Artist · Black man · Culture

Javier Sowell: The Narrative of Being a Black man in America..

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Javier Sowell is a 22 year old artist, intellectual, athlete ,and more from Indy, Indiana. 

I met Javier Sowell at Wilberforce University, where we both attend. We are in the same graduating class of (2019). There are a few hidden gems on Wilberforce University’s campus, and Javier is one of those. I can say as an introvert myself, Javier always seemed to be to himself whenever I saw him walking around campus, yet I’ve also saw him on the basketball court as well, so he has a certain mysterious mannerism about him.

 I really enjoyed this topic that we discussed of being a Black man in America, I think that it’s extremely important to hear from young Black men themselves on their experience while living in America. It is important, especially during times such as this that we hear from them. We met in our university’s library to do this interview. I was running a little late and me being who I am it was awkward at first but when we finally got into doing the interview it went smooth.

Check out our interview below:

Allahnastevie: What is your definition of a Black man?

Javier: Apart from the literal definition of it, a Black man or a melanated being, I feel like a Black man is a person who has been through so much as far as historically and also has to maintain his strength to be the head of the house hold. For future references, if he wants to start a family or just be the man in that situation he has to have some strength about him, some courage about him.

AS: What is it like being a Black man in America for you?

JS: Well, its almost like playing a game with a handicap. Its almost like a handicap, doing anything with a handicap it takes the ledge from under you, and by that I mean government official laws. We’re basically playing a game with rules that were never meant for us to play in the first place.

AS: Do you feel a sense of dehumanization as a Black man ?

JS: Black people in general, have been dehumanized you know from a historical stand point; from us being one third of a person legally . From us being treated as animals , so at times when talking about Black people you sort of have to go back to that to understand where we need to go. I feel like dehumanizing us in speech or talking about us in that way would be wrong but in order to find out where we need to go; we need to start from that standpoint in order to really get a grasp on what really needs to happen to change that perception.

AS: What do you think needs to happen ?

JS:  We need to control the ones controlling us, or control the method of controlling Black people. For example, I believe that activist and civil rights leaders had gone about it in a way where as to attacking the government and making them change laws to fit us,  when really why not start our own form of government to govern each other, to fit towards our needs instead of begging and pleading someone else to do it for us. Why can’t we have our own quote on quote Wakanda and do it ourselves?  Its very possible.

AS: Why do you think that Black man feel the need to have this persona or façade of being tough and overall “okay”?

JS: That has a lot to do with manhood in general. Black men have it extra tough because as a man rather it be any race, we are always taught not to feel. We fight most of the wars,  in the coming years women have joined in the ranks of the army and things like that but initially it was all men. We are taught not to fear, when we fall we get smacked and told to get up and not to cry. We are told not to feel any emotion and that’s from our parents , from everyone around us. Most of us are raised not to feel anything so when you translate that experience to the Black experience its like a double negative. With us being through everything that we have been through ; slavery and beatings and mass extermination its like we can’t feel even if we wanted to. In order for us to shake that off it’s going to take years , trials and errors.

AS: Why do you think Black men are afraid to speak up about mental health within our community?

JS: I have dealt with my own mental health battles, and I feel like the first step is acknowledging that you do have a problem. I feel like a lot of guys don’t feel like anything is wrong, they are okay with how things are quote on quote supposed to be. It goes back to how you feel as a man and what manhood really is. We are taught to feel a certain way, we’re taught not to express ourselves. For example, there was a time where  I was going through a lot and someone in my family said “That’s some white people sh*t, we don’t go through that”. You have to first acknowledge that there is a problem before we can address it .

AS: How important is receiving an education for you ?

JS: It is extremely important. With me being the first person in my family who is going to hopefully graduate next year, its huge. No one in my family has ever attended an Historically Black college and university (HBCU) let alone graduate from any college. Rather community, public, four year, private; so it means a lot to my family. It means a lot to my people.

To keep that legacy going, means the world to me. I am just glad to be here, I’m glad to have survived , I’m glad to have been here (Wilberforce University) for three years.

AS: So how does it feel for you to attend Wilberforce University (the first private HBCU in the nation) ?

