I was invited to participate in a panel at Southern California Public Radio’s ‘Crawford Family Forum”. The panel included many amazing individuals, sharing some very keen insights into the realities of “Coming out In America” within different communities. Enjoy!
“Unhinging the Closet Doors: If America Has Come so far, Why is coming Out so Hard?” For more info, click here.
October 26th, 2013, Statesboro GA.
Today I had the chance to be on Huff Post Live for a dialogue on Black Gay Men & their Fathers. The conversation was inspired by Chase Simmons’ documentary Dear Dad: Letters From Same Gender Loving Sons. I interviewed Chase for Huffington Post a few weeks ago. You can read that interview here.
Make sure you check out the video from Huff Post as well. A very powerful dialogue that we need to keep having in our communities!
I recently interviewed Mia Mckenzie on her award winning book “The Summer We Got Free.” Check it out below!
I read a lot of books. a lot. And I get frustrated. Frustrated because in much of the fiction I see the same narratives recycled about black life. Angry because I know there is more to who we are as black people — more complexity, more nuance, and many stories that have yet to be told.
One book that helped to alleviate my frustration this past year was Mia Mckenzie’s Lambda Literary Award Winning The Summer We Got Free.
Within this book’s pages, I found a range of black characters with complicated intra-psychic lives, sexualities and (Thank God) relationships to the Christian church.
The novel revolves around the Delaneys, a family isolated within their community after a tragic event sends each of them in different psychological directions. Mckenzie does not offer insight into the entirety of the trauma in the beginning though. Instead the novel carefully leads you down a maze of emotions, forcing you to find your own footing as the ground underneath you continues to change shape and form. The twists and turns will shake you to your core. And like me, will likely lead you to question sexuality, gender, psychology, and spirituality as you know it.
Finding such a work, I had to reach out to its writer Mia Mckenzie, who is also well known for her incisive and unapologetic blog, Black Girl Dangerous.I reached out to Mia to talk to her about The Summer We Got Free, being a black woman writer, and what she thinksThe Summer We Got Free offers the black community as a work of art.
Yolo Akili: How do you believe your identity as a black woman influenced your creation of this book?
Mia Mckenzie: Intersections matter a lot. I’m queer, black, and a woman. I’m also someone who was raised working class. Someone who was raised being told I was smart and talented by my family. Someone who was teased for being ugly by my schoolmates. Someone who went to college, studied abroad, lived in many different cities. Someone who reads a lot of books. All of those things helped create the consciousness I currently exist within. It comes, not just from identity, but from experiences. And, yes, I do think it helps me to see things that someone else might not be able to see, or to consider something that someone else might not be able to consider.
I think Ava’s husband, Paul, is one example. Paul, who is the husband of a character we love and want to see with another woman, would be a really easy automatic villain or antagonist. I think the straight husband in a really queer book is set up to be disliked in a way. But I see, and tried to portray, Paul as a complicated guy with a lot of complicated experiences of violence and betrayal. He is a black man, formerly incarcerated, and because of my intersections I have the ability to consider what that means in the world. So, I couldn’t let him be the easy villain. And I don’t consider him a villain at all. I don’t think that’s an easy thing for people to consider, especially when they are rooting for the very relationship that Paul is in the way of.
Akili: When reading The Summer We Got Free, one of the many characters that moved me was Ava, who is unapologetic in her criticism of the Christian church as a very young child. At one point she tells her pastor: “I don’t think people should be devoted to the church… Because people can’t fly if you always telling them they shouldn’t.” Ava reminded me of my own criticism of Christianity, as well as the questions that many young black children have about religion that are stamped out or silenced. What was the inspiration for this aspect of Ava’s character?
Mckenzie: I grew up going to church. Well, being forced to go. My mother’s side of the family is pretty religious and my sisters and I went to church on Sundays, sang in the children’s choir and went to the church’s day and sleep away camps in the summer. But it was a social thing for me. I don’t think I ever actually bought what was being sold.
Read the rest here:
Latest for Huffington Post:
Every letter I wrote in Dear Universe has a story behind it. Some of those stories are funny. Some of those stories are heartbreaking. And some of those stories enrage me. So much that every time I open the book to read them, I remember the pain and hurt that lead to their creation…
“Dear Universe, Today I ask that you help me to remember: God does not favor people…“
This is the beginning of a letter that angers me every time I read it. A young black gay man inspired it. No, wait, that’s not true — a lot of young black gay men inspired it. It was written in response to the things I have heard loving and supporting black gay men throughout my life.
One of the events that inspired this letter happened on a Sunday afternoon at Piedmont Park in Atlanta. In case you don’t know, Sundays at Piedmont are a time when many black gay men gather, cruise and flirt. It is also a place where I have had many life-changing conversations on spirituality and love. It was in one of those conversations that a young black gay man, who I only knew in passing, once shared this:
“I have had a lot of stuff happen to me in my life. And I know other folks have too. But I watch folks around me get things. Get better. Have people, family… and even when I try it never works for me. Never. My pastor says that you know when you are in God’s favor… and I just… I’ve just come to understand that God does not favor me. That’s the only explanation I can find for why things always seem to be so hard, why my family isn’t here for me, why things are always taken away.”
“Most of the men I look up to are renaissance men. I was first introduced to Yolo around his work around race and sexuality (snatch), but I was delighted to find out his work crosses other arenas including spoken word, yoga and astrology. How many black/brown men can I have an intelligent (intersectional) conversation about Western astrology with?! I immediately booked a reading.
My full chart was hands down the best money I spent that year. It was recorded and was supposed to be a podcast, alas we lost it due to technical difficulties. But the Ah-ha moments will stay with me forever.
I also had the pleasure of watching Yolo teach an undergraduate class at Fordham university; you could see the light bulbs going off in folk’s mind. I’ve been doing this work for so long, I take for granted most people will never take a sexuality/gender studies course (let alone with an instructor who can infuse critical race theory into the mix). Many students in the class began to unpack that very night.”
At the first ever Queer Astrology Conference I had the opportunity to present:
“The Compatibility Myth: Queering the Astrological Lens.”
The conversation centered on addressing race, gender, ability and sexual orientation issues in Astrological Literature.
Check out the interview via Sound Cloud Below!
“You have to remind yourself that you are enough. You have to feed your soul and nourish your spirit and trust your inner voice. And you have to take it day by day, remembering that the way society treats you is not a reflection of you-but of it’s own issues.
You have to build a spiritual home that will hold and heal you, because all too often, the world at large just won’t. You have to remember you are enough. And you have to structure your world so that it affirms that you are enough every day, as much as possible….. You have to take responsibility for your own healing…”
For more quotes by Yolo: DearUniverseBook.Com