I have exactly one celebrity friend. Don’t get me wrong; after covering stars of some sort or another for 23 years, I’m chummy with a handful more. I think Beyoncé may even remember my name. OK, my face.
But friend? As in you not only know my name but also know how to spell it, know my birthday, my family, my passions? Only one. And he’s a he.
It just so happens that we did not become friends as adults living this hectic, surreal life of making (him) and critiquing (me) pop culture. Actually, we were kids together. High school loves a million trillion moons ago. And although we have seasons when we speak daily and seasons when we miss entire seasons, what I think about most whenever I consider what my boy truly means to me is the way his brilliance has a way of rubbing off on you—and there’s nothing you can do about it.
His most recent show was a really big one (he didn’t headline, but still, I’m talking New York’s Madison Square Garden big). I went by myself and deliberately sat in the I-wish-I-had-binoculars seats. I chanted, screamed and rapped along with everyone else. I so admire this dude, I thought. I love that he still has in him an essence that genuinely touches people, a soul that moves the crowd. Over the years, he’s trusted me enough to let me tag along to dinners with him and some of his überA-list cronies (think, Mariah, Janet, Leo), and I mean, who’s not trying to do that? But when we were young, he was also the one who made me listen to hours of Earth, Wind & Fire, discerning one instrument from another and appreciating the energetic synchronization of a band. He was the first boy man enough to let me see him cry. And he recognized in me, even then, that, like all girls, I was more than a pretty face.
At 15, I yearned for a guy who could talk to me, talk with me. Thirty years later, we have not stopped talking. (My husband, another authentically brilliant—and confident—Black man, totally supports our connection. How blessed am I?)
And this is #BlackMaleBrilliance—a force of nature that holds within it a true Godlike capacity. The power to construct and deconstruct, an omnipotent light from within. Black male brilliance is everyday and everywhere and evermore, and no matter what life feels like in America when another day comes and yet another dead Black child becomes a hashtag for justice, it is a thing we must recognize, hold on to and uplift. Welcome to the annual Men’s Issue of EBONY. It was a badge of honor to spearhead this effort. In these pages is some seriously good stuff.
Newly named Senior Editor Jamilah Lemieux scored an exclusive interview with The Hon. Minister Louis Farrakhan on the Million Man March, two decades later (p. 94). We’ve got the NFL’s No. 2 to Roger Goodell (p. 82); a slew of Black men with Ph.Ds (p. 108); a beard-lover’s story (p. 48); Wesley Snipes keeping it funky about the dangers of Nino Brownism (p. 21); a gay man’s inner truth (p. 74); Black craft beer makers (p.54); a love letter to brothers (p.84); and it goes on.
And we’ve got Questlove and Black Thought of the Roots. Neh-neh-neh-neh-neh.
These. Boys. Bad. Act like you know the Roots star as the official house band for NBC’s Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon. And that—duh—it is one of the most prolific hip-hop groups on the planet. The maturity, masculinity and musicality our cover guys possess is hypnotizing. And if you’ve ever read Questlove’s politicized writings … let’s just say I’m an honest fangirl. Right, Ahmir?
To be fair, Black male brilliance (y’all know by now I don’t just mean academic smarts, yes?) is probably something I am in tune with because of Joe Mayo, my Renaissance man of a dad. You wouldn’t believe me if I told you that well into his 70s, the brother: played full-court ball (and just recently stopped); plays drums at a nightclub; built my mother’s dream house (literally); walks on stilts (literally); roller-skates; paints; and designs leather crafts. For real, my pops can do/make anything.
I also have three brilliant boys: a cool-as- ice stepson and two little guys I still have the stretch marks to prove. The curiosity and ingenuity—and, in fact, bravery—I’ve witnessed in these young male souls reminds me that for all of the very real critiques I often have of Black men and male culture at large (oh, you thought that wasn’t coming?), there is a constant and abiding love. I am a feminist, and if you are a Black man, I hope you are, too.
Now, to any of you guys who doubt that within Black feminism there is space for the brotherlove I speak of, I dare you put your male self in my shoes and create the Women’s Issue. It takes a particular understanding and will (and listening skill) to represent expressly for the opposite gender. But Black man, as long I’m here I’m game. You?
Love on top of love,
PICK UP THE OCTOBER ISSUE OF EBONY ON NEWSSTANDS NOW!