Very Smart Brotha
BUFFALO, NY - Damon J. Young’s appreciation for the written word began in middle school when he would read the legal pads his father filled with creative narratives and figurative prose. Writing was a pasttime for Young’s father and his literary influence became the trajectory for Damon, who today is an award-winning writer.
“When I read what dad wrote, I thought ‘There’s no limit to how you can express yourself,’” Young says.
The English major is co-founder and senior editor of VerySmartBrothas (VSB), a nationally recognized daily digital magazine that uses commentary, essay and the occasional obscenity to probe black experiences in pop culture and current events. VSB originated in the blogosphere around 2008, with Young and his partner, Panama Jackson, coupling irreverence with sharp wit to write about marginalized groups. It wasn’t long before they realized they were onto something.
“We started seeing readers respond to the conversation and hear people talking about us,” says Young, who hails from the North Side of Pittsburgh.
The former Penn Hills High School basketball star came to Canisius with dreams of playing in the NBA. He attended on a scholarship but soon realized the NBA dream was unrealistic so he concentrated on his flair for writing.
After graduation and a brief stint teaching high school English, Young decided to further develop a personal blog that he launched in 2003. Over the next five years, it evolved into VSB and a sizeable online community of readers. Comprised primarily of young, college-educated African Americans, VSB’s audience retreats to the site for a safe space to discuss growing tensions in America.
“We have to stand out from the crowd,” Young explains. “VSB is competing with larger outlets such as The Washington Post, The New York Times, The New Yorker and other digital publications.”
Though it’s not yet hit mainstream magazine status, VSB and its co-founder are gaining national traction.
Ebony.com brought on Young as a contributing editor. GQ magazine invited him to write a regular column. Harper-Collins signed Young to a two-book deal. The first, a collection of essays, will be come out in fall 2018. Most recently, Univision acquired VSB bringing with it a full staff of writers.
“Before the acquisition, our biggest month was 2.8 million unique visitors to the blog. We had 2.8 million in the last two weeks,” Young exclaims.
The latest readership response to VSB “is a little overwhelming but a good problem to have,” Young says. But of all the followers, there is only one whom Young is most proud to have reading his work.
“My dad reads VSB religiously and shares everything I do on his Facebook page,” he said, “even the more colorful stuff that I might not want my aunts and uncles to see!”