Large Fears: A Book For The Little Black Boy In Us All

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People try to beat the magic out of black boys who like the color pink.

They say it’s to protect us. But it’s not. It’s to protect them. It’s to protect them from their fear.

It’s to protect them from their ignorance. They know that we can become something free from the limits of their own imaginations… and it terrifies them.

Yet despite this, we thrive. We thrive with curves and color and fluidity and a force that cannot be contained within the prison of a “man code”. We thrive while living breathing wonder and continually giving birth to the impossible.

We thrive because we begin to honor and embrace the Jeremiah Nebula we have within us all.

Who is Jeremiah Nebula? Jeremiah Nebula is a young black boy who loves the color pink and wants to go to mars. He is the protagonist in a new book by Myles Johnson and Kendrick Daye, called Large fears. In Large Fears, Jeremiah takes us on a journey through his imagination where he faces the fears that come with growth, being different and self realization in this world. Each step in Jeremiah’s journey reflects major life lessons, curated perfectly in the form of a child’s story.

To honor the coming of such a great project, I sat down with the creators to ask them more about Large Fears and what this book means for black children everywhere.

Yolo: What was the inspiration for Large Fears and the character, Jeremiah Nebula?

Myles: The inspiration was definitely based off of who I was as a child. I had an adventurous spirit and a wild imagination, but I was always attracted to things that I was constantly told weren’t appropriate for me like the color pink or scary episodes of “The Twilight Zone”. Jeremiah Nebula is definitely me reconciling
with my childhood.

Kendrick: Myles & I met years ago in Atlanta and we’ve worked together on numerous projects before “Large fears.” I feel like the story itself was inspired by not just our lives but by the lives of queer people in general. And anyone that feels they weren’t understood growing up.

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Yolo: On each star Jeremiah reaches in the book, there is a fear he has to face. Can you tell us more about these fears and what they symbolize?

Kendrick: For me they all definitely have a deeper meaning. He gets to one star which is inhabited by huge skyscrapers and larger than life butterflies and fireflies who wear crowns. To me that page symbolizes going into a new situation where you’re unsure of yourself and trying to assert yourself and claim your identity. I definitely identified with that page. When I moved to New York that’s where a lot of my insecurities started to show, because for the first time in my life I wasn’t the big fish in a small pond, I was just another fish in a vast ocean.

Yolo: The art in the book is breath taking. I noticed that throughout it, little Jeremiah is in black and white stencil amidst the color background- what lead you to make this artistic choice?

Kendrick: Thank you! Well I wanted him to stand out and not get lost in the colorful and busy backgrounds. But on a symbolic level that’s how i interpret the story in that this is how he viewed himself as he explores these vast and fantastic worlds, as standing out and not fitting in and not being as special as the worlds he’s in because he’s in black and white. But drawings of Jeremiah are what bring each of the illustrations together and make them dynamic.

Yolo: Have you met any resistance with this story? Have people been opposed to you writing about a young black boy that doesn’t have traditional masculine themes?

Read the rest at the huffington post

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My Latest for Huffington Post: On Leaving The Prison of Tops & Bottoms

 

(Read on Huffington Post Here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/yolo-akili/leaving-the-prison-of-top_b_5524271.html

Language can quickly become a prison. It can entrap your imagination. Hold your subconscious hostage. Hide your true face from yourself, prevent you from seeing the authentic face of others…

For so long, top and bottom as terms, have been a prison for the sexuality of gay men.

Within this prison, one sexual act defines the very core of an individual.

Within this prison, stereotypes charade as whole sexual beings.

Within this prison, power is  perceived in a subjugated/subjugator model, and sex is largely only  understood when a dick is present and entering an orifice.

Beyond the confines of these terms, another world exists. It’s a world where we can perceive and hold the complexities of our own genders, where we can be seen full portrait and not just in puzzled pieces.

It’s a world where all of us can be affirmed; whether we have penises or not, whether we are able to penetrate or be penetrated, whether we even desire to participate in those acts.

But it is not familiar. It does not hold the same binary contrast that we have become so dependent upon in order to orchestrate desire. It does not honor the shame that we have learned to hold so tightly to our chests.

