Bisi Alimi

Alimi, Bisi 2017

Bisi Alimi was born on January 17, 1975. He is an internationally renowned public speaker, storyteller, television pundit, actor, model, activist, and drag queen with expertise in sexual health, human and LGBTQ rights, sexual orientation, gender identity, race, feminism, education, and poverty alleviation. Alimi is the co-founder of Rainbow Intersection, and the executive director of the Bisi Alimi Foundation.

Born Alimi Ademola Iyandade Ojo Kazeem in the Mushin district of Lagos, Nigeria, Alimi was the third in a family of five children from his mother, Idiatu Alake Alimi, a university clerk, and sixth from a family of ten children from his police officer father, Rasaki Ipadeola Balogun Alimi. He later changed his name to Adebisi Alimi.

Alimi attended Eko Boys High School in Lagos, and graduated in 1993. He led his school cultural dances both at primary and secondary school to many awards and honors. Alimi was a member of his secondary school literary and debating society, and a Social Prefect (where he organized social activities) in his senior year. Following high school, he enrolled at University of Lagos, Nigeria, and obtained his Bachelor of Arts degree in theatre arts. Alimi went on to Birkbeck College, University of London, and earned a master’s degree in global governance and public policy.

Alimi’s transformation from being “an anti-gay proselyte, preaching hell fire and damnation to those who strayed” to out and proud activist began in late 1990s Nigeria, where his friends were dying from HIV/AIDS. After two years of community mobilization work and condom distribution among gay men as well as men who have sex with other men (MSM) in Nigeria, Alisi joined Alliance Rights Nigeria (ARN) in 2002, providing HIV/AIDS and sexual health services and supports.

In his capacity as ARN program director, Alimi was at the heart of developing Nigerian MSM HIV prevention framework. He was trained by the International AIDS Alliance as an HIV project designer and community mobilizer, and a provider of HIV care, support, and treatment. In 2014, Alimi himself was diagnosed with HIV. He became the first Nigerian to openly declare his sexuality on national television, and it was a turning point in the discussion on sex and sexuality in Nigeria. Alimi also became the first openly gay man in Nigeria to address the National AIDS conference in the capital city of Abuja.

In 2005, Alimi left Alliance Rights Nigeria to set up The Independent Project Nigeria (TIP), now known as The Initial Equal Rights Nigeria (TIER). While the executive director of TIER, he was able to secure £6m in funding from USAID through Heartlands Alliance USA for the first nationwide MSM HIV prevention project in Nigeria.

Alimi’s public coming out led to threats on his life and his resulting move to the United Kingdom in 2007, where he was a refugee until being granted British citizenship in December 2014. In 2011, Alimi joined with other community leaders to found Kaleidoscope Diversity Trust, a UK-based international LGBT charity that works around the world to promote diversity and respect for all, regardless of sex, sexual orientation, or gender identity.

In 2012, while attending the International AIDS conference in Washington DC, Alimi was invited to the White House along with global HIV advocates and activists to meet President Barack Obama.

Alimi’s 2014 TEDxBerlin talk, “There Should Never Be Another Ibrahim,” has been listed as one of the 14 noteworthy LGBT talks from around the world. He returned to the TEDx stage in 2016 with “How I Became An Angelic Troublemaker” (a nickname given by a friend for his controversial approach to activism). Alimi won the first London Moth Grand Slam, was a storyteller at the London and New York Moth Mainstage, and his talk at the Aspen Ideas Festival left those gathered asking for more. Alimi delivered his “I Am Bisi Alimi and I Am Not a Victim” closing speech at a “Daily Beast” event hosted at the New York Public Library, and his remarks at the International Fundraising Conference in 2017 left the audience in tears.

Expanding his work to the written word, Alimi has contributed to such outlets as “The Guardian” and Project Syndicate. “The Development Cost of Homophobia” is his most successful article to date, translated into more than 15 languages globally. In May 2014, to mark a decade since his diagnosis, Alimi wrote a moving piece for the “Huffington Post” entitled “My 10 Years of Living With HIV.” Later that year, he wrote for “The Daily Beast” to commemorate World AIDS Day. “The Boy from Mushin,” Alimi’s contribution to “Black and Gay in the UK: An Anthology,” was excerpted from his upcoming memoir, which documents his life and his relationship with his parents. The anthology also featured Alimi’s poem, “I Told A Tale,” which has been described as “gripping,” “powerful,” and “a tale of victory.”

Alimi has been featured by National Public Radio and the “Washington Post,” and in 2017, “Gay Times” magazine profiled him in a four-page center spread for his activism and passion. In addition to appearing on “Tell Me More” with Michele Martins, Alimi’s media appearances include Christiane Amanpour, BBC World Service, CNN, Al Jazeera, and CCTV.

