New Documentary Explores Relationships Between Black Gay Men & Fathers

My Latest for the Huffington Post:

Every once in a while a project comes along that invites us to openly acknowledge our need for healing. I believe that Dear Dad: Letters From Same-Gender-Loving Sons is such a project. Created by Chase Simmons, the documentary shares the stories of eight black gay/same-gender-loving men writing open letters to their fathers. As the film’s website states:

The project aims to give black same gender loving men a platform to tell their varying yet universal stories about their relationship with their father and how it has shaped them as men. Ultimately, the documentary is meant to help these men and men like them appreciate what gave them hope and heal what gave them hurt.

 

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Without a doubt the film attains its goal. As a black gay man, I found that the 90-minute documentary led me to reflect on my relationship with my own father. I found myself laughing through misty eyes at the awkward stories of black father love, and kneeling over in tears at the unhealed anger and rage.

After watching, I felt compelled to continue the healing with my own father and all the black men in my life. I was also moved to support this amazing film, which compels each of us to do the same. In that spirit I reached out to the film’s creator, Chase Simmons, to learn more about what led him to create Dear Dad, what he hopes the film can offer the black community at large, and how creating this film has changed his life.

Yolo Akili: Why black same-gender-loving men, and why letters to their fathers?

Chase Simmons: As a black same-gender-loving man, I know how difficult it can be to forge a real relationship with your father. I’ve struggled with it myself. In my own experience there is often an immediate disconnect once your sexuality is mentally acknowledged, and that gap just gets wider and wider over time. That led me to think about how I’ve struggled to forge real relationships with other SGL men, romantic or platonic. Then I started to think about how I struggled to maintain connections with the heterosexual men in my life after coming out, especially black heterosexual men. Those thoughts looped me back to the first black heterosexual man that I knew, my dad. So I felt like there was a lot of potential in hearing these stories.

Akili: What was the impetus for this film?

Simmons: The impetus for this film was a conversation I had in 2009 with a friend and roommate at the time. I can’t remember how the conversation started, but we started really digging into his relationship with his parents. It was very strained. They were not very supportive of his sexuality, and they didn’t acknowledge it, despite full awareness. Over the next week or so our conversation continued to play in my head, and I started formulating the project, piece by piece. About a month later I had a focus group/brunch with some close friends at a local grill, and the rest is history.

Read the full article at The Huffington Post

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Dear Universe Reviewed in Muse Magazine!

Honored to have a great review in Mused Magazine from Writer Dymir Arthur! Check it out, and make sure you visit this great magazine for black gay men!

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It is said that if you want to be a great writer, you should study great writers. The same is true for those who aspire to be great musicians, actors and athletes. I also apply this mentality to my role as an educator and it has led me to invaluable lessons on my journey. Great educators don’t strive to insert anything into the minds of others, but rather they help others give birth to their own dreams, beliefs and discoveries by leading from a place of vulnerability.

When it comes to developing my own craft, I am always looking for great work from other writers and educators who have done the deep and reflective work it takes to discover the most powerful lessons worth sharing. One educator and writer that I’ll be adding to my list of people who have inspired me is Yolo Akili.

I met Yolo more than a year ago through a mutual friend. From our initial interaction it was clear to me that he has found a rare balance between being a serious educator and activist while remaining graciously humble by approaching conversations from a place of sincere curiosity. While he is consistently focused on the larger lessons of life and spiritual well-being, Yolo never misses an opportunity to laugh and show gratitude for the little joys of the human experience. For those who are brave enough to read his new book “Dear Universe”, you will find that Yolo brings his authentic self to his work by forging a path toward healing and empowerment for others.

With only 72 pages between the front and back covers, “Dear Universe” proves a lot about the power of small things. A collection of letters of affirmation, the book is packed with powerful lessons on every page that reach beyond the veils we wear down into the most well-kept and concealed aspects of our individual and collective experiences. 

Read the rest here..

Buy Your Copy of Dear Universe Here..

 

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Dear Universe Reviewed on The Feminist Wire!

Dear Universe is reviewed by Alexis Pauline Gumbs on The Feminist Wire! Check it out below!

From the Feminist Wire Did you know that my mom is a therapist?  She is!   And at it’s very best psychology is the science of learning how to love ourselves and each other better and better and better.  (And like most fields…at its worst it is basically the opposite of that.)  I have grown up hearing my mom use a scientific term called “operational practice” which, as I see it, means things that you actually do on a regular basis.  As a black feminist love evangelist I see these operational practices as rituals, those things we do on a daily, weekly, monthly or seasonal basis that shape our days.

In other words, my mother is a ritualistic person.  Every day she reads The Daily Word.  She usually has an inspirational quote-a-day calendar on her dresser.  She believes in breakfast in the literal and literary sense.   Just like eating first thing gives your body and brain something to work with as you face the day, reading something inspirational offers an inquiry and a clarity that can transform our everyday experiences into opportunities for insight and inspiration.

For this reason, and several others Yolo Akili’s new book of affirmations, Dear Universe passes the mama test.   I can count on my hands the books that I have read and then immediately gotten for my mother.   Only one of Toni Morrison’s books passed the test (A Mercy), my favorite Dionne Brand novel made it (At the Full and Change of the Moon) and all of Asha Bandele’s prose has made it so far (The Prisoner’s Wife, Daughter, Something Like Beautiful).   But Dear Universe has a special place on that list now because it is the only book on the list that is neither by a black woman writer nor about black mother/daughter relationships.   I intend to send my mother a copy of Dear Universe as an offering towards her daily practice of reading affirmations.   And I suggest that you not only let Dear Universe collaborate with you in the possibility of knowing something today that you might not notice any other day, but also let this small blue book collaborate in your most meaningful relationships as well, and this is why.

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By Dear Universe by clicking here:

 

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Dear Universe Featured on BET.COM!

    I was interviewed about Dear Universe on BET.Com! Check out the interview below!

From BET.Com: The state of African-Americans’ mental health—regardless of gender, sexual orientation and gender expression—isn’t as stable as it should be. According to the Office of Minority Health, African-Americans are 20 percent more likely to suffer from serious psychological distress compared to whites.

And whether this break is due to poverty, past trauma, homophobia, lack of access to health care, unemployment, stress and unsafe neighborhoods, it’s clear that we all need to heal. One man determined to improve our mental health is Yolo Akili. His new book Dear Universe: Letters of Affirmation and Empowerment ($9.99, Micheal Todd Books) fuses self-empowerment, humor and social justice to help his readers navigate their emotional and spiritual path.

BET.com sat down with Akili to talk about what inspired his book, why Black men need to tap into their emotional health and why Dear Universe is for everyone.

What inspired Dear Universe?

There was a period in my life when it seemed like everything was falling apart. I left a job I loved and moved from Atlanta to New York City, a place that was alien to me. I was really depressed and was struggling to figure things out, so I took to writing things down in a journal.

And it’s so ironic because before I moved to New York, I had spent years working in with therapists and counselors facilitating support groups for all types of African-American men (batterers, gay and bisexual men, men , living with HIV/AIDS) and here I was, forgetting all of the things that I had learned doing that work. And so journaling was a way to rediscover that knowledge. And when I started to feel better, I looked at all of these letters and was like, “This would make a good book!”

From there, I took these letters and tweaked them to better to convey the messages of self-love and empowerment.

Read the Rest at BET.Com by clicking here.

To purchase a copy of “Dear Universe’ click here.

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