Adrift

James (Adrift)

Mortal Man

Adrift

By: James Dickerson

Optimism is new to me. I stopped having expectations some time ago and have learned to let life be.
— James Dickerson

This year I found myself breaking up with and wanting to get over what I thought was the  traveling path of my life. I left behind someone I should’ve held tighter to. Had an emotional fling that I’m still sore about - my first time engaged in intense desire; so intense that I broke my own rules involving women with significant others. And financially, as a single father, I found myself struggling to live on the pedestal I placed the responsibility to my sons on. Sleepless nights wrote my story after so much happened in so little time. 

I would think: what is the point of a sunrise if all you see is darkness? Every day felt the same. I became distant at work. The idea of friendship is a struggle and my kids wonder if I’m okay. What it meant to be a photographer in a non-traditional way was lost because of inconsistency. Prior to full time employment I was able to split my time on the street as an urban documentarian with my time as a clerk at a library, making enough noise in both respects to keep everyone happy. Almost everyone. The dissolving of my relationship with the mother of my children forced me into a full time spot at work. And then things started to die.

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Part of the problem was giving too much of myself to sustaining troubled waters. I needed still waters. I sought still waters, but aimlessly. Living for the satisfaction of others is not mentally healthy when you avoid your own health in the process. The darker life became the more I contemplated the wrong things. I told myself that the “end” would be a loss for everyone. I thought about my kids and what that would mean for them to lose their father, and a thread tightens and yanks me back a few feet from the edge. Their sadness I’d never want to face even in death. 

My relationship with them is strong so I have to survive for them. I have to survive for them. Fatherhood is keeping me alive. 

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I’m not the type to enter into the year with resolutions but I think about them. With their succession, how does the future feel a year older? If I hit every one would I die a better man? From one year to the next they ranged from weight loss, financial responsibly, a healthier relationship, and a home to raise my boys in. All the things I wished for when I was with their mother are still the things I wish for after. 

There’s something to be said about existing on the same page. Our story could be told together, written without ending, but our conflicts with each other prevented any real growth after 12 years. I don’t regret the loss of time but I regret the lack of growth.

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I doubt that I’ve truly healed from the strains of this break up. My nuclear family had a meltdown. We both assumed blame but still lacked growth. I tried dating after her and while that had its strengths, I was definitely its weakness. I left her feeling as lost as I was. That made me a bad guy. 

The bigger question is if I feel what is in my soul is for me. I don’t want the crash and burns to define my life. Nor the hang ups of emotional flings. “I want more life.” She shared that with me when I was having a rough moment. A phrase from a play that slips my mind. I debate whether our relationship was karmic in nature; that we taught each other something in the process. I did learn that I don’t want to be alone. But the bigger part I learned was that I never want to be who another man feels will destroy his happiness. But am I allowed to make that mistake in the process of growth?

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I don’t know how to end the year within this essay because my life is still changing. I may have written the most cryptic piece for the Mortal Man series. At the same time someone may pick this out as a resonating segment among others. Optimism is new to me. I stopped having expectations some time ago and have learned to let life be. However, as my life wraps up, I have a small amount of hope that’s always existed. It’s pushed me forward when permanent sleep was all I dwelled on. 

Let me experience internal peace, God. Just once, even if we aren’t friends.

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James Dickerson

Adrift

Son | Father | Brother | Photographer | Author | Real Life Documentarian

I met James on instagram. I admired his photography and reached out to him when I knew I’d re rolling through his hometown of Toledo, Ohio. Though it was our first time meeting our conversation was deep, intense, personal… REAL.

You can keep up with James on instagram at:

@dirtykics

James’ street photography is also featured on Wassuprockers’ “The Room” and can be viewed online here.

Closure

Steven C. Anderson

Mortal Man

Closure

By: Steven C. Anderson

Can you ever truly get closure?

July 6, 1974 - 6 years before I was born, my uncle Cedric was murdered. The details of his death, almost 40 years ago are still unclear. All I recall being told is where he was found. His body was found in Allen Park near the old Veterans Administration Hospital. He was shot in the head and left to die. At the time, the news reported it as a John Doe. The fact that his name was never mentioned always bothered my mother. Even today, when a death is reported as unidentified or “John Doe” it strikes a nerve because as she puts it; “that’s someone’s son, daughter, mother, or father.” Growing up we were always told, “someone needs to know where you’re at.” Back then, it seemed extreme but as an adult it makes all the sense in the world. How do you not have a little PTSD after losing your brother? A brother that was a few months away from fatherhood being taken away so violently before his baby girl was born. A daughter who would now grow up never knowing her father. Living this experience through stories and a few photos has always been “different” but it’s especially close to my heart because his name “Cedric” is my middle name. Most people don’t use their middle name often, but I’ve always made it a point to use mine as a connection.    

Late March 1997, I lost another uncle. This time it wasn’t violence but lung cancer. My uncle Sonny was one of the coolest dudes around. Everyone in the neighborhood loved and admired him. He loved sports, loved people, but above all, loved his family. He was a big baseball fan and would always take us down to the old Tiger Stadium to sit in the bleachers. He was diagnosed with lung cancer around 1994 or 1995. This was a shock to everyone because he wasn’t a smoker. He went through a few rounds of chemo therapy but seemed to be coming out on the other side of it.

I was only 16 at the time and I knew something was going on with his health but didn’t really know it was cancer. I knew it was serious when he showed up with a bald head. He always had fairly long dreadlocks so that was a reality shock to everyone. His brother (my uncle) decided to shave his head in support… “more on him later.”  Back in ’97, we didn’t have google so I kind of had to piece the seriousness of his illness together on my own. In early ’97 his health started to fade, he was hospitalized a lot. I had just got my full driver’s license and the first time my parents allowed me to drive a car alone without an adult was to visit him in the hospital. Although I knew he was sick seeing him in a hospital bed withering away made it real. But through it all he always wanted to talk about sports and particularly how I was doing in baseball. His first question to me was always “have you been wearing those ankle weights on your wrists?” And “are you playing in your glasses?” I didn’t even think my glasses did anything for me back then but looking back I really couldn’t see. Who knows how much better I’d have been if I did wear those glasses. 

Easter was approaching and he was still fighting. Our high school baseball team was scheduled to travel to Florida for Spring Training over Easter vacation. It was a trip I’d really been looking forward to taking. We were going for training but there was a lot of fun planned too. We were staying and playing at the Disney Wide World of Sports. It wasn’t even open yet, we were going to be a part of the inaugural training season. About three weeks before we were set to leave my uncle was placed in hospice. I learned this from overhearing adult conversation. Again, 1997 - no smart phone, no google, I had no idea what hospice was but I knew it couldn’t be good because he was leaving the hospital. Why would someone so sick leave the hospital? He still fought until he couldn’t. Two days before we were set to travel he passed. I was hurt. I really looked forward to talking to him about playing at Disney in the Atlanta Braves spring training stadium. The next few days were a fog so I don’t even remember when or how the decision was made that I would go to Florida and miss the funeral. I remember my parents sitting me down and explaining that the funeral would be during the time I would be gone. I did travel with the team and for the most part had a really good time. This was pre-social media and back when long distance calls were expensive so I didn’t have a lot of contact with anyone back home. I did call home from a pay phone at Disney the day of the funeral. Everyone seemed to be doing fine but it was strange not being there with my family. Looking back I don’t regret not being at the funeral. He was so sick for so long that I had time to say my goodbyes and reflect on our relationship. It’s just one of those things… when we think of a loved one that has passed away typically the memories of the funeral come to mind. Again, it was “different” not having that memory.

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Labor Day 2007 was approaching and no one had heard from my uncle Carlton. That was strange because he always popped up on holidays. He would always swing by and drop off a gift or a dish. We were kind of worried but figured maybe he went on vacation. After a few days without contact a missing persons report was filed. We were in contact with the police department and they didn’t suspect any foul play. On Labor Day evening a detective came over and told us that they found a body but couldn’t make a positive ID. They needed my family to come down to the medical examiner to see if an ID could be made. My mom, uncle and aunts went but couldn’t make a decision. It wasn’t like on TV, where they pull a sheet back and you say “yes” or “no.”  They put you in a room with a small crappy black and white monitor. Out of five people none could definitively say that was him. The next day the detectives were able to make appositive ID using his clothes and a tattoo that could still be made out. He had been stabbed multiple times and found dead in a vacant field. The temperature was so hot that his body had started to decompose. 

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There were no leads, no suspects and no motive. Even now, 12 years later we are no closer to getting justice. He had no enemies, no beefs, and no ill will toward anyone. His car was found a block away from the crime with his blood in it. He was in the area because he had purchased a home and was in the process of renovating it. He wasn’t robbed, just stabbed in his car and left to die. To us this was the definition of senseless. He was the type of person that would give you the clothes off of his back. He was honorably discharged from the US Marines, lived in San Diego for a few years, but ultimately returned home to be closer to his family. He had started a career at Chrysler and kept a low profile. He took pride in his home and neighborhood. He was the type of person that would cut his neighbors grass if he saw that it needed to be done. This was the same uncle that shaved his head in support of his brother Cedric that was going through chemo. The circumstances of his death caused us to have a closed casket funeral. At the time I didn’t think anything of that, but as I look back - that along with the losses of my other uncles has had an effect on me. 

Looking back, losing three uncles, “all brothers” left me with a ton of “what ifs” and questions. I always felt as though I didn’t get true closure in one way or another with any of the three deaths. As I grow older my outlook on that has changed. We often use birthdays as a way to celebrate the beginning and we use funerals to celebrate at the end. I’m learning to celebrate the journey. I’m determined to live my life to the fullest while I’m here because memories truly last a lifetime.

 

Closure

By Steven C. Anderson

Son | Husband | Brother | Photographer | Owner of Upscale Photography

You can keep up with Steve on social media.

instagram: @stevencanderson

twitter: @stevencanderson

facebook: Steven C. Anderson

visit his website: upscalephotos.net

Makings of a Man

Makings of a Man

Mortal Man

Makings of a Man

By: Al Harden

I wrote a book for my sons called SONSCAPE “available here on amazon.” Within the book there’s a (Legacy) page in which I wrote “I love you and I'm sure my father loves me and his father loved him. I left a particular Legacy for you I'm not proud of. It wasn't intentional but it was something I could not stop. The role I played in this endeavor was part of the harassed, denounced and deprived.  Unfortunately you may continue to encounter these issues. I wish I could stop this maltreatment but I do not know how. So I attempt to teach you how to survive in this climate exactly how I have been able to survive, and my father, and his father.”

Reflecting on that passage there are many people who have given me wisdom and advice and people that I look up to like my father Joe Harden where I learned discipline and unconditional love. My step father Charles Hooper where I learned patience and the value of trying new things in order to challenge myself. However in order to truly understand where I am today I’ll have to tell you about my grandfather Charles Woods whom I affectionately called (Papap). He set the foundation for me to build my life and to raise my family.

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Papap taught by example. He worked in a foundry every weekday and would work on the farm when he got off of work as well as on weekends. He taught me the importance of having a strong work ethic as well as making time to do things that I enjoyed. We would work around the house together and also pick grapes and doing other jobs around the orchard. Papap and I would get into just about everything!

My grandfather and I would drive around in his old truck going here and there. We would often stop and do things for people he knew as well as for strangers. Papap would also take me around to go visit with his friends.  We would do “drive-bys.” Papap would drive by poking his head out of the truck’s window to say ”hey, how are you doing?” That was his way of checking in on people.

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When I started working at the age of 14 Papap would drive me to work “ensuring that I got there in plenty enough time.” Papap was my second business partner, my first was my brother Charles Harden. We walked around peddling little nuts that fell off the trees. My brothers and I had no takers and never sold anything, however we were able to make a jar full of pennies worth about $19 when we found a missing cat.

I had a hobby of raising rabbits, “at one point I had probably close to 60 of them.” Papap and I would always stop and get rabbit food and other supplies during our adventures. One day he asked me to bring him five rabbits, “he didn't tell me why but it didn't matter - as a dutiful grandson I carried out his wishes.” Then he told me to get him a short 2x4. Once I complied he proceeded to butcher the rabbits/pets and I was shocked - my eyes filled with tears. There was one rabbit left alive which was one of my favorites so I asked if I could take that one back and go get another one. Papap agreed so I took a stroll down death row to see who was next.  It felt as though I took forever but I returned with another rabbit. He then instructed me to get a pot with water, then a little later to get some salt. My next order was to go get some plastic bags and get in the truck. 

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There was complete silence while I was riding in the truck with these five butchered and dressed pets. We pulled up to his friends house and they exchanged pleasantries while I sat on the passenger side in complete silence. Papap handed his friend the rabbits and his friend gave him $20 which my grandfather passed along to me. My eyes opened wide and a smile even invaded my face. That was the official start of my new rabbit farming business!

Papap loved his wife “my grandmother” who unfortunately passed before I was born. My grandmother did however have the opportunity to give me my name before she passed. Papap was no nonsense. He fiercely defended his family, John Wick II comes to mind but Papap’s dogs would bite! “thats another story.”

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When I joined the Marine Corps Papap was the first person to tell me how proud he was of me. When I came back home he was definitely proud and happy to see me. We hopped right back in his truck and started making our rounds visiting family and friends.

As a man you learn to take little bits and pieces from everyone in your life and use them to help weave your way through life. Even to this day I’m comprehending lessons that Papap and others taught me years ago that I wasn’t able to grasp when I was younger.

 
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Makings of a Man

By: Al Harden

Son | Father | Husband | Artist | Fine Art Photographer | Veteran | Fire Specialist

- Keep up with Al on facebook.

- instagram @al_harden

- Al’s book: SONSCAPE is available on amazon.

