On Monday, Feb. 11 from 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. in the Gilmer Room of Founders Hall, the Intercultural Engagement Center, Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, Office of Student Leadership and Engagement and the 2019 Black History Month Committee sponsored “Black Men Speak: A Discussion on Black Men’s Personal Experiences, Aspirations and Opinions on Social Issues.”
Panelists for the event included senior at James B. Dudley High School Gerard Rankin, Director of the Office of Student Leadership and Engagement Timothy Johnson, Vice President of Guilford Student Body Association junior Jeremiah Hedrick and Graduate of North Carolina A&T and Founder of Dapper Distinguished Men Society Courtney L. Turner.
The panel event was moderated by Guilford Guide Stephan Fails and began with a moment of silence and introductions to each guest panelist.
“Keep in mind that these gentlemen are representations first and foremost of themselves,” Fails said. “They will speak through the lens of being an African American male.
“However, like most groups and subgroups, African American men are not a monolith, so they cannot speak to the unique experiences of every single African American male, to be fair.”
Fails opened the panel discussion with a question regarding personal inspiration and influences on identity.
“Who is someone that inspires you or that has influenced you as a black man?” Fails asked. “Sub-question, what role has your family or your community played in shaping your identity positively or negatively?”
Turner discussed the impact his mother had on his life, reflecting on his experiences in growing up in a relatively small community without very many positive role models for him to look up to.
“My mother probably is one of the most influential women of my life,” Turner said. “Just (from) seeing that she survived breast cancer twice, all while raising three African American males. As far as how my family and community has played a part in my life thus far, in my roles, in my community, I would have to say probably a positive as well as a negative way.
“While my address is Reidsville, I’m actually from a smaller town called Yanceyville, and so being from that town, oftentimes, there wasn’t a lot of positive African American role models. There wasn’t a lot of positive African American figures really in the town at all. Most people, once they graduated from high school, they wanted to leave and not come back, and so I made it my business and my plan that when I graduated, I was going to set new standards for African American males. It doesn’t matter how small the community is that you come from, as long as you always put forth that effort and try to advance in the best way possible.”
Fails shifted the topic of conversation, asking panel speakers to about which aspects of their identity they love, and how they have to shift how they present their identities depending on the environment.
Hedrick described the empowerment he finds in proving social stigmas and expectations wrong, shedding light on how he looks at his own identity.
“One thing I said I love about being a black man is just proving the stigma wrong,” Hedrick said. “A lot of us (people of color) put that weight on our shoulders in just becoming successful. I’m not your typical black man. That’s what I love about being a black male.”
Next, the panel addressed personal challenges in which the panelists had or felt like they had to alter or challenge their identities. Johnson spoke to the question first, describing the difficulties that come with navigating difficult spaces.
“I happen to work three, four, five, seven times harder,” Johnson said. “I hate the fact that I have to reprove myself when I have already proven myself, and that’s just not for black men, that’s for black culture in general.
“I hate the fact that the only time I am 100 percent authentically me is in the shower, and what I mean by when I say this is, for folks who can’t sing, you sing your heart out in the shower and you are hitting every note and you are hitting every rhythm, which that’s 100 percent you in that moment. You come to work, you would never. You would never because you’re like, ‘I refuse to be judged on that.’
“I hate the fact that I have to wake up and think about what I want to wear to work, like truly put thought into what I am going to wear to work because the day I come with sweatpants on, ‘Are you sick? Is something wrong?’ […] I hate the fact, and these are hard-to-navigate spaces, that I may seem unapproachable based on my appearance.”
The panel discussion closed with a Q&A session with the community members in attendance as panelists continued to share insight on the topics of discussion through personal anecdotes and stories.