Black Panther on Two Continents

I am fortunate. I am fortunate to be in South Africa at the moment and that Black Panther was released only nine days ago before I left the U.S.

I saw it in Michigan on Thursday, February 15 and I saw again in Port Elizabeth SA ten days later; I saw it today. Both viewings were sold out and there were some great similarities between each viewing – the laughter, the appreciation for “colonizer” jokes, and the excitement for whenever the Dora Milaje hopped on screen to fight!

In the US, I celebrated, watched through the eyes of a hopeful African-American, sitting alongside many Black people who enjoyed it just as I did. It was a community event! As the film paced on perfectly, I thought of my journey to South Africa. Would I have the same joy similar to that of T’Challa when he proclaimed “This never gets old.” as he passed through the cloaking shield? Would I be welcomed? Would I smile as he smiled and would others smile back at me like Shuri, Okoye, his mother Ramonda as he walked off the Vibranium Bugatti Spaceship? I walked out smiling ear to ear, proud of what I just witness and joyful for what was to come for me, so sure of what this journey would mean to me.

Like with many aspects of life, things are not as simple as they might seem and my journey has been much more complex. There have been joyful moments and celebrations while here, but there have also been moments of pain and heartbreak.

IMG_0541

In Port Elizabeth, I waited in a long line, decided to buy the ticket on my phone while waiting, and luckily, I purchased the last ticket. As soon as I received the confirmation email, the manager walked over to the cashiers and put up a “sold-out sign” over the Black Panther poster. I found my seat as the opening played. I was more excited to see it here than in the states for a variety of reasons, the most important being that this film seemed to mirror part of my story – born in the United States and traveling to Africa for the first time in my life.

As I sat there, I watched as an American, no more African than before. No less an outsider looking in, looking for a sense of belonging. Here, I watched through the eyes of Killmonger, with pain in my heart and frustration in my bones. Aching to know why Black People, and many people of color, suffer so much more than the rest of the world. Aching to find a solution, a way to deal with the rage and pain all the same.

As I watched Black Panther the second time, memories flashed through my eyes. “There’s about two billion people out there that could use your help.” (Semi-direct quote). Here in Port Elizabeth, I had the opportunity to visit a nearby “unofficial” settlement, Missionvale, a township community with more than 130,000 people unemployed, living in small homes, and experiencing a much harder life than I will ever know. All the while, “tourists (myself included)” ride through in a Mercedes Benz chartered bus and walk through a small community center taking photos of and selfies with “poor black children.” Infuriated by this, I lingered toward the back of the group silently. I was fortunate to steal a smile from a group of young children in green and orange school uniforms, who played with unending joy despite their circumstances. Three students double dutched, a small group of boys played their version of rugby, and I listened to two young girls read to each other on a bench, trading a printed book back and forth with short sentences on it. “Mom likes our house.” “Dad likes our house.”

I took no photos. I had not earned the right to plunder their community for my own gain. I wished not to steal anything more than the memories that were made by being present.

In that moment I saw my own community, which revealed to me a much deeper pain than I ever thought possible. One of the fellow conference goers, pulled me back and whispered, “Is this the liberation of South Africa?” It broke my heart. All I could think about was how little I’ve done to serve my own home, Detroit. “Is this the liberation of Detroit?” What can be done? What can I do? What can I give? How can I support what is already happening for the good of local people? How can we ensure that the people who suffer most still see themselves as valuable, as significant, as worthy of the beautiful humanity they already possess, when life has told them they are none of those things and less than human. How can I hold a mirror so they see themselves as whole people, as capable, as having something to offer, as having hope. In the small children, I saw hope, the innocence of having not be broken by the world. In the adults, I saw Kilmonger, hurting, angry, uncertain of how to change things for themselves, but willing to try anything.

Advertisements

My Old Friend

Welcome to Port Elizabeth, Nelson Mandela Bay, the Eastern Cape, and the Indian Ocean.

