Ment Nelson gets his style from his mother, he tells stories of going crabbing and fishing with his grandmother, and his illustrations are intersections of this talent and history, of his genealogy.
Ment—short for Clementa, after the late Senator Clementa Pinckney—started what he calls his Gullah Collection early last year, before the Mother Emanuel shooting, and he does think the tragedy brought a certain attention and understanding of the Gullah tradition.
On social media, Ment has attracted the likes of Whoopi Goldberg and radio personality Charlamagne Tha God.
Ment had an oh-so-specific-to-our-generation Twitter debate with Charlamagne, who hails from Moncks Corner. They disagreed on whether creative types have to leave South Carolina to make a name for themselves. “Charlamagne basically said to become successful, you have to leave the state. And he’s very successful on a number one radio show, so for him to say that to me is like a challenge.”
Ment is also part of three-part hip-hop group OxyxMoron, so Charlamagne's opinion does matter.
“The whole argument was made from a rap perspective, and most people from around here think you have to move to Atlanta to make it, but I’m just trying to prove if what you have is good, you’ll make it no matter where you are."
Mic check. Are you listening?
Ment says being progressive is not about moving to a more progressive city or state, but about making the talents and timing handed to him mean something.
“I’m just stuck in my small town, so instead of moving, I thought, ‘What do I have right around me that I can use?' Because that’s my truth, and I have to live my truth.”
He continues, “I drive around the Lowcountry visiting the older Gullah people, and what I’ve learned from each one is that they fear the younger generation won’t carry on the tradition or pass on the information because they don’t think it’s cool. But I can fill that gap.”
Ment is making it cool.
Words by Elizabeth Bowers
Photo by Mark Stetler