’t exist without their help. When in reality they were just fine before you showed up with all your “great hope”. The reward comes once you step outside of your ego and just listen. Listen to the concerns and the needs. Listen to the voices of the people and listen for solutions and opportunities. It took me a good year to figure that out and once I understood that reality the cards just all fell into place.

The reward is seeing the impact and seeds planted blossom into something great. After being in my positon for 7 years I’ve watch the community I work with really flourish. They’re like family and I honestly got to live a second childhood and grow up with the population I serve. It’s exciting to watch kids light up the minute they get of the school bus and you’re the first face they see. I enjoy going to the high school graduations. It’s refreshing to see the same kids I used to be one step from strangling go off to the college of their choice. You end up being a part of that community. There’s never a dull moment and each day is different from the previous day. I didn’t initially plan to stay so long but I’ve honestly enjoyed myself. I blinked and 7 years went by. But there are challenges.

Within my organization my center has been ranked number 1 in the country out of 4,000 for two years straight. And this is where the challenges kick in, because now all eyes are on me and people want me and my team to keep up the momentum. The mission can sometimes gets lost in the accolades. Sometimes I’ll get emails about opportunities that have nothing to do with bettering the community but more so serve as photo op opportunities for individuals not invested in the community. There are often people running for office who will try and use my center to help push their campaign and then when you look at their platform half of their objectives indirectly disenfranchise the population I work with. It forces me to be very protective. Financing is also a challenge because our existence stands on the shoulders of donors and grantors. The political climate of the country affects our existence. Witnessing cuts to programs like HUD and SNAP always cause me to be concerned about the people I work with. In addition gentrification is inching closer, block by block.

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Image courtesy of Wikipedia

What is the most recent book you read and what did you get from it? 

I also finished Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Between the World and Me. His work resonates with me, because his approach at analyzing his experiences through the lens of a young black man learning to matriculate through society in black skin at times mirrors my experience growing up. His book also shows me that we as a collective are a hurt people. Not only do we have to deal with the setbacks and the hardships that have been arranged for us but we somehow have to keep our sanity at the same time and successfully journey through society and surpass the expectations set for us with literally no resources or support. And if we fail, society tells us that it is 100% our fault and uses our failures as an opportunity to limit and close additional doors that weren’t really open in the first place.

I know you turn thirty next month! What is the most resonant lesson that your twenties have taught you?

I’m not in control of anything, but I can control how I respond to the situations that surround me. Once I learned that life is going to do what it wants and my reality will always be spontaneous things became easier. 20-24 were very difficult because I had life mapped out and reality said “not so fast we’re going to do something different”. I was taken on a serious roller coaster ride. I used to compare myself to others and rate my success based on the accomplishments of others. It’s important to remember that everyone’s journey is different and that success has a multitude of layers, elements, and definitions. We often want what others have. But we don’t want everything they have, just the good stuff. The baggage and other hardship they deal with behind closed doors we like to pretend don’t exist, and it’s just us who have problems. I’ve also learned that what you put in to the universe always comes back. I’ve learned to celebrate the successes of my peers and

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Image courtesy of Coalition of Black Men.https://cobmportland.org/event/what-black-men-think/

embrace my setbacks as an opportunity to go in a new direction or change my approach and hit the refresh button.

Lastly, what does it mean to be a black man, according to you?!

To me, being a black man means to recognize that you are gifted, important, and needed. You also have a responsibility to take care of yourself and your community. Your journey will be one of challenges but challenges that will make you equipped to deal with anything. Eyes will be on you all the time so it’s wiser to be a leader than a foolish follower. Being a black man means to be assertive while being supportive of those around you. Being a black man means respecting black women, respecting black women, and RESPECTING BLACK WOMEN! Being a black man means that you serve as one half of the demographic that crafts the culture, moral compass, and heart of the world. You influence many including the ones who wish for your demise. An enriched heritage paved your lane and it’s up to you to continue paving that lane for the future generations. Leave a lasting legacy.

As a testament to the power of an HBCU to season black creativity with culture, and engendering the desire to give back to communities that house the next generation- Calvin Michael illustrates that you can do it all, and still be you!

Check out Michael’s Youtube Channel here.

Also, check out his debut album here

Spotlight Series: Blogger Kelley

So this post marks the first of my “The Soulz of Black Folk: Re-defining Celebrity” series. This summer, I will feature a few carefully selected members of the black collective that demonstrate an espousal to uplifting the black collective. Everyday, countless bodies across the diaspora contribute to black upliftment in big ways deemed small by a world that denies our personhood by focusing on the negatives and not the positive.  The Whispers of Womanist is proud to feature Kelley, a beautiful black woman who uses poetry as a means to inspire, uplift, and educate. She is brave, creative, and trailblazing. She is a black woman. 

So I’ll ask you this question, like my Pan—Africanist professor Dr. Wright asked me: When did you know you were black? Was there a moment/experience/year that brought you into your black identity?

I think I realized I was Black early in elementary. My family moved from Los Angeles to Las Vegas and I, being Black, went from the norm/majority (amongst Black and brown kids with a mixed race teacher), to the minority with mostly white classmates and teachers. The white children I interacted with were just different in appearance, especially with clothing, hygiene, and hairstyles. They had a lot of questions. The white kids were a bit freer. Pretty fearless. Anytime I took that behavior home, I was reminded that I was different and certain things would never be allowed.

