Guy Anthony and George Johnson founded the Black, Gifted and Whole Foundation with a mission to "empower, educate and mobilize black gay men by acknowledging, celebrating and affirming their whole selves." Following through on that promise, their foundation recently launched their HBCU Scholarship Ambassador Program to provide scholarships and mentoring for students attending historically black colleges and universities.
"This generation of students regardless of sexual orientation deserves the same opportunities, a chance to learn, to explore, and to know what's at their reach," Anthony says. "In the end, the passions and skills they develop through higher education will only serve us all for years to come."
The foundation will award up to five students across the U.S. who have been accepted to a HBCU with their Presidential Scholarship. Payment will be made directly to the students to help offset the cost of tuition, money for books, and a yearly stipend for food. The 2017-2018 scholarship recipients will be announced at the 2nd Annual Scholarship Gala to be held this summer.
OUT caught up with Guy and George to discuss their new program, the biggest challenge facing black queer men, and what it means to be black, gifted, and whole.
OUT: What inspired you to start this mentoring and scholarship program?
George Johnson: The inspiration came from me attending and working at HBCU's, and not seeing people like me. As a student, I struggled with living openly as a queer male on campus and often times suppressed and hid who I really was from friends, faculty, and staff.
As a worker, I was openly queer and was the only person that many of the gay students trusted enough to speak with and look up to. The scholarship portion comes from the intersection of black students typically having to rely on more loans than our white counterparts, and that LGBTQ students often struggle from a lack of resources available to them.
What is the meaning behind "black, gifted, and whole"?
Guy Anthony: I remember growing up and only seeing negative images in the media portraying gay men as pedophiles or on the down-low. There was an immense stigma attached to my sexuality at an early age which ultimately affected the way I saw myself. It wasn't until I was introduced to the writings and works of Bayard Rustin and James Baldwin in high school that I began to challenge the way in which people saw me as an openly black gay man.
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Even then I was met with criticisms from my own community. It felt as if I was less of a "Black Man" simply because I loved differently. Black, Gifted & Whole is not only a revolutionary attempt to change the way black gay men are portrayed in media and within their communities, it's also an evolutionary movement that we hope will continue inspiring other black gay men for generations to come.
What were your biggest organizational challenges?
GJ: Gaining trust in the black community was and still is one of our greatest challenges. Only 21 of the 105 HBCU's have LGBTQ organizations on campus. Being a part of the LGBTQ community is still very taboo in the black church, and many of the HBCU's are still very rich in Christian and Baptist tradition. Being openly gay and queer on these campuses is still something our generation is trying to fully understand, and with that comes growing pains and at times rejection. Now we are starting to gain some buy-in from our allies and the funds are starting an uptick in scholarships.
How is the program funded?
GA: The program is funded by organizations that service black gay men. We received a $5,000 grant from Brother Help Thyself, a community-based foundation that provides financial and other support to nonprofit organizations serving the LGBTQ community in the Washington/Baltimore area. In the past, we've received funding from the Schott Foundation for Public Education, AIDS United, and the AIDS Healthcare Foundation. More importantly, black gay men and their donations have greatly contributed to the funding of our programs. It is empowering to know that so many Black gay men are now able to see themselves
In your opinion, what's the biggest challenge facing young, black, queer men?
GA:I believe that we can't talk about black gay men without discussing HIV and how it disproportionately affects us. And we can't talk about HIV unless we unpack the very real reasons as to why most of us are dangerously susceptible to the disease. Homelessness, lack of community responsive resources, drug abuse, unchecked mental illnesses, and poverty are all quite challenging for black gay men.
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But, just like the black community, black gay men are incredibly resilient beings. I, undoubtedly, feel as if I would have made much healthier life choices had I felt affirmed in my sexuality as an adolescent. Instead, I grew up hating myself because it seemed as if everyone else did. Black, Gifted & Whole is combating those challenges by being visible, offering mentorship to young men who need it, and being unapologetic in the way we choose to live and love in our blackness, our giftedness, and our wholeness.
To learn more about Black, Gifted & Whole click here.