Atlanta’s Black Man Lab is a forum where Black men can speak frankly and honestly address their concerns, even in the middle of a pandemic.

Story Transcript

This is a rush transcript and may contain errors. It will be updated. Speaker 1: Every Monday night, more than 100 Black men get together at the Andrew Walter Young YMCA in Atlanta, Georgia to participate in the Black Man Lab, a collective forum and private space where Black men address their concerns. In March, Real News executive producer Eddie Conway traveled to Atlanta to visit the Black Man Lab. This report documents the last time the Black Man Lab met in person as the spread of COVID-19 heightened in the United States. Eddie Conway: I’m Eddie Conway. I’m coming to you from Atlanta, Georgia. I’ve heard about the Black Man’s Lab. I came down to check it out. This is their story. Speaker 3: Well, we want you for this space, we want everybody to have a place to cover and a place to focus and to do that, what we wanted to do is I’m going to ask everybody to take one big inhale and let it go. Eddie Conway: What motivated you to help organize this? Speaker 3: Well, the Black Man Lab was grown from the need of fathers wanting to be able to get their sons information, right? Meaning like I might tell my son something and typically, and I did the same thing with my dad, typically we don’t listen to our fathers often. It’s like, oh, you’re just talking that old stuff or whatever like that. But, if there’s an uncle, a close friend that is having a conversation with our sons, we find then that they listen. So that’s been going on for now, three to almost four years, that part of it. But what Black Man Lab is today, when I first started coming and first started being a part of it back in July, there were probably crowd of 40 to 50 people. And now we’re well over 250 and growing. Speaker 4: Tonight, a new community group is getting a lot of buzz in Atlanta. It’s called the Black Man Lab. Speaker 5: I went to college at Fairview… Speaker 6: We need some cultural privacy. There are things that happen to young Black men that don’t happen to anyone else on the planet. You got to come in the gym. Yeah. How you doing? Good. Good to see you back. You got to come in here and check this out. Let’s go to the gym, brothers. Those that are going to participate. The Black Man Lab really started as an offshoot of an organization called Let Us Make Man. So back in 2006, a group of us got together, a group, 10 African American men got together from a variety of religious, fraternal organizations… And we said, we have to reclaim the narrative around what it is to be a Black man. We also do our podcast. So we have our audio video team that we provide them some resources. Welcome to the Black Man Lab after floor brothers, how you all doing? Speaker 3: Good, brother. Very well. Eddie Conway: We initially started with just some dads who were just like, Hey man, we doing all of these work in the community. We’re Let Us Make Man, and we’re doing it around the state for these big groups. So we said, well, what about our sons are having a more intimate environment? And now, it’s not quite as intimate as it started, but it’s necessary. And they started inviting their friends. And then here we are. Speaker 6: We can fight anything. I mean, if we fought state, we fought this [inaudible 00:03:18] war on drugs, this prison industrial complex, we’ve got the police shooting us in the streets. Like they don’t talk about Africans who don’t have education. Who don’t have access to education, who don’t have access to healthcare, there’s foreclosures killing us… Eddie Conway: And the one thing that made me decide to come back was, I see that as it’s not locked in, in any ideology, and it’s all inclusive. Why did you decide to keep it open for any of them? Speaker 7: What was really important? Just like in the founding of Let Us Make Man, we didn’t want any religious, political ideology to separate us. What are common denominators is that we are Black men, men of African descent that know we need each other. Know that there aren’t many spaces that are safe and sacred for us to come into. Our whole focus is the upliftment of all brothers. And we know that we can do that and support each other, and that there’s no need for us to think that there’s only one way. We have multiple routes to saving and helping ourselves. Cody Moore: What’s going on, you all? My name is Cody Moore. Professionally, I go by Codyguy Beats, I’m from right here in Southwest Atlanta, born and raised Cascade areas, graduated Morehouse College. Now, a professional DJ music producer. I got my hand on a bunch of different parts around the city. You know, involving that. So, you know, you may catch me at a club here. You may catch me at, you know, a private event there, or you might catch me at the studio. Speaker 5: And tonight we catch you at the Black Man Lab, baby. Hey There it is. Cody Moore: You all are really doing something that isn’t being done. That, you know, a lot of people are afraid of. You know what I mean? There’s a lot of, like I say, somebody said earlier, there was a lot of power in it, you know what I mean? And as much power that was