To go there, to dare to traverse the boundaries of this prison, is to force ourselves to face our deepest fears. For many of us to define ourselves beyond our dicks and what we do with them. To own the parts of ourselves we were taught we could not bring into the light because we were too masculine, too feminine, too “something” — to allow the sun to illuminate us.

This is a call to close the prison.

This is a call to unseat the warden and strip the bars from the windows of our minds. This is a call to to conjure language that allows us to own our principle sites of pleasure — but does not hold us hostage to them. This is a call to create language that cannot be driven back towards stereotypes of men and women, or inflated with hierarchical models of power. Language that can distinguish the difference between subjugation, and the performance of subjugation.

It is important to note, many people have tried to renovate the penitentiary. Tried to make it kinder, gentler, broader. Tried to re-inscribe bottom, un-elevate top. But a prison is a prison. And because of this a “bottom” still means weak, and “top” still means power — the terms themselves are so inscribed with hierarchy; they are not easily re-imagined — and above all else, concrete does not color well.

So this is a call for a new system. A new language. New ways to name our sexual selves, and honor the erotic spirit that exists beyond the act of penetration. This is a call to invite us to become clearer to each other outside of checked boxes on grindr or stats listed on jacked.

This is an opportunity for us to envision, to imagine, what else could be possible? What other words could there be? What new frames can hold us in our entirety? What can we create to name our desires, genders, preferences when we leave the confines of the warden’s prison consciousness? Only time, and you and I, will tell…

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My Latest For Huffington Post: An Interview with Co-Founder of Men Stopping Violence

 

 

We Are The Work: The Making of Men Stopping Violence, a new book by therapist and long-time activist Dick Bathrick, chronicles the 30-year legacy of Men Stopping Violence, an organization that has worked tirelessly to end violence against women by engaging the population largely responsible for that violence — men.

Started in 1980, Men Stopping Violence came into being when few people were viewing violence against women as a problem of men. It was — and in many places still is — seen as something that is a “women’s issue,” despite the fact that research shows men are largely the perpetuators. Over the years, MSV’s work has had a significant cultural impact on how we understand gender-based violence, influencing everything from mainstream media to government agencies.

In recognition of National Sexual Assault Month, a call to awareness on all forms of sexual assault and violence, I reached out to Dick to talk to him about We Are The Work, the legacy of MSV, and why it is important that this book reaches men who are dedicated to ending violence.

Read the Rest at HuffingtonPost 

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Brunch With The Boys

For those who don’t know, my latest collective endeavor is Brunch With The Boys.

Brunch With The Boys is a bi-weekly show featuring a revolving group of men of color. It is focused on creating dynamic and healing conversations between men of color.  Below is our first pilot episode.  You can read more about the show here.

In 

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#WATCH My Dialogue on Huff Post Live On Black Gay Men & Their Fathers

 

Today I had the chance to be on Huff Post Live for a dialogue on Black Gay Men & their Fathers. The conversation was inspired by Chase Simmons’ documentary Dear Dad: Letters From Same Gender Loving Sons. I interviewed Chase for Huffington Post a few weeks ago. You can read that interview here

Make sure you check out the video from Huff Post as well. A very powerful dialogue that we need to keep having in our communities!

 

 

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My Interview with “Black Girl Dangerous” Mia Mckenzie

I recently interviewed Mia Mckenzie on her award winning book “The Summer We Got Free.” Check it out below!


 I read a lot of books. a lot. And I get frustrated. Frustrated because in much of the fiction I see the same narratives recycled about black life. Angry because I know there is more to who we are as black people — more complexity, more nuance, and many stories that have yet to be told.

One book that helped to alleviate my frustration this past year was Mia Mckenzie’s Lambda Literary Award Winning The Summer We Got Free.

Within this book’s pages, I found a range of black characters with complicated intra-psychic lives, sexualities and (Thank God) relationships to the Christian church.

The novel revolves around the Delaneys, a family isolated within their community after a tragic event sends each of them in different psychological directions. Mckenzie does not offer insight into the entirety of the trauma in the beginning though. Instead the novel carefully leads you down a maze of emotions, forcing you to find your own footing as the ground underneath you continues to change shape and form. The twists and turns will shake you to your core. And like me, will likely lead you to question sexuality, gender, psychology, and spirituality as you know it.

