“Black Men Smile because we love ourselves. This platform is about radical expressions of self-love. It is about resistance. It is about learning from each other. It is about encouraging one another. It is about transcending. It is about defying gravity, as our ancestors have always done, and leaving a legacy so that generations after us may do the same. During these times when so many stories are being told about us, we will need those we tell about ourselves to be our real truth.”
— Carlton Mackey
Carlton Mackey is an artist and scholar. He is the Director of the Ethics & the Arts Program and the Associate Director of the D. Abbott Turner Program in Ethics and Servant Leadership at the Emory University Center for Ethics. At Emory Mackey created the Art and Social Justice Fellows Program as well as the Art and Social Engagement Project sponsored by Southwest Airlines.
Mackey is an adjunct professor of Film and Media Studies and a Teaching Artist at the High Museum of Art.
In addition to Black Men Smile® Mackey is the creator of BEAUTIFUL IN EVERY SHADE™, a grassroots empowerment campaign and apparel line for women of color and the author of 50 Shades of Black: Sexuality and Skin Tone in the Formation of Identity.
Mackey’s work blends his unique combination of social consciousness, creativity, scholarship, and social connection to create powerful inner impressions that invite new discovery and personal transformation.
Black Men Smile® was created one month after Michael Brown was murdered in Ferguson, Missouri. After seeing 100s of images of Michael’s body lying in the street and after a flurry of other painful and oppressive images of Black men in the weeks to follow, I did an experiment to explore what other images of Black men made up the landscape of social media. I entered the HASHTAG #blackmensmile on Instagram.
It yielded ZERO results.
I posted the first image with this hashtag September 30, 2014. I asked Black men to do the same. Today there are over 90,000 images tagged with that hashtag on Instagram and nearly 50,000 people follow the Instagram page.
After some consideration of what I wanted to accomplish with this new platform, I set out to explore one seemingly basic question, WHAT MAKES YOU SMILE? After posing that question to a test group of 20 Black men, 17 of them had the same initial response:
“No one has ever asked me that.”
That response broke my heart and continues to serve as the fuel for this transformative work.
(Creator, Black Men Smile®)