Urban Diary

Christian

Mortal Man

Urban diary

By: Christian Richardson

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“Home,
is where the Hurt is...
A post circumstance perspective.
A perpetual predisposition
in a climate
too warm for winter,
too cold for love,
but just humid enough
to Hate ourselves...
The Heart of the city...
Leaving holes,
Where it kept beating,
our children
to the punch.
Our residents parked
permanently in gated
communities,
a rat race
Among boys.
trying to see who
can get nowhere
the fastest...
trying to see
how many burdens
they can carry in each casket.
The Gem city.
So much weight
on our shoulders
on the West side.
We always wanted to be
the closest thing
athlete.
The closest thing Dunbar.
A hometown hero,
A Colonel White parallel
between five oaks
and witch trials.
Where there is only enough rope
to hang on by a thread.
but just enough tree,
to be a raisin in the sun...”

 
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“These bones...
are the Storm.
Surrounded on all sides,
imploding at all times.
and they just want to tell the Truth;
that the Silence
is just a calm
In a storm that will never settle...
That this Body of water.
will always remain 60% fluid identity.
That I will only ever know myself;
in waves.”

 
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“It's dark here.
And
It always smells like yesterday
No matter how much
I thrift, throw, and tear
I am still very much a sheep
trapped in wolves clothing
attempting not
to swallow myself whole.
Meanwhile,
Holes
as big as my reflection.
Empty yet still full of shadows
tongue heavy
speaking a language
only winter could understand.
breathes deep...
In hell,
Or some other location
To be determined,
to be damned,
Or
to be diagnosed...
Exhale.
Escape....”

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Urban Diary

By: Christian Richardson

Son | Brother | Artist | Member of Underdog Academy | Nobody Important

You can keep up with Christian at:

instagram: @ c_rich123

twitter: @c_rich123

twitter: @underdogacademy

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Christian and all of the members of Underdog Academy have participated in the Mortal Man series. On June 29, 2019 they will be hosting: Underdog Academy presents Broken English 101: “Stories Within the Margin” at thePNC Arts Annex - Theatre in Dayton, OH.In this installment of the Broken English series, UA dives into the vantage of the young black male in order to provide perspective on the culture, dialogue, and climate. With a UA only roster, come get to know the minds and the men behind Broken English. Get your tickets early and enjoy a full service bar with table service available! Seating is limited! Tickets available here.

Brotherhood

Frederick L. Cox

Mortal Man

Brotherhood

By: Frederick Leon Cox

FIRST of all, SERVANTS of all, we shall TRANSCEND all.
— Alpha Phi Alpha

I have always felt a sense of loneliness. For many who know me, they wouldn’t believe that. I was raised with multiple siblings, two older (by 5 and 7 years) and three younger (6-10 years), seemingly a big family but I always felt alone. When I heard J Cole’s Middle Child lyric, “Dead in the middle of two generations. I’m little bro and big bro all at once”, I felt that in my spirit. In my family, I always wished I had a roll dog. Someone close to my age that I would ride for and they would return the loyalty. With so many people around, I felt awkward, it caused me to isolate myself. 

As I transitioned throughout grade school, my personality made me one of the most social people in the room. While it was natural for me to be extroverted, there are multiple memories of feeling like the most awkward person in the room. I attended an Arts high school where I majored in theatre. From a very early space, I learned to be comfortable being laughed at, and to shake it off as if I wasn’t bothered. Graduating high school I received the superlative Mr. Stivers High School, an individual that exemplified the most high school spirit. It was proof that I knew how to wear the mask well. 

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I then matriculated to the University of Dayton, at that point the institution was no more than 3% black and so the feeling of isolation met me at the front door. It didn’t take me long to realize that I may need to leave the institution. I had two friends that felt similar and instantly we began discussing Greek Life. As I considered which organization would best suit me, I realized that I identified with Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc., more than any other. Not only was I inspired by the history, but the intellectual brothers that helped shaped black ideology confirmed that I would be in good company. The lack of black students at the university made the idea of joining a Historically black fraternity seem like the answer to all my challenges at the time. Not only would I have the opportunity to bond with over 200,000 Black men all over the world, but I would be able to travel to other universities to make my college experience larger than what I was currently being offered. In short, those feelings of isolation would end. 

On March 7th, 2009, I joined the best fraternity in the entire world. It didn’t take long for me to become a recognizable Alpha in the area. I soon ran for statewide, regional, and national positions within the fraternity. I tried to get to know every Alpha I could and I traveled to support brothers as much as possible. Striving to be the best Alpha made me feel like I was truly living the mission of our fraternity. I met some of the strongest, forward thinking, family centered men that I had ever known. Needless to say, I had no regrets. Years after college, I not only remained active but as exuberant as I was the day in which I became a member. Two months ago I celebrated 10 years within the fold and as I look back at my experience, I realize that I have returned back to that space of isolation. But how? My dream came true, I was a member of a leading Black Male organization with tons of connections.

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I began therapy to look more into this. As I explained my circumstance, I was guided to understand that isolation was centered in my genuine friendships with other Black men. I thought about how my entire life I was able to create strong and affirming relationships with black women but was missing that with my black male peers. Examining my relationships with the black males in my family, it became clear that they weren’t as strong either (four brothers not close to me in age and a father that I had yet to build an authentic relationship with). Specifically in the context of Alpha, I pledged with the hopes of building relationships, but I spent the majority of my time working to serve the organization rather than sitting back and building relationships with my brothers inside. Therapy helped me realize that in my friendships with men, I compete. Rather than sharing and supporting, I fight for leadership roles and often isolate myself from the general experience.

That was tough pill to swallow.

Alpha Man

As I approach my 30s, I realize that I don’t just need to passively be part of a brotherhood and directly invested in the business. I realized that I am complicit in my own isolation. I was so focused on leading the brotherhood that I hadn’t taken the time to focus on what I truly needed with the group. This even allowed me to think about the ways I was complicit in my surface relationships with men within my family. I joined Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Incorporated to be part of brotherhood of back men. Black men bonded by their vulnerabilities, not just their professional acumen. If that was what I wanted, I would need to focus on being more vulnerable and judging the actions of others less. Most importantly, I realize that my contributions to the fold isn’t solely based on leadership roles but my ability to truly be my brother’s keeper.


I shared this story because what I gained from this fraternity was reality that brotherhood is an exchange and not just shared space. As I continue on my journey to build healthy relationships with black male peers, I’m able to consider the roles I play. These next few years will be filled with apologies, listening, sharing, asking questions and taking on intentional leadership roles that feed my needs. Brotherhood is no longer something I long for, it’s something that I am an active agent in creating. 

Frederick Leon Cox
Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. develops leaders, promotes brotherhood and academic excellence, while providing service and advocacy for our communities.
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Brotherhood

By: Frederick Leon Cox

Son | Brother | Uncle | Godfather | Alpha

Be sure to keep up with Fred on social media:

Instagram: @coxfredl

Facebook: Frederick Leon Cox

The Game of Life

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Mortal Man

The Game of Life

By: Cleavon (Proph3ssorX) Matthews Jr.

Mortal: 1.) That must die at sometime 2.) Of man as a being who must die 3.) Causing death of the body and or soul 4.) Lasting until death  5.) Very great; Extreme

Man: Noun- 1) An adult, male human being 2) Any human being; Person 3) The human race 4) Human Servant 5) A husband 6) Any piece used in a game. Verb- 1) to supply with people for work, defense ect. 2) To take one’s place at on, or in 3) To make oneself stronger or braver  Suffix- 1) A person of a certain country 2) A person doing a certain work 3) A person who uses or works some device.

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When we are young we wish to be old. When we become old we seek our youth; however, it is when we mature that we learn to appreciate each moment that makes up this thing called life. Any and every human being will encounter struggles, even without them the scales of life are not the easiest to balance. Yet, there is only one fact that remains no matter who you are or what you do; there must come a time where all living things must die. So what will you do with the time you have here? Do you get consumed in your ego and drown? Have you allowed defeat to get the last laugh? Or did you overcome that in which seemed impossible?  Did you hide in shame of guilt or did you share your story so that one day when met with the same challenges as you someone else can know that they too can make it? Or did you just share in order to boast?

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With that being said.

What are you willing to die for?

Better yet, What are you living for?

The games life plays can you deal with it?

The constant repenting and sinning cause we all fall short

It's not the trip but how you recovered the slip

When times get rough did you just dip?

What work did you supply?

Whom did you serve?

What legacy did you leave?

What marks did you achieve?

If none then I respect you still

It can’t be an office without the real people in the field

So I salute you

Your value isn’t placed in a bank account and possessions

But the opportunities to learn lessons

Protect yourself at all times realize

Sometimes the tricks are only in your mind

Don’t forget to be kind
No matter what country you are in don’t miss the chance to meet a friend

share a bit of time to admire each others works

Growing stronger and braver together in order to take our rightful place.

Understanding we are apart of one race.

Clipping dying buds blooming bountiful blossoms of bliss

We are more than just husbands, sons, brothers, uncles, cousins, friends, we can not be bound to our professions and the ideals impressed upon us by society

We carry the seed of life

Molded by Mistakes

Made through Mishaps

Manifested outta Misery

Mounted on the shoulders of those who has come before us

Mortal men we are

Monuments to love

UnMeasured and Magnified

Mortal Men are We

 
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The Game of Life

Cleavon (Proph3ssorX) Matthews Jr.

Human | Artist | Writer | Teacher | Culture Critique

Cleavon is my friend that collaborated with me at my (The Way I See It) photography exhibit. Our conversations on life helped plant the seed for me to start the Mortal Man project.

You can keep up with him on social media at:

Instagram: @proph3ssorx

Twitter: @prophessorx

The Comeback Kid

Ryan Reese

Mortal Man

The Comeback Kid

By: Ryan Reese

I grew up with a ball in my hand. From the time I was three years old I have played at least one sport per season. My love for sports has been a place where I have gotten most of my accolades, praise and accomplishments. Things were not quite this way in school or in the classroom. I battled being one of few black students at my school so I often felt like I was the target of criticism, discipline, and shame. Not to mention my stubborn spirit to dig in my heels, this behavior usually landed me in trouble at home and at school.

All throughout my years in school, I was the biggest or one of the biggest kids in the school. This made it easy for everyone in school to know exactly who I was. I would joke with my mother and say, “if something goes on they’ll just blame it on me The Big Black Guy!” That was my light hearted way of dealing with the systematic racism that I didn’t understand at the time.

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The dream I wanted was so close but I could feel it slipping away from me rapidly.

As the years continued to pass by I was put out of a predominately white elementary school twice. I turned 13 that summer right before starting Middle School. My mother and I had discussed in great lengths that this was an opportunity for me to have a fresh start in a new school system. I’d also finally get to go to the same school as some of my friends and teammates. All my friends were good athletes too, we played sports together for years and vowed to stick by one another. Our primary goal was to make our dreams to become professional athletes a reality. 

Middle school also came with a new set of challenges. I was transitioning from attending private school to now entering the public school system and the culture was night and day. I was astounded by the fact that not all students did their homework. I quickly adapted to these new school practices. In that regard school was not hard for me, I just refused to work up to my level of ability. I had a few D’s but never brought home any F’s on my report cards. Looking back I refused to buy into the idea that I could be just as good of a student in the classroom that I was on the basketball court or football field. 

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As I moved into high school I became an instant star on the football field. I played on the varsity team as a Freshman. Our team was full of good players. Some got Division I scholarships and I couldn’t wait for it to be my turn to go through the recruiting process.

My grades were mediocre my freshman year. Sophomore year I stepped it up in the classroom and made the honor roll the last two quarters of the school year. Our football team also won the Division II Ohio State Championship.

The summer before my Junior my great grandmother passed away and I was heartbroken! I didn’t realize that my grief was lingering inside of me - causing me to begin to self -destruct. The first quarter of my Junior year I had a 2.9 grade point average that declined several points each quarter after resulting in me having to attend summer school. I had begun to get recruiting letters from schools all over the country to play football. The dream I wanted was so close but I could feel it slipping away from me rapidly. Our team went to the state championship game the next two years as well and my Senior year I received the high honor of Defensive Player of the Year.

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My destructive behavior began to cost me more than I had ever realized, I was being advised to leave traditional high school because my grades weren’t where they needed to be. I spiraled all over the country never taking advantage of several different opportunities that were provided to me. 

This year I have been able to see my future and take action to begin to repair my life and broken dreams. “What does that mean?” I’m not quite sure yet but what I know now is that I am more than just a boy with an athletic dream. I am a man put here on this earth for a purpose and I have begun to realize and live up to. I’m beginning by reaching out to and  pouring into other boys like me that are trying to find their path and make their dreams come true. The best of me has not been seen yet!  

Stay WOKE!

THE COMEBACK KID!  

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The Comeback Kid

Ryan Reese

Son | Athlete

You can keep up with Ryan’s progress, offer words of encouragement and interact with him on facebook here: Ryan Reese

Persevere

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mortal man

Persevere

by: Alexander L.A. Huff

Persevere
per·se·vere | /ˌpərsəˈvir/
continue in a course of action even in the face of difficulty or with little or no prospect of success.

At the age of (22) I was diagnosed with stage 4 Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma (NHL). It was something that just kind of happened out of the blue. It was January, 2017 and at the time I worked a full-time job and attended school at Central State University full-time taking (18) credit hours. My days consisted of going to school and on certain days I would leave class about (20) minutes early to make it to work on time. I worked at a group home for adults with special needs and I loved what I was doing because it tied in to special education which is what I’m studying in school. The reason I took the job is because I believed it would give me a clear picture of what life for my students would be like after the (K-12) educational setting. Many of them go to these adult homes and pretty much live in them forever. They go to dayhabs and work jobs that pay less than minimum wage. These are things that I had no idea or concept of so it’s a job that I’m grateful for. This was my routine for about a year. One night I was at work and felt a little stiffness in my lower back. I didn’t think much of it, I just thought it came from me doing too much.

When I got home I took some pain pills and went to bed. When I woke up the next morning the pain had kinda went away but not completely so I took some more pain medicine and headed off to class. This became a recurring routine for a week or so. Finally the pain got so bad that I couldn’t sleep and driving became difficult because it was too painful for me to sit upright. I went to the emergency room and was diagnosed with a really bad back sprain. I was prescribed pain medicine and sent home. The medicine helped with the pain for about a week but right after that the pain came back and it was so intense this time that I couldn’t attend class or make it into work.

