I was born and lovingly raised by Anna and Leon Washington in Queens, New York. My older cousin Lamont discovered me "reading" a newspaper at the age of 3 and I started writing poetry at 7. While in the 3rd grade, I wrote 2 poems each themed by a particular color. While my poem "Red" evoked traditional visual associations, my poem "Black" incorporated my understanding of the literal color and my own identity as a little "black boy" in America. The latter poem was far less favored by my teacher and the principal. I never forgot the difference in their responses to the 2 poems. My parents instilled in my brother Kenny and me a strong sense of self awareness and cultural pride as black boys growing up in the ‘60s and ‘70s.
During my adolescence, my self-esteem and confidence were eroded by growing anxieties about my homosexuality. I enrolled at Columbia University but left after 2 semesters. I think I was very much depressed at that time of my life. It was not until my friend Sandra assured him that there was nothing wrong with me that I began to find the courage within to accept myself. In 1979, she introduced me to her nephew Derek Crawford who would introduce me to New York's gay scene. We became brothers, as close as I have ever been to anyone. I thank Sandra, Derek and Karen Taylor for loving me without strings so that I could give myself permission to become myself.
As a young man, I continued writing and along with fellow poet Simone Allmond and musician Clara McLaughlin formed a poetry ensemble known as Us's. Us's used choreopoems and music to stimulate audiences to think and act upon the world they inhabited. In 1985, I developed classic early symptoms of HIV disease and assumed that I was HIV positive. I began to write about AIDS but refrained from disclosing my status. I would regularly attend the Gay Men of African Descent discussions in the Charles Angel room of the Gay and Lesbian Center and occasionally catch the electric performances of Other Countries, the black gay men's writing collective. I started freelance writing for the City Sun and published interviews with Cassandra Wilson, Sweet Honey in the Rock, and legendary Other Countries member Donald Woods.
In 1991, I met L and soon after we started dating, he encouraged me to get tested. The result confirmed what I had already known. L had planned to relocate Atlanta and after a few months asked if I would come with him. I agreed and we landed here on the Fourth of July 1992. At a reading at Charis Books, I met Tre Johnson who introduced me to local black lgbt cultural spaces. I soon began freelance writing for the Southern Voice and volunteering with AID Atlanta as a member of the volunteer African American outreach team. I later secured the position of African American Outreach Coordinator charged with delivering prevention and awareness services to black communities.
In 1993, I began attending Second Sunday, a small discussion group for black gay men. Within 2 years, the group's ranks grew quickly. During this time, I was faced with my first AIDS defining illness. Were it not for the care of my former partner L and the support of my closest friends, I know I would not have made it. In 1996, I was elected as Co-Chair along with Ulester Douglas. My work with Second Sunday sharpened my skills as a leader, educator and activist. The following year, I took on a new gay specific position at AID Atlanta. Using a research intervention prototype developed by John Peterson, PhD, I created the Deeper Love project, a HIV risk reduction program that featured a workshop series and a monthly forum known as Black Coffee. I consider my work with Second Sunday and the Deeper Love project at AID Atlanta as two of my most meaningful accomplishments.
In 1999, I was hired as Co-Director for Southerners On New Ground (SONG) a regional organization that trained activists to understand and work to challenge racism, sexism, homophobia, and class oppression. I helped design and present workshops and retreats for organizers throughout the Southeast. I parted ways with SONG in 2000 and became director for the Atlanta Gay and Lesbian Center in 2001. I helped increase the Center's visibility by engaging people of color and women many of whom had previously felt excluded from the organization. In March 2003, I left the Center and to accept a more rewarding position with Positive Impact which provides free mental health counseling for people affected by HIV living on limited income.
Since 1995, I have served as a member of the Martin Luther King Jr March planning committee which has consistently maintained a place at the table for lgbt people. I am a co-organizer of the annual Bayard Rustin-Lorde Community Breakfast which honors the revered pacifist educator/organizer and addresses contemporary social issues for progressive people. I also served as a trainer for the National Coalition Builders Institute, which provides workshops and forums to foster prejudice reduction and conflict resolution.
I have had essays, editorials, interviews and reviews published in Washington Blade, Southern Voice, Atlanta Voice, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Arise, Clikque, Venus Magazine, and The City Sun. My essay “A Revolutionary Act”, a reflection of my walk with HIV, was published in the anthology, “Not In My Family: AIDS in the African American Community” edited by Gil Robertson.
In the fall of 2003, with the encouragement of friends like Mary Anne Adams, Maurice Cook, Duncan Teague, and John Peterson I decided to return to school to finish my undergraduate degree. Four years of writing papers in coffeehouses and poring over chapters at breakfast diners brought me my undergraduate degree. I never knew how much I wanted it until I got it. Weeks after graduation, I started the advanced MSW program at Georgia State University and was awarded a Master of Social Work in 2008.
In August 2008, I came back to AID Atlanta, to serve as a prevention programs manager which was such a poetic return. It felt like coming back to a new home, reuniting with a friend barely recognized, because we both had changed so much. The challenge for me is how to re-integrate my selves as writer, organizer, amateur R&B music historian, lover of arts, public speaker into one, and bring that undivided Self to this position. I resist splintering myself to accommodate those who cling to narrow margins of comfort. Each day I rise to give, buy, accept what life demands.