Author Archives: Living Just A Little

Take the Reparations Survey

 

Reparations!

It seems like everywhere you turn the topic is on the lips of politicians, celebrities, business people, activists, entertainers…almost anyone with a platform.

 

While the topic is important, what is our understanding of Reparations? Reparations for who? What does it look like? What happens afterward?

 

Before we can have a real national conversation on Reparations, we have to know what average people think, believe, and expect.

 

Please share your thoughts by taking the survey: The Reparations Question.  This short survey is just the beginning for small conversations which will turn into larger conversations with the hope for a concrete plan of action.  We, as African Americans, need to drive this conversation.

After you take the survey, please share with friends, family, and co-workers.

You have an opinion…Let’s Hear It! Your comments are confidential and respected.

Thank you!

Dr. Guy A. Sims, The Reparations Project

 

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What Makes the HBCU Homecoming Extra-Special: My Top Ten

Other than Halloween, there is only anotherHomecoming thing I look forward to in the month of October…Homecoming.  I have had the opportunity to work on a number of college campuses and have participated in homecoming festivities from tailgating to sporting events to banquets to parties.  At all of these events, I had a great time but none of them compared to the anticipation and experience of my HBCU homecoming.  Now it is easy to say to me, of course you think your homecoming is the best but there is something more to that.  I have been to many homecomings but the ones that reflect my sensibilities and fill me with a sense of cultural pride are the HBCU Homecomings.

This is not to denigrate the homecomings of PWIs or to throw shade at my brothers and sisters who attended those institutions but rather highlight a part of the American collegiate experience that continues to be alien to most. They are great, fun, and often pretty spectacular–but they’re not an HBCU Homecoming.  With that, I present my Top Ten: What Makes the HBCU Homecoming Extra-Special.

One – Reconnection with Friends

This one is pretty universal except that for HBCUs–whose enrollments tend to be small (which means graduating classes are extra small)–create an on-campus experience that is extremely intimate. (It is interesting to note that the HBCU with the largest enrollment numbers is comparable to what is considered a mid-sized PWI.)  The Look to the Left, Look to the Right is no joke so returning to campus and seeing the familiar faces of those who made it through is refreshing for the soul…even if you only have enough time to say What’s up? and get a hug.

Two – A Place to Be Yourself

For many of us, we earned our degrees and ended up working in industries and institutions where still in 2019, we may be one of the few, if not the only at our place of work or at our level.  The banter around the water cooler, cubicle, or board room tends to focus on mainstream issues, cultural issues tend to be avoided, music in the office tends to be Pop or Easy Listening, and oftentimes your experience and expertise are second-guessed.  But when you Roll up on the Yard (a term not normally associated with the PWI Homecoming), you can relax.  Your walk, speech, references, jokes, food tastes, choice of music, attire:  all of this and more are understood, accepted, and encouraged.  You can be your genuine self because you are with family.

Three – A Sense of Ownership

Sad to say, there are still very few institutions in this land that we as a people can lay claim to; our homes, our churches, and our colleges.  Again, not an indictment against our brethren and sisteren who attended PWIs and joined groups like the Black Student Union or hung out in the Black Culture Center as a means for support and solidarity because on those campuses it is important and necessary.  But returning to our schools, our campuses, our home instills and confirms a sense of pride and self-actualization.  From the front gate to the back of the maintenance shop, from the steps of the main administration building to back of the line at the cafeteria, from the classrooms to the athletic fields, to the dorms, to the library (if you went)–the sense is real that, as Mufasa told Simba, all that you see is yours.  In fact, even when you visit other HBCUs there is still a sense that you not only belong but it is still yours…in the like it’s your cousin’s house kinda way.

Four – Continue to Build Bonds

Back in school, you had your clique, your crew, posse, frat, with sorors…whatever you called them you hung tight. They were there for you during the good times, bad times, and the don’t bring that up now times.  Today as an alum, there are many opportunities to connect with other alums who were behind you, ahead of you, or even in your class that you never really took the time to get to know.  Homecoming is the opportunity to expand your circle of fellow alums, not simply for increasing friendships but to make professional connections, get advice, and support.

Five – Witness to Success

Homecoming is the opportunity to see people in a different light.  The guy down the hall who always seemed high.  The girl in your class who never seemed to get herself together.  The frat dude who seemed to only be about steppin’. The girl who only seemed to spend all her time in the library and never went to a party.  Here they are now, at homecoming and either by first-hand conversations or word of mouth, you find out people are doing some important and fantastic things.  Now they are teachers, entrepreneurs, in the legal field, medicine, careers in the military, show business, or fantastic family men and women.  You never would have believed that back in your freshman year as they struggled to carry a food tray and their books but now they have come to embody the dreams of our forefathers.

Six – Pay Tribute to Those Who Have Fallen

The HBCU homecoming is a giant puzzle and as we get older as alumni, pieces of the puzzle are taken away from us.  Old roommates, organization members, study buddies, that person who always seems to walk past you every day although you don’t speak, professors, staff; the list goes on and on.  If you are out of the loop, not only are you brought up to speed on those who made the transition, it is a moment to say a prayer, hold a thought, or pour one out for that person. The silver lining to this grand puzzle of ours is that with each graduating class, new pieces of alums are added.

