Nikilas Mawanda

Mawanda, Nikilas 2017

Nikilas Mawanda was born on January 10, 1982. He is a respected transgender activist, a human rights defender, and an international advocate for equality, equity, freedom, and justice, with a specialty in sexual and gender minority rights. Mawanda is the founding director of Trans Support Initiative—Uganda, a transgender and gender non-conforming people’s organization in Uganda.

Nikilas Mawanda was born in Kampala, Uganda to the late Prince Zakariya Mawanda Muyigwa and Hajjat Nnalongo Hamiat Nansubuga, a businesswoman and housewife. He has twenty-nine step brothers and sisters from both his mother and father. Mawanda lost his dear father when he was three months old. He says his mother played the roles of “both my mum and dad, and I saw her trying her best to support me and my step brothers and sisters.”

Mawanda’s father had been a businessman, an activist, and a prince from the Royal Kingdom of Buganda. In the 1980s, a vicious war broke out in Uganda between the National Resistance Army and the dictatorship of former president Milton Obote. Mawanda’s father stood for peace, justice, and freedom, and was asked by the kingdom to represent their interests. As the war raged in the Luwero district, the elder Mawanda was arrested, tortured, killed, and buried in a mass grave by the Obote government in 1982.

Mawanda’s father was called a traitor, so Mawanda and his family were forced to hide. Other family members ran away, and remaining relatives didn’t want to risk death by housing them. When Mawanda was around four, he recalled surviving bullets shot at the house where they were hiding. After the Obote regime ended, the family had nothing left, despite the fact that his father was one of the wealthiest men in the nation. Mawanda says that all of their property was taken by other family members and others who took advantage of his father’s killing. They tried to appeal to the courts for relief, but were only threatened with death.

Despite the turmoil in his life, Mawanda attended Nkata Nursery School, Happy Hours Primary School, Amudat Primary School, and Nambi Umea Primary School in the Luwero District of central Uganda. He also completed studies at Mende Kalema Senior Secondary School, Kawempe Standard School, and at Bright Future Academy.

From his earliest times in school, Mawanda stood out as a leader, beginning as a class monitor to become the head prefect of his school. He also was active in playing soccer, volleyball, running, singing, and acting. But Nikki—as he is known by his friends—knew from a very young age that he was different from the other children in school. Mawanda didn’t engage in activities typically involving girls, but rather preferred musical games. Around the age of six, Mawanda started staring at the sun after being told that doing so during sunrise and sunset would change your genitals. He wanted to urinate standing up like his male friends, but could not.

Mawanda says he had a feminine body but didn’t identify with it. He greatly admired a friend’s father, who would come back home with his briefcase and a bag with milk and bread. He was nurturing and spent time with his family, helping them with school, watching TV, or telling stories. When asked what he wanted in life, Mawanda would say he strived to be like his friend’s father. “I want to be a lawyer or business owner with a wife and kids,” he would tell others. They would respond by correcting Mawanda: “no, you mean husband.”

Mawanda had a number of encounters in school with both male and female suitors. One young lady sent him a love letter, telling him that she couldn’t imagine life without him. Mawanda’s stepsister went through his school bag and read the letter to his aunt. She presented it to the school, which called both Mawanda and the girl out at a general assembly. His aunt asked the headmaster to give them big punishments so they wouldn’t repeat the same mistake. Mawanda was given sixty strokes; his friend who wrote the letter was given 100. Mawanda was also beaten in front of each classroom, and told to denounce being a lesbian.

That incident began a difficult period for Mawanda. At thirteen, he was chased out of his home. His mother had remarried, and his new stepfather couldn’t stand to have him around, fearing that he would sow a seed of homosexuality in his children. That night, before he left, he found his stepfather strangling his mother because she gave birth to a homosexual. A major fight ensued, and Mawanda and his mother were humiliated in front of the neighborhood.