Alimi has received many laurels for his work globally. He has been listed four years in a row on the UK LGBT list, named one of the Most Inspiring British LGBT People of 2016 by “Buzzfeed,” and was ranked number 68 on the World Pride Power List 2017. That same year, Alimi was honored by “The Independent” newspaper in the UK as one of the nine LGBT people that defined the year. Other honors have been bestowed by “Out in the City” magazine, AVAC, and the Aspen Institute, which named him a fellow in 2014.

Alimi has worked with organizations and initiatives around the globe, including PxROAR Europe, the European AIDS Treatment Group, the Pan European Black Gay Men Group, the European Community Advisory Board, the Think Tank, the European HIV Policy Working group, and Mr. Gay World. He is a consultant with the World Bank on the economic impact of homophobia, and serves on the World Bank advisory board on sexual orientation and gender identity.

In 2017, Alimi went on tour of the UK with his one-man stage piece, “Africa’s Future Has No Space for Stupid Black Man,” a story of a troubled gay rights activist in Nigeria who committed suicide.

Alimi lives in London with his husband, and enjoys reading, traveling, writing, and cooking.

For more information on Alimi, visit his website at www.bisialimi.com.

We thank Bisi Alimi for his tireless activism, for his engaging, powerful, passionate, edge-of-your seat storytelling, and for his steadfast support of our community in Nigeria and around the globe.

 

Terrence Clemens

Clemens, Terrence 2017 by Rachel Johnson, The Wichitan
Photo: Rachel Johnson/The Wichitan

Terrence Clemens was born on January 17, 1989. He is an LGBTQ advocate, future community leader, amateur boxer, and college basketball player whose coming out story was profiled in the 2015 documentary “Game Face.”

Terrence Lamar Clemens was born in South Central Los Angeles, California, the middle child of six born to father Rudolph Clemens and mother Rochelle Denise Wiggins. With his father in prison and a mother who was in his life but not the primary caregiver, Clemens was raised by his great grandmother, Learlean Marie Parrott. Many loved ones, including his mother, did not approve of Clemens being gay. “A lot of my family members, they would rather you kill somebody than be gay,” he told “Outsports.” “They’d rather you be a drug dealer than be gay. They’d rather you were strung out on crack on somebody’s corner than be gay.”

After attending Angeles Mesa Elementary School and Audubon Middle School, Clemons traveled an hour each way to Artesia High School in Lakewood, California. Like his great grandmother, Clemens loved basketball, and he excelled in the game at Artesia. He would eventually transfer to Crenshaw High School and then to Jordan High School, where he graduated in 2007.

In 2010, Clemens and eight others were indicted on federal conspiracy and fraud charges in connection with stolen credit card information. Facing five years in prison, Clemens pleaded guilty and was sentenced to time served (nine months at the Leavenworth Penitentiary) in 2011. Although his brush with the law temporarily derailed his basketball aspirations, Clemens didn’t give up. Shortly after his release from prison, Clemens tracked down one of his coaches, and that led to Northeastern Oklahoma A&M College (NEO) in Miami, Oklahoma.

It was Clemens’ two years as a scholar athlete at NEO that became the subject of “Game Face,” which also features trans MMA fighter Fallon Fox. The film chronicles his emotional coming out to coaches and teammates, including Uter Moukimou, who admitted he couldn’t have a gay friend in his native Democratic Republic of Congo. Despite the college being located in the relatively conservative Midwest, the reaction to Clemens being gay was mostly positive. After the college’s Golden Norse basketball team captured the NJCAA Region II championship in 2014, Clemens graduated from NEO with an associate’s degree.

Thanks to the exposure in “Game Face,” Clemens became a public speaker in 2015. “After speaking engagements, students who are nervous build up the courage to come up and speak with me and share their story and what they’ve learned from the presentation,” Clemens told the Ubuntu Biography Project. Clemens has also gone from the hardwood to the ring, taking up amateur boxing.

Clemens lives in Los Angeles, where he enjoys paintball, dirtball, fishing, horseback riding, and spending time with family and friends.

“I want to focus on finding out who I am,” Clemens told “Outsports.” “Most of my life I’ve been living for other people, not wanting to disappoint people who couldn’t care less about me. I want to focus on my life now and find out what’s important to me.”

We thank Terrence Clemens for living his truth out loud, his advocacy, and for supporting our community.

Michael Terry Everett

Everett, Michael Terry with Aunsha and Monae 2017
Photo: Michael Terry Everett (left) with husband Aunsha (center) and daughter Jadenna-Monae (right)

Michael Terry Everett was born on January 15, 1980. He is a husband, champion of same gender love, researcher, advocate, HIV/AIDS activist, creator, and educational facilitator.

