Our Style, But Where Are We??

So a little while ago, I got a DM on instagram from a lovely lady named Angel King who was inquiring about how to be featured on the blog. She is an upcoming designer in the DMV and is looking to get her name and brand out. Now I jumped at the request because she is the FIRST person to reach out to me and suggest a topic, therefore October on the blog will be showcasing and celebrating brown Female Designers!

While thinking about the types of questions for this set of features, I realized how necessary this theme was, especially considering the numerous fashion weeks taking place across the globe during this time of year. I’ve been noticing a lot of people commenting on how (once again) many components of black culture are being adopted into the fashion industry. For example, all of sudden baby hair, durags and head wraps are in style on the runway. What may seem to be “new” accessories or hair styles to some, these trends have been a part of black hair culture for decades. But all of a sudden they are now high fashion and deemed “urban fabulous” because they’ve been attached to white bodies.

It never ceases to amaze me how much of our culture is appropriated without due credit, representation or respect. How many black fashion designers do we see during the fashion weeks in New York and Paris? How many black contestants are included on tv shows like Project Runway? But our styles and concepts are quick to be copied, rebranded and resold while we are excluded. So in an attempt to increase visibility and appreciated for black female designers, the features for this month are of women trying to make a name for themselves in fashion; to share their stories, designs and passion.

 

As always, to be featured or to suggest a topic, feel free to email me at raven.best5@gmail.com!

 

Remember to follow The Free Your Mind Project on Instagram @fymproject and like The Free Your Mind Project on Facebook.


Thanks for reading!

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Proving Them All Wrong

DAVIAN davian3

Age: 21
Occupation: 1st Grade Teacher at Ingenuity Prep Public Charter School
Hometown: Washington, DC/Oxon Hill, MD

 

Life as a Black man in the U.S. has been a definite struggle but I would never change any part of who I am, even if it means that my life would be “easier.” Growing up in SouthEast DC, one of the poorest predominantly Black cities in the U.S. and moving to Prince George’s County, Maryland, one of the most affluent majority-Black counties in the country has come with it’s fair share of trials and tribulations. I love who I am. Where I come from. What I represent. But to some, who I am, where I come from, and what I represent does not sit well with them and they feel threatened by my mere existence. Stereotypes, judgements, perceptions. I would be a fool not acknowledge that Black men are targets for destruction in today’s society and the truth is being a black, Christian“gay” male doesn’t many things any easier for me. The intersection of these identities has presented a plethora of very unique and challenging experiences throughout my life. But I can’t help who I am or how other people judge me..and honestly, I couldn’t give a shit.

davian4Recently, it “seems” as though more and more black males have been the victim of senseless acts of violence, racism, and discrimination but this isn’t necessarily true. It isn’t that it’s happening more often, but more often it is coming to the light of public acknowledgement. It is sad to say that this is nothing new and to some it’s the norm. But why is this the case? You would think that after slavery was abolished nearly 150 years ago, the Civil Rights Movement 50 years ago, and the election of this country’s FIRST Black president 6 years ago, that we would see progress. Indeed, some progress has been made but it has been very, very miniscule. The truth is…shit hasn’t changed.

Hearing stories like Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Jonathan Ferrell, Eric Garner (the list goes on and on…and on) truly disgust me. Why am I still more likely to get pulled over? Why am I still more likely to get arrested? Why am I still more likely to serve more time in jail? Why am I still more likely to be shot and killed by an officer (a white officer)? It seems like no one can give me a true/valid answer. Nowadays, Cops are not shooting to wound or apprehend. They are shooting to KILL! Their force is excessive. Why? Because they are threatened. But why are they threatened? Because Black men are stereotypically labeled as aggressive, negligent, killing

machines. Black men are constantly demonized and criminalized. We are not provided the same opportunities as other men and when we are,Davian2 we have to fight for the leftovers.