Mawanda knew of many incidents of beatings, blackmail, threats, and throwing stones at his house to make him leave. He was a target by Muslim groups who falsely accused him of recruiting their children. Mawanda never came out to his family because of all the violence and hostility toward him. Parents told their kids to distance themselves from Mawanda, and others asked his mother what she was going to do with him.

Mawanda changed his name when he was seventeen, following his conversion from Islam to Catholicism. He learned about transgender men and women in South Africa after a friend visited there in 2005. That knowledge inspired him to live in his truth. Mawanda started binding his chest a year later, and began hormonal therapy in 2012. It was difficult to access hormones in Uganda, so a friend sent them from the Netherlands until Mawanda came to the United States. He has since had some surgical procedures, and looks forward to several more. He bristles at the idea that he is “living as a man” saying, “I am a man. I’m not living as a man. I have always been male since I was a child.”

While in Uganda, Nikilas Mawanda became active in the Uganda Lesbian Association in 2002, and Freedom and Roam Uganda (FARUG), where he started the only LBTIQ women’s sports club registered under the Ugandan Sports Federation. In 2006, he was invited by the International Lesbian and Gay Association to attend one of its general meetings in South Africa to present on using sports as a tool for activism. Mawanda began a women’s day celebration every March as a way of linking sexual and gender minority rights to the mainstream women’s struggle in Uganda.

Actively involved in all aspects of movement-building efforts in Uganda, Mawanda co-founded the Uganda Trans Movement in 2007, and helped to create the first trans and gender non-conforming organization in the East African region. He also worked to establish the first East Africa trans movement in Nairobi, Kenya later that year. Mawanda has participated in organizing the Trans Africa Movement, the Civil Society Coalition on Human Rights and Constitutional Law, and the Uganda LGBTIQ National Security Committee.

Mawanda also was active in the establishment of Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG), a non-profit that coordinates protection and promotion of human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Ugandans. He was invited to speak at a 2007 Commonwealth Heads of State meeting in Kampala with Prince Charles of the United Kingdom, but the meeting was attacked by law enforcement, and he was removed from the speaker lineup for the day. The activists were assaulted and surrounded by police despite their invitation from the British Consul in Uganda to participate.

In 2013, lawyers helped make Mawanda’s name change legal in Uganda. The following year, having nowhere to go and with continual threats against his life, Mawanda came to the United States in 2014. Several months after his arrival, he was granted asylum. His name change was legalized in the U.S. as well.

Since then, Nikilas Mawanda has spoken about African LGBTIQ issues at RFSL; the Swedish National Association for Sexual Equality; the World Congress on Gender Identity and Human Rights in Barcelona, Spain; the World AIDS Conference in Vienna, Austria; the AFIYA Minority Sexual Health and Rights and Wellness conference in Nairobi, Kenya; and at the Coalition of African Lesbians and Trans Diverse People (CAL) in South Africa. He has also addressed events sponsored by the World Bank, the United States Congress, and an array of churches, conferences, colleges, and meetings.

Mawanda seeks to create more awareness about the struggle in Uganda, and to consolidate action in a more meaningful manner. He has spoken at length with the press, including the “Washington Blade,” National Public Radio, the Voice of America, the “Advocate,” and many others.

Mawanda holds a diploma in LGBT human rights advocacy that he obtained in Sweden, a certificate in soccer training by the Football Association of England, a certificate in small scale entrepreneurship from the Nonprofit Enterprise and Self-Sustainability Team (NESsT), and a certificate in security and protection that he earned in Kampala.

Today, Mawanda makes his home in Washington, DC.

We thank Nikilas Mawanda for his courage and resilience, for his commitment to freedom and justice for others, and for his principled contributions to our community.

 

Dexter “3D” Pottinger

Pottinger, Dexter 2017

Dexter “3D” Pottinger was born on November 6, 1982 (to August 30, 2017). He was a celebrated fashion designer, hairstylist, make-up artist, video director, choreographer, event producer, television reality series judge, and activist who became known as the “Face of Pride” in his home country of Jamaica.

