Despite my #currentmood, I am still very much in gratitude mode. For a month now, I have been thanking folks for loving up on me, and for sending good will, flowers and blessings my way on this new journey as editor of the most venerable Black publication on the planet. Actually, to everyone who’s thought a good thought on my behalf, I should say it again: thank you.

Let the record show that I have prefaced this note with humble appreciation, lest you miss my point to come.

This work is hard. Not hard as in, “Boy, don’t you know I walked to school with no shoes” hard, but hard as in intellectually, mentally, emotionally hard. I don’t think there has been a day in my life since I was 16 years old that I haven’t, in some way or another, considered the very fact of my Blackness. I’ve always noticed, cared and been prideful. I am one of those you’d call “pro-Black.”

To love us is one thing; but to document, inspire, challenge and ultimately, represent us, is more than a notion. Every 30 days, as a magazine staff, we have to climb inside the hearts and minds of Black America (with all of its complexities and complications) and reflect on what we’ve gathered.

The beginnings of this month’s unexpected cover and, more important, cover line, grew out of something we had all been seriously noting of late: the overwhelming reminders that America truly loves what it perceives as Black—from baby oil to butts, collard greens to crunk—but actual Black people? Perhaps not so much. We debated and went ’round the mulberry bush, not only on how to show (and tell) what we mean, but whether we should do something like this at all. In the end, because we know that we mean not to offend, but to provoke—and because this is what EBONY has always done—here we are.

Now, does America love Black people?

Gwendolyn Brooks’ 1959 short but shocking poem “We Real Cool” struck me when I first read it and still does. It ends with We die soon.

During the making of this issue, the following happened to have happened: Nine beautiful Black people were gunned down in cold blood, in Charleston, S.C., while in church, while studying the Bible—just for being Black. Nine beautiful Black people’s families faced their loved ones’ White alleged killer and said to him—and the world—you are forgiven. Days later, President Barack Obama performed the eulogy for the most well-known of the dead, the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, who was also a beloved state senator. Delivering a word on the subject of grace, the POTUS was apparently enraptured by the spirit in the room and had what some called his “Blackest Moment Ever.” Not only did he indict America for the inclination to hire “Johnny” over “Jamal,” but the president also led the congregation in singing the old hymn “Amazing Grace.”

Amazing. Amazing also how racially unified South Carolina—and the whole country—appeared at the moment. If the reality could only mirror the optics in the long run. At press time, at least, all signs point to the final lowering of the Confederate flag on South Carolina state buildings. Good riddance.

Less amazing, however, has been some of the recent collective reaction to Black demands and anger (as opposed to said Black grace). As African Americans know, in us, both things rightfully live. Our lives matter in churches—our lives matter everywhere. And sometimes, we don’t want to forgive.

So for this issue, we chose to take a slight pause from Black celebrity and all the hoopla that often comes with that, and reset our gaze on our most serious times. To do this, we knew we had to focus on three central ideas: Black wealth (play our financial game “Started From the Bottom…,” pg. 88); Black power (read our report on Black media, pg. 90); and Black respect (return to Ferguson, Mo., to commemorate the one-year anniversary of Michael Brown Jr.’s tragic death, pg. 104).

I only wish you could see all the August cover drafts we tried over long nights and heated debates: illustration vs. type; purple vs. red; “The Cost of Being Black” vs. “The Price of Black Culture.”

What I have learned is, if you ask Black people how they feel about America’s obsession with Black culture but all too common rejection of Black people, you just may tumble down a rabbit hole of no return. But that’s actually a good thing—we all have something to say about this. I only hope your individual perspective finds a little validation right here.

Kierna Mayo is the Editor-in-Chief of EBONY magazine. Follow her on Twitter/Instagram @kiernamayo.