Even after attending the University of Maryland, College Park, a mixing bowl of students of different races, ethnicities, nationalities, abilities, sexual orientations, backgrounds, lifestyles, etc. I could not forget that it is still a predominantly white institution. I truly enjoyed my experience there and the people I have met but I will never forget the subtle signs of racism, the stares when I was the only Black male in my engineering courses, the white female students who crossed the street when they saw me coming, the group of drunk white guys who didn’t think I heard them call me a nigga or a fag on the Quad. It could have been so easy for me to look down on white people as a group for the poor actions some of them have made but that wouldn’t make any sense. Just how all Black men should not be ridiculed for the poor actions that other Black have men have made (rape, murder, abuse, theft, etc.)

Last October, I joined the 2014 Teach For America DC Corps and I am currently a 1st grade teacher at Ingenuity Prep Public Charter School in SouthEast, DC. Of a staff of almost 50, I’m one of three males of color. In a field where white females are the majority and less than 2% of teachers in the U.S. are Black men, I feel even more marginalized. Black male over-representation in the U.S. prison system and under-representation in the U.S. school system has always been a painful nerve in the back of my head. But that makes my job so much more important for not only me but for my students. It’s important for my students (who are majority Black) to know that black men can be teachers. We are not all aggressive. We are not all gangbangers. We are not all drug dealers. We are not all NFL/NBA players. They all have a “choice” in what they want to be when they grow up but it will not be easy. They have to fight back. They have to advocate for themselves. But in a very proactive, productive, and non-violent way because if they choose the opposite, we will only be acting as the fools they predicted us to behave as.

davian1I know people didn’t expect me to make it this far. To make it past my teen years. To graduate from high school as Salutatorian. To attend a predominantly white university on a full ride and graduate on time. To start my master’s program in education at Johns Hopkins University. But that’s fine. I’m not going to stop until I get my PhD and become another black man who they address as “doctor”.

 

Want to reach out to Davian? Follow him on Instagram and Twitter @davey_divito or Email him at davianmorgan1@gmail.com

Having Pride in Your Own Path

JEAN-PAUL DSC_0071 2

Age: 25

Education: Associates in Health Science

Occupation: Bartender / Personal Trainer / Entrepreneur

 

My name is Jean-Paul. I am the eldest son of two on my mother’s side and the middle child on my father’s side. I have the best brothers and parents a young man could be blessed with. Born and raised in the eclectic, historic, forever growing city of Washington DC. Capital of our nation. 25 years old with endless possibilities to be reached in my lifetime.

In the process of coming into your own, you face the undeniable struggle of finding your way. You are handed some form of family and habitat at birth. You immediately begin to process information from all your experiences. I am sure that you can agree that your own experiences are unique only to you. Even if you have an   identical sibling, you are your own person. You have come to be who you are and how you think based on what you have learned and interpreted in your life. Naturally, you are predestined to fall in line with the people similar to you and have come before you. However, the future you choose will be the future of your own creation. You directly influence the situations and trials you come to face. We are all dealt our own hand in life, its up to you to take those cards and go for the win.

Screen Shot 2014-09-19 at 12.20.25 AMEveryone has a dream; A vision of pure bliss. As far as I am aware of, we all daydream about that perfect moment when you eventually become the individual you always envisioned on those morning commutes. Sometimes those thoughts are repetitive, and then other days they are different. The underlining theme of these broad fantasies of the future is that you are more likely than not, happy as fuck. The goals that drive me, that engulf my thoughts and control my morals are derived from me wanting be happy.

I want to be remembered for helping to make a difference to the people closest me; have financial stability and the scheduling freedom to enjoy all that I am passionate about. What are the goals that drive you? You see, I am the ruler of my own reality, as you are the ruler of your own reality.  The way I plan to live my life, might not be how you want to live yours. Just allow all things in your life to synchronize, seamlessly. It took a long time, but I eventually found that synchronicity after having dealt with my own trials.

