Sign in

LEVEL
Higher Learning. A publication from Medium for the interested man.

Friendship

In LEVEL. More on Medium.

While the real world is stalled out and spiraling, we’re busy leveling up

Original illustration by Oakland School for the Arts student, Vinh Truong

Whiteness, it seems, has a monopoly on all things.

It’s no surprise in the real world, but Whiteness is also in the distant reaches of our most imaginative galaxies. And that’s frightening.

In too many fictional worlds, the idea of being a Black space pioneer or Brown wizard is inconceivable — even when we’re able to suspend our disbelief around intergalactic travel or riding bareback on dragons.

We’ve all seen a White man with a gray beard as a sorcerer. But when’s the last time you saw an Indigenous spell caster in a U.S. fiction context? I’d have to go…


You Are Here

What are you working for?

Photo: Martin Schalter/Unsplash

Here in Northern California there have been tremendous windstorms recently, with gusts sometimes getting up to 90 mph. A piece of Highway 1 washed away and fell into the ocean. There has been lightning, an occurrence formerly rare for this part of the country.

A good friend who has moved out of the city and off the grid now rents a tiny cabin in the mountains. I go up there on occasion to write and help with some of the labor that comes with living off the grid and in the woods. Digging ditches to prepare for floods, setting traps…


How toxic masculinity ruined summer camp and my friendship

Photo: martinedoucet/Getty Images

When I was 10 years old, my parents decided they wanted the summer for themselves. So they did what any self-respecting NYC family with little money would do — they signed me up for day camp. That’s where I met Jose, my first best friend.

Jose was a light-skinned Dominican kid with straight black hair and big eyes; his fingernails were painted black. We met during lunch when he jumped into a heated debate between me and our lead camp counselor, Jayshawn, about who was the strongest Power Ranger. Jayshawn and his crew insisted it was the Green Ranger (Tommy)…


When they don’t care about Black pain, they make it worse

Photo: Klaus Vedfelt/Getty Images

Throughout my adulthood, I’ve been blessed with loyal and generous friends. They’ve been hanging in there with me for years, through ups, downs, and sideways, across multiple countries and continents. They’re among my staunchest supporters; some of them happen to be White.

But these are indeed times that can try Black souls — and our friendships, too. Ever since George Floyd used his last breaths to plead for his life while a White cop strangled him with his knee, I’ve discovered that not all of my relationships with White people are what they seem.

I can now separate most of…


THE ONLY BLACK GUY IN THE OFFICE

How a night out became a cautionary tale about keeping the two worlds separate

Illustration: Michael Kennedy

I still remember the disappointment of my 25th birthday as clear as day. I’d decided on a hibachi dinner downtown with a few friends from different corners of my life — childhood, church, college, that one time I worked at a Macy’s perfume counter. Despite the steak and shrimp being bomb, the night felt like a disaster. My guests were like oil and water and I had to play peacemaker in the midst of passive-aggressive jabs and sake shots. Awkward as fuck.

But the worst birthday I’ve ever experienced wasn’t even my own.

Look, the only thing more regrettable than…


We’ll get through these problems just like billions have before us — together

Photo: kupicoo/Getty Images

2020 was supposed to be my year.

I feel that way every year, but this one is my 50th. And I was sure, at the start, that if good things didn’t happen for me, that I could at least find good things to do. I could make my own happiness. On New Year’s Day, I even made a list of the things that I would no longer let bother me.

And because I’m easily bothered, it was a long list.

While one of my friends vowed to start a business and another to get in terrific physical shape, most of…


You can’t fundraise away years of indifference

Protestors in New York City on June 4, 2020. Photo: Scott Heins/Getty Images

On the morning of May 29, 2020, I sat, freshly awake in my queen-sized bed as a king-sized headache throbbed between my temples and into my eye sockets. It was a Friday, ostensibly the end of the week, but it was the beginning of a very different kind of week — a seven-day stretch during which America and its stated ideals once again burned into a smoldering heap of ember.

I woke up to Minneapolis on fire due to protests sparked in response to the death of George Floyd. I saw the images of a Minneapolis police station in flames…


Over more than 30 years of friendship, I saw a man trying to do it all — and succeeding

Taken at Moomba sometime in the ’90s. Pictured (L-R): Andre Harrell, Nelson George, Selwyn Hinds, Steve Stoute, Carol Kirkendall, Mya, and Darryl Brooks. Photo courtesy of the author.

It’s a Saturday afternoon. It could be 1986 or 1989 or 1991. We meet at the Eastern Athletic Club in Brooklyn Heights or Chelsea Piers gym in Manhattan for full-court basketball. The core group was me, promotion man Gary…


JUST RANKIN’ SH!T

For every Beverly Hills Cop or Blazing Saddles, there’s a … well, this

8. ‘Rush Hour’ (1998)

We’re not gonna even dignify the sequels by acknowledging them. Instead, we’re happy to bestow Chris Tucker and Jackie Chan with the Least Worst award — joining the lone not-racist Cracker Barrel, , and homie with the locs from Young Black Teenagers.

7. ‘Running Scared’ (1986)

So Billy Crystal and Gregory Hines play Chicago undercover cops, and — wait, sorry, Never has a movie title so perfectly described our physical reaction to the premise.

6. ‘Cop Out’ (2010)

Bruce Willis has played a cop in some pure classics. This isn’t one of them. Tracy Morgan, you did what you could.

5. ‘Nothing to Lose’ (1997)

No shots at Tim…

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store