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I went to urgent care and this time I was diagnosed with a really, really bad back sprain so they increased my pain medicine and the pain did seem to go away. It would come back in small spurts but not bad enough to warrant another trip to the ER or urgent care. A bit later I went to my doctor for a routine physical and follow up appointment. She ran tests on me and everything came back normal with the exception of my liver count and white blood cells being slightly elevated but not to a level that would cause any concern. Months went by and the pain returned so I underwent more testing. We did tests for HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases, leukemia, anemia, all types of things and everything test came back negative. After completing these test and not finding anything my primary doctor referred me to an oncologist.

The oncologist ran multiple tests and again everything came back negative. At this point, I also began having very bad night sweats. I would wake up and my sheets would be completely drenched. I thought”maybe I have the heat up too high” so I turned the heat down that worked for about two weeks before starting back again. I finally mentioned it to my oncologist and it’s so ironic that I did because in that same appointment she felt like the combination of my counts not being off by much along with all the tests coming back normal that she’d release me and see me in a few months. My oncologist told me she’d see me in six months and was about to head out of the door and I said “okay, and oh and by the way I’m having these night sweats and my whole bed is wet.” At the time the numbers from my test results weren’t in the range for Hodgkin’s or Non-Hodkin’s Lymphoma so there appeared no reason to test for them. However, the news of my night sweats changed the whole game and although my counts weren’t in range for Hodgkin’s or non-Hodkin’s lymphoma news of my night sweats prompted her to test me for it. 

It was May and I went home to Cleveland to spend Mother’s Day with my mom. My mother doesn’t like to go through my mail so I had a bunch of envelopes and mail to go through. I had bills from Kettering Medical Center, CompuNet and other places… all of these bills came up to about $12,000. Bills for every test that I had ran and from the emergency room and urgent care visits. I found out that all of these visits and tests were happening outside of our insurance’s network. That forced me to transfer all of my tests and healthcare needs to MetroHealth in Cleveland. The paperwork took some time and MetroHealth wanted to run their own tests on me so that was time consuming as well.

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There would be nights when I would feel so bad that I would question “is this what dying feels like?

In July of 2017, I was at an internship in Boston where I was  one of twenty five students chosen to participate in a program in which we did Mock GRE and Mock Graduate coursework all to help prepare us for grad school. I had to leave the internship early to return to MetroHealth for more tests. When I got to Cleveland they told me that my test results came back positive for Hodgkin’s Lymphoma but that later changed because they really didn’t know if it was Hodgkin’s or non- Hodgkins Lymphoma. I was told that I could return to Boston for the last week and a half of my internship but that when I returned to Cleveland I would have to start chemotherapy. When I got back there was still some confusion about if I had Hodgkin’s or non-Hodgkins Lymphoma but either way a bone marrow test would be required.

The bone marrow test caused the most pain that I have ever experienced in my life! They literally dig inside of your bone to get to the marrow and they’re tapping on it so that’s pretty painful. The test results came back in two days or so. It was determined that the lymphoma had spread into my bones which meant that I was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer. At this time, I was told by the doctors that it would be in my best interest to withdraw from school because they didn’t think I could handle the workload while going trough chemotherapy. I was already about a semester and a half behind in school so I told them that withdrawing from school was not an option. Sick or not ,I was determined to finish school on my schedule so I was committed to push through. The doctors reluctantly agreed to let me go back to school they just instructed me to reduce my credit hours “they didn’t know it but I still took a full load of classes.” 

I returned to Central State University that fall semester and thankfully all of my teachers and professors were willing to work with me. They were flexible and even allowed me complete most of my work online and attend classes when I felt strong enough. My insurance was still out of network which meant that I had to commute between CSU and Cleveland for my chemotherapy. I would leave CSU on Thursdays to have chemotherapy in Cleveland on Fridays. After chemo I would sleep the rest of the day on Fridays, all day on Saturdays and half of the day on Sundays. On Sunday evenings, I would drive back to CSU for class. Even though I wasn’t physically going to class I still needed to be there to turn in my work and to get any new assignments. It was also better for me mentally. I did this for a few months and my treatments were complete.

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I tried to get my life before cancer back as much as I could. It was very challenging for me mentally because there were times when I would wake up in the middle of the night and wouldn’t feel well at all. There would be nights when I would feel so bad that I would question “is this what dying feels like? Am I going to survive? How is it that this can happen to someone like me that has been fairly healthy? Am I going to make it through this?” All of these questions would cross my mind. In these hours I would have to dig deep and really call on my faith. I would remind myself that I haven’t been brought this far just to be dumped off here. I know that better things are coming. I just have to endure all of the sickness and emotions and then also not to forget my own purpose and why I was planted here. So holding onto that faith is what helped me get through because it was a very, very difficult time. I went back for MetroHealth for scans and there was some confusion about the results. Eventually they said that my cancer was in remission.

This past summer I went back for scans and they determined that they wanted to send me back through another round of tests. This time I was under an insurance plan that allowed me to have things done at The James “which is Ohio State University’s Comprehensive Cancer Center.” After undergoing all of the tests they found that the cancer had returned and began going over different treatment options. Since the first treatment method of (R-CHOP) chemotherapy didn’t work they decided that they would try the (RICE) regimen followed by a stem cell transplant.  This meant that they would take my own stem cells; cleanse them and then freeze them until it was time to replace them. Essentially they were taking out my old immune system and replacing it with a new one. This process required six consecutive days of around the clock chemotherapy and a hospital stay of (21) days in which I would be allowed to have visitors but they would be required to wear gowns and masks.

It seemed like a daunting task but my whole motto throughout all of this was “Do what you have to do to survive. Do what you have to do to make it to the next day.” I knew it wouldn’t feel good but if it’s going to improve my quality of life and if it’s going to improve how I live life I have to do what I have to do to make it to the next day. With all of this in mind I embarked on this journey again, this time with a different regimen all while still trying to make it through school. All of my classwork at Central State was done and I was at a point where it was just a matter of completing my student teaching. I had twelve weeks of student teaching that I needed to do so I asked the doctors “how can I make this happen with chemotherapy and student teaching?” The doctors weren’t sure if it was possible and tried to talk me out of it. My overachieving spirit wouldn’t accept that answer so I put a plan in place.

This time around my chemotherapy was a lot more intense than the first time so my bounce back wasn’t as strong as I thought it would be. After the first round of treatment I went back to school and felt pretty good. The second round of treatment was a lot more taxing and I had a hard time even making it into the house without throwing up. I’d go to sleep and wake up feeling like I hadn’t been to sleep at all. That’s what chemo does to you. It's a toxic treatment that drains you physically. I suffered a lot of pain, I lost a lot of weight as well as all of the hair on my body. It also effects you mentally. Most people are prepared for not physically feeling well but we often overlook the mental aspect. That’s something that took it’s toll on me. I saw myself healthy and vibrant and then all of a sudden I looked as though I had a foot in the grave - that does something to you mentally. To see yourself with hair and then with no hair at all anywhere; no eyebrows, no mustache, no beard… no hair anywhere on your body - that does something to you mentally. To see all of the weight loss where your clothes no longer fit you anymore and they all fall off of your body - that does something to you mentally. Going out in public wearing a mask and seeing people stare at you - that does something to you mentally.

There were times I felt as if I was fighting three battles at once. I was trying to maintain and make it through school. I was try to keep afloat mentally while fighting for my life, “it’s me or the disease. How do I fight this fight over something that I see wipe people out every day of the week?” I reached a point where I finally stopped going to school and I stopped working. I was living off of support from my family and the money that I had in my savings account. A huge weight was lifted from my shoulders once the chemo was complete. I still had concerns though because I had been here before. You can end chemotherapy but that doesn’t mean that you’re healthy.

It was time for the stem cell transplant and that was very trying. There were times that I couldn’t eat because I still had sores in my mouth from chemotherapy. There were times where I would throw up on myself because I couldn’t make it to the restroom or to the barf bag. When I was going through all of this I was still trying to do my schoolwork so that I could still stay afloat in school. I got out of the hospital and still needed to complete my student teaching. My family and friends told me that I really needed to take it easy. I told them that I would but I needed to get back and for many reasons. I needed to finish school for my own mental well being and also I had ran out of financial aid and if I didn’t finish that would cause me to have to pay out of pocket along with a few other concerns.

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I was back in school three weeks after leaving the hospital so the turnaround time was quick but it was something that I had to do for myself. I just finished student teaching last Thursday and graduation is May 4th. I was able to maintain my honor role status and I finally feel like “I did it!” I know I didn’t do it alone. I definitely didn’t do it alone. God is definitely amazing and good. Without God, I wouldn’t have made it through cancer the first time let alone the second time. So here I am. My cancer is gone, it’s currently in remission. For the first time in two years, I feel like I know what my health looks like. I know what’s going on with me right now. I am optimistic that my future will be great and that my status of being a cancer survivor will be just that, a “survivor”. I will never again have to say that I am a cancer “patient” again. So much comes with that. People hear the word “cancer patient” and they immediately count you out. They look at you like you have an expiration date over you that is soon to run out. 

I aspire to be a beacon of hope for somebody to know that you have a disease but the disease doesn’t have you. You can still live a full life and have cancer. My mission is to show people that you can sill live life on your term. You can still be upbeat and positive about life when you're battling cancer. Overall, I feel blessed and fortunate. I will graduate from Central State University with a degree in Education. I didn’t shelve my goals and dreams. I hope that I have shown people that you can battle cancer with grace, that you can fight through any challenges that may present themselves.

 
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PERSEVERE

Alexander L.A. Huff

Educator | Vocalist | Advocate of Individuals with Special Needs | Fighter | Cancer Survivor

You can keep up with Alexander and offer words of encouragement by leaving comments on the website and by following him on instagram.

@thisisalexander_

The Lamb is the Lion

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Mortal Man

The Lamb is the Lion

by: amaha sellassie

I am beginning to ponder life and how much of it I could possibly have left.  While some may find this to be morbid or unhealthy, for me it is becoming liberating because it is propelling me past my fears and internal obstructions into walking in my medicine on the road we call life.

I find myself understanding my role in the human body, which is giving me the courage to say no to great things that don’t line up with my highest self. It is giving me boldness knowing that the lamb is the lion because the Sheppard is Supreme.

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Pondering my mortality has given me patience.  What is five years of intense focus if in the end I can utilize a PHD for 50 years towards emerging equity and collective hope on the earth as we emerge the heart of humanity?

It is said when an elder dies a library is lost.  How do I share now so when I am gone all those who have freely poured into me live on in future generations? Dr Twe always teaches us to leave the earth better than we found it, I pray for the power to do that.

I want my daughter to inherit a world where as Stevie puts it “hate is a dream and Love forever stands”.

To birth Love we must give Love, therefore by grace I give my life to be Loves domain that humanity can know and make Love Supreme.

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As we walk in the Way, we make the way known. The older I get the more I realize the power of action, walking out vision and re-imaging a world that honors the dignity and worth of every human being. The power of being the invitation thru occupying grace and acknowledging my interrelated interdependence with all things in the single garment of destiny. Ubuntu, for the supremacy of Love is the underlying assumption.

By grace I am a conductor on the above ground railroad, walking with humanity as we press towards higher ground, cooperation and mutual understanding. 

The conductors of today are building an ecosystem of equity that structuralizes the dignity every human being posses in order to release their potential for the benefit of all. I am learning to forgive in this exodus into One Love.

I am because we are.

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The Lamb is the Lion

amaha sellassie

Practitioner Scholar, Social Healer, Health Equity Seeker, Public Sociologist, Community Based Participatory Researcher, Roots Doctor, Lover of Music & Comics and Friend of Humanity


Thankful participant in West Dayton Strong and Gem City Market

You can connect and build with Amaha on:

Instagram: @international_morality

Twitter: @intl_morality

Facebook: amaha sellassie

Out of the Shadows

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Mortal Man

Out of the Shadows

By: Marc Dewitt

Jere Isiah DeWitt was a master conversationalist… a consummate networker, and he was ever curious. Pop was a corporate trainer, a storyteller, but so much more… he was loud and boisterous, proud and arrogant, dad loved his family, and introduced us to “kinfolk” often. To me he was a motivator, a confidante, later, even a friend.  But he was an antagonizer and my biggest critic. He was my nemesis… and all the while, my greatest cheerleader. Pop once told me I was a better father than him.  It’s the greatest compliment my father ever paid me...  Nathan LaMont DeWitt is a world traveler, a husband and father, a runner, a weekend warrior, a voracious reader and a terrible driver. Nathan is Jere’s spitting image and my parent’s oldest child. Nathan is also a corporate trainer, a world class professional, an international lecturer, an adjunct professor, and a consummate storyteller. A great friend. Nathan is my person. One of my fondest memories is being the best man in his wedding. He has quietly guided me my entire life. Although only 18 months my senior, standing 5’10”, or 11” if you ask him, he is to me larger than life. He is my big brother and my best friend.

Through their lived experiences, I’ve finally come to understand, life is short, but worth it. I grew up in the shadow of my big brother, it seemed he could do no wrong… so I did a lot of it. Nate was a great student, a shining example, literally a Boy Scout and choirboy. I was asthmatic, awkward and I missed a lot of school. I wasn’t socialized to students my own age. So I was more than a little unruly. I could not participate in gym, sometimes recess or any extra curriculars until middle school. I did not learn to ride a bike until 10 or 11.  Outdoors and physical exertion held every danger for me, and I could end up in the hospital, and often times did. I missed an average of 5 weeks of school a year, until middle school. When hospitalized I always wanted the IV to be put in my left hand so I could draw with my right. That did not usually work, so I became really good with my left. I was a comic book enthusiast growing up, absorbing mountains of comic books. 

