Black Gods (Extended Version) – Click Picture
I am very excited to announce that the party for the release of FreeWrite Confessions will be held Friday, March 16, 2018 from 7:00 – 10:00 at Jazzi’s on 3rd in Birmingham, AL. Please see the upcoming events page for more details!! Can’t wait to see y’all.
As many of you know, 2017 was somewhat of a whirlwind for me. I released my first project, “About Time” in January, pushed liked crazy and then, yup, you guessed it; I burnt out. After a headlining show in September, September 13th to be exact, I decided I needed to take a break. I was exhausted…socially and more importantly, creatively. I wanted to start working on a second project but I was uninspired and quite frankly, unmotivated. But now, that is neither here nor there.
Over the past 3.5 months, I’ve been working hard. Working hard writing. Working hard recording. Working hard getting new images. Working hard on getting new merchandise. And finally, working hard to put out a project that I absolutely cannot wait for you all to hear.
So, be patient because I promise its going to be worth it.
Proud to say that I am one of the honorees at this year’s Outstanding Women Of Color In Leadership Awards 2018 that will be taking place February 9th 2018. I’m so humbled to be recognized with such a group of other amazing women in the Birmingham, AL area. Tickets for the event are still available for purchase. See the Upcoming Events page for more details.
It’s a typical Tuesday for most of the sixth through eighth grade students at Smith Middle School on the east side of Birmingham, Alabama; however, for a select group of young men at this middle school, what’s being taught to them goes beyond just your typical subjects of algebra or English. They are being exposed to the invaluable lessons that every young man should learn; manhood and leadership. And it doesn’t just stop there. These traits are just two of the four foundational principles focused on by C4 Mentoring, the program that these young men are a part of.
Recently established in 2015 by Birmingham residents Leaveil Binion and Jermaine Johnson, Cultivate 4 (C4) Mentoring Program was created to focus on mentoring young Black men living in underserved communities that range from the 6th to 8th grad. With a mission to inspire, empower and encourage these young men to unlock their true passion in life through cultivating its four underlying principles: Heritage, Education, Leadership and Manhood. With the saying “It takes a village to raise a child” carrying more meaning now than it may ever have, I wanted to take time and speak with Leaveil and Jermaine, the men that have brought that statement to life in their community through founding such an impactful program. I felt that it was important to get a better understanding as to why this was such an important initiative for them to pursue, what they hope to accomplish through the program and what plans they have for the future.
Okay so, tell me a little about yourself.
Leaveil: I’m originally from Hartford, Connecticut. Moved here to Birmingham when I was 13 to live with my father. I’m 35 years old, married with kids. I work at Allstate in leadership. Military background, Army. Been on 3 deployments and currently serve in National Guard.
Jermaine: Was born in Chicago, raised here in Birmingham. I’m 33 years old. I’m a father of a 7 year old son. I graduated from Huffman Magnet High School and for my Bachelor’s from Alcorn State where I played football. I’m currently working in management at Enterprise.
How did the idea for C4 come about?
Well, we already knew each other but we were in this Facebook group; Unification Project where the members of the group would meet up and talk about different ideas, brainstorming and it kind of just happened. The idea was mentioned and we just ran with it and before we knew it we were in the school talking with the principal, ready to get things started. Pretty much just meant to be. And it works well, because we complement each other in terms of our working dynamic, so I think that helped get things moving as fast as they did.
Why 6th to 8th graders, meaning what is it about that age group that made you decide to make that your target group?
We wanted to focus on that group because it’s a very pivotal time in a young man’s life. They’re trying to figure out the direction they’re going to take, a crossroads. Also, a lot of middle school kids deal with a lot of peer pressure, bullying and self-esteem issues and we wanted to help equip these young men with the tools to rise above these things and groom them to be great leaders in high school and then later in the community.
What is the significance of HELM in relation to the program?
HELM is important in a couple ways. The helm of the ship is what steers the ship and it also means to steer; so for us, HELM: heritage, education, leadership and manhood are the tools that will guide these young men throughout life. Our goal is to help them figure out who they are as individuals and unlock what it is they’re passionate about and we do that through cultivating these four principles. We use these principles as the foundation of our curriculum and any lessons we teach, conversations we have, or activities we engage in, we’re going to tie them back to those four principles.
