Jeana Lindo and Richard Bryan

Hey, You’re Cool! Richard Bryan and Jeana Lindo

When Richard Bryan got all emo one day after cheating on his regular barber, his friend and business partner Jeana Lindo clapped back with #BlackBoyFeelings. But what started out as a joke quickly morphed into an aha moment as the two realized that that hashtag was real talk—or should be.

Armed with a catchy name, an Instagram account, and a flyer, they set out to collect poems, free verse, illustrations, photos, and short stories related to the black male experience. The project was originally slated to be turned into a ‘zine, but after receiving over 200 pages worth of submissions they realized they had a book on their hands. “Black Boy Feelings” was released in early April. Its inaugural edition focuses on “Boyhood.” Subsequent iterations will focus on “Things My Mother Taught Me” and “Daddy Issues.”

We caught up with the duo to talk about world domination and all the feels.

Where did the name “Black Boy Feelings” come from?

Richard Bryan: I had just gotten a haircut from a new barber and he had given me a very good line-up and I texted Jeana, “The feeling you get when a new barber cuts your hair and you feel like you’re cheating on your old barber.” And she texted me back “#BlackBoyFeelings.” And something in that resonated really quick and I called her back and was like, “Yeah, we gotta collect some more of these.”

Jeana Lindo: We talked a lot about what we could do with the hashtag #BlackBoyFeelings and how we can make this an actual movement and I was thinking about #BlackGirlMagic in particular, and how people wanted to apply that to all of their images of black girls doing great things, so that’s what I would like people to do.

I would say deconstructing black masculinity is the goal or the conversation. As men, hyper-masculinity is harmful because it’s like, “A man needs to be very strong and never cries,” and then the black man definitely needs to be strong and cannot cry. So he’s, like, suffocating all the time.

Do you feel that way, Richard?

RB: I think just as a whole we don’t really talk a lot to each other about how it is that we’re feeling. And we have to deal with a whole hell of a lot of trauma all the time and you just kinda gotta suck it up and “be a man.” You try to talk to your friends, your peers, about your feelings as a black boy and the first thing they’re gonna ask you is “What are you, gay or something?” And that’s the problem in a nutshell.

So, what would it “mean” to express your feelings?

JL: Perceived as weak…

RB: It’s this larger systematic thing where a black man has been broken down for hundreds of years now, especially in America, and it’s almost like a reaction to this bigger concept of not appearing soft. And then you get people leaning in the complete opposite direction. Let’s become completely vile human beings in the mistake of trying to capture some fake concept of what it means to be “a man” or what it means to be “hard.”

JL: I would say that black women are affected by this too because everyone praises us like, “You’re so strong! You can just handle anything!” For black people, mental health is still a taboo subject because we can’t say, “Hey, I’m feeling depressed and anxious,” because their family will feel some type of way. “Like, what are you saying? There’s nothing wrong with you! That’s for white people.”

What role, if any, do you think hip-hop has played in the perpetuation of this “tough male” stereotype?

RB: You have to think of what it is that birthed hip-hop. Adversity, struggle, the ghetto experience. And being a tough black man is a part of that because it’s almost about survival. I think that anything, like the media that you’re constantly taking in, and the messages that are being proliferated through that, are gong to affect the dynamic of not only your thinking but the thinking of your entire social space.

How did you go about creating BBF?

RB: I wanted to make a book from the very beginning because I just saw the amount of things that I saw I could put into this – not only myself but from the amount of people who were interested. We could do a bunch of little pamphlets but that diminishes the entirety of the work. As a vessel, this book is absurd.

JL: We made a BlackBoyFeelings Instagram and designed a poster for an open call. That was our first post. And we shared it on Facebook every single day. We just worked really hard at getting people to send us stuff. When we finally had [all the work] collected, that’s when it was decided that it had to be a book because it was over 200 pages.

What do you hope to achieve with BBF?

RB: I feel like we’ve already achieved some of the goals I had for this. This project became something much bigger and more important around the middle of it. I knew it was going to be impactful but I didn’t realize how powerfully it was gonna resonate and I think a lot of that had to do with the fact that it is collaborative. I just want to make it easier for black artists to express themselves but to also have their work out there tangibly and to build the community. End goal? World domination.

JL: It was very important to let people see their work in print. I wanted regular people, not just people who are esteemed, established artists or even that identify as artists to have a voice, to feel like their artwork is valid. Just say something. We’re here. We’re listening. And other people are gonna see it too.

Do people think that Black Boys do not have Feelings?

