Salute the Black men who made 2020 not a total trash fire

Jermaine Hall
Published in
8 min readDec 8, 2020


Welcome to Minority Report, a weekly newsletter from the LEVEL team that packs an entire week into a single email. From our inaugural Best Man awards to the week in racism, from pop-culture picks to a must-read LEVEL story, it’s everything you need and nothing you don’t. If you’re loving what you’re reading, tell a friend to tell a friend.

This week, to celebrate the release of our Best Man 2020 package, we decided to chop it up about the process involved: the genesis of the idea, the execution, and the future of the idea as an ongoing series. Enjoy!

Peter Rubin, executive editor: So, as with every large package that we’ve done, this one started a few months back. Jermaine, it was a pretty open-ended question you first asked: What are we going to do for the end of the year? Because it’s LEVEL’s first birthday, too.

Jermaine Hall, editor in chief: I was looking to create LEVEL’s version of [GQ’s] Men of the Year, LEVEL’s version of Coming Kings, which I really used to love back in the days of King. I thought the class that we could put together this year would be really interesting for the reader, because it gives us a chance to hit on some amazing human-interest stories and get some regular folks in there — not celebrities — to open up the space.

PR: We played with the idea of doing something that was more tongue in cheek and satirical, but we quickly realized that didn’t feel like the right energy to walk out of 2020 with. Like, does this feel right?

John Kennedy, senior editor: The interesting thing about that and about what Jermaine said is there were so many celebs who let us down this year. One idea we got at with our Man in the Mirror piece was, “Where do you find pride in being a Black man in 2020?” It can be hard to find that pride when that’s what you’re seeing from the people who represent you on a broad level. So I loved the spin of Best Men. There were some celebrities in there — Ricky Martin, Dwayne Wade, Swizz, Timbaland, D-Nice — but there are also these great human-interest stories about people that are doing good and putting good out into the world who you might not know otherwise.

JH: Taking the time to look back and see what Anthony Herron, Jr. did — go and sit on somebody’s lawn for 90 days because he felt that person was in danger and needed protection. And he was tired of seeing the performative things that people do on social media. It’s like, no, actually be about it. If you think this person is in danger, how are you going to protect them? That’s an amazing story, incredible story.

PR: As our first year has gone by, there have been these themes that have emerged for us, and “support and protect Black women” is a major one. “Hold each other accountable” is a major one. Letting go of outmoded notions of masculinity. JFK, your conversation with Anthony is one of my favorite stories of the year. These examples that people are setting, whether him or someone like Dwayne Wade, for fathering Zaya and allowing her to teach him, are worth covering. They’re all absolutely fundamental to what LEVEL is about.

JH: The other thing that really grabs me about that story is that this is a man with a full-time job. He’s leaving his full-time job. And then he’s going to make sure that this Black woman is protected, then going back to work. That is the LEVEL man. Right?

JFK: Also, just the fact that he’s also a 30-year-old artist who raps about upliftment — he’s basically everything that represents LEVEL distilled into one person.

PR: In another 10 years, he’s going to be angling to be in 40 Over 40.

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JH: Question for you guys, now that we’ve had time to live with the John Lewis, Kobe Bryant, and Chadwick Boseman cover: Do you feel that we missed anybody? I was wrestling this weekend with the fact that we don’t have George Floyd on the cover, but I think that’s okay.

JFK: I’m okay with it only because what he represented is different from what the three men on our cover represented. We’re honoring what they did in their lives and the mark they made while they were here. George’s story is tragic — he’s kind of like a martyr. I don’t know if they would’ve necessarily fit together. He would be deserving of his own space or way of paying tribute to him this year.

PR: Ahmaud Arbery, Tony McDade, just countless Black men and women who were killed by the system this year — and by system, I mean either police or people who have internalized the same thinking — and that felt very difficult to grapple with within the awards. We have a series of essays throughout the week that deal with some of the less celebratory aspects of the year. But as an award, it felt strange. Jermaine, we’ve talked a lot about the importance of establishing these sorts of franchises that are tied to the identity of LEVEL itself. How much does Best Man feel like one of those things?

JH: As a franchise, I think we did what we set out to do, but there’s a long way to go. And I say that because we’ve done this while being in quarantine. And if we did this when things were more regular, there’s so many tentacles that I see to go along with this — experiential activations, you name it. There are just so many other things you can do outside of just living on LEVEL.

JFK: 2020 has been crazy. Best Man is an interesting way to show that through the craziness, there was some good that came out of it. There were Black and Brown men who showed up and answered the call.

