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.

 

Andre Allen

 

Allen, Andre 2017

Andre Allen was born on July 14, 1982. He is a media blogger, HIV/AIDS activist, and a community advocate who uses his story to give back and help others.

Andre Joseph Allen, Jr. was born in Hollywood, Florida, the son of Andre Allen, Sr. and Primrose Mckie. He has six siblings, including two brothers and a sister from his father’s side of the family. His mother raised him, his brother and two sisters as a single parent.

Andre’s family is of Jamaican decent, and when it was time for him to come out, he initially lied to his mother when asked if he was gay, in fear of the unknown. A few hours later, he told her the truth. She was hurt that he lied, and said she didn’t approve of his sexual orientation. His family’s disapproval hasn’t changed much since he first came out in October of 2000. The relationship between Andre and his family has improved on some levels, but he says they essentially disowned him. His grandmother said he was going to hell and brought shame and disappointment to his family—that he was her first grandchild but wouldn’t be able to carry on the family legacy. She had hopes he would get married and have kids.

In 2000, Andre graduated from MacArthur High School, where he was the sports editor for his high school newspaper. While in high school, he became a beat writer for the “Miami Herald,” covering various sporting events during his senior year. After graduating, he traveled around the United States to get a feel of what life was like outside of Florida. In May 2003, he returned to Florida to work as an HIV/AIDS youth outreach worker at the Children’s Diagnostics and Treatment Center’s Comprehensive Family HIV/AIDS Program in Fort Lauderdale. He worked with women and youth infected with HIV/AIDS. Andre spent his time counseling and mentoring young people, and went to local churches and schools educating youth about HIV/AIDS.

In October of 2003, Andre found out he was HIV positive after a routine test. Since that time, he has made it his mission to spread awareness of the virus and educate as many people as possible along the way.

In 2008, Andre relocated to the metropolitan Washington, DC area. He began working on the Bayard Rustin Project at the National Association of People with AIDS (NAPWA) in 2010. The goal of the project was to increase HIV testing and prevention services among African American men who have sex with men. The initiative held town hall meetings and testing events as well as advocacy training programs for HIV positive, Black, gay men. Andre was one of twelve men who were the face of the project, telling their stories of living with HIV/AIDS.

Andre Allen identifies as a Black, gay man and views the Black SGL/LGBT community as extremely important to him and his growth as a human being. He tries his best to uplift and encourage everyone to work together, and says, “I’ve always been the voice of reason and I am a respected voice in the community.” Andre remains a valuable resource whom people frequently consult, and they are comfortable interacting with when they need information about community services.

Over the past ten years, Andre has been a media blogger, covering various LGBTQ and mainstream events, including gay pride celebrations and interviewing celebrities on the red carpet. He is motivated by a love of learning that others have found something useful and informative from his blogging. Andre frequently receives messages from readers asking his thoughts about a particular news item, and appreciates being thought of as a trusted source. You can check out his blog AndresFlava.

Andre currently makes his home in New York City and is single, but hopes one day to find a partner he can spend his life with. For now, he is focused on continuing to live his life to the best of his ability. He enjoys writing, watching sports, walks in the park, dining out, traveling when he can, and meeting and interacting with new and exciting people.

We thank Andre Allen for his support and enlightening of our community, and for his advocacy for people living with HIV/AIDS.