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As I entered middle school I was no longer excused from gym. Then came the ridicule from being big and not good at sports. Luckily the breathing issues were easing up but the “social” animal was rearing its ugly head.  Kids are cruel. And I was angry… all the time. Further, I wanted nothing to do with other kids. I was picked on some, but usually my brother ran interference. Nathan was wildly popular too. He could sing, and seemed to enjoy being really smart, and he was. And because of that I was always being called on the carpet by teachers who had Nate the previous year asking, “Marc, what’s wrong with you? Nate was such a good student!” or worse they’d call him down to deliver messages to the parents. Did I say I grew up in his shadow?

Then came high school, Nathan went with his friends and the rest of my neighborhood to Meadowdale.  When it was my turn, I chose John H. Patterson Cooperative High School. Where students learned a trade and got jobs while in high school. I didn’t want to go to college anyway. “right!?” Patterson was a little too “open”, or so my Father thought. So after my second year, and a lot of skipping class, Pop sent me to Meadowdale.  Insert that really long shadow again. Nate was still… Nate, only more so. He was beloved by teachers and classmates alike… I was an unknown. It was Nate’s senior year. That summer he called the house in the midst of a celebration and told me one of the realest things he’d ever say, “I have to see the world.”  After graduation, Nathan went to Ohio University in Athens, Ohio. That shadow that had been there my whole life was gone, but so was my big brother, my interpreter of the world around me. He made it look easy because he was so eager to experience life. Stranger still, he was hours away and while I finally had my own room, it seemed all I did now… was seek him out. Every chance I got I was in Athens, Ohio. After college, Nate moved to Japan to teach English, and live an incredible life. Leaving me with a stop the presses thought. He told me I was smarter than him. While I didn’t believe him, I thought that’s like your parents telling you something intended to push you. I still don’t agree, but it turns out, he meant it. Meanwhile, I graduated from high school and enrolled at Sinclair.  

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It was Sinclair that would next play a huge role in my life. I was an admissions assistant a week after graduating high school. The job was fun but then I had to go to class. And deal with what I thought was a math disability, which was actually just a phobia. Anthony Ponder helped me with that by not letting me shy away. Challenging me to dig deeper, and conquering College Algebra. Rigor was my next lesson, courtesy of Marc Smith’s introductory Biology class. The next few years would take me to work full-time and a measure of independence. It would also introduce me to Christopher K. Welch. Chris challenged me to take on my first real job, earning for the first time, a living wage. As well as what I did not want to hear, “DeWitt” he said, “you have to go back to school.”

Enter, Central State University. Although I knew it was an HBCU, I was still caught off guard by the people I met. They were from all around the country and the world. But things were different, I was determined to make it. And although I did ok at first, two things happened in the first year. One, I made the decision to prioritize school like never before so I resigned my position and became part time. Two, I met William Henry Caldwell, a relatively small guy from Demopolis, Alabama.  He was/is a giant. Mr. Caldwell is probably the foremost authority on Black vocal choral music in the country, if not the world. He served as the Conductor of the Grammy Nominated Central State University Chorus. Caldwell offered me a scholarship, made me a principle voice, a part of something bigger than me. And thereby changed my world. That summer I was one of three students from Central’s chorus that served as guest vocalists for Wilberforce University’s Choir. Their spring tour would be a return visit to Egypt where they toured the previous year. They were invited back, this time, as guests to the US ambassador. We were to sing for his 4th of July Celebration at the Opera House in Cairo. In route, we spent the day (14 hour layover) in Amsterdam, visited Anne Frank’s house, and ate, before our connecting flight to Egypt. After singing at the opera house in Cairo, something occurred to me. My mother was in Japan visiting Nate. Pop was in South Africa on a mission trip for with his church. My step mom and younger brother, Jeremy, were in Europe. No one in either household I grew up in was in the continental United States. My world was suddenly so much bigger, all the while so much smaller.

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Central State would afford me a similar experience in Europe touring England and France a few years later.  Between Egypt and Europe I spent nearly every term on the Dean’s List, traveled the US extensively, and accomplished the one thing I never imagined growing up; earning a bachelor’s degree in History and Economics. Sinclair and Central State changed my life. I’m thankful to the Most High for putting the men I’ve mentioned in my life when he did. I strive to be that difference maker for brothers I encounter. I am thankful for SaVon Isaiah, Ethan LaVance, Caden Matthew and Landon Thomas DeWitt… you teach your father daily. I love you. Pop keep an eye on them and us.

 
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Out of the Shadows

By: Marc DeWitt

Son, Father, Brother, Educator, Artist, Mentor, Alpha, Student Advocate

Keep up with Marc on instagram at:

@6__5

Winter in America: a journey in education

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Mortal man

Winter in America:

a journey in education

by: Christopher James

A journey in education is a look at the path that is all too common to the everyday walk of young black males.  Through various interactions and experiences, the feelings of inadequacy and the lack of confidence are easier to embrace than the motivation to try.  For any growing child the embrace of love is what’s wanted, but often youth do not know how to seek that love.  The love that an educator gives can inspire a student or shield a student from challenges that can instigate self-assurance.  

All throughout my educational experience, I was told that I could be anything I put my mind to. If I just get good grades the rest will work out, I will get a good job, good money, and be able to buy the car of my dreams.  This all sounded good but even in the fourth grade, I knew that this was not all that I needed.  Every day I saw my parents working hard, father preaching to the masses, and my mother teaching youth my own age at the time.  

In the early 90’s when Starter jackets were the greatest symbol for being fresh, my brother headed off to walk to his middle school with his friends as he did every day.  He was excited because he had on one of the most sought-after Starter jackets, the infamous Georgetown Hoyas with an embroidered bulldog logo on the front and back.  As he turned off of his home street, he heard a car come to a screeching stop beside him.  My brother stopped with a friend who were both curious to the abrupt stop when a guy in a black hoodie jumped out wielding a Smith and Wesson.  I remember the explanation of the gun because that was the first time I heard of Smith and Wesson as a gun manufacturer, I only heard the name in reference to rap duo Smif – N- Wessun, now known as Cocoa Brovas.  

Thankfully, my brother survived the incident without physical harm, but the toll was greater on my mother and father who felt helpless.  Here they are working to provide the best for their children for an incident to occur down the street from where we laid our heads.  

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That incident sparked my parents to sacrifice more and send my brother and I to prestigious private schools.  My brother went to a private high school while I was sent to a Christian elementary school to start fourth grade.  My experience was anything but Christian.  I was forced to repeatedly apologize in the front of the class for proclaiming my innocence and not taking accountability, which in the fourth grade I didn’t know what it meant.  I was threatened with suspension because of a design in my haircut due to the school being against gang activity.  An experience that my parents reminded me of that I must have purposefully forgotten was when my class went on a school field trip and one of the school workers who was tasked to take me, and three other minority students back to school decided to drop us off at a near gas station because she didn’t want us in her car.  

After all of these incidents, my parents called a meeting that they insisted I be a part of with school administration.  Here I am, a child whose chest was barely at table level while sitting.  I remember vividly the discussion at the meeting.  I never saw my father mad aside from when I would break something, but today he carried a wave of calculated anger that appeared calm but deliberate. 

My father asked the teacher and the acting principal, “You asked my son to apologize for incidents he was not a part of? You’ve held him back from activities, and tried to suspend him for a squiggly-line in his hair? Will you apologize to us and him for our inconvenience?”  The principal jumped in “That’s a reasonable request and on behalf of the school I do apologize”, my father stopped the principal.   “Thank you, but I am asking the teacher.”  The teacher played with her keys and without making eye contact said, “You know, I do not have the courage to apologize right now.”  

As a child sitting at the table, I was hoping that the teacher would stop playing with the keys, I knew what my mother would do to me had I been playing like that.  I also immediately thought about that word “accountability”.  I had been hounded to write that word and what it meant for pages and pages and my teacher could not put that word into action.

Needless to say, that summer we moved from the urban-city environment to the suburbs.  In retrospect, these years planted a question in my mind as to why my environment was so different from this new community.  This new community was building new stores, homes, and in the process of building a new high school.  Years later, the urban neighborhood I grew up in looked the same as it did the morning my brother was robbed.   

This new community was great because I didn’t grow up worrying if I too would be robbed for my Air Force 1's, or my Sean John jacket.  This was a new frontier and a different type of challenge to conquer.  As a black student I was accepted, I was told that I served a purpose and that purpose was sports.  Sports was often said to be my only access to college.  The biggest thing with this experience for myself and other black youth, I received love due to my physical abilities and was not taken seriously in any other facets of the school. 

Prior to the beginning of my senior year as a family, we moved out of state so my father could take advantage of a new position/promotion within the church.  This was a complete culture shock for me.  I had been in class with white students before, had white teachers, black women teachers, but never a black male teacher.  This standard did not change as I entered this new school for my senior year.  Instead, I was faced with the reality that I would be a member of a group that represented only 5% of the students in the entire school.  This new normal meant that I would be the only black student in the class, and when questions of race, slavery, or affirmative action came up, teachers would use me to confirm that the country was in a good place, even to my objections.

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The experiences in grade school prepared me for the perceived utopian society that college is and the real world stipulations involved.  In an environment where students are eagerly finding themselves and searching for representations of who they wish to become it was especially difficult to find myself in this space.  As an American male who is black, I did not have a black male teacher or professor until my final year in college.   

The effects of limited representation continued into college as I dealt with finding myself in an environment that was not conducive to young black men.  The college experience is tough as it is, being away from home, student responsibility, and the yearning to make a difference in a world unknown.  I was taught many lessons in college while trying to find myself in all of these mentioned roles.  I was faced with professors who allowed their implicit bias to calculate my grades, a professor kicked me out of class because she thought I wasn’t human.  I like to refer to her as Mrs. Turnpin, a fictional character from a book we read in that course of a lady who thought she was righteous by upholding standards even though those standards were rooted in racism and bigotry.  Lastly, the staple in a black youth’s life, the rite of passage of being harassed, mocked, arrested, and falsely charged by the finest in blue.  This was a journey of discovery to move from a black youth to a black man fighting for distinction.   

To bring this full circle, I have always wanted to be a representation for my community but mostly for youth that are searching for an authentic person that can represent and support them.  With this motivation driving my passion I jumped to the opportunity to be an administrator in a K-8 elementary school in Cleveland, Ohio.  In this role, I was the quasi-assistant principal tasked with ensuring school engagement in the community and finding ways to support students and staff needs.  As I began to find my way in this new role I was rocked with a tragedy that would gain national attention.  A student that took a liking to me and began a relationship with was gunned down in a “good shoot” police encounter.  The school student body looked to me to help navigate them through this traumatic experience with the killing of their classmate, Tamir Rice.  As Dean of this school, I attempted to seek out any and all organizations and supports to help students with trauma until my efforts were hindered by leadership that wanted to operate this traumatic event as a normal occurrence.  Missing the point that this decision would reinforce the stigma that urban youth do not matter. 

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This brief scope into my educational experience is not out of the norm for students who share my skin tone. The importance of representation goes beyond just seeing someone who looks like you in a position of success or power.  Representation is about having individuals of different experiences and insights that will have a say and seat at the table where the variety of experiences, cultures, and philosophies will add value and sensitivity to decision making.  My inspiration for helping youth in education, community, and life is driven from a motto I learned when I decided to enter the teaching field, “your job is to get at least one student to listen.”  

At the time, I thought this idea was right.  I no longer feel that way because I found out early that the students who listened to me were often the cast-offs or troublemakers.  This revealed to me that all students can be great if they’re taken seriously, given unbiased time and attention, and know that someone cares.  Instead, we choose to forget them.  Just like the forest beneath the highway never given a chance to grow, and now it’s Winter in America (Gil Scott Heron). 

 
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WINTER IN AMERICA

A JOURNEY IN EDUCATION

Christopher James

Father, Educator, Nupe, Community Advocate, Freedom Fighter

Keep with Christopher on instagram at: @bionik_man_man

A Eulogy: One Last Conversation with My Big Bruh

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Mortal Man

A Eulogy: One Last Conversation with My Big Bruh

By: Karlos L. Marshall

At some point in our lives, most people are faced with an unexpected and possibly even a tragic death of a loved one. The process of healing looks different for all, but sharing one’s testimony publicly with others is largely a sign of recovery. A few years ago, the unforeseen death of my brother shook me to my core and I have largely been private about that experience and its impact since. It was his death that made me discern the truth and reality of mortality, legacy, and life’s purpose. This project is part of the ongoing healing process for me, as I have decided to share intimate details of our brotherhood with the world — that only our family members and closest friends have known.
— Karlos L. Marshall
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I would like to just take this time to thank everyone for coming out and just to have one more conversation with my Big Bruh. Big Bruh, I would be remiss if I didn’t speak on your legacy, beliefs, and our experiences together amongst loved ones — on your celebration day. I’m just praying that my words could provide some level of justice to the life, in which you lived. Big Bruh, there are no words in the human diction that are capable of sorrow and suffrage of your loss.

When some individuals pass its unexpected. But you see — this here was unforeseen. It was unforeseen that we would not be afforded another opportunity of conversation — to cast a vision upon the present and future generations of all the children that bear our last name. It was unforeseen that I wouldn’t get another opportunity to call you on your way to work, as we oftentimes spoke about the plight of the Black community and creative avenues of change and upward-mobility for our people.

Big Bruh, it was unforeseen I wouldn’t be able to give you one more hug, one more backsided hand-slap that you thought was so cool. Big Bruh, it was unforeseen that we wouldn’t get to watch one more athletic event together. Or play one more game of one-on-one or horse even though I would mostly win.

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But even when we played a few years ago, you played off of me because you said I couldn’t even shoot when we were growing up as kids. Big Bruh, it was unforeseen we would no longer get to reminisce on our own childhood — by watching our sons interact with one another; as you undoubtedly said it best: “they’re cousins, but more like brothers.”

