“Being a large black male means that, for whatever reasons, you’re often interpreted as more threatening than other people, regardless of the situation. Many times the negative assumptions manifest themselves in an automatic distrust (be it an unnecessary street cross or an uneasy purse clutch). I try not to let other people’s perceptions define every interaction, but it does get difficult when my mere presence and appearance is enough to distract from my own actions and conduct.

I wish people knew that I get just as uncomfortable as anyone else does. Any situation where I look like I have it all figured out, is probably just as confusing and awkward for me as it is for the next person. (laughs)

I think men of color are often hyper-objectified in whatever role they fill. Oh, you’re muscular? You’re “intimidating” and “imposing”. You’re attractive? You’re the sex symbol and here for eye-candy purposes. You wear glasses? You’re the “intelligent” black guy. I think reducing people’s worth down to their characteristics is an easy path to follow, but it often leaves the people in its wake feeling only half-understood.

I believe campaigns like #WeSmileToo are critical because they shine light on a side of men that rarely gets revealed or acknowledged, let alone praised or highlighted. For some reason our culture associates the positive and thoughtful emotions with femininity and tends to prefer viewing men, (and especially men of color) through a lens of aggression and closure. You barely see men of color in accepting, vulnerable positions. #WeSmileToo is eye-opening, important, and very real. It’s a great thing to see.

It forces people to actually look men in the eye and acknowledge the humanity behind what society may have labeled as dangerous or unaccessible. It challenges popular culture’s perceptions and kills them with kindness. We’re just people, and like all people, when given the chance to shine, our positivity and smiles can make an impact.

I would encourage everyone to have an open heart and to take advantage of all the diversity and varied perspective this world has to offer. I think many people limit their own lives by believing things they’ve never tested for themselves. It rings true with people just as much as it does with experiences—combat that blind comfort or that tendency to place value in stereotypes, and it’s almost always rewarding. Every person really does deserve to be met as an individual, without pre-judgment; it’s incredible what kind of understanding and harmony that can lead to.”