Beautiful in Every Shade

Carlton Mackey 05T leads a global discussion on the many facets of beauty and family - and how we define them.

By Michelle Valigursky

What is identity? Does it have a color, or is it color blind? For Carlton Mackey 05T, founder of BEAUTIFUL IN EVERY SHADE,™ “We believe in the beauty found in every human being. Our goal is to showcase, celebrate, and affirm the depth and breadth of that beauty,” Mackey shares.

Mackey is a visionary who is also the assistant director of the D. Abbott Turner Program in Ethics and Servant Leadership and the director of the Ethics & the Arts Program for the Emory University Center for Ethics. He has also been named an adjunct professor for the Department of African American Studies.

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“We believe that none of us are beautiful until we realize that all of us are,” Mackey explains. By connecting world-class photographers with community members, BEAUTIFUL IN EVERY SHADE “is a grassroots empowerment campaign and a signature clothing brand that grew out of his initial idea for an open photo shoot to capture the variations of beauty,” Mackey explains. At last month’s Decatur Book Festival, during the largest open photo shoot to date images of more than 250 people were captured and compiled into a beautiful mosaic poster.

So why does Mackey continue to arrange open photo shoots and workshops? “We seek to offer everyday people from around the world a chance to see themselves and others in a way that many never have before,” he says.  

BEAUTIFUL Goes Beyond 50 Shades of Black to Typical American Families

Mackey is a loving father and husband, and it's because of this that the project 50 Shades of Black began. "My wife and I are raising a son. I watch him engage in the world with little fear and with bold curiosity. He trusts me. He believes the things that I tell him and assumes that I know the answers to every question that he asks. But sometimes I won't have all the answers," he explains. "Maybe him having 50 Shades of Black along with the wisdom and nurturing of his grandparents, healthy expressions of love and positive examples set by his parents, a group of friends who look like him and many who don't, and the presence, protection, and power of the village, he will grow up fortified with the knowledge of and pride in his multiple heritages, a healthy understanding of the complexities of identity in general, and the eyes to not only recognize but to celebrate the distinct, unique identities of others."

What began as a social experiment to document the variations in skin tone – and the perceptions that go along with it – has grown into an international movement with outreach in Europe and South America. “We realized that the message for exploring a spectrum of identity and celebrating it was so much bigger than 50 Shades of Black,” Mackey says.

Last summer, Mackey published the 120 page book 50 Shades of Black Vol.1, "the first volume of a three volume series of coffee table books comprised of contributions from people all over the world in the form of scholarly essays, personal narratives, poems, photographs, paintings, and other artistic contributions.”

Now, Mackey is attaining funding to move this vision forward under the umbrella of BEAUTIFUL IN EVERY SHADE. “Another project I created was running separately,” he says. This project, called Typical American Families, is “about demystifying and removing both the 'exoticism' and assumptions that are associated with being a (quote/unquote) 'non-traditional' American family.”

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Recognition is already on the rise. The Typical American Family recently was named the winner of the One Region Atlanta Ideas Challenge and was awarded a $2500 grant to implement the first phase of its idea to bridge faith and culture in partnership with Ross Oscar Knight Photography. 

“The format is quite simple, really. We ask what is typical, what is American, and what is family then explore many manifestations of the topic,” Mackey explains. “The most important question is, who gets to decide?"

BEAUTIFUL IN EVERY SHADE also partnered with Emory University's Gamma Nu Chapter of Lambda Theta Alpha Latin Sorority, Inc. to present the first annual "50 Shades of Latino/50 Tonos de Latino".  The event served as the 8th official Open Photo Shoot of BEAUTIFUL IN EVERY SHADE™.

In a conversation moderated by Carlton Mackey and Natalie Delia, the gathering also included a discussion about the implications of skin color on Latino identity as well as the spectrum of ways Latino and Hispanic are defined.

Mackey challenges convention and encourages freer thinking. “Work from where I sit is always about expanding normative ideas and extending beauty to be perceived in broader ways than we normally do.”

Related Material:

Carlton Mackey will deliver an interactive workshop at Back to Class: San Francisco on November 15. Register to participate today.

The BEAUTIFUL IN EVERY SHADE discussion continues with Style Confidential at Afro Punk Fest in Brooklyn. Watch the video here.

Read this remarkable account of black identity and multi-generational historical connection by Danielle B. Douez 13C.

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Michelle Valigursky