National Youth Pride Services is proud to announce it’s Third Annual list of 50 Winners Who Are Helping Others Win on our national magazine RizeUp! We used our national membership of youth and young adults across the U.S. to come up with the list and we are excited to see who they are not only watching, but learning from.
Interview by Demark Manigo
Describe your childhood.
I grew up with a lot of family and we were pretty honest around my mom. I could curse around her. I was the wild child. I only acted out at home, not in school.
Describe what wild child meant to you then.
I was the rebel without a cause. I acted out mainly for attention. I was the youngest child. My father’s focus was on my sister. I felt like I needed the extra attention. My older siblings weren’t exactly role models. So I had to figure a lot out on my own. I did the opposite of what they did and carved out my own path. I did this with a lot of people like the neighborhood kids and my friends at school. I wanted to be different.
When did you realize you were gay?
Probably by Junior High School. I had feelings for this guy who was my friend. I didn’t know what that meant at first. Before that I always had a girlfriend so I didn’t think much of it. Even though all we did was kiss. I love to kiss the person I’m dating. I was reluctant to go any farther with anyone because I had a major fear of being sexually active with someone. Due to the lack of representation of Black gay men and the over-representation of the stereotypical gay guy I didn’t know how to fully process it all. I just knew I didn’t fit in with that model.
When did you accept the fact you were gay?
It came in stages. At 9, my aunt passed away from complications due having AIDS. My aunt got the disease from her husband who may have did drugs. To see how everyone treated her messed me up internally. Knowing that you could get HIV from your partner while in a relationship or marriage scared me. My understanding of HIV/AIDS was limited and I didn’t want to engage sexually because of that. In Junior High, I didn’t know what to do as far as my crush was concerned. In high school, I chose to dismiss it and did as many activities and became more social. I dated a girl senior year and I knew I loved her but knew I didn’t want to have sex. Since I had a fear of sex at that time, I wasn’t even confident in my ability to perform while I was trying to figure it out. After graduating High School, I decided to be a little more open to the idea of being gay. I met this guy who invited me to a club with some of his friends. I ended up actually liking and talking to his friend. While at the club, I encountered the known “Gay Boy” from High School who I avoided in school because he was so confident in his sexuality and identity. He, however, got on the phone and “outed” me to someone. Then tried to hand me the phone but I hung it up. Once I got to college I decided to accept that I was gay.
What was the catalyst for you getting into HIV/AIDS and public health?
The history of my aunt and no one was talking about it. There used to be some commercials and PSAs that tried to raise HIV/AIDS awareness but eventually it died down. One of my best friends became positive in 2005 while we were in college and it really hit home. I wanted to volunteer for an organization, because I would educate people on HIV. While in undergrad I realized that my skills would be better served in this field. My degree in Mass Communication with a concentration in Public Relations allowed me to utilize my education with my passion for this field. I wanted to mobilize communities, raise awareness, and inform as many people as possible.
With that mindset, how has that set you apart within the public health field?
I think it set me apart in many ways. One, I’m able to take information and science and think about what are the key things the community need to hear. Two, I bring a different perspective where I’m constantly thinking about how do I make it clear and concise. Three, in Public Relations you want to be successful and you want your client to succeed. For me my clients are the communities I serve and I’m not the limelight person. It’s always a team effort unlike sometimes with some Public Health professionals where it’s self-driven. My leadership style is reflective of that. I lead but it doesn’t feel like there’s a “leader.” Four, I’m able to cultivate and mobilize people. You have to know the community you are cultivating. When you invite me, I bring people with me and have them involved to keep the perspective open.
Throughout all these years, have you kept your “wild child?”
Of course! It shifted over the years from my regular actions into what I became passionate about. I realized I had to tame my wild side, especially in certain settings. Unfortunately, you can be brilliant and have the brightest ideas but people are not listening to you if they’re unable to receive your message. Sometimes, even with the best of intentions, we tend to stand in our own way due to pride, ego, or resilience. You have to find a way to say what needs to be said in a way that is delivered effectively. Remembering to be humble will get you far. Your attitude determines your altitude. Your message is never as important as how you make people feel if you are consistently the “wild” one.
What was the hardest lesson you had to learn within Public Health?
No matter how good your intention is, there will always be criticism of your work and your worth. It can come at varying degrees: from yourself, your inner circle, the people who think they know you, and then the people who never met you but have a preconceived notion of who you are. You can’t satisfy everyone. If you have the purest intentions, then none of it really matters.
Why was it so hard/challenging?
It was surprising to me. I care more about what people that know me think of me versus the people that don’t know me. I guess it’s because it’s more personal and critical. I was used to blocking out the 4th degree of criticism from outside people but it was different for those closer to me. What made it challenging was that I did not know if this criticism was coming with best intentions. I had to figure it out for me.
Where do you see yourself in the next five years?
I will probably be in Los Angeles Do I want to start my own thing? I don’t know. All I know for sure is I will still be doing things for underrepresented and underserved communities. I will continuously try to empower people and give them a voice. What it looks like five years from now, I don’t know.