It has been about a month since the last Men @ The Round Table event was held at The Black Writers Museum in the Germantown section of Philadelphia... I have realized that hearing from and listening to the stories and thoughts of black men has transformed me from the inside out. I am aware that compassion, care and true love go a long way to buffering me from succumbing to the effects of living in the sludge of male oppression, disappointment, lowered expectations and just plain anger. Anger towards myself and anger towards men.
I just spoke with a friend of mine today about the transformation (my favorite word) in my own life as it relates to my father with whom I had never had a real relationship prior to September 2013. There, in the midst of that month, came a metamorphosis of pain into forgiveness, apprehension into appreciation, resentment into love and today, as a grown woman with children of her own, I can say that my relationship with him is giving me what I longed for and so much more. I shared with my friend that I get early morning text messages from him about how beautiful I am, how amazing I am and I can feel his pride in what I have become... To any man who is unsure what his contribution can be or should be to his daughter (or son for that matter), know this- that this 35 year old woman is being nurtured as an adult in ways that I never thought possible and it is making a profound difference. Imagine what difference you can make early on!
Even in the sense of looking to a mate or potential mate for attention, validation or love, the motivation is not internally driven by a hole in my heart. I am complete, whole, lacking nothing- not just because my relationship with my father is whole but also because my relationship with ME is whole. It is in light of the dissection of all of these areas of my life that the Men @ The Round Table project could be born. The birth pains have been deep and severe but the joy of new life is sweeter than ever imagined.
Well, I tell ya. When you ask for understanding... sometimes it brings to light things you never thought of. So, I created the Men @ The Round Table events to learn about the affects of racism, feminism, incarceration, absentee fathers, etc. on African American men in the US... What I have gotten out of these discussions has far surpassed anything I would have imagined. I have been confronted by myself... yes, an African American woman/ female,... confronted, sometimes surprised, sometimes horrified, by own ideas, thoughts, preconceptions about African American men. I knew they were there... some at least.
In sitting at a conference table with black men from all walks of life, senior citizens, young men, professionals, students,...and listening to their stories, expressions, confusion and frustration, I have been confronted by my own frustration, anger, disappointment and general disdain for black men. I have also been confronted by my heart for them; the knowing in my soul that I love them, that they hold the key to so much in my world. I found myself holding back snappy comments like "Just be straight up, man, and stop trying to look so tough." and "You are so full of shit." Simultaneously, I asked them questions about their life and what those experiences did to them on the inside with genuine care and concern.
These events and experiences have been transforming me from the inside out... Much of my work is about transfromation. I figure, why create art, paintings, drawings and crafts, unless they will challenge, inspire or ignite a fire in someone...? I figure that in order to create works to transform black men and women's relationships, I must delve into the depths of all that is REAL for me... the good, the bad and the ugly... sometimes the hideous.
Gearing up for the second Men @ The Round Table event is like fighting tradition! The initial gathering was powerful, rich and uncovered many new and illuminating experiences... so, the reset button, no matter how much I try to hit it has been elusive. I am fully aware and present to the fact that the only way for this upcoming event to be as powerful and more is to see it, experience it and be open to it as a blank slate. Completely new, unique, one-of-a-kind.
The official invitation went out today and registrations/ RSVPs have been pouring in already. I am floored. Humbled and excited. I spoke with a local male business owner and just mentioned in passing hosting an event at the Black Writers Museum. After answering what type the owner lit up with interest and shared how he would love to be a part of this type of event. What an amazing perspective, being a black male business owner. He received his invite today :-)
So, here we are, ten days out before our next event, which will be on a Saturday afternoon... lunch. I am thinking Jimmie Johns. Keep it simple and yummy. Register here to participate: http://www.eepurl.com/YeR3D
Committed as I was to being a space for full self expression, unreasonable truth telling and sharing, there was no way for me to be prepared for what transpired last night. After spending two and a half hours with twelve men from all walks of life, varying ages, with various life experiences, I am floored, humbled and openly expectant for things to come. The men were open, willing and responsive to questions posed to delve deeper than the surface of experiences. We discussed various topics ranging from racial profiling (both by law enforcement and in the workplace) to absent fathers to the imbalance in the education system. The topic garnering the most attention, response and expression was around the topic of fathers and their absence, presence or ambiguous nature in their lives.
There were moments when it was necessary to draw the focus back to personal experience. There is a natural tendency to take on the role of problem solver or observer even in our own experience and I took it upon myself to hold the line with the purpose of the event... which was to delve into PERSONAL experience, PERSONAL places where life experience has cracked, marred or scarred you. It was an empowering conversation, an empowering Round Table of men that I will forever see as courageous, powerful, valuable human beings.
After months and months of pondering how and what this project will be, the I Am Only Human Project is in full swing! I am extremely excited, nervous, and humbled under the weight of this project's scope and mission.
"Upon viewing '12 Years a Slave', the movie, I became “caught”, “stuck” by the scene in which the main character, Solomon, is forced to brutally whip his friend and confidante, Patsy. Having begun a visual journey through the interpersonal labyrinths between men and women in the months prior, this scene halted me and made me pause. 'What did it do to the black man’s psyche to be forced to whip the skin off the back of his counter-part?', I thought, 'What part or parts of himself did he have to discard forever in order to survive that experience?'... This inquiry led to other questions that The “I Am Only Human” Project works to discover responses to. 'What else is he carrying around?'"
Through an amazing partnership with The new Black Writers Museum, we will be hosting two Forum style dinners for black males of all ages to ponder and sit with these questions as a way to inform imagery for a traveling mural/Forum project entitled "Men @ the Round Table". On Friday evening, June 20th from 6pm to 8:30pm and Saturday, July 12th from 1:00pm to 3:30pm, a space of safety, inquiry and expansion will be created to delve into this often misunderstood and ignored aspect of our society.