Pottinger was raised with his siblings in the Waltham Park area of Kingston. Growing up, he didn’t initially have the support of his loved ones when it came to his sexuality. “It was hard for me as a youngster, but now my mother understands me more and my dad is cool. My siblings are also cool with me and my brother works with me,” he told “The Jamaica Gleaner” in 2017.

Even before he was a teenager, Pottinger had his eyes on fashion. He designed cheerleader outfits, and used plastic bags to create garments. “My oldest memory of Dexter was when he was about 11 years old,” recalled fashion designer and stylist Kaysian Wilson-Bourke. “He had put on a fashion show in the middle of the street with all the community girls, in the area where he grew up. All the outfits were made out of newspaper.”

According to Saint International CEO Deiwght Peters, Pottinger was discovered around 2000 in the lobby of the Jamaica Pegasus Hotel, walking alongside veteran model Althea Laing. “He was invited to enter the nationwide Faces of Summer Model Search organised by Saint. He went on to compete in the Fashion Face of the Caribbean. He modelled and danced in several Saint productions over the years. It was clear he yearned for something bigger,” Peters recalled.

Pottinger visited London as part of Saint International’s model contingent circa 2003, and decided to connect with photographers so that he could begin exploring photography and fashion images. According to Peters, they connected Pottinger with celebrity stylist Ty-Ron Mayes, who became a mentor to Pottinger, and would provide him experience in styling, developing looks, make-up composition, and subject movement in front of the camera when Pottinger would visit Mayes in New York City.

In 2005, Pottinger won Saint International’s Avant Garde Designer of the Year competition, and made a memorable impression at Fashion Block, where he created a camouflage collection with Nakeisha Robinson, and supermodel Stacey McKenzie walked the runway for his debut. Eventually, Pottinger would open his first retail store.

Over the years, his colorful designs for both men and women would range from urban-street chic and edgy to elegant and classy, inspired by his many travels around the globe. “Once I’m travelling, I’m coming up with something big and crazy. Some people use the Internet to find inspiration, but for me, I have to see it for myself. I have to see the fabric and pull elements from the culture to put into a piece and bring it to life,” Pottinger said.

Pottinger collaborated with dancehall artists such as Ce’Cile, Tifa, Lady Saw, and Beenie Man, and worked with Nick Cannon on the “King of the Dancehall” movie (2016). He gained additional fame as a judge on the Jamaican reality competition show, “Make Me a Star.”

In 2016, Pottinger was named the “Face of Pride” for Pride Week by the Jamaica Forum of Lesbians, All-Sexuals and Gays (J-FLAG). Pottinger said at the time, “I hope that my participation will show members of J-FLAG that it is okay to come out in an atmosphere where there is no violence, realise that it’s your time to be part of the change—not just for the week but permanently as a part of the community.”

Jaevion Nelson, executive director of J-FLAG, remembered his friend and colleague as “…a most striking character—tall, full of life, humorous, stylish and frank,” he told “Daze.” “It was hard to not notice him. I was, however, most intrigued by how open he was as a gay man living in Jamaica at a time few dared to do the same. It didn’t seem to be having much of an impact on his career.”

On August 31, 2017, Pottinger’s body was found in his home in the Washington Gardens neighborhood of St Andrew, Kingston, after acquaintances were unable to contact him. He had been stabbed several times, and the remains had begun to decompose. A television and two iPhones were missing, and Pottinger’s car was found miles away in Stony Hill. It was widely reported that neighbors heard screams coming from the house the day prior to the discovery of the body, but did not report the disturbance to police.

Authorities arrested 21-year-old Romario Brown and charged him with Pottinger’s murder. Brown was already known to law enforcement in connection with the April, 2016 murder of a woman in Mona, a crime for which he was given bail just weeks prior to the Pottinger murder. “The Jamaica Observer” reported that Pottinger had bailed Brown out of jail on unrelated weapons charges on August 29, hours before he was allegedly killed by Brown. Brown is scheduled to return to court on November 9.