JS: Wilberforce University has a very special place in my heart, although the café food is bad and a lot of stuff around the campus is bad, I will always appreciate Wilberforce University because it gave me a chance when nobody else did, and now that I’m making the most of it, 

I’m just glad I got to have my foot in the door. Wilberforce gave me that and when you learn about the history that’s here, its just exquisite. One time I said that “anything you love you will like to see do better”, and because I love Wilberforce University I want to see it do better. I will continue to complain, I will continue to act out I will continue to make a way for others to continue to keep going.

AS: How does (our) history have an impact on you ?

JS: It means everything to me. I could honestly say that if I didn’t have the history in my mind, if I didn’t research anything, I wouldn’t be who I am at all. I would be a totally different person. I would probably be like a lot of the other Black men around here just doing whatever, but because I know the history I know better so I try to do better.

AS: What are some things that you plan on doing to change the narrative of being a Black man in America?

JS: I think the best answer to that is just living my best life. I can’t control how other Black men think but if I am a positive manifestation of what a man should be, then I know that I can influence others to maybe change their lifestyle a little bit and become more like who they see. 

If they saw a Black man wearing a suit around campus and dressed up everyday, about his business, class on time, getting good grades. Good is going to create good, so I feel like when people see that , its going to create a culture here that is going to change a lot.

AS: How do you plan on moving  the culture forward if you do plan on doing so ?

JS: Just creating it, holding on to it and not selling it. I feel like so many times Black people create these incredible inventions, these incredible you know pieces of art and they’re sold to the very people who want to oppress us in the first place. That money goes into their wallets and benefits their children and all we have to say is yeah we created that, so we have bragging rights when we don’t have any physical proof of what we have done, what we’ve created, what we manifested. So in that respect, I feel like that’s how we could push the culture forward. Basically holding on to it, not letting anyone steal it.

AS: What all do you do as an artist?

JS: I express myself in any way I can. It started off with drawing. I have been drawing since I was younger. It started off with me drawing Dragon Ball Z characters. I would take big pieces of paper during class and instead of paying attention, I would just be drawing everything, and it started with basketball players and as time went on I started to explore different forms of art. Whatever it was you know .

AS: So you think sports is a form of art ?

JS: Of course, sports is definitely a form of art. It’s a form of expression ,and to me it’s the toughest way that men can express themselves. I feel like if men express themselves in any other way, that they feel like they are being feminine. So to find them dancing, even if they like dance they probably wouldn’t do it. That’s why a lot of Black men or women sing in the shower, they may be the greatest singer ever but only sing in the shower, and not to anyone else because they feel like if they express it they’re giving apart of themselves away that they are not really ready to give away. Honestly I just feel like I’ve expressed myself in so many ways through art just by exploring it. I really take the bible verse “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” very seriously. When my mother told me you can be anything you want to be, I took that very seriously.

So I try everything. I do everything , and not only do I do it , I feel like I do it really well. From poetry to making music to sports, to literally painting and creating like physical art, I don’t feel like there is anything that I can’t do , and at an elite level at that. I just try to keep that mentality and keep getting better.

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 AS: Do you think that art helps you get through life as a Black man in America ?

JS: For sure, I feel like it’s therapeutic. I feel like it’s good for me as far as my mental health. I feel like other Black men, that people In general should definitely try it. There is always a form of art that people can try and fall in love with, rather they realize it’s art or not.

AS: Who are some of your favorite artist ?

JS: As far as art as in painting and creating on canvas Basquiat. I love Basquiat. As far as hip-hop you have the Coles and Kendrick’s of the world, but my favorite artist of all time, people don’t know this is Chance the rapper. It isn’t because of the new stuff, his new stuff is cool but if you really listen to 10 Day and Acid Rap, Acid rap got me through high school. When you listen to acid rap and hear the things that he was talking about like “people hitting stains on birthday candles” , like that tape right there got me through everything. You got MF Doom. He’s like the greatest underground rapper and he wears this silver mask, and I’m like this sh*t is wack , dude walks around in a mask and he looks kind of dirty, but after you research him and listen to his stories it’s like wow, and his word flow is crazy . Outkast ,there is a lot, I’m not going to get into all of it.

AS: What are some of the perceptions that people have about you because of who you may appear to be ?

