Friday was a fairly emotional day for me. If I’m being honest, all of last week was. I’ve known Friday was Damon’s last day at VSB for quite some time; no decision as gargantuan as deciding to step away from something you created happens overnight. Yet, even knowing it was coming Friday just felt...huge. I couldn’t even think of anything to write last week because everything I thought of went back (for me anyway) to the elephant in the room. When his final post went live, I actually found myself quite verklempt (to borrow one of Damon’s favorite words). I took a step back and stared at the screen for a while knowing that this version of VSB as we know it, the version largely crafted after the first large-scale change in 2014 (which was when Liz left) was over.
While Damon has been my “business” partner since 2008 when VerySmartBrothas.com went from a five-minute G-Chat convo into what would become an award-winning and financially valuable website, he is now one of my best friends and my brother. He is somebody I talk to damn near every day about life and/or nothing at all. We’ve been through tremendous professional and personal highs and lows together and, for 13 years, we’ve done it all...together. We’ve been through family things and been one another’s source of honesty and vulnerability about our families. I can tell him when he’s being or doing something stupid, and he can do the same for me. And we have. And I imagine we always will. Good friends are hard to come by and I don’t take that for granted. I was moved by the various things Damon said about me publicly and in our private conversations as we veered into a new world: VSB without Damon, and Damon without VSB. And I can’t lie, it feels weird AF.
It’s weird for a lot of reasons. In 2014, VSB made a leap of sorts and that was largely on the back of Damon deciding he was going for broke and going to make sure he could do this writing thing forever, if he so chose. He mentioned in his farewell post about how much of a workshop space VSB is—that’s true; the sheer amount of things we both tried and did because “why not?” is truly mind-boggling—and how he wasn’t sure if it would all work (I’m paraphrasing), but I can’t say I ever had any doubt. We largely took on Damon’s vision and went full bore. Now part of this is because for the entirety of VSB’s existence we’ve been living a semi-charmed life. So many opportunities that we never knew existed were made available to us so I learned never to look a gift horse in the mouth. I had no idea what was going to work or where it would lead, but I knew it would “work” and lead somewhere. And even then I didn’t see it becoming a “real job” and career. But all that to say, much of the identity we took on was at the direction and vision of where Damon was trying to go. Obviously, I bring a different thing to the table that made our yin-and-yang work very well, especially writing-wise, so our level up into this space that so, so many folks wanted to be a part of to get their rocks off on, literally any and everything was both by design and organic. We changed on purpose and it felt natural.
We bounced ideas and took ideas from one another and said “why not?” so many times. We brainstormed and encouraged and supported and checked and corrected and suggested. We were a real team at VSB. And that’s not to suggest we didn’t have our internal friction; we did at various times and it was worse at times than others. One day, when the VSB documentary becomes a thing we’ll both openly discuss some of that discord that threatened our trajectory. But we never let it derail us because we realized the risk of what could be wasn’t worth the issues in the moment. And largely, we were right. We...did that. We...built this. We...kept it up. We...won. And now that “we” is no more, at least not in this professional space of VerySmartBrothas.
Look at me, look at me. I’m the captain now.
(Every single person who has asked me, “Yo, P...now what?” has been sent that gif from the movie Captain Phillips.
So what does that mean? Well, I’m glad you asked. As the title suggests, since VSB is changing, well, VSB is going to have to change.
One of the hallmarks of VSB for the entirety of our existence has been the immense trust we’ve placed into one another because real talk, neither of us had any idea what the other was writing probably 90 percent of the time (save for the times when we thought we needed to give a heads up to one another in case things went left). Damon would find out what I was writing when it went up and the same goes for me. We both knew neither of us wanted to be the one to tank the ship (though it can be argued we both tested that principle a time or two), but that requires a lot of trust amongst partners. Well, obviously that won’t be the case anymore. It can’t be. We built this brand and site on commentary and that won’t change, but the way we do it will. There is going to have to be more intentionality on what goes up. It won’t always be random takes on random things in the Black community. Now, there will need to be more focus on my end. I could probably just pick an item and write about it daily but that doesn’t impact the culture the way specific, goal-oriented projects and packages do. That’s not what VSB is; we fancy ourselves a space that is important to the culture. Well, then that’s what we’re about to aim for.
My podcast, Pass The Peas, is one change. Written commentary is great and has been my bread and butter but podcasting is a natural transition for what we do. Having more conversations and differently is what podcasts are for and Pass The Peas with Panama Jackson is going to allow the more personality driven side of things to shine. I hope to do that as well with more video, multimedia content. We have to show you what VSB does in different ways. None of it is overnight (the podcast is up and running) but these are changes that will occur.
Also, on-site, VSB will always be a space for Black commentary, not just from myself but many other voices. That is the goal and that’s what the site is best known for. Well, we’re going to keep doing that but differently. The presentation will become more intentional with more of a focus on series and evergreen content that are cultural conversation starters and fun. Look, when things happen in the Black community, we’ll always be there. If we can’t speak to and comment on what’s happening in real time, then we’re not doing our job; but the same daily dose of that, that’s not going to be the case. Not in the same way. I hope to execute ideas and projects that make VSB a destination for that very specific Black cultural commentary on pop culture. Again, doing things we did before, but differently and with more intentionality.
So, podcasts, videos, projects, series, all Black everything. It will take time and inshallah, I won’t be doing it all alone. But while I’m still here, the thing Damon, Liz and I built is still alive and we had dreams and goals and exceeded them all, so why stop that now. Except now I get to try out some of my ideas and hope they work. VSB has been the best playground ever for a while now, I don’t see that changing. I just have to put my own Panama Jackson spin on it. And if that’s 365 days of “Return of the Mack” then so be it (it won’t be).
To everybody who has been around since day one or who joined along the way and for whom Damon is your favorite writer ever and the reason you checked us out, I get it and I appreciate it. Damon’s DNA will always be part of what happens at VSB because VSB doesn’t exist without Damon and I (and Liz). Liz is still a part of what we do because she helped us create it. So you don’t have to worry that now VSB won’t be a space worthy of visiting. It will be. Just trust that though some things may deploy differently, it’s all done with the same belief and same values that we always have: punks jump up to get beat down and Black is beautiful, amazing and worthy of celebration. That’s what we do and who we are.
Always will be.
It will be weird doing it without my brother, and I won’t even pretend to try to fill those shoes. You can’t. I can’t. There’s no point in trying. Damon is the reason many folks became writers and the reason many wanted to read and/or write for VSB. The only thing I can do from here is make sure I make him proud about where we go from here.
And have fun in the process because there’s no point in doing the best job of all time if it isn’t Black and fun.
So thanks for sleepwalking; stay awhile. Damon will be around, and VSB is still here.