One cannot truly celebrate #BlackExcellence and look to the future without taking a moment to honor those who paved a way for us to journey forward.

Case in point, author, philosopher, life coach and fellow Wakandan, Steven Barnes, who is celebrating a birthday today.

It was a few years back and I was in Seattle attending Norwescon as a guest author. I was sitting in the green room grabbing a bite to eat between panels. Sitting across from me was this older handsome black gentleman who was leading a group discussion. I listened to this brilliant individual with complete fascination.

Upon finishing his story, Barnes glanced at me and gave me a double take. We exchanged introductions and he inquired if I was the guest of another panelist. I explained this was my first year at Norwescon and I was actually there to promote my debut novel Hollowstone.

“The reason I ask is because this is the first time there’s ever been another black panelist in this green room besides me and I’ve been doing Norwescon for many years,” Barnes explained.

We both grinned at history being made. And in that surreal moment it felt like the torch was being passed or more accurately one torch was sparking another.

The following year at Norwescon I ran into Steven in the hotel restaurant where I was chatting with my buddy Kirk and a group of other friends about every subject ranging from comic books to sex to social justice to race to politics to religion and all things in between. This time around Steven sat there and grinned and listened while a group of us young artists, journalists, radicals and revolutionaries pontificated on how to save the world and/or take it over.

Steven and I have maintained a great friendship over the years. More than that, I daresay he’s been an excellent mentor and my life has been richer for having him in it.

But that’s the cool thing about Steven and for that matter his better half, the beautiful and immensely talented Tananarive Due. They’re always striving to nurture and encourage others to be the best version of themselves.

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Pioneers like Steven and Tananarive paved the way for me to follow my calling. And it’s my hope one day that I will be able to pay it forward.

If you haven’t checked out Steven’s latest title, Star Wars Saved My Life, you definitely should. You’ll be glad you did.

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Steven and Tananarive are also hosting a webinar series entitled Afrofuturism: Dreams to Banish Nightmares. It kicks off on March 25. I for one plan to be there to level up my artistry.

Even in the dark times ahead, pioneers like Steven and Tananarive are still lighting the way for the rest of us to journey forward.

Happy birthday Steven and gratitude.

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