Higher Calling

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Mortal Man

Higher Calling

Ricardo Navas

I don’t go through life worrying about getting sick or something happening to me because I know that my life is in God’s hands.

When I first learned that my father had cancer I wasn’t really that worried. I felt like he was going to be fine. I felt like he was going to be beat cancer and that he was going to be alright. Even after he had surgery – I felt like he was going to recover and be ok. It was really hard for me to know exactly how he was feeling because when I was around him he would act as though he was doing fine but in reality he was in a lot of pain. I realize now that my dad was doing this to keep me, our family and everyone else from being sad. He didn’t want us to feel sorry for him or to get depressed. I think as a father, as a leader, as the man of the house he felt like that’s what he had to do. Even in his last moments my dad was hopeful and did not want us to be sad.

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When my father passed away it really hit me that I was closer to him than I was to my mother. With my dad it was like we were friends, he was my father but we were really close. We talked a lot and we were open about everything. So his death hit me really hard. It made me realize that this could happen to me so I need to be prepared. I have to take care of my family, make sure I have life insurance and my affairs in order.  I also thought about what my family’s life would be like if I was no longer here. So you become more vulnerable when you realize that this can happen to you too. At the same time I know that God is in control. When he says that it is my time it is “my time.”  So I don’t go through life worrying about getting sick or something happening to me because I know that my life is in God’s hands.

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A few years ago I was involved in a fatal car accident. I was hurt really bad and I nearly died but it wasn’t my time.  God said “it wasn’t my time yet.” I believe that I’m here because I still have work that God wants me to do. God isn’t finished with me. My purpose is here right now. We have to learn to take each and every day as a gift and not worry so much about “what could happen” because fear robs you of your happiness.

Art has always been important to me, creating art is important to me.  I used to be a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu fighter. That helped me realize that martial arts are just a physical way of expressing yourself and creating art. As a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu fighter I was using my body to create art. The injuries I suffered in the car accident prevent me from competing and I missed that feeling. I missed creating art.

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When I do something I do it with passion. I take my time learning the art. I don’t just do it because I “like it.” When I do something I put my heart into it. I felt like I had all these years doing Jiu Jitsu and now I can’t compete anymore, I can no longer use my body to create art. I didn’t know how to paint or how to draw, so I thought “maybe I‘ll be good at taking pictures.”  That’s when I got into photography. That’s when I realized that photography was going to be a new way for me to create art and express myself. Now when people ask me what I do for a living I tell them that I am a photographer. Even though I am an entrepreneur that’s running a successful business I identify myself more as a photographer. My business is a way for me to provide for my family but in my heart photography is my passion.

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Losing my father and being in that car accident has made me “tougher.” One of the last times I cried was when my dad died. Experiencing my father’s fight with cancer and nearly losing my own life just made me realize that those things can and will happen. Now when I see or experience something emotional it’s almost like I’m immune to it.

Another thing I want to talk about is how often things in America is taken for granted. I realize that I have opportunities that other people don’t. I grew up in Venezuela. When I was in second grade I used to walk a mile or more to school by myself. I would see so many disturbing things. I would walk pass dead animals, dead people, I got robbed. It was rough but all of those things made me stronger. When I moved to America I felt like people expected less of me because I was foreign. Even as owning my own business isn’t enough. I don’t look like the typical business owner so... that motivates me to be better, motivates me to prove people wrong.

In Venezuela grew up in without a lot of things so I had a chip on my shoulder. People expected little of me, even my own family. Some of them say, “I’m surprised that you have your own business, that you’re able to capture such good pictures – that you’re doing so well in life.” I felt like people thought I wouldn’t accomplish anything in life so that pushed me.

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I believe Venezuela has the second worst “documented” crime rate in the world. When I grew up it wasn’t like that there. It was known for our oil, gold and diamonds. Venezuela also has the most Miss Universe winners. So we were known for having beautiful things and beautiful people. So when I talk to people that have moved here from back home I talk to them and I challenge them to do their best. I remind them that when we move to other countries it to better ourselves, not to be the same type of people that we would have been if we had stayed in Venezuela.

There is so much opportunity here. And I think that’s what makes America so beautiful. Even though there’s racism and a lot of people that hate, you have opportunities. If you put that noise aside you have a chance to be great. I guess you have that chance in any country but especially here. If you study and work hard there’s no reason that you cannot get what you want in life.

 

Ricardo Navas

Higher Calling

Family Man + Venezuelan + Latino

Entrepreneur + Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Fighter

Photographer

instagram: @navasphotos

website: navasphotos.com

“Arte Suave”

Smooth Art

Slowing Down

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Mortal Man

Slowing Down

Dan Tres Omi

Trees bright and green turn yellow brown
Autumn called ‘em, see all them leaves must fall down, growing old
— Outkast - Growing Old

There was a time when I would drive three hours to another city, train Capoeira for a few hours and then play for another hour, get a bite to eat, and then drive another three hours to come home and get ready for work the next day. My body did not need any time to recover. All I needed was a good night's sleep and Monday was not a thing. What is Capoeira? It is an African Brazilian Martial Art that incorporates music, acrobatics, and fighting or “luta.” Capoeira forces the practitioner to use muscles he or she has never used before. One class is a full body workout. Keeping track of all of the movements and sequences boggles the mind.

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 We have a saying in Capoeira: “if you get kicked it is your fault.”  So on top of just trying to keep up with class, one must be weary of a stray kick or two. It is definitely a young person's game. When I attend a breakdancing workshop or a Capoeira class, I am usually the oldest person in the room. One would think that at 44 and not yet a grandfather, this would not be the case. Most of the other participants are still in high school or old enough to be juniors in college. During a workshop, one does not have time to share your everyday struggle. Most of us paid good money to learn new moves or new approaches to movement and time is money. I surprise myself most of the time. I can keep up with my younger counterparts. I am not winded at the end of class. While my stretches aren't as deep and it might take me longer to get something down, I can make it to the end of class as easily as someone twice as young as me. However, when I get home and I don't take that epsolm salt bath, the rest of my week will be full of aches and pains. Twenty years ago, I never thought of soaking in a hot bath to soothe my body. Self-care was not even a thought.

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I remember Crazy Legs, “one of the most famous b-boys on the planet,” stating that the kids these days who enter the breaking cipher have “rockets up their asses.” When he initially said it, I chalked it up as an old fogey that was washed up. This is no slight to the mighty Crazy Legs. In his fifties, he is still as spry and fast as when he appeared in the movie “Wild Style” back in the early eighties. It was not until several years later when I battled a younger comrade, B-boy Squirt “I shouldn't call it a battle - he easily plastered me.”

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They say that many boxers who are in their prime and lose their first fight, go downhill after that. It is not a physical thing. They are at their peak. Boxing experts say it is a mental thing. Once they lose that first fight, their perception of themselves begins to diminish. Physically, they can accomplish all the things they need to in their field, but emotionally they start to see their shortcomings more vividly. Looking back to that battle with Squirt, I wondered if I was doing the same thing those boxers were. Maybe it is all relative. To the average person, a boxer is at his or her peak physical condition. They can still move faster and hit harder. They can run for miles on end. They can take way more pain then the average person. To another boxer, they can be slowing down. Another trained professional can sense when someone is beginning to fear that they are losing their touch. When one is younger, they feel invulnerable.

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As a young man, the dangers I might have faced were never even a thought. When I visit NYC to see family, I am reminded of all the dangerous things I did as a child. I ran across train tracks. I rode in the back of buses and jumped off when it was time for me to get off. I climbed fences and abandoned buildings to paint my name on the walls. I fought and ran. I traveled to dangerous places to party. Back then, I did not see the real dangers that I might have faced that many have and did not survive. Some of these things, I am afraid to tell my children and my students for fear that they might try it. A word we still haven't explored when it comes to aging is (doubt.) Is it the fear a result of doubt? Does it creep in and plant itself in one's brain? Should we ask is this how a dream is deferred? Is this what Langston Hughes was referring to?

