Hope /hōp/ word. – 1. want something to happen or be the case 2. a feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen See Also. Barack Obama “Hope” poster, a 2008 image designed by Shepard Fairey
I was born in Detroit, Michigan and raised mostly there. I finished school, however, on the East coast in Wilmington, Delaware, just outside of Philadelphia. And part of that was because of my lifestyle — it kinda interrupted my young high school years. Then about eight years ago, I moved to Kansas City and I’ve been here, doing advocacy work, since. Between Kansas City and there, I started doing advocacy work well before then, but I’ve gone into a much higher gear and higher level of advocacy work since I’ve been here.
I define beauty as kind of literally in the eye of the beholder. I don’t believe there is a standard definition of “this is beautiful and this is not”. I believe beauty can be found in any and everything depending on who’s looking at it or talking about it or the angle of what’s being seen, if that makes sense.
Almost in the same regard. I don’t see it from a color lens, if that makes sense.
So for me, um, Black culture is rooted in tradition. I come from a family that utilizes tradition but also embraces the fact that Black culture is not just Black culture. It is also a blend of Black and Creole and even older white cultures and native cultures…and it’s kind of blended together over time. And, you know, a lot of people today call that “Black soul”, which is different because we’ve gone through struggles and situations, generationally, that other races’ and cultures’ of people have not. So for me, that tradition stays alive in my life and my family’s life — mainly because we celebrate that history of that blend.
I do feel societal pressures based on race. I think that they impact almost every area of life. Um, there is either a stigma or a preconception of what being Black is or what Black men do or what they get involved in. And again, for me, that is also something that’s generational and has been rooted deeply for generations about what we can accomplish, what we can’t do. And, and so I think we all live with that. We’re born into it.
I have experienced that. One of the first times that I experienced that, I was young in Detroit and my mother was pulled over by a police officer as we were coming home from school…it’s about five or six o’clock. He accused her of speeding and gave her a speeding ticket and things like that. But as they kind of walked away, they just had this comment of, I thought we were going to get an arrest with a car full of Black people. And it was the first time I had heard an outward and racial tone towards me directly or towards our family directly. You know, I was used to, at that age, hearing and seeing things on TV and it kinda became real in that moment.
As a grown man, when I first moved to Kansas City, I experienced that with one of the first jobs I got here. The manager brought me into his office cause I took a break in order to go downstairs and get some things out of my car and he looked and he said, Well, is this your first job? And I said, Excuse me? And he said, Well, I want to know if this is your first job. And I said, Well, I’m 32 years old. So of course it wasn’t my first job. And his response was, Well, I don’t understand why you people feel like you can do whatever you want to do when you’re on the clock. And I said, Well, what do you mean by you people? What does that mean? He said, You. You know, Black men, you have no professionalism. And I walked out of his office.
I believe that it’s generational. People who grew up around, you know, a racist grandparent or great-grandparents and you hear them saying things and things get taught in the home. And some people kind of, you know, keep that same tradition and values to how their family dealt with race generationally.
But I also feel that we live in a society that is very judgmental. You know, if you’re on a certain level, then you’re this or you’re not on a certain level, then you’re that. And race is just one of those things that is used to divide people instead of bring people together. And I think that that is exploited and I also think it’s also partial ignorance.
What am I proud of? I’m proud that I try my hardest not to feed into the different stigmas and stereotypes. And that I’ve been able to, in most situations, rise above that. I’m at an age now where I can not only rise above it, but even speak on it from an educational, non-confrontational standpoint. And for me, that gives me some pride because I’m not feeding into stereotypes and stigmas and things like that, but changing them. I think that’s what I’m most proud of.
I would like to be a real estate developer. But I would like to do it with the notion of having a lot of development for…not just low income…but people who are in need. Just kind of level the playing field to allow people to grow and get some families out of poverty. It kind of makes no sense in this era that we live in…the level of poverty in this world… and especially in America is ridiculous, considering how much well the country has. But that would be my dream and kind of my way and my vision for leveling the playing field a little bit.
So I started, doing advocacy work through the ballroom community and that was around 2002, 2003. It was a slow process for me. I started with just doing HIV testing and outreach spaces and club spaces for various communities. And from there I grew into peer education, helping people with addictions. Currently I’m a community health worker with an agency here that deals with the LGBT community as a whole, but my focus has been on helping them with resources on various determinants of health, like housing, food costs, medication costs, healthcare, or having a primary doctor so that they can be able to live their best life.
I believe that one of the biggest problems that adds to stigma and one of the problems that created stigma are Black churches not being open and accepting to all people. I think that one of the biggest catalysts to why many Black LGBT people are not able to kind of thrive in life….a lot of it, I believe, started with the church and spread to families from there. You know, we’ve pushed open some doors these last couple of years, but that stigma still remains. And I believe that is the reason why — mainly from the church. First and foremost.