Michael Terry Everett was born in Wilmington, Delaware, to William “Bill” Winchester, the grandson of Delaware’s first seated Black state representative, and the son of jazz musician Lem Winchester. Michael grew up mostly with his mother, Ida Everett, a homemaker who struggled with addiction most of her life. His older sister and only sibling, Sharonda, played a major role in Everett’s upbringing during his school years. In 1999, Michael Everett graduated from Germantown High School in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, with a concentration in communications.

Following high school, Everett enrolled at Penn State University’s Abington Campus, serving as president of the Black Student Union, and earning his Bachelor of Science degree in administration of justice. Craving a higher education experience with people of color, he enrolled at Lincoln University in Pennsylvania, where he received his master’s degree in human services. Everett is continuing his education as he works toward completing a Doctorate of Education degree in leadership and change.

Growing up, Everett had few role models he felt he could identify with. Like many gay men, he struggled with owning his sexuality, as it was still very much a taboo topic in communities of color. Everett’s uncle, Paul Everett, was the only visibly gay person in the family that he felt connected to, but he was often kept from his uncle due to the family’s disapproval of his unapologetic “lifestyle.” Like many gay men, Everett’s Uncle Paul passed away in the late 1980s as result of HIV and immune system complications. However, his uncle’s life would impact Everett, reminding him to also be fearless and unapologetic.

Everett claims to have never had an authentic “coming out,” as much of his early life was spent caring for his mother throughout her addiction, and her well-being took center stage. Of that time, he recalled, “While I did not do a tremendous amount of hiding, I was a shy and private kid who was still trying to understand myself. The most defining moment of my ‘coming out’ was actually quite simple: I met a guy in high school who I called my best friend, and then shortly announced to our mothers and friends that we were boyfriends and happy, and that was that! No questions, no drama. Life quickly returned back to my mother’s addiction, and my obsession with finding out what I would make of my life.”

Everett always believed that he would be an author or an attorney, but life had a different plan. “I was always with a job, especially as a kid. I remember being in school half days so that I could participate in a school/work program where I earned credits for being employed. I was headed out to work at Cheltenham Mall in Philadelphia when the teacher announced a special presentation done by a group of youth educators for the Youth Health Empowerment Project. I was so impressed, that I stayed and watched the whole safer sex and HIV 101 presentation. I remember thinking that I could do that for work, and that needed to be my next job,” Everett recalled. He soon found a position with The Gay and Lesbian Latino AIDS Education Initiative, where he served as a peer educator. He has been working in HIV/AIDS education and prevention ever since.

Michael Terry Everett served in various positions over seven years for GALAEI, a queer Latino social justice organization where he implemented the M-PACT program. This was the first community-based case management program for school-aged LGBTQ youth in Philadelphia. He served as the first assistant director of the Youth Health Empowerment Project, using his capacity building experience to transform a drop-in center into an empowerment center. Everett also served as the director of training and capacity building support for the Harm Reduction Coalition from 2010 through 2014, and as director of the capacity building program at Community Impact Solutions.

Everett is a founder of Intimacy & Colour LLC, a community building movement that uses African-inspired concepts and principles to promote love, and teach loving through intimacy, self-respect, and mutual respect. It was conceptualized around 2011, with the assistance of his now-husband, Aunsha Hall-Everett. “It became more important for me to develop myself as a thought leader around healthy relationships for same-gender loving (SGL) people of color,” Michael Everett said. He looks forward to creating strategies that will provide both safety and support for communities and individuals seeking physical, spiritual, and emotional wellness.

Everett told the Ubuntu Biography Project that “in a world that teaches us to be ashamed, pride is often a privilege and luxury. It is important for SGL people to love who they are and what they see when they look in the mirror, because no one else has to like us or love us, and we cannot afford life without love, so we must be prepared to first love ourselves. Much in the same way that Black parents prepare their children for bias through affirmations, it is my charge to prepare SGL people of color to do the work in loving yourself consciously and continuously, particularly in the event that laws, scripture, and loved ones want to reinforce the lie that we are somehow unlovable. I believe that pride is a product of love, and that we must start at the beginning.”

Michael Terry Everett has done work around sexual violence in communities of color, but added, “I would love to have done more around sexual violence and young gay Black men of color. I feel that through my conversations with gay men across the country that we have so much more to discuss around this topic. I also believe that it is an important time to have this discussion now that Black gay men have access to marriage, and more support and safety around being who they are. Gay Black men who have spent their whole lives in secrecy and shame are likely to have learned how to hold a secret and bare the shame. These practices can create issues on our journeys to be loved, and can distort what wellness is supposed to look and feel like.”

