'There are journeys, and there are journeys that become legends.'
I was just 15 years old when I met Les Brown. The world-renowned professional motivational speaker, best selling author, and television personality saw me in a room full of people. Not by chance, but because I, a minute black boy with big ears and curly brown hair was courageous enough to pursue is attention gracefully. When I was able to hold Mr. Brown attention long enough, I conveyed to him that I wanted to be able to speak with greatness like him and was hungry to live my dreams although I wasn’t entirely sure what they were. At the time I was a youth minister at a modest church in the quaint city of Indianapolis, who was outspoken in my public high school and in my conservative community.
Les Brown became a chosen father to me all of my teenage years, he mentored me out of the limiting negative mindset that I had been conditioned to believe and live my life based on. He shifted my perspective about my gifts, talents, and abilities and enlarged my vision of myself. He saw a special something within me that I wasn't able to see in myself. All of this because of one question he posed to me at 15, "What if you live your whole life and at the end of it you realized that it was all wrong?" This query shook me free because I was living my life based on what other folks believed to be right and I was prepared to dedicate my existence to their convictions, whether or not they resonated with me.
I was 21 when I organized a meeting with Maya Angelou. It was Les Brown who proposed that we go see her the week of her 81st birthday. So with boldness, I pursued and was granted an audience in Winston Salem, NC with Dr. Angelou around her kitchen table. The royal blue carpet that covered the dining room floor set the tone and energy of the kind of woman she was. Her stature was intimidating if you didn't know who you were, but her gaze was one of understanding, she saw me in ways I hadn't seen myself. Over the next several hours in Dr. Angelou's presence would reveal many of the characteristics that make a legend.
She spoke of her love of learning and how it was cultivated by her young son's inquiries about life and the world around him; it caused her to expand her mind and to study more so she could inform him. I understood then how people are brought into your life to enlarge your capacity if you allow them to. She shared stories and experiences one after another, speaking of lessons she learned from legends of her time, I began to understand how she was able to reinvent herself into many different kinds of women over her lifetime. There were constant themes of challenging oneself, the virtue of courage, and a knowingness of how much God loved her. She told me that, "one should give thanks in all things, even in the worst of times where one seemingly has nothing to be thankful for, one must know that everything at all times is working together for your good because God Loves you."
I remember Maya Angelou saying to me "people will forget what you have said and done, but they will always remember the way you've made them feel, and that experience of you many times becomes your legacy." I've come to know that when you are no longer here on earth, people's experiences of you still will be.
One day with the great doctor had changed the trajectory of my life. I left with a new zeal, a special caring for my own life. I wanted to love and accept myself the way I experience her doing while I was in her presence. It then became my intention to be self-affirmed in the way Maya Angelou so elegantly radiated.
'Follow the butterflies within your soul, they know which way to go.'
I went home in search of myself. I was looking for the person Maya Angelou saw when she gazed at me and told me that I was ‘better than I thought I was.’ I went back to the basics— the parts of me that came naturally—the areas that I was afraid of. I discovered resistance around my queerness and blackness and could see that I was conditioned to feel inferior as a young black gay boy raised in the Midwest.
Nothing will change until you do. —Maya Angelou
I stripped myself of the prejudices bred into my way of being and came all the way out of the closet diving head first into the black gay culture. It was only with an open heart that I was able to accept myself, and as a result, I fall in love with the many different stories of my people because I saw parts of myself in everyone I befriended. I wanted to not only exclusively write about but for and to, black/brown LGBTQ culture. I desired to champion for the causes that affect us.
I've come to know that people around you have no choice but to accept you if you have indeed done so first. I reinvented myself into someone who could inject love and compassion into my community. This change in me was contagious, I was inspired and founded this publication with the intention to encourage more change and furthermore, to tell the story of those many times overlooked. I believed our community deserved to write their own narratives and document their works of art in history.
When I was 25, I created The LOUD 100 to highlight and give visibility to the contributions and achievements of black/brown LGBTQ people within popular culture. We begin each year honoring, celebrating and showing gratitude for those who lead our community forward the previous year. As we enter our 5th year of this historical celebration, it behooves me to note some of the important work I've done on this journey here.
In our 2017 Spring issue, it was essential to address the subject of forgiveness, not only for my own well being but for the health and wellness of the LGBTQ community of color. I published a raw confession titled, Bitter Bitch, detailing experiences that made me sick with resentment inside. This was the framework to usher other in my community thru the door of freedom from all of the injustices and hate that are many times their daily reality in this broken world.
In the Fall of 2017, I continued the conversation I started in the Fall of 2016 in my manifesto for grown gay men of color, entitled, 'Orgasm.' It has become one of my life's work to breaking down of the construct of shame that dis-eases the LGBTQ community of color concerning our sexuality. Millions of us are disproportionately infected with HIV/AIDS because we were never allowed to value our bodies and our sexuality. For our community has never been affirmed by society in ways our counterparts have been privileged too. So this past fall I planned a nude shoot to make a bold statement of freedom of fear and shame. I took my clothes off in my own magazine to affirm the beauty of queer bodies of color because that is the only way forward.
This new year marks my 30th year alive. I've been awake for 15 of those years. My journey has been one full of faith and courage. I have failed gracefully and at times soared with the eagles. I've been broken to pieces by people I loved. I learned of the anatomy of freedom and have made what I thought were wrong turns on this journey. I discovered that I have always had the wherewithal to do all of what I've accomplished although during those periods I saw no evidence thereof.
I no longer can be made inferior about my queerness because it is that which has saved me —liberating me from the confines of society and its falsehoods. Standing in my truths and being my authentic self has been the most empowering tool to date. It has carved out for me a way that is my own. It has become a compilation of experiences that have moved my whole soul forward and given me a birthright that is revolutionary in nature. I no longer ignore the beating of my own heart nor the desires that well up within. I now lean into it—listening to it first and foremost —turning up the volume of my own inner voice because there is nothing in the world that matters more.
What I've come to know is that I didn't come here to be perfect, to do it the right way as if anyone else can say what right is for my soul. Perfection and righteousness do not make a journey a legend. I’ve come to understand that your courage to awaken the God in you and your embodiment thereof inscribes your journey legendary.
We are the legendary children, but the vast majority of us have no inkling of this truth. We all have gifts and talents we are discovering and want to share—callings, passions, dreams, and goals we want to manifest. Many of us are itching to express the bottled up potential that lay dormant within.
We are extensions of majestic power, we are deities wondering this orb of soot like fools. It is only when we wake up to the power we have been so long afraid of that we can not only write the legend of our lives but become it.