It was unforeseen that the first day the world welcomed me — would be the same day I speak to you for the very last time 26 years later. “Happy Birthday Little Brother,” you texted me. I replied, “Appreciate it. Hope all is well with you and the kids.” You said “most def. Same to you.” Big Bruh, it was unforeseen that after many childhood years of endless nightly conversations — that those would be the last humble words we would ever speak to one another.

Big Bruh, it was unforeseen that we would never be able to relive and recreate the good ol’ days. We would no longer get to laugh at our oldest brother for throwing the baseball over the backstop from the outfield. It was unforeseen I would no longer get to crack jokes on you for always having ashy knees when we were growing up. Big Bruh, it was unforeseen that I would be standing here right now — telling you I would miss your jokes about how light-skinned dudes was out-of-style.

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Big Bruh, do you recall telling me: how proud you were of me—after I got my master’s and bought my first house. A house that you went to take me to go see. You said, “you way ahead of the game Lil Bruh.” But you already knew, you were always the person I looked up to, as one person recently reminded me: “remember, I knew you when you were his Little Brother.”

Some called you “Truth.” I just called you Big Bruh. Big Bruh, growing up being able to say I was your Little Brother gave me a credential—that not even my own young hype could buy. Big Bruh, do you recall telling me that your daughter asked you: “is Uncle Karlos like my Daddy too?” You said, “no baby, but he’s like your Daddy when I’m not around.”

But that is one thing that I do know — is that you loved those kids. I’ve always attempted to try to emulate you and fill your shoes; something I still cannot do at this very moment, as I currently wear a pair of shoes that you once provided me.

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But it would be unforeseen the seismic void you would leave. Big Bruh, if there’s one thing I knew, it’s that you loved those kids. Big Bruh: a Man of God, a Father, a Son, a Brother, an Uncle, a Nephew, a Grandson, a Cousin, a Best Friend, a Colleague, and a Man of the Community you were —— with a vision to take our people to see the world and see the world they will. Big Bruh, it was unforeseen that you would never get the opportunity to be my Best Man. For that — I will never have the privilege of having one; because my Best Man — that you still are.

Big Bruh, we choose to relish the way in which you lived, rather than ponder the ways in which you may have died. Big Bruh, you were one of the very best men I will ever meet. And it was a pleasure and honor to walk in your footsteps for as long as I have.

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A fighter you were. You showed us that to your very last breath. Big Bruh, I know you have a great legacy because I still wear our last name proudly. I was your Little Brother then and I’m your Little Brother now. “Marshall Men: there are none stronger.” Ain’t that what you used to always tell me? Big Bruh, in the words of our favorite urban philosopher, “we gon’ be aight.”

In the true spirit of the African proverb—that it takes a village to raise a child, before you today brotha — is that village. We—will help raise your children. And Mom and Pops, also before you today is the village that helped deliver you second child to his righteoushome — for now — is your time to rest.

Big Bruh, it was and still is — unforseen, unimaginable, and incomprehensible — that my very first time being a pallbearer will be for you on this here very day. Big Bruh, that is the irony — for it is you—that has carried me, lifted me up, and propelled me forward to greatness — when I didn’t even know I possessed greatness in and of myself. That was the responsibility you felt to me your Little Brother. And for that — Big Bruh — I will forever love you!

Karlos L. Marshall

Educator | Civic Innovator | Brother

Founder of The Conscious Connect, INC.

Born and raised in the Champion City of Springfield, Ohio, Karlos L. Marshall has been recognized as an international thought leader at the intersections of urban education, civic innovation, and neighborhood revitalization. He has been named an honoree of the Forbes '30 Under 30' Class of 2019 and the International Literacy Association's '30 Under 30' Class of 2019. Through his nontraditional approaches, Mr. Marshall seeks to speak a world-class 21st Century cultural renaissance.

Resilience

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Mortal Man

Resilience

By: Diecer Delfin

My family and I are originally from the Philippines. Growing up I dealt with domestic violence and my father use to do shaboo, (Filipino term for meth) and crack. His drug habit would make him paranoid and when that happened we all knew it, especially if he wasn’t home by a certain time of night. We knew that he would come home drunk or high and start wailing away on my mother. My two sisters and I couldn’t do anything to help her: we were too small. I remember my oldest sister hiding us to protect us from my father. There was one instance when my oldest sister confessed to us that my father and his friend were doing drugs at our house one day and his friend tried to rape her. So I wasn’t the only one that was traumatized in our house - it was my sisters as well (especially my oldest sister because her memories are more vivid.)

Going back to my childhood I realize that I learned what depression was at an early age. I can recall wanting to die so that I wouldn’t have to suffer through day to day life. This is at five or six years old. I can’t even imagine a child feeling that way. For me no day was safe. Not birthdays, not holidays - there were no safe days in my childhood. Something always happened. That’s affected me as a husband. I find myself expecting the worst. My wife always has my back and reminds me that I’m not my father.

As I look back at my adolescence I realize that I didn’t really have a mother or father figure. It was just me and my sisters. My sisters and I talk about our childhood a lot and how messed up it was.

When we were still living in the Philippines I remember my dad coming home with the intention of chopping my mother up with a machete. My mother grabbed my sisters and I and hid us in the bushes. She left us there and told us she was going to call for help. Later my aunt “my dad’s sister” came and got us. At this point we had no idea where our mother was. We didn’t now if she was still living or not. That day lives in the back of my mind.

I can vividly remember my father often waking me up early in the morning. High on drugs and coupled with his OCD kicking in. He gave me the choice of mopping the floor or being beaten. We lived in a rural area and he would tell us that he was going into the city to look for a job. Twenty-four hours would go by and the neighbors would notice that he was gone so they would call me in and tell me to eat with them. There would be days when my father would send me to the public market to beg for food. “Who does that as a father?” So yeah, I can’t help but be angry.

Our family immigrated to Chicago just before the attacks on September 11th with hopes of living a better life. My parents sold their land so we could have money to survive on when we got here. When we got to Chicago we thought that we turned a new page and that things would get better but as the years went by things continued to happen that would tear our family apart. Though my sisters and I remain close we are currently all living in different parts of the country. Even in Chicago my father continued to do drugs. The beatings didn't stop.

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My mother was the provider of our family but provided very little “if any” emotional support. She handled her “responsibilities” as a mother but she was never present as the “nurturing” mother. As I grew up I started questioning things. A lot of doubt crept into my mind on top of all of the anxiety that I experienced every night. The nights continue to be hard for me. When 9:00pm hits I always feel like something is gonna pop off.

I go through depression to the point that I’m seeing somebody to help me deal with it but you can only talk so much. I to try to make sense of things. The physical effects are always there no matter how much I try to alleviate it. I use medication and photography to help me cope but the things that I have experienced will never leave my body and I have come to terms with the fact that there’s no escaping that. I have to find a way to make peace with things.

I’ve had some really bad lows in my life and I have thought about suicide a lot. Just being so fed up - replaying the same thing every day; even when I don’t want to - it just invades my mind. Some days I don’t even want to go outside and deal with people because I feel like they can sense everything that I’ve been through.

I know one day I’m going to have a child of my own and they are going to want to know about my childhood; “what am I going to say?”

To this very day I try to make sense of the things my dad did. The way my mother would talk down to me out of anger. She would call me worthless. That’s part of the reason that I enlisted in the army. She was at the table eating dinner and I came home and laid the contract on the table. I told her “I’m gonna be out of here.” The army was my way out. Living in Chicago and looking back everyone is still doing the same things now that they were doing at an early age. I knew that I had to get out of Chicago in order to establish myself.

I can’t help but get angry when I think about my past. I do know that I need to talk about it because if I don’t it builds up. With that all being said and despite the unfortunate things that I had to see and experience I learned at a young age what not to do. I learned resilience early in life.

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My father never asked for help, I wish that he knew he needed it. To this day it’s hard for him to take accountability for his actions. When I talk to him now I don’t see him as my father. He helped give me life but that’s it. I completely shut myself off from him. I’ve already discussed with my wife and sisters that I don’t think I will want him around my kids once my wife and I decide to have them. We’ve given him so many chances and things always end the same.

My dad is manipulative. I can remember him giving me a camera and I loved it! I told him he was the best dad ever. Then we got into a disagreement and he took it away. That was his thing - he’d buy us things only to use them against us and eventually take them away. That messes with you.

He would take me on “joy rides” around the city. He’d come to a sudden stop and tell me to wait in the car. I would see a woman open the door. At that age I was so naive that I didn’t realize what was going on. Now looking back I’m able to put the pieces together and I’m like man. Me and my sisters are ashamed and embarrassed that we are linked to him because we are nothing like him. I guess I still need to learn what “real” forgiveness is.

 
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Resilience

By: Diecer Delfin

Husband + Friend + Photographer + Storyteller

instagram: @_diecer

The Highest Human Act Is To Inspire

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Mortal Man

The Highest Human Act Is To Inspire

By: Faheem Curtis-Khidr

Living in poverty does something to your psyche that I’m not sure how to fully quantify.
— Faheem Curtis-Khidr


My mother prays…a lot. In the Christian colloquial reference, she would be considered a, “prayer warrior.” I’m convinced the summation of her prayers and my behalf have a played a significant part in my survival and now current success. Growing up those prayers and God sent mentors were necessary life lines for my often reckless and wrongheaded behavior. Living in poverty does something to your psyche that I’m not sure how to fully quantify. It creates odd insecurities that are not noticeable to the human eye, but very much effect how you interact with the world around you. I made the chitlin circuit of poverty living in Dayton. I spent time in Olive Hill homes, Westwood (off Brooklyn Avenue), and Riverside. My mother worked two full time jobs and was in Nursing School. My father was present in my early life, but I would see him once or twice a month for much of my younger years. I resented him for that and am still working on my daddy issues as a father myself, although as a man I better understand why he made some of the decisions he made even though I do not agree with them. 

My older sisters/brothers/aunts/cousins were responsible for my care in my younger years (ages 1-10) while my mother was at work. They did their very best to shield me from the pitfalls of poverty and inequitable living. I love them for that. I was surrounded by love and affection. Even with their best efforts there are certain environmental staples that you can’t avoid. I remember eating cold hotdogs, having cold cut sandwiches several days straight. I didn’t know it was because the heat was off, or we couldn’t afford much else besides deli meat. It didn’t matter to me. In fact, I didn’t even know I was poor until my mother made the choice to send me to a parochial school, St. Peter’s in Huber Heights. I was one of eight black students in the entire school at the time. It was a very uncomfortable experience for me. The teacher did not have a culturally sensitive or responsive pedagogy and was not able to communicate with me effectively. My experience from preschool through kindergarten had been with black educators who were in tune with how to communicate and ingratiate minority babies into activities etc. As a result of this culture shock my behavior was less than ideal. When I was living in Riverside (which is right next to Huber Heights) I became cognoscente of the reputation of the area for being poor. I would often lie to my peers in school and say I lived in Huber Heights. Huber Heights did not have the stigma of poverty that Riverside did, and I resented how I would be approached when that came up. That resentment often spilled out in outward aggression. I would fight without much room for recourse for other solutions. I began to get a reputation for being hostile. My reputation provided a safe-haven to protect myself from the jeers of being associated with poverty and the racialized tension of being black in majority white bigoted school. It did result in my temporary placement in a juvenile facility and later military school. I remember the sheriff coming to our duplex to pick me up. It was surreal. 

As my difficulties at St. Peter continued, the teachers and administration told my mother that they thought I had a learning disability. Anything but take accountability for the toxic learning environment I was in. She refused to accept that thankfully. I took what was then a standard national assessment called the California Achievement Test. I tested well…really, really, well. My scores were at the top of my class and near the top of national scores. The discussions changed quickly. Even to the point where they began to pinpoint other students’ behavior as being the catalyst to provoking some of my violent outburst. It was weird to see the about face. My mother grew frustrated with St. Peters and took me out of the school. She took me to Mama Renee Mclendon seeking a fresh start and perspective on the learning experience for me. Mamma Renee had a learning institute located off W. Third Street. It was exactly what I needed. The trauma of the St. Peter’s experience left me jilted and distant. Mamma Renee wrapped her arms around me literally and figuratively and helped restore my confidence, and love of learning. There is not enough ink available to express to her my gratitude for what she did. Her mentorship was healing and transformative. Inshallah I can reach my students the way she reached me. 

We soon moved again, this time to Harrison Township. My mother enrolled me at St. Rita Catholic school. It was not ideal for me, but it was less than a 5 minutes’ drive to our new home. My initial time there was rough. The teachers I had were very similar to St. Peters’. I was fortunate to have other minority students and parents who readily identified with minority exclusion who became lifelong friends. Desiree Alexander, Logan Allen, Nick Dean, Andy Smith thank you for your friendship. Those persons parents understood some of the institutional difficulties for minority children of putting your child in a position to receive a quality education. Mr. Allen and Mr. Alexander always went out of their way to make sure I was doing ok and give me words of encouragement or scold me when I was wrong if that’s what was needed. I’m thankful for the extra love. Most of my teachers struggled to manage me in the classroom, finally they moved me to Ms. Maloney’s 8th grade classroom when I was in 5th grade. She had a reputation of being a stern disciplinarian. She involved me in classroom activities, challenged me to do the work, and be accountable for my behavior. It went well. I preferred being in her room compared to other teachers and even got in trouble on purpose when I was agitated with the 5th, 6th and 7th grade teachers to be sent there. She was an amazing history and government teacher. Her passion and authenticity made it easy for me to be fully engaged in my learning experience. 

Football has always been an outlet for me. I love the game, and still do. It was one of the few things I could have a legitimate conversation with my dad about that wasn’t awkward or lead to an argument. He played collegiately and then professionally for several years. From all accounts he was good. One of my dear friends’ father who went to college with him even mentioned he should be in the college athletics Hall of Fame. That’s high praise. I wore 78 (his Highschool, college and pro number) from grade school through college to honor him. I never told him that maybe I will one day soon. I relished the full speed collisions and imposing my will on my opponent for 3-5 seconds at a time 40-60 times a game. It offered me an opportunity to be violent and hostile and get rewarded for it. It was encouraged. 