Pottinger’s remains were cremated, and a red-carpet memorial service was held on October 22 at Struan Castle in Stony Hill. The gardens were adorned with Pottinger’s personal pieces, and a Buddhist-type sanctuary created to hold his urn. Singer Jordan Jarrett performed Sam Smith’s “Lay Me Down,” requested by Pottinger’s mother, Estrie Williams, and a video eulogy was presented in celebration of Pottinger. Among those in attendance were fashion industry executives, dancers, musicians, and Pottinger’s siblings.

“Dexter was the backbone of our family; he was responsible for bringing us together on every possible occasion,” remembered sister La-Keisha Aarons. “He was open-minded, honest and very firm when it came on to teaching his younger siblings life lessons on how to function as independent adults…Forever the voice of reason, he was the one who kept everybody grounded while always reminding us to pursue our passions relentlessly. Dexter was the life of the party because he believed in living his best life.”

Today, Pottinger is remembered for his extraordinary talent, and as a man of courage who dared to live openly in a notoriously homophobic country. He had hoped his visibility would not only make the world a better and safer place for Jamaicans living in the shadows, but the LGBTQ community and people of color around the world.

“If you look at the world right now, you will see that there is a lot of conflict between races that do not understand each other,” he told “The Jamaica Gleaner” in  2016, “but if we just respected and appreciated each other’s differences, and loved each other, things would be better.”

We remember Dexter “3D” Pottinger, and thank him for his courage, advocacy, and uncompromising support of our community.

 

 

Bryan Epps

Epps, Bryan 2017

Bryan Epps was born on October 13, 1982. He is an accomplished advocate, social justice activist, community builder, and entrepreneur.

Bryan Matthew Charles Epps was born on in Elizabeth, New Jersey, the son of Mark Cobb Epps Jr., a graduate of Cook College, Rutgers University, and Rutgers Business School, where he received his master’s in business administration. Mark Epps was recruited by the City of Newark, New Jersey, to advise Ken Gibson, the city’s first Black mayor, and the first Black mayor of a large northeastern city. Epps’ mother, Dr. Linda Caldwell Epps, is a graduate of Douglass College, Rutgers University, Seton Hall University, and Drew University. She served as a college professor and administrator. Bryan has one sibling, educator Mark Epps III. His parents also raised an older cousin, Micah Caldwell.

As a second generation Black American, Epps was raised in a household with an extremely expansive worldview. His mother, a scholar in African American history, and father, a civil servant, encouraged him to practice principles of self-respect, pride, and community engagement. Epps’ mother was afraid of the water, and refused to have her sons in the same predicament. As a result, he was an “aqua-tot” and became a competitive swimmer by the age of five, eventually swimming with the Newark swim team and later at Rutgers University. Epps attended St. Benedict’s Preparatory School in Newark (against his will, he says), a diverse all-boys parochial college preparatory school dedicated to instructing young men from Newark and surrounding areas through the lens of strict Benedictine rules. He graduated in 2000.

Epps then enrolled at Rutgers University, where he earned his BA in history, with double minors in anthropology and African studies. Epps also solidified his commitment to social justice and community engagement while at Rutgers. He was elected vice president of the Paul Robeson Club, which organized students campus-wide around politically and socially progressive issues. Epps also chaired the Rutgers College Programming Council’s Human Interest Committee, which developed political debates, lectures, and social events for LGBTQ students. He was also a member of the Black Student Union, and volunteered with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). In these roles, Epps brought often neglected issues like inequity, race, and sexuality to the forefront on campus.

After graduating, Epps worked full-time for the Greater Newark Conservancy, engaging Newark communities in beatification projects and with city officials on environmental policy. He simultaneously pursued full-time graduate studies, earning a Master’s of Science degree in urban policy analysis and management from The New School. By the time he turned 21, Epps was elected as district leader of the Downtown Newark neighborhood in which he grew up. He was then voted president of the James Street Commons Neighborhood Association Historic District at the age of 23.