Seven – Introspection

It can happen once you find out your homecoming dates.  It can happen as you’re driving up to campus. As you enter the gate. Walking past your old dorm or favorite classroom building. As you watch current undergrads cutting up.  It is the moment where you stop, quiet yourself, and take inventory of what your campus and the experience meant to you.  You think back to who you were when you first arrived, how you handled conflict, the lessons you learned, or how far you’ve come.  It’s a moment that only belongs to you.  It is a moment between you and your HBCU.

Eight – Celebrate Legacy

This is my daughter, she’s a junior. That’s my son, he’s a freshman. There is a pride that cannot be replicated when as an alum you introduce your sons, daughters, nieces, nephews, etc. who are current students to your friends.  They are heralded as legacies while your friends tell the stories on you which you tried to keep from them over the years. Embarrassing, yes…but not only is it history…it’s a cultural bond.

Nine – The Support of Black and Small Businesses

You’re not going to find them in the downtown malls. There aren’t many specialty stores left. Online won’t help you last minute. So what do you do when you want unique and reasonably priced school paraphernalia?  Homecoming is the place.  Vendors from far and wide, small Black business owners, come with the funky-fresh, the one-of-a-kind, the latest HBCU wear: hats, jackets, sweaters, tees, scarves, jewelry…you name it.  They want you to try it on. They want you to look fly.  Buy three and you might get a break in the price.  Take their business card because you can then use them for your family reunion t-shirts.

Ten – Encourage the Next Generation

The HBCU homecoming has intergenerational love.  The classes mix and mingle; eat together, sip together, dance together.  Young heads and old heads try to prove who had the best campus experience (code for who cut up the best).  In between all of that, the older generation takes the time to learn about the youngsters, provide guidance for finishing school and going into the workplace, make introductions and supply contacts.  Homecoming is the time for sharing advice, giving direction and providing support.  And it goes on and on and on and on…..

There are many more reasons why the HBCU Homecoming is the bomb but I’ll stop here.  My homecoming is this weekend and I’m on the move!  Let me know what you love about your HBCU Homecoming. Leave comments below.

HomecomingGuy A. Sims is a PROUD Lincoln University graduate (Class of 1983).  He is the author of the novel, Living Just A Little, and the crime novellas, The Cold Hard Cases of Duke Denim.  He is also the head writer of the Brotherman: Dictator of Discipline comic book series and the Brotherman graphic novel, Revelation

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The Quad: Upon Reflection

My window overlooked the quad

But you couldn’t overlook the quad

Not with Kool and the Gang’s Ladies Night

Or Parliament’s Knee Deep

Bouncing off of the walls…the concrete

The tree with the painted on Kappa Diamond

The Quad

 

Where the likes of Ray-Ray, Face, Karen Sweets, Earl, and Snakey-O-Boy threw down

The swelling crowd told to push back

We had some here but we needed some more

I can still hear the Zeta bells ringing in the air

I can still imagine destination rising to the sky

While wide-eyed freshmen dreamed of the day of joining the circle

The Quad

 

The place to stand

As you contemplated going to the SUB…to class…the library…or to simply stand still

Allowing LU to fill you

The place to find out what movie was playing in Ware

To bum a quarter for the party

To throw game at a person of interest…gotta move fast…weekend’s coming

The Quad

Quad2

At year’s end

With boxes and bags

Dragging heavy loads from one dorm to another

A new home

A new experience

But still the Quad serves as the familiar

The place to gather once settled…to begin anew

The Quad

 

Then, following Commencement

Walking from the gym in your cap and gown

For the last official tie

To pass through and onto the future

Looking forward

To another encounter

With the Quad

 

End

Guy A. Sims is a PROUD Lincoln University graduate (Class of 1983).  He is the author of the novel, Living Just A Little, and the crime novellas, The Cold Hard Cases of Duke Denim.  He is also the head writer of the Brotherman: Dictator of Discipline comic book series and the Brotherman graphic novel, Revelation

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Take A Movie and a Knee: The Sequel

Rosa Parks on a bus.  Tommy Smith and John Carlos at the Olympics.  North Carolina A&T students at the Woolworth’s counter.  So many before but now we have football players in stadiums.  The act of peaceful protest is a major fiber in the tapestry that American history.  Unfortunately, some people have forgotten that.  There are many people who are vexed, angered, offended, and incensed by the quiet and focused actions giving rise to the issue and spotlight to the issue of police brutality and the African American community.

Ask any middle school scholar and they’ll tell you that the first amendment to the U.S. Constitution secures the individual’s freedom of speech.  Freedom of Speech.  The term is thrown around like a–pardon the pun–a football but what does it mean?  According to the U.S. courts, Freedom of Speech includes but not limited to:

  • The right to be quiet (not to salute the flag) – WV Board of Education v. Barnett (1943);
  • Students wearing black armbands to protest the war – Tinker v. Des Moines (1969);
  • Contribute money to political campaigns – Buckley v. Valeo (1976).

Oh…there’s another one.  To engage in symbolic speech like flag burning and taking a knee (1990).

