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Letter to my 17-year-old self.

Sup Chazmen,

Life’s been rough since day one but at age 17, you start to see a silver lining. That’s not it though. You learn that the silver lining doesn’t exist. Well, at least not in your world. There is no escaping the darkness. Yet in those solemn times, you’ve always remained optimistic. Never lose that. That six figure silver lining doesn’t pan out. Yet, you do find your way out of Florida. It won’t be to an Ivy League school up North but niglet you do make it out of Hell.

You’ll learn to surprise yourself. By stepping out of your comfort zone and expressing yourself the way you see fit. You’ll find your voice to speak up about your troubles. You’ll learn to be vulnerable.

You’ll eventually learn to embrace your blackness.

You won’t always be called an Oreo.

You won’t always be the only black gay male in the room.

You won’t always feel alone.

My God, you’ll disappoint yourself over and over again. You’ll be disappointed in others. Cry & move on.

You’ll continue to live life backstage in Florida. But remember, a stage is a stage and you can shine from anywhere. Your moment will come.

Also, magic IS real, not like the Harry Potter stuff. You create magic every time you smile. Never stop smiling. It’ll continue to bring you justice in complicated situation. So, smile on!

There’s magic in your creativity. Trust yourself and the abilities you have earned. Use them wisely. To create art, community and self love.

Call Granny more.

Never stop dreaming. Those dreams becomes foundations for artwork. Pain is an emotion meant to be felt and expressed. You’ll learn to express your pain. You’ll learn to share it with the world. They’ll even understand. There is power in being vulnerable.

So keep smiling. Keep dreaming. And be patient.

Your time to take center stage will come.

-Big Chaz

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Phoenix Incarnate

in the valley of death

i knew no light

was taught no rights

At the stake.

The veil fell,

And my true self was shown.

Amongst the ashes, I made a home.

Wrongs never righted.

Courage overcome fear.

Heart overcame the mind.

Ashes of the matter, I feathered.

And behoveth I grew, like a Phoenix.

Awaken.

Arisen.

Anew.

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Pixelated Prayer.

Head bowed.

Eyes shut.

Hands together.

Same words.

Then, repeat.

Punctual prayer.

I cannot reach you that way.

I sit there and I think to myself.

This is not prayer.

This is a process.

I find you writing.

I think.

I type.

I pray.

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Man

He grew into a man who’s life was worth following.

Nowhere to call home, except the heavens.

His life was love and love led the way.

Feet bare,

Clothes ragged,

He called himself a King.

With a crown of love,

He led the people.

He crowned the people and asked them to share his story.

The story of love.

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Trap House to White House

 

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Former President Barack Obama with Shawn ‘Jay-Z’ Carter and, wife, Beyonce Knowles-Carter. [Photo Courtesy: TheDailyCaller.com]

As the anticipation for the 2020 election festers. Peoples’ bid for presidential nominees has gone afar from Oprah to Harambe. I trust Oprah with my life yet I would rather see her act in the White House than live in the WH. Entertainers are meant to entertain; not be involved in politics Yet, the Carters may have a different approach into the White House.

From selling dime-bags to the rights of his Rocawear company. Shawn Corey Carter has grown as a businessman. The rap mogul negotiated a deal with Samsung in 2013. The tech company purchased 1 million downloads of Magna Carta Holy Grail. Jigga released his 12th album for free to Galaxy smartphone users. The record was platinum 72 hours before its release date. Two months after its public release, Recording Industry Association of America announced the album was certified double platinum.

 

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[Shawn ‘Jay-Z’ Carter, 2016 Photo Courtesy: TMZ.com]

Jay-Z guaranteed 4:44 would go platinum. Sprint (a significant shareholder in Tidal) purchased 1 million albums, which were given away for free to their customers. This deal also qualified the record to be recognized as platinum on the release date. RIAA changed the rules to allow digital albums to be certified platinum on their release date, rather than the previous 30-day waiting period.

