The Southern NYPS (National Youth Pride Services) Conference was my first experience with NYPS. Miko Evans, CEO of a successful Atlanta-based LGBT talent and events production company, Meak Productions, happened to post a link to the NYPS website on the Facebook for my university’s LGBTQ student organization. The website featured a post titled “2013 NYPS South Region Conference April 26-28, 2013: I Am Black Excellence”. I was intrigued by the title, and also by the picture next to it featuring Maurice Jamal. I had had the pleasure of meeting Maurice before but didn’t recognize him as the one who recited the most beautiful poems in Marlon Riggs’ cult famous black gay film “Tongues Untied”, a film that taught me how to love myself and gave me hope for loving another Black queer activist. So, when I saw that he was scheduled to appear at the conference I HAD to go! That was what fueled my personal motivation.
Now, I also came because of the organizations Im accountable for: BlackOUT, a student organization of black LGBTQIQ people at Georgia State University, and QueerUP! Atlanta, a group I founded with my best friends to do more progressive, radical activism that wouldn’t be tied to public university funding. Speaking of funding, my second motivation was the possibility of securing seed grant money for projects BlackOUT and QueerUp! Atlanta needed to do. Projects I needed to do for my communities.
I arrived at the location, The Evolution Center, late. For those who don’t know, Evolution Center is an Atlanta-only black gay/bi men’s drop-in center and community outreach center for sexual health. I walked in late to Miko Evans talking about the history of the Black LGBTQ movement in Atlanta. In my four years living here, I had no idea how much solidarity there had been between Black gays and lesbians, how bad the racism was, and how things have changed overtly but also remained covertly the same.
After he set the stage, we had a roundtable discussion hearing from everyone present how they experienced their lives as Black and Gay in their respective states. This was “The State of Black Gay Youth”. Everyone’s stories were interesting to hear and some reflected my own experiences. Recurring themes were: religion, parents’ reactions to coming out, how geography affected us, issues with femme men, and a lack of resources to turn to as Black LGB people. One particular person spoke on the intricacies of navigating life as Black, gay, and deaf/hard-of-hearing. Although, I had to train my ears to hear him clearly, he spoke with passion about organizing efforts between the three communities. He went above and beyond simply working with one community at a time. That amount of open discussion on ableism really made me think about intersectional issues and how I could take his example back to BlackOUT and reach out to our non-able-bodied queer and trans* friends. Particularly, we have the issue of needing more gender-neutral bathrooms at Georgia State University. If we can connect the need for gender-neutral bathrooms by our transgender student body, with the need for non-able bodied access for students with disabilities, we may have an unstoppable bathroom renovation force!
As this discussion wrapped up, in walked Maurice Jamal with an unexpected guest, Lonnell Williams of 3LWTV! Maurice and Lonnell were amazing speakers. They spoke about their own experiences coming into their talents and gifts and accepting that they were meant to do great work, despite doubts and realistic limitations. You could tell they were really great friends the way they took turns and supported each other.
It Started With A Talent
Maurice’s story resonated with me strongest. He told us of his trials as a young screenwriter/director trying to get Loretta Divine to
play the lead in his film “Dirty Laundry”. He had no money, no legendary name, and when he finally met her, he didn’t even have the script on hand. But he was determined to have her play the lead. And she caught of glimpse of that. As soon as he could, he mailed her the script. She read it and fell in love! They met up to discuss details and Maurice noticed that she had highlighted her lines, which, in the drama world, means an actor is committed to their character wholly. Remember, she’s only read the script. So when the time came to discuss money and backing, Maurice told her the truth. Now, because he had given her something, a story that she felt connected to and accountable for performing, she told him to tell everyone he knew that she had signed on to the project (without her agent’s consent). She told him to use her name as the honey to catch funding and more actors. Dirty Laundry was a huge success and today Maurice Jamal is doing more and more work. Im still disappointed I missed the first Mixxfest, the first large film festival featuring actors, directors, and films from LGBTQ people of color communities. It started with a talent.
It Started With A Small Dream
Next, we heard from Lonnell Williams. His story was the most inexplicable. He started out with a simple, small dream. He just wanted a tweet from Oprah. That’s it. He kept tweeting and tweeting and tweeting. He had a video camera and some free time and made videos of himself discussing popular topics. And one day, Oprah replied to his tweet! Of course he was ecstatic! And from then on, he was motivated to get another tweet from her. And he did. So then he wanted another tweet. Pretty soon, he started gaining a following because people noticed that Oprah was paying attention to him and they had no idea who he was. He started building a regular Twitter rapport with Oprah and one day received a direct, private message offering him tickets to come meet her at the studio! Afterwards, the rest is history, as they say. He maintained a steady, friendly relationship with one of the most powerful Black women in history by accomplishing small, simple dreams. Today, he and his company 3LWTV can count on support from the biggest name in the business. It started with a small dream…and then became bigger.
So, afterwards we had some shared discussion around our own goals and dreams. Other members shared dreams of publishing novels, fame, and giving back to the community. I don’t remember what I said, or if I said anything at all. I didn’t really know what to say after hearing everything I had heard that day, not just from the special guests but from the members of NYPS. I do remember walking home after the conference feeling like I had finally begun to address a hole in myself. I needed to ask what it was I wanted out of my life and then start GIVING it to myself, unashamed, and without hesitation. And now I am. As Lonnell Williams put it, “Our gifts will make room for us”. Not long after the conference, I joined the Young Leaders Society of NYPS and Im working on giving myself my dream of becoming a scholar/activist whose work leaves multiple communities empowered (and maybe a scholarship founded in his name…you never know). –Mickyel Bradford
Editors Note: NYPS is now currently supporting the financial goals of both organizations Mickyel introduced at the conference.