Jasmyne Cannick

Cannick, Jasmyne 2017

Jasmyne Cannick was born on October 22, 1977. She is a respected and nationally known LGBTQ advocate, writer, commentator, and public speaker, best known for her work at the intersection of race, politics, class, and sexual orientation and identity. She was honored as one of “Essence” magazine’s 25 Women Shaping the World, one of the Most Influential African Americans in Los Angeles Under 40, one of Los Angeles’ Most Fascinating Angelenos by “LA Weekly,” and “The Advocate” named her as one of its 40 People Under 40.

Jasmyne Cannick was born in Culver City, California, to a father who served with the post office, and a mother who worked for the Los Angeles Police Department. She grew up in Hermosa Beach and Compton, and is the oldest of four, with two sisters and one brother.

Currently a public affairs and communications strategist, Cannick has worked on numerous local, state, and federal political and ballot measure campaigns in California. She previously served in the House of Representatives and the California State Assembly as a press secretary, and has worked on all levels of government helping to shape public opinion and encourage civic engagement, while advocating for underrepresented and marginalized communities in the political arena.

Cannick co-founded My Hood Votes—a voter registration initiative focused on Los Angeles County’s roughest neighborhoods—along with Eric Wright, Jr. (stage names Lil Eazy-E and Lil Eazy), the son of Compton rapper Eric “Eazy-E” Wright. As an out, Black lesbian, Cannick has served on the boards of numerous local and national organizations. She is a proud co-founder of the National Black Justice Coalition, the nation’s largest and oldest Black lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender civil rights organization. She is a past co-chair of the National Stonewall Democrats Black Caucus, and is known for taking on and addressing racism in the white gay community as it relates to African Americans.

As a social critic, Cannick has won numerous awards for her writings, and is a frequent cable television news on-air contributor. Her articles and commentary have been featured in newspapers from coast to coast, including the award-winning “Los Angeles Sentinel,” the “Los Angeles Times,” the “Los Angeles Daily News,” “The Advocate,” “Lesbian News,” and “EBONY” magazine, to name a few.

No stranger to radio, Cannick is a former co-anchor and reporter for the evening news on Los Angeles Pacifica radio station 90.7 FM KPFK. She has been a regular commentator on NPR, including the now-defunct News & Notes show. Cannick has worked as a segment producer on KJLH-FM’s Front Page, and continues to be a regular contributor to the program, which is Southern California’s premiere news and current affairs show focused on the African American community.

Featured in “Emmy Magazine” as an up-and-coming producer, Cannick has produced several films and television projects, among them the documentary “41st and Central: The Untold Story of the Los Angeles Black Panthers,” and “Noah’s Arc.”

Thanks to her good friend, actor Isaiah Washington, as well as the Pan African Film Festival and African Ancestry, Cannick traced her lineage to the Bubi people in Bioko Island, and the Tikar, Hausa, and Fulani peoples of Cameroon.

In her spare time, Cannick enjoys hiking and tennis, and supports numerous causes and organizations that focus on an array of social issues, including community policing and homelessness.

We thank Jasmyne Cannick for her numerous contributions to the national discourse on race, class and LGBTQ issues, and for her support of our community.

 

Anthony Antoine

Antoine, Anthony 2017

Anthony McWilliams, known professionally as Anthony Antoine, was born on October 21, 1969. He is a popular performance poet, community activist, singer/songwriter, HIV educator, author, and recognized trailblazer in the LGBTQ music scene who recorded his first out and proud song in 1997, and his first independently released out music project, “Dante’s Got a Man Too,” in 1999.

Anthony Antoine McWilliams was born in Newark, New Jersey, the son of Chester Sanders and Marjorie McWilliams. He was raised with his brother Eric McWilliams, and has a sister, Nadine Coleman. McWilliams played basketball for a short while in grade school, and graduated in 1987 from Gar-Field Senior High School in Prince William County, Maryland, where he was a member of the debate team.

As a young child of five and six years old, McWilliams recalled that he knew he was “different,” and was “praying to die.” He was taught the power of prayer, and taught a love and respect for the Almighty, but was also aware that what he was feeling was seen as a “sin.”  All McWilliams was sure of was that he didn’t want to be different, and asked God to deliver him, or let him die.