My high school coach Jim Place is a great man. My grades at Chaminade Julienne were horrid 3/4ths of the year. The spring semester I would turn into a 3.5 student to be eligible and then go back to be a bad student during the season. I drove Coach Place nuts. A week before I was to be moved up to varsity my freshman year, I tore ligaments in my right ankle. It was the first time I had ever gotten hurt in any meaningful way. My surgery and rehab went well but I was depressed and angry at my circumstance. My grades were poorer than usual that year and my Spring grade rally wasn’t enough to make me eligible for the first half of the season the next year. I was heartbroken, but I put myself in that spot. Coach Place sat down with my parents and told them I had the ability to play high level collegiate football if…I took school seriously. My sophomore year I practiced with varsity all year despite being unable to play in games. It kept me focused and attached to the team. My teammates Brandon McKinney, Tim Crouch and Michael Thompson kept me encouraged and pushed me in practice. I was able to start the first playoff game against Eaton. I’ll never forget the feeling of walking out onto the field again, feeling vindicated that I didn’t fold or quit. I went off that game. The next week in practice I reagitated my right ankle and sat out the rest of the playoffs. As college coaches began to more frequently ask about me Coach Place recommended, I step up my academic performance to help with my qualifying score for the SAT. He would have me over to his house to work with tutors on study techniques etc. I took it for granted at that time, but he was investing in me not only as a player but a person. I scored a 1250 on my SAT. But my core gpa was 1.9. I remember Coach Place calling me down to his office my senior year after the season was over. With tears in his eyes he went through a list he had and on big whiteboard. They were D-1 colleges who called or came by the office and wanted to offer me. Big names. But because of my gpa they didn’t think I would qualify. 

I attended two different junior colleges. My first stop North Iowa Area Community College was eye opening. It was a rural location. The college was outside a small town called Mason City Iowa. It was known as the crystal meth capital of the world. Quite the distinction. While there I struggled to adjust. There were literal corn fields in between campus buildings. The coaching staff who recruited me and gave me a full scholarship (which was unheard of for JUCO at the time) left before the season started. We later found out it was over control of the athletic department. I no longer had the support system I was accustomed to in Dayton and it showed. I only received 3 out of 15 credits that Fall Semester. The three credits I received were for being on the football team. That Spring Semester I was shot hanging out a friend’s off campus home. The shooters were looking for someone who happened to look like me. I remember the burning feeling of metal spiraling through my flesh and laying on my back on a wooden porch before I lost consciousness, thinking this is the way and place I’m going to die - in Mason City Iowa.

I transferred the following year to a JUCO in Minnesota. My good friend Ishmael Wright from Dayton (between Ish and my guy Diamond they were the best cover corners I played with high school or college) was there already, and the coaching staff recruited me during high school. The familiarity helped a great deal. Minnesota is a different type of cold. 5 inches of snow in six hours means nothing to them. After being there for a year I transferred to a four-year college, North Carolina A&T. Coach Patterson recruited me, but my credits were an issue. I was blessed to have two friends Jesse Junius and Robert Palmer who were already students at A&T and working in the admissions office. They had a good repour with the Dean of Admissions at the time Mr. Lee Young. Initially after viewing my transcript the university told me I was not likely to get in. I began to look at other options from schools who had offered primarily HBCU’s like Southern, Texas Southern, Lane and Arkansas Pine-Bluff. My friends lobbied hard with Mr. Young. Although my academic performance was trending upwards my off the field behavior was erratic, and I was attached to sectors of society that were not idyllic for a college athlete. My friends wanted to keep me close. I’m thankful they cared that much about me. Eventually the admissions office in conjunction with the NCAA granted me a letter of acceptance stating I was academically compliant and could enroll in the summer. I came into A&T under strict academic guide lines. Mr. Young played a pivotal role in my life, eventually my football career faded, and I was struggling to find my balance without being an athlete. His mentorship was critical in my development as a man. Injuries took me away from the game and I struggled to find my identity outside of being a football player-- it is after all why I was even able to go to college. Although I did not recognize it at the time Allah had already placed a cohort around me to push into the next phase of my life. With Mr. Young the standard was the standard and the expectations were for me to meet it. I feel short multiple times, but he never gave up on me and I’m thankful for that. I had several great professors who helped to mold me as a historian and academic at A&T. I lived in Gibbs Hall, in Bluford Library (Club Bluford during finals week) and my professors offices. Dr. Millicent Brown, Dr. Quaye, Dr. Roberto and others challenged me academically and pushed me to levels cognitively that I did not know I could reach. I’m thankful for them, even though when I was writing multiple 20-page papers for them I was not their biggest fan. 

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Being from Dayton and teaching in higher ed locally adds a certain level of anxiety for me. I understand what my students who are from the town are up against and the hurdles they must clear just to come to class regularly, let alone graduate. I understand the value of visual cues to validify your existence in the classroom and to have representation in the larger institution. There is a sense of urgency I have for my students because time is not always guaranteed to be on your side. I think back to my own educational experiences and how wildly they varied, and the settings that promoted my own academic success. When I thrived, it was because someone saw me, and not a statistic or derivative from an Affirmative Action compliancy initiative. Inshallah I can have the same influence on some of my students that Mamma Renee, Mrs. Maloney, Dr. Brown and Dr. Young had on me. Allah knows I’m trying. 

 
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THE HIGHEST HUMAN ACT IS TO INSPIRE

Faheem Curtis-Khidr

Muslim, Historian, Professor, Data Guru, A&T Alumni

instagram: @histprof1911

My Jewelry

M. Carter cover

Mortal Man

My Jewelry

By: Michael Carter

“Your hearing loss is more noticeable than your hearing aids will be.” My audiologist said those words to me as I sat in her office for my consultation about my hearing loss. Much to my wife’s frustration, I put off going to a hearing specialist for a very long time, and now I was afraid what the test results would reveal. For years, I tried to compensate for my hearing loss, by turning my head when in quiet conversation, to get people to speak into my right ear, which could pick up voices a little easier than my left one. My wife often said the TV volume and the radio in the car were too loud, and I frequently had trouble understanding what my grandkids were saying.

M. Carter

In the small soundproof booth designed to expose my auditory failings, I concentrated and strained to hear every tiny beep, and buzz. When the test was over, I was informed that I would not need one hearing aid, but two due to moderate hearing loss.

 I tried to recall the cause of my predicament. Was it the Hong Kong Flu that I suffered when I was 7 years old? Was it being hit on the chin by a baseball bat at age 12? Being the music lover that I am, was it listening to Earth, Wind and Fire, The Police, and Heatwave with my headphones, volume on high? Was this a side effect of some medication I had taken at some point?

Ultimately, does knowing the cause really matter at this point?

M. Carter 2

Several days later, I picked up my hearing aids with much anticipation, wondering how my life might change. After a brief tutorial, I placed one in one ear, then the other. The difference was dramatic and immediate. I could hear the air conditioning unit pushing out cold air; I heard my sleeve being rustled by my hand. I scratched my forehead, and not only did I feel it, I HEARD it as well, Wow!

As we drove home, the radio played at half the volume I had previously had it on, and I heard the turn signal of my car for the first time in a long time. I began to realize more and more how much I had been impacted by hearing loss, and how selfish I have been all of this time because the loss had not only affected me, but those around me.

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As my wife and I went for a walk that evening, I heard sounds, which I had not heard with such gusto in a number of years, birds chirping and leaves crunching under our feet. I also heard a train in the distance. 

I discovered that wearing hearing aids has not made me feel old and incapable as I thought they would. In many ways, it has been liberating; allowing me to enjoy many things more richly. My wife calls my hearing aids “jewelry”, and like what happens when one buys a car and notices other cars of that model never noticed before, I began to notice other people wearing their “jewelry.”

My “jewelry” has enhanced the quality of my life by improving my interactions with people at work, my family and friends.

M. Carter book

According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), approximately 15% of American adults report some trouble hearing. Men are almost twice as likely as women to have hearing loss among adults aged 20-69; and One in eight people in the U.S. aged 12 years or older has hearing loss in both ears, based on standard hearing examinations. Armed with this knowledge and “my jewelry” I am now an ambassador for the importance of good hearing.



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Michael Carter

My Jewelry

Husband, Father, Brother, Mentor

Chief Diversity Officer at Sinclair Community College

Hearing loss affects 48 million people in the United States. It is one of the most common conditions affecting older and elderly adults.

Some degree of hearing loss may be a normal part of aging. Age-related hearing loss occurs gradually and tends to affect each ear equally. It's often the result of changes in the inner ear. Because age-related hearing loss occurs over time, it can be difficult to recognize.

Signs and symptoms of hearing loss may include:

Muffling of speech and other sounds. Difficulty understanding words, especially against background noise or in a crowd of people. Trouble hearing consonants. Frequently asking others to speak more slowly, clearly and loudly.

Permission to Cry

mortal man

permission to cry

by: tripp fontane

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Permission to cry, mama?

I know you say big boys aren't supposed to

What about when I don’t feel so big

When I feel as small as singular salt stain on cheek

I’m hurt

Watching you hurt

Forcing your body well past 40 hours

Working your fingers to arthritis

Struggling to interlock your fingers

Planting prayers under your pillow

Crying over them nightly

At least let me cry with you

Maybe they’ll grow faster

 

Permission to cry, babe?

I know it makes me weaker

A little less man with every tear

But I'm tired

Exasperated

From keeping it all in

My arms aren't big enough to hold us both together at once

I'd rather let it out than let you go

Are my tears safe with you?

Can I trust you enough to lay down my burdens

And them not being weaponized and held against me?

Can I be imperfect?

More man than super

Must my masculinity be my kryptonite here too?

 

Permission to cry, my nigga?

I mean I was there when it happened

I know it's against the code

But I don't wanna be a G right now

I just wanna grieve

My eyelids ain’t got much strength no way

Closing my eyes couldn’t stop closed casket

Couldn’t stop me from seeing just how cruel fate can be

I can’t continue on congested

Heavy

No Paul could bear the weight

Eyelids weary from playing dam to an overdue river of truth

My eyelids not strong enough to stop me seeing

 

Permission to cry, dad?

I know it’s not how you raised me

But, I’ve fallen

Too many times to ignore pain

I’ve been in pain too long to continue neglecting the healing process

‘Cuz I don’t wanna be the man your actions taught me to be

Cold

Bitter as tears that never fell

Oppressive weight you were too “strong” to let go

You taught me emotionally immature

You taught me to trap myself behind walls of bravado

To call them protection

Call them manhood

Do you even remember how to cry out for help?

 

Permission to cry?

‘Cuz I’m broken

From contorting spirit into stereotypes called masculinity

From trying so hard to pull the pieces together

They’re never all they cracked up to be

Permission to be

Okay

Or

Not okay

And express is

Permission to express

To evict negative energy without fear of judgment

Permission to breath

To sigh in the name of relief

Permission to baptize

To be cleansed in a collection of my own tears

Permission to...… to...… to...


Tripp Fontane

Rapper | Poet | Educator | Author

Tripp Fontane is a Dayton native - rapper, poet, educator, author of the book (All Is Fair - A Collection of Poems and Thoughts on Love) and founding member of the spoken word group of Underdog Academy.

instagram: @trippfontane and @underdogacademy

facebook: Tripp Fontane

twitter: @TrippFontane

website: uapoetry.com

booking inquiries: trippfontane@gmail.com

order Tripp’s (All Is Fair) book: All Is Fair

Meet Dr. Cleavon Matthews Sr.

One of the perks about being a photographer is the wide range of people that I get to meet and establish relationships with. In this series I feature a few people that I have met and photographed recently that I think you should know.
— Aaron Paschal
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Dr. Cleavon Matthew Sr.

Minister, Leader, Author, Orator, Counselor and a Guiding Light

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This past summer I had the pleasure of meeting and photographing Dr. Cleavon Matthews Sr. at Bold Believers Church of Christ. As a photographer it’s important to me to tap into people’s personalities and what stood out to me about Dr. Matthews was his passion, commitment and positive spirit.

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Dr. Cleavon Matthews Sr. is also a prolific leader, orator, communicator, and author. He is highly sought after and accomplished as a person of influence locally, nationally, and internationally. He serves as Chairman of the Midwest Conference of Churches of Christ. He is academically accomplished having obtained the Doctor of Ministry degree from Amridge University. He is also a Registered Nurse and a Licensed Professional Counselor. Through his ministries he continues do extensive work in church consulting and premarital counseling. He has written several publications including two books: Get In The God Zone and Unmasking The Satanic Attack Against Masculinity. He ministers to the Bold Believers Church of Christ in Dayton, OH.

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If you are looking for a church to visit or a new church home I encourage you to visit Bold Believers Church of Christ located at 1306 Salem Avenue in Dayton, OH.

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You can learn more about Dr. Matthews and the Bold Believers Church of Christ on their website https://www.nthwcoc.com/ or by following their facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/boldbelieverscoc/

Church grows out of its space, finds a new place to call home

By Beth Anspach | Dayton Daily News

Over the years, churches have transformed themselves. Congregations of believers meet in private homes, in open fields, in tents or in expansive sanctuary buildings. But the one thing they have in common is each group comes together to worship and share their shared beliefs.

Dr. Clevon Matthews moved to Dayton from Orlando, Fla., 15 years ago because he saw an opportunity to lead a church he believed would be a better fit for him and his family. What was then known as the Northwest Church of Christ on Broadway Street in Trot wood had been a gas station when the small congregation bought the building in 1981.

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“As the church grew, they ran out of space, but it served us well,” Matthews said. “The building sat on four acres, so we investigated the possibility of building on the property.”

Matthews said a new church building was cost prohibitive for the small congregation of 300. But about two years ago, he was introduced to the Solomon Foundation, an organization headquartered in Colorado and devoted to helping churches reach their ministry and growth goals by providing low-interest mortgage and construction loans.

