Last week, Rochester Contemporary Art Center hosted two discussions based on the on-going exhibit "Question Bridge: Black Males." On Wednesday, November 5, Lloyd Holmes, Vice President for Student Services at Monroe Community College, hosted Shelitha Williams, professor of African-American Studies at MCC, and Marcus Watts and Verdis Robinson of MCC Student Services.
Holmes started off the discussion with a question from the film: "What do we all have in common?"
Watts said, "It's our experiences. It's the subtle micro-aggressions. It's a horrible feeling ... everything that the black man does is seen as non-compliant."
"Many people see African-American men as a threat to the establishment, and the story of Anthony Anderson winning his court case demonstrates how laws where created so that black men could never be higher than the poorest white man," Robinson responded.
The next question also came from the film: "What does it mean to act black?"
"African-American men in pop-culture have a little swag; are smooth with the ladies. We rhyme when we speak. Everything we touch we take to the next level," Watts said.
When a question asked whether it was ok to date outside your race, Williams answered it personally. She thinks there are too many people hurting and need love to have people limit their options. But she has many black female friends that are successful and still single, so when they see other successful black men dating outside their race, they get a bit frustrated.
Robinson answered, "Depends on whether your perception is on race is purity and what you were taught at home. Frederick Douglass said the only way to eradicate racism was to intermarry so that when all the races mix, no one is different."
There were many more questions and answers, but you had to be there to experience the gravity of their accounts and their advice in regards to the educational system, parental involvement, and advice for the next generation.
On Friday night, Garth Fagan, of Garth Fagan Dance, painter Luvon Sheppard, and Carvin Eison, the director of RCTV, came together to discuss the black male experience and the art world.
Eison asked a question from the film: "What are the parameters of blackness?"
"I try to have a mind cultivated enough to be receptive to the many mentors that have guided me," Sheppard said.
Fagan responded with, "As Roman made art out of scraps, they didn't have the same kind of funding as their European counterparts. That's what I love about black artist: they made art out of nothing."
Another question was posed, "Whom do you consider yourself first: black man or an artist?"
Fagan said, "I am an artist that happens to be black. Sometimes we use it as a diminutive and it's not. It just where you come from and what foods you eat.
Sheppard shared the same sentiment and added that being an artist is the greatest kind of liberty you can have, and personal self-expression was the greatest freedom.
Again, these discussions are the key to opening up dialogue between people and reducing the fear we may to have to someone who looks different then us. Questions of leadership, guidance, encouragement and using art to address and humanize these issues where discussed and progress will hopefully be made.
The next discussion related to "Question Bridge: Black Males" will take place Wednesday, November 12, at 7 p.m. with the topic, "The Role of Youth: Sketching a New Blue Print."