So what is Question Bridge: Black Males? The Question Bridge: Black Males project is a platform for Black men of all ages and backgrounds to ask and respond to questions about life in America. We created it to stimulate connections and understanding among Black men, but we also wanted to show the diversity of thought, character and identity in the Black male population so rarely seen in American media. In essence, we want to represent and redefine Black male identity in America.
In 2012, the project launched as a documentary-styled video art installation, but since then, it has expanded to include an interactive website and mobile app, community engagement events and an education curriculum for high school students.
Why do you feel the need to redefine black male identity? Because we want to break down the negative perceptions people have about Black males. American media rarely shows whole, complex and authentic images of black men, so by creating a space where these images can live, we hope that people will start to see things differently.
So what exactly is a "Question Bridge?" It’s a method used by those who want to create honest expression and healing dialogue among members of a particular group. It works like this: first, one person asks a question looking into camera, as if they are talking directly to another person. Later, another person responds by talking directly into a camera. This question-answer exchange, the Question Bridge, reduces the stress of normal face-to-face conversations and makes people feel more comfortable with expressing their deeply held feelings on topics that divide, unite and puzzle. This was the central approach used in the project.
How did the whole project begin? Well, it all started with Chris - Artist Chris Johnson – who, in 1996, was looking for a way to start a conversation around class and generational divisions in San Diego’s African American community. Using a video camera and some question and answer exchanges, he was able to get ten members of the community to express their strongly held beliefs and values. A decade later, artist Hank Willis Thomas approached Johnson about doing a similar project focused on Black males.
And it was launched as a documentary-styled art installation? Yep- it premiered at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival New Frontier. But first, the team had to do some prep work, so Chris and Hank collaborated with artists Kamal Sinclair and Bayeté Ross Smith to record more than 1,600 question and answer videos from over 160 men in 9 cities in America. From there, they shaped the content into an insightful, provocative and entertaining five-screen video installation. So far, it has been exhibited in over 30 museums, festivals and institutions.
So when did the website and mobile app come in? Well, after the overwhelming success of the art installation, we wanted to expand the conversation and make it easier for Black males to participate across the country. So we created the site and app. And since questions and answers are added constantly, this creates a living archive of Black male voices that can be searched by location and timeframe – essentially generating a map of Black male identity. We want that map to be heavily populated in the next few years, so from September 2014 to summer 2016, the website and mobile app will be our main focus as we push for our participation goal of 200,000 Black males. We think that this will help us gain visibility as a place to find authentic Black male voices.
Where did the community engagement events come from? In one of our recording sessions, a young man posed this question to elders: “Why didn’t you leave us the blueprint?” It inspired us to create our Blueprint Roundtables, events designed to create dialogue among Black males from different generations. During these sessions, the attendees identify practical roadmaps to success for Black men and boys. The program launched in 2012, and has spread to over 15 communities across the country.
And you have an education curriculum, too? Mmm hmm. Designed for high school students, the free Question Bridge curriculum focuses on themes of broad identity, conflict resolution, and inclusion. The curriculum is online, and teaching artists can be hired to conduct training sessions.