Progressive Black Men Inc. is a new group at Florida International University’s main campus. It recently hosted an event that took aim at stereotypes about black men’s masculinity by having people put makeup on PBM members.
“Slay a Bruh” is how the group wants to upend traditional cultural masculine norms that can be harmful to men, women and society. PBM wants to show that masculinity is stereotyped and aims to raise awareness of the harm that toxic masculinity brings to the world.
Santana Melvin II, one of the founding members, said that having a feminine side is okay. “[We are] not afraid of showing that we have a feminine side,” Melvin said. “People … accept it.”
The chapter was founded on April 20. Since being chartered, the FIU brothers of Progressive Black Men Inc. have contributed to the cleaning of Lincoln Memorial Park (among the first black cemeteries in the area), assisted students and staff in educational settings and participated in various service events. According to the PBM president, Jefferson Zulmar, the biggest challenge the group faces is making sure it is recognized by the student body.
“Our biggest challenge that we faced was presenting ourselves to the student body, especially since this is our first semester on campus,” Zulmar said.
The inspiration for the event came from the controversial Netflix series, “When They See Us,” specifically from a scene that includes actors Isis King and Niecy Nash.
The series describes the lives of the men formerly known as the Central Park Five. In 1989, a woman jogging through the Manhattan park was brutally beaten, raped and left to die. Five boys, Raymond Santana, Korey Wise, Kevin Richardson, Yusef Salaam and Antron McCray were wrongly convicted of that crime as teenagers.
At one point in the film, King, who plays Korey’s sister, and Nash, who plays Korey’s mother, are dealing with the fact that Korey has transitioned into a woman.
“When we were watching ‘When They See Us’ in a class, we came across the argument scene with Marci and the mother, [who was] so against it,” said Melvin. “She hated it so much and we were just like, ‘Why?’ She wants to put on makeup, that’s her life.”
Another PBM member, Chris Michael Pierre-Louis, felt the disconnect between mother and son.
“Korey’s mother refused to accept the lifestyle [he] chose, which cost the relationship, it’s foundation between mother and son — as opposed to understanding or accepting the lifestyle, the mother disclaimed the son,” said Pierre-Louis. “Forcing him to walk away from the relationship.”
Other stereotypes that the group is working against include laziness, anger and the need to be overly strong. According to Bryant Keith Alexander’s article “Performing Black Masculinity: Race, Culture and Queer Identity”, historically, black men are assumed to be violent and aggressive, posing problems to society.
“So to insert their masculinity as an acceptable part of society, they must take up a role that contrasts the image of the Brute or Nat,” said Alexander. “The Brute is defined as an angry, physically strong, animalistic, black man who is prone to sexual violence.”
PBM has locations in communities around Florida that aim to eradicate negative stereotypes of African American males. PBM is a non-profit that conducts various service events from cleaning the streets to feeding the homeless. They sometimes also do service events in other states.
Dante Green, the national president of the organization, said the group wants to deliver its message to other regions of the country. “We always strive to put our best foot forward when it’s time to uphold our mission,” he said. “There is much more progress to be made.”
The audience at the event felt that this was a great way to fight against toxic masculinity.
“Guys think they have to be so manly and [not] share how they feel [or] show how they feel,” said Tali Darmon. ”You can be a man and still have your makeup done for fun. It’s not that deep.’
PBM makeup models also talked about the experience afterward. “It was different,” said PBM member Jameson Exavier. “I never had anyone put makeup on me before.”
“I felt different,” said Pierre-Louis.” I kind of understand what females go through to put on makeup to enhance their beauty.” For more information on FIU PBM, visit the organization’s website.
Corrections: Because of reporting errors, the description of Slay a Bruh has been updated. Also, the name of the group is Progressive Black Men Inc., not Progressive Black Men.