In 2008, Forbes reported that Shawn Carter was estimated to have a net worth of $150 million. Ten years later the retired drug dealer is expected to have a net worth of $810 million. As the father of three continues to reign in the entertainment and business worlds, whats next, politics? I think so.

In 1978 when Bill Clinton ran for Governor of Arkansas, his opponent caused a stir of his wife’s name. According to The New York Times, it noted that he “is married to an ardent feminist, Hillary Rodham, who will be the first First Lady of Arkansas to keep her maiden name.” After he lost the election, Hillary Rodham Clinton emerged. Bill won the reelection and served for three consecutive terms before being elected President in 1992. To avoid this mayhem, the Carters concocted a plan.

Beyonce Giselle Knowles. A powerful name. Even after marriage, many women entertainment keep their maiden name. It’s apart of their brand. Queen B chose differently. Instead of dropping her last name, or moving it to her middle name, she hyphenated her names, Knowles-Carter. Once Beyonce established her new name on paper, the royal-themed Mrs. Carter World Tour began. Bey was showing us the future.

 

 

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Beyonce promotion for Mrs. Carter World Tour [Photo Courtesy: TheWhig.com]

California has a knack for electing entertainers into office. Arnold Schwarzenegger served two terms as Governor of Cali. Ronald Reagan served two times in the same state. Eventually becoming the 40th President. As the Carters settle down into their $135 Bel Air Mansion. Blue, Sir, and Rumi have created entertainers Bey and Jay into the perfect nuclear family.

It’s no secret the Carters are friends with the Obamas. Is it possible to ship couples? Is that a thing? Either way, Michelle Obama mentioned how Jay-Z would be an excellent presidential candidate. And everyone trusts Michelle Obama. She could tell me to jump off a bridge, and I would do a backflip off with a smile on my face (not really but you get the gist, right?).

If you can release an album and it goes #1 on all the international charts without any marketing, by all means, you run the world. If you can go on tour before releasing your album and your fans still bop to these unknown songs at your sold-out concerts, you have public support. Beyonce did that. The Beyhive would storm into the voting polls to see her as the first lady. I would cry as I cast my vote. I’m crying now because I know it’s going to happen. First Lady Carter. Or better yet, Madame President Carter as Jay wrote in his latest music video, Family Feud.

Blue Ivy Carter may aspire to get into politics herself one day but not before mom and dad show their daughter how it is done correctly.

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Boo goes bye-bye.

 

The wood floors creaked as I followed Mother down the hallway. The house wreaked of incense and mothballs. The white walls had faded into a mustard yellow from the cigarette smoke. The stale air was plagued with a mix of smoke and dust. Iron black crosses decorated the living room walls. All the windows were covered with aluminum foil casting streaks of light throughout the space. As Mother and I followed the Witch down the hallway, I kept my head low. Mother in the middle, the Witch led us through the living room to her den. The old lady took her place on the on only couch in the room, motioning for Mom and me to join her. The worn leather couch scratched my skin as I tried to squeezed close to Mother. Slowly and steadily the Witch’s wiry arms placed a worn wooden box on the wicker table. Carefully, she removed: a black feather, thick white paper, an apple, two jars and a knife. Delicately, Mother placed her arms around me and placed me onto her lap. Then Mom turned her attention to the Witch.

“Passion spells are the most dangerous to reverse. Are you sure you want to reverse the spell?” the Witch said. The Witch leaned forward, her face inches of Mothers’. The smell of cigarette smoked almost became overbearing. Her frail voice repeated the question.
“Are you sure you want to reverse the spell?”
“Yes,” Mother replied.

With a slight nod of approval, the old lady placed one jar back into the box and proceeded to pick up the apple and the knife. Expertly, she slices the apple horizontally and removed the core. Handing Mother the paper and the pen, she was informed to write out her husband’s full name and birthday. With a slow deep breath, Mother removed me from her lap, took a deep breath and proceeded to follow the instructions. Mother locked eyes with the Witch as she explained how the curse would affect Boo.

“Yes ma’am” Mother simply said.  