Perhaps the challenge for those who jeer and curse those who participate in silent protest is that they have a problem with the word protest.  Rather than send the message of football players protesting would there be more opportunities for understanding if the text was men, who play football, stand up for what they believe is right?  This is America.  Standing up for what we believe is right is what we do.  That’s why we argue with umpires.  That’s why we send letters to the editor.  That’s why we go to our children’s school to meet with the principal when we believe they are not receiving the proper education.

Loud, boisterous, and brash rhetoric amplify the notion that protesting the status quo is an assault on all we hold dear as a nation.  When contemporary dissidents stand up, speak out, sit-in, or kneel, the referenced targets of their discontent are our servicemen and women, Old Glory, or the very constitutional verbiage that invites such action.  But this can’t be true.  Our society, by the very nature of its capitalistic undergirding, demonstrates that we laud, celebrate, and embrace protest, standing up to the machine, stickin’ it to the man.  As it is said, people vote with their dollars and the cinema is our unofficial voting booth.  It is proven almost every weekend at the movies.  Yes…the movies.  There are many, many films which present in realistic and interpretive forms the American value of standing up for what is right no matter the odds. The message is always: Do the Right Thing, Stand and Deliver, Walk the Line with Pride, and to Never Back Down.

From seated positions in darkened spaces with others from all walks of life, clad only with hope and a box of popcorn, we applaud and cheer the images and stories of those who find themselves oppressed, disenfranchised, under-dogged, or under siege from the more powerful and more resourceful.  We sit on the edge of our seats as protagonists band together, form alliances, or even, go it alone to face pestilential Philistines whose mantras are summed up in the words of Ivan Drago from Rocky IV: I must break you!

Here are a few reminders that we as Americans really do love, respect, and cherish our First Amendment: speaking up, standing up, and fighting for what’s right. The film Braveheart tells the story of the legendary thirteenth-century Scottish hero named William Wallace who rallies the Scottish against the English monarch. The film grossed 210 million dollars.  Five high school students from different walks of life, in The Breakfast Club, endure a Saturday detention under a power-hungry principal (90 million).  Rocky tells the ultimate underdog tale of a small-time boxer from working-class Philadelphia, arbitrarily chosen to take on the reigning world heavyweight champion, Apollo Creed (117 million).  Finally, grossing 253 million, the film Erin Brockovich tells of an American legal clerk and environmental activist, who, despite her lack of formal education in the law, was instrumental in building a case against the Pacific Gas and Electric Company of California in 1993.

The box office reflects the hope and admiration for those who risk it all and face the odds in the name of justice, self-determination, and freedom.  Collective cheers and ticket sales are the evidence that the underdog and the rag-tag group are who we are, who we aspire to be, and are to be celebrated.  Let a Saturday afternoon remind us of that.

Guy A. Sims is the author of the novel, Living Just A Little, and the crime novellas, The Cold Hard Cases of Duke Denim.  He is also the head writer of the Brotherman: Dictator of Discipline comic book series and the Brotherman graphic novel, Revelation

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Catch A Movie and A Knee

Players

Rosa Parks on a bus.  Tommy Smith and John Carlos at the Olympics.  North Carolina A&T students at the Woolworth’s counter.  So many before. So many before.  But now we have football players in stadiums.  The act of peaceful protest is a major fiber in the tapestry that American history.  Unfortunately, some people have forgotten that.  There are many people who are vexed, angered, offended, and incensed by the quiet and focused actions giving rise to the issue and spotlight to the issue of police brutality and the African American community.

Ask any middle school scholar and they’ll tell you that the first amendment to the U.S. Constitution secures the individual’s freedom of speech.  The term is thrown around like a…pardon the pun…a football but what does it mean?  According to the U.S. courts, Freedom of Speech includes but not limited to:

  • The right to be quiet (not to salute the flag) – WV Board of Education v. Barnett (1943);
  • Students wearing black armbands to protest the war – Tinker v. Des Moines (1969);
  • Contribute money to political campaigns – Buckley v. Valeo (1976).

Oh…there’s another one.  To engage in symbolic speech (like flag burning and taking a knee) (1990).

Perhaps the challenge for those who jeer and curse those who participate in silent protest is that they have a problem with the word protest.  Rather than send the message of football players protesting would there be more opportunities for understanding if the text was men, who play football, stand up for what they believe is right?  This is America.  Standing up for what we believe is right is what we do.  That’s why we argue with umpires.  That’s why we send letters to the editor.  That’s why we go to our children’s school to meet with the principal when there is a false accusation.

So, here are a few reminders that we as Americans really do love, respect, and cherish our First Amendment and standing up for what’s right.  It is proven almost every weekend at the movies.  Yes…the movies.  There are many, many films in realistic and interpretive forms of the American value of standing up for what is right no matter the odds.  These films run the gamut from doing well to exceptionally well.  The message is always, Do the Right Thing, Stand and Deliver, Walk the Line with Pride, and Never Back Down.

Here is my reminder to all patriots who desire to suppress the rights of those you disagree with.  After you look over this list, remember…you don’t have to stand up and cheer for what others do…but you don’t have to close the curtains on them either.

