My Truth About The Night Of The Zimmerman Verdict


Those who know me and/or have been long-time fans of VSB know I am a textbook introvert. A prominent characteristic of this introversion is the possession of both a need to be clearly understood when communicating and an equally present fear of being misunderstood. My preference for writing instead of speaking stems from this. Basically, I love to write because it allows me a better opportunity to articulate exactly what’s going on in my head than speaking does.

As I’ve gained experience, I’ve gotten better at getting what’s in my head outside of it. It’s very rare now to have a thought I’m compelled to express and not have the words to express it. Even rarer to not have the words and be unsure I’d even use them if I did.

When attempting to process my feelings about what happened the night of the Zimmerman verdict, both occurred.

The night the verdict was announced, I had plans to attend a friend’s birthday party. This friend lives six blocks away. Since my girl and I planned to drink, we decided to walk instead of drive, and I received word that Zimmerman was found not guilty right when we were about to head out the door.

I still remember the weightlessness—a combination of outrage, sadness, and shock—I experienced when first hearing the news. I also remember how scrolling through my Twitter timeline and reading hundreds of tweets from people experiencing the same thing exacerbated these feelings.

When writing about that night, I made sure to articulate these feelings as passionately and contextually as I could. But, I intentionally left out something that colored my night just as vividly. The decision to omit was partially influenced by the fact that I couldn’t quite articulate it yet. And, even if I was able to, I wasn’t willing to go there. Especially not at that time.

I’m still not sure if I should share this. And, I’m still not sure if I will articulate what I’m about to say the best way I can. But, I don’t know. I just feel like I need to now.

It was approximately 75 degrees and clear enough to see multiple stars. And, as I mentioned earlier, my friend lived six blocks away. Six blocks in Pittsburgh is a 10 minute walk. Driving to this party should not have even been an option.

It was an option, though, because we live in a neighborhood where the threat of violent crime is always present. I wouldn’t exactly call it crime-ridden. I grew up in a legitimately dangerous neighborhood, and this doesn’t seem to be anywhere close to that. But, there have been some robberies, and it’s not uncommon to hear police sirens and occasional gunshots at night. In June, a house across the street from us was hit with bullets from a drive by shooting.

Ironically, on a night when my anger towards and suspicion of the criminal justice system, the government, and America in general—all “White” institutions—reached an all-time high, my most immediate thoughts and actions where governed by a suspicion of some of the Black people in my neighborhood. Not the “good” Black people, mind you, but Black people nonetheless.

That night was a perfect example of the mental gymnastics I put myself through when thinking about race, crime, and my own personal safety. I am fully aware of the traditionally adversarial relationship between Black people (Black men in particular) and the criminal justice system. I’ve read hundreds of articles, studies, and books about it. I’ve listened to numerous personal stories involving racist cops, judges, magistrates, lawyers, congressmen, and mayors. I’ve watched and attempted to deconstruct everything from Crash to Do the Right Thing (and I’ll get around to Fruitvale Station some time in the next couple of weeks). I’ve also been the victim of racial profiling on numerous occasions. (The latest occasion ended up costing me over $500 in tow and court fees.)

Yet, most of my anger towards and suspicions of “the system”—as well as White people in power—seem to exist on theoretical level. It’s almost as if I feel this way because I know I’m supposed to. It’s the way well-read and historically-aware Black people—Black men especially—are supposed to feel, but I think it more than I feel it.

In reality, when the sun goes down—the time of the day when people usually put more of a guard up—I’m much more cautious of and concerned about Black people. Black strangers, rather. And, by “Black strangers” I mean “sketchy-looking young Black males who I don’t know.” Women, men my age or older, and young Black males who don’t look and act “sketchy” don’t even register.

I’ve been annoyed by White strangers. Suspicious, even. But not suspicious to the point that it starts to register as legitimate caution. At least not the same type of caution that would make you consider turning an easy, 10 minute walk into a two minute drive.

