Last week I was in Washington, DC to attend/volunteer for the National Black Justice Coalition’s OUT on the Hill Black LGBT Leadership Summit, a four-day long summit that convened key stakeholders in the Black LGBT community, including elected officials, policy advocates, activists, and emerging leaders. To say it was an amazing experience would be an understatement—it was beautiful, uplifting, and most of all, empowering.
For the first time in my life, I was around people who both looked like me and identified in the same community, who I could reach out and talk to with open arms.
From the moment I walked in on the first day, I was embraced with a “hello” and a “Yasss honey, WERKK!” (in reference to my Beyoncé pin I adorned all week). From that moment on, I felt around family. I’ve been to other conference/summits before, but I usually stick to myself until something/someone breaks my shell and I feel comfortable networking with new people. Normally, I am one of few, if any, Black people in the room, so I often try to gauge the crowd to find the pockets of people who are truly willing to listen to my thoughts and opinions and not just dismiss them off as a Black guy just angry with white people—something I feel too often when talking racial justice issues. This was different.
The thing about this summit—this was my first time in attendance—was that despite where we come from or what we do, we all carry our identities on our skin—we are Black. And though I believe wholeheartedly that it takes multicultural and interracial solidarity to advance civil rights/racial justice issues, it is more important for us as Black people to unite together to share our experiences to be able to walk in the fight together.
When you take it one step further to know that we all identify within the LGBTQ umbrella, it’s even more important for us to be together. We all arrived as a group of Black LGBTQ people who feel under-served, misrepresented, and mistreated. While I normally have to share parts of my story with non-Black/non-LGBTQ people for them to understand my way of thinking, I didn’t need to do this because we all know what it is like to walk in our truths of our intersecting identities.
And that felt like a giant burden lifted off my shoulders for the first time—I was safe and at home.
The first day of the summit was held at the NASA Space Headquarters (NERDGASM!!), and was focused on the Many Faces, One Dream LGBT economic empowerment tour put on in conjunction with the US SBA (Small Business Association). I wasn’t able to attend the morning session because I was helping with registration, but what I was able to step in during the afternoon opened my eyes in new ways. As someone who has struggled with our overt capitalist society (see my last post), I was a little reluctant to listen to bankers and other financial bigwigs talk about what they can do to help me be a better social leader. But it was a conversation with another young leader I had in the halls after one panel that changed my perspective. As he put it:
I know our instincts are to immediately approach with a virulent, bold, unapologetic sense of activism….However, this is a new world and we need new strategies. There are ways to build coalition with those that are your adversaries and to manipulate and leverage influences for power. Power is most effective when driven by emotions navigated by pragmatism. (Gabriel Maldonado, TruEvolution)
Then there was the visionary and impassioned CEO of NBJC, Sharon Lettman-Hicks (@SharonLettman), who talked extensively about the importance for us a Black community to empower ourselves economically—to focus more on being producers rather than consumers, something we as a community are already the best at. And she’s completely right. The best way for us to help our community isn’t by finding jobs for our friends and family to apply to—it’s creating businesses and organisations to supply jobs and educational resources. The only way we can thrive as a community is if we are all thriving together. In our attempt to create wealth for us individually, we must ask ourselves, “How can one of us be happy if all the other ones are sad?” This is the basis of what our African brothers and sisters call ubuntu, and what has been the principle for other marginalised communities in our country who have become powerful economic forces.
Another highlight of the summit was the legislative briefing, “Issue Advocacy Day.”
Here we heard from four amazing panelists who told us their journeys and experiences of being “OUT on the Hill.” There was Robert Eskridge, legal counsel for the House Ethics Committee and openly gay Black male; Michele Jawando, Vice President of Legal Progress for Center for American Progress, and an amazing LGBT ally; Twaun Samuel, Chief of Staff for Congresswoman Maxine Waters and another openly gay man; and Brandy Hall, Systems Administrator for HouseCall IT, and an open lesbian.
All four of them were extraordinary in their own right and spoke to the reality that there is such a small representation of Black people on the Hill, even less of which are Black and LGBTQ-identifying. What I took away from this was understanding the need to raise political competency in our community and to reestablish the fact that we have power.
That power lies in VOTING, which we need to make sure we do more of than just for the presidential elections. For all of us, this year’s midterm elections in November are crucial to our community, so it’s important that we all educate ourselves and get out to vote! (Registered if you haven’t already)
All of this adds to overall theme I felt each day of the summit: that the Black LGBTQ community is a beloved one who cares for each other without the necessity of knowing one another.
From young to old and from all different parts of the country, for those four days, I have never felt more a part of community who gets all of me without explanation. I thank NBJC for all that they have done for our community and what they will continue to do in the future. The work I will continue doing to create change in our society is a product of all of those before me who fought hardships I can only begin to imagine. I am grateful for the stories that were shared with me and the insight I gained just from listening.
May we all do our best to create this beloved type of community with us everywhere we go in this country. Though there is still a ton of work to be done, I remain hopeful that with initiatives like OUT on the Hill, we can cut down the time it would take to do so without them.