Looking for events happening near you? We’ve got you covered, Chicago! To learn about these events and more, visit The Scene at The TRiiBE.

Black men deserve abundance and joy.

That’s just one sentiment behind Black Men Flower Project (BMFP), an initiative to give Black men their flowers—literally. Simple on its surface, the effort is rooted in mental health advocacy and built on the pillars of art, community, and nature as nurture. 

Launched in February by founder Robert Washington-Vaughns and Planks & Pistils floral design company designer John Caleb Pendleton, Black Men Flower Project honors men in all their complexities and normalizes creating space for connections that don’t rely on gendered expectations. 

Washington-Vaughns, who also goes by W.V., conceptualized the project during his time in an outpatient mental health program in Columbus, Ohio in 2018. He was inspired by the art and nature therapy practice wabi-sabi and wanted to adapt it to something portable that could be given. He first sent flowers to a friend in New York in 2021 after seeing the trend spreading on social media. 

“There’s that lingo of ‘Oh give him his flowers, he did a great job,’ but when are there physically being flowers given to men? At their funerals,” explains W.V. on a call from his home in New Mexico, where he’s recently taken a new job. “I saw TikToks and discussion on Twitter of what the equivalent of flowers was for men. It was tools or a sexual act, and I was just like WHY can’t it be flowers?”

Returning to Chicago in 2022, and still trying to get the project off the ground, W.V. found Pendleton through Mayesh —an online, Black florist reference guide covering the United States and Canada. For the designer, it was an easy thing to say “yes” to. Sharing belief in the data that shows flowers help alleviate feelings of depression, reduce stress levels, and induce happiness, they used last year to partner and hone their plan.

Both men have seen the ripple effects of unresolved generational trauma and isolation in their own lives as well as their communities. The project’s landing page through Planks & Pistils’ website cites a 2021 study in the Journal of the American Medical Association, which notes that suicidal ideation and attempts among young Black men were up nearly 80 percent compared with other races and ethnicities. 

“Our ancestors were not in houses with air-conditioning or on beds with pillows. We were always surrounded by nature,” W.V. says. “From the mental health perspective, giving flowers helps aid in that process of healing and being vulnerable and accepting something from somebody else who looks like you, who can say, ‘I see you.’

In Chicago, the reverberation hits different. For W.V., who grew up attending the sermons of Father Michael Pfleger at St. Sabina Catholic Church on the South Side and saw words turned into radical action, he felt compelled to make a positive impact at home. 

For Pendleton, it’s the emotion in each recipient’s face, a desire to be recognized that they didn’t want to admit they had, and the rush of gratitude when it’s fulfilled, that fortifies an unspoken bond as soon as the arrangement is handed off.

Planks & Pistils floral design company designer John Caleb Pendleton.
Black Men Flower Project founder Robert Washington-Vaughns. Photo by Terry Moore.

Striking in vibrancy and luxury, the arrangements capture movement through color, texture, and Pendleton’s signature asymmetry. They force you to stop and look. To discover something unique, powerful, and inspiring in what others may deem frivolous or unworthy, further underscoring BMFP’s mission. Pendleton knows he’s part of changing a larger narrative—not only about who gives and receives flowers, but who’s arranging them and with what intention. 

He’s the one making the weekly deliveries in Chicago for Black Men Flower Project, surprising recipients such as George Davis of Muse Coffee and Ian Gonzalez of Last Lap Cornerstore, among others. Pendleton also did the floral arrangements for Mayor Brandon Johnson’s inauguration in May.

“Every single guy, in his own way, faces light up,” Pendleton says warmly. “It’s bewilderment, but in the best way. It’s fascinating to coordinate and plan and all of sudden, bam! To be acknowledged in that way, it’s the double whammy of being seen, but also being celebrated. It hits you all at once.”

Currently, all profits from Planks & Pistils go to BMFP to keep the arrangements free. Folks can also donate.

For Chicagoans, to nominate a Black man in your life, fill out the form here

“We’re accepting of all Black men as long as [the nomination is] coming from another Black man,” W.V. clarifies. “We’ve seen children nominating their fathers, as well as friends hoping to encourage [one] another looking for a job. We get a lot of heartfelt stories and we don’t put parameters on that.”

W.V. also says, “Even if we don’t get to you, we want you to go out and buy flowers for somebody else. As much as we want to be part of it, we’re trying to spread that message, not gatekeep.”

is a freelance writer for The TRiiBE.