I didn’t always feel this way. Despite being affected by violent crime in more ways than I care to list, those experiences never really caused me to experience any fear. As a kid, I was much more uncomfortable catching the bus at night while alone in the White suburb my middle school was in than catching one in my own neighborhood. Even the night of the verdict, I wouldn’t have even considered driving if I was by myself.

The shift in my perspective has coincided with me reaching an age where I’m responsible for the safety of others. Basically, I have a girlfriend now. And, having a girlfriend (or a wife, or a child, or an elderly relative) means I don’t have the luxury of allowing how I’m supposed to feel about the macro to override the reality of the micro. Mind you, they’re both important to me. But, my concerns about the criminal justice system’s inherent racial inequality, racial profiling, and even racism resonate with me on the same level that, I don’t know, heart disease does. I know it’s a huge problem that affects us disproportionately and I know it can very well even kill me and people close to me. But, on my personal hierarchy of things needing my immediate concern and attention, it just doesn’t rate very high.

We eventually decided to walk, and we talked about the verdict each second of the 10 minute trip. But, as heated conversation as that conversation got, it never entered the same immediate, visceral space for me that “I need to stay alert for n*ggas” did.

I am not speaking for all Black men, nor am I attempting to minimize what many other Black people have experienced and currently feel. I’m not aiming to start one of those “Black kids get shot every day. Why do we only care when they’re shot by White people?” conversations, and I’m also aware that much of the Black crime most of us have been touched by is a direct result of conditions created by this same system.

I’m just finally sharing what all was in my head that night, not just what would make for the most passionate and eloquent takedown of the Zimmerman verdict. I don’t feel good about this. But, I don’t think I’m supposed to.

—Damon Young (aka “The Champ”)

Sistas In Science

***The Champ’s latest at Ebony profiles four Black women who happen to be close friends…and all happen to have PhDs in STEM fields. (VSB vets should recognize at least one of them)***

Four Black women. All friends. And, all granted PhDs in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) fields before reaching 30.

What sounds the premise for an urban fairy tale has been the reality for Jessica Porter, 29, Marguerite Matthews, 29, Dahlia Haynes, 31, and Racquel Jemison, 27—a reality made even more unlikely when reading statistics about Black people and STEM PhDs.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, Black people are 12% of the U.S. population and 11% of all students beyond high school, yet they received just 7% of all STEM bachelor’s degrees, 4% of master’s degrees, and 2% of PhDs. And, out of 5,048 PhDs awarded in the physical sciences, such as chemistry and physics, 89 went to Blacks—a number that gets even smaller when removing Black men.

Yet, Porter (a Boston native and current senior sensory scientist at Proctor and Gamble in Cincinnati) met Matthews (who matriculated at Spelman and is currently doing a post-doc at the University of Portland) in 2006 while both enrolled in the University of Pittsburgh’s neuroscience PhD program. In 2010, they met Jemison, a Morgan State grad and doctoral student at nearby Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) who will receive a PhD in chemistry this fall. A couple months later, Jemison introduced them to Haynes, a post-doctoral research associate at CMU who received her PhD in chemistry at Clemson University.

The ladies soon grew close, forming the nexus for a “crew” of grad students and young professionals who migrated to the Pittsburgh-area for work or school. recently had the opportunity to sit down with them and discuss Black women in science, the importance of early STEM education, and the value of having a strong network of friends.

EBONY: Cases such as the one with Kiera Wilmot reinforce the idea that, from a lack of administrative support to Black students not given the same allowances other students are to experiment, there may be substantial social and institutional barriers preventing Black women from entering and excelling in science-based fields. Do you agree with this assessment?

Dahlia Haynes: This question reads unclear. I am not aware of this case but what allowances are we as Black women not getting? I, for one, have received great institutional support to excel in science based fields. I do believe however that it is because of the (White) people I had around me who were heavily invested in diversity. Socially, unfortunately is that there remains very few of “my people” in the STEM fields. This starts from an early age however. Where I’m from in particular, the only successful careers that were popularly known were the “Huxtables” (medical doctor or lawyer). To overcome this, being scientists has to become socially more acceptable at younger ages.

