By Carla Thomas
The Truth Contributor
For the past seven years, I’ve held the Naturalista Photoshoot for African-American women and girls, who proudly embrace the natural hairstyle, as a way of celebrating and highlighting the positive aspects of African American women and their hair.
Each year as the photoshoot is featured in The Truth newspaper and images are shared on social media, I am approached with the question, “when will you be hosting a photoshoot for the men?” Well, that time is now.
Tired, worn and weary from the abundance of negative images of black men in the media, I wanted to use this local media platform to celebrate the true essence of black men, their value and their importance to our community, and decided to call it “The Black Men Matter Photoshoot.”
The First Annual Black Men Matter Photoshoot was held October 17 and open to all men ages 18 years and older. Participation was not determined by title, status or pay grade, they qualified simply by the melanin skin that they are in.
The theme of the shoot was “Sugar Sharp” meaning, come dressed in your best and dressed to impress. The colors were black, white, grey, burgundy, and navy blue to be worn in whatever combination the men chose.
This photoshoot was about more than the men dressing up and having their pictures taken. This was an opportunity for them to also give back by supporting a local non-profit organization. The cost to participate in the photoshoot was a minimum $15 donation with all money collected, going to support the nonprofit of choice, The Program Inc.
The Program Inc., under the direction of Tramain Rayford is a 501(c)(3) certified nonprofit organization that teaches fatherless young men the skills necessary to be successful men of courage, commitment, and integrity. The Program Inc. exists to provide an opportunity for boys to develop their social and life skills, leading them to deal effectively with the demands of everyday life. They specialize in but are not limited to fatherless young men.
and provide mentoring, personal development and economic education.
This organization is 100 percent privately funded, meaning most of their donations come from local businesses and people like you and me and they are always looking to partner with organizations that are consistently making a positive impact on the community by providing resources and showing compassion to youth in need.
To learn more, please visit their website at https://programinc.org.
The men of the First Annual Black Men Matter Photoshoot raised $800 for The Program Inc. with a portion of the donation coming from Taylor Automotive on behalf of their Community Ambassador Terry Crosby.
I was so impressed with these men. What first caught my attention as they each entered the room was their style, stature and the attention to detail they gave to their overall appearance. Beyond their physical appearance, however, was the noticeable energy they brought with them. It was the vibe of pure confidence, readiness and purposeful intent wrapped in poise and positivity. Witnessing the way, they humbly and unpretentiously embraced each other’s presence was inspiring.
In planning for this article, I knew I wanted to include two or three quotes from a few of the men, so I asked the following questions: Why did you decide to attend the BMM photoshoot? What did you enjoy most about the shoot? Describe the experience.
The responses I received were so remarkable, that I found it necessary to include them all.
This was more than just a photoshoot . . . it was about the men who graciously agreed to participate, coming together, and saying, I MATTER . . . MY BROTHERS MATTER. It was about giving back, supporting the Program Inc. and letting the next generation know that THEY MATTER.
“After I was referred by Carla Townsend, I wanted to show our younger black men how much of an impact we truly have in this world. We are Kings, we need to acknowledge that WE are role models. What I enjoyed most is the positive energy as soon as I walked into the room. I truly enjoyed being surrounded by other black men that play a certain role in life.” ~ Keith Reid
“The experience started before I even got to the actual photo shoot. Simply walking down the street headed toward the Davis building, I could see other well-dressed men, lots of acknowledgement, mutual respect and compliments took place all around. Far too often, the mass media tends to portray men of color in a negative light, this was the perfect opportunity to say otherwise. I also went to help support a worthy cause, The Program Inc. For me, it was the camaraderie and the overall sense of brotherhood and support for one another that made the experience enjoyable and memorable. Gentlemen took direction with ease and there was some good networking going on as well. Overall, this was very fun, definitely worth the time and I would do it again.” ~ Michael Stubblefield
“It was a great experience coming together with positive men in the community.
There was a lot of confidence in the room.” ~ Johnnie Hannah Jr.
“I decided to attend the BMM photoshop because I found it to be intriguing and refreshing that an African American women would be so thoughtful to capture, honor and recognize black men.
What I enjoyed most was the fellowship and great conversations shared between good brothers.
It felt awesome to be a part of a great group of black men of all ages coming together for a common cause, embodying the fact that Black Men DO Matter!” ~ Clyde Kynard
“What I enjoyed most about the shoot is that we have a chance to control/change the image of how black men are portrayed in the media. The images you see of black men “normally” don’t include a suit and tie. We must be the ones who change that. The experience was amazing. Black men from all walks of life, suited and booted, entered that room. . . walked up to people they knew and greeted them THEN walked up to people they didn’t know and introduced themselves. No ego, no hate, complementing and supporting each other (which somehow became against societal norms), all in support of an organization to help the next generation of young men follow our example!!!!” ~ Moni Featchurs
“My wife made me do it! Honestly speaking, the opportunity to dress up while supporting a worthy local charity was too appealing to turn down. Creating a representation of black men that people don’t often see was powerful. Perhaps some young man with pants sagging to his knees and struggling with his self-esteem is inspired by images of black men they might not have seen before. Seeing old friends and acquaintances and meeting new people in our community was enjoyable. The experience uplifted my spirits. Small things can yield big results.” ~ Lance Price
“It’s a rare opportunity for professional, black men in the city of Toledo to come together all at once and exhibit class, etiquette, unity and strong Brotherhood…all wrapped into a couple hours.
I enjoyed how well organized this event was…the ambience, energy, fun and positive vibes we received from each other. The experience was one that I will remember for a lifetime and gave me so much hope and clear evidence that this world can be a beautiful place to live…laugh and love.” ~ Terry Crosby
“I attended because with all of the negative things that are portrayed about the African American male, I thought it would be wonderful to show our community the camaraderie, love, unity and strength of the black man. I’ve seen on social media black men coming together in other cities and wanted to answer the call to participate in my city along with giving back to a worthy cause that The Program Inc. is fostering with youth. I truly enjoyed the laughter and conversation with my brothers. The experience was awesome.” ~ Brian Hayward
“What I enjoyed most about The Black Men Matter photo shoot was the coming together as brothers, for one common cause. The shoot revealed that we could think of others, truly being our brother’s keeper, donating to a great organization. This demonstration of black men dressed professionally, not with sagging pants, dresses etc., fitting a stereotype that the world has for us. We are MEN . . . strong united, masculine! Those young men in the Program Inc. can see black men dressed in suits. It’s more than enough to inspire them with a different view of what the world wants them to see. This was a joy to my heart!” ~ Dorian Rayford
“I decided to attend the BMM photoshoot because I loved the concept of getting dressed up along with other men who like to dress, and I knew this would be a great experience for me and everyone involved . . . something we could all feel good about once when we saw the final shots. I really enjoyed the fellowship with the guys and ladies, everyone worked well together!!! The experience was awesome, dope, excellent . . .all the above and I can’t wait to be a part of the next shoot!” ~ Steve Harris
“The camaraderie of the brothers!! The energy was very good in the room. The confidence of brothers coming together, some I knew, some I did not . . . at the end we were brothers.” ~Tariq El