Joel Daniels is a father, poet, author, emcee, actor and so much more. He’s encouraging while also knowing that life isn’t always unicorns and rainbows. He’s real – grounded in a view of the world that is very much true to himself. He’s genuine. Get into our interview below where he talks fatherhood, why we can’t leave transgender women out of conversations about the state of women today, and who taught him all he knows. Keep up with him on Twitter and Instagram + buy his book.
Tell us a little bit about your background: Who are you and where are you headed?
Just a guy trying to find himself. I’m a father, a storyteller, an emcee, a poet, an actor. I am the son of Linda T. and Charles Lorenzo. And I hope I’m headed to the moon. My moms always says “shoot for the moon,” so I’d like to think that has always been my aspiration.
How did you get your start in writing, acting, emceeing? Who or what inspired you?
My father used to read the encyclopedia in the park and underline things, my mom would say. I didn’t know it then, but I did it too, as a child. I also used to read the dictionary. The Boys were a young New Edition-type group that had a song called “Crazy” that taught me melody. Jadakiss taught me how tone can shape a narrative. Jay Z taught me how to give space to lines to let ideas breathe; NaS taught me how to craft a verse. Toni Morrison taught me the art of prose. Acting, emceeing, writing, they are all just different mediums for me to tell stories. Performing spoke to me because it allowed me the room to play, to discover parts of myself that needed healing, or needed to be expressed in a way that wasn’t limited to a page. I had teachers and guides along the way who believed in my skillset as a performer and afforded me opportunities to be on stage – I trained, I studied, I watched.
I think we first connected because of your affirmations on Twitter. I later found out they are as much if not, more for you than anyone else. Tell us about why you believe in the power of words and where yours come from? What is your work across mediums “for?”
Words carry weight and so much power. The intention behind words matters just as much as the actual use of them, whether out loud or on a page. Thoughts, words, actions – they are all tethered, each one connected to the other. When used correctly, words have the ability to shift perception and power dynamics. As a writer, words are everything to me. My words come from a lot of listening to elders, from culling the lessons learned from my own trials and applying them to my own present experiences, from watching others fall and fail and gathering all these things together to find the things that bind us together, and expressing those things in ways that are palatable to others.
Father to Lilah, what world do you hope she lives in when you’re gone? What joys has fatherhood brought you? What challenges? What can society do to better support and uplift Black fathers?
I want Lilah to feel liberated. And I want her to feel like she had/has options. The ability to choose, the freedom to choose, is a really important feeling to carry with you. I want that for her. The world is cold and crazy but beautiful too, and it has been that way for a very long time and I imagine will continue to be so. So, for me, I need her to be able to move about in the world knowing that the world around her does not determine the kind of person she is. Being a parent to Lilah has been one of the greatest joys of my life. Finding the balance as a parent and not having that be the role I use as my sole identifier has been challenging. Honestly, black fathers need the same things I think anyone else needs – to be heard, to feel listened to; we want to be understood and loved. We want to be treated as equals, and to not be made to feel less than or dumb because of our differing vantage points as fathers, especially as a father to a newborn.
Black men and women are in some ways in a crisis. Crises of understanding and communication as a community, in addition to all the ways racism, sexism, and sexual orientation discrimination amongst so many other axes of oppression impact our everyday lives. Talk to us about how you see and understand the state of Black men today? What’s on your mind? What issues are most pressing to you? What triumphs are you seeing? Where do Black women fit in?
This is a hard one, and mainly because as of recent, the Black male experience seems to live in direct proxy to Black women, and I think the work that we as Black men need to do on ourselves and within ourselves is a completely separate conversation. The rampant misogyny and patriarchy all ties back to white supremacy, and a type of self-loathing and indignation that allows us to treat and talk to Black women in ways that do nothing to help support or better the community. So, when I see Black men go “not all b\Black men” I am immediately triggered because this is exactly what mansplaining looks like, what #AllLivesMatter feels like. Also, I think the conversation in and of itself serves no purpose if we are not centering it around Black transgender women and the lack of care we have for their lives in our community. Black women are the pillars of our community, and I think it’s less about fitting Black women in and us fitting into the roles they need us to fill for THEM. I will say, I am enjoying seeing mental health become a bigger part of the conversations we’re having.
Every day it seems like I see a tweet along the lines of “Support Black Women” “Believe Black women” “Pay Black women” or “Black women I hope you have a great day today,” and often from Black men. As great as the tweets are, I often worry that the other shoe is going to drop and/or the support/love/whatever for us is superficial. Why do Black women matter to you? What can our men be doing to uplift and encourage us in ways that aren’t just clickbait or temporary? What can Black women do to return the favor?
Black women feed the earth. They are our mothers, our sisters, our healers, and leaders. They have birthed nations and kingdoms alike. My daughter is an Afro-Latina, and for me, she represents strength, joy, love, light…all these things are inherently in her. I think the “clickbait” stuff still matters – if you’re saying it for reasons that are to feed your ego, I frankly don’t care as long as you’re not using to harm women. I think the sentiment out is “Black women are dope,” I’m glad. I care less about the messenger and more about the message. What can Black women do? Continue being Black. Black men just need to be more vocal when we see a) things that are uplifting our women and b) brothers not uplifting our women. Oh, and we need to shut up and listen.
What can we expect from you moving forward? How can we be of support?
Buy the book, read it, tell a friend to buy it, share it with a friend, go to your local bookstore and request they stock my book on their shelves. If you see me, send a smile or hug my way.
In the end, how do you want your story depicted? What legacy do you hope to leave behind?
I just want to be remembered as a wonderful father, who was one of the greatest writers of his generation. That’s it.
Just for kicks:
- J. Cole or Kendrick? Kendrick, hands down. Bar none. I love J. Cole, but I’m definitely checking for a Kung Fu Kenny first.
- Blog or Podcast? Podcast. I gotta copy edit and write my own shit and read a whole bunch of other things already lol. The audio experience speaks to me (pun intended.)
- Favorite book? Citizen by Claudia Rankine
- Advice to writers? Do what works best for you. Steal a little bit of something from everyone you love and then make it your own.