Bryan Epps served as the volunteer executive director of the Newark Pride Alliance. Under his tenure, the Alliance advocated and consulted on the citywide and countywide commissions for LGBTQ concerns, and a center for LGBTQ safety, organizing and advancement; the fostering of Newark’s annual Pride Week festivities; and multiple educational symposiums and workshops that engaged an often homophobic public on issues pertaining to the LGBTQ community. For this work, Epps was awarded the Human Dignity Award by Rutgers University, and the Local Hero Award by Bank of America.

Epps was recognized as a stern political campaigner for his work leading a municipal judicial campaign in Brooklyn in 2012. He contracted with various officials and the Working Families Party to lead campaigns and canvasses throughout New York City, New Jersey, and Connecticut, following work as a senior policy analyst for Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, and senior performance advisor to former Newark Mayor Cory Booker. Epps contributions as one of the few registered Black lobbyists in the State of New York included advocacy on behalf of hospitals in danger of closure, policy work in favor of the Affordable Care Act, and preservation of historic sites.

Bryan Epps’ work as a lobbyist and bureaucrat—professions that are thought to be conservative —caused many to be surprised when he was appointed executive director of the Malcolm X & Dr. Betty Shabazz Memorial and Educational Center (The Shabazz Center) at age 31. The Center is the site of the historic Audubon Ballroom, the place where Malcolm X organized and spoke more than 20 times in the last year of his life, and where he was assassinated in 1965. Epps was appointed to take on the demanding tasks of raising the overall profile of the Center, including the planning and implementation of events to commemorate the 50th memorial anniversary of the assassination, and to celebrate what would have been Malcolm X’s 90th birthday. The events received coverage on most major news outlets, including BBC, Al Jazeera, Fox and CNN. Epps was named as a 2014 game changer by “Mused” magazine.

As an out queer Black man, Epps employs a millennial’s approach to leadership. He believes that leaders are inevitably shaped through collective and informal engagement. Epps’ dedication to community has also manifested itself in many ways, including the work he did with board colleagues to develop People’s Prep, a public school dedicated to preparing Newark youth for college and beyond. Epps served as co-founder of the school, and board president for three years.

Epps also worked with the Newark community, Mayor Booker, and the Hetrick-Martin Institute (HMI) of New York to develop HMI: New Jersey, a crucial afterschool program for LGBTQ youth. The program was the first in the city of Newark to engage the administration, school system, and nonprofit sector simultaneously in an effort to provide services to LGBTQ young people in need. He served as inaugural advisory chair of the program for two years.

He is also an administrator of The Social (for singles) and Social Squared (for couples), groups that exist to provide events, excursions, and social networking opportunities for gay, bisexual and trans men of color.

Bryan Epps enjoys city life, and is a romantic who desires to build a family and share love on a personal, intimate level. He is a foodie who takes advantage of New York City’s restaurants and lounges, but primarily spends free time with friends and family. He also has a Weimernaer/Pit Bull named Remy, and a cat, Cloud.

Epps spends time selecting exotic herbs and quality tea leaves to arrange distinctive, healthy, and tasteful tea blends. In 2015, his hobby turned into Ivnamez™, an artisanal tea leaf and herb blending company that creates personalized organic tea blends. Those interested in more information can email ezanatea@gmail.com.

As a young person, Epps realized that images depicting the LGBTQ community, especially positive ones, were extremely limited. When he was 20 years old, Sakia Gunn, a teenage lesbian from his hometown of Newark, was stabbed to death by an adult male for rejecting his sexual advances while heading home. Despite common acts of violence similar to that which took the life of Gunn, the proliferation of homophobia in everyday culture, and any substantial proof to the contrary, Epps believes that individuals and a larger community that reflect his own world view always exist. His quest for community led him to a lifelong pursuit of activism and organizing.

“Despite the fact that too many in the world are united by the shared experience of oppression, and the fact our ancestors have been tortured, assassinated, and martyred, and that our lived experiences are denied legitimacy, my blood flows knowing I am able to keep history alive in the communities of which I am part,” he says.

