OG Told Me: Essay About The Photo Essay.

One time, an OG Told Me: “We’re not getting older, we’re getting better.”

It made me think…

In life, there is beauty in growing old, why would I want to die young?

In America, why are we glorifying young death and degrading becoming an elder?

In Black America, If they don’t have fathers- where are they getting guidance about manhood from?

In manhood … WAIT … how did I get here?

… answer…

The 1st Entry: "My homework ate my dog."- Dick Gregory.
The 1st Entry: "My homework ate my dog."- Dick Gregory.

At 24, I find myself in this strange world called, “manhood”, you might have heard of it… but … not all of my homies made it, some of them never even heard of it.

So, once again I ask: How did I make it to manhood?

As a young man growing up in Oakland, Ca … I followed the OG’s. Religiously.

Their way of talking, thinking, breathing, and blinking… I studied that. Vigorously.

As an 80’s baby, growing up in urban America, surprisingly enough: I wasn’t the only one without a father. Eight of my friends were fatherless too. In turn, we came together as a brotherhood; a fraternal support group. This is sometimes called a gang, a posse, or a clique… na, we were just boys becoming men.

We would pick-up small insight into manhood ( i.e. ideas on approaching women, how to make money double, or even something as essential as: how to fight); we would bring that back to the boys and share the newly acquired knowledge.

From this, I quilted together my concept of manhood.

Through this photo essay, I wanted to recreate that quilt; and show the world my version going from boyhood to manhood.

I call it: OG Told Me.

The project takes the phenomenon that I’ve encountered throughout the process of growing up, and documents it- so now babies of the millennium can find concepts about manhood where they hang out: the internet.

Detroit bus driver Barry Ray told me a story about two gas station owners beefing over gas prices … until one owner killed the other. Over pennies.
Detroit bus driver Barry Ray told me a story about two gas station owners beefing over gas prices … until one owner killed the other. Over pennies.

A basic photo essay: head shots of elder Black men, with the addition of clever-wisdom laced quotes. This photo essay is not just documenting elders, no-it’s bridging the gap between generations. It’s giving young men an idea of what they might look like at a later date, and it’s … giving me insight to the problems that plague the black community.

Unexpectedly so.

I found a number of the issues that plague Black men in society through my OG told Me project:

– Lack of accountability.

– Communication issues.

– Self destruction.

– Hate.

– Total disregard for another man’s dream…

– Lack of critical thinking.

– Stubbornness.

– Idle time.

Through this same project, I also found some of the blessings that are found in Black men in society…

– Creativity.

– Wisdom.

– Eldership.

– Sincerity.

– Love.

– Deep beliefs.

– Kinship.

– A way of life that is unobserved by others- yet seen everyday: the invisible man.

-The natural occurrence of a rights of passage in the Black community.

“Ethiopian proverb: When spider webs unite- they can tie up a lion!” - Joe Brooks, VP Policy Link & An old Black man… Been there. Done that. What’s new?
“Ethiopian proverb: When spider webs unite- they can tie up a lion!” - Joe Brooks, VP Policy Link & An old Black man… Been there. Done that. What’s new?

The biggest conundrum I found myself facing during this year-long project: Finding the purpose of life…

All around the world people are living for two things: to get older and to get smarter.

This is survival. Basic survival.

However, where I grew up, people are living for two things: to get money and … to get money.

In result, our illusionary pursuit of money results not in getting older and getting smarter- no, it results in us dying young and dumb.

This is not survival. This is basic.

The aging process should be appreciated. It’s the beauty of life.

Raymond Bellinger, War vet from New Orleans who sits at the same bus stop all day. When asked about the greatest lessons ever learned, he recited the Lord’s Prayer. word for word.
Raymond Bellinger, War vet from New Orleans who sits at the same bus stop all day. When asked about the greatest lessons ever learned, he recited the Lord’s Prayer. word for word.

I haven’t made it all the way-I’m still growing, learning, aging- or as the OG told me, “getting better.”

And I’m enjoying every step of the way.

… And that is why I created this photo essay.

Now the question remains:

what exactly were those lessons that I was taught as I was growing from a boy to a man?

Book coming soon


Growth: on ice.

1st they fall.


...And then, they learn to stand.
...And then, they learn to stand.
...And then, they learn to showoff. no hands.
...And then, they learn to showoff. no hands.


Then they skate.
Then they skate away...


And then... moms take a victory lap!
And then... moms takes a victory lap!


...And then, I'm a happy uncle.
...And then, I'm a happy uncle.


And then….

And then ... we ate pizza.
And then ... we ate pizza.




… sneak peak at this book I’ve been writing…

1 page out of one of my 31 notebooks...

I will write this book.

It’s a story of a lost young man, growing-up and looking to his elders for guidance… well, he actually looked to women, cars, and money- but, it just so happened that his elders had the women, the cars, and the money; plus wisdom of how to obtain these things.

The elders would drop wisdom rapped in words so profound that the young man couldn’t help but to write them down…And as a young rapper growing up in inner-city America, he’d quote these elders in his lyrics. But he’d soon find that this process of taking the wisdom from the elders and applying it to his life was more profound than any rap song. Deeper than poetry. and too big for newspaper headlines.

It’s not just about this one young man in America. It’s a universal concept:

Learn from elders. Teach the youth.

It is culture. It is religion. It is the way of life…

It is human nature to want to grow old and gain wisdom as you do so.