Everett has achieved a considerable amount of experience in community service. He has served as a board member of the William Way Community Center in Philadelphia, as well as at the Community Planning Group, the Public Health Management Corporation Community Advisory Board, and the Proceed Inc. National Community Advisory Board. He was a founder of the Roots & Wings Coalition, and currently serves on the Hyacinth Community Advisory Board, the Black Men’s Exchange-New Jersey, the Baltimore Student Union Harm Reduction Coalition, the O’Brien Dennis Foundation, and the Black Treatment Advocates Network.

Everett’s writing can be found at ETR BlogThe Body, and at Urban Socialites.

Everett looks forward to creating a permanent Black gay presence in Long Beach, California, and publishing his first book on SGL love and dating. He gladly anticipates completing his dissertation this year. He is focused on building the foundation for Intimacy & Colour, which seeks to house emotional and mental health life coaches at community-based institutions to provide hands-on support for Black SGL people. Everett hopes to create a supportive network that will provide tools for navigating the risk epidemic that will place HIV prevention back in the hands of the communities most at risk.

Everett has been married for four years, and he and his husband have had a daughter since she was two months old. It was a kinship adoption from Everett’s first cousin, following the tradition of gay Black men raising the children of relatives as their own. They named their little girl Jadenna-Monae, with Jadenna meaning “honoring the father”—appropriate considering she has two of them.

As a same-gender loving man who is committed to building a loving community that courageously embraces everyone, Everett appreciates the opportunity to support his community, and continues to grow and become an influencer around the best practices of serving LGBTQ people and communities of color.

We thank Michael Terry Everett for his lifelong commitment to teaching and serving others, his advocacy on behalf of people affected by HIV/AIDS, and his many contributions to our community.

Steven G. Fullwood

Fullwood, Steven G. 2017

Steven G. Fullwood was born on January 15, 1966. He is a respected author, publisher, and curator who may be best known as the archivist who founded the In the Life Archive at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, part of the New York Public Library.

Fullwood was born in Toledo, Ohio, the son of Steve J. Fullwood, a chef, and Elaine E. (Houston) Fullwood, a bank employee. He has four siblings, Cynthia (1961-1992), Karen, Darryl (1968-2016), and Pamala, as well as several nieces and nephews whom he loves dearly and completely. Fullwood’s only son, Andre D. Rice (Andre Rize), lives in California, and is a successful painter.

A Midwestern, working class boy with southern roots, Fullwood led a pretty average life as a youngster. Like many Black children in the 1970s, he was told he could do better than his parents—the promise of the civil rights movement. To Fullwood, all that really meant was “striving to escape the world’s tar brush long enough to get an education and live somewhere and to buy things,” he said. “This was not the dream of the enslaved, but I understood it. When you do without for so long, it can shape your reality of what constitutes a good life.”

Fullwood went to public school, and spent most of his childhood to his teen years reading comics, drawing superheroes, playing with his friends, and learning how to be a boy. More than anything, he loved music and dancing, and entertained the idea of becoming a rock star but admits, “I can’t sing or play an instrument.”

Fullwood attended Macomber-Whitney Vocational Technical High School in Toledo, where he majored in commercial art and graduated in 1984. He earned a bachelor’s degree in English and communications from the University of Toledo in 1992, and his master’s in library science from Clark Atlanta University in 1997. Before attending graduate school, Fullwood worked as a children’s librarian at Mott Branch Library of the Toledo-Lucas County Public Library for three years, and published articles and editorials in “The Toledo Journal.” Concurrently, he mounted small exhibitions of his friend’s artwork, and published chapbooks of his own poetry. Around this time, Fullwood’s closet door began opening. By the time he left Toledo in 1996 to move to Atlanta, “I was completely out to my family and friends,” he recalled, “and it felt great.”

Coming out for Fullwood was part “we already knew, Steven, relax,” and part “now what?” Being gay, he suspected, “was difficult, but no more or less so than anyone else’s experience in the 1970s Midwest.” What made it unique was that it was his experience. “I’m a post-civil rights child, shaped by the consequences of living in a Midwestern post-industrial town that, to this day, has never rebounded economically, and is racially segregated. There was—and I suspect still is—racism, homophobia, and a good deal of intolerance all around,” he said. And while that was his experience in Toledo, there were also the comforts of 70s music, the novels and nonfiction of James Baldwin, family and friends, a miniscule nightlife, romantic relationships, and, perhaps most importantly, the library.

“As a teenager, my thirst for a language to describe what I thought I was—or at least becoming—ravaged my consciousness. The main library became my sanctuary,” Fullwood said. “I regularly perused the shelves for anything Black and homosexual.” A friend of Fullwood’s at the time named Valerie went to the public library in Cleveland and discovered “In the Life: A Black Gay Anthology” edited by Joseph Beam, a book Fullwood said “anticipated my future as an archivist.” She gave him photocopies of essays and poems from the book. “My heart raced. Writings by several self-identified Black gay men. I repeatedly read those pages. These writings expanded my mind about what was possible. Coming out stories, sexual encounters, homophobia, HIV/AIDS, romance, religion, loneliness, and political activism. I felt less alone in the world,” recounted Fullwood.