There was, of course, no It Gets Better campaign or book to read in those days. “I’m so thankful I hung in there, and thankful that God didn’t answer that prayer,” McWilliams stated. “It really did get better for me, and that campaign to save children and young people really resonates with my life experiences, and aligns with my life’s mantra. It really did get better for me, but I had to figure that out for myself. I wish someone had told me that when I was five years old.”

Following high school, McWilliams moved to London to chase his dream of becoming of recording artist. In England, he released three successful European hits, including “Swing” by The Deff Boyz, and “Under Your Spell” by Ronny Jordan. “Music has always been my saving grace,” said McWilliams. “I stayed glued to my record player and the radio in grade school and high school, which literally saved my life. It didn’t leave much time for many other activities.”

In 1993, he moved back to the United States, and enrolled in The Art Institute of Dallas, where he obtained his Associate of Applied Science Degree in Music and Video Business. He has continued his education to mirror his career in HIV/STI prevention, a field in which he has remained active since 1999.

McWilliams was in the closet at the Art Institute of Dallas, but used the two-year program to emerge out of his closeted world into a group that was on the same academic journey. He lost some friends, but gained closer, lifetime friends through speaking his truth to those who were immersed in the same degree program. Every assignment became an opportunity to come out, and to communicate to his classmates, the school, the City of Dallas, and the world, how unfair he had been treated as a young, gay child that no one supported, and throughout his journey to becoming a happy, gay adult. “It’s still my purpose in life today, to somewhat right that wrong for me and so many other young, questioning children,” said McWilliams.

As a young artist, McWilliams was asked to join a group of pioneering artists and activists, The Adodi Muse: A Gay Negro Ensemble, originally comprised of Tony Daniels, Duncan Teague, and Malik M. L. Williams. In 1998, Daniels died from injuries sustained in a car accident traveling to the Federation of Black Prides in Washington DC, and McWilliams was asked to step in and fill the shoes of a major contributor to the group’s success. He helped them make history with the popular spoken word album, “Ain’t Got Sense Enuf to Be ’Shamed,” in 2004. The name of the CD came from member Teague’s mother during his coming out journey; the poetry piece itself is a merging of each member’s coming out story, along with the journeys of other young, Black, queer boys.

As Atlanta’s Black gay male performance poets collective, Adodi Muse has had a huge impact across America with its in-your-face collection of performance poetry, songs, revealing interview interludes, and more. They succeed in being fierce, funny, confrontational, dangerous, and entertaining. You can find them on iTunesAmazon, and CDBaby.

McWilliams has worked on the front lines of HIV/STI prevention in Atlanta, with a tireless focus on men who have sex with men (MSM) for AID Atlanta, and the AIDS Research Consortium of Atlanta (ARCA).  He currently serves as a senior research project coordinator for Emory University, where he began in January of 2012. “It’s the best assignment in my career of HIV prevention, having traveled the country to train over 75 AIDS service agencies and hundreds of HIV counselors on a new, CDC-endorsed couples testing protocol that was born at Emory University,” he said.

McWilliams’ art and advocacy draw strength from being part of a larger, dynamic community. “The Black SGL/LGBT community is very important to me,” he said. “It’s also a part of what saved my life, and definitely why Atlanta is my home. It’s the place I feel most connected to what matters most to me—a positive sense of self and identity. I love living in Atlanta connected to a rich history and community of Black SGL/LGBT people. It supports my work, it supports my well-being. The community that I and so many others have created here in Atlanta has helped to heal that little boy who prayed to die at the age of five.”

McWilliams is a Big Brother to four high-spirited “littles” as part of the Big Brothers, Big Sisters program, and he called it “the most important volunteer work that I do.” He has also served as a volunteer for Sheltering Arms and other agencies, and still volunteers for a number of AIDS service organizations as part of his community-building efforts as an HIV/STI prevention professional.

Anthony Antoine’s latest full length release, “Masters of Dance,” is a double-disc collection of dance music featuring him and other vocalists. In 2018, he will release his 13th CD, “Songs in the Key of Rap.” He’s also completed his first novel, “The Price of Great Sex,” which he says is “an extraordinary story of characters that can communicate many of the lessons I’ve learned over 20 years in my life about HIV/STI transmission.” You can order Anthony Antoine’s music on any of the digital download sites, or connect to him at his website, www.anthonyantoine.com, and Instagram and Twitter (@activistfreak).

