PSA: Panama Jackson joins theGrio as a columnist
In his season of change, the co-creator of Very Smart Brothas explains why he made theGrio his new writing home
June 3, 2004—my 25th birthday—was the date of the first blog post I ever wrote. I uploaded it to my old Blogspot page, one created for me by the homie Liz Burr (who would then go on to help me set up every subsequent website I came up with) and oddly titled it, “Some Say the End is the Beginning…”
Two things of note: 1) I’ve always had a thing for ellipses—they say so much without saying anything, and 2) I have no idea why I decided to title that first-ever blog post of any sort with some sort of reference to the end of anything.
The reference, though, was a remix of the final track on Outkast’s ATLiens album, “Growing Old,” where Dungeon Family poet laureate Big Rube said, “The Devil say the end is the beginning…” I assume that I was invoking some sort of fake depth. It was the mid-2000s, and I was 25 and, well, I was in love with Outkast (still am) and fake-deep back then. All my pants were wide-legged and cargo, my Timberlands were all-wheat, and I wore lots of neutral colors when I wasn’t wearing a throwback jersey of some person who may or may not have existed. But here’s the thing: that title actually became fairly prescient; I introduced myself, Panama Jackson, to the burgeoning blog world, which then set off a series of events that I’m still amazed at 17 years later. There’s no need to rehash it all; that’s been done, and, frankly, I’ve never been one to rest too comfortably in what’s been achieved.
But what I will say is that the life I’ve led since 2004 has been nothing short of charmed. And the opportunities to blog, and especially the creation of Very Smart Brothas (2008-2021, RIP), have been the stuff creatives all dream of. I am a creative-for-a-living off the strength of some verbs, nouns, hot takes and Blackness. If I die, die, if I die, remember me ballin’. Oh yeah, and a litany of song lyrics and esoteric hip-hop references for me and you, your mama and your cousin, too. Translation: I’m the shit, at least that’s what my checks say. (They don’t really say that at least not directly—kind of indirectly in a “diamonds in the back, sunroof top, diggin’ the scene with the gangsta lean,” kind of way. That was four straight song references, by the way. Be thankful for what you’ve got.)
Like all amazing journeys, there are fits and starts and endings and beginnings (aha! It does work), and when I more or less ended Very Smart Brothas, it was with the understanding that my next move would be a reinvention of sorts. It would be the first time in over 10 years striking out on my own without the brand I helped create running point.
But seasons change, mad things rearrange, but it all stays the same like the love Doctor Strange, which brings me to this new chapter of my professional writing life. When I decided that I needed a new home, I wanted to go to a place where I could be myself, where I could write for us and where everybody present might not agree but is willing to entertain the notion that Ray J is actually the most interesting man in the world, chiefly because I need to be in spaces where Ray J is part of our pop culture, our mainstream. In the world I occupy, when I hear somebody say Lena, I think Waithe.
I need to be writing in a space where telling our stories is the expectation, not the goal and with people who get that because they believe that as well. I don’t know this to be fact yet, but I also am like 100 percent certain it will be confirmed: I wanted to be writing and working in an environment where there is guaranteed to be somebody from Detroit and folks from HBCUs. I know the HBCU thing is true so far. I’ll get that Detroit roll call out the way soon.
I’m here at theGrio now, and just like Prince Akeem when he arrived in New York City in Coming to America, “I’m very happy to be here.” I am excited to come through and make it do what it does while doing it like I do it for TV. I intend to give it all it is supposed to give with a bunch of folks who do the same. I intend to continue telling our stories and talking that talk, which has given me so many opportunities so far. And as long as there is breath in my body, I will continue to champion the cause of “Return of the Mack” as the greatest song ever songed.
So thank you for sleepwalking with me for the past umpteen years. And I hope you continue to do so here at my new digs at theGrio. We’re gonna have a good time, and to theGrio, I want to thank you for letting me be myself. And for everybody who is coming along for the journey, we gon’ keep it excessively Black.
Salut and sadatay.
Panama Jackson is a columnist at TheGrio. He writes very Black things and drinks very brown liquors. He is pretty fly for a light guy.
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