“They (Solomon) specialize in taking older properties and remodeling them for churches,” Matthews said. “After we applied and were approved, we started looking around for existing properties.”

In 2014, Matthews happened to be driving a guest minister around Dayton to show him the area and was explaining about their efforts to expand the church. As they were driving, they noticed a vacant property on Salem Avenue, formerly the home of the Beth Abraham Synagogue.

“I remember thinking at the time that this would be a great place for our church,” Matthews said. “But I put it out of my mind.”

Three years later, a member of Matthews’ congregation, a real estate agent, took him to see the same property, which had been a conference center for a Baptist Church, but had since been vacant again for the past four years.

“I could see it as soon as she brought me in,” Matthews said. “The building has very good bones. Of course, it needed TLC and renovation, but it had a good layout and infrastructure.”

Matthews knew that to grow his congregation, he would need more visibility. The former gas station in Trotwood was difficult for people to find.

“Being right on Salem Avenue gives us the visibility we need to have greater impact,” Matthews said. “The church was on board with the move and we had the resources to do it, so we took the bold step and closed on the property in January of 2017.”

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The entire congregation worked together on the renovations beginning that spring and the new church was completed the last week of June this year. Now christened the “Bold Believers Church of Christ,” the congregation has room to grow in 45,000 square feet, up significantly from the 7,000-square-foot building in Trotwood.

“We removed old seating in the sanctuary, did cleaning and landscaping, got rid of flooring and moved furniture, put in a new HVAC system that is more efficient and put in new plumbing,” Matthews said. “We also put on a new roof and had new parking lot paving done and painted inside and out. We have a new sound system and sanctuary seating and it’s amazing!” Matthews said his personal vision for the new building is outreach and he wants it to be not just a place to have church on Sundays but also a community center as well.

“We want it to be used every day of the week,” Matthews said. “One component is to have a counseling center. My wife is a licensed counselor, as am I and one other member, so we want to have a space for that. We also want to offer a pre-K program in the future and have another space for banquets and community events.” Matthews said he sees the church not as a building, but as its people, so he wants it to be a beacon of life and hope with his focus is on the counseling center and the needs of the Dayton community at large.

“I’m talking about suicide prevention, crisis response, partnering with Montgomery County Juvenile Court and looking at how we can help families and parents in meaningful and practical ways,” Matthews said. “We want to address violence and poverty in significant and meaningful ways.”

 
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Dr. Cleavon Matthew Sr.

Minister, Leader, Author, Orator, Counselor and a Guiding Light

BOLD BELIEVERS CHURCH of CHRIST

1306 Salem Avenue, Dayton, OH 45406

937-985-9320

boldbelieverscoc.com

Interview with Photographer and Art Director Mathieu Bitton

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You may not be familiar with the name Mathieu Bitton but chances are that you’ve seen his work before. Mathieu is a modern day renaissance man. He is a photographer, art director, film maker, globe trotter and father. The Grammy nominated artist has had work featured in numerous magazines, album covers, music and movie posters, coffee table books, packaging, merchandise and of course photography exhibits. He is also a Leica Cameras ambassador and official tour photographer of Lenny Kravitz and has also been hanging out with Dave Chappelle quite a bit lately.

I have been following Mathieu’s work for the past few years so when I saw that Lenny Kravitz was billed to be one of the headliners at this year’s Bourbon and Beyond music festival in Louisville the very first thing I did was reach out to Mathieu to see if he would be coming along and willing to meet up.

I see photographers make the same mistakes all the time and I’ve seen it here today where they will just walk up and start shooting. There’s no bridge, no preparation, there’s no making someone comfortable or even introducing yourself
— Mathieu Bitton

Aaron Paschal: Thank you for taking time out to meet with me. I’ve been a fan of your work for quite some time so it’s great to be able to sit and chat with you.

You’ve been REALLY busy lately and you recently did the cover shoot for Lenny Kravitz’s new album “Raise Vibration.” What’s that experience been like for you?

Mathieu Bitton: It’s been really cool. I’ve been working with Lenny for right about a decade now and although I shot all of the inside photos and back cover for his “Black and White America” album he used an old childhood photo for the front cover so this is actually the first time having a front album cover with Lenny.

We did the shoot it in the Bahamas without even really thinking about the album. We were just hanging out on the beach and we were taking photos and playing around and then we looked at the back of the camera and were like, “that’s it, that’s the album cover!” I’ve found that that’s the way the best stuff happens, when things just fall into place. So it’s been pretty exciting to finally have a Lenny Kravitz album that’s been all of my photography and design from cover to cover.

AP: I can tell that you enjoy that process.

MB: Definitely. I’ve shot and designed a lot of album covers for other people so it was only right that I finally did one for Lenny. I’ve pretty much done all of his singles but this except for the last album, “that was another photographer” but all of the singles from “Black and White in America” and all of the deluxe editions were done by me.

AP: I see that you were listed in the credits on the last two Prince releases “Purple Rain Deluxe” and “Piano and a Microphone 1983.”

MB: Yes, helping out in these releases has been a dream come true. I knew Prince and had worked on a couple of his projects in the past. He was my favorite artist of all time and I’m still completely heartbroken about his passing so that’s a tough one. I hope that more of his amazing, unreleased music like this will eventually become available because there’s a lot to be heard.

AP: Are there any other album design projects that you have in the works?

MB: I also just designed 2-LP deluxe vinyl reissues of Lenny Kravitz’s first six albums, with more on the way, as well as several deluxe editions of “Raise Vibration.” Other new vinyl releases I’m excited about having designed are both of James Brown’s Classic Blaxploitation soundtracks “Black Caesar” and “Slaughter’s Big Rip Off,” the Willie Hutch soundtrack to the legendary Pam Grier films “Foxy Brown” and Roy Ayers - penned “Coffy” as well as the previously unreleased Velvet Underground 2LP “1969” and the related Nico album “Chelsea Girl.”

AP: You are ALWAYS on the grind. What keeps you going?

MB: I love what I do so that’s the only thing that keeps me from going insane. I am at the point now where I really need a break but I’m out photographing Lenny’s tour which is a relatively short tour that only runs a couple of weeks and then I’m supposed to go to Europe with Dave Chappelle and Jon Stewart. Once that’s done I’m thinking I may get to spend a little time at home. So far this year I have not been able to spend more than two weeks there at once. Last year was similar too. I’m so grateful that I just look at things and see myself as the lucky one. Yeah, I’m out of shape and a little exhausted but I’ll find time to catch up.

AP: One thing that jumps out to me is the relationships that you seem to have with the celebrities and people that you work with. When I look on social media they don’t just “tag” you in the pictures but quite often they post pictures of you, or with you and it’s obvious that there’s a genuine level of respect and friendship. Can you talk about how important it is to establish those type of relationships?

 MB: What sets photographers apart is being able to establish good, friendly relationships with the people that you work with. You want them to be comfortable with you. I see photographers make the same mistakes all the time and I’ve seen it here today where they will just walk up and start shooting. There’s no bridge, no preparation, there’s no making someone comfortable or even introducing yourself. This generation that we are in now with the selfies and photos every five seconds there’s no boundaries for capturing “moments.” So you need to actually respect the people that you’re shooting and at the same time with me I’ll speak for myself, “I have a lot of gratitude for just being there.” The fact that they trust me and the fact that they brought me somewhere and gave me access to photograph moments for them; I want to give them the best possible work based on that and they appreciate that.

Dave Chappelle mentioned my name in his Netflix special and I was completely blown away by that. But there’s a reason for that. Over time you establish a mutual respect for one another and I don’t look at it as business from that point. It becomes more of a friendship and we just happen to be working together but it’s friendship first. I think that shows in my work as well because people are more relaxed and they give you more access to certain situations. My relationship with Dave Chappelle is another example of that. He’s a private guy and doesn’t really allow any photographers at his shows. All of a sudden we developed this relationship and I’m given all of this access.

My friend, the legendary D-Nice is a great Leica photographer who’s been shooting there with Dave for years before me and the greatest harmonica player in the world - Fred Yonnet who I refer to as my photography student – “and he has a great eye” both have full access to shoot Dave as well. So it’s a small group of us and I have nothing but gratitude for that. Fred was actually shooting Nikon when were at Radio City Music Hall last year but I turned him onto Leica and so now he’s loving it. So there’s a few of us that Dave will allow to shoot but that’s also based on the results. If somebody sees your work and they’re not impressed they are not going to waste their precious time so I constantly have to deliver my best possible work.

Last week I had a totally impromptu shoot that I wasn’t really prepared for. I was asked to come by the Peppermint Club in Los Angeles. I didn’t know what was going on so I just grabbed my Leica Q, which is a great camera but I use it more for backstage photos or just running around. It’s not my big camera that I use. Along with Dave, LeBron James, Jon Stewart, Katt Williams and all these big names were there and on top of all of that Will Smith did his first ever stand-up comedy show. So I felt a little handicapped. I had all of this incredible stuff in front of me and there I was shooting with this 28mm lens. In the end they are all looking at my images saying “wow these photos are great!” But I’m sitting there totally insecure. I’m thinking I fucked up; I should have had my Leica SL “my big camera.” But hey, you win some you lose some. We still got some cool stuff. That’s one of the things that I love about working with people like Dave, and Prince was like that too; you never know what’s going to happen and that keeps me on my toes!

AP: That’s great to be creatively pushed and challenged like that. I’ve watched you shoot before. It was at Dave Chappelle’s Juke Joint in Yellow Springs, OH earlier this year. For those that don’t know this event goes on until nobody’s standing!

 MB: Yes! I came in from Paris that day where I was at the rehearsals for Lenny Kravitz’s tour. I got off the plane and went straight to the gig so I had been up all night. I think by the time I got back to Paris I realized that I had been up four days straight. So yeah, it’s a demanding gig but they are so much fun because you never know who’s going to be there or what’s going to happen.

AP: Do you have a bucket list of people that you would like to photograph?

MB: It’s funny, my sorta bucket list is always Jack White. Well I recently designed a poster for his tour. So I was like okay, “that was another dream come true.” But he’s one that’s definitely one that was on my bucket list so hopefully I’ll get to photograph him some day.

I have had the opportunity to shoot so many artists and people that were on my wish list in the last couple of years it’s been crazy. I would like to do a proper shoot with Jay-Z. As far as portraits Larry David and Woody Allen are two people that I would like to sit down and do portraits of. I’ve shot a lot of comedians but those two are musts! Woody is getting up there in age now so…

AP: Have you tried reaching out to them?

MB: I tend to let things like that happen naturally or if something opens up I find ways to make it happen. Melvin Van Peebles had always been someone that I wanted to photograph and things worked out where I got to go to his place and shoot him so that was amazing. That happened completely naturally through a friend of mine that used to be married to Mario Van Peebles. Their son was going to visit Grandpa Melvin and she said, “hey maybe you should grab your camera and go along.” That ended up being a dream come true for me.

AP: What advice would you give to aspiring music photographers?

MB: If you play your cards right things have a tendency to fall into place. It’s that whole Laws of Attractions. If you’re on the right path and you do what you should do and you’re not lazy a lot of things will come your way. I’ve found that a lot of people are just lazy. I get a lot of messages from people complaining about my son Miles. He’s 18 and just went off to college but he trained with me and he’s becoming a great photographer in his own rights. I get people complaining that it’s not fair, that it’s nepotism - I’m like what!? “He’s my kid, it’s my responsibility to show him things I know and I want to hang out with him.” He’s not even trying to be a photographer but he’s been able to get some great shots just from going to events with me. Now Miles is off in college I look at his instagram account and he’s getting the most amazing photos. So he’s on his own now and that’s great! If you are real and honest and grateful things do fall into place.

AP: So with all of the things that you have on your plate do you do all of your post work “edits” on your photos?

MB: I do all of my post work and I do it quick! “laughs.” I boost a few levels in Lightroom and then I’m done. Sometimes it’s exhausting and I’m like wow, “how am I going to work my way through these images.” Like last week at the Peppermint. I had traveled from Paris to New York, back to Los Angeles, back to New York, back to Los Angeles. So I was tired and wondering how am I going to find time to edit all of these images tonight. The thing is that there were a couple other people that were there shooting as well so it’s competitive. So I was thinking that if I don’t do mine right now those other photographer’s images are going to be out first. Usually when I’m working with Dave I’m the only photographer shooting for the sake of press but that night Will Smith had a guy there shooting as well so I was like “oh shit, I have to get these ready!” and like I said I was already insecure about not having the right camera.

AP: I actually became aware of your work and started keeping up with you a couple of years ago when I came across your Darker Than Blue project. I was on Instagram and Leica posted these amazing black and white images that captivated me. I called the Leica Store in Los Angeles to order the book and you just so happened to be there. We spoke on the phone briefly and you signed my copy of the book. What’s going on with Darker Than Blue now and do you plan on doing more projects like that?

MB: You’re lucky, those things sold-out quick! I actually saw one on eBay that sold for a couple hundred bucks and I thought that was crazy. I’m working with a publisher now to publish a proper copy sometime soon but that edition that you have is a rare one and I’m glad that you got a copy!

Darker Than Blue is an ongoing project that I’m continuously adding to. I keep getting asked to do music exhibitions which I may do eventually but I feel like I’m not done with Darker Than Blue yet. It’s a traveling exhibition so now it’s in Germany and then I think it’s going to Shanghai and Singapore and like I said I keep adding pictures to it. Once I do the big book and I feel satisfied that I’m done then I do a exhibit with images from my music photography. But Darker Than Blue is such a passion project that I’ll probably just keep shooting sand adding to it. There’s so many beautiful people. I grew up in Paris and Paris is the place that opened it’s heart to jazz and embraced black culture at a time when guys like Miles Davis and Dexter Gordon couldn’t even use certain restrooms in America. They were treated like Gods in France so I feel like that’s in my blood. I grew up on black music, black films; so I appreciate black culture. I think the karma in that is that now I get to photograph and hang out with my favorite artists. When the Chappelle show was out that was like religion for me. I was like “I can’t go anywhere or do anything tonight! I gotta watch The Chappelle show!” So now if I go back to myself at that time, watching Dave Chappelle, Questlove, John Mayer, Mos Def and all of those people on the Chappelle Show and realizing that now I’ve literally worked with and became friends with all of them, it’s kind of surreal. I’ve had that a lot in my life and the only way that I can describe it is pure passion. It’s not always about money or saying I’m not gonna do some big project that I’m not going to get paid for it. With me it’s all about passion. Sometimes you get paid what you deserve, sometimes you do it just because you want to do it and sometimes you just want to help someone out.

