Three Black Men: A Journey into the Magical Otherwise


Victoria Santos, Director, Center for Healing and Liberation

May 28, 2023

This moment is calling us to look past "cruel optimisms"—it is calling us to fly.
—Bayo Akomolafe

I’ve been moving in circles of healing, racial justice, and cultural exploration for many years. And in 2022, I found myself reflecting on three particular Black men who I had connected with through these circles.

Each of them—Orland Bishop, Bayo Akomolafe and Resmaa Menakem—works in a unique way. Each possesses a visionary boldness and gives generously from his spirit.

I know my own deep fatigue as a Black changemaker living in this time of polycrisis and surging white supremacy. So many of us are navigating individual and collective trauma. I sensed that these three creative men might appreciate the opportunity to connect, compare notes, and offer mutual support in these exhausting and challenging times.

I imagined that I would facilitate their connection, then step back and leave them to it. But when we met as a group and the conversation unfolded, the potential for something much larger soon emerged.

An idea was born—to initiate a project that would join the courageous explorations of these visionary Black leaders for the first time.

These men saw the possibility of uniting to investigate the urgent questions that so many of us are asking. How will we meet the crises of our times? As we reckon with the legacies of historical harms, the normative murder of Black and Brown bodies, climate change, and surging global inequities, how might we respond in ways we have not yet imagined?

To dream our futures into being, we need emancipatory spaces of healing, exploration and discovery. We need transformative way stations that sit outside of familiar oppressions.

The project took form under the name Three Black Men: A Journey into the Magical Otherwise, and is being held by The Center for Healing and Liberation and a team of partner organizations listed below.

In this project in 2023, Resmaa, Bayo, and Orland will share space as they trace a diasporic route in reverse, engaging on the home continents of each man.

Traveling to three cities in the United States, Brazil and Ghana, the men will spend days in shared contemplation and dialogue, then convene a series of public gatherings, exploring liberation in our world and activating the vibrational tuning that is part of becoming fugitives in the Anthropocene.

Each man will be able to unfold his vision with two brothers by his side. We see huge amplifying power in joining these three unique leaders who hold each other with deep mutual appreciation and respect. This project is a platform for radical inquiry grounded in a daring and unconfined vision of our existence.

We start with the number three. Èṣù, whose number is three, is the Yoruba trickster òrìṣà who opens and closes paths. This path-opening project is shaped around three intersecting triangles: three Black men, on three continents, exploring the three times of past, present, and future.

Orland reflects, “The symbolic number three holds a configuration of not opposing sides or viewpoints, but a kind of synthesis. It is now time for synthesis…. Cosmological space starts with three, in the context that it’s always past, present and future. With the ideas that we are dynamically engaging with, we have to ask 'What is our future?'…it’s actually a real celebration to hold the space, because it is given from the future. This is given from the future. I know that for sure.”

The struggle for radical transformation is a soul-struggle, one in which we must feel into our leading edges of growth as we celebrate, grieve, and renew. Bayo invites us to “risk new shapes.”

Through a blend of public community gatherings as well as livestreams, recorded video, the development of learning curriculum for post-event study and practice, and the creation of a documentary film, the transformative impact of this project will ripple out.

“We are at a turning point,” Orland tells us, “towards another reality.”

Along with the reflections and teachings of these three leaders, the joyful Black-centering gatherings will provide a vibrantly festive experience. The events will be a traveling village that incorporates and celebrates Black art, music, dance and food, engaging participants’ whole selves.

These three visionary Black men, sharing the leading edges of their work, listening deeply to each other, are inviting us into a radical re/imagination of how we respond to our time. They will sense into emergent possibilities that speak to what we need now, triangulating toward a synthesis of new forms, new magic, and new directions.

In Orland’s view, this is a portal, a kind of initiation, and a potent invitation extended to us all.

The first gatherings will take place in late June.

Learn more about the project here:

(Photo L to R): Resmaa, artist Nijel Binns, Victoria, Bayo, Orland.  Credit: Ana Elizabeth.

Art credit: All art created by Jon Marro for the Three Black Men project.

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