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Mobilizing a Black Queer Community: NYC’s New Initiative Is the Talk of the Town

Steven Duarte

MOBI―Mobilizing Our Brothers Initiative―will be hosting a series of talks around New York with the goal of empowering queer men of color.

Unless you disconnect completely, it's virtually impossible to escape Trump: If he's not threatening to destroy an entire country or coyly bolstering white supremacy or tweeting something distractingly offensive, it's only a matter of time before he inevitably does. His influence is everywhere, but that influence is double-sided. There's now a common enemy; the object of our dissatisfaction, frustration, and outrage. Never have things been so clearly and distinctly black and white--figuratively...mostly. Trump is the greatest galvanizing force both for good and evil I've experienced in my lifetime. And it's scary. And it's thrilling.

"The things that make us different, those are our superpowers,"Lena Waithe said at Sunday's Emmys ceremony when she and Aziz Ansari snatched a historic trophy. "Every day, when you walk out the door, put on your imaginary cape and go out there and conquer the world--because the world would not be as beautiful as it is if we weren't in it."

DaShawn Usher and his cadre of super friends are on a mission to conquer the world and spread a little more beauty--with the help of a grant from the NYC Department of Health. Ten years of public health and community organizing experience under his utility belt, Usher has recruited his friends to help him build a coalition to inspire, connect, and empower young queer men of color. Launched this July, the result is MOBI, Mobilizing Our Brothers Initiative.

"When I thought about the team--I mean, it helped that everyone was my friend, one, but two--it was really important that everyone had their own special skill-set," Usher says. "And I thought it was a perfect opportunity for us to showcase our different talents, particularly as a community, to show that we can all come together for a larger cause because we really care about the events that we're putting on and the things we want to do."

The first of those events, MOBItalks: Brooklyn, swoops into town this Saturday, featuring Native Son founder Emil Wilbekin, Real World alum and television host Karamo Brown, writer and political commentator Richard Brookshire, and rapper Jay Boogie.

Related | Jay Boogie Enlightens on 'Jesus Loves Me Too'

"We wanted it to be different, to feel different, we didn't want it to be like an institute or feel like a summit or a health fair," Usher says of MOBItalks, "so we decided: Let's just have conversations. Why don't we get experts or influential people in respective fields to talk about the themes we think are important, but also to talk about the personal and professional side of those particular themes?"

He continues, "So when we think about sexuality, identity, creative expression, and development, how have those intersectionalities played into their lives? We know their stories can be very impactful when shared with the larger community."

MOBI has two more New York talks scheduled for the fall--Bronx on October 7, featuring actors Darryl Stephens and Rico Pruitt, and Harlem on October 21, featuring #BLM activist DeRay Mckesson and Beyonce stylist Ty Hunter--and a larger MOBIfest scheduled for May 2018. And after that (and after that grant runs out) Usher hopes to expand MOBI to cities across the country, especially that most vulnerable of American regions, the South.

Usher says he wants people to walk away from MOBItalks "knowing that there are people who care. There is a black, gay community that exists that wants to support each other. Particularly now in this America, we really have to be ourselves, we really have to be visible, and we really have to speak for ourselves."

MOBI, however, is not alone in this quest. Rather, it's one of several recent initiatives targeting the empowerment and development of black queer men, including Wilbekin's Native Son, the mentoring and scholarship program Black, Gifted & Whole, and the media companies SLAY TV and Open TV. The Age of Trump has inspired all of us who are The Other to be more bold and to be more bold together. And it's thrilling.

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