Marguerite Matthews: I don’t think there are barriers preventing Black students from going into or excelling in the sciences, per se. But I do think there is a lack of support, encouragement, and proper education for many Black students – especially those coming from more disadvantaged economic backgrounds. Similar to Dahlia, I had teachers who pushed me into STEM opportunities, which inspired me to pursue science in higher education and as a career. Exposure to these opportunities, and feeling empowered to thrive in the sciences, has made a world of difference. Unfortunately in the case of Kiera Wilmot, the stereotype that Black kids are thought of as criminals first, not scientists, is being reinforced. This type of experience – being faced with criminal charges – may totally deter her from pursuing science in the future. And while this likely isn’t the case for all Black children, it highlights that society often does not value Black children, even those who are proven to be good students, as future innovators and intellectuals.

Jessica Porter: I do not think that there are barriers preventing Black women from entering or excelling in science based fields any more than there are barriers for White women. Science remains to be a male dominated field so the issues from my experience have had to do more with being a woman than being Black. In addition, as  a Black woman, we check two boxes, which tend to be very important for funding especially at a time when scientific funding is being cut. I don’t want to think that the reason I received funding was because I was Black, but being Black did help. In most science fields, the government or non-profit organizations pay for higher education through grant funding, thus eliminating the barrier and making a scientific education cheaper and easier to pursue.

Racquel Jemison: I think I’m more inclined to agree with Marge.  There isn’t enough support for our young Black students to pursue interests in the sciences.  It’s primarily those few heavily involved teachers or mentors that encourage early exposure to the sciences, and quite frankly, there aren’t enough of them.

Read more at EBONY

Why I’ll Never Vote For A Republican

"Sorry for missing your party, big guy. The invite must have gone to my spam folder or something"

I live approximately a mile away from Ava/Shadow Lounge — a popular local venue that hosts everything from hardcore hip-hop to “hipster music” shows, houses numerous parties and community events, and seems to have hidden forces determined to make it the area’s latest gentrification casualty. It’s no exaggeration to say I’ve been there at least 100 times (and possibly as many as 200) in the last five years.

It nests on the corner of Baum Boulevard and Highland Avenue. If you stand on Baum and Highland and look a block down the street, you can see Capri Bar, another venue that houses numerous parties and events. And, this block distance isn’t one of those New York City-esque two mile long blocks, either. I won’t lie and say that it’s so close that I can throw a football from Ava/Shadow to Capri, but Cam Newton probably could.

Yet, despite the fact that Capri usually has decent DJs, always has available parking, draws decent-sized crowds, and has a couple distinct advantages over Shadow/Ava (they serve food, and their bar has TVs), I’ve been to Capri maybe five times in the last three years.

Now, I know the owner of Ava/Shadow pretty well, and I’m also pretty cool with many of the bartenders and bouncers, but that alone doesn’t explain why I’m 50 times more likely to attend an event there than one at Capri. It — my less than positive feelings about Capri — all comes down to the fact that I just don’t like the crowd Capri usually draws. Like I mentioned before, the venues and the weekend events held at each venue aren’t really all that dissimilar. And, they’re only 70 yards away from each other. But, something about Capri attracts a crowd that’s just a little sketchier than the typical Ava/Shadow crowd, and I don’t feel as comfortable there.

Now, if you read today’s title and also at least managed to graduate from middle school, you probably surmised that this Ava/Capri conundrum is a long-winded analogy for my feelings about the Democratic and Republican parties. You’re correct. It is. You’re probably also assuming that I’m going to preface the rest of this piece by saying something like “Even though that analogy is far from perfect, I still think that….” If you made this assumption, you’re incorrect. The Ava/Capri conundrum is in fact a perfect representation of my feelings about both parties, and perfectly encapsulates why I’d never vote for a f*cking republican.

Becoming moderate usually means that you’re either moving from right to left or from left to right. Basically, most people don’t really become moderate, that’s just where they happen to currently be as they make their move from one side of the political spectrum to another. For as long as I’ve been politically aware, though, I can’t remember ever leaning liberal or conservative. I was born sitting on a fence, and I’ve neither seen nor heard no good reason to jump off any time soon. No wonder why I’m so bowlegged.

