Embracing Liminal Identity : Uncovering Hidden Diversity : Celebrating Cultural Mobility

“We are human, too.” The We Love You Project Empowers Black Men to Take Back Their Image

We Love You Project_Bryon

Bryon Summers, photographer 

The We Love You Project is creative art activism started by photographer Bryon Summers. The goal is to capture the portraits of 1,000 African-American males of all ages to provide “A simple but powerful reassurance to our black boys and men that even though it feels like we are being murdered and destroyed constantly, we are still a part of a larger community that loves and supports us.”

We Love You Project_BradleyThere has been a lot of unrest within my spirit in the recent weeks concerning my position as an African American male in society. Not just for me, but for my brothers as well. I feel as if when I’m outside and when I’m going about my day that there is a target on my back. That makes it hard to rest; it makes it hard to function, to be who you are. As loving and as kind and as open hearted as I am when it comes to my day to day, when I’m sitting in the office going through my newsfeed and seeing these events happening again and again and again, it becomes very disturbing and very disheartening.

Me finding this project is a way to say ‘hey, this is pretty cool, something I can be a part of.’ The positivity that shows that we are in fact human as African-American males. Society may not see it in that light, but we are, so We Love You is very strong, and I felt that I wanted to be a part of it.” – Bradley Dale

 

I had the opportunity to hang out and chat with Bryon and some of his participants during their photoshoot in Brooklyn in July. The questions I asked did not vary much, basically I wanted to know how they found out about the project, what it meant to them to participate, and what their hope for the future was.

Many, like Bradley quoted above, felt the need to confirm that they are, indeed, human. It’s hard to put into words how unfathomable this was to hear.

That these fathers, entrepreneurs, and lawyers, should still, in New York City, the self-proclaimed center of the world, really truly fear for their safety, and the safety of their loved ones.

That these actors, designers, and photographers should still, in the year 2016, feel like they have to justify their existence.

That these singers, marketing professionals, and children should still, here and today, be made to feel less-than when they step out in the wider community.

Unfathomable, unbelievable, ungraspable for me, a white European expat. But I’m not here to talk about white privilege or even police accountability. Right now, I would just like to share some of their words to accompany their beautiful portraits.

We Love You Project_Noah“This project means a lot. Allowing my son to be a part of this project is close to my heart, because he needs to get a foundation about what it means to be a great man in America, and also a great black man in America. At this point, I wish health and strength for him, and that his mind continues to grow. I see so many talents in him now, and at this point I don’t know which direction he will go. I just hope and pray that he’s safe.” Bryan, Noah’s Dad. Noah will be two in November.

We Love You Project_Reggie“People don’t ask about how we are doing psychologically, and how this affects our psyche. America has been desensitized. We’ve seen killings in movies and video games, but now we’re seeing it on TV screens, on YouTube, everywhere. And you’re seeing us dying, and it’s desensitizing the world. I truly hope that we gain our sensitivity back, because we need to cry when we see these things. We need to be cognizant about what is going on and realize that we all react differently. We need to collectively grieve, and collectively put it all back together, because we’re hurting.” Reggie

We Love You Project_Matthew“I’m all about love. Seeing what black men are going through right now, being torn down, brutalized, murdered, police officers taking the law into their own hands and getting away with it – that is wrong. I’m hoping to show to the world that not every black man is out there committing crime. They’re about family, about raising their children, being with their wives or whoever they choose to be with. The media needs to own up to how it’s (portraying us). We are a part of this community just like you are. We need positive feedback, not just all the negativity you’re feeding us and showing to our children. So many young and intelligent black boys can come to be proficient well-rounded men. I hope this will change that. It’s about positivity and uplifting everyone.” Matthew

We Love You Project_Heston“Being an African-American mother, I want to make sure that Heston has all the examples and potential to be the greatest person he can be, and his life not to be cut short, or for him to be judged by a stigma that has been set for so long. We just want the same equality and privileges that everyone else has. If you take a chance to get to know your neighbor, you will see that we’re all the same – just a little bit different on the outside, but in our heart of hearts we want the same things: grow a family and share love. We also want our family members, especially our husbands and sons, to come home – just like you do. No one wants to have that phone call. Love is the only thing that is going to fix this, so if you feel like you don’t have a voice, take action. Reach out to your neighbor, ask them how their day was. When we have brotherhood, it will make everything better, one day at a time.” Tracy, Heston’s mom.

We Love You Project_Nestle“For some reason we have allowed other people to tell us who we are, and now we’re taking that narrative back. We’re human just like everybody else. My wish is for everybody to have self-love. If you love yourself, you won’t feel affected by everything going on around you. You would control your life and (it) would spread to other people. You don’t fight hate with hate, you fight it with love. Mother Theresa said she won’t attend an anti-war rally, but she will attend a peace rally. I’m a photographer, visual artist, a philanthropist – I’m like Malcolm X with hippie sensibilities. I’m forced to be in a circle of activity that I didn’t agree to, but that I’m trying to change.” Nestlé

We Love You Project_Brian“I am a black male who was raised in the South by people who participated in the Civil Rights Movement. I am queer, and I am deeply disturbed by what is happening again in our country. I think it is important to show up, be seen, and speak and use our voices when we can. The frustration is that I feel like we’re having to explain very basic information and ideas of civilization and equality to people who have constructed their identity based upon the misconception that black people are less-than. I believe they’re deciding that we are the problem, when in actuality the identity they have constructed is crumbling, and they don’t know how to handle it. And it’s not our job to help them handle it. It’s frustrating to live in a world where I don’t have the same opportunities, having to fight for those same opportunities and rights, and also have to hold your hand through the breakdown of your (self-image).

I have sat at the feet of my grandparents and listened to the stories of my grandfather, who was a major in the army and did two tours in Vietnam, and was called the N-word when he came back. My mother was the first black cashier at Woolworth’s and was spit on and called the N-word. She was able to open a salon and create a life for her family. I see these beautiful people who raised me with more opportunities than they had, and now we have a black president, and still they’re fearing that we (their children) have to endure everything they did; everything they worked so hard to move past. What I’d like to pass on to the next generation, my nieces and nephew, is what James Baldwin said:

‘I have nothing to prove, the world also belongs to me.’

I want them to grow up with that mentality, that they are entitled to happiness, joy, and safety, and all the rights and privileges that everyone else is afforded in this country and in this world. We all have a right to be here, and we shouldn’t have to prove that. We shouldn’t have to disprove that we’re not beasts, we’re not violent, or inherently bad. We shouldn’t have to explain that that’s a misconception that has been passed down. It’s not a costume we’re trying on: we’re actually intelligent, good people. I want my nieces and nephews to understand that they are valued, and that they deserve to be treated as such.” Brian

The quotes have been edited for readability and flow. Photos are copyright by Bryon Summers, used with permission. For more portraits, to see a video of Bryon in action, to donate, or buy a We Love You t-shirt, please visit http://www.theweloveyouproject.com/ and follow @theweloveyouproject on Instagram. Bryon and his team have been working hard all summer and have also visited DC, Baltimore, and Philadelphia. Sign up on the website to stay updated when they come to a city near you.

By: Doris Fullgrabe

Doris Fullgrabe is a German-born multi-national expat. She has over 10 years experience in leadership development, culture, and personality type coaching for expats and international teams, and is currently exploring creative avenues. Doris lives in New York City with her Spanish husband.