This Week in Racism

🗑 Kid Rock, We’re Gonna Need You to Come Get Your People

We already knew the Michigan branch of MAGA Nation was on some other shit entirely — see: openly trying to disenfranchise a whole-ass city — but after last week’s voting hearing, we’re gonna need to designate a new level of certifiable delusion and hatred. We’re not talking about this seven-hour hearing of GOP “poll challengers” making all manner of baseless accusations, or future Karen Hall of Fame inductee Melissa Carone going absolutely scorched-earth with concepts like “truth.” No, we’re talking about people leaving voicemails for Cynthia Johnson, the Democratic chair of the state’s House Oversight Committee, that say things like “Dems are going down, especially fuckin’ big-lipped n*****s like you.” Johnson, a Black woman, forwarded the voicemails to her colleagues in the state legislature, only to receive a response from Republican Mary Whiteford that began with “I don’t understand why you would share this with me.” Mary Whiteford, you say? Sounds about right. (Local 4 News)

🗑 Speaking of Michigan, Have We Found Our New Diamond & Silk There?

One of the people to speak at Michigan’s Senate hearings about vote counting last week — if a seven-hour video sounds like a slog, here’s a handy Twitter thread delivering the greatest hits — was Linda Lee Tarver. Tarver, whose bio highlights include serving as an Advisory Board Member on the national Black Voices for Trump coalition, claimed that Republican poll challengers were subjected to harassment. Okay, fine, if that’s your affidavit, that’s your affidavit. Let’s see what else she said [riffling through transcripts] … oh. Here’s something: “The larger the jurisdiction which are people of color, people who look like me, the more fraud that can be inserted into stealing an election.” So predominantly Black voting districts are more likely to be fraudulent? Got it. All of a sudden, the Twitter name “Linda Lee Tarver — Notable Exception” and the avatar photo that’s been lightened to damn near Powder levels start to make a lot more sense. Anyway, it looks like everyone’s as delighted with Tarver’s claims as we are; Lansing’s city council president has asked her to resign from a scholarship advisory board. For more, we’ll just have to stay tuned to whatever Parler account or YouTube talk show she pops up on next. Here we go! (Lansing City Pulse)

🗑 Don’t Worry, Michigan’s Not the Only State on the 85th Parallel With Racism!

Another week, another official being exposed as racistus wildicus. This time, it’s Courtney Rogers, commissioner of Tennessee’s Department of Veterans Services. Before being appointed to that position, Rogers was elected as a state legislator a few years back, during which she described her vision of diversity as “recruiting the best, from light meat to dark meat, across the entire spectrum.” Not a great sign — and she reportedly doubled down on her predilections during her stint at DVS, referring to someone as “another Black guy looking for a free ride” and using a racial slur in the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder. If you’re wondering about the judgment of the man who put her there, Tennessee governor Bill Lee, all you really need to know is this: homie dressed up as a Confederate soldier when he was in college. Say no more, fam! (The Tennessean)

The LEVEL Up: Culture Picks From the Editors

📺 Big Mouth (Season 4)

This animated series made headlines earlier this year when Jenny Slate (a White comic) relinquished her role in voicing Missy (a biracial character) to allow for a more authentic casting (comedian Ayo Edebiri, a Black woman). But that was just the first step in establishing the toon tween. Here, her identity is at the forefront, as she learns about her hair, gives up her beloved overalls, and grapples with comments that her classmates didn’t consider her Black-Black. Be sure to catch the code-switch song in episode five — and thank us later. (Netflix)

📖 Black Futures

The coffee table book of the season has arrived! Co-editors Kimberly Drew and Jenna Wortham set out to answer a complex question: What does it mean to be Black and alive right now? The product of that quest is a gorgeous hardcover that compiles photos, essays, conversations, memes, tweets, poetry, and more — all of which paint a picture of the infinite bounds of Black beauty and imagination today and far beyond. (Penguin Random House)

🎥 40 Years a Prisoner

In 1978, Philadelphia police ambushed the headquarters of Black radical liberation group MOVE, a shootout that resulted in one officer dead and nine members of the organization sentenced to 30-to-100 years behind bars. Tommy Oliver’s powerful new documentary chronicles the plight of the unit now known as the Move 9 (which maintains its innocence) and its 40-year struggle for justice — told through the lifelong campaigning of Mike Africa Jr., son to two of the incarcerated members. It’s yet another reminder of the urgent need to abolish the carceral system ASAP. (12/8 at 9 p.m., HBO)

LEVEL Read of the Week

The Unsung Hero Who Protected a Complete Stranger From Her Racist Neighbor For 90 Days

In 2020, activism has meant putting boots to pavement to protest systemic oppression and police brutality — or at its most underwhelming, posting a black square to Instagram. But in the case of New York resident Jennifer McLeggan, a single mother whose note about increasingly menacing harassment by her racist neighbors went viral, symbolic support wasn’t enough. Thankfully, Anthony Herron, Jr., a complete stranger, stepped up by patrolling her home for 90 consecutive nights, serving as a shining example of the mantra “Protect Black women” in action. Read the story.

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Jermaine Hall

Jermaine Hall is a digital publishing executive. When he’s not running his two sons and wife from place to place he’s watching Lakers games.