I think that’s one of the things I would say. Another would be the fact that — and I’ve been hearing it more and more — they feel like if you’re a Black gay man, they feel like if there’s some kind of link to pedophilia or something with that. And again, sexual assault is across all races, all genres of people. So it’s not limited to just, Oh, Black gay men are pedophiles and things like that. But you know, those are different stigmas you hear a lot. While sexual action is a choice, attraction is not and people are attracted to what they are attracted to. So you can make the choice of who you want to be sexually active with but if someone is born with an attraction to the same sex, there isn’t a way to pray that away. It’s natural and it is not going anywhere.
I believe that’s because we are a country that is, we’ve always been, rooted in race first. And so a lot of the accomplishments of Black LGBT individuals are overlooked in the same manner that Black society’s accomplishments are overlooked. I believe it was Jack Daniel’s company that recently came out and not just admitted, but said that it was a Black man who happened to be a slave that helped them develop their entire distilling process and how to give it its flavor. And so, again, a lot of it, we’re just a country sadly rooted in everything race, which is the catalyst for a lot of it.
I believe that there are people like Crystal LaBeija in the 1960s and Sylvester and, you know, artists like that, who really moved the needle for the Black gay community — and the Black community as a whole — that go completely overlooked. But there are people like them who are the reason why Pride exists, you know. Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P Johnson. And when Pride parade and Pride season comes around, it’s all a party and a parade, but no one will look back at that history that started it. So, sadly, we’re a country rooted in all of race.
Um, outside of just books and things like that, there was the ball scene, which really had a strong impact on my life. It really gave me the confidence to speak to ignorance and even speak out and be okay with being an open Black gay man. Before I found the ballroom community, I was very much in a nutshell. I won’t say closeted because my family did know, but it wasn’t something I would live out in the open. You know, if I heard someone repeating stereotypes or the stigmas about Black gay men or the gay community as a whole, I wouldn’t start a conversation, I wouldn’t try to educate, I wouldn’t… anything. I would just let it go. Now I’m in a space where I have the confidence to speak up and speak out and be myself unapologetically. And I believe ballroom really helped me with that.
Outside of that…documentaries like Paris is Burning had an impact because I’m realizing that as early as the ‘60s, ‘70s, and the ‘80s, when I was born, this is something they continued to deal with, even though they did their best to push the needle better for our generation. So that’s one documentary. Another one is Kiki which speaks to the current generation’s struggles with being accepted.
It was literally culture shock. My first one or two balls I went to was literally culture shock. I had never been in a room and seen so many LGBT people gathered together…under a house name that they identified as their family. And, it wasn’t just the name…you saw the relationship. And it was also a room full of Black gay individuals that were being celebrated and celebrating each other. And for me that was just like, Wow, what is this? I want to be a part of this too. And that kind of started the journey for me. That connection to not just feel like, Okay, I’m out here by myself…..No, I’m not by myself. I have a whole community of people with me. Yeah, that’s what ballroom really felt like.
That the problems and the rapid spread of HIV is not caused due to just not having condoms. A lot of times, I think, for years, it was… provide them with condoms…provide them with condoms …and get them tested..and get them tested. But if they don’t have housing, they’re not worrying about getting tested. If they are homeless, they’re not worrying about having safe sex. I believe that healthcare and general wellness and mental health all contribute to the spread. And that’s one of the things that we have to get better at combatting.
I would say my dream would just be: have a more loving, openly- loving society. And one that is not so…to look down and frown upon people who are less fortunate or people who come from situations that are less fortunate. I believe that a dream for our society would be to take those that are in less fortunate situations and instead of equality, to focus on equity.
The eradication of stereotypes and stigma on race. All races. I mean, we’re all human beings at the end of the day. In this era of ancestry and genealogy, people are doing ancestry tests and realizing that your ancestors are from all over the world. So why define yourself by this or that? Or even from a standpoint of culture… American versus Chinese versus Australians… We’re all people at the end of the day. And that’s how we should look at each other and treat each other.
Not to feed into societal norms and standards. Because we live in such a divisive time now, doesn’t mean that you have to add to it or be a part of it. You know, Be the change you want to see, I think is the best advice.
To not just study and learn the history, but to get involved with Black people, Black families, Black culture. That’s the only way you learn and become a part of. Outside of education, you’ve got to have the experience of what we’re going through today and not just the history. We all know slavery existed, but, are you really informed and can see and realize the generational curses that came from that? and Jim Crow? and civil rights? and all of it?
And vice versa. That goes the same way with Black people towards white culture, in my opinion.
It’s okay to be yourself. In the face of such divisiveness and ignorance, that educating people is worth it. A lot of times we can turn our backs and just kind of go the other way, but kind of speaking to ignorance I think works as well. And to just remember that there are many of us that have died before them in the struggle and to keep it going.
Interview Date: February 24, 2020
Story posted on June 30, 2020