Written by: Imani Hightower
Edited by: Brittney Cooper
July 7, 2020
You ever watch the news in disgust and... Let me start over. WHEN you watch the news in disgust, do you ever notice all of the bad that is represented in place of what could showcase so much BLACK EXCELLENCE?! Is there not enough bad shit going on in the world that they must show even the smallest bad thing that occurs as a result of people being unemployed, homeless, hungry and just plain old FUCKING TIRED OF THIS DAMN COUNTRY’S SHIT? Instead of all that bullcrap, can I get some positivity in my life?
I was happy to realize I was not the only one who felt this itch of dissatisfaction. Amazing Creative Director Asharah Simpson, 25, of Union City, NJ and her boyfriend, Photographer Extraordinaire and owner of Dreams Over Everything Photography (@dreamsovereverything_), Nadir Johnson, came up with the idea to use their talents to showcase BLACK MALE EXCELLENCE! Can the church say ‘AMEN?’
Alongside The Vision Room (@_thevisionroom), this power couple created a sanctuary full of black male excellence, and you know what y'all? THEY ASKED YOUR GIRL TO BE THE HOST. You do know I almost cried, right? It was as if my prayers were on speed-dial and were answered ahead of all the drug dealers praying and trying to get in touch with the Lord about their girlfriends’ unemployment benefits. THIS is what we needed. Not the regular, desensitized content of our men being killed with no remorse. Not more of how the police and government are doing little to nothing to bring my sister, Breonna Taylor's, killers to justice. Instead, we need this, this BLACK EXCELLENCE. Realishh fam, you do understand I was literally obligated to be a part of this, right?
When I asked Photographer and creator of this project Nadir Johnson (@nmjohnson_ , 25), of Jersey City, about his inspiration, it was no doubt that it came from a place of passion. Nadir explains, "I wanted to do a shoot for myself, for my birthday, but it didn't feel right, Imani. I felt like I had to do more, show more and I felt like this... " as he points to the amazing artwork on set behind me, "was what I needed to do. For myself, but more importantly, for black men right now." A black man with untamed passion… I felt full.
On set, I had the opportunity to meet so many amazing black men, and it made my soul smile. The first person I had the opportunity to meet was Tyshon Garrett (@ramid.caliphh, 24), of Newark, NJ, and my oh my, what an experience. Tyshon reminded me of a song your grandmother sang to you that calmed you down and made you come back to a lovely reality. His bright and warm personality pulled me in like no other. It was of no surprise to find out that he was a counselor, who had just recently graduated with his Master's Degree from Seton Hall University. Tyshon spoke of healing and why it is so important for us black people to heal for our own sanity. A black man who wanted to heal… I felt full.
After some time of exchanging love and truths about our realities Tyshon & I were joined by a black male adonis. Immediately, all I could do was think of his mother. This beautiful 6-foot-something black man with a full and long beard – how hard it must be for her every time he leaves her sight. Soon, I would learn this man, who people would assume played for the NFL, with his strong stature and build, is in fact Staten Island Elementary School Teacher, Lou Carey (@louu_gottadream, 27). During our interview, I asked him about the babies, and the passion he translated to me was unforgettable. It was a passion I wish all teachers possessed, especially those teachers in the urban communities. His passion is what makes children want to learn, his passion is what drives children to keep pushing. He spoke of the responsibility he felt to those babies, to protect them from all things while in his care. A black male protector… I felt full.
I've always admired beautiful men - beautiful, strong, sexy and confident men. So meeting Jersey City, NJ, native, Jay Saint ( @jaygotnext, 30), reminded me why I admire black men so much. He walked like a king of the Nile. I was in awe as I watched him take over the set and make it his own. Every move, every slant of the head and every eyebrow raise made you want more. A face for Vogue, a body for fashion week, Jay was a sexy saint. I wanted to take Jay on a tour and show every black man how he walked – with his head to the sky as if he meant something, as if he was someone; because he was. Jay walked with a confidence I wish every black man had and knew he DESERVED to have. A confident black man… I felt full.
Having lived in Hudson Gardens Projects in Jersey City, I understand the push behind a hood kid’s dream. No wonder why I understood the strength in each and every pose given by 22-year-old Ky (@kyyinthecut), a rapper from Hoboken, NJ. As we spoke about the rap industry, he noted how important it was for him to make it for, 'Black guys like me, future Black rappers'. We spoke briefly about the use of the n-word and how it affected him as a rapper. Many rappers will defend the term, but on the contrary, he revealed how he himself wanted to minimize his usage of it. He spoke of how rappers needed to be more conscious of the word and where it comes from. Ky revealed that his music spoke of the struggles that black men face, especially in housing projects. "My story is why I rap, my story is what I rap about and it's real...". The perfect bone structure, the hard stance, and even the thick Jersey accent wasn't the strongest thing about him, but what he was standing for. A black rapper who stood for something… I felt full.
Black men struggle with so much judgement in the world. The concept of intersectionality is not always understood, so when being asked to be a part of this project, I thought it was important to have black men of all types represented. As gay black men face so many tribulations in the world, it was a field full of Chanel scented flowers to meet the happy and inspirational, Serge Fils-Aime (@serge.fils). At only 19 years of age, Serge seemed to have mastered the art of manifestation. He spoke to me about how hard work and determination had been the reason he had succeeded even after being turned down from over 500 modeling agencies. "I never gave up, I kept pushing and the very next month I was published in Vogue," he shared. His charisma was unmatched. He was proud of who he was. A black man with pride… I felt full.
I was able to hear the stories and opinions of all these gorgeous black men as they looked like Kings in these handmade, one of a kind tuxedo jackets created by none other than Nigerian designer Michael Deji (@mikechariot, 38). Each piece told a story of pride and elegance. Patterns of gold and argyle draped these men and embodied the feeling of royalty. Michael explained how his inspiration came from his grandmother, who always told him that he was royalty and reminded him of his importance. Michael took this with him everywhere he went, including the studio where he created these pieces. A black man who knew he was royalty… I felt full.
Of course I felt full after indulging in all of that chocolate, duh. I was inspired, I was happy, and I was reminded of how much society needs black man. There are not enough channels and opportunities for black men to be vulnerable and real about who they are. They are not allowed to be passionate, healers, protectors, prideful, stand royally or stand for anything, otherwise they get shot down, both figuratively and literally. This experience only intensified my feelings towards the importance of this fight we face. As a black feminist, I pay so much attention to my ladies (which all of you should do more of, by the way), sometimes I fail to remember how amazing our men are.
After meeting each and every one of these gentlemen, I was so proud of what they do and proud of how phenomenal black men are, even when they do not receive the glory they deserve.
This interview and series shall be going live right here on Realishh.com, so make sure you tune in to feel how I felt. Thank you to these black men, for allowing me to hear you and see you. Keep giving the world full course meals, filling them up because these mf’ers need it. They need you, KINGS.