Perhaps the main reason why I’ve been able to entertain arguments and theories (well, intelligent and reasonable arguments and theories) from both sides is because, well, I just don’t think (intelligent and reasonable) democrats and (intelligent and reasonable) republicans are all that different. It’s popular to make it seem like choosing between the two is a life or death proposition, but, from a sheer policy perspective, it’s really no different than deciding between Red Lobster and The Olive Garden.

I don’t think Republican/conservative policy is inherently racist or sexist or stupid or wrong, and I also don’t believe that “a person with Republican/conservative beliefs” = “a stupid or sexist or racist person.” It’s just a difference in beliefs, and I can think of numerous occasions when I listened to someone like David Frum or George Will or even Andrew Sullivan and thought “Damn. That was a great point.”

I realize my opinion isn’t exactly universal. I’m sure there will be many staunch democrats reading this who think I’m absolutely, categorically wrong, and that voting for republicans is like voting for syphilis. But, despite the difference in perception, our actions are the same. The staunch liberal thinks “Republican” = “burning urination,” and they never vote for republicans. I think “Republican” = “unlimited salad and breadsticks,” and I also never vote for republicans.

Our actions align because of one simple point: My issues with republicans are all about people.

Whether it’s the message or the policies or the platform, something about the modern Republican party just continues to attract people like Todd Akin and the type of people who’d still vote for Todd Akin and the type of people who think so little of Black people that they’ll brazenly throw peanuts at Black camerawomen at densely populated events. And, I will never willingly align myself with people like that.

I realize “never” is pretty extreme. And, as I mentioned before, I know their parties probably aren’t all that different than the parties I usually attend. Still, republicans could be passing out free pancakes and p*ssy at the door, but until they do something about the type of people their parties attract, I’ll keep my ass across the street.

—Damon Young (aka “The Champ”)

The Six Biggest Assholes You’ll Ever Meet

As I’m typing this, my cat is laying in my kitchen, staring at the refrigerator, thinking dumb-ass cat thoughts. He’s been doing this for 20 minutes now, and it’s taking everything in me not to sneak behind him, run the faucet in my sink, splash water on him, and watch him jump up and run underneath one of my couches.

I’m not going to do this because, well, it would be cruel. Funny, but cruel. But, I’m consistently tempted to do things like this to get his ass back for all the shady shit he pulls on a regular basis. For instance, he woke me up this morning by jumping from the floor to maybe an inch away from my face, and the first thing I saw when opening my eyes was his creepy ass staring at me. He kept meowing, so I rubbed his stomach, and he purred until realizing that he didn’t want his stomach rubbed anymore. How do I know he changed his mind? He bit me. (Well, he attempted to bite me and I moved out the way)

At this point, I figure going back to sleep was a lost cause, so I got up and walked to the bathroom. When I get back to my bedroom, this n*gga is laying across my sheets, knocked the f*ck out. He basically punked me out of my own bed.

Also, he took a shit two inches away from his litter box a couple days ago, and I’m pretty certain that if he was a little bigger and a little smarter, he would have killed me in my sleep already. I don’t know how I know this, but he just always has a look in his eyes that says “If I was a little bigger and a little smarter, I’d probably kill you in your sleep.”

Thing is, compared to other cats, he’s actually a nice cat. He doesn’t hiss at people, he rarely bites and, although he does scratch random shit, he doesnt seem to scratch shit I actually care about. (Like, you know, my eyeballs or something) He’s definitely making progress, too. He doesn’t even jump on the keyboard when I’m trying to type anymore.

But, as Teddy the Cat helps prove…

…cats are just natural assholes, and there’s really nothing they can do about it.