What inspired your blog name black/Burgundy? dangelo.jpg

I got black|burgundy from the lyrics of D’Angelo’s “Brown Sugar.” I really wanted a title that represented our spectrum but also made people use their imagination.

What inspired you to begin blogging?

An ex-lover said I had a lot to say and he thought people would listen (read). He bought me a laptop and the blog was on and crackin’.

What is your favorite poem that you wrote?

I think Fear of Drownin might be my favorite. It’s very real/relatable to me. It defines how amazingly life-changing love can be if your heart is open.

What is your favorite poem by another poet? 

I really can’t say. There is SO MUCH good stuff out there.

What are three poems or poets that you think every black person should be acquainted with?

Maya_Angelou_visits_YCP_Feb_2013Maya Angelou, Yrsa Daley-Ward, Warsan Shire 

What does poetry do for you as an author? What do you hope your work does for other people?

Poetry is a release. You don’t have to make complete sentences or use correct punctuation or structure to get your point across. It’s freeing. 

I hope my poetry helps people heal-lift their spirit a bit. Even if it’s just with a laugh.

You post very uplifting videos, and art that depict strong images of black love. This is certainly hopeful to women like myself who value black love on an individual and collective level.  I was quite impressed with the comments you made on a post about marriage, black love, and monogamy. What factors do you think hinder black love, and how can we overcome? Also, what are your thoughts on monogamy? Should we arrange marriages, allow for multiple marriages to strengthen our community? 

Thank you. That means a lot coming from you, sis. I think we’re just transferring  W6pain-pain to our lovers, pain to our children, pain to our friends and other relatives. We are not recognizing toxic relationships (even with self) because they are sometimes all we see and we think it’s normal. We need to know that love feels good! Love is freeing! We need to know that and be more loving to ourselves and loving toward one another – show each other how to view ourselves as loving and lovable vessels. We need to see that Black love in all its forms is powerful and natural and necessary. Again, it starts from within.

I personally love monogamy. It’s what works for me. I understand why polyamory works for others. Marriage is cool, but I don’t think it’s necessary. I think that if we are all honest with what we need from our partner(s), we would be in a better place. People want to practice monogamy and polygamy for the wrong reasons. Again, we have to be honest with ourselves, look within and really take account of what works, what kind of relationships make us feel free and which feel like chokeholds. But it is hard to be honest with others when you don’t know who you are or what a healthy relationship looks like. 

What are your thoughts on black feminism and the #metoo movement?

Black Feminism is like an oxymoron. And we’ve been shouting #metoo since forever, right. I believe these trends are just increasing the wedge between Black men and Black women. I hate that we are stiiiiiiiiill trying to force ourselves into these white spaces at our own expense. 

183197_pii5jUoXThere is a negative stigma that hovers over black women and our relationships with one another. You had a really great post about this topic. I’d love to hear you talk about why these relationships are important. What can we do as black women to foster loving, positive relationships between one another?

Thank you! I think that unless we’re on a field or court, we need to stop competing with each other. We need to actively listen. We need to walk away from toxic friendships if we can’t pull a sister up. We need to stop gossiping and pointing fingers. We need to be so busy loving ourselves and each other that that negative behavior becomes obsolete. Strong bonds with women who love, challenge and reflect you creates a beautiful image for our littles and other sisters to mirror. It creates a village that constantly pours into you. It is a great feeling when someone gets you because they are you. 

You mentioned in a comment a while back that you shaved your head!! What inspired this decision? What significance do you see hair bearing on black female identity and.or personhood? I’m really excited for your thoughts on this!

I did shave my head last summer! Partly because it was growing unevenly but mostly because I’d never rocked my hair that way. The timing was perfect because I needed to close a chapter with someone as well. It was therapeutic for me.

Hair holds so much weight for Black women; you can tell a lot about her by the way she chooses to wear hers. 

You quote the late and great Malcolm X in your “about me” as you reference the black malcom-xwoman as “the most disrespected person in America.” Can you shed light on a subtle way that black women are disrespected? What can we do as a community to combat this disrespect? 

We are viewed and treated as superhuman and subhuman at the same damn time; take all this pain, abuse, disrespect, racism, rejection, lies, hate and invisibility with a smile while still tending to everyone else. Again, we have to get our self-love levels up up up and show people how to treat us. Of course if our men or kids or outsiders see us calling ourselves and our sisters bitches, thots and hoes, they’re not going to think any better of us. We need to know when to say no, when to take a break, when to ask for help and when to walk away without looking back. We need to learn that softness and vulnerability is stronger than any I-got-this facade. And, of course, we need to be there for our sisters and allow them to be human.

Given the contemporary climate, which mirrors a past of identical evil, what are your hopes for our people in the Afro-future? 

I hope to see more Black love in the Afro-future! It is my absolute favorite thing to see a Black man and Black woman together in a loving union. It’s a great sight to see a Black man in the park running after his grandkids. I love seeing a group of young Black creatives meeting at a coffee shop. We are so necessary in the existence of each other and I hope more of us will wake up to that truth. 

Lastly, what does it mean to be a black woman, according to you?!

Being a Black woman is being soft and strong, loving and tough. Being a Black woman is being the most resilient being on this planet. Being a Black woman means being so very worthy of love, admiration, respect, patience and peace. 

Check out Kelley’s blog here! 

Cheers to you Kelley, thank you so much for blessing this blog with your words!   

Black Power ❤