I am welcomed by my oldest friend, the sea. When I arrived in Port Elizabeth, I found myself deciding between getting food and getting to the ocean. I chose the latter – though I felt compelled to find it. This isn’t the first time I’ve written about the ocean, but something was different about this draw. I felt that I’d find something there that I hadn’t before. Drawn by the subtle, distant sound of crashing waves and the smell of salty air, I knew I was close… how close, I had no idea. I walked over hills, down sand dunes, and through a plank wood pathway and made it to the beach.

IMG_9137

Between me and the water stood a wall of plant life, a line of sand, and a rocky beach. How different and familiar this all felt. How lucky was I to skip lunch and spend the afternoon alone on the beach? There was not a person around for the few miles that the beach ran. My old friend welcomed me home like I had only been away for a little while. Solitude has always been a great friend, he’s allowed me to reflect, give me peace learn deeply, look at myself in an honest way. In a similar way, the ocean has given me the same – moments of pause, quiet time to learn and heal, a mysterious and vast place to match my imagination and hope for this world… a place to be an idealist… a place to restore my heart from a broken world. To me, this was my care. This was me taking care of me.

Self-Care, both mental and physical health is very much in the public eye in many places at the moment. Not everyone is afforded the opportunity to take these moments of pause or even to leave the town or city in which they live, but we must do more to give each other peace where we are… to give each other moments of pause and the freedom to take care of ourselves. For so long, I asked myself “when will I find peace?” Today, I’ve chosen to ask myself a different question, “where can I create peace?” It’s only been a few days, but this respite from “real life” has given me a great deal of insight about who I am and who I want to become, but more importantly, it’s placed others at the forefront of my mind. Where can I create peace? How can I give others moments of rest? How can I offer joy to others or celebrated with them the joy the already possess? Though I may find answers, I am now more interested in the questions that will come from this experience. “With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world.” – Desiderata, Max Ehrmann

How Interesting?

“How interesting?” is the question that came to mind after allowing my hopeful anticipation build over the last few weeks and finally arriving here in South Africa.

I idealized my arrival, each time coming closer and closer to tears because this journey is a “homecoming” of sorts. In my last post, I referenced my ability to connect far back in my family history, but still a gap existed between my great-great grandmother and whatever tribe and country our ancestors were birthed into. Leading up to this moment, there was a distinct “maybe this will be the moment when all the emptiness washes away.”

It wasn’t (lol @ myself), but I did have a few more interesting realizations as a result of being here, arriving here, and simply asking questions and observing.

Number 1: This was less of a realization but more of a “well of course” moment. There’s a stark poverty gap, a great distance between those who are served and those who serve, between those who have and those who have not. Much of this has to do with Apartheid colonization, and corruption. My hope gave me rose tented eyes from which to see through before arriving. This caused the separation between social groups to feel more pronounced. It was as if I had arrived back in Downtown Detroit, bustling with surbranites who can, and most often do, come and go as they please to be served by persons of color, who most often can’t afford (time or money) to participate whatever the activity is. There’s a more nuanced conversation to be had about this specific topic so don’t get lost in the details yet. We’ll save it for another post. It’s not all good and it’s not all bad for the people who need some closer on this point.

Number 2: My Uber driver, “Evans” gave me some real insight into the local culture and insight into his live. Evans is from Zimbabwe and he talked about how even though the economy dipped and has struggled due to a lack of eco-tourism, it was still a safe place, a place that he loved and would go back to given the chance to have economic stability again. He talked about his family in a way that I would talk about mine. We shared a laugh over how similar our families and communities are. We talked about joy despite difficulty. We talked about resilience and shared happiness and pride. Our conversation reduced my need to connect with a specific place. I’d rather connect with the people.

Number 3: This one is more of a few happy accidents that occurred along the way. 1. My Airbnb host have two dogs, that are super friendly. There’s a small garden attached to their home and I spent a little while reading out there today just to enjoy the warm summer and cool breeze. 2. I’m having dinner in Johannesburg with a family that I met on the plane before I head back to the US. They are visiting South Africa to celebrate their Mother/Grandmother’s birthday.

