What It Looks Like When the Whole Team's Winning

Illustration for article titled What It Looks Like When the Whole Team's Winning
Photo: Panama Jackson

A few years back, one of my best friends had the opportunity to go back to his home church in D.C. and give a speech during a service. As a son of the church, he was speaking on his journey from his beginnings in southeast Washington, D.C., to, at that point in time, receiving his Ph.D. in psychometrics from Fordham University in New York City and beginning his professional career.


While I wasn’t able to attend the actual service, he did share with us a video of his speech. His talk was good but what stood out to me most was how he was introduced. As the person spoke on who he was and what he’d accomplished, I was taken aback. While this man is one of my absolute best friends in life and one of the closest people to me on the planet, I’d never read his bio so hearing his accomplishments rattled off for what seemed like forever gave me this huge sense of pride as if I was learning of him for the first time. I’ve been there shotgun for the whole shebang and, of course, proud of him, but being so close to a situation can make you forget just how significant those accomplishments are in the moments they happen.

One of the most frequent criticisms of HBCUs is that they don’t mirror the real world. The idea that going to a black college doesn’t prepare you to work in a white world is comical, but I do think that there is one way that an HBCU can skew reality. Attending Morehouse College (and because of the proximity to my sisters at Spelman College) put me in cahoots with a mass of people who would go on to achieve in ways that seem normal to us but aren’t as common as we have come to view them.

In my immediate group of friends alone, nearly every single person has at least a master’s degree, there are several very successful lawyers, at least four Ph.D.s that I can think of off the top of my head—business owners, educators, etc. My fiancee and her friend took an idea over coffee to an events organization into a whole conference in a year. I’m around winners. My entire immediate universe looks like the dream the Huxtables were selling and for which A Different World was preparing us. Being amongst the folks I know has normalized black excellence and achievement.

To that end, it can be really easy to chalk up new successes as things that were going to happen at best or insignificant at worst. Listening to my boy’s accomplishments that day made me realize that it’s important to really appreciate what we’ve done and what it took to get here because it may be awesome, but it isn’t necessarily “just another Tuesday.” Getting the opportunity to lift up the homies and appreciate the successes is a gift.

While VSB isn’t an HBCU, it has created a bit of a bubble. Those of us who start blogging and become professional writers and WhateverWeAres are familiar with the arc that starts with the first comment—the most significant comment you’ll ever receive—and then leveling up to multiple comments to getting published in other outlets to other endeavors and speaking engagements, etc. Doing appearances on radio or television or getting the chance to speak for pay is cool and I appreciate every opportunity, but the significance of those opportunities becomes less...significant. It becomes part of the normalcy of life in this particular profession.

But sometimes, you really have to appreciate where you are or where the team is at or what somebody on the team has been able to pull off. Neither Damon nor I would tell you we expected to be where we are right now when we started VSB with Liz back in 2008. Perhaps in one version of the universe if we’d ever sat down and attempted to map it out, but we never did that. At some point, what VSB could do became a thing but even then, I didn’t necessarily see it for myself.


But here we are anyway, professionally paid writers, who get the chance to speak at universities, festivals, events, etc. And yesterday, Damon announced the release date for his first book, What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Blacker.

I remember the first conversations he was having about writing a book and meeting with an agent. I remember the phone calls when he signed with her and then the day his proposal was done and a de facto bidding war for the rights to it occurred and the particulars he shared with me about the financial end of that book deal which, to me, seemed unreal.


To be able to sit here throughout the process and get an inside look at how the sausage gets made kind of feels like the normal course of events. But the truth is, and despite the sheer number of books you are able to buy, the chance to have a published book about his life with a release date is a total win. I couldn’t be happier for Damon and the opportunity I have to see that success up close and personal. It inspires me, as somebody who wavers on whether or not I want to write a book. But yesterday’s news inspired me. As a writer but also as a human being; watching a process as extensive as writing a book and having it edited to high hell makes me appreciate how much work goes into it, but how that end result is so deserved and it makes me think about the doors it may open up for him.

And it makes me appreciate my friends’ accomplishments even more. It’s easy to view things as the normal course of success for certain professions. Especially when we’ve had such varying forms of success and have been fortunate enough to have a community like our comments sections propel us forward. But just like I felt hearing my best friend’s accomplishments, I’m taken aback with ebullient pride at what Damon’s pulled off.


Jay-Z said that nobody wins when the family feuds. And that may be true, but we all win when anybody in the family wins. And I’m fortunate to be part of a family, with many branches, that wins as a rule and that in turn inspires me to be my best creative self. So I’m going to sit back and appreciate what Damon has done because it’s a thing, it’s significant, it matters and a rising tide lifts all boats.

March 26, 2019. Clap for him.

Panama Jackson is the Senior Editor of Very Smart Brothas. He's pretty fly for a light guy. You can find him at your mama's mama's house drinking all her brown liquors.



VSB came up with a friend a few weeks ago and we had total “’memba that!” moment thinking about the early days and what’s going on with everyone now. It’s like suddenly realizing that the cousin we’ve known since they were little is grown. Then we chuckle that they’re now wearing a suit and not the era-appropriate fad from back in the day. And we (sorta) fake cry into our hand about it. It’s amazing.