Black is not only beautiful, it’s also brilliant.
But that’s not the message many educated, intelligent black men hear from the popular media. Just ask Gregory Walker, a cultural and civic activist who lives in Washington Square West.
“Intellectual African-American men, including the writer of this article, have been underrepresented in our country and culture,” he said when I sat down to interview him recently. “So we try to find community in places that do not support African-American intellect. We want to change the stigma of anti-intellectualism and define a new narrative for the African-American male voice in American culture.”
That “we” of which Walker spoke would be the men involved in the Brothers Network, a social, networking, and discussion group that grew out of a book discussion circle Walker established last summer. From that first discussion, which focused on Philadelphian James Bean’s groundbreaking anthology of essays In the Life, the organization has gone on to sponsor readings, talks and social events. On Friday, Feb. 20, it’s celebrating Black History Month by partnering with the Philadelphia Theatre Company to sponsor a discussion around PTC’s production of Resurrection, a new play by Obie Award-winner Daniel Beaty that examines just what it means to be a black man in America today.
The play traces the ways in which a 10-year-old boy transforms the lives and spirits of five African-American men ranging in age from 20 to 60. The collection of men in the play could serve as a microcosm of the Brothers Network in terms of class, age, education, and even sexual orientation.
Even though its first large event featured gay black social critic Ernest Hardy, the Brothers Network does not define itself in terms of sexuality: “We are a collection of postmodern sexual beings – ‘pomosexuals’, if you will,” Walker said, and straight men play important roles as members of both the organization and its advisory board.
“This is about bringing people together around issues of common interest rather than focusing on what divides people,” Walker said, “and that’s what makes us unique. I think that there are very few spaces where gay and non-gay black men can come together and share our stories without stigma.”
That such spaces are rare can be linked to both historic black invisibility within the gay community and to black homophobia, among other reasons. Just about all of us who are black and gay can recall meeting smart, successful openly gay black men who, for whatever reason, feel they cannot be who they are outside tightly defined settings. Similarly, messages many straight black men receive from such places as the church pulpit – including fulminations against homosexuality from preachers who protest too much – make them reluctant to embrace their gay brothers. Brothers Network was created so both these groups can get to know each other in a supportive environment.
Needless to say, though hip-hop culture is also fair game for discussion, the Brothers Network isn’t about baggy pants, beats and bling. The idea of a space where people like me could be who we are without having our status as black men questioned appealed to me from the moment Walker first mentioned it to me, and I’m looking forward to being part of the audience for Resurrection next month. Maybe I’ll see you there too.
The Brothers Network “Resurrection” event on Feb. 20 includes tickets to the play, a VIP reception, and a pre-performance discussion with playwright Daniel Beaty, director Oz Scott, local performance artists and other prominent community members. The event begins at 6:30 p.m. at the Suzanne Roberts Theatre, Broad and Pine streets. Tickets for the event are $45 and can be ordered through Jan. 31 from the Suzanne Roberts Theatre box office at 215-985-0420; mention Brothers Network when ordering to receive the special package price. For more information about the Brothers Network, e-mail [email protected]
Interested in “Resurrection” but don’t think the Brothers Network is for you? Join PTC for its “Night OUT” reception, included with your ticket, before the Feb. 5 performance. See the calendar listing for more information or visit www.philadelphiatheatrecompany.org/events/nightout.html online.