We thank Bryan Matthew Charles Epps for his inspiring advocacy, for touching the lives of others through his leadership and community building, and for his many contributions to our community.

Maurice Mjomba

Mjomba, Maurice 2017

Maurice (Morris) Mjomba was born on October 10, 1982 (to July 27-30, 2012). He was a Tanzanian HIV/AIDS coordinator, human rights activist, and a founding member of Stay Awake Network Activities (SANA).

Mjomba was a coordinator  at the Centre for Human Rights Promotion (CHRP) as well as a leading activist in Stay Awake Network Activities (SANA), an organization in Tanzania dealing with sexual health awareness for men who have sex with men. He was one of the founding members of SANA, and served as assistant secretary and executive committee member. His work focused on combatting discrimination against people with HIV/AIDS and in providing outreach to intravenous drug users. He also worked with regional organizations to provide sexual health awareness for LGBTI populations.

On July 30, 2012, Mjomba was found dead at his home in Dar ed Salaam. According to reports, he was found “in a slumped position on a couch, his mouth and nose taped, his hands bound behind his back, and he appeared to be severely beaten.” Mjomba was last seen three days prior, and no one had been able to contact him until his body was found. Mjomba was buried on August 1; the official cause of death was “asphyxia due to homicide.” There is no evidence Mjomba’s death was a homophobic hate crime, and no arrests have reportedly been made.

Mjomba’s passing received very little attention in the press, but those who had the opportunity to know Mjomba remember him as a passionate advocate for the LGBTI community in Tanzania, where homosexuality remains taboo and punishable by prison and fines.

“Courage is not measured by standing in front of a marching band of enemies. It’s measured by that internal push brought about by much thought of the consequences of one’s action—as it were, jumping in the deep when one has to jump. The step to the unknown is but a product of that,” wrote Alessia Valenza, who met Mjomba at a university course in late 2010. “Maurice needed not to announce to the whole world he was gay for him to be known he was. He lived a quiet life; permeated by his work with injecting drug users and responsibilities in the gay group he helped form. His human rights work at the Center for the Promotion of Human Rights was admirable.”

We remember Maurice Mjomba for his tireless advocacy and sacrifice for our community in Tanzania and beyond.

Jann Halexander

Halexander, Jann 2017
Photo: Jeff Bonnenfant

Jann Halexander was born on September 13, 1982. He is a singer, musician, composer, actor, producer, blogger, and activist.

Halexander was born Aurélien Makosso-Akendengué in Libreville, Gabon, the son of Léonard Makosso-Akendengué, a Gabonese diplomat, and Anne-Cécile Frébeau, a French national and a teacher of piano and philosophy. Both bi-racial and bisexual, Jann Halexander adopted his stage name from South African artist Jane Alexander, whose sculptures personify unique hybrid beings.

Jann Halexander grew up in the Gabonese Republic, a West African nation which gained its freedom from French colonialism in 1960. He has lived in many parts of the world, and has drawn musical influences from everywhere he goes. Halexander earned his baccalaureate degree from the Université Blaise-Pascal in 2000. In addition to Gabon, he lived in Canada in the late 1980s, studied geography in Angers, resided in France’s historic Loire Valley for four years, and lived in Cape Town, South Africa and Cologne, Germany. He has made his home in Paris since 2001.

As a child, Halexander felt very different and alone. He didn’t particularly enjoy sports, except swimming, and he rarely discusses his childhood in the Gabon capital of Libreville. He felt, looked, and acted different from others around him, and sensed the need to prove that he was a human being of value, deserving of acceptance and respect.

Jann Halexander is a prominent and vocal presence within European culture and arts circles. His advocacy for the LGBTQ community, and the growing African diaspora within Europe, is well known and appreciated. Primarily a French-speaking singer, he has a following in the United States, Canada, South Africa, Russia, and beyond.