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Dan Tres Omi

Slowing Down

Son, Husband, Father, Teacher, Afro Latino B-Boy, Author, Capoeirista, T-shirt Model, Pro-Feminist, Hip Hop Diplomat

 

Keep up with Danny on social media...

instagram: @brothereromi

twitter: @DaTresOmi

podcast: Where My Killa Tape At soundcloud.com/dantresomi

medium: @DanTresOmi

 

Leave comments here to keep the conversation going, to offer words of encouragement or to share your story.

Life (After Time)

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Mortal Man

Life (After Time)

by: Willie Childs

It's never a good time to go to jail but I went at a time that I was old enough to realize that being locked up wasn't the thing for me and still young enough to have time to straighten up my life and have a positive impact on this world once I got out. For whatever reason; people are drawn to me and I want to use this gift to help others.

Being on probation is no joke. I did everything the probate judge asked of me but the pressure to be "perfect" and avoid being in the wrong place at the wrong time was beyond demanding. I wrote a letter to the judge requesting to have my probation time reduced. In the letter I documented everything that I accomplished - some were things that the judge/system put in place but most were things that happened just from me being me. While I was inside I helped people read and understand their mail. I also started a prayer group, this wasn’t something that I planned to do, it just happened from people seeing me and another guy pray before we ate.  With that people would come up to me and ask when we were going to pray again and I’d tell them there was no specific time but if you want to pray we can get that right now. A lot of the guys would tell me that they’ve been wanting to pray and make positive changes in their lives but never felt comfortable in church or other programs because they always felt like they were being judged on everything they did from the clothes they wore, the way they talked, etc. So again, another case of people relating to me and being able to make a positive impact on people’s lives. Just a lot of little things like that. These details were all in the letter that I wrote to the judge.

I detailed all the things that I had done while on probation. I was working, staying away from trouble and living by the letter of the law. The day of my hearing I had no idea if I would be the first or last person called from the judge’s docket. I was prepared to be there all day but my name was the first called that day. During my hearing the judge mentioned all of the challenges that he put before me during my original sentencing. He touched on my letter, called out all that I accomplished “and avoided,” the judge did all of this in front of a full courthouse so there were people in there who committed crimes and different walks of life. When the judge finished there was a loud applause for me, I was humbled and I also felt that the judge chose to call me up first to use me as an example, as a beacon of light that if you do your time, stay out of trouble and use that time to better yourself you can do it.

Coming home from jail is hard. It never goes away. It’s rough for a felon to come home and live a normal life after living behind bars. People look at you differently. There's times where I meet new people and everything is cool but once they learn of my past things go downhill from there. And finding a job? Most companies will pass on you with something like that on your record and the jobs that are available are usually low paying with no future or chance to advance. Every time I fill out an application I always wonder “are they going to bring this up? If they don't I wont. Is my past going to haunt me again?” 

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Before I caught my case I worked with kids and I LOVED it! I’m passionate about working with kids and people in general, “I miss it and I’m going to do whatever I have to do to get back to that.” Now that I’m living my life “after time” I’m committed to getting back into that lane. Using my people skills to help make a positive change in people’s lives whether kids, grownups, felons or anything in between. However many years God blesses me with - I believe that’s what I’ve been put here to do.

I think we as men let our pride get in the way of talking about certain things. We talk about girls, shoes and sports but miss out on the important conversations like being heartbroken by a girl we thought we loved, managing finances and mortality. There's usually no example for us. Especially if you grew up without that male role model in the house. Early in life I was never really into suits. In my hood men were only wearing suits because they thought they were pimps or they had to go to court and neither of those appealed to me. 

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Even with the challenges of my past I'm excited for my future. I have hopes and dreams just like everyone else and I'm pursuing them. I make a point to surround myself around people that are smarter than me, that are doing things that I want to do and that inspiring to me in any type of way. I'm still trying to figure things out but I like where I'm headed in my life (after time.)

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Willie Childs

Life After Time

Reach out and engage with Willie on the platforms listed below:

facebook: Willie D Childs

instagram: @da_black_fabio

contact & inquiries: dablackfabio@gmail.com

 

Continue the conversation by leaving words of encouragement and support in the comments field below.

 

 

 

Lessons on Mortality

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Mortal Man

Lessons on Mortality

by: Antwawne Kelly

I’ve always believed that I could be something in this life. Even as a young “ghetto child” the world labeled me - I knew I would be something. This life I’ve lived; this is who I am!
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Lesson One

1997/1998 – (a young me) gets an emergency call at work. It’s my mother telling me the doctor said her breast cancer was aggressively eating away at her body. That there is nothing that can be done. To prepare for the worst, that nature will take it's course. What 18 year old wants to hear that about their mother? The first lady of your life, the woman that gives you life! I tried to be strong, tried to concentrate, but the realization of mortality would soon walk through the door.

This is me; Antwawne Kelly - born and raised in Dayton, Ohio by Debra Kelly and Father “unknown” but that’s another story. At the age of 19 I had a child of my own, I was trying to figure out this thing called life and take care of my mother who was dying of breast cancer. Trying to meet all demands in my life at that time had me numb. I tried to figure out ways to save my mother. I did all I could to save her but time was running out and I came to understand that there was nothing I could do but savor each and every day with my mother. I learned the HARD way about balancing time “precious time” to be exact. Losing your mother does something to you that forces you to think about and question nearly everything.

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Life was tough after losing my mother. We had to move out the house we we’re living. Life’s stresses and pressure were mounting at this moment of my life. I found myself alone with nowhere to go; sleeping in my car because I did not want to be a burden to anyone. Calling my then girlfriend “Natasha” asking her if I could come and lay my head down at her house because it was too cold to sleep in my car on some nights. At the time she was living with her mother and grandmother so I would park my car a block or two over late at night after they had gone to bed and sneak in the basement window and stay the night.

Things were bad until my sisters got their own place and made sure it was a three bedroom house. I asked to live with them and they took me in; “they are my angels for taking the stress of being homeless off of me.” Through all of this I was still attending ITT Technical College working towards earning an associates degree in drafting. I found myself concentrating on a war with morality while still trying to be the man I always strived to be.

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Lesson Two

Congratulations - life starts to get better. Three months after my mother passed away Natasha and I moved into our new apartment. I went back to school earned my engineering degree, “there were only 28 people in my class (I was the only african-american).” Living on our own and going to school every day and taking care of a kid was a challenge. At this point in my life my pride as a man had been tested, I had overcome a lot yet there was more to come.

My buddy Jose needed help moving so I told him to let me know when he needed me. I asked him who else was going to help us move he replied, "Sherman and Chris." Sherman was my best friend. The day it was time to help Jose move Sherman was nowhere to be found. We called him several times that day and got no answer. Later that evening my brother Rick came by my house and said, “man something happened down the street at the Jiffy Lube that was by my house." I stayed up that night to watch the news. (Breaking news - man shot and killed at Jiffy Lube) my head was spinning. I saw a glimpse of what seemed to be a familiar car. The whole night I felt some type of way. In my head I was saying “that looks like Sherman’s girlfriend’s car.” I woke up the next morning and my phone had a ton of missed calls. While watching the news that morning I learned that my best friend Sherman had been murdered. Sherman had became a victim of the environment. Sherman Lightfoot was gone due to gun violence. How does a person process this abundance of mortality?

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Lesson Three

Six months after losing my mother I had my first son and followed that up by losing my best friend Sherman to the streets. Mortality set completely in on me. I had to find something to help keep my life on track so I would skate just to release my mind from my wounded thoughts. This period in my life would be one of the hardest tests of time in my life, “or so I thought.”