McWilliams is married and makes his home in Atlanta. He has a core group of best friends that have been part of his life for nearly twenty years. He is a father, great friend, listener, and a featured writer for the It Gets Better book and campaign. McWilliams is a lover of hip-hop who enjoys shopping for CDs, and relishes the opportunity to stumble on a rare record store. He also gets a kick out of discovering new gadgets, and loves to travel the world, finding different cultures inspiring and empowering.

McWilliams is proud to make a positive, uplifting difference in the lives of others, and adds, “There are people who slow me down to tell me that I made the difference for them at a crucial time in their life [either during the period of them learning their HIV status and/or the period of them coming out]. This is priceless to me—to make a positive difference in someone’s life.”

We thank Anthony Antoine McWilliams for his contributions to the arts, his STI/HIV/AIDS advocacy, and for his unwavering support of our community.

Gareth Henry

Henry, Gareth 2017

Gareth Henry was born on October 20, 1977. He is an LGBTQ, HIV/AIDS, and social justice activist who fled to Toronto, Canada after experiencing homophobic violence and threats in his native Jamaica.

Gareth Boyd Henry was born in St. Mary’s, a small town on the northern coast of Jamaica, to an absentee father with whom Henry has had no relationship, and a mother who was in her teens when he was born. While Henry’s sister was primarily raised by their mother, Henry spent most of his time with his grandmother and aunt in a modest, single-family home.

Henry began high school early at the age of 10, and during his teens became aware that he had attractions to other guys. Because a gay man in town was harassed and called a “batty man” (derogatory Jamaican slang for “homosexual”) who likes little boys, Henry said he remained a “loner” and wasn’t able to come out to anyone, especially his family. It wasn’t until Henry arranged with an uncle to move away from home shortly before his 16th birthday that he finally felt liberated. “I was able to be away from family so that I could try to be my own, authentic self, and that’s where my evolution as an out, gay person begun,” he told the Ubuntu Biography Project.

After graduating from Titchfield High School, in Port Antonio, Portland Parish, Henry moved to Kingston, the Jamaican capital, where he attended Excelsior Community College and the University of the West Indies, receiving a Bachelor of Science (B.Sc.) degree in Social Work, and a master’s degree in Communications for Social and Behaviour Change.

In 1997, Henry began volunteering for Jamaica AIDS Support for Life (JASL), the oldest and largest AIDS-focused, human rights, non-governmental organization in Jamaica. In addition to the good work he was able to do for the community, Henry had the opportunity to meet and work with other gay men. Soon after, the Jamaica Forum for Lesbians, All-Sexuals and Gays (J-FLAG) was founded as the first human rights organization in the history of Jamaica to serve the needs of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender communities. Henry began volunteering with J-FLAG in December of 1998.

When J-FLAG co-founder and spokesman Brian Williamson was murdered on June 9, 2004, Henry recalls that few people, if any, had interest in taking over as the organization’s public face and potentially exposing themselves to the homophobic danger Williamson’s friends and supporters believe led to his death. Henry admitted he was “naïve” when he agreed to do a press interview about Williamson’s killing and the issues facing Jamaica’s LGBTQ community, but by the end of the year, he was the lead advocate and new director of J-FLAG.

For Henry, reporting anti-gay hate crimes to police as part of his role at J-FLAG began to hit too close to home. Over the next four years, he suffered the loss of 13 friends to homophobic attacks, having to identify several of the bodies. Henry’s life took a turn for the worse when he found himself the victim in three attacks perpetrated by police officers, including an incident on February 14, 2007, when he and a group of gay men were cornered by an angry mob at a pharmacy in Kingston. Henry said that the police were called to the scene, but were verbally and physically abusive, asking Henry if he was a “batty man” before beating them with their weapons.

According to Henry, his complaints to authorities and the Jamaican ministry of justice fell on deaf ears, and the harassment from law enforcement only got worse and he went into hiding. “I was stopped in traffic and a police officer said, ‘I have found you and we are going to kill you,’” Henry told “The Guardian” in 2012. “That statement still lives with me today. When I saw my friends being killed, I always asked ‘Am I going to be next?’ When he said that to me, I suddenly realized I was the next target. So I had to make a decision between running away and trying to find a safe place in a foreign land or staying and being killed.”

