Keynote Speaker Rev. Dr. William Barber II face emanates neon purple rays against a background of dark blue with dark teal concentric pentagonal shapes that subtly meet one another to create a cohesive pattern as they radiate out in to space. Race Forward Presents Facing Race: A National Conference.

“…the true revolutionary is guided by a great feeling of love.” - Che Guevara

This one is going out to my fellow cisgendered, straight brothas—Black men specifically, though this may resonate with Indigenous men and other men of color, too.

I know we are all coming from different places. Perhaps some folks aren’t familiar with the term “cisgendered” (it means you are comfortable with the gender you were assigned at birth, and that you don’t identify as trans). Or maybe when you read “cisgendered,” you rolled your eyes so far back, an ancestor asked you for some privacy. Or, perhaps, when you read the title and opening sentence, you exhaled with relief and some anticipation, because you feel like a lonely member of a lost tribe of brothas who think like you do. In any case, I’m here to say I’m glad you are here, and I love you all. If anyone thinks I’m “gay” for saying that, it’s all good, because I love gay folks too and I don’t experience it as an insult to be called gay. I love resilient, shining, innovative, beautiful us, and I want us all to get free.

I didn’t get to be all woo-woo and lovey-dovey about Black Liberation overnight. And there was a time when I definitely wasn’t trying to include LGBTQ folks in my vision of freedom. Nope. In fact, I would say that one of the most shameful acts I’ve ever committed was around homophobia. You and I have known each other for almost three paragraphs, so I think I can share my most deplorable act with you now. Trigger warning, this involves violence, and Jamaican homophobic slurs, but also involves… zero LGBTQ people.

Whilst living in Kingston, Jamaica, in my pre-teens, I started hanging out with another boy, who we will call Cedric. We were both kinda geeky, and I think it was good to just be comfortable in our geekiness together. We would play Atari at his house and take the bus home from school together. He got to know my family, I got to know his family. It was a sweet friendship, and we became pretty inseparable. There was a brotherly love there. At some point, some of the not-so-geeky boys started to allude to me that Cedric and I were “dating.” Well. We couldn’t have that. I protested vehemently. They laughed and upped the ante, calling me a battyman and suggesting lewd acts that Cedric and I were doing. I was furious.

What do you think I did with that fury, readers? Brace yourself. 

Next time I saw Cedric, I was in a public space with fellow students around. I started to run towards him. Slowly, at first, then picking up speed. When I was close enough, I launched into a bonafide flying kick into his torso. He propelled backward, hitting his head on something on the way down. He crumpled into a crying heap holding his head. And readers, I walked away without saying a word. I left my friend there crying. That was the end of our friendship.

Ugh, that was painful to write. Yes, I did that. I remember seeing him a couple years later at high school, and I could feel him bristling from my presence. But we didn’t speak. A couple of months after my terrible attack on my friend, my dad folded down his copy of the Daily Gleaner and peered over his reading glasses at me.

    “Rich? Whatever happened to that Cedric fellow you were hanging out with? I haven’t seen or heard anything about him in a while.”
    “Yeah, I don’t hang out with him anymore. People thought we looked gay.” I semi-sneered in response. My dad’s brows knitted with concern.
    “Rich…that’s not a good reason to stop hanging out with someone.”

I remember pondering that for a second, then shrugging my shoulders. It’s only years later that painfully saw how desperately true that was.

When I say that liberation work is radical love work, this speaks to some of it. I violently ended a precious friendship because someone suggested we might be gay. The internalized homophobia had made my system so toxic, that I literally attacked someone who wasn’t gay because their presence might make people think I might be gay. One interpretation of homophobia is to break it down to “homo” meaning “same” and “phobia” meaning “fear”, therefore homophobia means “fear you are the same.” Ugly things can be done with that fear, I am here to tell you. 

But I am happy to report that after decades of searching for Cedric to make amends, that he was magically added to a Jamaican WhatsApp group I’m in, and I contacted him. I apologized profusely and he was extremely gracious in accepting my apology, saying he himself has done some things in 30+ years that make him cringe to think about. We caught up, he shared pictures of his beautiful children and an age-old psychic burden of mine evaporated from my shoulders, allowing light back into that place where only shame had lived.    

This anecdote shows a side of me that my friends and fam aren’t used to. Today, most of my friends are women and LGBTQ folks. It’s become more comfortable because I’m not expected or pressured to perform a masculinity that denigrates or objectifies women and LGBTQ folks,  which is a very common rite for male bonding, unfortunately. Now I do workshops to help other men release constricting and unhealthy masculinities. Unhealthy masculinity literally brings more violence and less love into our lives. We lose platonic love, sibling love, friendship love, romantic love, self-love. I’m blessed that Cedric was forgiving, but he had every right to read me the riot act and then block me. It became a moment of accountability and healing for us both. 

When it comes to relating to women, like Mos Def/Yasiin Bey rapped in “Umi Says”: “I ain’t no perfect man, I’m tryna do the best that I can.” Today, I’m doing all I can to help build a world that values consent, our own boundaries and the boundaries of others. I’m now involved in transformative justice circles, trying to help co-create systems that humanize everyone and provide space for accountability, healing and transformation. I’m also clear that while I do all of this work to dismantle patriarchy, heterosexism and transphobia, that I am no “expert” and there is no finish line at which I become “officially woke.” It’s a lifelong journey.

When we are at war with women and LGBTQ people in our own communities, we cannot rise as a people. Not only because of the oppressive effect on them but because of the oppressive effect on us. To be at war with women and LGBTQ folks means we are also at war with anything we, or anyone else perceived as feminine or queer, within ourselves. It is a war that fractures us, our communities and our relationships. It takes courage to move from what can feel like a peer-approved war into a space of love and acceptance. But we all have the capacity. I’m a believer that none of us are free until all of us are free. And I plan to keep on rising with radical love.   


Richard M. Wright is a healthy masculinity specialist, public speaker, author, counselor, educator and multimodal artist. He also identifies as a sci-fi geek and an intersectional Afrofuturist. His personal Wakanda resides somewhere between ‘80s Kingston & ‘90s NYC in his mind. www.richardmwright.com