But only after Fullwood graduated in 1992 did library life claim him. “After three years of working as a children’s librarian, I made a decision to attend library school at Clark Atlanta University, and earned a master’s degree in library science,” said Fullwood. “In 1998, I began learning how to be an archivist, to arrange, describe, and catalog collections in the Manuscripts, Archives and Rare Books Division of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, New York Public Library.” New York shaped what was possible for Fullwood, and how he engaged, was changed, and submerged himself in contemporary Black LGBTQ/SGL culture.

“I know the reason why I was able to leave Toledo was because I was loved,” Fullwood stated. “At the end of the day, the love of my parents, particularly my mother, siblings, and best friend Carla, and my kid Andre, made the difference between flying or staying in a place where I couldn’t fully develop my interest in art, literature, and film,” according to Fullwood.

Fullwood’s most recent project, “Black Gay Genius: Answering Joseph Beam’s Call,” took several years to complete, and explores the legacy of Beam, editor of the first Black gay anthology in 1986. The book was conceived by Charles Stephens (also a co-editor of the book), a writer/activist/intellectual based in Atlanta, and the executive director of The Counter Narrative Project, an advocacy organization for Black gay men, who recognized a need to honor Beam. Beam’s work has special resonance for Fullwood, who sees the project as a divine providence.

“The Schomburg houses the papers of several men whose work I had read when I lived in Toledo, Atlanta, or Washington, DC, including Melvin Dixon (“Vanishing Rooms”), Assotto Saint (“Wishing for Wings”), and, of central significance to me, Joseph Beam,” Fullwood said. “In less than a decade, I went from carrying around wrinkled photocopied pages of ‘In the Life’ to having access to Beam’s papers, which are filled with original submissions, drafts of the manuscript, and correspondence with writers such as Barbara Smith and Audre Lorde, two of the founders of Kitchen Table Press, who were inspirations for Beam and scores of other Black people in the life. Reading what he read and considering his process of taking an idea to publication resonated with me. Through that seminal publication, he turned a light on in my head as an archivist, as well as an editor and publisher.”

What Fullwood likes most about “Black Gay Genius” is that “it enters the longstanding Black tradition of Black people honoring Black people. The book is essentially a rescue mission to reclaim Joe in order to properly thank the man for his bountiful legacy, and to invite others to remember or be introduced to him. It’s a generative experience for all involved. Everyone benefits from remembering people and history. Doing so offers context and meaning to life and living reminds of us of the different ways we can love, be loved and experience one another in profoundly amazing ways.” (The book is available through direct order; email stevengfullwood@gmail.com for details.)

Widely beloved for his brilliance and advocacy, Fullwood believes in community, and re-imagining what community could be. Most of his current work acknowledges and celebrates Black LGBTQ/SGL people. The In the Life Archive (formerly known as the Black Gay & Lesbian Archive) was an archival project to aid in the preservation of the culture and history of the LGBTQ/SGL people of African descent. For the past decade, Fullwood has published several lesbian and gay writers through Vintage Entity Press, his independent publishing company, which he closed in December 2015 to pursue documentary and photographic projects. He’s also a former board member of Fire & Ink, an advocacy organization for Black LGBTQ/SGL writers and writing. “When I was younger, there were few reflections of my Black homo experience in books, film, music or in the libraries and archives. I work to be a part of a coalition of people who actively seek to leave this place better for those coming up behind us,” Fullwood declared.

Although Fullwood credits Baldwin and Beam as central influences, there are others. Toni Cade Bambara (“The Salt Eaters”), Lorraine Hansberry (“To Be Young, Gifted and Black”), and Vincent Harding (“There is a River: The Black Struggle for Freedom in America”) are people and books he returns to repeatedly. Fullwood adds, “But I should emphasize that I—actually, we—owe a significant debt to our ancestors, which must be paid to those people who were stolen, misnamed, violently abused, and repeatedly misrepresented in almost every history book ever written, who came to this land under conditions we can’t fully fathom and lived. They lived. I owe them my life.”

After leaving the Schomburg Center in May 2017 to pursue documentary, photographic, and independent archival projects, Fullwood plans to open in February 2018 a small gallery and performance space in Harlem named after his mother, Elaine. Elaine’s Gallery and Coffee Shop is an extension of the work he’s done for the past 30 years by supporting artists with a unique platform for their work. “And yes,” Fullwood quipped, “there will be coffee.”