How does the mentor, mentee relationship work?
That’s something that we think makes C4 a little different than some other mentoring programs. We wanted to create a family dynamic and an environment for these kids to be themselves. We wanted to do it this way so that the kids could figure out for themselves which mentor they clicked with the best and so that in the event a kid’s mentor couldn’t be there, they wouldn’t feel left out. So we want to make sure that the kids interact with all the mentors and know that they have the support of all of us. A huge factor to the mentor, mentee relationship is communication. We want these kids to be able to have real, open conversations about what’s going on in their lives and what they’re going through. When we’re having a discussion and we ask a question, we’re not looking for that perfect, essay response, we want them to be real with us and we’re real with them. We’re in contact throughout the week, phones, texting, whenever they need us and we meet weekly, all mentors and mentees and just talk. We’ll bring in different speakers or discuss different topics.
What’s the most important thing you hope the young men going through the program take away from it?
It goes back to HELM. We want the kids to understand the importance of knowing who you are as an individual and take pride in that, and in order to truly understand and figure out who you are, you have to know where you came from, your heritage and your history. These are young kings and we want them to understand and learn what that actually means. To know that education doesn’t stop when you leave the classroom and the power education has in life. We want them to understand that leadership isn’t just a role but that they are a leader at all times and to act with that mindset and finally what being a man and manhood is really about. Being a man’s man isn’t about being tough but being a role model. And most importantly, we just want these kids to find the happiness that comes out of finding your passion and purpose in life.
What has been the response/support you’ve received from the community?
The community has been real supportive of what we’re doing with these kids and in the community and they see it as a great way of us building up the community. It was definitely something that was needed and we hear that from a lot of folks throughout the community. The school has been overwhelmingly supportive. They’ve helped provide us with the resources we need to make this happen and we’ve been able to develop a great working, collaborative relationship. The parents really love what we’re doing. We’d love to get more parent participation, but we understand that between work and all that it may be a little hard, and we’re working on finding ways to make it easier for them to get more involved.
How many mentors and mentees are currently participating in C4?
Currently, we have about 30 middle school kids, ranging from 11 to 13 years old and 6 high school kids, freshmen, that started with the program last year and are still involved. As far as mentors go, we have 6 mentors that rooted in the program and then others who help out and get involved when they can.
What are the requirements to get involved with C4, for the mentees and the mentors?
For the kids, their parents have to sign them up. We also get help from the faculty and they talk to us about kids they think would benefit from the program. We have them fill out a Pre-Assessment form just to get an idea of where their heads are at. As far as mentors go, the only things we require are dedication and the desire to improve the quality of life of the boys. We aren’t seeking any particular type of men, a professional or business minded or anything like that. We’re just looking for everyday guys that are willing to spend time with the kids and show them support.
What are the next steps? Do you have plans to expand the program?
Expand! Ideally, we want to expand the program throughout the Birmingham City School system and continue working with middle schoolers. Once we get the program established in that way, we want to look towards expanding to the high school. The program is currently boys only and as of right now and the 5-year plan, that will continue to be the focus. We want to get this program fully established and then we may think about doing something for the young ladies; but, if there were any women that wanted to join us to head a program geared towards girls, we’d fully support that initiative.
Okay, last question. From a personal perspective, what has C4 given you? What has the program, starting it and being in the trenches, done for your personal growth?
Leaveil: I truly believe my purpose in this world is to be a leader for my people. Once I accepted that purpose, it was important that it lived in every aspect of my life. C4 was just that final piece for me. I have always had the heart to do for others and I never knew where that would lead me. Everything in my life has prepared me for this. Everyday I strive to be a better leader in every part of my life. From my personal life, my military life, and my corporate career. C4 has given me the satisfaction of being able to leverage each and everything I’ve learned and place it all in the greatest investment we have in this world, our youth.
