by Ryan Rattliff | photo courtesy Phalcon Photography
New York native Dwayne Jenkins knows the value of community and safe spaces. Growing up, life in the Bronx was colorful. Early exposure to various ethnicities, cultures, and personalities taught him that being different was a good thing. He describes coming out in college as easy with the support of his family and friends.
During his college years, Jenkins discovered Brothers United, a social group for black, gay men in Rochester, New York. Attending their events gave Jenkins an opportunity to be around people like him. He enjoyed the camaraderie at these shared spaces. He had no idea then that he would be put in a unique position to create this same sense of community for black, Same Gender Loving (SGL) men when he relocated to Nashville.
In 1996, Jenkins and seven other black, SGL men met at Nashville CARES to discuss the rising HIV/AIDS rates among black men. After he shared the experiences he had with Brothers United in New York, the men decided to replicate it in Nashville. The work was personal for him, as he had lost loved ones to the virus. Jenkins started Brothers United Nashville and founded Brothers United Network, the state’s first black, gay/SGL non-profit. This, combined with the work he was doing for Nashville CARES allowed him to see the issues specific to black, gay men that needed to be addressed. Here, his love for activism was born.
Nearly two decades after arriving in Nashville, another opportunity came to Jenkins. With disproportionate rates of African American men who have sex with other men being affected by HIV/AIDS, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offered to fund what they call comprehensive High Impact HIV Prevention Projects for community-based organizations. This is how Nashville’s My House came about. My House is the product of Nashville CARES, Street Works, and Neighborhood Health. Its vision is to bring love, compassion and support for the SGL male community and to become self-sufficient by prioritizing health, wellness, and a sense of individual value.
My House is described as a drop-in center. Its resources include testing, prevention education, housing, transportation and more. The facility’s Neighborhood Health Clinic is also the number one provider of Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) in the state.
In its fourth year of a five-year grant, My House has been able to collaborate with other LGBT+ groups and organizations. It hosts well-attended events and has received positive feedback from the men it serves. Jenkins recalls two incidents in particular where men came for the first time and were both surprised and moved by the amount of support available in such a pleasant environment. “One of the men almost didn’t come in because of the stigma associated with getting tested, especially in a gay space. He’s been back to volunteer, brought friends and is a testament to if you build it, they will come,” Jenkins said. “The other couldn’t believe that so many people of different genders and ethnicities could gather on a bright Saturday afternoon to play ping-pong, PS4, Wii, and other card & board games and get along so easily.”
Jenkins knew that a place like My House was necessary in the community, but he wasn’t sure how it would come about. He now has faith that when the right minds and hearts come together for the greater good, anything is possible.
“The My House facility has grown over the past 3 years and we’re excited about it being the place that addresses LGBT+ health, wellness and other disparities in Middle Tennessee and beyond,” Jenkins said.
Jenkins was also instrumental in creating Nashville Black Pride© (NBP). This year’s 16th celebration themed, “Pushing with Purpose,” will be held October 12-14. The celebration will include an awards banquet, live music and entertainment, a town hall and more.
Jenkins admitted he is tickled when people say to him “Nashville has a Black Pride and it’s 16 years old?”
NBP came about after Jenkins hosted an event for people of color at Nashville Pride. He realized there was a need for a stand-alone event. During this time, he was also traveling to Black Pride celebrations in other cities like New York, Chicago, and Washington DC. He spoke to his mentor Earl Fowlkes, then President of DC Black Pride & CEO of the International Federation of Black Prides. Fowlkes encouraged him to stop waiting for someone to do it and helped him with the tools to make it happen.
With that, a board of directors was established and planning began. The NBP board included two advisors from the Nashville Pride board, as it was important that the two organizations worked together rather than in competition. The community of LGBTQ people of color was surveyed to gauge interest and Nashville’s first Black Pride was held in October of 2003.
NBP’s mission “is to bring together African American and other LGBT/Same Gender Loving People of Color in a social, none threatening and empowering setting to uplift, educate and present positive images and self-actualization that help to maintain a healthy, productive and visionary community.”
The celebration works to highlight accomplishments and artistry of LGBTQ people.
“It’s impactful to know that we had something to do with people crossing paths because we wanted to support from within,” Jenkins said.
NBP tries to maintain a balance between its entertainment and education. There are opportunities for networking, community development, and a good lesson in black, gay history.
“The hope is that such a gathering of minds would effectively help to combat homophobia, transphobia and stigma in the black community, as well as address racism in the greater LGBTQ community,” Jenkins said.
NBP is open to everyone, no matter their race, sexual orientation or gender identity. “We are transformed when the flow of love can travel from one celebration to the other in harmony. You don’t have to be black or brown to attend our or any Black Pride. Show up, be festive and lets respectfully show love for one another.”
With all the work Jenkins does for his community, his strength comes from knowing that he is educating people to make informed decisions for themselves, their families, and their community. When asked how the work he has done has changed him, he humbly replied, “I think I am still the same corny guy that landed here in Nashville in 1994 with a mission to live my best life and help others do the same. This work is not always easy, though the good days seem to outweigh the bad and that’s always a great thing to reflect upon at the end of the day.”
“As I come up on my 23rd year anniversary as a CARES staff member,” he continued. “I understand the complexity of wearing multiple hats within the community. If we met at the office, through Brothers United, during Nashville Black Pride, on a campus, or now in the My House facility, my hope is that our interaction helped you in a positive manner.”
The My House facility is located in Antioch at 442 Metroplex Drive, Building D, Suite 100, 37211. More information about the program can be found atmyhousenashville.org. Additional information about Nashville Black Pride can be found at nashvilleblackpride.org or on social media @nashvilleblackpride