In November 1971, James Baldwin sat down with Nikki Giovanni to discuss language, love and empowerment. The hour+ segment touched on everything from intergenerational relationships and understanding to black love, art and the zeitgeist as a whole. And while many of the topics are as relevant today as they were then, the conversation itself, portrays as much as it informs. The times where Giovanni must interrupt or correct Baldwins assertions. The look on his face when he realizes she was right. The somber in their tone, the pregnant pauses and hints of fear. The glimmer of familiarity in their eyes surrounded by the overall sense that each had step into a safe space and for those few moments could feel free enough to be complicated and shallow. PBS rightfully titled the segment, A Conversation, and today we’re happy to announce that the conversation isn’t over.
A CONVERSATION CONTINUED
Jefferson Ellison and Crystal Sherriff have been the best of friends for over a decade. Initially bonding over their love of black fiction novels and early 90s R&B, the duo spent the better part of puberty discovering what it meant to be young, gifted and black… in the South. From marching band and debate team to the occasional kegger, both Jefferson and Crystal found themselves in predominantly white spaces feeling tokenized and acting as the pea-sized entry point into blackness. The pair found themselves often on display, constantly having to explain culture or correct misconceptions. The pressure to act as the mouthpiece for an entire people and the experience of having others “explain” you to yourself created a pipeline to self-realization, allowing the two to act as both a sounding board and a mirror, reflecting without pretense. Apart from their shared childhood love of Mara Brock Akil’s Girlfriends, the two have had a very separate upbringing, which inspired Ellison, (Jawbreaking’s CEO and Principal) to base their podcast off of the Baldwin-Giovanni conversation. “Crystal and I aren’t friends, we’re life partners. As cliche as it sounds, we complete each other. She grounds me and I encourage her to fly. The conversation between James Baldwin and Nikki Giovanni really hit home for me because it felt so familiar. Two people who aren’t related and who come from separate life paths and journeys, bonding over their shared experiences, curious about their differences and passionate about the advocation of the other. I also thought it was a really great example of how growth doesn’t come from monotony but from difference.“ While the two may not have grown up in separates generations, they do come from different worlds. Sherriff who is originally from Brooklyn, lost her father when she was 14 and her parents divorced when she was 3. Ellison’s parents on the other hand have been together for almost 40 years. Crystal is the youngest of 3 sisters, Jefferson has just one older brother. And while they are both products of North Carolina’s public school – all the way through college – Jefferson had a much more charmed upbringing than Crystal. “I like to think of my upbringing just as callous as it was loving “ Crystal mentions reflecting on her past. “From an unconditional stance....It was the type of love that always required the benefit of the doubt, even in the most questionable of times. It also painted an extremely clear picture of society. What is expected from those that come from stable, two parent households, with the 3 bedroom house and a dog and how that differs from expectations of a low income, single parent offspring.”
Differences aside, they both agreed that the new media landscape was missing a very specific but important conversation – nuclear and black. “Black people exist in media and there are conversations about the black experience and the black perspective in media but they aren’t exclusively black.” Ellison states. “Crystal and I are both young, black, educated and unapologetic in our perspectives”. “Even in having those four labels” Sherriff adds “it instantly seems as as though we have a monolithic perspective, which is far from the truth. Jefferson and I are very different in our views on almost everything. Even if we agree on the final destination, that doesn’t necessarily mean we’ll agree on how to get there.” Furthermore, Jefferson argues that there isn’t enough intersection between the different aspects of life. “The podcast world is mostly segregated by category. Pop culture, politics, comedy etc. But our goal is to have one show that mixes a bit of everything. We discuss Beyonce and black twitter with just as much passion as we do the feminist movement and the 2020 races. Also unlike most shows, we never disagree on facts. Anytime we discuss something - privately or on the show - we BOTH have to accept the premise. And this is something that developed naturally over too many wine-fueled late nights and unresolved conflicts. If we can’t agree on the starting point, how can we even attempt the run the race together.”
So what do the dynamic duo see for the future of the podcast? A little of bit of everything. “Personally, I’m just tired of hearing other people speak for us. I want our podcast to explore how our generation is moving throughout the world, encourage conversation, push for accountability and portray love. Because that’s who we are. “ Ellison coo’s and he looks to his life partner. And for his better half? “I see a rewiring of what is known to be [fact], especially when it comes to the state of women, black women, and black millennials in general.”
A Conversation Continued will launch Wednesday, March 6th, 2019.