October 2, 2008 was just another "normal" day in Woodstock, Georgia. I just finished working at Barack Obama’s campaign office. I went to the Police Station/Courthouse to pay a simple fine. I had no idea that I would not make it back that Thursday evening. The first lady that I encountered instantly made me realize that I was being targeted. She was rude and seemed to ignore everything that I was saying. As she was talking I noticed that I was surrounded by three officers. I was never rude, disrespectful or loud. That’s when the reality of where I was and what I was dealing with set in, “remember I said I worked at Barack Obama’s Campaign office in Woodstock Ga.” That is a straight up republican/conservative area and I was trying persuade people to vote for Barack Obama "a black man" through a phone campaign. Every time I worked I noticed that a Woodstock police officer would come in and talk to one specific person and walk around looking at me, “the only African-American.” Things started to seem funny to me so I began to question if my connection with Obama’a campaign played a role in my harassment/mistreatment."

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The female officer at the front counter came out screaming at me. “This is wrong, your file does not state that you owe $25! You owe $75!” I told her I paid $50 towards the fine two weeks ago. She yelled; “NO! NO!” very loudly. I just stood there as she fast walked pass me in the direction of the courthouse. She came back out screaming; “NO! You owe $75 on this fine!” I showed her my receipt stating that I made a payment of $50 but that still did not meet her satisfaction. Another police officer approached and aggressively told me to calm down. I tried to explain to her that it was not me causing the issue but the female officer stationed at the counter. When another officer interrupted and said that it was me yelling and causing a problem I grew weary and made a conscience decision to stand in clear view of their lobby camera. I did not trust them and tried to remain calm. I reminded myself that I was there simply to pay a fine and go home.

I felt as if they were trying to set me up by getting me to respond in a negative way so I silenced myself and tuned out their ignorance, never uttering another word. I believe that upset them. Two male police officers arrived - standing to my left and looking at me at me as if they were ready to wage war. One of the male officers got in my face, standing nose to nose and said to me; “SHUT UP!” I turned my head away from him and said, “get out my face.” From there he turned me around and pushed me violently across the lobby towards a door.

Another off duty officer and his small son was walking through the door. The officer was still pushing me towards the door and almost caused me to bump into the kid. I dropped my shoulders and the officer tried to push me but he missed and stumbled into the wall. The off duty officer and his son came in the door and as I was calmly walking away I was grabbed by the back of my neck and choke-slammed onto the concrete floor of the police station. Four police officers attacked me, I fought the urge to resist. One of the officers had one of my legs, two officers had my arms and the other officer had me by the neck. He was choking me so hard that I was unable to  scream out for help. I just remember seeing a black lady and her daughter hiding behind the building, wishing I could yell out for them to help me. Something told me to stop moving all together, to place everything in God’s hands!

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I was chocked until I passed out. When I woke up my mouth and hands were bleeding. My eyes were swollen and blinking uncontrollably. I was sitting on the ground handcuffed next to two officers that were looking down at me. I told them I needed to go to the hospital and they replied; “No! You are going to jail.”  I was incarcerated from 6:30 Thursday night until 3:00 Friday afternoon when my wife bailed me out. She didn’t look at me until we walked out the police station and I screamed, “LOOK AT ME!” She broke down crying repeating; “what have they done to you?” We went straight to the police station to file a report.

When I arrived at the hospital they said, “you’re lucky you’re here, you suffered a serve sub-conjunctival hemorrhage to the brain.” Meaning that blood stop circulating between my heart and brain stopped flowing. My wife and I went through all assure that the officers responsible for my treatment would be held accountable for their actions. We won the fight against the officers but there was still another fight I had to win – forgiveness. Forgiving those officers and letting go of the anger inside of me was one of the hardest things I ever do in my life. With my wife and family by my side I was able to CONQUORE that war!

 

I’ve faced my fears and stood strong in my battles of life and death situations. But the war continues...
 
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Antwawne Kelly

Lessons In Mortality

facebook: Skates Out

email: ak@skatesout.com

website: skatesout.com

instagram: @skatesout

Connect For

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Mortal Man

CONNECT FOR

By: Alvin L. Dillapree Sr.

Alvin is from the Detroit area and wanted to share his story. The distance between us did not allow us to do a portrait session. I have included pictures from some of my previous visits to Detroit to accompany his words.
— Aaron Paschal
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Detroit is a city where you learn quickly how to deal with loss. Whether it’s your bike or a loved one, the emotions attached with loss are unpredictable. The acceptance or denial of these emotions come with reasoning and understanding. The flip side is that it can be conflicted by the mystery of the unknown.   

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The initial person’s death I consciously understood was a Barber. This is the man who administered my first haircut. I can still feel his voice like grip on my cranium as he orchestrated his symphony of craftsmanship. I think I was 6 years old when I was told he had been shot while in the barbershop during an attempted robbery. This changed how I viewed longevity. I no longer thought of grownups as immortal. Although I didn’t have a personal relationship with him, his death would prove to be profound in my life. His grip remained with me every time I received a haircut for many years. This was my first connection with reality.   

No one truly leaves you when they transition. It simply marks the beginning of a new journey you embark on with your team that you share a special connection with.  

I attended my first funeral at the age of 8. It was for a 10-year-old boy named LaDon. Our families were close. LaDon was struck by a drunk driver while at an ice-cream truck. Every time I see the (stop traffic sign) on an ice cream truck I think of him. I wondered where LaDon was after he departed this life form? Why was a young boy taken away from this world so soon? While riding in the funeral procession to the cemetery for LaDon, the route went directly pass my mother’s place of employment. Ironically she was off work waiting at the bus stop. My cousin and I were the only two people that saw my mom that day. My mother worked to provide for an only child all the luxuries of the wealthy on an economy based salary. She did well. I knew of no other lifestyle as a child. I seemed to be having the perfect life despite the outside worlds perception. August 30th 1980, my connection with that exterior world would collide with the interior.

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Starting the 3rd grade can be intimidating. Add the fact that you come from a single parent home, you have very few positive male figures in your life and you live in an urban city during one of the most traumatic times involving drugs and violence. By the way, the only person you depend on - day in and day out, has just been killed at a bus stop waiting to go to her place of employment. I would delay the start of school for about a week. Crazy as it may sound, my biggest worry was that I wouldn’t be able to take the brunt of a mother jokes from other students. Once I got back into school I noticed some people who thought I needed sympathy at this time. I didn’t like this treatment. My mother was gone and the pain of that couldn’t be forgotten soon. But I didn’t want pity. I did, however, understand that now I was more special than before, my story had just changed a little, that’s all. The "knowing" that things always work out for me assisted with the transition to life without my physical mom. I now knew that she was present in a different form. I could feel her connection with me when things became challenging in my life.

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My mourning period would be brief. Less than a year later the man I knew "or didn’t know as my father," passed away. No funeral, obituary or grieving process for me in reference to my dad.  I was informed of the news one day after school and had to immediately move on with life. To my knowledge he had already been buried by the time I was informed. Despite our relationship being what it was - I did feel sad due to the lack of connection with my dad. My psyche changed after my father passed. I now somehow felt stronger mentally. I approached life with the purpose of molding my chaotic clay into a brilliant piece of artwork. The unknown memories of time spent with my dad were now the jet fuel that would propel me to ensuring my own families future happiness. Supreme inner strength and family members support helped me graduate Denby High School in 1990. I proudly served my country in the United States Navy for nearly a decade. 