Now, while cats are definitely the biggest assholes we’ll probably ever encounter, there are a few more populations who can be just as consistently douchey, including…

13 to 15 year old little girls

I have to admit. When I first heard about R. Kelly’s obsession with girls who were just a bit too old to be Just For Me models, I didn’t believe it. Not because I held the R-uh in any type of esteem, but I just couldn’t imagine anyone willingly choosing to spend any free time with them. Why? Well, it’s probably because there is no other human demographic that produces more evil assholes per capita, and no one likes 13 to 15 year old girls. Teachers don’t (trust me). Mother nature doesn’t. 13 to 15 year old boys don’t. (They’re attracted to them and scared of them, but they don’t actually like them) Shit, 13 to 15 year old girls don’t even like other 13 to 15 year old girls.

Now, I know it’s not really their fault. Mother Nature does a number on them at that age, and while 13 to 15 year old boys just end up being witless, germ-ridden, half-human collections of drool, their female counterparts get the short end of nature’s stick, and they take it out on all of us.

I’m sure some women reading this are going to think to themselves “What the hell is Champ talking about? I wasn’t that bad when I was that age. What type of ratchet teenage girls do they grow in Pittsburgh?” If you are one of these women, I want you to call your mom after reading this and ask her if she actually liked you — not “loved,” but “liked” — when you were 13.

I bet the conversation goes something like this.

Woman: “Hey mom. I just read this blog where this guy said that all 13 to 15 year old girls are assholes, and that nobody likes them. You always liked me, right?”

Mom: “Baby, you know I’ve always loved you. You’re my sweetheart, my baby. I’d do anything for you.”

Woman: “You didn’t answer my question.”

Mom: “……….”


Mom: “Well, baby. Ok, so there might have been a couple years in your early teens when I kind of, sort of, wanted you to get kidnapped for a couple months or so. You eventually grew out of it, though, and became a tolerable person, so I stopped fantasizing about you getting kidnapped. Plus, I knew they were dumb fantasizes anyway. The kidnappers would have given you back after like four hours. Shit, they might have even given us a ransom to take you back. You’re still my baby, though.”

Atheists, Vegans, and Liberals

Put in the same group because they’re assholes for the same reason: They assume their politics and “informed” reasons for their lifestyles gives them carte blanche to be douchy (and surprisingly intolerant) sacks of patchouli-scented shit.

Asian men who spent most of there lives in Asian countries and happen to be in Pittsburgh for grad school and also happen to frequent coffee shops on the eastern side of Pittsburgh

I know this is a very, very, very, very, very specific demographic. I also know that saying this is kinda, sorta racist. But, one of the few Black male privileges we have is that we get to be a little racist sometimes, and I’m going to use this privilege to talk about the space issues consistently exhibited by Asian men who spent most of there lives in Asian countries and happen to be in Pittsburgh for grad school and also happen to frequent coffee shops on the eastern side of Pittsburgh.

To be quite honest, I don’t even really mind when I’m sitting at a table and I get hit in the head with a backpack by one who’s walking far too close to my damn table. I don’t even mind it when he doesn’t say excuse me or even bother to look back. I do mind it, though, when I’m in the parking lot, walking back to my car, and I see that it’s been sandwiched and the only way I can get in my whip is to jump in through the driver’s side window like I’m of one the Dukes of f*cking Hazzard.

When this happens, how do I know who did it? Well, the cars are always four door f*cking Suzukis, and the only people who drive gotdamn f*cking four door Suzukis are Asian men who spent most of there lives in Asian countries and happen to be in Pittsburgh for grad school and also happen to frequent coffee shops on the eastern side of Pittsburgh.

Anyway, people of VSB. Did I forget anyone? Can you think of any other demographic — Black men from Seattle, club bouncers, chicks who went to HBCUs that start with the letter “H,” whatever — that consistently produces assholes?

—Damon Young (aka “The Champ”)

***Check out our Very Smart Single of the Week, “Double A”***

That Awkward Moment When “I Have Principles” Means “Dammit, No More Chick-fil-A”

If you’ve ever checked out my VSB bio, you’re likely aware of my fondness for soups. More specifically (quoting myself) “soups that happen to be especially creamy.” And, although this was written over four years ago, my adoration for soup remains just as intense. I love soup more than fat crackheads love Home Depot. Seriously, if I ever got married, instead of having the guests choose between steak and chicken or some shit, I’ll have a station with soups from all over the world. (I also plan to have an omelet bar, all you can eat pancakes, and a selection of bacons made from dozens of different animals, including alligator, tiger, and shark. You’re probably laughing now, but tell me that wouldn’t be the awesomest wedding reception you’ve ever attended)

Want proof of this love? Try this. A few weeks ago, the high temperature in the Burgh reached 99 degrees. You know what I had for lunch that day? A bowl of soup. Dinner? Two bowls of soup.

