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Black Men of Distinction: A Living Legacy in the Heart of Our Community

by Khalilah Jones | Featured Image by Tristan Williams | Other Photos by Kristen Finn

Step into the world of excellence with the Men of Distinction series—an electrifying collaboration between Chic and Classy Image Consulting and The Bridge Progressive Arts Initiative. It all started with the bat signal illuminating the community, calling forth extraordinary men nominated by their peers as true Men of Distinction.

We didn’t stop there. We sat down with these exceptional individuals, asking them to define what being a man of distinction means to them. The result? A collection of stories that redefine the narrative, challenge norms, and showcase the essence of true distinction.

To bring this vision to life, we joined forces with phenomenal partners, including the lens magic of photographers Brian Dunn, Kristen Finn, and Tristan Williams. The style game was taken to new heights with designs from Fari Fashions by Victoria and SVN (777) brand by Shadee Gillliam. A special shoutout to Vinegar Hill Magazine for contributing two high-quality and elite pieces that added an extra layer of sophistication.

Creative direction, the secret sauce of this endeavor, was masterfully provided by Jay Simple, Executive Director of The Bridge Progressive Arts Initiative (a Man of Distinction himself) and myself, Khalilah Jones, Atmosphere Shifter and Owner of Chic and Classy Image Consulting. Together, this dream team crafted an experience that transcends the ordinary, celebrating the uniqueness of each featured man.

You can check in frequently throughout the month of February for individual features of each man of distinction on The Bridge Progressive Arts Initiative and Chic and Classy Image Consulting social media platforms. 

And now, let’s talk about the backdrop. The location for this photo shoot wasn’t just any space—it had to resonate with historical significance in the Black Charlottesville community. Enter the Jefferson African American Heritage Center, a place dripping with heritage. We’re eternally grateful for the opportunity to showcase this landmark, encouraging you to not only visit during Black History Month but throughout the year. This isn’t just a series; it’s a journey into the heart of distinction. Are you ready? Let’s jump in!

In a world where the echoes of Black voices are too often drowned out, it becomes paramount to amplify the stories of those who stand tall against adversity. As we approach Black History Month, it is not only an opportunity but a responsibility to shine a light on the unsung heroes among us—Black Men of Distinction, who tirelessly contribute to their communities, families, and the broader tapestry of our shared humanity.

These men are not mere figures; they are living legends, sculpting history with their resilience, wisdom, and unyielding commitment to a brighter future. Their stories are etched with the determination to transcend societal constraints, to rise above the limitations that history has unjustly imposed upon them.

James Littlez Dowell | Photo by Kristen Finn

Q: Without using the word, how would you define distinction?

Littlez: To be different and stand out.

Q: Why do you think you were nominated? What do you think others see in you? 

Littlez: I am a light, my positive approach in life is contagious.

Q: How do you see yourself being defined(distinguished) in the future? How do you want to grow)?

Littlez: I live in the present because the future isn’t promised. I am defining my significance one day at a time.

Q: Who was someone of distinction that helped you become the person you are? What did they teach you?

Littlez: My Father taught me everything I know, and he taught me to be myself.

I have had the privilege of witnessing a diverse group of Black Men of Distinction in our community, each carving a unique path towards progress. These individuals are not defined solely by their successes but by their unwavering dedication to uplift those around them. They are fathers, brothers, mentors, and pillars of strength, fostering a legacy that extends far beyond themselves.

As we celebrate these men, it’s crucial to recognize the broader challenges they face. From the disproportionate impact of police brutality to the systemic injustice of being paid less for their labor, the resilience of Black Men of Distinction is a testament to their enduring spirit in the face of adversity. They navigate a world that often seems to disregard their invaluable contributions, yet they persist, inspiring us all.

Recognizing Black Men of Distinction is important to me, because I was raised by one, I married one who came along as a two-fer with my father-in-love (a man of distinction by anyone’s standards), and most importantly, I am raising a brilliant Black boy who will become a Black man of distinction.