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In 2008 great events took place in the world. We saw the country do something I never thought was possible; elect a black man into it's highest office. My written article was featured in the popular barber magazine - (Against the Grain) and my son; Alvin Jr.  officially became a member of planet earth. I can honestly say that the past nine years watching him grow have been phenomenal. I now know how the dots connect to some degree. I had to go through all the lessons of pain and loss along the way to arrive to this destination of great appreciation and fulfillment of life. I understand that death is a necessary tool that teaches "it’s not the ending that connects you, it’s the journey while happy that does." No one truly leaves you when they transition. It simply marks the beginning of a new journey you embark on with your team that you share a special connection with.  

 
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Alvin L. Dillapree Sr.

Connect For

Born February 17th 1972 in Detroit Michigan to Margie Dean Dillapree. Alvin Lee Dillapree Sr. has compiled a list of passions that include writing, photography and videography. A graduate of Denby High in Detroit. He went on to serve in the Navy and establish the foundation for the man he would become. Thought provoking and direct are a couple of adjectives that describe Al. Humbled to be the senior writer, managing editor for Against the Grain Magazine, he also had the honor to produce, write and host multiple online radio shows (Barber Sports Talk), (Politics Beauty), (Dream League Show). He was a judge at the 2012 Bigen Barber Competition in Detroit. He was the host of the Barbers Roundtable in Atlanta Ga. He introduced the Barber educational team: (D Elite). He studied Media Arts at Macomb College. The most rewarding of all activities is being with his family.

instagram: @aldillapreesr

facebook: Al Dillapree Sr.

Mortality.

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Mortal Man

Mortality. 

by: Matthew Vaughn

 

11/26/17

Sitting diagonal to a queen two moons past comfort, I try not to breathe too heavy. Afraid I may frighten her into forever, I speak softly, but with bass enough to be felt. I have never met this beauty, but she is fairly familiar with my face. I am told I resemble Her brother, my grandfather. I find this to be truth when a smile awakens to the mountains of Her cheekbones and a whisper is screamed into my spirit, “How are you doing?” I recite a half truth and tell Her I am well, feed Her hand into my own, and watch as Her wisdom dances still. We share a brief kiss of the eyes, mine, drifting above Her brow to the grey coils wrapping towards a crown.

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Tears of another elder cause a chaos in my chest. I witness the pain between two weeping rivers of remember when and a future without. A loss of hope engulfs the hearts of Her lineage, a gain of understanding sweeps them with purpose. Traveling word informs me, she is given the remainder of the week. Directly into the ear of my mother, and to the lip-reading eyes of my grandmother, “I'm ready to go,” is Her calling.

 

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I write this story without a drop of sorrow, not because I am strong, but because I was only awarded with a moment, and, fortunately, a living and mysteriously nostalgic one. Death often attacks without consideration for those outside of its grasp. It usually does not wave goodbye nor express its love one last time. But it is one last time that we get. Whether or not we know it is then is for the moment to reveal itself to passing truths. This year, a year of unexpectedness, my first year at a college and my first year losing a friend from college, a year which my father's mother volunteered mortality and was denied in her effort, a year which my mother's mother shivered at the mere mentioning of such… as we still await her results, I have learned how troubling the acceptance aspect can be. This is, however, a glorious reflection on the light we have casted in whatever amount of perceived time we are here. It is intentional in both the process of mourning we endure, in whatever way that may be, and the clarity and lessons learned following. Although mortality is on its way, we can still live with enough purpose to enjoy and be enjoyed in everlasting life. In the hearts of our homes. In the memory of many spirits. In the love we spread which lasts, without conditions, into eternal.

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Alexandria Austin 9/16/96—9/26/17

Shirley Williams 4/8/37—11/27/17
 
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Matthew Vaughn

Mortality.

Student + Spirit + Poet + Tree + Maroon Arts Group + Member of Underdog Academy

instagram: @MatthewVaughnUA & @underdogacademy

twitter: @MatthewVaughnUA & @underdogacademy  

inquiries: underdogacademy937@gmail.com

website: uapoetry.com

Be sure to keep up with Matthew on social media  and please leave comments on this page to offer words of encouragement, to share your story and to keep the dialogue going.

Never Thought...

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Mortal Man


Never Thought...


By: Mike Cooley

When you can’t find nobody else to speak to you can speak through the music. Help other people feel your pain, your struggle, your passion. You know, what you live and die for, your values in life
You know what I mean?
— Busta Rhymes (Music for Life) off of Hi-Tek's Hi Technology II album
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I've been making beats since 17 or 18 years old. That's when I got my first drum machine and started expressing myself through beats. It's my main passion and probably how I best express myself. I started making because I rapped and over time I grew tired of rapping over my favorite rapper's and producer's instrumentals so I got a drum machine and got into making my own.


A few weeks ago a Jesse, who was a rapper and a close friend to my brother was killed. It was senseless violence. I was upset and I was hurt. I felt like I had to do something with this pain so I made a beat so that I along with my brother who is a rapper as well could make a tribute song for Jesse. Near the end of the song there's a synth that comes in and that particular part is where I envision Jesse's voice coming in laying his verse. That's my way of paying homage to him.

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I was sitting in the house for days just pissed off, Jesse had just turned 21, he has a baby on the way, he just got married so it hurt, I was hurt. I knew sitting around the house drinking or smoking wasn't going to do anything so I decided to make that beat and I did feel a lot better after releasing my pain, using my music as an outlet. 

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All of this took place right around the same time that the Mortal Man project was released so I was like "this timing is right on point, like this project was made with me in mind!"


A lot of times when I'm dealing with situations like this I don't talk about it. I feel like talking about it is just going to make me think about it and feel worse about it so I try to avoid those feelings. Bringing up issues that you are trying to push down is tough but sometimes I do feel better after talking about them... dealing with and releasing that pain does help.

Never Thought
— Mike Cooley
I made it for my little brothers who had just lost a great friend to senseless violence. His name was Jesse. The plan is they’ll rap on the 2 empty verses and then when the beat switches and the instrumental starts going crazy that’s like Jesse’s verse. They all used to cipher together at parties. Since he’s not here to rap I put the synth lead in there to represent him.
— Never Thought...
 
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Mike Cooley

Never Thought...

DJ + Rapper + Beat Maker + Music LOVER

Maschinist. Trunk Bound Regime extremist

instagram: @atrunkboundcooley

tumblr: liquorandbeats

email: trunkboundregime@gmail.com

be sure to leave comments below to keep the conversation going, offer words of encouragement or to share your story.

Acceptance

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Mortal Man

Acceptance

by: Randle B. Moore III

The stigma surrounding being a black, gay, male in America has changed drastically over the last ten years, yet we still have a very long way to go. Unfortunately in 2017 young, black, gay men are STILL faced with stigma from their families, friends, church members, co-workers and others (society in general) that they interact with on a daily basis.

People who identify as LBGT+ are commonly disowned by family members and friends, treated as outcasts or black sheep which can lead to depression and a sense of "mental" solitary confinement, both of which contributes to a higher suicide rate in the LGBT+ community.

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Individuals who are NOT among the LGBTQ+ community often austercize, deman, condemn and criticize individuals just for wanting to be comfortable in their own skin. I wanted to engage in this photo essay to let more people know how stigma contributes to death. Death of a whole community of people who want nothing more than any other human, which is to just want to be happy... "like all of you!" 

 

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If there are any questions on how SPECIFICALLY stigma and silence on this particular matter equals DEATH for our marginalized  community, please feel free to reach me at: randlemoore@equitashealth.com 

 

 
 
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Randle B. Moore III

Acceptance

I’ll be happy to share more personal and intimate situations and circumstances that have a negative impact on society at large! 

