The idea for “Embracing Self-Love” came to me in May of 2015. I had just graduated from my master’s program at the University of Maryland, College Park. As a chapter in my life was closing, I chose to reflect on my experience at the state’s flagship institution. As a graduate student, I worked with the National Pan-Hellenic Council. This is the umbrella organization for nine historically African-American, international Greek lettered fraternities and sororities. I also worked with the Interfraternity Council which is an association of collegiate men’s fraternities. The demographic of the NPHC included mainly black female and male students while the IFC consisted of mainly white males.
Working closely with both populations allowed me the opportunity to witness firsthand the cultural differences that students often explain existed between these groups. During this time, I was in my graduate program learning about intersectionality. Intersectionality, a term coined by Kimberle Crenshaw, allows us to understand that the inequalities that we face are connected. This means that my race, gender, class, religion and sexual orientation all play a part in how I view myself and how others treat me. Black scholars such as Patricia Hill Collins, Bell Hooks, and Shaun Harper contributed to this literature adding value to my learning and the discussions I had on campus.
From August 2013 through May 2015, I was an active participant in many discussions. These town hall meetings and state of the campus discussions were focused on our students, national issues and how we as student affairs practitioners could be useful. The recurring underlying issue was evident. These were systemic issues (related to race, gender, sexual orientation, and class) that a good percentage of our students were facing. For our students, if there was no struggle, there was no progress.
The students began to take actions into their own hands and I encouraged their efforts. In August 2014, we marched with UMD’s Black Student Union in front of the White House to voice our concerns about the death of Michael Brown. In December 2014, my colleagues and I participated with UMD students in the National Action Network’s Justice for All march. In March 2015, we created protest signs in response to an email that surfaced containing racist and sexist messages from a current student on campus. We then marched and chanted around UMD’s Fraternity Row making it clear that this oppressive behavior was not accepted on our campus—or anywhere for that matter. As these events occurred, I became more aware of the black faces that I saw repeatedly as well as the black faces that were not present.
It was not because they did not care about the issues and marching. It was because their talents and passions made them more effective in other area. I then began to think about representation. Black representation. Black representation in the media. Black representation in higher education. Black representation in law enforcement. Black representation in business. Black representation in the government — and so on. It’s important for us to see a certain level of black representation in the shows we watch and articles that we read. It sparks our interest as we see those who look like us speak up for something. Whether or not I agree with Marc Lamont Hill or Monique Pressley, I am drawn into their discourse as they discuss Bill Cosby, black culture, rape culture and the justice system.
However, due to racist, sexist, and classist systems, the media constantly portrays negative representations of black women and men. The contrast can be found in the media coverage of the Freddy Grey, Baltimore riots and the Waco biker shooting. In this example, when the protesters are black, they are called thugs among other names while their white counterparts do not face the same scrutiny. This deficit approach to who black people are and what we are supposed to embrace does not sit well with me. I then asked myself, “In what ways can I add to the truths and experiences of black people who are passionately chasing their dreams?” The ones who dream about doing exceptionally well academically, professionally or spiritually — since these are not the people being shown by the media. This is when the concept for “Embracing Self-Love” came to me.
The main purpose of the video log, or vlog, “Embracing Self-Love” is to provide black women and men who dream about “being more” and “doing more” the platform to share some of their richest experiences and challenges. The segments vary, while some contain quotes and poems, others are solely interviews. These interviews have become the richest way for me to provide my audience with accurate depictions of what community service, black girl magic, love and creativity looks like within the black community.
I know all of the current vlog interviewees personally. They have allowed me to pry into their passions, dreams, scars and challenges that have allowed them to overcome great obstacles. As we prepare for the segments, which I begin recording with my IPad or IPhone, I explain to them the purpose of the vlog. I then prompt them with some potential questions and inform them to be genuine and authentic with their answers. Their authenticity is most important because it represents their worldview as a black person. It provides them with the opportunity to construct their own narrative.
As our segments come to a close I give the interviewees a chance to keep it real. Keeping it real simply means sharing what drives them each and every day. To capture this, I ask them what embracing self-love means to them. The answers each time are uniquely shaped by who they are, their past, present, and what they envision their futures to hold. It is a small glimpse of truth in history where nothing else matters, only they exist and only they can define their existence. Black history is rich and is taking place each and every day. “Embracing Self-Love” captures this by highlighting the different perspectives, experiences, and victories of extraordinary black women and men. Please visit the YouTube page to hear their stories.
• Julius Grayson is a mentor, college educator and creator of “Embracing Self-love,” a YouTube Vlog.