Only thing is… out here… We don’t all get to grow old.. and even fewer of us value wisdom…and on top of that…we don’t call them elders… we call them OG’s.

I will write this book.

Afterall, it’s my story.

Auntie Gaila’s Pictures.

As my “bruh” Malcolm and I both grow older, both of us grow more appreciative for his mom’s art. A beautiful spirit I simply call “Auntie Gaila”; she is an artistic Detroit girl, now living in East Oakland where she makes it her personal movement to paint a picture of what’s going on with the Black men in her community…and to think: me, her son, and two other “knuckle-head- Nigrahs” (as she would call us), stole her car when were 16, just so we could paint the town…

very big wall painting..."women don't usually do BIG ART PIECES..."- Auntie Gaila

Long-story- short : we never found the sideshow that night. we got pulled over by OPD. We car got towed. we walked home in the rain. and we somehow lived to tell about it.

Maybe she saw the potential in us as young men, and the error in our juvenile judgment of a tempting situation… maybe she just didn’t want to add to Oakland’s Black male murder rate…or maybe she wanted to keep us around and use us as her muse for her art…The answer is D: All of thee above.

Auntie Gaila's : you know a Detroit girl is inspired by music...

Her art is inspired by everything from the shape of Malcolm’s head, to the way society shapes Black men’s faces when they walk down the street. However consumed she gets in analyzing the world of Black men, she doesn’t pigeon hold on to the title of “Black Artist”; she makes it known that she has abstract pieces as well.

Auntie Gailia and my bruh Big Mal

But it is the art that is attempt to depict the Black male that dwells in urban America that speaks to me. She paints these depictions with such vibrant colors and uncanny emotion. I feel as tho I know some of the character, and sometimes I actually do…

“you see yo bighead brother in that one?” , she asks me while pointing to the tallest silhouette in the crowd.

Auntie Gaila's art: beauty in the foreground. East Oakland in the background.

Malcolm and I have been road dawgs since 6th grade. We had the same class after lunch, and we’d both used to drool over our gorgeous Reading Class teacher… thats how we became friends: mutual appreciation for the art of a woman. Ha, the things we did to try to get her attention… yeah, that was the start of the rambunctious- boy-hood-drama that me, Malcolm and all our bruhs experienced… And auntie was there for all of it: the prank calls, the fist fights, the homicides, the girlfriends, the run-ins with the police, and she was even there the day both Malcolm and I  got our own cars…yea, auntie has a ride when ever she needs one.

Auntie Gailia's art: the Black male cycle

I know this doesn’t replace the car we got towed, or the cost of the towing expense; but this is a token of my appreciation, for not killing us after stealing your car… and for letting stay on under your roof later that same year when times got hard… and for the artistic expressions of Black men like Malcolm and myself…this is just a train of thought to show you that I think Malcolm and I are starting to get the picture…

That Very Same Corner

Money over Bullshit was the name of the song. I couldn’t remember it for the life of me. I searched the whole Nas catalog looking for this quote:

“Seen niggas live-laugh-party- and die in that very same corner.”

It had been stuck in my head all of last semester.

The liquor store was right there. The weedman’s house was right there. The Chinese takeout spot was right there! And all three could be delivered for a nominal fee….

…This was life. Nothing more than a numb cycle full of mediocre grades, mindless social networking, and taking the “L” in every sense of the word.

I sat in a house one block away from the gymnasim. The same gymnasium where the class of 2010 was walking the stage. I followed on twitter as they updated constantly. And when my kinfolk asked me if I was going to the graduation… I don’t remember my exact answer, but I can tell you this:

I ended up playing NBA 2K10 on Playstation 3…again….and again…and again.

The highlight of my day was the three games I played. All of them went into overtime. I lost all three. I took the “L”.

“Overtime” must have been the word of the day. It made sense: everyone in the house would be serving at least one semester extra at this fine institution. We all had different feelings as to what this meant. Some saw it as an extension on time to manifest their “master plan”. A couple people believed that 4 1/2 to 5 years is becoming the norm due to financial situations, and still, others such as myself saw it as another societal obstacle to keep me away from the things that truly matter: health, family, and pursuit of personal fulfillment.

...that same corner...

Whatever the outlook, we were all coming from the same position: not the position of 2nd year seniors, but the position of that very same corner… You know what corner I’m talking about… the corner where the liquor store is right there. The weedman’s house is right there. The Chinese takeout spot is right there! And all three can be delivered for a nominal fee….

We were living- laughing- and partying in that very same corner. Dying? naw, we were still young, healthy, and very much alive physically. But in a sense, a part of us was dead: that dream of getting off of this “corner” called college on schedule was dead.

We spent time, energy, and good money on bullshit. We used the five cent black plastic bags from the corner store to dump our blunt guts, we recorded tracks for a mixtape that was set to drop on the 4th of Nebuary, and we ate takeout… often. This was us living, laughing, and partying. It was a seemingly fast lifestyle, although we never went anywhere. And because of this, the “death” came slow.

Each of us slowly realized, it sucks that we won’t graduate with the people we came into college with. We battled the mixed emotions of being happy for our “classmates”, but all the while, mad at ourselves.

This summer will cause us to leave that same corner, just to return in the fall.

A part of me wants to ask Nas: is it possible for an individual to live, laugh, and party in the same corner without dying? Then again, I don’t want to know: I just want to get away from that same corner. After all, its money over bullshit. And college (that same corner) costs too much.

this Nas video inspired this train of thought