Film Story Film Gross
Braveheart Tells the story of the legendary thirteenth-century Scottish hero named William Wallace. Wallace rallies the Scottish against the English monarch and Edward I after he suffers a personal tragedy by English soldiers. Wallace gathers a group of amateur warriors that is stronger than any English army. 210 M
The Patriot Benjamin Martin, an unassuming man who is forced to join the American Revolution when the British threaten to take his farm away from him. Together with his patriotic son, Gabriel, the pair faces the vicious Redcoats with a heroism that reflects the stubborn pride of a young country’s most dedicated supporters. 215M
Rocky Rocky Balboa, a small-time boxer from working-class Philadelphia, is arbitrarily chosen to take on the reigning world heavyweight champion, Apollo Creed. 117M
Star Wars Rebels take on the Empire. (You know the saga) 307M
Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring Small group takes on evil Sauron’s army 315M
The Breakfast Club Five high school students from different walks of life endure a Saturday detention under a power-hungry principal. 90M
Erin Brockovich Erin Brockovich is an American legal clerk and environmental activist, who, despite her lack of formal education in the law, was instrumental in building a case against the Pacific Gas and Electric Company of California in 1993. 253M
300 Legend of Spartans taking on the great army of Persia. 210M
Tucker Tucker is determined to create a futuristic car for the masses: the Tucker Torpedo. However, his dreams are challenged by Detroit’s auto manufacturers, production problems and accusations of stock fraud, and he is forced to defend his dream and honesty in court. 19M
Silkwood This drama is based on the true story of Karen Silkwood, who works at a nuclear facility, along with her boyfriend, Drew Stephens, and their roommate, Dolly Pelliker. When Karen becomes concerned about safety practices at the plant, she begins raising awareness of violations that could put workers at risk. Intent on continuing her investigation, Karen discovers a suspicious development: She has been exposed to high levels of radiation. 35M
Born on the Fourth of July In the mid-1960s, suburban New York teenager Ron Kovic enlists in the Marines, fulfilling what he sees as his patriotic duty. During his second tour in Vietnam, he accidentally kills a fellow soldier during a retreat and later becomes permanently paralyzed in battle. Returning home to an uncaring Veterans Administration bureaucracy and to people on both sides of the political divide who don’t understand what he went through, Kovic becomes an impassioned critic of the war. 70 M

Guy A. Sims is the author of the novel, Living Just A Little, and the crime novellas, The Cold Hard Cases of Duke Denim.  He is also the head writer of the Brotherman: Dictator of Discipline comic book series and the Brotherman graphic novel, Revelation

Who (should we) be wit?

I watched…no…experienced the farewell words of President Barack Obama.  Before a standing audience of almost 20,000 and millions across the nation and around the world, Mr. Obama brought to the people of the United States a message of continued hope, a call for increased engagement, and for all of us to seek the very best for our country.  Beyond touting his achievements, he laid bare missed opportunities and painful losses but, in his measured tone, reminded, these are things that come with democracy.  With his last formal goodbye, among cheers and tears, the whispered hopes and unimagined dreams of our ancestors, waded into the crowd, marked the countdown to his last days of office, and began the solemn steps into history.

This saddened me, but that sadness was turned into a silent rage when I came across a newsfeed about an upcoming “fight” between actor/singer Chris Brown and rapper Soulja Boy.  My mind was now, as a disabled airplane, descending rapidly from cultural and national pride to the depths of nonsensical marketing.  To go from a man worth of admiration to a situation worthy of admonishment, that is where I crash landed in the span of a few seconds.

Normally, in most articles, this is where one would take the time to explain the nature of the beef between these two talented, accomplished, and admired artists.  I use the term artists because both of these young men demonstrate their God-given talents through various mediums and rightfully earned their title. So, as artists, as accomplished men, it is difficult to dignify their profane rationales for a fight which can only be characterized as middle school dissing. Their need to express their virility of sexual conquests, and their ability to rag on one another…not face to face…but through the safety of Instagram posts represents a disturbing continuation social engagement.  If you want to know all the trifling details, there are other sources to visit.

Whether this fight is real or just a marketing ploy to play consumers to purchase the music that follows this minstrelistic calamity, it doesn’t matter.  We are at a place and time in this country where the promotion of the destruction of one another should not be packaged as entertainment.  This is not a professional fight where individuals who have trained in this sport are competing for a prize; it is an exhibition of the worst kind of exploitation, the selling of self-destruction.

The self-destruction spoken of is not just between the two faux-combatants, it is between all of the fans who are sucked into this pseudo-rage.  Fans who are asked to be participants through their hard earned dollars.  Fans who can’t wait for somebody to be destroyed…to get “F**ked Up!”  The worst part of this whole internet-based charade is that the Chris Brown and Soulja Boy know this.  They will be laughing to the bank while the audience cheers for something that isn’t even real.

Every day in this country, families are impacted by gun violence.  Every day in this country, families are torn apart by domestic abuse.  Every day in this country; assault, murder, road rage, physical and mental abuse…and it is all free for you to see on television, on the web, and in the newspapers.  You have to ask yourself, Haven’t I’ve seen enough?  Do I now want to pay to see two talented men, with futures, and money, and influence slap each other for about thirty seconds before they’re bent over huffing and puffing, all the while calling each other a punk-ass this or a Nigger that?  Are we that starved for entertainment?