We as young black men have a huge weight of expectations on our shoulders from birth. No matter what comes your way, just adapt and flow. Follow whatever it is that’s true to you. Go experience all that captures your gaze and imagination. As long as you are doing what makes you happy, or doing what’s necessary to achieve happiness, fuck everyone else’s opinion of what their view of great is. Become great in your eyes and the eyes of the people that mean most to you. That pride is the source of your drive. Doubt will only corrupt you. You want something, get the fuck up, and get it.

Second Chances

KOLAWOLE SOLOMON Instagram: execwalls

Age: 27
Occupation: Healthcare Administrator
Hometown: PG County, MD – by way of Nigeria

 

“I obsess over my own perfection, but is it possible that even in my imperfect form, I create the highest standard?” –K.S.F

 

It’s been told so often that I’m sure you’ve heard this story before. A group of young black males, late teens to mid-twenties, who aren’t used to having a lot – devise a quick plan in order to gain more. However, this plan, like so many others before it, forces these young men down the road to perdition – often called “the prison system.”

The year is 2005. After a string of armed robberies in Prince Georges County, Maryland – a group of young men conclude their night by robbing a Wendy’s fast food restaurant. This unfortunate event was witnessed by an undercover cop, which led to a high speed chase down a residential neighborhood. The young men are cornered by two squad cars on a one-way street.

After complying with instructions to turn off the engine of the car and toss the keys out of the window, via megaphone, the young men prepare themselves to surrender. Yet it seems that one of the two policemen still felt that deadly force was necessary in order to apprehend these young black men. The officer, by all accounts, proceeds to fire two shots directly at the vehicle, which prompted one of the young men to open fire at the officers in an attempt to save his own life by fleeing the scene.

 

That young man was Charles Vincent Cole, Inmate #336052 – a friend and a brother.

PROFILE PICTURE

Charles remained a fugitive for a few months, until officers were able to identify him with the help of statements given by his accomplices and other unrelated individuals seeking lesser jail time. He pled guilty to 3 of 32 charges and was sentenced to 25 years in a Maryland state prison.

I frequently reminisce on the events of that night, exploring how my own life could have easily traveled down the same road my brother’s had. I most likely would have been chilling with that group of men on that fateful evening had it not been for the fact that I had to work and was uninformed of the scheme until its aftermath. Maybe it was luck, maybe it was divine intervention – but whatever it was, it gave me a greater sense of purpose moving forward.

Within every human is a piece of ourselves.

The year is now 2014 and my life somehow mirrors Charles’ own. I have used my background in business administration to invest in and operate a boutique home health agency serving seniors in the DC area. I also run a website dedicated to my creative endeavors: photography, literature, and illustrations – which I also plan to make a business of. I workout at least 4 days a week and eat a lot healthier meals.  My mind is open and my views are liberal.

CHARLESA lot has been accomplished in the 9 years Charles has served. He has gained his GED, scoring so high that he was made the instructor of the GED prep course. He’s held a steady job in the prison kitchen, which has allowed him to make a few dollars as well as build himself from 150lbs to 225lbs. With the extra weight comes fitness – Charles leads a small fitness club within the prison, sharing workout techniques with other inmates. He’s also maintained good behavior throughout his incarceration, so much so that he is now housed in the “Honor Tier,” a section that offers a greater level of freedom and privilege.

Every visit I make to see my brother, I’m instead greeted by a new person, an improved man. I mean, dude even taught himself how to play acoustic guitar – a feat he would have never attempted a decade ago. Although neither of us is particularly religious, we both believe in the power of positive thinking. So you’ll never hear Charles complain about his situation or his past. He’s one of the most optimistic, forward-facing human beings I’ve ever known.

Charles is a living example that personal redemption is attainable for every man, woman, and child who seeks it.

Perspective dictates all. Therefore, our constant pursuit of self-improvement, regardless of circumstance, propels us closer towards our own level of perfection. I never have to say, “Free Charles Cole,” because he is a man whose mind has been freed a long time ago.