Henry chose to leave—fleeing to Canada and seeking refugee protection in January 2008. Eventually his mother, sister, and nieces, also facing threats in their homeland, would relocate to Toronto. With the assistance of groups like the Metropolitan Community Church of Toronto, Amnesty International, and EGALE Canada, Henry was granted refugee status in June of that year. He began working at the Toronto People With AIDS Foundation, where he served as interim director and, currently, as a service access manager.

Henry also volunteers with Rainbow Railroad, a Canadian nonprofit that helps relocate LGBTQ people who face danger and oppression around the world. Henry helped relocate 60 refugees—many of them Jamaican—to new countries in 2016, but says the list of people from the Caribbean seeking help this year has grown to more than 350. He hears many horrific stories, ranging from men doused with acid and attacked by dogs, to violence against transgender individuals and desperate parents contacting the organization to plead for help in getting their child to a safe place.

“Everything that they’re telling me I know it is real, it is true, and I could empathize with them and be able to provide some level of comfort and support in those kinds of engagements,” Henry told the Ubuntu Biography Project. “It’s giving people hope, the possibility of being able to flee persecution that they face. Some people must hold on to that hope.”

While there have been changes for the better in Jamaica—the third PRiDE Jamaica celebration was held in August of 2017—homophobia, transphobia, and violence against the LGBTQ community continue. The 1864 Offenses Against the Person Act remains law, providing prison time and hard labor for the “crime” of sexual intercourse and anal sex between men. Recent polls have found that an overwhelming number of Jamaicans do not support a repeal of the “buggery” law and, in fact, a majority are not in favor of equal rights for gay men or trans people.

In 2010, Henry married Aron Charles, a Grenadian at the time, but the union ended in divorce. He pointed out that the freedoms he now enjoys in Canada—such as the right to get married—come with life’s everyday ups and downs, and that includes divorce. Today, Henry lives in Toronto with his fiancé, Patrick Suragdeen, who also fled Jamaica. In his free time, Henry enjoys traveling, and spending time with good friends. He also has marched as an international marshal in Toronto’s WorldPride parade.

Unable to return to Jamaica, Henry nevertheless remains committed to his homeland, and supports well-coordinated and strict sanctions against the Jamaican government related to aid and other levels of support they receive from countries like Canada. He also urges the LGBTQ community in Jamaica and beyond—particularly people of color—to remain steadfast in their fight against unjust discrimination and hatred.

“We need to band together. We need to become more of a community trying to find creative ways to be our brother’s keeper,” Henry told the Ubuntu Biography Project. “We can’t retreat…we have to be at the forefront of our own cause. That’s the way we pool our collective energies and consciousness for the change we want to see. The fact is, it will happen. But it requires all of us putting our efforts and our time and our talents into that kind of a process that will create the change that we want.”

We thank Gareth Henry for his courage, for offering a lifeline to oppressed and endangered LGBTQ people around the globe, and for his support of our community.

Laurence E. Pinckney

Pinckney, Laurence 2017

Laurence E. Pinckney was born on October 19.  He is a New York City-based real estate broker, travel agent, and mentor. Pinckney also produced more than 350 concerts for some of the legends of the music business.

Laurence E. Pinckney is originally from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He is a graduate of a preparatory high school and Clark University, where he obtained his multi-discipline Bachelor of Art degree in Business, Sociology, and Theater Arts. Pinckney worked in the corporate world after college, but he felt that entrepreneurism was his destiny. He had the benefit of training at both Mobil Oil and Philip Morris, and while he learned a great deal, he also wanted to let his ideas take flight, and start his own business.

Pinckney went to work in the music business with some of the most popular acts of the time, including Kathy Sledge and Sister Sledge (“We are Family”), who gave him his first break, allowing him to produce a show at Radio City Music Hall with Marvin Gaye. He went on to work with Brandi Wells, and Patti Labelle, who allowed Laurence and his business partner, Bruce Stein, to design her “Look to the Rainbow” tour. He also worked as road manager to Deniece Williams (“Let’s Hear it for the Boy”), and then was off to Kingston, Jamaica, to design the Legend Tour for the Wailers, Rita Marley’s I-Threes, and the Melody Makers.

For three years, Pinckney produced hundreds of concerts, for Talking Heads, Grover Washington, Jr., Charles Mingus, Bonnie Raitt, Donald Byrd and the Blackbyrds, Laura Nero, Tom Waits, Roosevelt Sikes, Tower of Power, Robert Palmer, and many others.