The next generation for beef resolution has to be who can get more people registered to vote.  Who can organize the most feed the homeless programs?  Who can get kids to read the most books? Who can fix up the most neighborhoods (I’m sorry) the streets…which they both claim to be from.

In a couple of days, a new administration is set to enact policies that will negatively impact people all across the country, those without the means or those just holding on…and especially people of color.  While these two are going tit for tat, get ready for Stop and Frisk to go national.  While these two growl and grit like two pit bulls goaded into a fight, people will be fighting to get base level health care.

We just can’t laugh this one off.  KRS-ONE and the crew said we’re headed for self-destruction.  Sometimes you have to ask yourself.  Are we already here?

Guy A. Sims is the author of the novel, Living Just A Little, and the crime novellas, The Cold Hard Cases of Duke Denim.  He is also the head writer of the Brotherman: Dictator of Discipline comic book series and the Brotherman graphic novel, Revelation

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Book Review Raising Hasana: A must have for parents with ADHD

Raising Hasana: Summer Adventures

Subtitle: A parent’s guide to building enriching experiences for your daughter with ADHD

Author:   Rhashidah Perry

Copyright:   2016

Pages:  48

 

Raising children is challenging. The Greek philosopher Democritus put it down like this; Raising children is an uncertain thing; success is reached only after a life of battle and worry.  Even in the best of times, situations, and environments of health, support,
resources, and love, the quote above still holds true.  Raising children is extremely challenging, a true labor of love. For parents of children (ages 5-17), approximately 10% are diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).  For boys of the same age range, their percentage spikes to 14% while 6% of girls are identified with ADHD.  Children with ADHD may have trouble paying attention, controlling impulsive behaviors (may act without thinking about what the result will be), or be overly active. Although ADHD can’t be cured, it can be successfully managed, and some symptoms may improve as the child ages.

There is a clinical side to understanding and experiencing ADHD and how children manifest it but author Rhashidah Perry, a certified parent trainer with CHADD, a nonprofit organization that operates as a national resource on ADHD, chronicles a more personal experience and journey as a mother and family member with a child with ADHD.  She journals over the course of a summer the challenges of transitioning from the structure of school year to the less structured summer vacation, the change in medications and dosages, navigating dual parenting roles, and ensuring attention is shared with siblings and other family members.

Almost technical and jargon-free, Perry shares significant moments in her, her daughter, and the other family members lives as if sitting with you over a cup of coffee or in a car on the way to take care of errands.  Her comments, observations, frustrations, and celebrations are honest, clear, and helps to paint the picture that it is not only the child with ADHD, the entire family experiences ADHD.

Although the book’s focus in on guiding parents of children with ADHD, it is a revealing look at the challenges, frustrations, battles, and balancing acts Perry has on a daily basis, such as meticulously setting out clothes the night before to ensure a smooth morning and carefully monitoring prescriptions.  Perry also has to fight to ensure proper and appropriate IEP (Individual Education Program) in school, confronts family members who don’t understand what ADHD is, or even how to find moments simply to rest.

Perry’s book exemplifies the sometimes fatigued filled, repetitious, and nerve-wearing existence that she and other parents of children with ADHD experience.  Because of the unpredictability of school, home, and other places of activity, the parent is always on alert, which is draining and has a significant impact on the family environment.

Raising Hasana is a book by a parent for parents.  In its succinctness, Perry reveals the everyday challenges faced but, in all things, shows that love and commitment are the greatest tools to help children with ADHD.

You can get your copy at Amazon.com

Guy A. Sims is the author of the novel, Living Just A Little, and the crime novellas, The Cold Hard Cases of Duke Denim.  He is also the head writer of the Brotherman: Dictator of Discipline comic book series and the Brotherman graphic novel, Revelation. 

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One Look at the Black Comicbook Consumer

 

By Guy A.Sims

After reading two very interesting pieces in Bleeding Cool and supplementary comments from artists, writers, and fans alike, I would be remiss if I didn’t add my voice and commentary to the topic of the disconnection or misconnection of the African-American (Referred to from now on as Black for this piece) comic book consumer and the Black comic book creator.  It is an interesting dynamic that for some time has intrigued me.

First things first.  While the big two, Marvel and DC, are part of the equation, as well as some similar media outlets, they do not represent the entirety of this cultural and economic question.  Marvel and DC have done an outstanding job of creating, promoting, and maintaining images and mythos for more than eighty years.  Kudos for their efforts. They should be lauded, and the blueprint for their success should be studied.  Let’s be clear, there’s no hate or shade being thrown in their direction.  Now, to the question at hand.

The two articles in question which continue to circulate among artists of color are the September 27, 2015, article, Larry Stroman On When Black Fans Avoid Black Creators at Comic Con and Asking Why Black Fans Avoid Black Creators At Comic Cons- The Pros Speak (both September 29, 2015).  Both articles are insightful, probing, and not afraid to challenge notions of race, imagery, ownership, and cultural inclusion.  Interestingly, the questions presented in these articles, although almost a year ago, continue to be raised at the many comic cons and comic festivals today, more apropos to the discussion, has been the experience since our creation of the comic book hero, Brotherman, back in 1990.