These words echo the sentiment of countless Black women who witness the strength and brilliance of the men in their lives. The celebration of Black Men of Distinction is not just a commendation; it is a call to action. It is a call to acknowledge their triumphs, to amplify their voices, and to dismantle the structures that perpetuate inequality.

As far back as I can remember I’ve always been intrigued on how things operated. As a child I would disassemble and break toys just to see if I could get them working again. Little did I know I was laying down the foundation that would lead to future endeavors. By the age 12 I was repairing and installing car stereos in my older cousins cars. As a child, I had everything a child could want; however, I really enjoyed working, therefore at the age of 14 I got a workers permit.

 

Not knowing I was preparing myself at an early age to provide for my family because at the age of 15 both of my parents were laid off due to job relocation. They both worked for two movie stars that had moved to the area years prior. During that time life was great, however when they decided to relocate they asked my parents if they wanted to do the same, but my parents roots were in Esmont so they declined the offer. From that point on I watched life spiral downwards because my parents’ employers moved. As a result of that, I made the decision that my success will not be dictated based on others, but only myself and God. That’s when I knew I wanted to own my own business one day. As a sophomore at Albemarle High school, myself and a group of friends decided to take classes at CATEC as a way to get out of school early and that’s when my brother in law told me something that would forever change my life. He said “If you’re going to take classes there, take a class on something you can use like Electrical or HVAC. Don’t waste your time going over there just to get outta class and cut up young buck”. This started the journey in the pursuit of happiness.

 

Now I’d be lying if I said this journey has been full of blissful moments, trust me this has been a wild ride. From starting out as a teen parent, at the age of 16 to an amazing baby girl, that truly changed my life for the better; to losing my first born son in my arms when he was only 3 months and 26 days old at the age of 19 also being young thinking I knew it all and let’s just say some of the decisions that I made weren’t always the correct ones. Through it all I still managed to stay humble and focused on what I wanted out of life. I had a family to take care of. Later on, after the death of my 1st son, God blessed me with two more.

 

On the professional side of life I chose to diversify myself, while still doing something I enjoyed and came naturally, which was electronics. I worked for UVA in the Fire Protection unit, where I learned important skills and understanding of the fire system in most commercial buildings. Still having that passion to push myself further I was offered a position at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO). In this position I had the opportunity to go to Chile, meet and work with a lot of great people on this international project called ALMA; which was a documentary film, was the outcome of this project. I Worked with cryogenics, building and testing key components for the project. Being featured in the Journal Of Terahertz along with seven other colleges for the invention of the Phase and Drift test and measurement system. In 2017, I was featured in the Black EOE Journal because of the impact I’ve made at NRAO. While this was very exciting, and rewarding, I still felt like something was missing.

 

In May of 2017, I applied for an entrepreneurship course, here in Charlottesville,with Community Investment Collaborative, CIC, to learn how to structure and start a business. In December of 2017, I started an official LLC Electrical company, WIre’EM Up Electrical Services LLC. In November of 2019, I departed from the observatory and started operating my company full time. As a result of that I started working with CATEC and others in the community to help teach the youth the trade and show them how to become a business owner as well.

 

I share my story in hopes it motivates someone else. It doesn’t matter what life throws at you, as long as you stay humble, focused and most of all true to yourself, anything is achievable.

Black History Month is not just a commemoration of the past; it is an acknowledgment of the living history being shaped every day by these remarkable individuals. To give them their flowers while they are alive is not just a gesture; it is a recognition of the power they hold to inspire change and redefine what it means to be Black in this world.

Let us use this month to shine a spotlight on the Black Men of Distinction in our midst. Their stories are not just part of history; they are the architects of a future where Black excellence is not only celebrated but expected. As we honor them, let us remember that their legacy is a living testament to the strength, resilience, and brilliance that define Black history in the making.

 

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Vinegar Hill Magazine is a space that is designed to support and project a more inclusive social narrative, to promote entrepreneurship, and to be a beacon for art, culture, and politics in Central Virginia.

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