 

Follow Kolawole on Tumblr:  www.exec-walls.tumblr.com

Life As A Black Male

CHRISTOPHER  suited

Age: 22
Occupation: Field Coordinator
Education: Studied Government and Politics at the University of Maryland- College Park
Hometown: Hempstead, NY

Life as a Black male in America is honestly the most confusing experience. Don’t get me wrong, I love being Black. I love my heritage, I love my history, and I love the strength that it gives me. You would think there wouldn’t be much confusion there with all of that. But for me, the confusion really comes from so many external factors. Some argue that a true love of oneself is all they need to be successful. However, the outside forces that work against black males in America can be so strong, it’s frightening at times.

A clear example of this is the treatment of the black male in society, through the media, social institutions, and law enforcement. To our communities, Black Males are an important pillar of what makes them thrive. We are encouraged to make our contribution to our communities through hard work, leadership, and passing down lessons learned to the next generation of young black men. The issue here is that there are so many things that are stacked against us from doing that.

It is hard for us to obtain a good education because schools, especially in inner city communities, are ill equipped. It is hard for some black men to obtain the finances need to pursue higher education. In entertainment and the media, I find that black men are portrayed in very one-dimensional capacities. I also feel that many of the historical profiles of black men, such as the Sambo and the Brute, have been reformed and modernized to fit changes in society. Our entertainment, music, films, and television, has not progressed to the point where black males can escape the stereotypes that are often put upon them through these mediums.

on thee micOur struggles with law enforcement are well documented. Black males are egregiously over policed and incarcerated at rates higher than any other race. Black males are given longer sentences for lesser crimes. Even one encounter with the justice system can ruin a black man’s life chances. Police Departments across America, on multiple occasions, have used over-excessive force on black males. Some have which have resulted in loss of black male life.

These problems are not anything new. These are issues that our parents, grandparents, and beyond them have had to deal with growing up in this country. I said before that being a black male is this country is a very confusing experience. We are pulled in two very different directions in life. Black males spend most of their lives either working to assimilate themselves into American culture, to remove the fear that others have of us. Or, we spend it rebelling against the nation which has left subject to this mistreatment, often resorting to violence and lives of crime in order to succeed, because legitimate means do prove to be as fruitful. I often contemplate what I should do, especially in times like these.

I am even more confused by the fact that even though we black males do try and abide by society’s rules, we are often met with opposition with trying to do the right thing. We are simultaneously spurred to do right and do wrong based on our external environments. I pray that one day it gets better for us. I pray that one day my skin color will no longer be a threat some. I pray that I will be able to complete daily mundane tasks, such as going to the store or traveling to visit family, without being in fear of my life. I pray that one day, the mere presence of law enforcement will no longer be something that I fear or dread. I pray for the day where we will no longer have to deal with another Mike Brown, Ezell Ford, Oscar Grant, and any other black life that were taken from us way too soon.

While I still remained confused about where we should go from here, I do know that we as black males must band together and remain extremely persistent as our forefathers have been. It may be the only way to obtain the results that we require.

 

Follow Christopher @brosephchillaxton2 on Instagram!

Changing the Perception, Starts with Changing Ourselves

WARREN
Duke 1

Age: 21
Occupation: Real Estate Agent
Education: Earned his Bachelor’s in Sociology from UMD- College Park and is currently getting his Masters in Supply Chain Management at UMUC
Hometown: Upper Marlboro, MD

 

Lately there has been a lot of press about African American males, specifically young African American males, due to the recent deaths of Mike Brown, Ezell Ford, and Eric Garner from police brutality and excessive force. I am usually not the one to speak on situations that affect the public but being an African American male in today’s society, I feel this is a topic I must express my opinion about. I am not speaking to take sides with anyone because although I am an African American male, I do have a background with working for federal agencies and do get to see the perspective coming from a police officer’s view.