Before going further, it is important to note that across the United States, only about 1% of the population reads comic books (watching comic-based films and TV shows don’t count), which is roughly 3,000,000+ people (US Census, 2015).  Blacks represent approximately 40 million in the United States.  For the sake of the conversation, if the same percentage of Blacks as the general population are comic book readers, the number of that demographic sits at about 400,000—not a lot of Black comic reading customers.

I added the above, as identified in sociological circles, to present an operational definition or simply, an understanding of the commercial environment in which Black comic artists find themselves.  So, to the question, why do many Blacks avoid Black artists at comic conventions?  Before one can delve into that question, it is important to understand that the vast majority of Black comic book creators and sellers do not travel within the mainstream comic-con circuit.  As independent artists and entrepreneurs, the cost to attend many of those events is financially prohibitive.  Many, if not most, attend neighborhood-based festivals or smaller-sized comic-cons, HBCU (Historically Black Colleges and Universities) vendor days, or sell at local barber and beauty shops, etc.  Unfortunately, the question remains the same, even among predominantly Black shopping populations.

Here are my thoughts on the challenges we as an artistic community face and must overcome.

  1. Reality-Based Exposure and Experiences

When my brothers and I first brought Brotherman to the market at the New York BlackExpo in 1990, we received a strong and positive reception from a diverse consumer population who found our book to be both refreshing and needed in the pantheon of traditional comic books.  This is not to say that everyone felt this way.  We also experienced a segment of the population who felt challenged by an image and presentation that was counter to what they were accustomed to.

The first comment that left me scratching my head came from a woman, who after leafingbroterman-face quickly through the book, told me without hesitation, “This isn’t real. I’ve never seen a black man in a suit.” (Not a costume mind you, a suit) Caught off guard, I asked her to repeat herself which she did. My only retort was to ask her if she had ever been to a wedding or a funeral? Other questions put to us included: Does he fight drug dealers? Does he help the community? Our kids need role models; does he do that?  These and other similar exchanges helped me to realize that there is a segment of the Black culture challenged to see themselves in presentations that are not based in reality.  Case in point, in 2013, the themes of the top ten films targeted toward the black demographic, six of the films were either based on historical events or historical personalities, three were contemporary comedies or dramas, and one was social satire (in a contemporary setting).  It is a similar landscape for 2015 and so far for 2016. The themes of books of fiction directed toward Black readers tend to be the same. Take a look.  An interesting observation of mine, when asked to name a fantasy film targeted towards the black demographic, the response is the same, The Wiz.

Clearly, there is a dearth of stories of Blacks adventuring in space (by themselves), adventuring in the jungles of wherever looking for treasure, time-traveling.  We still question, where are the tales of creating artificial intelligence (eventually going berserk), communicating with alien life, encountering new dimensions, living in lands of dragons and swords, or being the administrators, teachers, and studying in schools of magic?

  1. The Monolith Myth

The Black comic buyer is like a box of chocolates—a box of assorted chocolates with different interests, different tastes, looking for a product that appeals to different bcafsensibilities.  Like their Caucasian counterparts, some look for traditional/mainstream heroes, others anime; even others seek out indie productions.  Some favor images that reflect their culture while others submerge themselves in worlds of dragons, talking dogs, fairies, or whatever.  This poses a marketing challenge for black comic creators.  A decision must be made as to understanding and reaching the customer that will help them achieve success.  This does not mean changing your stories or adapting your characters.  To the contrary, the artist should stay true to themselves while concurrently working to expand the circle of interested parties.

I have attended a major mainstream comic convention, a major Black comic convention, and a swell of neighborhood and local festivals.  The reaction has been the same.  There are some Black patrons who walk right on by, others who take a glance at the art and keep going without missing a beat, those who glance at the art and come over, and those who make a beeline to our table because we are what they want.  That is just consumerism.  While we may not be able to capture the ones who walk right on by (for now), those who come with curiosity may walk away a little more familiar or as a new fan.

  1. Mainstream Validation

Another challenge producers of Black comics have to contend with is mainstream validation. In short, many Black comic book characters are not as well-known as those from companies like Marvel and DC. (Note to self: Even those characters may not be as well known as I thought. Check this video: Name 3 Black Superheroes.  I was pulling for the guy in the Star Wars shirt)

 

Therefore, Black consumers (like many general DDconsumers) need to draw a comparison to what is already out in the market.  Is this like a Black Batman?  That question was asked of us for years as we continued to introduce and re-introduce Brotherman to people. Without a major marketing firm to constantly promote our images and stories, it fell to us on a daily basis to work to get our character to stand on his own.  It can be frustrating for independent artists to respond to questions like, especially with their personal connection to their creations. Unfortunately, that is the nature of things that are new and different.

  1. Brand Value

Related to #3, many consumers, even Black ones, may consider “Black” products to be inferior to mainstream products, even similar indie products.  That kind of culturally-ingrained bias is not new.  It affects and impacts all kinds of markets: food, clothing, services, etc.  The original series of Brotherman was in black and white, clearly the best bmancopsfinancial option for us.  Many Black consumers looked at our book and questioned why was the book presented this way. Their early and uninformed comments implied a cheapness or lack of quality while our mainstream counterpart’s b/w books were looked upon as artistic or avant-garde.