 

Thanks for allowing me the opportunity to be a voice  on behalf of a whole community of people who are still afraid to even exit the closet because they don’t want your SHIT! 

facebook: Randle B Moore III

email: randlemoore@equitashealth.com

 

I Had a Life Taken Away From Me

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Mortal Man

I had a life taken away from me

By Leroy Bean

 

“Looking at my phone with a blank stare

as it mirrors my sentiments 

With a blank note pad

Cursor 

Just blinking at me

Waiting for the right words to be thought

To be said

To be written down

But the music it plays

Drowned out in the background 

Echoing almost

Like my thoughts 

Not quite able to make them out

But I feel them

An idea

Growing outside the boundaries of my mind

Controlling me 

Forcing ocean storms from my eyes

Stone petrified for long moments at a time

But the scary thing is 

You can't hear someone else's thoughts

And society doesn't value expression enough

And the idea

Of suicide 

is solitary confinement 

Surrounded by walls of your demons

thoughts of escaping suffering 

An idea that can barely be expressed

Just a feeling

And we underestimate feeling too much 

With the strength it can give you

And the weakness it can infect you with

But with enough

Love 

And 

Compassion

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It can become the cure to someone's day 

Or lifetime

Their breath 

and existence 

We miss yours already

I remember your smile 

Your goofy laugh

Your innocence when we played as kids 

I wish 

my reach extended past the limits of time

To reclaim the memories 

To experience the feeling again

I just seen you

I had faith

Between our eye contact 

That space

There was a connection 

Your face 

It told me something 

I felt something

A glimpse of those memories again

The world of oblivion we lived in

Ignorant to the demons that could tear us down 

They were just monsters under the bed

Under our consciousness

 

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Some of us become aware the hard way

We get scared

Cornered by our fears

Distracted from people who love us 

Standing in the peripheral 

We are here for you

Speak to me 

It's okay 

Express yourself

Cry and flood away your trauma

Please continue to check in on the people you say you love and care for

Dive deep into introspective conversation 

Don't be afraid of the darkness in the abyss when you get there

You are life

And light

You are love 

And Mark 

I hope you still feel

That we love you.”

 

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This poem is about my first close encounter with DEATH since the beginning of the destruction of my masculinity control system.

I’ve always been the type of person to think a lot; always confined to my own mind. Being a male, I locked my emotions and fears and feelings and unhappiness all up there with me. It drove me crazy. At the age of 22, for the FIRST time in my life I had somewhat of a “heart to heart” with my dad about how our disfunctional relationship has been affecting my life and the life of his other two sons. The conversation wasn’t really equally open on both ends. I realized I couldn’t force my Dad to change his mindset, but I could fix mine. It’s been over a year since I started chipping away at this wall of masculinity. It’s one of the hardest things I’ve had to struggled with in my life so far. To realize that I had an unhealthy relationship with MYSELF and I had to start over. To realize that I had been living in a prison this entire time, but only I could let myself out. To realize that I had been crippling myself rather than making myself stronger. I was suffering...

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This poem is about my first close encounter with DEATH since the beginning of the destruction of my masculinity control system. He was a childhood friend of mine. Our Mom’s were friends, so we were really close. We had lost touch over the last few years; felt like forever. One random day a few months ago, I stopped in Third Perk Coffeehouse and I happened to see his dad across the street. He comes to talk, tells me how he has been, and that is son is on his way over. I was excited, I hadn’t seen him in years! When I saw him I was happy. I couldn’t wait to link back up when we had more time, to talk to him - and share what I’ve learned - and hear what he’s learned - and discuss music - and share my poetry with him - and find out what new talents he has developed! 

So many more things I wanted our friendship to experience, but I guess there was only time for that one. 

I gave him my number because my phone was dead at the time. I heard he had been through some things, so I really wanted him to hit me up. I’m big on sharing wisdom and communicating. Maybe some of my experiences could help him.

About a month goes by, I wake up to a phone call from my mom, telling me that he had committed suicide the night before. The disbelief that fell over me was overwhelming. All I could do was cry...and wonder why. 

Why couldn’t he express what he was going through to get help? What was holding him back?

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After hours of asking myself unhealthy questions, I decided to write this poem about how I genuinely felt. I had a week before the funeral to find a way to process these new emotions I now have the ability to, sadly, only recognize. I found that it was easy to distract myself and have fun and feel better. But there were these moments... between breaths, where the world seemed to slow down and the background noise was low and distorted... I would drift off into a montage of thought about him and memories that we shared, hopeing he really found something more peaceful, his family and realizing that, per usual, I can’t open my mouth and say any of this. Just stuck in my mind. The farthest I got was, “...I had a friend commit suicide.”

 Then remained silent long enough for the recipient of my awkward sorrow to feel uncomfortable and say “I’m sorry to hear that.” because I didn’t give them enough communication to adequately give me the response I needed. 

The day of the funeral arrived. I’m happy with the connections and impact he made while here in our reality. Stuck in my mind, not really able to speak much. His mother asked me to do a poem, luckily I had started writing this poem before she had even asked. I thought I would let that speak for itself and for me. Still, I was incomplete. Until the end of the funeral when I released everything haunting my body thru tears, in my mother’s arms, and comforted by my women. An intimate embrace that felt so healing. Something a lot of men have never experienced, including myself until now. Vulnerability seems to be more haunting than the thing that makes you feel vulnerable in the first place. 

It wasn’t until a few days after the funeral where I sat down with my woman and fully expressed myself and talked about the descriptions of my emotions and thoughts 

with another human being. It felt freeing! After 23 years, it only took me a week and some change to express some serious mental trauma. I’m doing better but the effects of masculinity still has its holds on me. But we must acknowledge our fears and trauma and demons, in order to get passed them.

 
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Leroy Bean

I Had a Life Taken From Me

Leroy is a author, spoken word artist and member of Underdog Academy.

Author of The Love and Theory of Womanology, "book and CD available on amazon."

host of Underdog Academy's Broken English 101 podcast available at: soundcloud.com/be101ua

instagram: @hxc24_ & @underdogacademy

twitter: @HXC24

facebook: Leroy Da'Vaughn Bean & Underdog Academy

snapchat: @xCaptainPlanet

tumblr: hyerpoetry.tumblr.com

and also at uapoetry.com

A Man Is Not A Boy

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Mortal Man

A Man is Not a Boy

by George Webb

A man is not a boy he makes things happen. He understands that struggles are temporary even when he can not see the light at the end of the tunnel. Fun doesn't come before the bills being paid. A man puts his business before his wants - he knows winters coming. Too many men are in the clubs obsessed with looking rich with fifty cents in their pockets. When are we going to be responsible? Michael Jackson told us years ago how to fix the problem; "you start with the man in the mirror."

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A man doesn't point his finger at anyone, he stands on his own. Women love a responsible man, a God fearing man, a man that keeps a job more than eight months. A man that keeps a roof over his head. It's not the sex that counts - but the little things. Men lead by example. Spiritually we are the head of the household. Who is going to start leading today? Stop waiting until New Year's Eve parties to get it right. Who is going to make a change today? So men do yourself and the world a favor, do your families a favor and stop making excuses. A man is not a boy he makes things happen.

 

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I wrote this piece to encourage our men. Even though the world is war torn it doesn't give us the right to ignore our responsibilities. We have to carry ourselves the correct way, take care of our families. Be firm in our convictions. Don't just talk the talk, BE the talk. Everyone goes through hard times it's a part of life. I know what it feels like to take a step forward only to be knocked three steps back. It's not easy and was never meant to be. The world is trying to break us. We must take a stand and overcome every obstacle. That all starts with us. We can move mountains together if we work together. 

