I am the little engine that could and DID. Growing up in an incredibly religious household, and family, I grew up thinking that who I was becoming – a gay man- would be an abomination against the God I was taught to serve. Internalizing that self-inflicted disappointment led me down a dark path at an early age.

As an openly HIV-positive young man, I often feel as though I’ve lived about three past lives. First, as a young man being introduced to his sexuality through molestation. Then, as a severely emotionally disturbed and promiscuous young man living in shame and denial.

Now, at 36 years old, I’ve fully realized my ideal self and through that awakening, I’ve been able to live fully and boldly in my truth.

As a self-published author, community leader and artist, I believe we do our community a tremendous disservice when we remain silent on issues that infect and affect us. It is my responsibility to tell my story and to tell it with such transparency that it can help someone else. Below is an excerpt from the letter I wrote to myself from my book, ’Pos(+)tively Beautiful: A Book of Affirmations, Advocacy & Advice’.

Pos(+)tively Beautiful does just that; tell the stories of young Black HIV-positive gay men, who know all too well, what it feels like to be both an organ and a blade. In the book, I asked everyone profiled to write a letter to themselves, pre-infection. Here is my letter to my younger self.

Dear Little Guy,
“You’re bigger than your body gives you credit for. Unfortunately, and, fortunately, you’ll never be able to forget what happened to you as a child, but you will be able to forgive. I know you can’t see it now, but you will be ok. Amel Larriuex sang it best, “You’re a brave bird, from the rarest sky. You’re one of the walking wounded but you still fly”, and you’ve just begun to take flight. Try to remember that self-esteem ultimately comes from within.

Stand firm in your beliefs because they are what make you unique. Being different won’t be such a bad thing in the future. The smile you’ve hidden your entire life will inspire others, so smile hard and smile long.

The rape you will endure at age 19 will change your life forever, and yes, it’s considered rape if you say no…Guy, it’s ok to say no. Your body belongs to you and only you regardless as to how often it’s been compromised by other people. You’re strong, smarter and wiser than you’d ever begin to imagine. Always remember that whenever the world gets too heavy for your shoulders, God is only two knees away.”
P.s. You ARE enough.
Love Always,

Since writing this letter to myself in 2012, I have continued to use my voice and influence to uplift and amplify the voices of other Black Queer people. I started a scholarship foundation called Black, Gifted & Whole in 2016, and since then, we have raised over $100k to help support 19 Black Queer students attending Historically Black Colleges & Universities.

Unfortunately, I was unable to attain my degree because of a lack of resources. I believe that fully capable and intelligent people should have the opportunity to finish their college career, and it is my duty to endure they do.

This year, I will release my handbag line (GROVER New York); something I’ve always wanted to do ever since studying Fashion Merchandising in undergrad. It will be available for purchase in the next few weeks, and if no one buys a single bag, I am fulfilled by the fact that this was a passion project for me that I saw through in its entirety.

My life has not been easy. But like all engines, the light may come on, I may be due for a check-up, but where they is a spark, this engine will KEEP trucking!