Yet, despite this love affair, my infatuation with soup caused (and is still causing) a serious crisis of conscience. You see, although the Pittsburgh-area contains many different diners and obscure restaurants where you can get a good bowl of soup, sometimes it’s not really worth the search, and sometimes you just don’t feel like going to the ATM because some Yinzer greasy spoon still only accepts cash. When this happens, there’s always Panera Bread — a chain where the soups (and the bread bowls they come in) are consistently good — and this is a problem.

Why? Well…

From “Lawsuit: Bias against ‘fat, black or ugly’ at Panera franchise”

A Panera Bread franchisee had a policy of keeping “fat, black or ugly” people off of the cash registers and out of management positions, according to a lawsuit filed in federal court today that seeks class action status.

The lawsuit by Guy M. Vines, 21, of Castle Shannon, claims that Panera franchisee Covelli Enterprises discouraged managers from hiring African Americans, and then relegated them to menial, back-of-the-shop roles.

It follows a lawsuit filed in November by a former Panera Bread manager who said he was fired under pretenses after he objected to such policies. Both Mr. Vines and the former manager are represented by attorney Sam Cordes.

This was a pretty big story in the Pittsburgh-area last winter. So big that the Black community (Yes. All five of us) staged an unofficial protest of Panera Bread that, to my knowledge, is still going on today. I haven’t stepped foot in one since January.

I also never had a Panera franchise open a block away from where I live…something that is going to happen next week. Drats! Since learning this, I’ve begun crafting elaborate excuses for why I should give this protest thing a “break.” (My favorite? “So what if they didn’t allow Black people to work the register. At least they weren’t slaves. And, stop being a hypocrite, man. Slaves picked cotton, but that didn’t stop your Black ass from wearing shirts.”)

Anyway, I’m bringing this all up because of how interesting it is to me to see the mental machinations we put ourselves through when our principles aren’t necessarily convenient.

And, I said “we” because I know I’m not alone. For instance, I’m sure if I took a poll today asking people to name their favorite fast food restaurant, Chick-fil-A — the same Chick-fil-A whose president recently stated that he was a strong opponent of same-sex marriage — would win in a landslide. I’m also sure there would be quite a bit of overlap if I made a Venn diagram of “people who have eaten at Chick-fil-A in the past month” and “people who have marched in support of gay marriage.”

Yesterday’s post dealt with a man who had his “come to Jesus” moment, and ran the other way. He (obviously) failed on a pretty large scale, but I don’t think that allowing ourselves to defer our principles for a moment or two of pleasure is really all that different.

I have no doubt that, sometime within the next couple of days months, I will be craving some creamy chicken soup, and this craving will cause me to “delay” my Panera protest for a day. I will enjoy this soup, and it’s likely that I’ll enjoy this soup so much that I’ll delay the protest another couple of days. Soon, that delay will just turn into “Eh…it was a good effort,” and I will not feel bad about this at all.

The moral of this story? The judgements made by men have myriad effects, none greater than…actually, you know what? F*ck a moral. Why the hell did it have to be Chick-fil-A? I mean, why couldn’t the president of Hardee’s or Lady Foot Locker or wack-ass motherf*ckin Chipotle have said this instead???

Anyway, people of, have you ever had a moment where you were forced to, um, “reconsider” your principles because they weren’t convenient? If so, what did you do?

Also, am I the only one willing to shank a kitten for a spicy chicken sandwich right now?

—Damon Young (aka “The Champ”)

***If you’re in the DC area this Thursday, make sure to come out to “Myth or Maybe” — a relationship-related discussion hosted by Panama and the homie Rahiel from Urban Cusp***