This Renaissance man is a licensed real estate associate broker in New York City. Pinckney has helped clients find success in New York’s ultra-expensive housing market and around the globe, to buy, sell and rent property. He also operates his own specialized travel and events company called Zenbiz Travel, LLC, which helps clients to balance life with leisure. Pinckney enjoys helping families and promoters put together group travel, a growing trend in the African American and Latino communities.

Pinckney has been a mentor for young people since college, and feels that without the encouragement and help of more experienced adults giving guidance, our youth won’t get very far. He also credits the influence of his parents for his commitment to helping others, and the influence of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Nelson Mandela, and Malcolm X.

Pinckney makes his home in New York City.

We thank Laurence E. Pinckney for his numerous contributions, and for his support of our community.

Danieri Basammula-Ekkere Mwanga II Mukasa

Danieri Basammula-Ekkere Mwanga II Mukasa

Danieri Basammula-Ekkere Mwanga II Mukasa ascended to the throne of the Kingdom of Buganda (within present-day Uganda) on October 18, 1884, following the death of his father, King Muteesa I. He was the 31st Kabaka (King) of Buganda, and reigned from 1884 until 1888, and again from 1889 until 1897.

Danieri Basammula-Ekkere Mwanga II Mukasa was born at Nakawa (in present day Kampala, Uganda) in 1868.  His father, Muteesa I of Buganda, reigned between 1856 and 1884. His mother was Naabakyaala Abisaagi Baagal’ayaze, the tenth wife of his father’s 85 wives. He established his capital on Mengo Hill.

Kabaka Mwanga II is on record as having married sixteen wives who bore him seven sons and three daughters. The King was also known to have sexual relations with his male pages and courtiers. Contrary to the myth of Europeans introducing homosexuality to Africa, it was European and Arabian colonists who sought to punish Africans for same-gender intimacy. The colonists, in the form of missionaries, were outraged by the status that same-gender loving men held in traditional African culture, and made efforts to impose their Abrahamic morality to eradicate homosexuality, as well as other cultural differences they found abhorrent.

Kabaka Mwanga II came to the throne at the age of 16. He increasingly regarded the greatest threat to his rule coming from the Christian missionaries who had gradually penetrated Buganda. His father had played off the three religions—Catholics, Protestants, and Muslims—against one another, and thus balanced the influence of the European colonial powers that were backing each group in order to extend their reach into Africa. Mwanga II took a much more aggressive approach, expelling missionaries and insisting that Christian converts abandon their faith or face death. Mwanga censured all foreign religions, labeling them dangerous and destructive to Buganda.

Tradition held that the reigning monarch could select any man or woman from among his harems of courtiers for sexual favors. For Kabaka Mwanga II, the ultimate humiliation was the insolence he received from the boy pages of his male-harem when they resisted his sexual advances after converting to Christianity. It was unheard of for mere pages to reject the wishes of a king, who was the center of power and authority, and could dispense with any life as he wished. Given those conflicting values, Mwanga was determined to rid his kingdom of the new teaching and its followers. He precipitated a showdown in May of 1886 by ordering converts in his court to choose between their new faith or complete obedience to his orders and sexual desires.

In total, at least 45 Catholic and Protestant neophytes went to their deaths. Twenty-two of the men, who had converted to Catholicism, were burned alive at Namugongo in 1886, and later became known as the “Uganda Martyrs.” Among those executed were two Christians who held the court position of Master of the Pages, Joseph Mukasa Balikuddembe and Charles Lwanga. They had repeatedly defied the king by rescuing royal pages in their care from sexual exploitation by Kabaka Mwanga II, an exploitation they believed was contrary to Christian teaching. Historians say Mwanga was not necessarily anti-Christian, but motivated by his understanding that Christian missionaries were seeking to dismantle his country and the culture of his people, and replace it with Eurocentric religion, culture, language, and customs. The move was political, not theological.

A year after becoming king, he executed Yusufu Rugarama, Makko Kakumba, and Nuwa Serwanga, who had converted to Christianity. On October 29, 1885, he had the incoming archbishop, James Hannington, assassinated on the eastern border of his kingdom. These executions and Mwanga’s continued resistance to their intrusions alarmed the British, who backed a rebellion by Christian and Muslim groups who supported Mwanga’s half-brother, and who defeated Kabaka Mwanga II at Mengo, on August 2, 1888.