Jermaine: It’s definitely made me a better dad and person. It’s made me more accountable for my actions and made me more aware of things in the community and why. All that has lead me to see more than just the surface in all situations and look deeper at things, learning that life’s all about perspective. It’s also allowed me to find my passion. I’ve had a lot of good jobs but I wasn’t fulfilled. I started coaching football and started building a rapport with the kids. I switched focus and started management and developing myself as a leader but I was missing that aspect of helping kids and I knew that’s what I was supposed to be doing. C4 lets me do that. I can’t imagine doing any job for 30 years, unless its C4.
After speaking with Leaveil and Jermaine, and even after typing up this article and reading it through, it’s apparent that this isn’t just providing an opportunity for development for these young men but these gentlemen have a personal stake in this fight. They both wonder about where they could’ve been or what they could’ve accomplished had they had someone helping them at this age. They see themselves in every mentee in the program. They both know the impact that this program can have in the lives of these young men and in turn the impact that those who participate in the program can have on their own communities and the world. For them, it wasn’t enough to just point out the issues that Black men face; they needed to and continue to be active problem solvers and change makers in the community with hopes of instilling in these young men the tools necessary for them to do the same. C4 Mentoring is definitely at HELM of mentoring in Birmingham, Alabama and I look forward to seeing this program continue to grow and get the support it so rightfully deserves.
For more information about the program and how you can get involved, contact:
Instagram: @c4_mentoring Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
“I could never imagine”
these are my thoughts, gazing out at a field of Louisiana cotton.
Sun beating relentlessly on the back of my neck,
and I can’t help but let the tears flow down my sunburnt cheeks.
For me, this field represents a horrific past,
but for her, it’s memories.
Granny doesn’t talk much about those days.
I asked once, what it was like; told me I was too little.
“Wickedness like that ain’t for story time, wickedness like that wasn’t a story it was our life,” she said.
And right now I can see her.
She relives a life many would choose to forget.
I watch her, in her trance… lost in the sea of white,
remembering long hot days, stooped over, satchel on hip,
fingers bloodied from a long day of pickin’.
I admire her.
“It wasn’t all bad,” she tells me in her thick Louisiana accent.
This place is her home.
“I learned to appreciate what I got. Ain’t hard when you ain’t got much, pick a pound of
cotton, bet you’ll never hug a blanket the same”.
She laughs, I laugh behind the tears, we laugh together,
putting the ugliness of the past behind us, but we both know
there’s so much farther to go.
The way she sighs makes me realize she knows so much that I don’t,
I study her… the lines in her face, each tell a different story
the small hump in her back, can’t blame old age for that… years bent over
in a field will do that.
Scars on her back, that I’ll never see on purpose… a part of her is still ashamed.
Hands – no matter how tender her touch, will never be soft.
They’re weathered and calloused…hands of a hard life that I gladly take
in mine as we walk down dirt roads, reminiscing… she talks
and I try to inhale all of her…her wisdom, strength, beauty…
How did she learn to forgive…. I wonder
but that was years ago.. Granny is gone and I’m grown now.
Thursday, September 22, 2011
Newspaper headline: Georgia: Did They Kill an Innocent Man, Troy Davis Executed
Newspaper headline: After 13 Years, James Bryd Jr.’s Murderer Executed.
I wonder if those families will ever learn to forgive,
wonder if it’s hard to find forgiveness on the bloodied, dirt roads of Jasper, Texas
or at the tip of needles put into the arms of reasonable doubt.
Win one, lose one, no one is the winner.
Maybe justice is only blind outside of Jim Crow Country
where the darkness of the night sky doesn’t bring on memories of billy clubs
— nothing peachy or sweet about Georgia that night but it’s definitely on their minds.
September 25, 2016.
173 bodies lay six feet deep, lives stolen and shattered by the hands of the police.
They’re calling them a legal lynchings, something like August 6, 1930 and the world gathered to watch…
I hold onto my blanket thinking about a pound of cotton and how we aren’t as far as we thought… guess black presidents don’t change much… pretty sure if it was up to some, the world would really see evil at its finest
Can’t help thinking what was going through their minds.
How does it feel to die before death has taken soul from body
and how do you find strength to offer blessings to those that forsake you.
I feel the tears roll down my cheek,
this will never be told to my little ones during story time… wickedness like this should never be shared.
My head aches with questions; too many that I don’t have the answer to.