The witch doctor smiled and got back to work. Placing the bottom half of the apple in Mother’s hand, she placed the tiny jar of salt in the other hand. Her bony fingers took a pinch of salt and sprinkled it onto the bottom half of apple. Gracefully she removed the items from Mother’s hands and placed them back on the table. Joining the apple pieces back together, she placed the candle where the core once was, securing the apple slices together.

“Kiss the paper with the name on it and then light the candle. Then wait until the candle completely melts,” the Witch directed Mother.

At once, Mother took the paper, pursed her lips and gave it a kiss. Leaving a single red pair of lips underneath her cursive handwriting. Without any hesitation, Mother struck a match, lit the candle and then we all waited.

 

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​Chazmen: The Oreo. 

 

“Is he from up north?” My grandmother’s neighbor asked.

Grandma chuckled. “No, he’s from Fort Myers.”

Ilene turned to me.  “You must be a college boy, then?”

I smiled. “Yes, ma’am. I’m enrolled in school.”

“I could tell, ” the neighbor said softly.

“–may go into international finance,” I added.

“Oh, my Lord!” she said.

Ilene was the mother of Miguel, a friend since childhood. He lived with his dad in Sabal Palm, the project development where I grew up. As a boy, I noticed adults were more patient with me than with my friends.

Teachers expressed their concern when I missed homework assignments or skipped school. Pastor Doug, the youth children’s pastor at Cornerstone Ministries, often would stop by my house when I missed church on Sundays or Wednesdays. Their efforts drove my efforts to perform and do well.

Miguel never got the same attention. Or my Cousin Sylvester, we used to pick mangoes together as kids.

“…Chazmen McCarter, 10, and Sylvester Gibbs, 10, …sell the mangoes at a stand on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., run by Kids’ deLight, a youth group of Cornerstone Ministries. Five kids belonging to the youth ministry were selling 5 to 10 mangoes for a dollar. The money will be used to set up a fund to help people who cannot afford to purchase their own air conditioners or pay their summer electric bills.” Mark Humes reported in the News Press.

Pastor Doug cut out and framed the photo from the newspaper. Each Sunday, Sylvester and I would admire the photo as it hung in the church hallway.

In school, my black classmates taunted me for my high-pitched voice. The way I dressed and even the music I listened to was uncool black teens. They let me know I didn’t fit in. I didn’t use street slang. They played football. I danced ballet. I listened to Good Charlotte. They rapped along to Lil Wayne. They rocked Jordans and sagged their pants. I sported button downs and khaki linen shorts. My black friends said I was a “white-acting” black. I was the “house nigga.”

And my white friends:
“You speak so well for a black guy!”
“Are you adopted?”
“You are really attractive for a black guy.”
My seventh-grade girlfriend: “You’re black, but you’re not like scary black.”

My white classmates assured me I was almost white. A few seemed to think themselves more black than me because they listened to rap music or said nigga.

When Ms. Moorehead picked me to sing in Soundwave, the high school showchoir, she remarked that my voice was not my best trait: “I like the way you naturally sway to the rhythm of the music,” she said.

When the senior class at Fort Myers High school needed someone to portray Kanye West in the annual Greenie Growl, they had one person in mind: I was the token black guy.

I was the token black guy.

Some friends with whom I used to play “Smear the Queer” with now sell dope on the same block where we used to score touchdowns. They’re proud of me. I’m the black boy who made it out of the hood. My boss back in Fort Myers hired me as the charming black boy who’s almost white. I always smiled, and said, “Yes, ma’am.” “No, ma’am.” She liked that.

She was a Southern lady who also joked about how I was so cute she could lynch me. I was Chazmen the Oreo:  brown, almost black, but white on the inside. At age nineteen, I admitted to myself I was gay.  That didn’t change my life, all that much.  I was now Chazmen the friendly-black-gay-guy Oreo.

Here in DC, life has changed for me. What do I see in the mirror as I brush my hair?   A black man who knows how to “white act”?  A gay man?  A Christian?  An American?  My mother’s elder son?  An escapee from Fort Myers?  A writer?  A rising star?