My peers don’t realize the severity of some of the things we do every day, which we think are normal but are wrong, and since no one has told most of us it’s wrong, we continue doing it. Some of these things include cursing out loud in public, sagging our pants, or even caring more about cars, clothes, and jewelry as opposed to getting a good education. I’m not perfect but I do understand that there is a time and a place for everything. I’ve been told that no matter how hard you try to hide, there will always be someone that is watching you and judging you based upon your actions, whether you are with your friends or family.

Duke2Social media and lifestyles, which I believe go hand and hand, are the other areas we must  consider in a time like this. Social media is something that is becoming more and more popular in today’s society. Many of us let social media determine our lifestyle or even use social media to reflect a lifestyle that we really don’t live. I recently heard this statement from a prior conversation and believe it’s true, which is social media is the only time African Americans can come together and keep up with the most recent current events while still being able to express our opinions. It’s very rare you see a young African American male pick up the local newspaper to read about what’s going on around the world such as politics or business. In high school, my 10th grade history teacher use to stand by the stack of local newspapers in front of the school and would watch how almost every male who picked up the newspaper, skip straight to the sports section and throw the rest of the paper away. Its little things like this that reflect our lifestyle to the public because in this case if sports are all you feel you need to know about, then others will be forced to believe that as well. Displaying that we don’t care about education, business, and politics, will give people a reason to judge us and not include us in decisions regarding these topics which have the potential to change our lives more than sports do.

Needless to say, I do not believe killing another person is right, whether that it is black on black crime, white on black crime, or white on white crime, but what I do believe is that we can’t change society until we first learn how to change ourselves. In the future, I plan on changing the perspective of how African American males are perceived in today’s society. Graduating from the University of Maryland in 3 1⁄2 years, going to graduate school, starting my own marketing company (MWA Marketing LLC), and purchasing my first residential investment property are all just a few things I have done at a fairly young age. Some may see this as “being ahead of the game” while I see this as being behind, because there is so much more I feel I need to catch up on. But with a mindset like this, I believe this is just the beginning of something great that God has in store for me and my culture.

 

We are still accepting submissions for this month! If you or anyone you know might be interested in the theme and contributing, feel free to email me at raven.best5@gmail.com!!

Black Men: You Are Loved

Trayvon Martin. Ezell Ford. Eric Garner. Mike Brown.

A few names in an overwhelmingly long list of men who’ve lost their lives due to the color of their skin. Many argue that we live in a post-racial society, that race is not a factor in these types of cases, that race is no longer an issue. Personally, I believe the sentiment that “we don’t see color anymore,” while utopian, is ignorant. A blindfold that enables us to overlook the blatant injustice that still exists. I don’t need to reiterate the statistics that proves while racism is no longer “legal,” it is still present; arguably even more threatening because it has now become covert and institutionalized.

The recent string of black male deaths at the hand of police brutality, while never easier to swallow, are not new. And even scarier is the thought that they are not surprising. Negrophobia is not a new trend or phenomenon, and it is constantly perpetuated in our society. Black men are perceived as a threat before anything else. And those who break that stereotype are considered an anomaly.Black images in the media are very narrow, if not a celebrity, athlete or the token black friend, black men in the public are generally assumed to be criminal or degenerate. And these unfair misconceptions not only reinforce, but *justify* the mistreatment that black men must face.

In seeing the complete character assassination in the news about Mike Brown that ensued after his death, it really hit me how rare it is to see positive and true depictions of black men in the media; and how even rarer to have it come from black men themselves. So, knowing that I created the Free Your Mind Project in the hopes of broadening the perspective of black women, it is only fair that I do the same for our men. So, September will be dedicated to giving voice to the black men who are tired of having to defend themselves against the stereotypes. This month will solely consist of features from black men talking about their lives, their dreams and their opinions. No questions, no specific themes, just unfiltered thoughts.

 

I’m truly excited to share these pieces with you guys and if you or anyone you know would be interested in contributing, feel free to email me at raven.best5@gmail.com


Happy September!

A PWI Experience: Finding New Opportunities and Avenues!