The success is to not have rules. The only rules you have are boundaries and respect. Some people respect you and when people try to start cutting corners that’s when you know it’s not going to work. So knowing who you are and your value as a photographer is important. Sometimes it doesn’t seem real. I’m humbled when people send me messages or stop me on the streets. I look at them like “I think you got the wrong guy.” I’m glad because I don’t want to be like Kanye West about it. I don’t want to be like “yeah my shit is dope!” To me that’s the best shit in the world - when people let you know that they appreciate your work. But I realize that the subject plays a role in it too so it’s a combination of things. It drives me a little crazy when I see people taking themselves so seriously. We all can do it. Creating a way to get the access is the main thing; creating that trust.

AP: What do you hope to achieve “creatively” in the next twelve months?

MB: That’s a really good question. I’m just finishing up another documentary a film of Lenny Kravitz about his new album “Raise Vibration.” I think I’m going to get more into film work. Maybe features, I don’t know if that will happen within a year but it’s definitely a big dream of mine to make a feature film. Just keep growing. But that’s such a good question because I don’t even know what the universe has in store for me. I like to have some published books.

AP: I’m sure you get asked this question a lot but of all of the concerts and events that you have captured which one is your favorite or stands out to you the most?

MB: Wow! Well Dave’s stand at Radio City Music Hall for a whole month last year was the most insane experience of my life. Being on tour with Lenny there’s been some shows where I’ve been blown away. But there’s not one specific show that I can point back to. The other night at the Peppermint Club I left there thinking “wow, this may be the best night of my life” but that was just the latest time I said that. (Laughs.) Seeing Will Smith do stand-up for the first time in his life was crazy AND to get to shoot it was amazing. And he was funny. LeBron was funny too. I had already shot LeBron with Dave before about a year and a half ago but Dave brings that out in people. He has that talent to make other people feel like they have a little bit of “funny” in them and he knows how to bring it out of them.

AP: I want to thank you once again for taking time to talk with me and CincyMusic, we appreciate you!

MB: Thank you, I appreciate you and your interest in my work and I’ll see you out there shooting!

 

Visit Mathieu Bitton’s website: mathieubitton.fr to keep up with his work and be sure to follow him on instagram as well: @candytman

Redemption Song of an O.G.

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MORTAL MAN

REDEMPTION SONG OF AN O.G.

BY: SAMUEL E. GOODE

My path in life got fucked up early in life when my mother married my stepfather. When they got together I felt like I pretty much became an outsider. Things got so bad that I left there and went to live with my grandfather. I think I was six or seven when this all happened. My grandfather had remarried and his second wife was abusive towards me. She was an abuser and I caught a lot of hell and took a lot of unnecessary beatings from her. That part of my life hardened me and shaped me for the streets. When I left my grandfather’s house I went straight from the country to the city. The beatings that I took as a kid toughened me up physically and damaged me mentally. All and all I think I handled things pretty well because it didn’t fuck me up. I know other people that have been abused that simply couldn’t deal with life.

During one of the darkest times in my life I felt like it was pretty much “kill or be killed.” I was just out there. At the time me and three of my best friends were running a crack house and things were running smooth. We did all of our dope in the basement of a house that we had taken over and we would rent the other rooms out, “we had the girls working” and money was flowing. We shut everything down to take a break and chill down in Florida. As we were about to leave a rival that we didn’t even know about moved on us and all hell broke out. They came up to the car shooting at us, glass was flying everywhere. All three of my best friends at the time lost their lives that day. I suffered a bullet wound. Somehow my face was covered in blood so they thought I was dead too. They checked the car for our drugs and our money but it wasn’t there. What really saved my life was an ambulance that was going down the highway. The guys thought it was coming down the street that we were on so they stopped going through the car and sped off.

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I feel guilty for surviving that day and what I went through still haunts me to this day. When you see people that close to you get murdered like that it does something to you. When you’re in the streets it conditions you to seek your own justice. When you add that up with all of the abuse that I took as a kid it primed me for a life of violence and that’s something that I was good at it. When I got out of that car and saw what happened to my friends I went on a rampage. I did things that still hurt me to this day. I did things that I want to talk about and that I need to talk about but whenever I try there’s always something that holds me back. Also I’ve done certain things don’t come with a statute of limitations and I don’t want to share or say things that may lead to me going back to jail.

When I moved to Atlanta it was like I entered a completely different world. This was during the crack era when there were all kinds of drugs hitting the streets so there was a lot of money changing hands. Crack and dope was so heavy in Atlanta that you could take $100 and flip it so fast that it would turn into $100,000 in no time and the faster it came the faster it went. I lived on the west side of Atlanta and at the time I was pretty big and muscular. I mean I grew up on a farm so I was a big, strong kid but I didn’t know shit about the streets. Well as things unfolded I pretty much got tricked into becoming a pimp at this hotel I was working at. I thought I was just working security but the next thing I knew I had about six girls working the streets for me. This was a quick phase in my life that lasted for about two years. I’m an old fashion guy so I didn’t really like exploiting women. At that time in my life I felt like pimping was the only way that I could survive so I did what I felt I had to do to survive. During this whole stretch I had been looking for my brother and as soon as I found him I left all that stuff behind me that same day and never looked back.

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My brother and I were tight so we were glad to be back together but we both worked two or three jobs and felt like we weren’t getting anywhere. One of my jobs was at the Lennox Mall and I met this rich white guy named “John” that wanted to play gangsta’. Meeting him took me down a whole different path in life and most of it wasn’t good. During this time in my life I saw a lot of shit and I did a lot of shit that I still struggle to come to terms with. The people that “John” introduced me to were looking for people that were ruthless and that didn’t ask any questions; that fit me well. When I lived in North Carolina I did a little time here and there for petty crimes that I committed but things I was doing in Atlanta was on a whole different level.

Everybody that “John” introduced me to was rich. There wasn’t a single low-level dude and once I got to that level I hated it. I loved the life but it came with a cost. I’m lucky to be alive today because when you’re in the game there’s only a couple of ways out… prison and more than likely death. When I left Atlanta I was on the run. I stole a truck from a guy that I did yard work for and went back to North Carolina.

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In North Carolina me and my partners went on a robbing spree. We hit gas stations, convenient stores, broke into houses; just taking stuff and selling it. There was a 38 special that I stole from a gas station that I really liked so I kept it. One night I was down at a juke joint; I was drunk and shooting the gun off. Just wilding out and shit. My grandfather was a deputy sheriff so one of my cousins that was at the juke joint called my grandfather and told him to come and get me and try to calm me down. When my grandfather got there he pulled up beside me and told me to give him the gun. I just threw it in the trunk and he shut the door and drove off. Shit caught up with me about the robbing the gas station that I stole the gun. My finger prints were all over everything so I couldn’t deny it. They asked about the gun and I told them I didn’t know shit about it. They asked my grandfather if he’d ever seen me with a gun and he told them about the night at the juke joint when he took the gun from me. My grandfather lost his job and had to do a year in prison. My mother, grandmother and my aunts never talk about it but I still feel like they have animosity towards me about that. We all get along now so I guess that’s all that matters. My grandfather was mad about the shit I did to get the gun but he knew the shit that went down after that was more about the people that didn’t like him getting him out of the way more than anything. This was a town in the south with a black deputy sheriff so they tried to tie him into my shit but were unable to. They charged him with some bogus conspiracy charge but that was it.

When I got out I left North Carolina again and got caught up in some more shit. I was on the run again and went back to North Carolina. I was there for about a week before I got caught. I did about two years and went to my grandfather’s house when I got out. One day my grandfather and I sat and talked out on the porch for about four hours. I remember him telling me that he wanted me to get to know the other side of my family. Two days after that conversation my grandfather passed away. Right after his funeral I packed up and moved to Dayton and I’ve been here ever since. This is exactly where I need to be because this family means everything to me. Thugging, street life - all of that stuff takes a backseat to my family. I want the generations behind me to see me in a better light. I know I could easily go back to Atlanta or wherever and get right back into the life I lived before. I’ve put that so far behind me that I don’t even have that urge. I just like to sit at home and enjoy my family.

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I’ve lost best friends, seen people killed that I knew right in front of my face and it ain’t shit that I can do about it. Nothing. I feel so lucky to be here in Dayton. I feel like if I hadn’t moved back to my grandfather’s house after I got out of the joint that I would be dead or somewhere rotting in prison. The people I have surrounding me now look at me without fear in their eyes. They love me unconditionally. When I was young I didn’t have this type of love. I love my family and I don’t want to disappoint them. This family gave me a brand new start and they are the reason that I’m the man that I am today. It wasn’t an easy transition and early on I got into a little trouble here but nothing compared to the things I did in Atlanta or North Carolina.

Now even with that being said I have no problem going to jail or to hell for defending my family. I wouldn’t even bat an eyebrow. But I try tell them to handle their business the right way so that they don’t feel like they have to go to the streets. One thing is that I know them and I know that they wouldn’t be able to handle the streets. I’m proud that I’ve played a role in keeping my family away from the streets. That’s my purpose now. It’s nothing cool about being in the streets. Jail is not a place you want to be. It’s nothing but concrete and steel. I tell them if they have a problem “come see me, I’ll take care of it.” If you feel that you’re getting upset or that you need to get violent, call me. I can talk them down or get them out of the situation without even going to that next level BUT if we have to “let me handle it.” At this time in my life I’m here for them. No matter how early or late it is, if they need me they can call me. That gives me the strength to keep pushing on and to stay planted. I’m so proud of where I am right now because I know where I could be. I’m at peace. Before I came here and surrounded myself with family I couldn’t even sleep without knowing I had somebody around me that had my back. I wouldn’t trade the peace of mind that I have right now for anything else in the world.

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When it was just me and I felt like I was alone in the world I would do things without even thinking about the consequences. Now I know that if I do things my family will suffer and I don’t want to put them through that. I don’t want to disappoint them. Having people that love and depend on me makes me think two or three times before jumping into action. I never thought I’d be in this role but I love it. Man life is short so get out there and enjoy yourself, leave your mark and live the best life.

I still have nightmares about the things that I’ve seen, done and been through. I’ve done things that I’ll take with me to the grave. I’ve seen shit that’s been burnt into my brain. You can’t unsee the shit that I’ve seen and like I said that shit does something to you. I’ve seen things that people that have been in wars haven’t even seen. I can’t undo the things that I’ve done so I’ve come to terms with them and I let the following generations know that this street life ain’t nothing to fuck with. 

My Marble

Mortal Man DKirkman

MORTAL MAN

MY MARBLE

BY: DAWAYNE KIRKMAN

This is a personal story of mine that I like to share with my friends. Maya Angelou said “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” I hope in some small way, it can inspire hope. Dumbo said it best, “The very things that held you down are going to carry you up.” 

I grew up in Elkton, Kentucky (one hour north of Nashville). My dad had a drinking problem (that is probably the most polite term that I can use to describe his situation) and was forced to go to a detox center after many arrests. I was in third or fourth grade during this time. We would go visit my dad after church on Sundays at Western State in Hopkinsville, Kentucky during those weeks of his mandatory stay. When he arrived at the rehab facility, he had been given a marble which represented sobriety. No more drinking allowed if he wanted to keep it. He could keep it in his pocket as long as he did not ever drink alcohol again.

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My mother (my hero), my sister (three years older than me), and I all found those Sunday conversations to be initially awkward, as we were not used to talking to a sober Stanley. But each Sunday, he would be so excited to pull his marble out of his pocket. As the weeks passed, we also got excited to see his beautiful marble. He finished the program and we all went to Bonanza to eat and went to look at new trailers. It was a new beginning!

However, after being away from his siblings and other family for weeks, he naturally wanted to visit them. They loved the fun loving, drinking Stanley. We begged him not to go as we were afraid he would drink, but we were unsuccessful in our plea. Very shortly after arriving at his brother’s house, my dad started drinking beer and it just got worse from there on.

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I remember after he drank several beers he threw the marble across the field, cussing at it and laughing. It seemed like everyone was laughing at it. My mom, sister, and I were devastated though. The next day my dad, in a very hung-over condition, went to that field to look for that marble that he so easily let go of the day before. I could tell his heart was broken from literally throwing it all away. Even as a child, I knew he would not be able to find that marble in that big field, physically or mentally. But, I did find that marble. Maybe not literally, but I did find it and I have carried it for years. 


The last time I saw my dad alive, he was in jail on Christmas in 1995. My dad took his life in 1996 when I was twenty years old and a junior at Berea College. I always promised to carry that marble for my dad. Sometimes we have to carry things for our family who are unable to do so. He was an alcoholic, yet I have never had a beer or been drunk or done illegal drugs. He did not graduate from high school, yet I am finishing up my dissertation at the University of Dayton. He did not work, yet I have been working at Sinclair Community College for almost 16 years. He did not go to church; I have been a Sunday School teacher for more than 18 years.

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I am NOT a better man than my father; I have just been a blessed man. And, it has been an honor to have had the opportunity to carry a marble for a man that I will forever owe for getting me to this earth—even though I hardly knew him. When I get to my heaven, I will hug his neck and say “no apologies needed, Dad” and grab his hand and give him his marble back and declare we made it. 

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I share this story as often as I can to encourage people—to know that they may have to carry the marble for a person that they love.
— Dawayne Kirkman
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