My best friend, Christian, works with inner-city kids. “I am,” the tattoo reads upon his wrists. That’s his mantra, and his answer when students ask about his sexuality or identity: I am.

“Be the change!” said Obama. “Change you can believe in.” 2008 was a good year. A black man as president would ring in the Age of Aquarius, a post-racial society.

It doesn’t take Trayvon Martin or Michael Brown or Alton Sterling or Eric Garner or the recent election to see how well that turned out.

Two big screen TVs. On one, Jill Stein and her fundraiser for the Wisconsin recount. On the other, the Gators score a touchdown. No volume. Perched at Nellies’s, I order a Hefeweizen and plunk down a $10 bill. “Want change?” asked the bartender”

“Yes,” I said.  

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Hello, Goodbye.

The morning sunlight crept through the window.  After another restless night, I was grateful for the dawn. Careful not to make noise, I tiptoed into the kitchen. Broken glass littered the floor. Every cabinet and drawer stood open. Broken cups and ceramic plates covered the countertops. Careful not to step on the fragments, I opened the fridge, grabbed the half-full jug of milk, and gulped it down.  I could hear Mother in the living room. Tossing the milk-jug into the trash, I went to the living room to find her.

Sweaty and shaky, Mother lay in a tight ball in the corner of the couch. I’ll Be Missing You by Puff Daddy played lowly from the TV.  As Mother looked at me, tears streamed down her face. She pulled me into her embrace.  I could her feel her cold damp skin against mine. Her nightgown was soaked.  I remember gasping for breath as she smothered me with her love.

Mother picked me up and carried me to her room. Upon the bed was a brand-new black suit, and shoes so shiny I could see my reflection in them. As I doffed my PJs, Mother straightened her hair, fixed her makeup and put on a beautiful black dress.  I put on my suit, then clicked my heels together, to get her attention.  Humming gospel hymns, she tied my shoelaces and helped me with my clip-on tie.

As we walked down the street to Grandmother’s house, cars and limos lined the road. My extended family was gathered there, dressed like Mother and me in their Sunday best:  aunts, uncles, cousins, even my older brother, and sister.  Adults kissed my cheek and gave me hugs that lasted too long. Family members I didn’t know came up and pinched my cheek or just stared at me. My uncles nodded. My Mother held my hand and remained silent.

HONK!! HONK!!  A car horn trumpeted us to attention. Lost in the sudden shuffle, unable to find my Mother, I grabbed my Uncle’s hand.  Outside, I followed him to the front of the car-parade…to a limousine! Long as a school bus. We settled into the leather seats. My uncle and brother in the rear seat. We led the procession. The caravan followed.

The sun grew hotter. As we waited outside the church, my suit became more uncomfortable. I felt suffocated, light-headed. Finally, the church doors creaked open, the organ started.  The choir sang softly.  I marched down the aisle following Mother.

Up front was a long blue coffin (open), adorned with roses and flowers. The man in the casket was not smiling. Not frowning. Not doing anything. He looked to be at peace with the chaos surrounding him. Pulling her hair out of her face, Mother leaned over slowly and kissed the man’s forehead. Curious, I reached inside the casket. I took hold of the man’s hand and squeezed it. The coldness sent chills down my spine.

The muffled cries in the room turned now into loud wails. Mother shook and wept as we seated ourselves in a pew. Uncles consoled crying aunts. Cousins comforted my somber grandmother. I just sat there, unsure what to do. As the preacher took the stage, the congregation composed themselves. Throughout the sermon, I could hear sniffles and moans.  Soon bored, I busied myself by making funny faces into my shiny shoes.  My cousin beside me said his shoes were shinier.  I argued they weren’t. The service ended, we filed back to the limo.  I crossed my fingers for a return to grandmother’s house.  My wish was not granted.