RB: Pretty much.

JL: Yeah, they demonize us all the time. They always want to take away our humanity. Tamir Rice was 12-years-old when he was shot. And that was also part of the impetus for this thing. When we said this is about “Boyhood,” it’s because black children get their childhood taken away from them consistently.

You big up Claude McKay in the beginning of the book. Why?

RB: Basically, he’s just an O.G. Claude McKay was a Jamaican poet who came over to America, was vaguely a part of the Harlem Renaissance, possibly gay, and just a “black boy full of feelings.” Also, we’re both Jamaican, so it felt like a solid person to imbue with the essence of the book.

You mention on Twitter that one of your inspirations for this project was the history of black poets. How does BBF fit in with that?

RB: I think that the approach that we took is sort of timeless in that we’ve crossed so many different mediums. However, it’s also very modern with the text messages and the Facebook statuses. And being an anthology, I think we’ve made something that nestles itself very well within the history of black art in New York and in America.

One of the first images in the book is a text message asking someone to contribute and their response was “Uhh no thank you.” Was that a typical response?

JL: That was not a typical response. A lot of people were really excited to send us their work.

RB: That one is honestly one of my favorite ones for two reasons: one, because you can make art out of anything, and two, that could have been a disheartening thing but instead it’s the first page and almost everybody gets a kick out of it.

You also Tweet about Kid Cudi.

RB: Kid Cudi is the man and has gotten me through a whole bunch of rough patches. Also, he’s one of the artists who has always been upfront about mental illness and overcoming and sometimes succumbing to depression.

Were you hoping that Kid Cudi would be a part of the book?

RB: Realistically, he already was a part of it in terms of thematically, and then there’s a great picture of me and my grandma in Jamaica and I used some of his lyrics next to it.

So this book could be dedicated to Cudi as well as Claude McKay?

JL: It’s dedicated to everyone who feels things. Cudi was that first black artist I feel, of our generation, who was sad. He was like, “Guys, I’m sad and I’m embracing that.”

RB: Also, fire.

JL: He was feeling sad but his work wasn’t sad. It was amazing. He was honest about having emotions and feeling times of weakness and downfall. Kanye’s 808s & Heartbreak would not be without Cudi. Cudi opened the door for weird black kids, also. Like, for us to be just strange and skateboarding and wearing tight pants. But it’s not about fashion.

RB: Part of the reason why I didn’t want to dedicate the book to Kid Cudi is because it would come off as kinda kitschy but in all reality, he has had a huge effect on a lot of people and I think that even personality-wise he’s like the most highly rated underrated person. Phenomenal in almost everything he does but still kinda has this weird outsider status.

As we’ve talked about feelings, the words “mental illness” have come up a lot. Are you equating the two?

JL: It’s like when we mentioned anxiety and depression and how they’re taboo subjects.

RB: It’s just about not being able to talk. Instead of being outright with how things are going, people tend to use avoidance or try and drown themselves in substances and whatnot. Basically, the book is about not looking away. It’s about looking at shit head on – good, bad, ugly. It’s not all super sappy. A lot of it is really heartwarming and really happy. I don’t want it to feel as if we’re beating the “sad mentally tortured black youth shtick” because it’s so much more than that, however to discount the fact that that exists, would be criminal.

JL: One of my favorite pictures in here is our friend Justin who’s smiling so big and he posted it on his Instagram and his original caption was like, “Payday!” I like that because it represents “black joy.”

RB: The trend is towards avoidance and apathy. It has been for very long, cool to not care even though that’s the stupidest shit ever. That’s why it’s “Black Boy Feelings,” because there’s so many; to show the wide range of emotions that exist because black people are just people…People that terrible things have happened to.

Do you hope this sparks a larger conversation in society about men being able to express their feelings?

RB: Yes. Not only to express them, but that their feelings are valid and that people care, that people want to hear them.

You talked about this being a movement. Do you hope this becomes a movement?

RB: It already is!

JL: We have so many people using our hashtag, sharing images of themselves wearing our t-shirts, reading the book, being so excited to have a part in this, and telling their mom, “I’m inside the book!” Also, we want this book to be available to people who really need it like people in high school and in prison. There was a social worker who commented that they wanted our book and I cried because that’s what this is for.

RB: Teachers have been hitting us up. They want to do seminars, they want us to come hang out and tell their kids, “You can make art. Just believe in your dream and you can cut through anything.”

What is the takeaway?

JL: That black people are fully realized human beings.

RB: Drink more water. Express yourself.

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