 

 

This piece is not designed to discourage but to encourage Black writers and artists to seek out strategies to reach audiences beyond the usual demographics.  You can remain true to yourself, your culture, your opinions, ideas, and your dreams while connecting with others who do not share your experiences or perspectives.  If your works are engaging, exciting, dramatic, or humorous, you will connect with the world on a human level—on your terms.

The battle for the market share continues.  It is one that is daunting, relentless, long on hours, and often, short on rewards.  But to the committed, to the dedicated, and to those focused on the bigger picture, the goal of creating and delivering to the universal cultural repository of ideas will find a success unmeasured.

DON’T BE DISCOURAGED!  KEEP ON DOIN’ YOUR THING!

Guy A. Sims is the author of the novel, Living Just A Little, and the crime novellas, The Cold Hard Cases of Duke Denim.  He is also the head writer of the Brotherman: Dictator of Discipline comic book series and the Brotherman graphic novel, Revelation. 

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The Power In You!

A message to writers, artists, and creators. Don’t ever feel your work is in vain. We do have the ability to impact our communities. Here’s a letter a young man wrote after reading Brotherman Revelation. His words remind me to keep on keepin’ on.
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I just received an email that touched my soul last night. This amazing and gifted young lady is also an incredible animator and one of the many gifted people that I have had the pleasure to mentor in her journey to greatness. She and her sister (another brilliant young mind that is destined for greatness – pictured left) just received their BROTHERMANBMGNCA: REVELATION Graphic Novel and this is what she had to share with Brian McGee, Guy A. Sims and myself. Their mom took these pics so that they can share the message about Brotherman to the world. They gave me permission to share this so they too can be part of the movement to help spread the word about Antonio Valor and the citizens of Big City. So for the parents who wonder if this is something good for their children . . . read on. Enough of what I have to say just read for yourself!
“I would like to start this email off by saying that you both have done an AMAZING job piecing this together. From the story to the art, everything flows together naturally, as if there wasn’t much thought taken into the whole idea of Big City. It feels as if it had existed in your minds naturally–that it didn’t take much to get it down on paper.
DD
Mr.Sims, you’ve blown me away with your metaphors. I’ve understood many of them, and I marveled at their complexity, yet obvious meanings in the real world. I’ve had to re-read a few pages, though, just to make sure I fully understood what was said. I love your description of the city’s citizens as you described how most were really victims, caught in a false sense of security. The poem at the beginning was powerful! I had to re-read that a couple times, too, but I initially understood the main idea. It really inspires me to be more like Leonard’s description of Brotherman. If that poem itself was shared with the entire conscious black community, I feel like our entire world as a race would shift in its energy.
Leonard’s past gives me insight on many of these “ghetto thugs” out here–people who I hate to avoid and judge. For once, we get a first-hand view on what society has labeled a Thug–a social disgrace. Sometimes I wish people wouldn’t be so quick to judge and stereotype, but sadly, that’s the society we live in today. It was about time there was a hero of African descent. Not only a hero with special powers and a cape, but a hero with a greater moral meaning behind his actions. A hero with a TRUE motive for creating peace in his realm, rather than a hero who only seeks to destroy crime as it occurs. Thank you for bringing this graphic novel, which would have been a cluster of amazing pictures otherwise, into a beautiful work of art, neatly pieced together with an interesting use of metaphors and narrative storytelling.
Dawud, you’ve done an outstanding job with the artwork. Both you and Mr. Brian McGee did an amazing job of bringing the story to life. This is also a thank you to Mr. McGee. I love the backgrounds, and as mentioned before, I really, really wish Softy’s was an actual place. Who could turn down free fries with any meal, and three greasy chips for one dollar? (unless of course the currency differs from ours, and everything is cheaper in terms of money… or the food is cheap and the currency is the same.) I love the reference to your being a vegetarian, Dawud. I spent a good five minutes laughing about that. It suddenly dawned on me, too that Leonard’s gang takes place by an abandoned factory!
. . . And from how gorgeous everything is looking now, your readers will have their heads locked within the pages themselves. My head was nearly swallowed by them. It was a combination of the breathtaking artwork and the fresh, new book smell that’s still wafting off the pages right now.
I mainly wanted to send this email to say that you’ve all done an outstanding job. It feels good, doesn’t it? To have created such an inspiring work of art for our people to read and become inspired… I look up to all of you. Dawud, you and your brother are amazing people. Please, keep being amazing! (I’ve had a wonderful first impression on you, Mr. Sims, and I hope to meet you someday in person. You sound really amazing!) Thank you so much for bringing this book to my palms. I value it dearly. This email wasn’t intentionally made into a long, long essay; I’m sorry if it’s taking much of your time. I know you’re all busy and time is of the essence. I just wanted to take a moment and share my thoughts on this incredible book.”
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Artists of all genres!  Keep on your grind! Keep on Impacting!
Guy A. Sims is the author of the novel, Living Just A Little, and the crime novellas, The Cold Hard Cases of Duke Denim.  He is also the head writer of the Brotherman: Dictator of Discipline comic book series and the Brotherman graphic novel, Revelation.  