Number 4 (Maybe the most important): I’ve given up my idealized view that solely arriving at a place can restore your wholeness. I’ve gained the pride of seeing myself as someone who is celebrated and welcomed and appreciated for his blackness on a large scale. The level of joy I saw of sooo many black and brown faces only made me smile harder and harder throughout the day. Children playing soccer, teenagers dancing in the street and laughing with each other, grandmothers and matriarchs bursting with pride at the sight of their families all together at dinner. Today reminded me of our shared humanity, the humanity we are so often not afforded by others. No one can steal that from me.

IMG_9120

Will this feel like home?

This trip feels different. I’ve traveled to around the USA a bit, I’ve seen a few countries in Europe, but this one feels different. It feels heavier.

This journey, I imagine, will become a pillar in time for me – a moment that will forever be etched in my mind as a doorway back to something I lost generations ago. Many of you may have heard the narrative, become desensitized to it, and are maybe even tired of hearing about it. Slavery, Racism, Apartheid, Violence, Stolen Bodies, Broken Families, Erasure of Culture and Life. There is no path back to my historical roots beyond the connection I have to slavery. The idea of no connection or place of origin occupies such a large space in my mind. Some might believe it shouldn’t matter this much, but it does. My great-great grandmother, who I knew for several years, was one generation removed from slavery. I remember conversations with her and the closeness I felt to her – her powerful, yet calm voice, her tender but protective tones, her resolute strength and also her exhaustion. Her father was the son of a slaveowner.

This experience, this monumental moment to even fathom that there is some tie to Africa as a whole is earthshaking to me. The desire to see home as a place and a people pushes me to tears whenever I contemplate the moment that the plane touches down. I’ve reflected for weeks on how to put into words what landing in, setting foot on, and simply being in Africa will mean to me. I’m speaking of the diverse and rich continent – I’ll get to South Africa in a moment. I believe every Black person in the United States should have the opportunity to visit the continent, or wherever their true north points.

I’ve listened to and read stories of how “we” are descendants of kings and queens and yet much of our collective “life” here and other places has been defined by suffering and struggling and resilience and pain. I’ve searched for, and found, stories that champion our heritage, highlight our contributions to the world, and recognize and admire our beauty. Even I had to unlearn the lies I believed about my people. Even now, I am unlearning what I was socialized to believe, intentionally or unintentionally. Even now, I take responsibility for the change I want for myself.

As I wrestle with the memories and experiences and beliefs I’ve held, and unconsciously still hold, I know that this experience will be one that cracks open the last wall that I’ve built up to see my blackness as empty, and the rivers, waterfalls, and oceans will pour into me as though I cannot be filled and they will pour and pour and pour until I see my own reflection as beautiful as powerful as complex and as deeply human, deserving of every human right and dignities that should be afforded to all people. My blackness will no longer be equated with only fear and pain and worry and preoccupation and stress and anxiety and suffering. I will be all of myself, joyful, happy, passionate, intelligent, caring, human, vulnerable, hopeful, realistic, and much much more. I will acknowledge and appreciate the humanity of all other black people.

This confirmation that there is a place from which I originate is heavy, emotional, powerful, and still uncertain, especially because my journey takes me to South Africa, a place plagued by its own violences and vices, a place with its own heroes and champions, a place with its own complex history and challenges. I can say with certainty that I am open to the possibilities of what this could mean for me and many others. I’m open to how my perspective might change or how I’ll change after this experience. I’m hopeful that there is some remnant or lingering air of connection to those few hundred years ago and the experiences of the South African people less than a century ago. If I can’t have that, I will at the very least have Wakanda Forever.

332734_10151147488115231_359412955_o

 

Growing Pains #16: And Beyond

Well… All is well that ends well.

If you’ve read this far, you have had a pretty intimate, authentic look into my life. Truly, thank you for journeying with me along the way. Sharing part of myself that I thought I would never share has been restorative to my spirit and passion.  I am both honored by and grateful for everyone that has read even one post.

