Gil Robertson has long been a fixture in the entertainment community.
He’s not only a seasoned publicist and entertainment and travel journalist, he is also the founder of the African American Film Critics Association (AAFCA), a professional association that promotes
African American film productions and provides cinema critique. For nearly two decades he has written his syndicated lifestyle column the Robertson Treatment, which is carried in 30 markets across the country. His work has appeared in Essence, Billboard, Black Enterprise, the Source, Los Angeles Times and the Atlanta Journal Constitution.
Several years ago Robertson, who is originally from Los Angeles, but currently lives in Atlanta, threw his hat into the literary world and edited the books, Not in My Family: AIDS In the African American Community (2006) and Family Affair: What It Means To Be African-American Today (2009).
Now, he’s in the midst of a media blitz to publicize his latest tome, Where Did Our Love Go: Love and Relationships in the African American Community, which, through various essays, examines critical issues affecting the quality of African American life.
Starting this May, in support of the book, Robertson will set out on a Black Love Is Forever Tour, a series of community-based, Town Hall forums designed to address the relationship gap in the African American Community. The Black Love Is Forever Tour will hit eight markets beginning at Hammond House in Atlanta on May 14th and completing its run in Los Angeles on June 29th.
“The time is certainly long overdue for an organized and constructive dialogue on the key issues impacting love and relationships in the African American community,” says Robertson about the tour. “This tour will explore the substantive issues related to our love status and identify strategies on how we can keep black love alive.”
I caught up with the always vocal, always opinionated Robertson recently to talk about his latest venture.
Gil Robertson: The inspiration and impetus for the book is when I look at the world I grew up in and the family I grew up in and the love my parents had for each other and especially for their children, I just wasn’t seeing a lot of that in today’s world. I think the question is appropriate for today. I’m asking where did the love go in the black community in terms of how we treat each other and in terms of how we’re not coming together in loving, healthy relationships.
DD: Why is that?
GR: We have some severe mental health issues. I think that black men and women are angry with each other. We have allowed messages in pop culture to dilute our heads and who we are and should be to one another. I’m not suggesting it’s by design. I think we’ve been duped into not understanding the long-term benefits of long, healthy relationships. We bought into the hype that we can do it ourselves. It’s easier to go through this journey with a partner instead of not having one.
DD: You have asked the question, Where Did Our Love Go? What’s the answer and what kind of love are you talking about.
GR: For the purpose of this book it’s addressing how two people, be it a man and woman or same sex, can come together with mutual respect and understanding and build a life together. What’s key to the realization of that idea is that you have to start with self love. If not, you can’t be of value to anyone else.
DD: Why is this topic important? You could have done any number of projects. Why did you edit this book?
GR: Family is the root of society and of the community. Family and the institution of marriage are both important. Both are something our ancestors died for. At the close of slavery you had them entering into marriage because they recognized the benefits. It’s about building a healthy environment around them. It radiates around the world. Marriage and coupling is important.
DD: Are we to believe Black love is different from any other kind of love?
GR: Ain’t nothing in the world like black love. I think that’s why so many of us have held on much longer than we should have. That’s why people are falling over themselves trying to get with us. There is nothing like black love. It’s nothing like love in a black man and in a black woman. There is something so powerful about the expression of what we do together. It’s so beautiful. I wish so many more of us could see it. It’s so rich.
DD: In the book you wrote a section called The Clock Is Still Ticking. It sounded like you have a five year plan.
GR: Because of my own shit I haven’t made myself available to being in a long-term relationship or marriage. My desire to not grow old alone is more important to me than my vanity. I will be married in five years.
DD: What did you find out about love and African American relationships that you didn’t know?
GR: I don’t think I learned anything new. I’ve always known that Black people strive to have love in their lives and that it’s important. I never thought love was something we didn’t place a priority on. I walked away with a profound sense of sadness that wonderful people have been unable to find a life partner. You ask yourself why? When you look at our counterparts, be they white, Latino or Asian, whenever you go out, the black person is the only single person up in the room. I learned that black people want love and are willing to make the sacrifices in their lives. I already knew this but it was validated.
DD: Lets talk about the essays. How were the essays chosen? What was the criteria?
GR: Like my earlier projects I invited people to be a part of it. I went from there. I must say there were some specific things I wanted to hit upon. There were some people that I deliberately targeted. With the nature of publishing you need a sprinkling of celebrities in order for it to sell. The majority of the contributors are journalists. I’m proud to quarterback. I’m proud to provide a space where my talented colleagues can share their thoughtful ideas about love and relationships.
DD: So, what was your process in deciding who to include in the book?
GR: That’s a good question. Ultimately your goal for the book is for it to sell. You want people who bring value and can help you promote it and sell it. You want people with influences within their communities and people who are able to write stories that are constructed well. Ultimately, those are the two things you consider in making a final selection.
DD: A series of Town Hall forums have been scheduled. Where are you going and why?
GR: The majority of the destinations are major population centers for black folks. The first one is May 14 at the Hammond House in Atlanta. We are also going to Dallas, the Book Expo in New York, we’re doing a signing in Leimert Park in June. We will also be involved with the Urban League in Chicago and General Motors in Detroit.
DD: What is the purpose of the forums? Are you looking for a specific result?
GR: I want to get a conversation started. Folks can join us on Facebook and Twitter. We did a good job of representing the community. However, I want other voices. I want folks to feel like they are part of the conversation. We will be filming selected Town Halls for a documentary. I’m moving into the realm of being a producer. I’m excited about it.
DD: Will there be a fourth book?
GR: The next book is on loss. It will focus on losing someone you love that is important to you. In last decade I’ve lost my parents. The loss of my mother had a profound effect on me. There were times I was in it and would ask myself if anyone could relate to what I’m going through. Of course, I knew there were millions of people. In the middle of the storm it’s like you’re there all alone. I want to do a book that helps people. We’re probably going to expand it to people who have loss children and those who have loss husbands who have gone to war or are imprisoned. It’s worth exploring that whole deal. My loss is concrete. What does it mean when you lose a father to the nation, someone like a John H. Johnson, Martin Luther King Jr., Tom Bradley and Coleman Young.
DD: What is the current status of African American relationships?
GR: It’s at a critical point. It’s on life support. We need to take active action, not passive action. We need to actively engage to turn this tide around. A black man can have no better partner than a black woman. A black woman will stick with you ‘til the ends of the earth. If a black man loves you, you are the sun in his universe. When you have to lead your man to do too many different things, you have a problem.
DD: It’s very clear you like black people. Besides the obvious, why?
GR: I guess I learned it from my parents who loved black people. When I grew up we had two sets of encyclopedias in our library. They invested in the encyclopedias. A lot of it had to do with when I was born at the height of the civil rights movement. We had a full set of African American encyclopedias. All during my formative years we were infused with that knowledge. We loved ourselves. I just loved everything about us. I grew up in a black neighborhood and I felt safe – always. In the media you would hear them say something about south central as if something was wrong with that. I always felt safe and protected in my neighborhood. My parents were smart. I never had a problem with black folks. As a journalist I’ve been about positive aspects of blackness. I’m a product of my parents. Sure I could live in the valley. I could live a lot of places, but when I drive pass [Chef] Marilyn’s, I’m in my element. I can also do Four Seasons with the best of them. But, let me walk up in Marilyn’s and I’m on fire.
For more information on the book visit: www.wheredidrlovego.com. Twitter: @wheredidrlovego and Facebook – blackloveisforever
Journalist Darlene Donloe is based in Southern California. Contact her at [email protected].