9/11: A Remembrance Through Words

remember911

In remembrance of the events of 9/11, below is a passage from the book, Living Just A Little. At this point in the novel, the protagonist, Ellis, learned that the woman he loved was in one of the towers on that fateful day.  Scared, broken, and in need of faith, he and other members of his community were in need and sought out a sense of hope. Today, we continue to seek the same kind of hope for ourselves, our families, our communities, our nation, and the world. ~GAS

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Airwaves

…Today, our fellow CITIZENS, our way of life, our very freedom came under attack in a series of deliberate and deadly terrorist acts.  The victims were in airplanes or in their offices — secretaries, businessmen and women, military and federal workers. Moms and dads. Friends and neighbors.  Thousands of lives were suddenly ended by evil, despicable acts of terror…

The room was dark except for the blue toned light emitting from the television.  Twist shivered, her jittery hands barely holding the tumbler of vodka.  The image of the Oval Office faded away as the glass touched her lips.  This was the first time she ever sat and listened to the President.  His words pierced her eardrums although she was unable to concentrate.  She gulped down her drink and picked up the phone, dialing the hotel number Sylvania had given her.  All circuits are busy.  The message was the same.  Her only consolation was the next glass.  She prayed to a god she had abandoned long ago for all of this to be a bad dream.  The cold in her spine reminded her it was real.  She called again.  The message again.  The glass again.

 

            …These acts of mass murder were intended to frighten our nation into chaos and retreat. But they have failed. Our country is strong.  A great people has been moved to defend a great nation…

Except for a few employees, the Bally’s Fitness Center was almost abandoned.  Hank stood in front of the monitor, chest heaving, arms aching.  For most of the President’s speech, he pounded away at the heavy bag.  It was all he could think of doing.  He wanted to talk about it but had no one.  He wanted to hold someone, this time for his comfort, but again, he knew that he had no one.  Deep down inside he was afraid but the years held emotion hostage in the recesses of his being.  He turned to say something to the attendant, but she was on the phone with a loved one of her own.  Hank was alone and could only do one thing.  He raised his fists and continued slamming them into the bag.  Punch after punch after punch after punch after…

 

            …Today, our nation saw evil, the very worst of human nature, and we responded with the best of America, with the daring of our rescue workers, with the caring for strangers and neighbors who came to give blood and help in any way they could…

The door to Mrs. Lee’s home opened slowly.  The face of the Grand Empressio peeked into the room, nodding silently.  Mrs. Lee, at her dining room table, waved her in.  Mrs. Evelyn Carter-McCloud and several other Madames entered.  Each approached Mrs. Lee, offering hugs and words of encouragement.  One woman entered the kitchen to prepare coffee.  Another brought a platter of light hor d’oeuvres.  Mrs. Carter-McCloud walked to the television and muted it, as she directed the ladies to join hands.  One by one they said prayers for the country, for the victims, but mostly for the soul of Sylvania.

 

            …Our first priority is to get help to those who have been injured and to take every precaution to protect our citizens at home and around the world from further attacks.  The functions of our government continue without interruption.  Federal agencies in Washington which had to be evacuated today are reopening for essential personnel tonight and will be open for business tomorrow…         

   They sat huddled beneath a Tussah silk comforter on the floor of Cary’s townhouse.  Devon sipped his tea as Cary began his second glass of mandarin ginger.  Devon’s mind wandered to the Zen calligraphy above the television.  The candles, lit and scented, sat atop bamboo coasters around the room.  Tranquility radiated, creating an oasis in a desert of confusion and fear.  Devon could sense anger rising in Cary.  Slipping his arm around Cary’s waist, Devon could feel his tension subside and their spirits becoming stronger.  This was now a world spinning out of control.  From beyond the windows of their refuge all they knew had changed but they were determined to face whatever lay before them–together.

 

            …Tonight I ask for your prayers for all those who grieve, for the children whose worlds have been shattered, for all whose sense of safety and security has been threatened.  And I pray they will be comforted by a power greater than any of us spoken through the ages in Psalm 23: “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for You are with me…

In unison, the parishioners of Pine Street Baptist recited the Twenty-third Psalm.  Ellis and his mother sat with friends, neighbors, and strangers, seeking divine comfort from the events.  The choir provided pastoral inspiration as prayers for families, firemen, police officers, and leaders were sent up in both heartfelt thoughts and emotional shouts.  Soon Kenneth and Aunt Daliah joined Ellis and his mother in their pew, just in time for the community prayer. The minister prayed for faith and steadfastness.  His words echoed throughout the sanctuary.  Ellis’ mind was somewhere else.  He wanted to believe that Sylvania was still alive.  That she was somewhere safe.  He hoped she would have tried to contact him.  He knew that hearing her voice would ease his heart–a little more than prayer.

            None of us will ever forget this day…

Guy A. Sims is the author of the novel, Living Just A Little, and the crime novellas, The Cold Hard Cases of Duke Denim.  He is also the head writer of the Brotherman: Dictator of Discipline comic book series and the Brotherman graphic novel, Revelation.