I have a group of friends that I hold very dear to me. Each one knows who they are. No matter where we go, what we do, or how little we may see or talk to each other, we know that there is an “and beyond” that propels us deeper into friendship. I think about all the people who have help guide and shape my life – family, friends, barbers, mentors,  past teachers and coaches, passing strangers, and fellow travelers. I’ve learned a great deal from you all. Each of you has been a mirror. Each of you has in some way reflected exactly what I needed to see at the time I needed to see it.

After 24 years, countless experiences, a revolutionary change in myself, and 15 blogs, I am free to say that I love myself, I am earnestly seeking a more authentic self each day, and I invite others to love themselves as well. Regardless of what the world shows you, tells you, or thinks of you, you are significant, you matter, you have something to contribute, you deserve to feel whole. With a full heart and a peaceful mind, thank you for growing with me.

11149426_10152830924460875_3269221353239132013_n

Vincent

Growing Pains 10: Resentment

There were tremors. From “creative” spirals (me just procrastinating) to questions from the people who know me best. During one of the creative spirals, I found a poem, by Daniel Beaty, a playwright, poet, and all around talented performer. The poem, Duality Duel, personified how I viewed myself and how I viewed black people. Beaty goes on to have a conversation between two parts of himself – one characterized as scholarly and clean cut, while the other is cold and hardened by life. Beaty held up the mirror. His performance showed me parts of myself that I wanted to suppress or avoid. It showed me my blackness in the context of community.


“Now the time has come for you to pay yo dues. Because these little n*ggas in the street, they need you. But they think they can’t relate because you act all removed. But the TRUTH IS NERD, WHAT THEY ARE IS YOU. Cuz no matter how hard you try to deny the way you think, talk and feel, yo daddy still smoke heroine, yo brother still on crack, ghetto nightmares still haunt your dreams, and ya momma is still black. I ain’t sayin you gotta become me, but this one thing is true. Inside you is a hard ass n*gga you gotta let come through. Cuz this assimilating bullshit will surely beat you down, and if you choke me long enough, my nerd, I will not stick around. Put the strut back in your walk. Say what you really feel. BE ALL OF YOU FOR ALL OF US TO HEAL! The time for lying and denying is through, it’s time nerd journey to the n*gga in you!” – Duality Duel, Daniel Beaty (An excerpt – click the link for the full poem)


I resented myself for having negative feelings and beliefs about the black community. I used to resent the people around me. I’d come to resent myself. How do I back pedal without it being perceived as inauthentic? How can I now be supportive of blackness? How do I fit into the black community? What does it mean to be black? What does it mean to be black in different communities? What parts of myself do I still have to uncover? How do I become all of myself?

Slowly but surely the weight of my guilt, my lack of understanding, and desire to change would give way to lessons learned and new perspective. The process to change was honest, painful, uncomfortable, and most of all, NECESSARY. I needed to change. I reached a tipping point. I needed to learn how to move forward.

11053539_10103030823043338_993238237035976317_o

The Growing Pains series will continue each day until the full story is shared. It is an honest look at how socialization, poverty, changing circumstances, and perceptions influenced me to hate myself, my skill, and my community, but ultimately how authentic relationships, challenging questions, and a deep look inside helped me learn to love myself and love my people. You see I’m black and I love it, but that wasn’t always the case. Check tomorrow for the next chapter – Growing Pains #11: Tipping Point will be up and ready for your reading.

Growing Pains #9: Space & The Escape

Solitude. Reflection. Silence. Empty Space. I crave it. I need it. I can’t operate without it. I attribute this to the way my mind works, but also always having people around as a child. I can’t process information in overstimulating environments. In crowded spaces, I check out. In busy or loud environments, I’m unfocused or hyper-focused on one thing. In moments characterized by loud sounds, lots of people, and conversation, I just take in all the information, noise, and movement around me or I take in none of it. I need empty space to find clarity. Sometimes, I even need to be outside because some spaces aren’t large enough. I need the entire sky to fill my thoughts.

