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By: Alonge Hawes
“One for the money, yes sir, two for the show
A couple of years ago on Headland and Delowe
Was the start of something good
Where me and my nigga rode the Marta, through the hood
Just tryna find that hook up, now everyday we looked up at the ceiling
Watching ceiling fans go ’round, tryna catch that feeling
Off instrumentals, had my pencil and plus my paper
We caught the 86 Lithonia headed to Decatur
Writing rhymes, tryna find our spot off in that light
Light off in that spot, knowing that we could rock”
—OutKast, Elevators (Me & You)
ON THANKSGIVING NIGHT 1915, William Joseph Simmons led a group of 15 hooded men to the top of Stone Mountain, GA. Inspired by D.W. Griffith’s cinematic ode to white supremacy, The Birth Of A Nation; released nine months earlier. There they burned a wooden cross which signaled the rebirth of the Ku Klux Klan.
One month later C. Helen Plane, a member of The United Daughters Of The Confederacy, commissioned Gutzom Borglum to begin work on what would become the largest bas-relief sculpture in the world. The carving of Robert E. Lee, Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, and Robert Jefferson etched meticulously into Stone Mountain’s North face, stands to this day as a permanent reminder that slavery, prejudice, and the disenfranchisement of an entire race is something for the South to remember with pride.
I often wonder at the irony of this as I look out onto that Mountain daily while passing on the 117 Marta bus headed to Memorial Drive station. After moving here from Lansing, Michigan in the early 2000s, I have spent the better part of my teenage and adult years residing in the city named directly after that sculpture.
Amongst a majority African American populace (75% to be exact) I have attended school, fallen in love, gotten my first job, and experienced most of the major thresholds of life right here under the precipice of that Mountain—a Mountain that symbolizes the rape and lynching of my people. So when I first sat down and conceptualized a web series about young black men attempting to rewrite their destinies, instead of Buckhead, Peachtree, Midtown or any number of attractive Atlanta suburbs, I felt by truth, it had to take place right here in Stone Mountain.
“Blue Collar Hustle” is the name of the aforementioned web series. I was partly inspired to create it by the scores of young black millennials who I have come into contact with over the years, who all in some way attempt to carry on the philosophy of The Talented Tenth.
That talent involves education, performance arts, sports, etc. The black youth of today face the incredible burden of not only having to live up to and compete with the standards set forth by white society but also to “cover for” the perceived negative stigmas associated with black existence.
Black-on-black crime in Chicago, gang violence in LA, absentee fathers, and drug culture. The black community has become so pressurized with raising a generation of saviors that in many cases we fail to completely grasp what it is that has been demanded of them.
This has led to a mass group of youth who are deathly afraid of failure; who shackle themselves to preconceived ideas of what “Black excellence” really encompasses.
For most of my life, I have heard some version of this adage, “there are plenty of rappers, singers, and musicians but not enough black lawyers, doctors, and professors.” As with any proverb, there is a certain truth to this. However, to deny one’s creative inclinations in the name of “racial progress” is as constricting a viewpoint as the racist agenda that I and many of my peers witness daily while passing that Mountain.
Blue Collar Hustle looks to explore the untapped story of those who stand in defiance. Defiance of expectation, defiance of fear, and defiance of the very legacy that some of our own cities and hometowns desperately cling to.
I absolutely abhor that Mountain, but I love my city. I love the black businesses. I love the schools and the teachers who broke curriculum to teach black kids about African American history. I love the sense of belonging I feel when I stand next to other black folk of varying ages as we all ready to take the train to our many different jobs or institutions.I love the fact that I can stand on a ground that was once dedicated to black suffering and find black inspiration.
Over the next few weeks, I will be further outlining the conceptualization, background, and inspiration behind the series. Willie has graciously provided me an opportunity to speak directly to his readership about what I consider an important facet of the African-American experience—the concept of identity.
I define myself as proud of my blackness, the heritage it carries, and stand strongly in opposition to that which would suggest otherwise. And yet I reside in a city which literally showcases the LARGEST monument to anti-blackness that exists in the entire world. How do we, how do I, reconcile that hypocrisy?
By portraying the black populace of Stone Mountain for what they are: upwardly mobile, self-sufficient, and relentlessly determined.
By portraying the black youth for what they are: immensely creative, widely talented, and incalculably brilliant.
My goal with Blue Collar Hustle is to join in league with those who are rewriting the Black American story. To show that our hustle represents the blood, sweat, and tears of black excellence. To show that our potential expands past that of a mere Mountain…
For it soars the infinity of the heavens.
For it soars the infinity of the heavens.