By the time of his first ouster from the throne, Kabaka Mwanga II had no major group to support him. Muslims were not on his side after he refused to convert to Islam; Christians didn’t shield his back either—for ordering several executions; and the Traditionalists, convinced that the smallpox ravaging the kingdom was a result of neglect of traditional cultures and beliefs, had little faith in the king.

Kabaka Mwanga’s brother, Kiweewa Nnyonyintono, was elevated to the throne. Just like his brother, Kiweewa refused to face the circumcision knife and the Muslims, the strongest group united to depose him. Forty days into his reign, he was replaced on the throne by another brother, Kabaka Kalema Muguluma. However, Kabaka Mwanga II escaped and negotiated with the British. In exchange for handing over some of his sovereignty to the British East Africa Company, the British changed their backing to Mwanga II, who swiftly removed Kalema from the throne in 1889.

The most crucial threat to Kabaka Mwanga’s reign, however, would be the Europeans, who had, in the same year he ascended the throne in 1884, met in Berlin, Germany, to allot Africa among themselves. Although he knew that the “white man” was intent on “eating” his kingdom, Kabaka Mwanga II failed to understand the extent of their imperial appetite and greed. On December 26, 1890, Kabaka Mwanga II signed a treaty with Lord Lugard, granting certain powers over revenue, trade, and the administration of justice to the Imperial British East Africa Company. These powers were transferred to the British on April 1, 1893.

On August 27, 1894, Kabaka Mwanga II accepted for Buganda to become a Protectorate. However, on July 6, 1897, he declared war on the British and launched an attack, but was defeated on July 20, 1897, in Buddu (in today’s Masaka District in Uganda). He fled into German East Africa (today it is the Republic of Tanzania), where he was arrested and interned at Bukoba.

Kabaka Mwanga II was deposed in absentia, on August 9, 1897. His one-year-old son, Ssekabaka Daudi Chwa II, ascended to the throne following the deposition of his father by British Forces. He maintained his capital at Mengo Hill, and was educated at Mengo High School and Kings College Budo, southwest of the central business district of Kampala. He would serve admirably in both World War I and II, but was also deposed by the British in 1949, and exiled to the Ssese Islands, where he died.

Tenacious as he was, Kabaka Mwanga II escaped after being deposed in absentia, and returned to Buganda with a rebel army, but was again defeated on January 15, 1898. He was captured, and in April 1899, was exiled to the Seychelles. While in exile, he was received into the Anglican Church and baptized with the name of Danieri (Daniel). He spent the rest of his life in exile, and died on May 8, 1903 at 35 years old. In 1910, his remains were repatriated and buried at Kasubi.

Eventually, the British came to full Colonial power in Buganda, and made the act of homosexuality a criminal act, whereas before homosexuality was not considered criminal in Buganda—ironic given today’s homophobia in present-day Uganda.

 

Terell Alvin McCraney

McCraney, Tarell Alvin 2017 by Jeffrey Salter
Photo: Jeffrey Salter

Tarell Alvin McCraney was born on October 17, 1980. He is an Oscar-winning screenwriter, playwright, and actor who was the recipient of the first New York Times Outstanding Playwright Award for “The Brother/Sister Plays.”

Tarrell Alvin McCraney grew up amid poverty and uncertainty in Miami, Florida’s Liberty City neighborhood. His father left home early on, and his mother reportedly battled crack addiction, and died from AIDS-related complications when he was 22. McCraney pursued magnet drama programs at the Charles Drew, Mays Middle, and South Miami High schools. He graduated from New World School of the Arts High School, receiving the exemplary artist award and the Dean’s Award in Theater.

Social programs in the arts were an integral part of McCraney’s childhood, and he found an early mentor in Teo Castellanos, who directed an improv troupe that McCraney joined as a teen, and who later welcomed McCraney into D-Projects, a contemporary dance and theater company that looks at social issues through intercultural performance work.

Growing up in Liberty City, McCraney recalled, “…there was a dearth of gay people in the media but there were gay people within my neighborhood. There were transgender people within my neighborhood. The way in which the community interacted with these people was so peripheral and marginalizing that I didn’t get a chance to know how they could be integrated into the world around us. That’s on us as a community and us as people. It’s important for us to be representational as people in communities and not get this xenophobic idea of living in this homogenized world.”