With a growing fan base throughout Europe, Halexander loves to perform in public, and feels at ease on stage. He has played major concerts recently in France at Paris, Bordeaux, and Marseille; in Berlin and Cologne, Germany; and in Brussels, Belgium. Halexander knows that his eclectic fans love Lady Gaga, Mylene Farmer, Mozart, and him. He adds, “If you’re open minded [about loving diverse music forms], I don’t think it’s a problem.”

Halexander’s compositions are most often in the sparse traditions of French folk music: simple piano accompaniment but with surprising lyrics that address complex issues of race, acceptance, family, love, and death. He has released ten albums, and thousands of his CDs and DVDs have sold since 2003. In July of 2013, Halexander composed a short requiem for the late gay, English football star, Justin Fashanu.

In 2016, Halexander released the song, “Papa, Mum,” about the difficulties of love, feelings, and family. Earlier this year, he performed at Le Café de la Danse in Paris, joining other Gabonese artists calling for peace and respect of human rights in Gabon. He also released a new album, “A Vous Diraise-Je,” which he says is about “love, always love.”

Jann Halexander is a featured actor in “Statross le Magnifique,” a 2006 film by director Rémi Lange. The film is the first part of a trilogy about Statross Reichmann, an incarnation of the western world and all of its contradictions.

Halexander was active in several LGBTQ associations, including Tjenbered, and the bisexual advocacy group, Bicause. He has been involved in organizing cultural conferences about racism, homophobia, and culture, and sees himself as an activist for inclusion and tolerance.

Halexander hopes to continue touring and performing. He believes his greatest impact can be in “creating more fraternity in the world, and an end to discriminations.”

We thank Jann Halexander for his numerous contributions to music, and for his support of our community.

Dr. Nathaniel Langford Currie

Currie, Nathaniel Langford 2017

Dr. Nathaniel Langford Currie was born on July 25, 1982. He is a clinical social worker, educator, social justice advocate, and humanitarian whose resilience and determination to make a difference in the lives of others has served to inspire many who know him and those who have benefited from his work.

Nathaniel Langford Currie was born in Manchester, New Hampshire, to Nathaniel Forrest Nalley, a construction worker, and his mother, Deeanne Dearborn, a diner cook and waitress. He has multiple biological and adopted siblings, including well-known jazz/blues singer, educator, and actress Kim Nalley; Chance Nalley, a 2015 recipient of the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching; and photographer Kalley Mahilko.

At the age of three, Nathaniel was removed from his teenage mother’s custody and placed in foster care. He spent four years in foster care in four different homes that took him from New Hampshire to California and back—all before the age of seven. Nathaniel was lovingly adopted by Myrian Currie-Bergeron on May 10, 1990. While the transition period from foster care to permanency was often difficult for him, Nathaniel excelled in art, music (he played the trumpet), geography, history, and outdoor activities such as fishing, adventure camping, and kayaking. He attended Amherst Middle School and Souhegan Cooperative High School, both in Amherst, New Hampshire.

As a gay youth, Nathaniel felt the need to bury his same-gender attractions and desires. He says he watched his every move so he didn’t come off as gay or feminine, always conscious of exactly what he was doing, or equally important, not doing. He dated girls because he thought he should, but always had a curiosity for same-gender romance, sex, and companionship. He adds, “It wasn’t until my young adulthood when these desires were fulfilled that I found myself capable of experiencing them with women.” He often wondered if he had been free from the oppression of a dominate heteronormative culture, how he would have responded, but states, “Coming out was not difficult for me.”

A family member read some entries he had written in a journal and showed them to his mother, who was more disgusted by that person’s invasion of privacy than the contents of the journal itself. When his mother asked him about the journal entry, Nathaniel told her, “I think I am bisexual.” She made it very easy for him, allowing him to tell his siblings when he was ready, and not questioning him when he continued to date girls. Eventually all of Nathaniel’s romantic interests were male, and he says his mother always showed interest in his dating life. “I know I am lucky to have had a parent that didn’t put me through any extra trauma or distress when I was going through something so personal and often scary. So…thanks mom!”