The summer after sophomore year, I got all the solitude and silence I needed, two months worth of it. Not total solitude for two months, but I spent more time alone than I did with people. It may be my favorite summer. It was the perfect time to “restart” my life. I had time to grieve, process, learn, make sense of, and understand all that I had gone through and was going through. I just needed to stop creating distractions. I know myself very well now, but at that time I knew nothing about myself. I saw no reflections. I wasn’t trying to see any.

I learned the most important lesson about myself that summer. I learned how to learn about myself. It was a know thy self type of situation. I needed to learn how to be authentic. I went inward. I learned how to ask myself questions that I needed answers to, but may not have wanted. I learned how to be honest with myself about everything. I recognized myself for the first time and I was just lost. I was a black man (still a teenager at the time) who had grown to outwardly hate and avoid anyone who looked like me, thus hating myself. Feeling guilty and unsure of what to do next, I saw my reflection for the first time.

Style 6

When I had the space to think about it, I started to notice my behaviors. My unconscious actions that distanced me from other black people. I noticed that my unresolved frustrations and biases influenced how I built relationships. I spent what felt like all my life separating myself from other black people – intellectually, socially, emotionally, psychologically. I found ways to not see the mirror. The reflections were always present, but I chose not to see them. This was the first time I was seeing myself as a black man. How could I possible come clean about this? Who can I tell? How will they feel? What do I do now? What does it mean to be black? These questions left me wanting, but paralyzed by guilt and uncertainty. Critical reflection started me on a path toward self-love, but I’d need a few earthquakes to shake the path so I would move forward.

The Growing Pains series will continue each day until the full story is shared. It is an honest look at how socialization, poverty, changing circumstances, and perceptions influenced me to hate myself, my skill, and my community, but ultimately how authentic relationships, challenging questions, and a deep look inside helped me learn to love myself and love my people. You see I’m black and I love it, but that wasn’t always the case. Check tomorrow for the next chapter – Growing Pains #10: Resentment will be up and ready for your reading.

 

Growing Pains #5: Resentment

Everywhere I turned, I saw someone to blame. Everywhere I turned, I saw someone who looked like me. Everywhere I turned, I pointed the finger. Everywhere I turned I saw no mirrors. Well, there were mirrors… I just didn’t see myself. I didn’t want to see myself.


*Context*

I saw being black as a detriment. I believed being black was a setback. I saw being white, and even non-black, as better. In school. At home. In the activities I participated in. In life. I saw myself as better because I believed I was “non-black”. I was “50%” this, “20%” that. The last thing I was, and most times by default, was black. I would only claim to be black because it was so obvious that I was. I didn’t want to be associated with blackness. I hated that part of my life. The black experience in the United States was, and still is, defined by struggle and suffering. More than that, it seemed like everyone around me was defined by struggle and suffering. You know how tired I was of hearing about and seeing struggling and suffering. You know the type of hopelessness that creates?! It’s all you see. It’s all you hear. It’s all around you. In not owning my blackness, I felt like I didn’t have to deal with it. I was 10 years old and exhausted from life. How does that happen?

Even now, it’s exhausting to always explain to people what’s going on and things like Black Lives Matter or systemic oppression. It’s exhausting to deal with systems that ruin lives everyday.  Eventually, I saw a way out – getting through middle school and high school as soon as possible. – *exhales after getting that out* (Scroll below for content.)


Screen Shot 2017-08-08 at 11.46.00 AM

*Content*

By the time I was in sixth grade, I changed schools five times. There was a cycle. Start over, make a few connections, change schools, start over, make a few connections, start over. My parents just wanted to find the best education for my brother and I, which meant trying schools out and seeing what happened. I just floated through school.

I was part of another environment that seemed to drain imagination and creativity rather than cultivate it. In sixth grade, I was testing two years higher in all subjects and my teacher brought up the discussion to promote me to the eighth grade. I WAS OVERJOYED. It was happening! I’d get to leave sooner than I thought. You can imagine the pride and joy I felt about having this opportunity.

After thinking about it, my parents declined. “I wasn’t socially ready to be in the classroom with eighth graders.” “I was already young for my grade and I wouldn’t be prepared for the changing environments.” I was devastated. I was defeated. I RESENTED THEM more than I ever had before. I couldn’t make lasting connections anywhere. School was failing me. I was fed up. I was a grudge holder. I was so damn tired. They took away the one chance I had to leave it all behind sooner than I anticipated. That chance was gone before I could even blink.

