Today, November 12, 2020, marks my “JUST BE” One-year Anniversary! One year ago, today, I chose to live more authentically, transparently, and honestly. I chose to let the world around me in and know that I was a cisgender able-bodied BLACK, GAY, CHRISTIAN male. For the prior ten years, I lived my life as a professional and servant leader, helping hundreds (if not thousands), both directly and indirectly, find and live liberated lives, but I wasn’t living my true authentic, transparent, and honest self. During that time, I was prescribing to the cisgender able-bodied heterosexual white male normative in order to be taken seriously, be accepted in my place of worship, my place of employment, as an entrepreneur, and even in my family. I was coaching people how to live authentically, transparently, and honestly but I wasn’t modeling the way. On November 12, 2019, while at work, I asked myself, “How can I coach others to live freely, but not allow myself to “JUST BE”? At that moment, I chose to stand tall with my head held high.
I remember it like it was yesterday. I remember the direct messages and comments I received questioning my ability to do the work I do in the community or to show up in all my identities. As someone who is well-educated, is God-fearing, is a survivor of molestation, was raised by strong Black male and Christian influences, has counseled and mentored dozens of youth and adults, is helping raise a young Black male, I was disgusted by the messages and comments I was receiving about allowing people to “JUST BE.” I couldn’t be silent any longer about the right for all humans to “JUST BE.”
As someone who has worked with boys and young men of color in Chicago and youth across the country for years, I was hurt that society will not let our boys, young men, and adult men, regardless of race, “JUST BE” themselves and live.
It is okay to express ourselves. Now, don’t get me wrong, protecting the young’s eyes and ears is very important, but what’s more important than allowing safe and brave spaces for all humans to express themselves without judgement? What’s more important than them having conversations about their emotions and how they show up in the world? So, I asked myself a question, “How can I create a society of safe and brave spaces for all humans to “JUST BE?”
Fast-forward to the 2020 United States election cycle and October 7th, the night of the 2020 Vice Presidential Debate between then Senator, now Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris and Vice President Mike Pence - I remember watching the debate and being extremely upset, if not angry, because Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris couldn’t JUST BE in that debate. She had to present herself a certain way before the American public. She had to present herself without blemish, non-argumentative, and perfect before the American people. However, I saw and felt the moments when she had to bite her tongue and ignore comments, speak in a certain way, respond in a certain way, and even sit in a certain way.
How many black women; along with, women in general, any person of color, and even just people, must continue to show up like this? Wear a mask or code switch? How many more times must we continue to prescribe to this cisgender able-bodied heterosexual white male normative? How is that you can be on one of world’s largest stages and you still can’t “JUST BE?” While Vice President Mike Pence slang his cisgender able-bodied heterosexual white male privilege all over the place, he did not have to conform to any standard or code switch to any way of being other than his own. My argument is that ALL humans have barriers to “Just Be’ing,” but how powerful and inclusive would it be to live in a world free of judgment.
Rewind back to November 2019 when Alicia Keys, a Black American singer-songwriter, classically trained pianist, and music composer, took to social media and spoke out about her son wanting to wear fingernail polish after going to the nail salon with her. In the video, Alicia Keys mentions that after her son’s nails were painted, at his request, he told her, “I don’t want this on my nails…people are not going to like it.” How disheartening is it that a kid, not even 10 years old, knows that he is going to be judged by his appearance and actions. In this case, I personally feel that this story has nothing to do with sexual orientation, gender expression, or gender identity, it simply has to do with a kid not feeling free to “JUST BE.” He felt that he couldn’t “Just Be” a kid and express himself creatively without judgement. To be clear, I was not surprised by this scenario; we know how cruel kids can be to each other. However, what surprised me was the backlash Alicia Keys received from other adults for allowing her son to “JUST BE.”
What if by allowing this young black boy (or any human for that matter) to express himself creatively and he then becomes the next Michelangelo or Amy Sherald, who painted the White House portrait of former First Lady Michelle Obama. It is hard to think about, or even know, how many geniuses have suppressed their creativity because of how our society forces its cisgender able-bodied heterosexual white male privilege ways of being on all humankind. When we force people into boxes of acceptable ways of being, it hinders their ability to breathe, to live, to create, to build, and to “Just Be.”
Someone once asked me, “What are you willing to die for?” Are you willing to die not living your authentic, transparent, and honest self? They also told me, “You can’t be so afraid that you hide your authentic self from people.” When asked and told this, I wondered and asked myself what it would feel like to live in a world, a nation, a country, attend a school, a church, or travel anywhere and be able to “JUST BE?”
Well, let’s find out! I am excited to announce The JUST BE campaign., kicking off in January 2021, presented by Derrick The Gent Brand and The Gent Enterprises LLC (TGEL). The JUST BE campaign. is a social movement to allow people to “JUST BE!” It’s a movement to allow all people to “JUST BE” their authentic, transparent, and honest selves. Too many times people of color, men, women, people of the LGBTQ+ community, Christians (or any religion/faith), and any person/community who have ever been “othered” by any aspect of their identities are forced to live by the cisgender able-bodied heterosexual white male normative and white supremacist patriarchal and capitalistic societal standards of what it means to exist in the world around us.
The JUST BE campaign. is meant to help dismantle current and historic systemic forms of oppression or indifference, foster anti-racism, eliminate hate, and activate individuals both personally and professionally to choose themselves and love themselves authentically, transparently, and honestly. When the collective chooses themselves, we demonstrate what true inclusion and respectful difference looks like. It means that regardless if you agree with how someone lives their life or how they just show up in the world around you, you can still respect them and in some cases, you can still love them. It means that regardless of where you work, worship, or travel, you can “JUST BE.” It means that regardless of who you are, what you look like, who you love, and how you identify, there is a place for you in this world and a community for which to belong and it is okay to “JUST BE” you.
I, Derrick, a cisgender able-bodied BLACK, GAY, CHRISTIAN male serves the world around me by ensuring all humans have an advocate and are empowered to reach for the most beautiful and wildest dreams on their individual and collective journeys towards self-actualization and personal liberation. Like my colleague, Xavier Ramey once said, “My dad died and didn’t know me. I’ve never said this in public but... I’m upset! … You will one day lose your father and when he dies, I pray that he knows you. Not the person he wishes you were but the real you.”
I want to die knowing the world around me knew me for who I truly was.
So, what will you do to live a self-actualized and personally liberated life? Will you give yourself the gift of allowing yourself to “JUST BE?”
Freedom starts with YOU. So, join the movement. The JUST BE campaign. A social movement to allow all people to JUST BE their authentic, transparent, and honest selves. For updates or inquiries about The JUST BE campaign. coming January 2021, click here too sign up. To learn more about Derrick, click here.
Written by: Derrick M. Fleming, Jr. and Edited by: Gabriella Mervis Wolson