Questioning categories and deconstructing dogma

‘Brilliantly Black’ group pursues enlightenment with conversation

Siaka+Massaquoi%2C+an+actor+who+has+had+roles+in+shows+such+as+%22Lethal+Weapon%22+%282016%29%2C+attends+a+Brilliantly+Black+event.+

Kilmer Salinas

Siaka Massaquoi, an actor who has had roles in shows such as "Lethal Weapon" (2016), attends a Brilliantly Black event.

Kilmer Salinas, Community News Reporter

What does it mean to be Black? Who controls the narrative of one’s life, or your people’s lives? Is faith a given?

These are some of the deep questions that surfaced at a recent gathering of “Brilliantly Black,” a program of Agora Temple in Los Angeles that aims to create a space for Black people to empower themselves, gain confidence, and engage in conversations as a community on topics that affect them such as mental health and social justice.

Siaka Massaquoi, an actor attending the event, said gatherings like that help him explore the idea of narrative and who is shaping that narrative, why and how can that narrative evolve.

Massaquoi, who had roles in the show, “Lethal Weapon” (2016), and independent film, “When Kids Grow Up (2016), said the narrative he learned about being a Black man in the United States is powerful: “I know it trapped me a lot, in a lot of different…mindsets and belief systems that…I thought I had to follow based on just my skin color.”

Massaquoi also spoke about the importance of critically examining life, even concepts such as religion that may seem unquestionable for those who grew up with it.

“I remember in fifth grade. I was sitting on the porch with me and my friends, right? And I’m thinking to myself and go, ‘Hey, you guys believe in Jesus?’”

Conversations related to religion and questioning society’s mores will always come with strong reactions and backlash, with some saying you must have faith, you must believe “because you got to.”

“I was like, ‘That just messes with me.’ Like, why are people saying ‘just cause’ to things that are fundamental to the belief system of how they move through the world?” Massaquoi said.

A planned event by “Brilliantly Black” called a “HIp-Hop Community Cypher” was canceled because the invited artists couldn’t perform but the conversations at the event proved to some attending that there is a need for such communal reflection.

The event invite mentioned Black History Month, but organizers said that celebrating Black empowerment and culture can’t be accomplished in one month; Feeling and expressing Black positivity is a daily lifestyle.

“With us, it is like being brilliant and black every single day,” said Saleem Kirkland, the founder of “Brilliantly Black.” He added that Black History Month is another month but building a community is a daily process done over the months and years.

Brilliantly Black and its home, the Agora Temple, say they aim to promote wellness.  “Spiritual cannabis” is offered as part of that, according to Agora, a non-profit religious organization.

The temple’s website says, “Our members believe in a hands-on, inward approach to healing through the utilization of several varying mindfulness practices including prayer, meditation, reiki, sound healing, yoga, discussion, community engagement, spiritual consultation and other alternatives to traditional medicine.”

Massaquoi and Kirkland said community conversations have the power to improve lives and can lead people to not just find themselves, but also find what they feel is the meaning and purpose of life.

Community News reporters are enrolled in JOUR 3910 – University Times. They produce stories about under-covered neighborhoods and small cities on the Eastside and South Los Angeles. Please email feedback, corrections and story tips to UTCommunityNews@gmail.com.