 
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George Webb

A Man Is Not A Boy

twitter: @georgeadamwebb

instagram: @corporategeorge

facebook: George A Webb & corporategeorge

snapchat: @followmymoves

 

Survivor's Guilt: Part I

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Mortal Man

Survivor's Guilt: Part I

Danny Rodriguez

Maybe cause I’m dreamer and sleep is the cousin of death Really stuck in the scheme of, wondering when I’mma rest.
— Kendrick Lamar on "Sing About Me" on his "Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City" album

We called him “Conejo” which means “rabbit” in Spanish. He was dark skinned and lean. His muscles only came out when he sprung into action. He was fast and could jump high. I recall watching him touch the top of the rim at the basketball courts at P.S. 100 in the Soundview section of the Bronx. He was nice with the hands. Conejo was way better at everything than we all were. He could run fast, play football, baseball, swim fast, outbox anyone, and slick talk his way out of everything.

If one of us got into a fight, he would coach us through it and we would win. Today, when I watch a youtube video of how to do a particular acrobatic move for Capoeira or Breakdancing, I imagine Conejo doing this in 2017. Back in the late eighties, he was that guy. If you needed tips on how to jump higher or lift more weights, you went to Conejo. He was very encouraging. You wanted Conejo in your corner when you were down. He had the right words to tell you. When I would strike out at baseball, he would not berate me. Conejo would tell me what I needed to work on and even offered to help me out.

When I learned of his suicide my entire world was shaken. It took me several weeks to get over the shock. Each morning I woke up, I expected to see him doing calisthenics outside like he did every morning. How could a brother who we all looked up to take his own life? At thirteen - it was the first time I came to grips with my mortality. He was too young to have children or to have a bigger impact on our community. I felt that it was all a waste. So after the shock, I felt betrayed. It was selfish but I was just a teenager and I still had much to learn.

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Fast forward to my enlistment in the U.S. Navy. I came home on liberty one weekend and ran into a long time homie, Running Man Johnny. "He was always running to and from somewhere, hence the name." That day was no exception. When I jumped out of the gypsy cab with my sea bag and a hug box of presents Running Man Johnny offered to help out. I did not want to waste his time because I knew that if he helped me up my mother would have forced him to stay and eat. I hugged him and thanked him. I told him we could link up the next day and catch up. He agreed and ran off. I never saw him again. He was murdered a few hours later. As my brother and I dj'ed the night away in his bedroom Running Man Johnny was shot several floors below our window. We heard the gunshots. Running Man Johnny was killed by someone who he fought and beat the night before. While his name was given to him for always running to his destinations, he never ran from a fight. He was survived by a daughter who never got to know his long hugs. When I was a fresh faced teenager who wanted to just get his dance on and meet girls in other projects Running Man Johnny was my wing man who made sure none of the hardrocks jumped me. He saved my life in so many ways. All of my memories of him were good ones. Oftentimes when I pour libations, his name passes through my lips.

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I wonder if at times, I am a pretender when so many who were stronger than me in so many ways are no longer here.

This year an elder I knew was murdered. At 44, I never imagined that I would still lose loved ones to gun violence. I thought that once we pushed through the pain of the Crack Cocaine era in NYC that we would not lose loved ones to gun beefs or drive bys gone bad. TC Islam lived in my building when we lived in the projects in the Bronx. He was lively and always dropping jewels on us. If there was anyone that was about peace and embodied the principles of the mighty Universal Zulu Nation (UZN), it was TC Islam. He was the last person I thought would be murdered. I thought that at a certain age we old heads would grow up to brag about our children and wait for the arrival of our grandchildren. I assumed that many of us would make it to elderhood and be called OG's by the youngbloods.

When I hear a young person call me OG it stings on so many levels. I think that I don't deserve these stripes. Clearly, Conejo, Running Man Johnny, and TC Islam would be OG's. We learned so much from them. I would be a liar if I didn't say that their lessons helped shaped me. The jewels they dropped helped me navigate through life as I got older. My life would have been vastly different if I never met them. I will go so far as to say I might not have survived to be this old if it wasn't for them and others like them who are no longer here.

I cry so much. I don't think I have the strength to cry anymore for losing so many loved ones in such a senseless manner. I wonder if at times, I am a pretender when so many who were stronger than me in so many ways are no longer here. So when I hear the term “OG,” it stings.

 
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Danny Rodriguez

Survivor's Guilt

Son, Husband, Father, Teacher, Afro Latino B-Boy, Author, Capoeirista, T-shirt Model, Pro-Feminist, Hip Hop Diplomat

 

Keep up with Danny on social media...

instagram: @brothereromi

twitter: @DaTresOmi

podcast: Where My Killa Tape At soundcloud.com/dantresomi

medium: @DanTresOmi

 

Leave comments here to keep the conversation going, to offer words of encouragement or to share your story.

Footnotes On Loving a Broken Man

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Mortal Man

Footnotes On loving a Broken Man

by Atlas

On days, I rebuke my reflection Times, where I begin to wallow in self-doubt and pity.

Eventually, succumbing to my past failures On those nights, when I come home defeated And I feel I can’t live up to my name.

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(Please.)

Wrap your heavenly wings around my physique. Compress your flesh upon mine. And (hold on.) Cling to me like memories of the fallen remind me what an functioning heart beat feel likes,

(Be silent.)

Wipe tears that escape my pride Off my cheek bones

(And as I resist, in showing you emotion.)

While my ego attempts to engulf Whatever’s left of me in order to save face. Remembering, what the absence of my father taught me. What the absence of my grandfather taught me. Remembering what my mother taught me. That there is no safe haven for men; boys whose hair is coarse and skin sun kissed.

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That being frail is not an option, being tender is not an option. That black men; boys cannot be broken. when those words prove false. And my own esteem shatters across our living room floor When these eyelids overflow And streams of disdain pour down your back. (Squeeze me tighter.) Remind me that I’m not the sins of my father. That I am not incompetent or a failure. Or colored from the same brush Everybody will eventually paint me. Remind me, that (I too deserve love) I too am worthy of peace, vulnerability, of feeling safe.


 
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Some of my oldest memories of my childhood were me looking for affection and it was consistently met with resistance.

I wrote this because men aren’t allowed to be broken, especially me being a black man. I could go over the statistics and data of how we as black men are treated unfairly in society. However, no one really gives a fuck and at times it is extremely frustrating and infuriating.

I can only speak for me and I personally was always taught that I couldn't show ANY vulnerability or emotion. That was like a cardinal sin growing up. Some of my oldest memories of my childhood were me looking for affection and it was consistently met with resistance. When little girls fall and start crying because they scrape their knees, we stop everything to make sure they are ok. When a boy falls and start crying because they scrape their knees, we ignore him or tell him stop crying; we call him names sissy, punk, or a girl. We give negative reinforcements at an early stage that showing emotion is not a quality boys should have.

We as society promote hypermasculinity and stoicism, especially in the black community; then 15-20 years later after he's been conditioned to be a "savage" or lack empathy we complain about how he does not know how to say I love you and mean it or why he cannot properly express himself. We also chastise and vilify him for that same reason. Men are just forced “Man up,” especially when dealing with emotions.

This poem is me recognizing what has been instilled me and why it's problematic. That there are an abundance of broken men out there who want to show love and be loved, but that concept is so foreign to them. Lastly, masculinity will continue to be fragile until society is truly open with allowing it to be vulnerable.

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Atlas

Footnotes on Loving a Broken Man

Vet. Artist. Teacher. Student

 

Atlas is a spoken word artist and member of Underdog Academy.

Be sure to engage with him and follow his journey.

instagram: @atlasthepoet & @underdogacademy

twitter: @Da2KcoolJ

facebook: Kyle Flemings & Underdog Academy

and also at uapoetry.com

 

please comment on this page to keep the dialogue going.

 

 

Prank Caller

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mortal man

PRANK CALLER

By Shon Houston

 

Over the span of leaving home

I attempted to remember you in poetic ways.