We thank Steven G. Fullwood for his contributions to the written word, for archiving Black and LGBTQ history, and for supporting our community.

Reginald T. Brown

Brown, Reginald T. 2017

Reginald T. Brown was born on January 14, 1952. They are a social justice, faith-based activist, an advocate for people living with HIV/AIDS and who are homeless, and a proponent of HIV decriminalization.

Reginald Thomas Brown M.Ed. was born in Kansas City, Missouri, to Rufus T. Brown, who was a railroad worker, and their mother, Clydia P. Turner, a nurse practitioner. They have a sister, Sabrina, and a stepsister, Barbara, five grown nieces, and a nephew. Brown attended Wyandotte High School in Kansas City, Kansas, where they graduated in 1970. They were the first Black foreign exchange student, and lived in Chile in 1969 through the American Field Service. Brown spent the summer in Chile prior to their senior year in high school, and witnessed the moon landing in a public square in Concepción, Chile because the family with whom they lived did not own a television.

Reginald T. Brown was the first Black drum major in a predominantly white school of 2,500 students, and was active in numerous clubs and organizations in high school. Their name is one of the many listed in the Social Hall of Wyandotte High School’s Hall of Fame.

Reginald T. Brown enrolled at the University of Kansas, where they obtained their bachelor’s degree in early childhood development. Brown is a member of Phi Kappa Tau fraternity, and were elected in their freshman year as president of the newly-formed Gay Liberation Front (GLF) in 1971. Brown was part of the lawsuit against the university for its failure to fund and supply office space for the GLF in the Student Union. William Kunstler, famed civil rights attorney and advocate, represented their case pro-bono. They lost, but got funding and office space the following year. The GLF formed a speaker’s bureau that traveled to various campuses throughout the state to conduct teach-ins, so that students could know queer people, and the organization’s members could publicly present their pride in being themselves.

While participating with the speaker’s bureau at Emporia State College, Brown encountered several of the neighborhood bullies that taunted, teased, and ridiculed them as a child. This was a catharsis for Brown, who was no longer afraid, and was able to boldly look the former bullies in the eye and exclaim, “YES! This is who I am!” Much of the anti-gay sentiment at the university came from the members of the Black Student Union (BSU), of which Brown was not a member. Brown’s agenda and goals were not those of the BSU, and because of that rejection, the BSU lost out on all that Brown had to offer.

As a campus activist, Brown participated in many demonstrations, including anti-Vietnam War demonstrations. A week after the gunning down and murdering of the Kent State Four in Ohio, Brown was part of a demonstration that was tear-gassed as bullets whizzed past their heads. Unfortunately, one of their colleagues was shot and killed.

As a sophomore, Brown happened upon a class being taught by dancers from the Martha Graham Company. One male dancer caught Brown’s eye when they saw the dancer’s beautiful body doing incredible things. Brown stayed, took the class, and realized that they could do that as well—or at least try—because they did not want to be 44 years old and wonder IF they could have.

Brown went on to attend Christmas and summer classes at the Martha Graham School in New York City until graduation in 1975. That summer, Brown danced as one of the cowboys in the musical “Oklahoma,” and served as dance captain due to their photographic memory of the dance steps. Brown moved to New York in August of 1975 with less than $200, and lived with a college buddy. In 1979, Brown took his first and only dance company to Mexico City, where they served as their business manager and as lead dancer for ten months.

After they disbanded the company, Reginald T. Brown returned to New York City, modeled, and eventually took a position with the German logistics company, Deutsche Post (also known as DHL), and traveled throughout Europe, including London, Vienna, Lugano, Munich, and Amsterdam.

Brown lived and worked for ten months in Utrecht, a half hour train ride from Amsterdam, before moving to Berlin, West Germany for three months. There they accepted an offer to dance and teach in Athens, Greece, where they learned to speak fluent Greek on stage and television. Brown spent six years in Athens, teaching dance, choreographing, singing, acting, modeling, and dancing, and performing in a children’s television show and various theaters and nightclubs. Brown was awarded the Ithakis Festival Award for their choreography of a Greek musical. They co-starred and performed in “Man Friday,” an adaptation of “Robinson Crusoe.”

To be a part of the lives of their nieces (who were one and two years old at the time), and not wanting to be the absent male that was heard about but not known, Brown returned to New York in 1990 to serve as a substitute teacher. They attended Adelphi University’s master’s-level early childhood and special education program, graduating in 1995. Brown was inducted into Kappa Delta Pi, the international honor society in education. They graduated in two-and-a-half years, and became a tenured teacher after three years. Brown stopped teaching due to a nervous breakdown after eleven years of service. They were diagnosed as HIV positive+ in 1986, with AIDS in 1997, and unable to transmit HIV since 2013.

