As a YouTube junkie, I'm always looking for more vloggers to watch, especially content creators of color. Representation matters! After watching about three videos featuring stay-at-home dad/rapper Beleaf (Glen Henry), his wife Yvette, and their three adorable #ChocolateBabies, Theo, Uriah, and Anaya, I was sold. Superb editing, cool music to vibe to, and most importantly, the Henrys are Christian. I subscribed and followed the family on all their social media accounts, including Instagram, where they share beautifully candid photographs of their adventures. Browsing through the photos, I found myself working through my writer's block.
One photo in particular caught my eye. It's a simple black-and-white shot dated September 2, 2016, with the caption, "Besties," featuring Theo and Uriah, shirtless, bright-eyed, and smiling. The boys are smiling in nearly every picture on all of the Henrys' Instagram pages, but for some reason, the purity and innocence of the picture moved me. Suddenly, I knew why.
|"Besties" / Instagram|
As a writer, and more specifically, as a black writer, I feel compelled to write primarily about the experiences that Black people face--the good, the bad, and the ugly. Black men don't usually smile in pictures. As I began to write, I thought about the significance of that, and the result was the following poem, "Black Boy, Smiling."
Black Boy, Smiling
For now, black boy, in the innocence of youth, you smile in every picture. In stark contrast to gravity-defying, dark brown hair and smooth cacao skin, teeth, small and white, spread apart knowingly in anticipation, to make way for the big boys in a few years. The teeth, solid and sure, are prepared for the fall. The smile, yielding and unguarded, is not.
For now, black boy, your smile bursts confidently from your face in bouts of pure joy, like stars across the clearest night sky, but if the world has its way, your smile will be conditioned to hide its brilliance, and your lips will learn not to speak, but to become black hole. If you let it, the world will teach you to swallow sadness and fear, bottling it up in a permanent lump in your throat, so pride can never go down easy.
For now, black boy, in the innocence of youth, everything and nothing is black and white. For now, everything is simple, and you don't know the difference. You don't see color, and everything around you is vibrant and promising. One day, you will realize that more often than not, promises are broken. Gray areas exist. And everything, to some degree, is divided into black and white. On those gray days, I pray that you remember the magic your smile possesses, and that you will somehow, in spite of, find the strength to keep that smile from falling.
A picture really is worth a thousand words, I guess. Sometimes, it's worth more than that. It's amazing what God gives us when we listen as the photo speaks for itself. May Theo and Uriah Henry, and every black man who was once a black boy, always remember that his smile is one of the most powerful things he owns.