Like the way your fingers were a backyard off Gettysburg Ave.

And your eyes were a crystalized oak tree in the winter.

Beautiful and always melting.

 

You spent your afternoons doing oddly romantic things.

 

You would sit in your favorite blue chair

Turn on your stories 

And try ti forget that grandpa died in a hospital holding your hands

While not recognizing your face

Just your hands.

 

Your living room is the first funeral that I didn’t count on.

The smell of yesterday,

A cringed nose of lemon scented furniture polish and something

Passing away early one Saturday morning

Before the sun swallowed you whole 

Filled the hallway of that apartment building.

 

My uncle’s adult head lynched in the hammock of my tiny arms

Felt unbelievably strange.

 

Your door was open, I knew what I was going to see.

I saw you, soul slipping through the floor of that tiny room,

I felt like there could have been a pond in my throat.

 

There is no other way that I can tell you just how much I was drowning.

 

It would be years later,

That same uncle would have gripped my hand

For the last time in August.

 

I imagine him with you.

 

I still haven’t been able to quite catch my breath.

Only a month ago I couldn’t remember your phone number.

 

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Someone called from it once.

I thought it was a joke.

I didn’t laugh. Just kept crying because I couldn’t bring myself to answer.

Always wondering if it was you,

Telling me that you forgot something.

That you weren’t fully ready to go

You just missed your husband so much.

I imagine that loneliness

Being an anchor dragging along the ocean floor of your spine.

 

Secretly, I feel that if I am not asleep by 2 am

My ears will gather a minefield of nicknames that you would call me

They would gather like sunflowers

And unknowingly I would fold them in half

Tuck them into an envelope

And address them to your tiny apartment because they still belong to you.

 

As you cupped your children’s faces into your ribs

Cradled them like whispers

All as if they were not adults

And pulled yourself from their tangible existence.

 

I wanted to be mad at you

But that phone call

One Thursday evening out of nowhere

Changed everything.

It changed everything

And I didn’t even answer.

 

 
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Shon Houston

 

When I wrote that poem, I was struggling to find the  purpose of committing people to memory, like memorizing a poem. I have trouble memorizing pieces, always have. But I can recount the details of people. I can always link them with things that appeal to my senses. 

 

I remember two of the most important people to me in details like colors and scents. Shortly after my grandmother passed, I got a phone call from her previous number. Her apartment was now being leased to someone else, phone was of course in a different name, so when I got the call it was a feeling that came over me, like seeing a ghost. I had yet to bring myself to take her contact info out of my phone so her name came up and everything. I always wondered would that phone call be the closure I was looking for.

Keep up with Shon on:

instagram: @iamshoncurtis

facebook: Shon Curtis

website: shoncurtis.com

"and please comment here as well."

The Vulnerability of Man

Mortal Man: Rev. Lewis

Mortal Man

The Vulnerability of Man

by Rev. Lewis

 

Mortality and legacy, 

Go hand and hand. 

But it’s vulnerability that makes a mortal man. 

Taught to be stone,  

But enough pressure will turn stone to sand. 

Show a moment of weakness. 

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Told to suck it up, be a man. 

Keep those raging waters bottled behind that damn. 

Build your walls high enough, 

and eventually you’ll stop giving a damn. 

But these walls don’t come with bridges. 

These moats will wash you away. 

And I keep my archers at the ready. 

To keep love away. 

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I wonder what my absent father thinks of me. 

Continuing your legacy of solitude, 

Hurting those closest to me. 

Maybe one day I’ll put my pride away. 

And be forced to face my own mortality. 

 
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Rev. Lewis

 

THE VULNERABILITY OF MAN

Rev. Lewis expresses himself through music, poetry and deep conversations.

Be sure to keep up with his journey.

facebook: Dionte Lewis

instagram: @reverend_lewis

"and please comments here as well."

All In A Name

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MORTAL MAN

All In A Name

by Aaron Paschal

I'll never forget the emotions, the memories, the stillness that I felt the first time I signed my last name after my father passed away. It was like time stood still as visions of my father flashed before me. Memories of my childhood and hearing him walk through the house quoting Muhammad Ali and scenes from Superfly followed by his goofy laugh. I could see him with a basketball in his hand calling himself the "Slama' from Bama" in our driveway followed by a hook shot that always seemed to go in no matter where he shot it from as my friends and I looked on annoyed and impressed all at the same time. 

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I wonder how long I stood there at the desk signing my last name?

Funny how something I've done countless times in my life could trigger such thoughts. I'd always taken my last name for granted and even had grown accustomed to simply writing my initials up until March 18, 2012. That's the date my father passed away and left me his only son to carry on his name, his lineage, his legacy.

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While I was there at that desk signing my name on that paper I could hear my father voice calling out to me to press my teenage foot on the brakes as we worked on my first car. I could hear him telling me how foolish my uptown haircut looked. I could hear him repeat some of the same corny jokes that he told me as a child to my kids. 

I wonder how long I stood there at that desk signing my last name?

I could hear the frustrations in my father's voice as he seemed to be in and out of the hospital the final year of his life. I can remember the strength and courage he displayed as he was diagnosed with stage four cancer. I never heard him complain or ask "Why me?" He just went about his life, enjoying time with his family, soaking in the love and what I imagine the pride that he had as he looked at the people he would soon be leaving behind.

Isn't it funny how something as simple as signing your last name can remind you where that name came from? How what you do with that name extends far beyond you?

I wonder how long I stood at that desk signing my last name?

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MORTAL MAN is dedicated to the memory and legacy of my father
— Willie Frank Paschal

vision quest

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it seems like every fall for the past few years i've made a point to kind of unplug from the world and get lost in my own personal hopes and dreams. to spend time on things in my personal and business life that i've put on the back burner in order to take care of everyone else.

this past saturday morning i grabbed a couple of my cameras and headed out to get lost. somehow i ended up on a rooftop in downtown dayton where i took in the views, snapped a few pictures and more importantly had a long conversation with myself. i thought about where i am in life versus where i want/need to be. i thought about changes/enhancements that i want to make with my brand, relationships in my life that i need to either nurture or bring to an end. i visualized my photography book, came up with a deadline to bring all of the images together, planned personal projects that will both challenge and enhance my current skillset... like i said, "i had a long conversation with myself!"

on the rooftop i gave my imagination freedom to roam without interruption or judgement. i enjoyed the morning breeze, i reconnected with myself. being alone on that rooftop provided me personal time and space that has eluded me for quite sometime. i'm rejuvenated and excited about where i'm headed in life. winter is coming... i plan on bringing the heat! 

In The Pines with Fantastic Negrito

Fantastic Negrito interview

when i was in louisville to cover bourbon and beyond i had a chance to sit down and talk to grammy award winner - fantastic negrito. we talked music, comebacks and collaborations. It’s hard for me to categorize his music; though my one and only attempt would be: DOPE! If by chance you have not heard his the last days of oakland album i suggest you do so quick, fast and in a hurry! i definitely suggest bangin’; in the pines, hump Thru the Winter, about a Bird, lost in a crowd, rant rushmore… well just play the whole album!

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will you describe your style of music to people who may be unaware of who you are?

FN: i describe my style as black’s roots for everyone.  edgy, raw, blues with a punk attitude. like i have all those mixtures… blues, funk, rock, punk, soul – it’s an amazing garden to pick from.

so you KILLED it on stage! they loved you…

FN: i know how to do a show! that’s what i think i’m best at. I’m a songwriter and a showman!

as an artist it’s tempting to settle into a comfort zone and do “what’s working.” how do you avoid that trap?

FN: my comfort zone is to be uncomfortable. i like to be challenged and to be a contributor. to do this music with the intention of contributing usually works out well.

who are some artists you have worked with recently?