High in the sky, the sun gleamed down. The mourners gathered closely in the shade of the massive oak tree. The casket, suspended over a deep hole in the ground, was now closed. No roses or flowers. As the pallbearers stood beside the coffin, the preacher went into a final prayer. The soft cries crescendoed into wails.  A red rose found its way into my hand. The casket was lowered into the hole.  One by one, family and friends made their way to the edge of the grave and tossed their rose onto the casket. Standing at the edge of the grave, I admired that great shiny box at the bottom. Rose in hand, I stretched my arm out over the grave and released the rose while saying goodbye to the man inside.

Douglas McCarter (Appr. age 21)

 

Queering Hip-Hop

Photo credit: Frank Ocean “Nikes”

Remember hip-hop in the 70s?  Okay, maybe you don’t.  Circuit parties.  Emcee battles. Beat Boys. DJs scratching the sickest mixes.

Hip-hop exploded as a South Bronx earthquake that in the 80s sent shockwaves throughout America, and in the 90s reached to the ends of the earth. Smelling money, the music industry came on board and fueled the hits.  Rap groups could hear their own music on the radio and in clubs. With the new millennium, hip-hop begot gangsta rap, driven by rage, celebrating the violence of the Hood.

The cultural muscle that gave hip-hop its irresistible appeal?  The hyper-masculinity of the black male.

In the 90s, the industry had no time or tolerance for alternative masculinities. “Ain’t no due process / For boys that become girls or verse-visa. / Field niggas. Control this: / Pin the hollow-point tip on this gay rights activist…” (Goodie Mob, “Fly Away,” 1998). The only safe place for queers was at the back of the bus: “it’s rumors of gay MC’s, just don’t come around me wit it” (Common, “Nag Champa,” 2000).

Eleven years ago, the fresh-face Kanye West spoke out against hip-hop’s homophobia. He spoke of his own experience, reflecting on how the pressures to conform to standards of masculinity affect gay people. “If you see something and you don’t want to be that because there’s a negative connotation towards it, you try to separate yourself from it so much that it made me homophobic,” he said. In 2011, when West performed in a kilt, Lord Jamar tweeted that “Y’all Cee where that Kanye shit takin’ us, right? (Lord Jamar, #halfafag, 2013).

Yes, Lord Jamar, we do see: that Kanye shit is takin’ us right out of your Gender Prison.

In 2012, Frank Ocean posted a letter about his relationship with a boy when he was 19. Kanye West praised Frank Ocean for coming out. “The people who break the stereotypes make history,” West told Dazed.

Kanye extended his praise and support for Ocean by encouraging radio stations to play his newest album “Blonde.” “If anyone at radio really loves music… Pick your favorite Frank Ocean song and play it at least 10 times a day… This will make the world better,” West expressed on his Twitter account.

Jeffery Lamar Williams — “Young Thug” — defies the norm with his playful fashion sense: His favorite footwear? women’s Uggs. His favorite accessory? an AR-15. The rap hippy graced the cover of Dazed magazine, sparkling in diamonds over a red-lace Gucci sweater. Young Thug has reinvented the gangsta. “It don’t matter,” he says in a Calvin Klein ad. “You could be a gangster with a dress, you could be a gangster with baggy pants. I feel like there’s no such thing as gender” (2016).

Blurring the line of gender roles, Ocean’s most recent visual, “Nikes,” is perhaps his impressive work of art. Naked dancers in angel wings, male and female, twirl upon stripper poles. A woman spreads her legs to unleash a glitter storm. Glitter booties jiggle. Plenty of skin, lots of lovers — he and she, her and her, him and him.

Goodie MOB’s hollow-tip bullets are no match for Black individuality or Queer freedom.

Beyoncé has denounced the trans-phobic North Carolina “Bathroom Bill.” She also encouraged fans to “support Equality NC by donating, volunteering, become an ambassador, attending an event, or simply spreading the word!”

On Instagram, Snoop Dogg flaunted his new French manicure. Jaden Smith has become the new face of Louis Vuitton women’s wear. Can you imagine Common or Saigon or Brand Nubian embracing such freedom?

 

(Video Courtesy: Apple Music)

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