Currently, Reginald T. Brown volunteers twice a week—enriching their artistic and intellectual senses—at WNET Channel Thirteen, the flagship station of the Public Broadcasting Service, where Brown just celebrated 10 years of service. Brown is an active member of the Unity Fellowship of Christ Movement in New York, a social justice ministry founded more than 35 years ago by Archbishop Carl Bean. Social justice is Reginald Brown’s ministry—speaking truth to power and standing up for those who cannot or will not stand up for themselves. “If I can help somebody, my living is not in vain,” Brown proudly proclaims.

Reginald T. Brown is a board member of Voices of Community Activists and Leaders (VOCAL-NY). They were re-appointed to the HIV and AIDS Services Administration (HASA) by former New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito. Brown has been selected to participate in the Building Leaders of Color (BLOC) Regional Training as part of NMAC in February of 2018.

In June 2015, Brown, along with 53 others, was arrested in a civil disobedience direct action protesting Governor Andrew Cuomo’s inaction on the rent control laws that protect many New Yorkers. Although they did not secure nearly as much as they wanted, they did get a zero percent rent increase for one year, rent-stabilized tenants. It was the first zero percent increase in the nearly 50 years of rent regulation.

This was Brown’s first civil disobedience direct action, and one of the proudest moments of their life. Brown’s mother always told them to stand up for what they believe in—even she disagreed— and be willing to accept the consequences. As Brown was being led away in handcuffs they sang the freedom song, “We Who Believe in Freedom Cannot Rest Until It Comes” at the top of their lungs, and could hear the other protesters join in song behind them.

Brown attended their first Native American sweat lodge on a self-care/healing sabbatical in Las Vegas, Nevada in September of 2015. This was a spiritual healing and awakening for Brown, who as a child learned their grandmother was Native American but did not take it seriously. This ceremony kindled a spiritual awakening of things familiar that were not fully understood.

The following month, Brown attended their first Native American intertribal pow wow honoring veterans in Las Vegas. They had to unlearn all the lies and misconceptions that had been learned about Native Americans. The beauty, pride, pageantry, and tradition of what they now call their “Mitakuye Oyasin” (All my Relations) further awakened a deeper longing to discover, honor, and respect all of Brown’s relations. That included “enhanced appreciation and connection to the four-legged creatures, the two-legged creatures, the winged creatures, the Earth, our Mother, mountains and Creator.”

On March 24, 2017, Brown was arrested in front of the White House in an act of civil disobedience to stop the repeal of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Three days later, they were arrested in Albany to force Governor Cuomo to release the $2.5 billion that had been on hold since January 2016 to build supportive housing. On July 19th of that year, Brown was arrested along with more than 175 others to block the repeal of the ACA.

Brown discovered the writings of James Baldwin while living and working in Europe, and identified with the picture Baldwin painted of an intellectual outsider. They were proudly influenced by Nina Simone, Josephine Baker, Paul Robeson, and Eartha Kitt as activist artists who came into their own only after leaving the United States. Brown identified with the experiences of these activists because Brown did the same.

As a queer, Black, gender fluid, gender non-conforming activist, Brown believes it is their God-given assignment to be visible so that the experiences of Black long-term AIDS survivors are written into the AIDS epidemic narrative, and that others will know they are not alone and were around in the beginning. Brown sees themselves as a role model, and a physical manifestation of God’s love, mercy, and grace.

We thank Reginald T. Brown for their lifelong commitment to the arts and education, for their strong advocacy on behalf of people affected by HIV/AIDS, and their many contributions to our community.

André De Shields

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André De Shields was born on January 12, 1946. He is a two-time Tony Award-nominated and Emmy and Obie Award-winning actor, singer, director, dancer, novelist, choreographer, lyricist, composer, and college professor.

André Robin De Shields was born in Baltimore, Maryland, the ninth of eleven children to Mary, who earned money by cleaning homes of white families who lived outside of their segregated neighborhood, and his father John, who was a tailor. “We were just hovering above impoverishment. Our two-story Federalist-style row house on Division Street was tight, and my brothers and sisters practically slept on top of each other,” De Shields recalled.

De Shields loved watching movies at a neighborhood theater throughout his youth. In 1954, when he was eight, De Shields had an epiphany while watching “Cabin in the Sky.” The 1943 movie starred every major Black performer at the time, but the actor who jumped off the screen for him was John “Bubbles” Sublett, who played Domino Johnson, the film’s seductive lothario. In the movie, Bubbles sings “Shine” backed by Duke Ellington’s orchestra. De Shields would later say, “When he dances up a flight of stairs at the end, a voice inside me said, ‘André, that’s what you’re going to do.’” Years later, De Shields would invite the aging and infirmed John Sublett to watch him pay tribute in nightclub performances.

