Well, I guess it all started when I realized there was something, eh….different about me. Here I was, already a sort-of outcast, 12 years old, new to the rural metropolis of Honesdale, Pennsylvania. My parents, brothers, and most of my extended family had made the transition from Queens, New York. I was an acne-ridden, overweight boy with a THICK Brooklyn accent. Making friends wasn’t easy, but I strived to make connections.
All of this came in handy when I went to my small, liberal arts undergraduate college, Lebanon Valley. I began to realize there was difference in the world. While LVC was eerily similar in its size and diversity make-up as Honesdale, I was introduced to ideas — about difference, and power, and privilege, and how that impacted those around me. I struggled with my own identity, realizing that my boyhood need to be friends with the cute guys in my classes was really more a sexual attraction and orientation. I saw pride in and acceptance of this identity reflected in my classmates–the out and proud captain of the cheerleading squad, the burgeoning thespian who wrote his own play as a senior project, the Chaplain of the College who advised the support and social group on campus–and came to the realization that the shame I felt wasn’t necessary. I came out as a gay man on campus during my second year, to my family at the start of my third year, and haven’t looked back since.
While I progressed through my own identity development process as a proud gay male, I still hadn’t recognized that there was more to my identity than this subordinated one. It took me longer, graduate school at West Chester University, to realize that I was more than just gay, but I was also a white, temporarily able-bodied, middle-class, male and these identities carry significant power and privilege.
I explored how to reach out to those like me, others with privilege, to help them understand that we must recognize the system that benefits us. We must understand our own biases, become aware that there are some in this world that cannot achieve because of this system, and most importantly, take action to change a system that must benefit everyone.
So, here I sit now. I’m starting my 40s. And I look around our world and I sometimes I feel that all of the hard conversations, the mistakes, the self-reflection, the grown–is for naught. We live in a culture that is ripe with anti-intellecutalism (well, more like, just anti… thinking?) We bemoan how divided we are as a country. But we also stay safely in our comfort zones.
Add on to this, a year-long pandemic. Forcing us to NOT physically connect any longer. To retreat into our safe worlds–because if we don’t, people could actually die. We dive into our social media, our podcasts, our television consumption. We expand our echo chambers, but never expand our minds. This has to stop.
While I’ve been speaking and educating at college and university campuses since 2001, this is my first foray into a web presence. I encourage you to explore this page and reach out if I can be of assistance to you, your organization, your college or university, your high school–together we can achieve much!