Finding such a work, I had to reach out to its writer Mia Mckenzie, who is also well known for her incisive and unapologetic blog, Black Girl Dangerous.I reached out to Mia to talk to her about The Summer We Got Free, being a black woman writer, and what she thinksThe Summer We Got Free offers the black community as a work of art.
Yolo Akili: How do you believe your identity as a black woman influenced your creation of this book?

Mia Mckenzie: Intersections matter a lot. I’m queer, black, and a woman. I’m also someone who was raised working class. Someone who was raised being told I was smart and talented by my family. Someone who was teased for being ugly by my schoolmates. Someone who went to college, studied abroad, lived in many different cities. Someone who reads a lot of books. All of those things helped create the consciousness I currently exist within. It comes, not just from identity, but from experiences. And, yes, I do think it helps me to see things that someone else might not be able to see, or to consider something that someone else might not be able to consider.

I think Ava’s husband, Paul, is one example. Paul, who is the husband of a character we love and want to see with another woman, would be a really easy automatic villain or antagonist. I think the straight husband in a really queer book is set up to be disliked in a way. But I see, and tried to portray, Paul as a complicated guy with a lot of complicated experiences of violence and betrayal. He is a black man, formerly incarcerated, and because of my intersections I have the ability to consider what that means in the world. So, I couldn’t let him be the easy villain. And I don’t consider him a villain at all. I don’t think that’s an easy thing for people to consider, especially when they are rooting for the very relationship that Paul is in the way of.

Akili: When reading The Summer We Got Free, one of the many characters that moved me was Ava, who is unapologetic in her criticism of the Christian church as a very young child. At one point she tells her pastor: “I don’t think people should be devoted to the church… Because people can’t fly if you always telling them they shouldn’t.” Ava reminded me of my own criticism of Christianity, as well as the questions that many young black children have about religion that are stamped out or silenced. What was the inspiration for this aspect of Ava’s character?

Mckenzie: I grew up going to church. Well, being forced to go. My mother’s side of the family is pretty religious and my sisters and I went to church on Sundays, sang in the children’s choir and went to the church’s day and sleep away camps in the summer. But it was a social thing for me. I don’t think I ever actually bought what was being sold.

Read the rest here: 

 

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When The God You Favor Doesn’t Favor You

Latest for Huffington Post:

Every letter I wrote in Dear Universe has a story behind it. Some of those stories are funny. Some of those stories are heartbreaking. And some of those stories enrage me. So much that every time I open the book to read them, I remember the pain and hurt that lead to their creation…

“Dear Universe, Today I ask that you help me to remember: God does not favor people…

This is the beginning of a letter that angers me every time I read it. A young black gay man inspired it. No, wait, that’s not true — a lot of young black gay men inspired it. It was written in response to the things I have heard loving and supporting black gay men throughout my life.

One of the events that inspired this letter happened on a Sunday afternoon at Piedmont Park in Atlanta. In case you don’t know, Sundays at Piedmont are a time when many black gay men gather, cruise and flirt. It is also a place where I have had many life-changing conversations on spirituality and love. It was in one of those conversations that a young black gay man, who I only knew in passing, once shared this:

 

“I have had a lot of stuff happen to me in my life. And I know other folks have too. But I watch folks around me get things. Get better. Have people, family… and even when I try it never works for me. Never. My pastor says that you know when you are in God’s favor… and I just… I’ve just come to understand that God does not favor me. That’s the only explanation I can find for why things always seem to be so hard, why my family isn’t here for me, why things are always taken away.”

Read the Rest At Huffington Post.

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Kind Words from Anthony Freeman

 

“Most of the men I look up to are renaissance men. I was first introduced to Yolo around his work around race and sexuality (snatch), but I was delighted to find out his work crosses other arenas including spoken word, yoga and astrology. How many black/brown men can I have an intelligent (intersectional) conversation about Western astrology with?! I immediately booked a reading.

My full chart was hands down the best money I spent that year. It was recorded and was supposed to be a podcast, alas we lost it due to technical difficulties. But the Ah-ha moments will stay with me forever.

I also had the pleasure of watching Yolo teach an undergraduate class at Fordham university; you could see the light bulbs going off in folk’s mind. I’ve been doing this work for so long, I take for granted most people will never take a sexuality/gender studies course (let alone with an instructor who can infuse critical race theory into the mix). Many students in the class began to unpack that very night.”

Read the full write up here: 

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