JANAEJanae`

Age: 22
Major: Broadcast Journalism at University of Maryland- College Park, currently a Grad Student at Ohio State
Hometown: Pine Hill, NJ

 

Why did you choose Maryland?

I fell in love with Maryland from the first moment that I stepped on the campus. I just had a feeling that this was my next home and I was correct. I visited the campus on a tour and I thought their was something in the water because every student I talked to seemed obsessed with it. I really feel like I found myself and found my passion while I was here.

What was first semester, freshman year like? What was the adjustment like?

The first semester was interesting. I lived in a predominantly White dorm, Centreville Hall. I was in the Scholars program. Most of the students on my floor wanted to stay in and hang out with each other or play mario kart. I did make a few friends but I was also the only African American girl on that floor which was a HUGE adjustment. I was used to diversity and while that existed to an extent on my floor I did feel disconnected from the Black community. Eventually I found my niche through RHA (Residence Hall Association), I started attending BSU (Black Student Union) as most Black freshman do. I got involved pretty early on and started making friends outside my hall and that made the adjustment much easier.

Janae6Would you say you found your social niche?

Yes I definitely found my Niche(s). I wanted to take every opportunity that Maryland had to offer so that I could have the full college experience. I worked with the Residence Hall Association to represent on-campus terps and plan events, I became a campus tour guide to convince other incoming students to fall in love with my school. I became a Resident Assistant, and then a Orientation Advisor and I even pledged a sorority, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. I loved joining so many things because I created different diverse social circles and I really think those made my college experience.

What is it like being a black female at a PWI?

Pros:I was really able to explore Black beauty on this campus because of some of the inspiring mentors and Janae4upperclassman that I met.

I actually had a lot of African American female mentors and professors. My associate dean of the journalism school is African American, three of my journalism professors were African American women of color, my Higher Education mentor was a Black woman. So I was able to spend the last 4 years growing and learning from women who inspired me and made me believe that I could be successful in Higher Education too.
Cons:

It was hard at first because I was placed in a predominantly White Residence Hall so I didn’t really meet other African American females and males until the end of my first semester.

Janae7What kind of activities or groups were you a part of?

University of Maryland Orientation

University of Maryland Department of Resident Life

Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc.

Residence Hall Association

Maryland Association of Black Journalists

College Park Scholars

Students Helping Honduras

Janae2

What is your favorite thing about Maryland? Any dislikes?

I love the fact that it is so huge it creates so many opportunities and avenues to meet new people and learn from those people and explore their cultures, backgrounds, ideas, and minds. I made friends from my freshman orientation 4 years ago up until my last semester senior year and those are connections I will always cherish.

I honestly don’t really have any dislikes. I will say that I am an African American female who graduated with Straight A’s  all four years with the only 4.0 in my graduating class and I feel like that was never recognized financially. What I mean by that is I feel as though extra scholarships or grants through the school would have been really helpful over the last couple of years and sometimes it’s frustrating that athletes get full rides and students who excel academically might only get an email saying Congratulations on making Dean’s list.

What opportunities did Maryland afford you?Janae1

Maryland helped me find my passion for higher education. This school opened so many doors for me to study abroad, to travel to other universities, to connect with celebrities and major companies, and it allowed me to make some of the most amazing friends.

Would you say you enjoyed your experience at Maryland?

I LOVED Maryland. I am a huge advocate for Maryland and I probably always will be. I loved my time here because I spent the last four years excelling academically but also enjoying my experience outside of the classroom and the mentors I found at Maryland helped me make sure that I didn’t waste away my four years but actually spent them finding myself and what I was passionate about.

Janae5What advice would you give for others trying to decide on college?

Go to the school that feels like a home. You spend four or more years there you want to make sure that you choose a university that gives you a feeling of comfort inside. I found that at Maryland and I hope that all students attending college find that too.

 

Want to reach out to Janae? Follow her on Twitter @jjanae or Instagram @j_janae!!