Lately, I’ve been relatively silent concerning a plethora of thoughts. I needed the currency of time to sit back, listen, watch, be still and rest in meditative energy. I separated myself from a certain social media matrix in hopes of seeing the world more clearly with a renewed sense of compassion, empathy and love. Human existence on this planet has given so much, yet taken so much more. I could no longer see a balanced world. My pure view of humanity was being challenged on all fronts. As I evolved, my projected idea of our world grew darker. The world humans had created never really had balance to begin with. So, I spoke to my “sINNERman” asking him, “Why does anything I have to say matter? I’m no different from the hundreds of thousands in history who were never heard or acknowledged. No one took their cries seriously so why would mine see the light of day?” I started to sabotage my own soul with fear. Every atom in my being responded saying, “All your voice will bring is accusations to your character. Your integrity and the validity of your words and the SINcerity of your heart will be distorted. Your efforts will die like all the others. You will be judged heavily and every thought manipulated with propaganda.”
I randomly called out, POWER!! Weird, I know right? But, it was as if Nina Simone’s unapologetic energy and unbridled conviction jumped out of my being! Suddenly, my fear dissipated. Each example I used as a fear tactic now fueled a new purpose. I felt I was supported by every ancestor that spoke up throughout the ages. These ideas and stream of consciousness are what followed...
I’ve recently reunited with the band Gungor for their One Wild Life Tour. When we were planning the tour together, Michael expressed his ideas for three movements that would occur in the show. The first movement would be entitled, “What Am I?” The second, “What Is All of This?” and the final movement, “What Is God?” We all joked about wearing some crazy things to represent a visual of chaos that accompanies the question “What Is All of This?” As he further described the eclectic ideas surrounding these movements, the “What Is All of This?" movement started to take on a totally different meaning for me. I asked myself "Really, what is all of this?" I started to think about my reality in this world. I started to think about the current political circus that was stirring in America. The result was something unexpected. The names of black men and women who have been killed in the last five years by overly aggressive law enforcement started to roll in front of me like credits after a movie across my meditative screen.
“Always have a reason, a purpose for what you do so when asked you’ll have an answer.” - Marc Clark
I knew what I needed to do...
As a black man I feel it asinine to debate about black lives having value. As a human being I feel it's insulting to have repeatedly voiced the results of race supremacy over another. Our lives have always mattered. From the time Africans were taken away from their own free land, chained and enslaved to when those Africans developed a new identity as Black. White supremacy intentionally diluted a race to create confusion and foster a disjointed, broken sub-culture that knew nothing of it’s origin or true power. Even when those same Blacks of African descent started to challenge the systems that were created to work against them living a truly equal life. After, they were all either killed or “blacklisted” from their respectful trades and platforms in the American society their ancestors built. When the systems they fought against strategically created a drug epidemic within their communities that was/is designed to keep them numb and dumb to the control that they’re under. After all of that, that was still only a microcosm of how Black lives still warranted a source of high value, let alone just being human like everyone else on the planet.
I now had an opportunity to be on a stage again where I could say something without saying anything. To be intentional without being loud and being loud all the same. I now had another platform to speak on behalf of those forgotten, ignored, judged and simply disregarded because of their color or media portrayal.
I was inspired by a good friend and artist by the name of TaRee, who had recently released a new single entitled, "The Way I Do" and along with it, a very thought provoking music video. This video made the single take on a totally different meaning, one that I wasn’t prepared for. Her decision to morph her art into more than just a typical romantic notion and to embody a Civil Rights resurgent message reflecting the current times was boldly beautiful and relevant. She sacrificed being safe and instead, gave a voice to a conversation that lends itself to challenge everyone who touches, hears or sees her art. She ended her video with the names of people killed by the hands of law enforcement. This gave me such a boost of inspiration to execute this idea that was quickly coming to life.
I remembered I’d recently purchased an interesting coat last fall. The coat was what seemed to be an usher or butler-style coat. It’s a dark blue coat with 7 ornately designed buttons down the front accented by heather grey trimming. As I examined the coat, every part of it started to gain more meaning and purpose. Elements of its function started to represent metaphorical ideas. Fundamentally representing the imagery of those who are required to serve but not be seen or heard, I could hear what this seemingly common cloth was asking to become.
In designing this coat, I knew it needed to represent that of a Butler. The Butler position in America is synonymous with that of Black America. A Black Butler had to be excellent but voiceless. A person of color in America has always been expected to be invisible but serve at every moment called upon with swift repercussion if that demand was ever combated or denied. I wanted the coat to resemble a Butler carrying the names of those killed as they hung underneath the arms of the coat, representing the genocidal blood of generations before him. The Butler position having double meaning, I now had to decide the names that would lace the coat.
There were so many names that I doubted even completing this design. How could I possibly get all of them on this coat? I didn’t want a single name to not be represented. The reality was there was no way I could get them all on it and that dilemma was quickly turning into part of the significance of the coat. Given that this tour run was just 9 show dates, I decided to honor two names per show.
Photography by: Casey MacKenzie
The names represented on the coat are as follows:
On the left arm:
On the right arm:
Sgt. Manuel Loggins Jr.
Steven Eugene Washington
As a young, black, creative millennial man, most of the circles I frequent have left me being the only Black face represented. I’ve had my share of oblivious, passive racism, stares that carried discontent, privileged rebuttal to my transparent efforts to inform about my experiences whether on the road or at home. A loneliness that, at times, was momentarily halted by simply seeing others like me in the crowd and searching for them after the show just to talk to them in a language that wasn’t forced. To be immediately understood. Not just because of color but because our uncanny experiences mirrored one another despite being strangers. A sense of understanding that words can’t convey.
I want to personally thank Michael and Lisa Gungor for allowing me the platform and opportunity to share this creation in conjunction with their vision. I want to thank all of my enlightened White and Black friends and family who I’ve had the opportunity to converse in depth about this and many other issues in our world. I have to thank Mike “Science Mike” McHargue for the intellectual discussions we’ve had in every encounter. You are one woke White guy! You all inspire me!
In no way do I intended to desecrate the memories of these beautiful souls. I hope to honor those whose names are represented here. If just one person showed interest in wanting to truly understand more about why the lives of Blacks mattered beyond the media propaganda then it would have served a huge purpose but I do believe this coat will intrigue more than one.
In conclusion, the question, “What is all of this?” has yet to be answered and as I get older I think it will never have an absolute answer or conclusion. This coat represents a googolplex of questions.
Taking a cue from The Great Nina Simone; United States of America, Goddamn!