on the forefront, there was a lot of untapped potential. Eddie Conway: You know, I have been here myself a couple of times and I’ve observed Black, like for generations, you know, young men, their fathers, their grandfathers, and their great grandfathers. What’s the challenge? What has been the challenge toward this work? Speaker 3: Brother Conway, you’ve, I’m sure experienced once you’re in that room, the level of connectiveness, the level of spirituality that’s in that room, without being, you know, of any specific religious denomination… It’s hard to quantify, it’s hard to put words on it. So like, as we continue, we’re out on the street, all of us that are involved with Black Man Lab, all the organizers, we’re having conversations with other people. It’s so hard to make them understand what this room is about. Speaker 6: Nowhere else, that you have from five to seventy-two, this is the beauty of Black Man Lab, it’s an intergenerational conversation. May we give it up for our elders, and the youngest among us. Eddie Conway: So why is it important today, in the 21st century, for Black men to come together like this? Speaker 3: Our communities need that. Our communities have been disenfranchised by not having strong Black role models within them, right? So Black Man Lab is a place that gives the opportunity for young folks to get any kind of information that they want. Speaker 10: And my question is, how did you guys experience spiritual practice [inaudible 00:06:58]. Eddie Conway: Give us an idea of what other people in other communities can do to organize a Black Man’s Lab in their community? Speaker 3: So, to organize a Black Man’s Lab, you would have to be connected to the synergy that’s happening within the Black Man’s Lab, and the way that it stars. It’s about removing ego, you know, because you have a lot of Black men that come into the space that do a lot of significant things for the community, a lot of significant things for the world. But then that space is literally just about putting your pride to the side. So you can come and do something to move the culture forward. And so the beginning to create anything similar to the Black Man’s Lab, Black men need to be able to remove ego. So they can say that it was built together. Eddie Conway: How old are you, and how long have you been doing this? Speaker 3: So I’m 33 years old. I’ve been organizing in the city of Atlanta for about 15 years now. And so, but I’ve been actually working with the Black Man’s Lab since the summertime. So that’s like, June. Do you know when we did the first Black Man’s Lab here at the YMCA, and since then we’ve done it every single Monday consistent. So right now, we’re on probably like our 60th or 70th Monday, right now. Speaker 7: When I say, “Black Man,” you all say “Lab.” Black Man! Crowd: Lab! Speaker 7: Black Man! Crowd: Lab! Speaker 3: This is your first time here, this is your 20th time here, we meet together. You can walk past a brother, we don’t disrespect a brother, we’re linked. I’m linking this chain- Crowd: I’m linked to this chain. Speaker 3: And walk right here. Crowd: And walk right here. Dr. Walter Youn…: I’ve been honored to have the Lives CA named after myself and my brother, it’s called the Andrew Walter Young Lives CA. And we began our journey with the Y about 80 years ago, I was five and my brother was seven. Speaker 6: You all, we just want to recognize Dr. Walter Young, he made [inaudible 00:08:50] Dr. Walter Youn…: I’ve just been active because I believe that I can do here at this Y, what the Y do all and did for me. As a young man growing up in rural South and Jim Crow segregated South, the Y gave me an opportunity to expand myself. And I’m so thankful for the work that the Y’s done in my life that I want to sort of give it back to some of the young people here. Eddie Conway: This is the second time in this gym. I was at another place, another time, but I look at the activities that’s going on here. And I’m impressed with the amount of things that’s presented for young people. Tell me a little bit about the different programs, if you will. Dr. Walter Youn…: The Black Man’s Lab, as you see here, we’ve got summer programs. We’ve got all, we’ve got programs year round, 24/7. We’re opened seven days a week. We’ve got five high schools. I’d like to reach out to these high schools, and I’d like their students to be able to come to this Y rather than to go home in the streets. Speaker 9: Black Man Lab, it’s a nice way to tell you about life. One thing I like about it, like making me want to continue my dream. I want to be a lawyer or have my own business. Dr. Walter Youn…: One thing I remember during those years, we had the Hungry Club at the Butler Street YMC. Now, the Butler Street Lives said it doesn’t exist anymore, but I’m so thankful that brother Attorney Bilowry Davis picked up the baton and brought it over here to this Y. So we’re, he’s doing the same thing that we were doing during the civil rights movement with Dr. King. Speaker 4: We constantly need resources so that we can feed these brothers, allow them to come here and know that they’ll have a dinner. And they’ll not only be fed with food, but also with spiritual