When bringing something to a close—an era, a life chapter, what have you—it’s customary to get reflective and think about what you’ve learned along the way. Very Smart Brothas, the site founded by myself, Liz Burr and Damon Young, on a somewhat premeditated whim back in March 2008, has taught me many, many things, but the most significant lesson has been this: you have no idea what’s possible, so enjoy the ride.
I started my blogging journey in 2004—on June 3, 2004, to be exact; my 25th birthday—without the slightest inkling of a goal, path or future. I’d become a fan of so many folks’ blogs that when I decided to take the plunge, I mostly didn’t want to embarrass myself. As it turns out though, I had a lot of thoughts and ideas to get off and I became part of a community of Black bloggers (in particular). That first blog, Jackson G. Tickle Enterprises (so named by putting ‘Panama Jackson’ in a pimp-handle generator and remixing the results) introduced me to people who thought enough of me and my thoughts to hand me opportunities. I still remember the first “big break” I got from blogging was the opportunity to write for Allhiphop.com in 2004. And I still remember the first time a celebrity sent me an email letting me know they read something I wrote; Diamond D of DITC emailed me to tell me he loved an article I wrote and well, that was all I needed to feel like maybe I should keep going.
That first blog showed me that the sky was the limit. I was able to become a songwriter and music producer because of a connection made through Allhiphop. I ended up hosting an open mic night in Washington, D.C., which led to me meeting the most interesting and inspiring array of individuals whose histories and backstories still astound me to this day. That first blog led me to managing a nightclub in Washington, D.C., an opportunity I really never even considered until it was presented to me. But mostly, that first blog led me to Damon Young, and ultimately, Very Smart Brothas. I don’t know who said hello first, but somebody did and it became the most opportune situation, both personally and professionally of my life to date.
Before we do that though, let me spend some time talking about Liz. Without Liz Burr, Panama Jackson the writer—literally—doesn’t exist. Her encouragement of me early on, her setting up my first blog, her being my biggest supporter is the reason I’m in a position to write this article today. Some relationships are priceless and my friendship with Liz literally changed the course of my life. Thank you, Liz. For everything.
Back to Damon. Man, I don’t even righteously know what to say about Damon. This man is my brother and will be forever. When we started VSB, we were young (28 and 29) and single with sometimes reckless opinions and takes on relationships. We enjoyed a space where we could say what we wanted, how we wanted, when we wanted, though our chosen time was midnight every day, Monday through Friday. We’ve seen one another through relationships, marriage, kids, tragedy, triumph and literally been by one another’s side for it all. What’s most interesting is that I don’t know if I can say we were “friends” at first, but we worked well together. Over time, we became family.
Damon became important to my life and its trajectory. VSB wouldn’t be what it became without Damon. Full stop. His vision and goals set the course of our success and I was more than happy to let him chart it. Knowing when to get out of the way of a superstar is a talent I honed over time. We’re men; pride and ego came into play on occasion, but the love, admiration and respect never wavered, even in our most tense times. We started a site but I gained a brother and I’ll be forever thankful to Very Smart Brothas for that.
I’m thankful for every single person who has ever written for Very Smart Brothas, which fortunately (and unfortunately), is a list so expansive that I literally couldn’t name everybody if I tried. And to double down on that, every single person who has ever commented on Very Smart Brothas, thank you. Even the haters—and there were plenty. The VSB story doesn’t exist successfully without our comments section that maintained itself as a safe, productive and communicative space for anybody who came through. People met digitally and then in real life. There are marriages and babies and businesses and the list goes on. When I announced via Facebook that I was leaving The Root and thus ending VSB, I got several emails from former VSB commenters catching me up on life and that type of stuff is good for the soul; it lets me know that we did something that mattered. Long live the VSB comments section. And since who knows when anybody will ever be able to do it again...
This site has given so much to me. Oprah Winfrey called me. I got an opportunity to speak to President Obama (and then was sent a signed copy of his biography with my name written in). I’ve met SO many amazing people, both famous and not. I’ve been on numerous television and radio programs. I’ve spoken at so many universities that I’ve literally lost count. We produced a pilot TV show around VSB. I threw a whole ass party in Washington, D.C. for almost 10 years on the strength of the popularity of VSB. I’ve been afforded the opportunity to write for a litany of publications, too numerous to name, but both big and small.
And in the ultimately “blogging-made-good” scenario, Damon and I were able to take this entity that we literally never made a dime off of and flip it into actual careers The Root. And we did it our way. We wrote what we wanted, how we wanted, when we wanted. We did it all. And got the opportunity to put other people on, many of whom are super successful today. We added to the table.
We started conversations and furthered other conversations along. We wrote pieces that the Black community discussed. We were part of the cultural conversation. We helped lead the conversation. I got the opportunity to sing the praises of Ray J and “Return of The Mack,” ad nauseam and celebrate Blackness in ways that I seriously doubt other publications would allow. We never had to sacrifice our voice, not once, to say what needed saying. Again, we did it our way.
We did it our way. And nobody can take that away. We showed up, we showed out. Maybe there are things we didn’t do, but what we did do, baaaaaby, it landed.
That’s why though this is a bittersweet moment—on Thursday, December 16, 2021, I will no longer be able to login and write anything under the VSB banner—I will forever appreciate what I got from it. One day, that story will be told in full, I promise.
One of my own personal goals in life in almost every thing I do is to leave the space a little bit better than I found it. I can confidently say that I, that we, did that. We left a mark on the writing game, and Black culture. We represent an era. Thirteen years is nothing to sneeze at. We did that.
It is with that that I can feel fine walking away. It’s important to know when a space isn’t for you anymore and understanding that maybe you’ve done all you can do there. That’s where I am. But it’s not sad like I expected it to be. A little hard and emotional, of course, but not sad. I’m proud of me. I’m proud of us. I’m proud of Very Smart Brothas.
Thank you to everybody who reads and has read VSB. Thank you to our families for providing content and inspiration and allowing us this space to become the men we became hopefully to be better for those families. Thank you to those adopted families we’ve gained via VSB, the people who loved us enough to tell us when we messed up that allowed us the room to learn from those mistakes. Thank you to Huny for reimagining VSB for us in 2014. Thank you to The Root for extending the life of VSB and to the whole squad who helped us make VSB all it could be: Danielle Belton, Genetta, Monique, Mai, Stephen, Michael Harriot, Ashley, Felice, Danielle Young, PJ, Yesha, Angela, Teresa, Kirsten, Corey, Terrell, Breanna, Anne, Jessica, Michael Clarke, Jay, Tonja, Joe, Shanelle, Ishena, Zack, Donna Byrd, Kellee. And to the new squad, godspeed and best of luck: Vanessa, Tatsha, Rachel, Noah, Keith, Stephanie and Murjani.
Liz, thank you. Damon, I love you bro, and thanks for everything. And like Snoop said, I’d like to thank me for believing in me enough to get out of my own way. One of our greatest successes was not being constrained by what we couldn’t do, so we did what we wanted. And thank God we did.
Onwards and upwards. It’s the only way. And since I’ve learned that I really don’t know what’s possible, I’ll just enjoy the ride from here.
See you when I see you...
Panama Dontavious Jackson aka VSB P