JS: I feel like when people see me they jump to a conclusion. I remember when this girl was trying to talk to me and form some kind of relationship, and she said that she didn’t want to approach me initially because she thought that I was some thug basketball player who had all of the girls. Once she got to know me she realized that I’m nothing like that. Its like on the outside I’m like LeBron James and on the inside I’m really like Donald Glover. Other than going outside and playing basketball, when I go in my room I’m always drawing and so it’s like I live this double life. It’ weird. It’s not like I’m trying to paint myself to be some kind of saint who never does anything wrong, but on the other hand, on the inside I’m nowhere near what people perceive me to be.

AS: Do you feel like you hide one more so than the other?

JS: Yes, because at the end of the day I have this burring desire to be accepted. I just want to be accepted. I feel like in basketball just being one of the guys I’ve been accepted. I conquered that through out life, but I feel like as an artist, I always have something to prove which is great because it fuels me to create more and more; but it also hurts because at times I’m like I want to be friends with these people because they understand what it really means to be an artist.

I can go around my friends and bring up a quote from Gandhi and they wouldn’t understand, or a quote from Angela Davis and no one would understand what I’m talking about . When I go around them it’s completely transparent. I can make a joke and they get it. It’s like I can come in here (the library) and talk with anyone about Black history , the plight of the African American male, and I can go in the gym and be like “ni*** did you listen to that new lucci album, like I really do live this double life.

AS: How has growing up in Indy shaped you as a person ?

JS: Well, I grew up in Michigan actually. It is sort of like a Michigan and Indiana mashup, because from third to seventh grade, I lived in Michigan and that’s like a huge chunk of my life, and from eighth grade to high school graduation ,which is only like five years that I spent in Indiana, so I say that I’m from Indiana. Growing up in Michigan was tough. I couldn’t really go outside much and when I did go outside it was always a problem. 

There was a store around the corner and my mom would give me money to go pick her up something and before I would know it, I would get robbed by some kids. They would take my money and beat me up and I would have to run home and tell my mom, and there was nothing I could do about it. I don’t really share this, but I witnessed murder in Michigan, I was only like 10 years old. That messes people up. I really don’t tell people about it, if you’re close to me and you know me than you know.

Indiana was sweet. The reason we moved to Indiana was because I was going through all that and I had a bully who was always messing with me and so it got bad after I actually fought back and I knocked him out. When we moved to Indiana things were cool, things got a lot harder though, school was harder, the competition in basketball was harder. In a lot of ways I just wanted to go back to my basement in Michigan. It was a tough transition in my life. I’m very grateful for what happened in Michigan and in Indiana because I wouldn’t be where I am today, I wouldn’t be as mature as I am. I wouldn’t know how to handle situations.


AS: Who is one of your biggest influences in life?

JS: Growing up it was Dr. Martin Luther king Jr, you know in the public school system that’s the only person that they really talk about. If  they do talk about it its either Martin or Malcom X and it’s like welcome to class today kids Martin was a good man he led a march and Malcolm was mean he was militant; welp happy Black history month. 

When you research you know that when time went on you it was kind of the other way around. Malcolm X got wise and he started to realize, I don’t care what color you are as long as you realize that you are being oppressed and you want to help I got you, and Martin was ready to go off. So its definitely those two. As I am coming of age W. E. B. Du Bois, historically is probably one of the greatest men I’ve researched. He has done so much he doesn’t get credit for. Just based off of all of the thing’s he did for the Black intellectual not just the black intellectual but the Black man. He is a legend.

AS: If you had the chance to speak to your younger self, what advice would you give the younger you coming up?

JS: I would tell him to calm down, not in his actions, because in a lot of ways I’m still the same. In more ways I was more mature than I am now because during my childhood I had to be the man of the house more times than not. So I didn’t laugh much, I didn’t play much . I learned about history because that’s what I liked and I painted and I would draw, but back then I couldn’t really go outside and play because it was too dangerous. A lot of times I’d be to myself in my basement playing Yu Gi Oh cards, and trying to learn what the newest style of art was so I could try it, but today I would tell my younger self to just calm down and have fun, because now I find myself doing certain things that are childish because I never got that childish side of me out when I was actually a child.

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“The power of the white world is threatened whenever a Black man refuses to accept the white world’s definitions. “- James Baldwin

Be sure to follow Javier on all social media platforms:

Twitter: @bigjaviii ( Where he shares impactful and very informational threads as a form of journalism on a variety of different subjects) 

Instagram: @bigjaviii





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