food and encouragement. And the whole principle, the whole idea, is that we’re really trying to help build and really create and support and inspire men who will transform the world. Dr. Walter Youn…: I think when I liked when Dr. King said, “We need to keep on keeping on,” don’t you think so? We going to make it happen. Speaker 10: And if you need, brothers, if you need help, just let the brotherhood know you need help, and we got your back. Appreciate you all. Speaker 7: But what I’ve found is that we’ve all been injured. It’s not that we haven’t been injured, that we’re all in different stages of healing. Speaker 10: Yeah. Speaker 7: So you find some people who were in a position who may not have it all together. Speaker 10: Yeah. Speaker 7: That we were supposed to share with them, help heal this person. Speaker 10: Yeah. Speaker 7: That’s what we do on [inaudible 00:11:50] every day. Speaker 6: I know you all know, we always talk about me, my brothers get along. That you may have had a bad day, or bad week. And hell, some of them may have had a bad life. What we typically do, is we bring them on up, we need to come up to own up, brother. You bring up our brothers who need some extra support. We come give him a hug. Let’s affirm this brother today, and he has a brother who needs some additional Black man love today. Come on up. Speaker 7: I see through that lens of African revolutionary banging against the Roman Empire. This is the Roman Empire. And we bang it. So from that perspective, there are lessons that we can pull. Speaker 5: When you look at the nature of the situation that we’re in, we’re in a group- Hell on earth, right now. And we’ve got leaders who are just, “You know, let’s just retreat to our private little heavens…” And if we need to retreat to our private little heavens, get our internal situation right. Then extend that outwards. Speaker 7: Not right now, we all get in. They’re not, they’re not stopping you, or me, because they know, “Oh, there drives a Baptist or Christian that’s Brother Malcolm.” Say, don’t we all catch it here. When we unify, it’s going to be over, right? It’s not that radical. Crowd: A little radical. It is radical! Speaker 7: What’s radical is just having 200 Black men get together every Monday, and celebrate and love each other. I guess that is radical in an oppressive white supremacist society. Speaker 1: Because COVID-19 spread rapidly throughout the United States, the Black Man Lab transitioned to virtual meetings every Monday. Speaker 5: Welcome to the Black Man Lab. We appreciate others for, for stepping in today, connecting with us, for us to have this conversation about how they’re making these adjustments to dealing with the Coronavirus and how it’s impacted their lives and how they’re managing this impact. Speaker 11: Georgia’s population is 10.6 million people. As of noon today, 3,700 of those 10.6 million are hospitalized with COVID-19. Speaker 12: He’s allowing a wide array of businesses that usually involve very close physical contact to reopen as soon as this coming Friday. Speaker 1: In the midst of high rates of COVID-19 in Georgia, Governor Brian Kemp prematurely called for the reopening of the Peach State on April 27th, without consulting Atlanta Mayor, Keisha Bottoms. Speaker 15: Given the favorable data, enhanced testing, and approval of our healthcare professionals, we will allow gyms, fitness centers, bowling alleys, body art studios… Speaker 1: There is concern that Governor Kemp’s premature reopening of Georgia would increase the deaths from COVID-19, which are disproportionately impacting Black people in the United States. So key leaders from the Black Man Lab, along with the Georgia Coalition 2 Save Lives, organized a mock funeral procession around Governor Kemp’s office at the state Capitol. Speaker 6: The reason that we have these hearses… We want everyone to recognize that the decision at midnight, when all of the restrictions are lifted, we will see more and more of these hearses pulling into communities and through communities because more and more Georgians will die as a result of this decision of putting profits over people. The medical and scientific evidence does not support reopening or removing the restrictions that currently exist, and we’re also engaged in the social distancing. So everybody is saying more than six feet away from one another, because we are taking this as seriously as we are hoping the governor and other elected officials will.

Eddie Conway

Executive Producer

Eddie Conway is an Executive Producer of The Real News Network. He is the host of the TRNN show Rattling the Bars. He is Chairman of the Board of Ida B's Restaurant, and the author of two books: Marshall Law: The Life & Times of a Baltimore Black Panther and The Greatest Threat: The Black Panther Party and COINTELPRO. A former member of the Black Panther Party, Eddie Conway is an internationally known political prisoner for over 43 years, a long time prisoners' rights organizer in Maryland, the co-founder of the Friend of a Friend mentoring program, and the President of Tubman House Inc. of Baltimore. He is a national and international speaker and has several degrees.