Nathaniel went on to attend Plymouth State University, in Plymouth, New Hampshire, where he obtained his Bachelor of Science Degree in Social Work. As an undergraduate, he discovered his love for community and humanitarian work, and got involved in university programs and projects such as the Student Senate, Campus Compact, Habitat for Humanity, and the board of the New Hampshire chapter of the National Association of Social Workers (NASW).

After graduation, Nathaniel left New Hampshire for San Diego, California, where he spent three years working in agencies focused on child and adolescent mentoring, behavioral intervention, and family cohesion. He was accepted to Simmons College School of Social Work in Boston, Massachusetts, in April of 2008, and he graduated in May of 2011. With his Master of Social Work degree in hand, Nathaniel moved to Washington, DC, accepting a social worker position at DC’s child and family service agency, and a Psychological Associate position at Basics Group Practice in Prince George’s County, Maryland.

Nathaniel went on to hold clinical positions with Johns Hopkins Medicine and Us Helping Us People into Living, and clinical contracting posts for a number of agencies, including the Arlington County Division of Child & Family Services, DC Care, and the Wanda Alston Foundation. At the doctoral program at the University of Pennsylvania, in Philadelphia, his dissertation research examined patient experience in the systematic introduction of PrEP in primary care.

While talking about his work, Nathaniel reflects on his mission to foster a healing community of diversity, strength, and well-being that is socially relevant and respectful, grounded in health and scholarship, and that promotes the social prosperity of individuals and the communities in which they live.

Nathaniel approaches his life’s work with determination and passion, saying “I always knew I was going to be a social worker. In high school I knew I wanted to help other people like me… men, gay men, Black men, adopted youth, people looking for guidance. Social work was just a great fit for me all along. I remember my college advisor once saying to me when I questioned if I should continue with majoring in social work or switch to something else, ‘Nathan, if you flip to social worker in the dictionary, there would be a picture of you next to the definition.’” Nathaniel never forgot that, and took it as a sign that he was on the right path.

Nathaniel’s work focuses on men’s health and wellness, but he says that “my interest is in community, particularly the Black community…sometimes that work focuses on youth, sometime male, sometime gay/queer, sometimes it reveals itself as my work with families. My interest in the Black community is strong and steadfast…I believe that the Black community must be responsible as a collected effort in alleviating our ills and building our futures. If we sit around waiting for an outside source to come to the rescue we will be waiting a long time.”

He believes in the adage, “together we shall rise” to describe his perspective, and adds, “It takes a village to raise a child, yes, but it also takes a village to care for their elders, to support their grieving and unwell, to keep their men out of prisons, and to make education available throughout the lifespan. It is my hope that my work both daily and cumulatively inspires and impacts the Black community—our community.”

Much of Nathaniel’s work involves those who are impacted and affected by HIV. He speaks eloquently of his experience as a clinician, explaining that it is not just the actual diagnosis of HIV that causes such emotional distress for his patients, but the community stigma of having HIV, and the social and medical history of HIV.

“Many of my patients and friends tell me that they have experienced rejection in dating and in their families due to fear or lack of education on the subject,” he says. “Other patients tell me that they would rather not know their status than to be rejected or talked about. HIV is no longer a death sentence, but for so many it can feel like a social or romantic death sentence. It is NOT!”

His work in HIV is so fulfilling because he can help his clients, who are often his peers, see that there is so much to life after a diagnosis, adding, “You cannot talk about the Black community without addressing HIV, that is how I first became interested in the area…it was the clients and friends I made in the field that keep me engaged and passionate daily.”

Nathaniel moved from Baltimore to New York City earlier this year. He enjoys travel, humanitarian work, mountain biking, kayaking, and reading, and is an avid collector of art, pottery, and spices during his travels. Nathaniel is also an adoring uncle and godparent.

You can learn more about Nathaniel Currie’s inspiring work at www.nathanielcurrie.com.

We thank Dr. Nathaniel Currie for his numerous contributions to social work, HIV/AIDS education, and social justice, and for his support of our community.