In 1993, anti-sexist activist, Jackson Katz, Ph.D, hired me to become a mentor training specialist for the Mentors in Violence Prevention (MVP) Program, a gender violence prevention program based at Northeastern University's Center for the Study of Sport in Society in Boston, MA. The goal of the MVP program is to utilize the status and influence of former and current male athletes to educate and inspire boys and men to speak out about violence against girls and women. During my first year as a member of the program, I read several books and articles about masculinity, including a book called "Cool Pose: The Dilemmas of Black Manhood in America" by Richard Majors and Janet Mancini Billson. Reading Majors and Billson's book altered my perspective about black masculinity, and spoke to me in ways that helped me better understand myself, and the experiences of other black men.
I was so moved by "Cool Pose" that I decided to create a documentary film that further explored black masculine identity in American culture. So on a snowy weekend in Boston, I barricaded myself in my apartment bedroom and wrote a 10-page proposal for the film, and submitted it to the echoing green foundation, based in New York City. A few months later, I received a letter in the mail notifying me that I was awarded an echoing green public service fellowship in the amount of $15,000. I was thrilled echoing green thought enough of my film idea to give me funding and the opportunity to use my voice as a filmmaker. I used the initial grant money to buy a video camera and began shooting what would eventually become my first film after college – I Am A Man: Black Masculinity in America. The film features bell hooks, Michael Eric Dyson, John Henrick Clarke, Kevin Powell, Andrew Young, Dr. Alvin Poussaint, MC Hammer, Jackson Katz, and many others.
During the production phase of I Am A Man, I traveled to 15 cities and towns across America and interviewed America's leading experts and everyday black men and women about black masculine identity. I, along with my former Northeastern University professor and mentor, the late Andrew P. Jones, shot the documentary guerrilla style, on a shoe-string budget. As a budding filmmaker, the process of making this film was an amazing roller coaster ride, with many highs and lows. Having been rejected from film schools, it was with this project that I learned how to produce, direct, and write a documentary. The film took five years to make, and there were some painful learning lessons and many hurdles that I had to overcome in order to get the film done. After the documentary was completed, I screened it nationally at youth organizations, detention centers, junior and senior high schools, colleges and universities, and conferences. PBS eventually picked up the film, and broadcast it on various local PBS stations around the country.
I Am A Man: Black Masculinity is a film that remains dear to my heart. I made it with very little resources or technical experience, in the hopes that others would be transformed by it. The film spoke to issues surrounding black maleness in ways that were relevant when in made the film in the 1990's. Sadly, they remain relevant today, two decades later.