The Voice(s) of Reason: Very Smart Brothas
Many women attribute their successful relationships to the advice that their platonic male friends offer during tough times. The truth of the matter is women give women bad advice—roughly 80% of the time. It is impossible for a woman to understand the mind of a man. And equally impossible for a man to explain the way his mind works to a woman. We’re not wired the same. We don’t feel the same. And we definitely don’t love the same. So it goes without saying that every woman needs at least one man who can help her understand why she’ll never quite get it simply because she’s rocking a bun and not a…*ahem* hot dog. Well VerySmartBrothas.com is that friend for every woman over the age of “old enough to have experiences with men that leave you confused, pissed and exhausted” and that voice of every man over the age of “umm uhh why is she mad again? Where is Steve Harvey when I need him?” On first introduction to the witty and brutally honest ramblings of Panama Jackson and The Champ of VSB, the weak of heart may be turned away—they often hit where it hurts. But upon closer inspection one may find that the forum that they create for both men and women to better communicate with one another is genius.
The men behind the genius have remained remarkably incognito to most, unless perhaps you’ve caught them on a panel or two, but The Champ, real name Damon Young, and Panama Jackson, who wishes to be known as Panama, are about to embark on a new journey as they gear up to release their first book, “Your Degrees Won’t Keep You Warm at Night: The Very Smart Brothas Guide to Dating, Mating, and Fighting Crime”. And of course, as the masks come off many people want to know how two strangers came together to form what is becoming an Internet phenomenon of sorts. “Panama and I ended up meeting in 2004, he had his own personal blog that had become popular too”, explains Young, “we eventually came up with the idea to create a site together that was relationship and dating centric because whenever we wrote about those topics individually they seemed to generate the most interest”. Interest is an understatement. Now with over 700 posts published to the site and too many comments, discussions and fans to keep track of, the Very Smart Brothas have capitalized on the one thing we all have the ability to do: communicate. As far as the success of the site, Panama attributes it to nothing more than timing. “We filled a void when we got started of black men talking about relationships in a humorous manner”, Jackson explains, “most relationship sites are written by women, for women. We kinda came in and took a different perspective—and then made it funny”.
For Damon Young (known on the site as The Champ), the popularity is secondary to the freedom he has to simply voice his opinions with people who have come to care about what he has to say. “There’s value in hearing what average guys have to say. I don’t have a PhD, neither does Panama but at the same time we have enough experiences. We know enough people and we’re level headed enough to give honest answers—we don’t have an agenda. If people didn’t feel like we had anything to say, people wouldn’t listen”, says Champ. Even in the sincerity of his point it would be blasphemy to pretend that VerySmartBrothas.com isn’t absolutely hilarious. They have mastered the art of delivering the most straightforward topics with just enough humor to take the sting off of them. Sometimes heavily ridiculed for his “balls to the wall” approach, Panama feels that the humor is what mostly keeps people coming back. “We’re able to relate to people because we don’t take it SO seriously, we don’t approach it like we’re trying to tell people how to be in relationships or what they can do better. We realize we’re not perfect—we’re just good at observing”. The observations are keen by both Brothas on the site but the reaction to their some time open stream of conscious posts is what makes the discussions priceless. Having covered so many topics in so many different ways one would think it would be impossible to point out one in particular that really gets the blood boiling over at VSB, right? Wrong. They both insist that the subject of why women are single is one that gets everyone talking. “That’s the one that people tend to take personally”, says Champ, “whenever you put ‘why’, ‘women’ and ‘single’ in the same sentence, all hell breaks loose”. And Panama agrees, women don’t always take kindly to being told why they’re spending nights alone.
But women and relationships are not the only victims of the brutal honesty that takes place daily on VerySmartBrothas.com. They often go into candid dissertations on world and pop culture topics. In their charmingly pretentious tone, the Brothas dissect everything from political debates to primetime TV shows. Just recently a post by The Champ citing a remake of Love Jones by the ever polarizing Tyler Perry sent the internet into a frenzy, proving the power the Brothas have gained over the years and standing as a testament to just how far their reach has expanded. The post was plastered all over the most popular blogs and discussion boards, taken as truth and debated amongst the Black community strongly. The media fire spread so quickly that Champ himself had to take to Twitter to dispel the rumor and follow up with a post to their site to further fan the flames. The ability to arouse their readership is something that Champ and Panama have mastered. It only takes one post and the comments section is full of women and men sharing their experiences, debating their truths and sometimes openly criticizing the very idea that these two men could possibly know anything about what they’ve introduced as a topic. But the Brothas insist that that stands as the ultimate reason why they do what they do. “I don’t have any grand hopes for VSB, I do it because it starts arguments”, Panama explains, “we can have all the debates that people want to have and we can have them in an online forum. I just enjoy the debate of it all. Put an opinion out there and let’s have the conversations that we’re already having amongst ourselves on the weekends anyway, let’s just have them daily.”
Perhaps the most appealing thing about the Brothas is that they never back down from their strong opinions. Many times a visit to the comments section will show quite a few feelings of angst. Some see the site as disrespectful, ignorant even. In a country riddled with examples of the positive power of free speech, there are still so many people who seek out the free thinkers and speakers alike in order to silence them. Many people wonder whether or not the Brothas are ever fazed by the backlash and surprisingly they have been. “It gets frustrating answering questions or giving “advice” and people take things so personally. Usually what I am trying to say and what Panama is trying to say is from a more global perspective more than personal”, says Champ. But it’s not all bad for the Brothas, they have gained many devoted fans in their time on the net both avid readers and, as Panama so eloquently explained, people who have simply become enamored with the “idea” of them both. As two men constantly reporting on the inner workings of a man’s mind, it goes without saying that female readers are greatly impressed with their humor and honesty. Female readers show up in droves to see them whenever they make public appearances. The anonymity the Brothas have maintained on their site leave most fans wanting more and though a daily confession of sometime harsh realities turn some off, the majority fall for the witty banter and jump at the opportunity to see them up close. “That’s one thing that I’ve been surprised about with VSB and just writing in general—how enamored with somebody you can become because of their words. People come out to these events and they want to know how we look because they want us to look like what they have in their mind”, says Panama, “every woman probably thinks that we’re 6’4”, Mandingo Spartan sparkling Black men”.
Not Mandingo warriors but indeed soldiers fighting for the pure joy of speaking for the brotha next door. With the release of their book, Champ and Panama Jackson are hoping to keep the conversations going for years to come. And they seem to be on par with their desire. Their book debuted at no.1 on Amazon and around the net showing the Brothas to be more than just bloggers but now successful authors. Though losing the element of mystery behind their site by being more in the public eye has not changed the very core of what makes VerySmartBrothas.com so popular: their sincerity. For all of the jokes and jabs delivered by the twosome there is a truth present that everyone appreciates. They’re familiar and real. They say what so many are afraid to…and we all love them for it.
Written by: Iman N. Milner
Buy the new Book, “Your Degrees Won’t Keep you Warm at Night”