Black Excellence Series celebrates artistic expression

A feeling of inadequacy brought by discrimination gives way to a movement based in power and self-acceptance

❝ The Black Excellence Series looks to connect, educate and celebrate black voices, history and bodies through artistic expression. ❞

— Romeiro Hamilton-Davis

Romeiro Hamilton-Davis, 27, says he never felt like he quite fit in while growing up in Charlotte, N.C. where he was born and raised.

Character: North-central Kenyan Samburu Warrior.
Photo Credit: Victoria Ansah

“Being a black male, I thought I had to live up to a certain standard, about masculinity or about certain interests,” he tells qnotes. “I’m bisexual — I kind of consider myself gay as well — but just being a black male, and being gay or bisexual in the South, especially during the ‘90s and early 2000s, it was very hard, and I couldn’t find my own place to feel comfortable to be myself, whatever that was.”

Hamilton-Davis decided he needed to explore his interests in dance, acting and modeling in a more progressive place, where he hoped there might be greater opportunities, both socially and professionally.

So, in September of 2009, at the age of 18, he took off for Los Angeles, Calif. like so many artists with big dreams before him.

It didn’t quite work out like he hoped, and he found himself becoming rapidly disillusioned.

“Moving to LA was just to be able to love myself as a black male, as a black gay male, or bisexual, or whatever I consider myself. It was just really difficult,” he says.

“And even being in LA, I just didn’t really feel loved. It didn’t have that Southern charm to it. And this is where stereotypes are made” he contends. “I realized people would treat me a certain way without me even opening my mouth, and I think that affects my relationships.”

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“I think people don’t really understand or value the chocolate man like I feel that I should be valued,” he adds. “I feel like people have me more fetishized. I’m more of a sexual object. I’m more of a side dude, I’m not husband material.”

He said the reactions he was receiving from the general public, as well as from guys at bars, and those in charge of casting — primarily either being ignored or actively put down — began to build up a pain and resentment within him.

“I just felt that after growing up in North Carolina, and moving here, I just wasn’t happy with myself. I felt ugly, I felt unproductive,” he admits. “I felt lonely, because I didn’t have anyone that I was dating.”

But along with experiencing anger and upset, he also began to feel himself growing in his passions and inner resources.

Character: Nina Simone.
Photo Credit: Victoria Ansah

Hamilton-Davis, who makes his living as a substitute teacher, decided it was time to take matters into his own hands, to create the world he wanted to see, where he, and those who look like him, could be represented in a way that he just wasn’t seeing in broader culture.

“I wanted to be able to become a model, and I wanted to do my own projects. So I decided I wanted to be my own model, and direct it and produce it. Also [I wanted] to give other dark-skinned black males, or dark-skinned black women, a chance to feel really, really beautiful,” he says.

He began to share this concept with his friend Victoria Ansa, herself an artist, and the idea began to take a fuller form than the “skeleton of an idea, like a photo series” with which he started.

“She added onto it the fact that we could turn it into a video, and she took over the whole costume design aspect, and added her own flav to it,” he says of Ansa’s vital influence to the project. “So, after bringing it up to her, we have just been taking it under our wings and running off with it.”

The end result of all that brainstorming was a four-part photo and film series, exploring the history, the present and the future of the black experience.

“It’s like a visual timeline that shows the history of blacks, including many others who were affected by the African diaspora,” says Hamilton-Davis. “It starts in Pre-Colonialism. It’s kind of a mix between fiction and non-fiction.”

Character: Huey P. Newton.
Photo Credit: Victoria Ansah

“Black Excellence starts with a series called ‘Afri,’ which is an ode to those Africans during Pre-Colonialism who were affected by the age of discovery, by the age of capitalism and imperialism,” he continues.

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“Following that, we have ‘Afrocentric,’ which is our second series, and that is an ode to those blacks who were in America in particular, those who were basically the catalyst or the pioneers of capitalism, those who aided to build this country,” he explains.

“Following that, we’ll have ‘Descendants of Afri,’ which is acknowledging blacks and those descendants of today. I want to show that we are those figures, that we can make a difference, that we are those black figures who have made a difference, and we can [continue to] do the same,” he adds.

“After that, we will have a fourth and final series to represent blacks of today and the future.”

Hamilton-Davis says he would like to help build a more inclusive standard of beauty through his work, so that the inherent beauty in all types of people can be more fully expressed and appreciated.

“I find that a lot of people are like, ‘Well, everyone is beautiful, it’s about the whole world.’ And I’m like, I get that, but no one really gives 100 percent shine to dark-skinned black men and black women, and as soon as we point toward them, it automatically goes to, ‘What about everyone else? What about All Lives Matter?’ And it’s not that I’m against All Lives — I’m for everyone, absolutely everyone,” he explains. “But my concern is for the dark-skinned black man and the dark-skinned black woman, who are constantly, constantly at the bottom.”

He also wants to encourage an interest and respect for black history in part, he admits, because it took him many years to be able to fully embrace it himself.

“I shied away from black history growing up,” he reveals. “I did not want to be black. I did not like being black, and I am kind of discovering it as an adult.”

He hopes the Black Excellence Series will help others, of all ages, come to the same place.

“Black Excellence is about showing pride in black culture, and for people to love the heritage and where they come from,” he concludes.

In order to achieve this goal, the project is looking for funding to help launch a festival where the work can be displayed, including an unveiling of “Descendants of Afri,” with African cuisine, performances and a panel discussion.

Funds are being raised through a GoFundMe that can be found at gofundme.com/blackexcellencefest. More work from the Black Excellence Series can be viewed at black-excellence-series.tumblr.com.

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Posted by Jeff Taylor / Social Media Editor

Jeff Taylor is a journalist and artist. In addition to QNotes, his work has appeared in publications such The Charlotte Observer, Creative Loafing Charlotte, Inside Lacrosse, and McSweeney’s Internet Tendency. He graduated from the State University of New York at Brockport and has lived in Charlotte since 2006.@jefftaylorhuman.