Rejected by Juilliard in 1999, McCraney went on to the Theater School at DePaul University in Chicago, and received his Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in acting. In May of 2007, he graduated from Yale School of Drama’s playwriting program, where he received the Cole Porter Playwriting Award upon graduation. At Yale, he was an assistant to August Wilson, whose 10-play, 10-decade cycle about the African American experience was among McCraney’s inspirations to write with ambitious scope.

As an actor, McCraney has worked with directors such as Tina Landau of the Steppenwolf Theater Ensemble in Chicago, David Cromer, BJ Jones (artistic director of the Northlight Theatre, where McCraney co-starred in the Chicago premiere of Joe Penhall’s “Blue/Orange”), and Peter Brook and Marie-Helene Etienne of the Bouffes du Nord, in Paris, France.

In 2008, Tarrell Alvin McCraney became RSC/Warwick International Playwright in Residence at the Royal Shakespeare Company. In April of 2010, he became the 43rd member of the Steppenwolf Theatre Ensemble, and in 2013, was awarded the prestigious Windham Campbell Prize from Yale University in its inaugural year.

His “Brother/Sister Plays” are three related dramas about a community of African Americans living through decades in a housing project in a Louisiana bayou—and, in the final moments, facing a hurricane of Katrina proportions. The celebrated plays explore Yoruba mythology and include “The Brothers Size,” “In the Red and Brown Water,” and “Marcus: Or the Secret Sweet.” They have been performed at McCarter Theater in Princeton, The Public Theater in New York, Steppenwolf Theatre in Chicago, and in the Bay Area at Marin Theatre Company, ACT, and Magic Theatre, as well as the Young Vic in London.

McCraney also wrote “Wig Out!,” the winner of the GLAAD Award for Outstanding Play, set in New York drag clubs, which explores McCraney’s experiences as a gay Black man.  Other plays include “The Breach,” “American Trade,” “Without/Sin,” “Run Mourner, Run” (adapted from Randall Kenan’s short story), “Head of Passes,” and “Choir Boy.”

Tarrell Alvin McCraney was named by London’s “Evening Standard” as their Most Promising Playwright in 2008, and a year later, was awarded the New York Times Outstanding Playwright Award for “The Brothers Size.”  He has also been honored with the Steinberg Playwright Award in 2009, the prestigious Windham–Campbell Literature Prize in 2013, and received a “Genius Grant” from the MacArthur Fellowship that same year. In addition, he has been awarded a Whiting Writers Award, and a National Endowment for the Arts Award.

Tall and lean like a dancer, McCraney also has great passion for dance. “I have the build but not the talent,” he says, and harbors a dream of one day creating a ballet. In his writing, McCraney tries to conjure similar choreographic effects, “those glimmers when you feel that this isn’t even words anymore, almost like a song, almost like a dance.”

In 2016, his autobiographical play, “In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue,” was adapted into a screenplay for the coming-of-age movie, “Moonlight.” McCraney won an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay, an honor he shared with the film’s director, Barry Jenkins. McCraney’s other awards included the Writers Guild of America, Film Independent Spirit Awards, Seattle Film Critics, and the Gold Derby Award.

Oprah Winfrey’s OWN network has announced an hour-long coming-of-age drama series created, written, and executive produced by McCraney, whose life story will serve as the basis for the series. McCraney will also pen “Cyrano the Moor,” a live-action musical starring David Oyelowo that will mash up William Shakespeare’s “Othello” and the classic French play, Cyrano de Bergerac.

At the Yale School of Drama, McCraney is currently the Eugene O’Neill Professor in the Practice of Playwriting Department; the Chair of Playwriting at the School of Drama; and the Yale Repertory Theatre Playwright-in-Residence.

As for being an openly gay Black man, McCraney said in an interview with “The Guardian”: “It’s interesting because I never had a coming out moment. Especially because…people were telling me I was gay from the off. There was never a moment when I had to sit everybody down and have a conversation. There were these small moments when I would be with my boyfriend and have to explain to my brother that this is my boyfriend, he’s not my friend or my partner but he’s my boyfriend. My brother was like ‘oh cool’ and we moved on.”

We thank Tarrell Alvin McCraney for his compelling playwriting, his powerful advocacy for the disenfranchised in America, and for his inspiring contributions to our community.