about us

Black Men Smile because we love ourselves. This platform is about radical expressions of self-love. It is about resistance. It is about learning from each other. It is about encouraging one another. It is about transcending. It is about defying gravity, as our ancestors have always done, and leaving a legacy so that generations after us may do the same. During these times when so many stories are being told about us, we will need those we tell about ourselves to be our real truth.
— Carlton Mackey

Black Men Smile® creator Carlton Mackey sits down with Emory University student Flora Fei in his office on campus. Fei chose Mackey for her film assignment about social activism.

Black Men Smile®: Celebrating the Way We See Ourselves

Carlton Mackey photo by JD Pitman

Carlton Mackey photo by JD Pitman

Carlton Mackey, Founder of Black Men Smile®

Carlton Mackey is an artist and scholar. He is the Director of the Ethics & the Arts Program and the Associate Director of the D. Abbott Turner Program in Ethics and Servant Leadership at the Emory University Center for Ethics. Mackey created the University’s Art and Social Engagement Project sponsored by Southwest Airlines. Mackey is also an adjunct professor of Film and Media Studies at the University. Mackey is a Teaching Artist at the High Museum of Art.

In addition to Black Men Smile® Mackey is the creator of BEAUTIFUL IN EVERY SHADE™, a grassroots empowerment campaign and apparel line for women of color and the author of 50 Shades of Black: Sexuality and Skin Tone in the Formation of Identity.

Mackey’s work blends his unique combination of social consciousness, creativity, scholarship, and social connection to create powerful inner impressions that invite new discovery and personal transformation.


Black Men Smile® was created one month after Michael Brown was murdered in Ferguson, Missouri.  After seeing 100s of images of Michael's body lying in the street and after a flurry of other painful and oppressive images of Black men in the weeks to follow, I did an experiment to explore what other images of Black men made up the landscape of social media.  I entered the HASHTAG #blackmensmile on Instagram.

It yielded ZERO results.

I posted the first image with this hashtag September 30, 2014.  I asked Black men to do the same.  Today there are over 50,000 images tagged with that hashtag on Instagram and over 30,000 people follow the Instagram page.

After some consideration of what I wanted to accomplish with this new platform, I set out to explore one seemingly basic question, WHAT MAKES YOU SMILE?  After posing that question to a test group of 20 Black men, 17 of them had the same initial response:

"No one has ever asked me that."

That response broke my heart and continues to serve as the fuel for this transformative work.

-Carlton Mackey
(Creator, Black Men Smile®)


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Black Men Smile® is teaming up with photographers across the country to show different perspectives of Black joy. Each does so in their own way.  Whether hosting an open photo shoot for young college men at the inception of Black Men Smile, launching an initiative to amplify the stories of Black resilience and healing, or documenting the everyday beauty of Black Men in the communities they call home, these photographers use their talents to “celebrate the way we see ourselves.” Black Men Smile ®️ is proud to support their work and partner with them on exciting new programs and initiatives including a traveling photo exhibit in 2020.