FN: i did a song with zz ward called cannonball that we performed here today and i also worked with mistah f.a.b. and zion i on the oakland resist-mix.

do you have any other collaborations in the works or better yet is there an artist that you’re itching to work with?

FN: i’m on tour with sturgill simpson i think we’ll definitely do a collab, i think we’re definitely gonna cook something up, we keep talking about it.

i’m going to just throw this out there and i know it doesn’t mean anything but i’d love to see you do something with gary clark jr.

FN: i have something in the works with gary clark jr. it’s just a matter of if he gets to it. there’s a song called chronic pain, i don’t know if he’s gonna get on it or not but i hope so.

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do you mind speaking on your past and how it impacts your music?

FN: sure, the road that i’ve traveled… man the things that don’t break us down makes us stronger. my story goes in three phases. i started off wanting to be some big star - got signed to a label for a million bucks. the second phase is losing all of that. i was driving down the street one day in los angeles and i simply woke up three days later i was in a coma, lost my playing hand and then i delved into the underground music life, ran a few afterhours and illegal night clubs - that was fun. and I had a lot of incarnations i had stuff like chocolate butterfly, blood Sugar – i was just having fun then i decided to quit/retire i sold all of my stuff because I never thought that I would play again. i went up to oakland, ca my hometown and decided to become a cannabis farmer.  got out of music for five years and then boom! came back as fantastic negrito. i came back and those have been my three different phases, going out and then coming back and i think that’s okay. it’s okay to quit, put something down for a little while.

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what brought you back to music?

FN:  well i had a son. my son brought me back. i couldn’t put him to sleep one day and i just had a raggedy guitar hanging around the house and i just picked it up and played like a g major and that changed the course of my life because his reaction to it was so beautiful that i decided maybe there’s something to this music. so i slowly started playing again and came up with fantastic negrito and i haven’t looked back.

you can follow fantastic negrito’s journey on his website: fantasticnegrito.com as well as instagram: @fantasticnegrito and on twitter: @musicnegrito

The love and theory listening party

by leroy bean

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welcome to the center of my imagination; the color spectrum of my feels. where I gave my all in every piece of it or chose the right people that could bring it to life. nathan tipton a.k.a. junior astronaut was the executive producer on the album. i knew with his imagination, good ear, and taste in music he was the perfect person to create the sound for this album. from the very first recording session all the way to the end, it was almost too easy the way it came together. my favorite track we did, because of its complexity, is "women is/what is god". if it isn't bad enough that it's a pantoum poem (look it up) with color coded lines to create five poems in one, nathan brought the colors to sounds. so every color and every line was given a note and just so happened to come out beautiful when we played it. also since a pantoum plays on repetition he created a voice effect for each line, so you will notice lines that share the same vocal effect, are the lines that repeat. then the transition into "What is god" was so perfect! even though we did both tracks at separate times.

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my brother matthew vaughn from underdog academy (ua) also has one of my favorite parts on the project. in the track "slippery slope" nathan got an idea to sample matt's vocals from his song "dream factory" on soundcloud, as well as some left over sax from a session with ric sexton. slippery slope instantly became a favorite for me. speaking of ric sexton, his place on the album was perfect as well; from "thank god for your existence" to "do you mind, love", he really added that smooth jazzy feel that i wanted. i love the sax!

and lastly my girl mariah is the featured singer on the project. when you have any type of musical project i feel like singing has to be in there somewhere! i'm a huge fan when it comes to her voice and i'm glad my project was one of the first to help her increase her confidence. my favorite from her is "what is love" because the feeling and emotion she put in that was crazy! but "what is beauty" is low key my favorite because of how smoooooooth it rides.

for this to be my first music project, i can say that i am very happy with it and I hope you enjoy it as much as me. 

what is woman?

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love yourself

by kimberly newton

she sits in silence

pondering how gracious her inner being has been to herself

she looks at everything she once believed, everything she told herself.

some good, some bad. some things she wished she never had…..said or done…..

she sits in wonder.

through her darkest days. how she was afraid to show her radiance to the world.

she sat in her loneliness. her view obscured by darkness, aphotic, lifeless.

she avoided the truth like the plague. creating illusions that haunted her. stood in her fears, crying in shame. but who’s to blame?

she aimed to claim fame, but constantly burned by her own flame. too afraid to put out the hate, scarred from her past of bad relationships. sexual involvement with multiple partners. she lay. empty

such a precious jewel but fueled by animosity of her own atrocities and the detestation of others who seemed to have hated her but only hated themselves because of their own self-projections. what a reflection.

wake up beautiful one. find your peace. not a piece. he can’t offer you anything but waste your time with lies, full of deceit all smoke and mirrors when you look, who do you see?

love yourself until you love yourself. but what does that mean?

look within goddess.

through meditation and forgiveness you’ve learned to keep pushing. reveal yourself. unveil your past. it is not your future. it does not predicate who you forever will be. don’t you see?

love

something so mundane. very easy to say but so hard to claim.

love

not what you say, but what you do. through generational curses, you can subdue the untrue you, push through... goddess.

what your mother carried in her womb has been released through you. you do not have to carry the torch of her past, pasts, pasts, transgressions and untruths.

love conquers fear

trumps guilt

overshadows hate

cures evil

transcends distress ‘til all your fears dissipates

immortalizes immortality

and circumvents your discomfort

god-dess

god…….desss

god….does

god….is

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love yourself until you love yourself

create a harmonious sound that resonates so deep within you that the heavens seep in the lives of others from the godly words that you speak. keep your waters pure and your integrity meek.

be open to love in various forms. respect yourself and all others. love does not hurt it gives joy to all your sisters and your brothers.

from your lowest esteem to your highest esteem. let your femininity shine bright. for you are wombman a goddess, you are a bringer of light.

a sexual being and a sensual being. in your totality you are truth. your truth compliments your being. from what you birth it shall never die. be the LOVE that you seek. goddess awaken. now is your reprise.

being woman is claiming your freedom!  inside and out!!!

kim is an artists of multiple talents, you can connect with her on facebook: kimberly newton and on instagram: @poetik_lioness

what is woman?

mariah

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woman is the ultimate creator.  she is the portal in which new life flows out of.  she is foundation and naturally the epitome of what is essential to world peace, love and compassion. her instinct bears nurturing tendencies while offering the perfect combination of love and discipline to a child.  to the unconditioned mind and society, woman is love, woman is perfect. i witness these attributes through my own mother and how she has chose to live her life.  whether it be unsolicited lectures, or chastisement of not fulfilling a certain responsibility around the house, she had created this balance of love, discipline, and education. 

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woman is hard and yet soft simultaneously. she has taken many blows from society’s manmade ego. her highly emotional and intuitive intelligence has been countered as weakness. it’s as though the woman’s greatest strength is what cripples her from being equal to man. but although she has survived through much oppression, her softness allows her to still love and support her oppressors. she is backbone and rib to the very thing that may drag her through mud. her tears and strength are the magical ingredients which brew her abilities to carry on and stay soft. this is a true testament to what i have personally experienced through both platonic and romantic relationships. because i feel so deeply and grounded to the forces of this universe, it makes for a very emotional spirit that can easily be looked upon as weak. i have internalized much of what this society says a woman should do, how she should look, and all around carry herself; thus subconsciously trying to align myself with these standards. just recently, about a few years ago, have i realized the true power of what it means to be woman. i think we’re pretty amazing when you strip away all the extra rules and regulations that have been put on our being. 

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woman is truth. unfortunately sometimes woman will subconsciously internalize the truth of someone else’s desires, diverting the path of her destiny. woman is pure. she releases a spirit of calmness and light into any room. she is the major attraction everywhere she goes.  Woman can tame even the roughest of seas, breaking down barriers that seek to lock her, woman is persistent.