If granny was here, I’m sure she’d know what to tell me; offer up some comforting truth,
and I realize that I’m not as grown as I think.
Still just a little girl with no understanding of the world;
only difference is I don’t have granny’s hand to hold,
and there is no comfort to be found in Louisiana cotton fields.
The #love and #support I’ve been receiving has truly melted my heart ❤️..there are no words to express how grateful I am for the opportunity to share the most intimate pieces of myself with the world!! Get your copy of #AboutTime the book or the album or both #today!! Available on Amazon and all digital stores!! #lyssalou #kingdominkent #poetry#spokenword #poems @kingdominkent
He stands there, broken and impatiently waiting for the one gift God blessed him with in this miserable life. His imagination is tearing him up inside until finally, he sees her slowly walk through the door. She stops and stands there, broken and ashamed, to look up and see the one gift God blessed her with in this miserable life, standing, broken and waiting. In tears, they embrace each other. Sobbing. Knowing that what once was, will never be again.
Nate Parker’s “Birth of a Nation” sparked much debate. From Black feminists’ cries over boycotting the support of this film to it being labeled as just another slave movie by those who believe themselves to be “woke” or conscious, the reviews, comments and opinions on the film have been all over the place, positive, negative and in-between. But what I didn’t come across, were many comments addressing what, in my opinion, may have been the most powerful and thought provoking moments of the film. Hark, one of the slaves, has been told that guests of slave owner Samuel Turner has requested an evening with Esther, his new wife. After his refusal, he is reminded that he is being made aware of this not in order for him to grant permission but as a courtesy. Unwillingly, Esther does as she is expected. Hark stands outside of the house, waiting for Esther to return to him. You can see it in his face that he is torn apart. After what seemed like hours, Esther emerges from the house. Tears streaming down her face, she looks up to see her husband standing there. Sobbing, they embrace each other. Each now broken in their own way. And even though I watch as they try to hold each other together, I can’t help but find myself thinking “how was the black relationship ever suppose to be healthy after that?”
“How can black relationships ever be healthy after being built on such a tumultuous foundation?” It was a question I’ve still been asking myself after almost two weeks of seeing “Birth of a Nation”. The scene of Hark and Esther coming together after an experience that I’m sure left both of them individually broken in different ways, really lifted a veil and opened my eyes to a plausible root of how and why the dynamic between black men and women has been stained with the perception of dysfunction. From the moment Esther was forced to give her body to a man that was not her husband, stripping not only herself of dignity but Hark’s as well, a platform for the emotional battles fought within black relationships was established. It’s a fight; “How can you I trust you to protect me when you don’t have the power to” and How can I protect you when you don’t believe I have the power to?” For my generation, I believe those questioned have morphed into statements like “I’m an independent woman, I don’t need a man” and “She’s a good woman, but she doesn’t make me feel needed”, but are still standing on the same platform that was portrayed in that powerful scene. Now, this is in no way blaming the independent woman who can do for herself or the man that just wants to claim that aspect of his manhood and feel needed by his lady; but so often the interaction between a black man and women becomes this tug of war; giving slack just to pull it back when both parties want the same thing. Sure. There are countless couples that have been able to shed these perceptions and attain that balance and trust essential for a successful relationship; but I would beg to ask each of them how many battles they fought before they reached that climactic moment when they knew they found the person that matched their tug and pull. We’ve created the vicious cycle of pointing fingers when we’re all culprits but some of us just get the privilege of stumbling upon that one.
I for one, am tired of stumbling in hopes I get lucky and I think that’s why this scene struck such a deep chord with me. The concept portrayed wasn’t new to me. From my understanding of the Willie Lynch letter and studying relationships throughout the pursuit of my bachelors degree in psychology, I’ve acknowledged the role systematic racism has played into the dysfunction within black relationships. But, there was something about seeing all that brokenness, although fictional, that hit me in a real way and the only thing I can boil down all the thoughts I have on it are the questions: how do we fix something that has been so grotesquely ingrained into our perceptions and interactions and once we figure out the how, where do we even start? And all I can hope is that as we continue our fight for the end of the systemic racism plaguing our communities, that reclaiming the black relationship doesn’t become a lost goal of the movement.