I shut down. I checked out. I didn’t even try. The same feelings of arrogance and disdain toward my peers came back around. My frustration and anger even reached my brother. Kyle and I would’ve been in the same grade. For the longest time, I thought my parents were trying to protect him. I took every opportunity to bring up being promoted publicly to jab at them and remind them that I was angry. I can never apologize enough for how vindictive I was.

*I want to be a parent some day, but it scares me. I can’t thank my parents enough for how they handled me as a child. I honestly don’t know what I would’ve done in this situation. They just loved me through it. In hindsight, they made the absolutely right decision. There are so many things I would’ve missed had I moved on too early.

The Growing Pains series will continue each day until the full story is shared. It is an honest look at how socialization, poverty, changing circumstances, and perceptions influenced me to hate myself, my skin, and my community, but ultimately how authentic relationships, challenging questions, and a deep look inside helped me learn to love myself and love my people. You see, I’m black and I love it, but that wasn’t always the case. Check tomorrow for the next chapter – Growing Pains #6: Tipping Point will be up and ready for your reading.

HUMAN – A Reflection on the Film

With a vision to truly capture the essence of what humans experience, Yann Arthus-Bertrand spent three years taking photos, recording stories, and creating a deeply personal and effortlessly human film that allows people to be vulnerable, authentic, honest, and free to share parts of themselves that we can all find in our own lives. (Yann Arthus-Bertrand is a French photographer, journalist, reporter and environmentalist.)

HUMAN the movie (Link to VOL. 1) strips away the complexity of human life to date and shares it with viewers who can immediately empathize or connect with the people who are sharing their stories. Universal themes are at the center of the film – disappointment, love, hate, pain, happiness, sorrow, frustration, change, isolation, difference, belonging, anguish, trust, kindness, and uncertainty.

Many have said, and will continue to say, that technology has isolated us. My usual response to statements and situations when it comes to human interaction, belief systems, and how we treat each other is “It’s more complicated than that.” HUMAN makes the perfect case for that. In the wake of seeing how it has divided us, Arthus-Bertrand demonstrates how technology can be used to bring people closer together.

Right now in the United States, we are publicly seeing people treat others an inhuman. We are desensitized to the reality that we are all people first who have lives, emotions, experiences, needs, desires, ambitions, love, pain, worries, fears, and people that we care about. We are being crushed by adding layer upon layer as to why we are so different from one another, why we have disdain for people, and why we could never even be in the same room as some people. Whether you are liberal or conservative or neither. Black or white or multi-racial. Gay or Straight or Neither. Even if you fit into not of those categories, you are a person first. I am a person first. Though our beliefs may differ, we are people first. Though our ideologies may differ, we are people first.

I understand that how we come together is much more complex than that. There must be acknowledgement and reconciliation from past and current injustices. There must be progress made in achieving equal rights and human rights, as well as in the enactment of those rights. Poverty must be addressed. Decades of work or harm must be undone in order to create a more peaceful world, a world that thrives through collaboration, mutual trust and respect, and honesty.

Even as insurmountable as it may seem to build a better world, it starts with taking a deeply honest look inside to say, who do I see as not worth of life, support, love, opportunity, friendship, happiness, joy, rights? Why do I feel this way? What has brought me to this mindset? How can I get out of the way of others? How can I change the minds of people close to me? Do I see others as human beings? If so, I know what it means to feel pain, be forgotten, and unloved. But I also know what life is like when I feel joy, connected, loved, and appreciated.

When we can acknowledge one another’s humanity, we will be able to have better conversations about our differences and gain understanding about one another’s lives. Even if we do not agree, even if we do not reach a place of true consensus, we have taken the time to acknowledge one another’s humanity and treat each other with dignity.

I’ve included the trailer for a short introduction and a link to VOL. 1 of Human The Movie near the start of the blog.