August 13, 2018
This past weekend myself, along with a team of visionaries, organized the first ever Black Out Loud Conference in Baton Rouge. It was a thing of wonder and beauty. For three days we conversed, we laughed, we ate incredible foods, we shared cultural exchanges, we danced, we learned, we listened, we existed in the fullness of ourselves. Black identity took center stage August 10-12 at the Healthcare Gallery and the McKinley Alumni Center. On the main day of the conference (August 11th) I turned 38 years old and witnessed a birthday wish become a reality. There are so many high points I can address and I will, but before doing so I want to talk briefly about the power of being visible and having marginalized narratives centered.
As I mentioned a couple times throughout the weekend, Black Out Loud was taking place during the same weekend as “Unite The Right”, the largest gathering of white supremacists in the country. Generations of racists/white nationalists descended on the nation’s capital in the name of preserving white privilege and advocating white supremacy. On a weekend a year from the violence in Charlottesville that claimed a life, a mass amount of white men & women gathered to amplify their hatred/insecurities to a nation that inherently gives their voices the loudest microphone. America, as we have always known it, has been shaped around the centering of white voices, needs, fears, dreams etc. So many people of color in this country have been socialized to frame our humanity around what whiteness will allow. The centuries-old struggle for Black folks to have our identities fully actualized has been in response to the inhumane conditions that brought us here. It is the unrelenting pursuit of life, liberty and happiness that cannot be quantified by financial earnings or advanced degrees. We have always wanted to exist, void of apology. The Black Out Loud weekend was here for that.
And so as to not take up too much character count expounding on what Black identity is deprived of, let me transition to what happened in our little corner of the world, in Baton Rouge. During the kickoff Howard Hall made us belly laugh with his distinct brand of situational and family oriented comedy. Vegan Meets Soul provided us with a delicious array of healthy appetizers. DJ Automatik did live video mixing of the “I Am Black Out Loud” community submitted videos. Be BatonRouge provided a photo booth. Antoine “Ghost” Mitchell did live sketches of attendees who were in awe of the eclectic feng shui of The Healthcare Gallery & Wellness Spa and were impressed to learn that the proprietor is a Black physician (Dr. Leone Elliot). At some point folks broke out into the “bus stop” and by the end of the night I knew we were headed into a magical weekend.
The next day at the actual conference part of the weekend, scores of Black folks from around Louisiana (and outside of the state) poured into the McKinley Alumni Center for a day of workshops, performances, shopping with Black vendors, a panel discussion and the keynote address from Baton Rouge native/McKinley High alumnus/TMZ producer, Van Lathan. Participants raved about the workshops led by Michael ‘Quess’ Moore and Deborah ‘DEEP’ Mouton, bought Black from a diverse array of merchants, were greeted by EBR Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome, enjoyed a delicious lunch by caterers Chef Traci Vincent and Chef Rena Payne, engaged in a substantive panel discussion that featured some of Baton Rouge’s leading experts in arts, media & activism, and listened to Van Lathan deliver an incredibly poignant address about representation and responsibility when the camera is pointed brightest in your direction. There was also an amazing children’s zone curated by one of my former mentees (what up Nicole!) that featured coloring and writing and sign making and chants, which produced a personal highlight for me, as the youth simulated a rally with signs ranging from “No More Naps” and “More Doughnuts” to “No Bullying” and “Black Lives Matter”. The beauty of the day was the multigenerational aspect of it. That there was literally Black people between 18 months old to 88 years old in attendance. That families were there and friends who hadn’t seen each other in years were able to reunite. That community was of the highest priority and every moving part of the day was punctuated by the community that occupied the space. We were joined by more than a fair share of white allies/advocates. It was an organic presence. And later that night, we turned up at the after party!
By the time we closed out Black Out Loud at Sunday’s brunch I was already on a high I was sure couldn’t be topped. I was wrong. The brunch foods were incredible and the curated talk I facilitated with Maxine Crump of Dialogue on Race-Louisiana was an eloquent discourse on media history, the myth of “code switching”, and the power of building space for conversations to deconstruct the social construct that is race in America. After finishing the talk, Maxine was deservedly given a standing ovation as she dropped a lifetime of jewels on those in attendance. The dreaming and intense planning of this conference had come full circle and I was overjoyed with its outcome. Was this first Black Out Loud void of hiccups? Absolutely not. There are logistical things we need to fix moving forward. But I must say that THE VOLUNTEERS WERE UNBELIEVABLY EFFICIENT and allowed this vision to manifest damn near effortlessly. Shouts out to the planning crew: my wife/and public relations manager, Leslie Rose, talent coordinator, Marcel Williams (Marcel P. Black) and special thanks to Ronaldo Hardy who helped curate sponsorships and Lynette White-Pierce who heavily assisted in early planning.
Finally, I need to shout out the people who powered this conference with their financial backing and moral support. Our title sponsor, The Urban Congress on African American Males in Baton Rouge (Raymond Jetson is a true godsend), DivaStating PR and Class Act Ent. (my cousin Keshia is my forever hero), Love Alive Church (you dreamed this with me brother Ronaldo), Healthcare Gallery & Wellness Spa (gratitude Dr. Elliot), The Bluest Ink (you were the first to cut a check, Kenesha, we missed you there), Solid Ground Innovations (you told me it would be successful Sevetri, we missed you too), EKD Ministries (thank you Pastor Domingue). WTAA Engineers and DevaInk (thanks Paul!), Renee Marie Jewelry (Candice your volunteerism eclipsed your sponsorship and that says A LOT!), EBR Parish Library (Tameka we been down since like 1st grade), Parker’s Pharmacy (thank you Palmer brothers), Councilwoman Erika Green (thank you Erika), Louisiana Healthcare Services (you are incredible, Leah!), Southern University (my beloved alma mater, Janene and Robyn thanks for everything!), Capital City Collision and Project 70805 (thanks for coming through in the clutch, Jason!), Design Baton Rouge (you gave us the great logo, Remiah!), beBatonRouge (thanks for all the coverage, Courtney and team), Maturity Productions (you did work Ivan!) and finally the publishers of this very site, The Rouge Collection and its fearless creator, Gary Chambers.
That’s all I got. Til next time,
Director, Black Out Loud Conference 2018
Photo by: Leslie D. Rose