In junior high school, André De Shields made a conscious decision to go to Baltimore City College, considered an elite public high school. To get in, he had to pass an entrance exam, and study a classical language. Fortunately, De Shields studied Latin, which helped him to be admitted. “I had to take two buses, and the experience was lonely and dangerous,” De Shields recounted.

De Shields graduated from the Baltimore City College High School in 1964. He then attended Wilmington College, a Quaker School where he was awarded a scholarship. While there, De Shields starred in a well-received production of Lorraine Hansberry’s “A Raisin in the Sun.” After transferring colleges, De Shields received his Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Wisconsin–Madison. After Wisconsin, he earned a Master of Arts from New York University’s Gallatin School of Individualized Study, where he served as an adjunct professor.

De Shields began his professional career in the Chicago production of the rock-opera “Hair,” which led to a role in “The Me Nobody Knows” and membership in Chicago’s Organic Theater Company, where he created the role of Xander the Unconquerable in “Warp!” He made his Broadway debut as Xander in 1973, and next appeared in “And Don’t You Ever Forget It,” which closed during previews. De Shields made his mark in the title role of “The Wiz,” the 1975 Broadway musical by Charlie Smalls and William F. Brown, directed by Geoffrey Holder.

After providing choreography for two Bette Midler musical shows, De Shields returned to Broadway to perform in the musical revue “Ain’t Misbehavin’” in 1978. The original production ran for more than 1600 shows, and De Shields earned a 1978 Drama Desk nomination for his performance.

Three years later, De Shields returned to Broadway to perform in “Stardust: The Mitchell Parrish Musical.” In 1984, he wrote, choreographed, directed, and starred in “André De Shields’ Haarlem Nocturne at The Latin Quarter,” a Broadway musical revue that featured standards from the American songbook, pop hits from the early 1960s, and songs written by De Shields himself. He appeared in a revival of “Ain’t Misbehavin’” in 1988, and next appeared on Broadway in 1997 as the Jester in “Play On!” a musical based on the songs of Duke Ellington. De Shields earned nominations for both a Tony Award and a Drama Desk Award for his performance.

In 2000, André De Shields originated the role of Noah “Horse” T. Simmons in the McNally/ Yazbek musical adaptation of the film, “The Full Monty,” again garnering both a Tony and a Drama Desk nomination. He went on to appear in “Prymate” in 2004, in an off-Broadway production of Langston Hughes’ “Black Nativity” in 2008 (for which he received another Drama Desk Award nomination), and in 2009, appeared on Broadway in the play “Impressionism.”

De Shields’ regional theatre credits include “Play On!” “The Full Monty,” “Waiting For Godot,” “The Man Who Came to Dinner,” “Death of a Salesman,” “Dusyanta: A Tale of Kalidasa,” “The Gospel According to James,” and “Camino Real.”

In 2013, he portrayed Akela and King Louie in the world premiere of Mary Zimmerman’s adaptation of Rudyard Kipling’s “The Jungle Book,” receiving his third Jeff Award (outstanding achievement in the category of Actor in a Supporting Role—Musical for his role as King Louie), and garnered an Elliot Norton nomination for Outstanding Musical Performance by an Actor, and an IRNE nomination for Best Supporting Actor—Musical. In 2014, he appeared in the musical “The Fortress of Solitude” at the Dallas Theater Center and The Public Theater. He had previously performed his role in “The Fortress of Solitude” at Vassar College in 2012.

André De Shields, Lillias White, Stefanie Powers, and Georgia Engel starred in the musical “Gotta Dance,” directed and choreographed by Jerry Mitchell. It ran at Chicago’s Bank of America Theatre for several weeks in December 2015 and January 2016.

De Shields has appeared on television on “Another World,” “Cosby,” “Sex and the City,” “Great Performances,” “Lipstick Jungle,” “Law & Order,” and “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.” He won an Emmy Award for Outstanding Special Achievement for his performance in the 1982 NBC broadcast of “Ain’t Misbehavin’” De Shields played Tweedledum in a 1983 televised production of “Alice in Wonderland” that also included Eve Arden, Richard Burton, Colleen Dewhurst, James Coco, Kaye Ballard, and Nathan Lane.

De Shields has been the Harold Clurman Visiting Professor at the City University of New York-Hunter College, and a distinguished visiting professor at Southern Methodist University, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, and Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia.

André De Shields has always been immensely proud to be a Black and same-gender loving artist, and has used his acclaim and fame to inspire others. He has in the past criticized the biases of casting directors and Hollywood in general, and the impact of that short-sightedness on actors of color and LGBTQ- identified performers.

We thank André De Shields for his lifelong commitment to performance and entertainment, and for his many contributions to our community.