I am writing this letter from a place that I couldn't have even imagined -- let alone -- believe I could be experiencing. Two years ago my life was drastically different than it is today. Every single thing that's happened to me in the interim has since impacted the person that I am and where I am in life. And although I have few regrets, there is something that I wish I had then and quite honestly needed at the time, hope. And so I write this letter to give hope to someone who may be struggling with coming to terms with who they are. Hope that it will get better. Hope that you'll be alright. Hope that inspires you to live your truth boldly and unashamed.
To me, two years ago:
Right now you are 20, at the top of your game: former White House intern, ambassador to your school, honors student, brother, nephew, son and friend. You are happy.
You love your school, more than anything. For the first time, you have found yourself in a space of unmatched opportunity and overwhelming support. You are grateful. You feel indebted to the University. You bleed orange and blue.
You like wearing suits to everything and you are obsessed with your appearance and how people perceive you. (Spoiler alert: you have no control over this). You still visit the barbershop every. single. week. You don't accept yourself, and it's okay because you don't know how.
You are nice and kind and a walking mess of insecurities, confidence and charisma. You are a gentleman. You are always doing for others, offering your time, talent, resources and skills, but would never do the same for yourself. You are content with this. You believe in putting others before yourself in everything.
On this day, you put yourself first. You'll see life change dramatically as you publicly speak out on an injustice; and as a result, struggle with friendships and family relationships, battle depression and later realize, for the first time, you owned who you are. You'll watch the interview over and over and realize you just came out to the entire world. You'll say to yourself, "shit, I just came out on the local news." In the beginning, you'll think this isn't a big deal, you just filed a complaint hoping to right a wrong and bring attention to an issue that you truly believe is wrong. You were right. But soon you'll make national and international news and find yourself at the center of many controversial topics.
Without much thought, you waged war on black Greek letter organizations, the black community and the black church. You'll think your highlighting of an issue has turned into a spotlight of yourself. In some ways it has. For a while it feels like you're one against a thousand. You are. Pictures of your face will precede lengthy comments and messages of hate and homophobia; you'll find it hard to go to a restaurant, a grocery store or to class, without murmurs and under-the-breath comments just loud enough for you to hear.
Over the course of a few weeks, you have gone from a local campus leader, to a publicly humiliated one. It gets worse. People will start to threaten you, they'll send letters to your school. You'll be scared. You'll get depressed. You'll fail classes. Your strength will run thin, and you'll turn to your faith. Brace yourself, It gets worse.
You'll go home. You'll go to church. You'll realize this place can't help you. These people are no different than the others. They will stare at you in condemnation, talk about you behind your back and want nothing to do with you. They'll tell you they love you, but blatantly treat you differently than they have before. It's not their fault. You know this, and love them from a distance. Your realize your faith was in people not in God. You stop going to church. Your faith in God grows stronger. It sustains you.
It gets better.
Each day forward will be a struggle, and you know this. Keep going. You can't see the light at the end of the tunnel and you almost give up, but your friends help you fight yourself to keep going. You are so blessed to have them. You believe there is a purpose in this storm. There is. You realize up until now, what you thought was a war on the outside was merely a battle, the real war lies within yourself. You realize through this entire process you still haven't accepted yourself. It's okay. It's tough. It's a process.
You'll be okay. I promise.
[As the older, wiser, self accepting more worldly version of you, I want to tell you to stand boldly in your truth. Hold your head up high and be proud of who you are today, because you will only get better as the years go by. You are loved. You are worthy. You are needed. You are perfect just as you are. You are an exceptional [black gay] man. It will take time to unlearn the self-hate and demeaning homophobic structures your church, community and family instilled in you, but when you finally do, you'll be such a better person. You'll soon be secure in yourself and know that there is no one on this earth -- no man, no woman, no pastor, no parent who has the authority to tell you who you are, who you should be or how you should show up in the world unless you allow them to. You are courageous in claiming that authority for yourself.
Be courageous every single day if you must. ]
The semester is almost over, celebrating your 21st birthday is placed on hold and you are struggling to deal the new hand you have been dealt. Your life has changed more than you could have ever imagined -- and it terrifies you. In a moment of panic, you almost check out, you want to transfer schools, you want to hide, you stop eating and have those thoughts. The situation coupled with the aftermath of coming out is too much to bear. You are at your lowest point and your darkest hour seems like it will be forever.
You think you failed at life, that this one incident will define you forever. You can't see ahead. You feel lost. You'll question your actions. You'll start to doubt yourself, but then you'll stop. You tell yourself "I stand in my truth." This becomes your mantra. Whitney Houston's song I Didn't Know My Own Strength will help. You listen to it every day, multiple times a day. You begin to love yourself more, unconditionally and unashamed. Your confidence will come back. Your insecurities will fade. You come to terms with has happened. You'll adjust. Your dreams have changed. Your perception and expectation of people have changed. Your outlook on life has changed.
This is good.
You spend more time with those who love you, all of you. You grow. You set new dreams. You decide now is a good time to study abroad, and like your previous dreams and goals you make it happen. You travel and study abroad in over 12 countries and 16 cities around the world. Your life is forever changed. You return to school, and have one hell of a year. You graduate in the top of your class having left an amazing legacy. You are proud.
You are going to travel abroad again, meet some amazing people and go on to graduate school. So give yourself the highest form of praise, Be Authentic. And honor the real you.
In two years time, you'll lift your head to the big blue California sky; the sun kissing your face as you look out into the Malibu ocean, your hands raised in the air saying to yourself: This is happening. I am here and I am looking at her. And she is so beautiful. I can see it. This one moment when you know you're not a sad story. You are alive, and you stand up and see the lights on the buildings and everything that makes you wonder. And you are listening to that song on the drive with the people you love most in this world, and in this moment. I swear, we are infinite.