Black 30 and Under
Conversations with young Black Miamians about culture and identity.
Five days a week, Michael Turner dons a mask.
The mask he wears is not physical. Very few people outside of his inner circle can even tell when it’s on. No, the mask he wears is figurative. It’s a protective shield of sorts, one that allows the wearer to survive in a predominately white society.
“Being a Black male, you make certain people uncomfortable,” Turner said, leaning forward on a blue couch inside the lounge Karma Hollywood. The 28-year-old medical technologist added that he’s the only Black person at his job, which, in addition to being gay, makes him feel like he must put on a “show” in certain places. That’s not the case at Karma Hollywood, where Sundays have become somewhat of a safe haven for Black gay men.
“You go to work, you have to put on a show. And if I was to go to a straight club, I have to also put on a show there. You can’t necessarily act like yourself 100%. But this space, it gives you that freedom.”
Turner, however, is not alone in his usage of a mask. Millions of Black Americans, before and after him, have donned one to cope with working in white spaces. Places like Karma Hollywood, however, allow the mask to be cast aside.
“You don’t have too many spots where you can be openly Black and gay,” Turner said, adding that “you just feel safer around your own people.”
‘There’s something about that environment that pulls the humanity out of people’
As Black History Month winds to a close, the importance of Black spaces, both historically and in present day, has been discussed as a “critical part of survival in America.” The question then becomes what will these spaces look like in the future? Or, better yet, will these spaces even exist amid the threats of gentrification, climate change and the erasure of Black history?
“People are beginning to become more open-minded, so in the future, I don’t think people will have to wear those masks,” Turner said. Regardless, the need for Black spaces will persist because “it’ll still be nice to have a place where you’re understood.”
Nate Moreau, a community organizer with the Black Collective, agreed.
“Black spaces will still be important because we are workers in America,” Moreau, 27, said as he sat in Black Collective co-founder Valencia Gunder’s backyard with a shirt that reads “Black First” across his chest. “Racism and white supremacy has an economic basis for its existence but that’s not solely who we are as a people. Even within our struggles, even though we all may come from different places, there is a shared identity, a shared history, shared traditions that we’ve built collectively throughout generations on this land that will be important for us to honor and celebrate and push forward.”
If conditions for Black Americans regress, he added, “then we’ll absolutely still need Black spaces.”
Gunder’s home, more specifically her living room, has emerged as a safe space for Moreau. It serves as a de facto headquarters of the Black Collective, a nonprofit focused on uniting people of African descent toward common political and economic goals, where all types of Black people, regardless of heritage, class, sexual orientation or gender, “come and be.”
“You can come to Vee’s house, you can get yourself something to eat, you’re going to hear good conversation,” Moreau said. “There’s going to be good music and the vibes will always be welcoming.”
A similar exchange of ideas can be found at Fweago Cutz, a barbershop near North Miami frequented by Jefferson Noel. While conversations about Black liberation might be replaced by arguments about LeBron James vs. Michael Jordan, the tenets of both discussions — honesty, respect and education — are the same, said Noel, a public speaker and communications professor at Florida Memorial University.
“In the shop, anyone can speak, anyone can teach and everybody’s learning,” Noel, 28, added. “There’s something about that environment that pulls the humanity out of people.”
Between teaching at FMU and BarberShop Speaks, a series of live events that Noel created to promote open dialogue with professionals on a range of topics, the Miami native is responsible for not just molding the minds of the next generation but also preserving the cultural staple that is the barbershop. In both, Noel’s goal is to foster a future Black community that’s financially stable, educated and — arguably most important — thriving, something that the barbershop will undoubtedly play a role in.
“Black spaces can be the catalyst for encouragement and growth” both inside and outside the Black community, Noel said. To him, the barbershop is “sacred,” yet exposing non-African people to such an environment could help alleviate any lingering negative perceptions of the Black community. “It’s a positive force of our culture.”
‘We’re a couple generations removed from folks not even being able to experience this opportunity’
Similarly, David Pulliam believes exposure will be a critical part of the future for Black people. Pulliam himself is a living, breathing example: The 28-year-old Philadelphia native went from nearly dying on the football field to working in an Amazon warehouse to vice president within JP Morgan’s corporate investment bank. As he discusses his journey, Pulliam sits in the middle of the ocean on the stern of a Black-owned $1 million yacht courtesy of his friend’s business, Big Daddy Miami Yacht Charters.
“Just think: We’re a couple generations removed from folks not even being able to experience this opportunity,” said Pulliam, his voice barely audible over the din of the yacht’s engine.
That Pulliam even feels slightly comfortable, let alone most comfortable, on the water is a testament to progress. His ancestors were brought in chains across the very ocean where he now gets to relax. And while Black-owned, million-dollar yachts are not especially common, he hopes to change that through his work both inside the boardroom — where he pushes for investors to connect with Black entrepreneurs — but also in the community, where he mentors graduating student-athletes.
“Historically, we’ve been locked out of those early discussions and the folks that see the most outsized gains are the early adopters,” Pulliam said, emphasizing that fields like finance and technology could be how future generations of Black people can begin building wealth. “There is no future without ownership.”
If Pulliam’s presence in the world of finance and technology is an anomaly, so is Dominique Guirand’s in the healthcare field. At just 24 years old, Guirand already has her own business in Flourished Spa and Wellness Center, the only Black-owned doula service center in North Miami Beach.
“It’s my safe space, it’s other people’s safe space,’” Guirand said. Although Flourished was “built around Black women,” everyone is welcomed as she intends to be a leader in the field of maternal healthcare.
Already enrolled in midwifery school, Guirand will soon be able to assist in all parts of the birthing process. Her timing couldn’t be better: The maternal mortality rate for Black women is three times higher than that of their white counterparts. Guirand represents a much-needed presence for future generations of Black mothers.
“Black women are at the forefront of change,” Guirand said, adding that she hopes to inspire Black girls to pursue their passions. “I really just want younger girls to be better than me.”
This story was originally published February 22, 2023, 1:12 PM.