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/background
I’m a Chicago native and grew up in Harold Ickes Homes(the projects). I’ve always wanted to live in New York as a child. I later went to college and majored in Computer Information Systems. After that, I got into real estate and became a property manager. I discovered my brother had AIDS and started traveling and did Def Poetry Jam.
How did you handle the discovery of your brother’s diagnosis?
It was my first time meeting him and we instantly connected. He was 30 and contracted it at 32. I only knew him for one year and it was the most intense year ever for me. My sister was a visiting nurse and I used to go with her on her visits. She knew I was gay and she wanted me to see the effects of AIDS on the body. I started working at Us Helping Us in DC which provides resources for people of color and LGBTQ people who are living with HIV/AIDS. This in turn caused me to leave real estate as a property manager. I also worked with DC Care Consortium and was directly responsible for housing as their housing liaison. I also worked for a program called The Gate Keeper which was geared to helping those facing economic hardships for about 3 years.
I also had a drive for the stage and did open mic which led to my move to New York. I used to hide an old picture of me wearing a midriff cutoff YMCA shirt with my hands on my hips. One day I spoke to that picture and changed. I moved back to DC and started working with The Bailey House Inc. Their saying was, “Housing is also part of the cure. Once they are stable, they can finally do what they need to adhere.”
So talk about your Def Poetry Jam experience.
I did a poem called “Queer Eye Poem.” I should’ve called it “The Down Low” because I don’t like the title. It’s about a guy telling a woman to watch her man because he might be gay, not realizing at that time that I was outing myself on HBO Def Poetry Jam to the whole world. From there, I was invited to speak on race and sexuality at colleges as well as hosting Pride events. During all this time, I was smiling and having a good time but I was holding a big secret.
What was that Big Secret?
I was grossly depressed about how inadequate I felt. I was engaged to a woman and outing myself. My sister called a family meeting to tell them and they all said, “We already knew that.” I would always say “I’m sexually diverse.” My niece said to me, “Is that anything like being gay?” I said, “It’s everything like being gay.” She responded, “So what’s your Big Secret?”
My family was in the closet for me and took a breath when I finally shared it!! It caused me to shine.
That led to my experience with Momentum Education where they get you to look at who you really are and move you to the forefront. I didn’t know how much I loved being on stage. From there I started coaching young people. I would ask them, “What are you pretending NOT to know??”
That’s powerful. Was that a question you coined yourself?
No, it was coined from one of my mentors Sylvia High. Her and Robin Diane Lynn formed a set of series called The Basic, The Advanced Course, and Leadership. The last one being a 90 day training. My top three mentors are Sylvia High, Vallori Thomas, and Baron Wright. From them I learned that all of us are interdependent and I am blessed to love people and believe in who they are.
Your favorite scripture is Psalm 45:1- “My heart overflows with a goodly thing. I make my verse to the King! My tongue is like the pen of a ready writer.” Talk about how you discovered that verse and where you were in your life at that time.
I was a licensed minister at the time and I was studying the scriptures. I saw it and kept coming back to it. I wanted my heart to be in a good place. I saw that the goodly place is always in rotation. There’s always a Hallelujah and Amen between every verse. I realized that people are counting on me to say what needs to be said. It had me believe my tongue is a pen. I can’t share poison if my heart has a goodly thing within.
You have said that you are accountable for opening the door and they are accountable for keeping it open.
Stand in the mirror of that statement. See your position. Because of what you are doing now, you are opening the door for others to follow your path because you won’t always be doing it. They will continue on.
Your vocal abilities are amazing. Can u describe your vocal training?
The Bathroom. I’m not formally trained. I used to listen to a big white woman singing “God Bless America” as a child and I tried to sound like her. I also listened to Ella Fitzgerald, Tonex(now B-Slade), Darryl Coley, James Hall, The Winans, Commissioned, Stevie Wonder, Sarah Vaughn, Ricky Dillard & New G, the Harris Brothers, Phyllis Hyman, Jesse & Bridget Campbell, and Chaka Khan.
You mentioned earlier about your relationship with a woman. How did you make that transition and end that stage in your life?
I was married to a woman from ages 23-26 when I was hetero-flexible. I read The Invisible Life and Just As I Am by E. Lynn Harris. I also read Daniel Black’s Perfect Peace and Twelve Gates to the City. I felt like I was being deceitful. I was convicted and I got a divorce.
And what would you like to say to those other people, not just men, who are currently in the shoes you once were in regards to being in a heterosexual relationship but truly aren’t within?
What we miss is that we’ve all been socialized into what is feminine and masculine. And until your own awakening occurs you follow what everyone else has said. You have to say, “Is this MY truth?” The funny thing about being in the closet is that everyone sees you. It’s like you are at the zoo!! They are just waiting on you so they can release you back into the wild!!!