NOTE: The following is a petition to help a young Black girl by the name of Dream Shepherd cope with some very serious medical issues she is experiencing at this time. The e-mail for this petition came across my desk earlier this week, and I was shocked to learn that not only is the beautiful individual in dire need of our assistance, but that she is the daughter of my very good friend and music colleague, Ty Shepherd. Upon reading the letter, I contacted Ty to make sure that I could write a few comments to coincide with my signature, as well as share this information with my friends, family, and fans. Per our conversation, I urge you to please click the link below, read the entire message from Dream's mother, Diana, and kindly add your name to the signature list. You would be doing this family an enormous favor by voicing your support for this wonderful young lady, in addition to creating new, more comprehensive legislation that would help patients like Dream be more properly cared for in the future. You have my thanks in advance for that support of this very worthy cause, and my deep appreciation on behalf of Dream and her parents.
CLICK THE LINK BELOW TO READ MORE AND ADD YOUR SIGNATURE
*Cishet = Cisgender/Heterosexual **PoC = Person of Color
To be honest and not waste your time, dear reader, I’m not sure anything I have to say about June 12, 2016, hasn’t already been said. I’m sure that in the days, weeks, months, and years that place the tragic attack at Pulse Nightclub further and further into the back of our minds, much more intelligent, compassionate, and critical writing will be authored by people who deserve your attention. In fact, your time might be far productively spent doing something other than going over my thoughts on this horrific moment in time.
Still, you are more than welcome to press on. I didn’t want to let more time pass before getting the last of my thoughts out on digital paper.
Perhaps I can best expiate what’s in my head about this if I stick to a timeline, and so I will. For those who don’t know, June 11th is my birthday. I turned 32 this year. As the last 365 days of my life have been some of the most tumultuous of any that I’ve experienced in the last 1/3rd of a century, what with dealing with my father going through a stressful heart surgery, health concerns, and personal situations that all seemed to present themselves at a fancifully inconvenient time, I was well prepared to use my birthday weekend to celebrate, relax, and express my gratitude to God + The Universe for making it through another one.
The writing, however, was on the wall even before my day began, as the news of the senseless murder-suicide of former Voice contestant Christina Grimmie made headlines at the end of the week. I vetted my feelings about my country’s continued culture of violence, and how a paradigm shift was disparately needed, and tried to make the best of my day. I planned to do my celebrating the following day after my 12pm church gig by heading to one of my favorite spots in Harlem, Loft 142, where I have been going for their #DeBrunch event regularly over the past 10 or so months
I can’t remember what time it was that I awoke on Sunday morning (I’m usually up between 4-5am), but after starting up my computer and logging into Twitter, almost immediately I saw the posts and ReTweets about the unfolding events at Pulse, an LGBTQ friendly nightclub in Orlando, Florida. At first, I thought it was the violent outcome of a fight, something no Gay Man of Color can honestly say they’d be surprised to hear at the end of a long night at an urban club during Pride week. But with a sickening anticipation, I watched the fast moving text scroll like water down the window of my app, with the death toll going from 10, to 20, to 30, and counting. It was like staring into a looking glass, and seeing the worst possible scenarios play out in real time, while you watched, helpless to do anything or contact anyone who could help.
This was not just some one-off shooting. This was something else. Something much, much worse.
As I went about my day, I, like everyone else tuned into the news and their social media, learned the grisly truth of that night; in anguish, I learned about the final death toll, the survivors, the hysteria - and the gunman, who had, as we know now, planned this in advance, and carried that plan out with bloody efficacy.
49 souls, lost to one brief, maddening act of violence. Forty-nine people, most of whom were Gay Men of Color (Latin Gay/Bi/Trans men, specifically), now gone from this plane of existence, because of the prejudice, hatred, and rage of one man, heavily armed, with nothing to lose.
Even now, as I type this, I can feel the acid in my stomach turning and the wash of emotions start to well up in the pit of my ribcage.
To stop the immediate emotional reaction, my critical thinking kicked into high gear, as it tends to do in times of mass physical or emotional trauma. It was the same when I first walked into my family’s home after the devastation left by Hurricane Sandy in 2012; don’t lose it, Joey, I said to myself. Find out what happened and use your head. But whereas the physical wreckage left in my hometown in Breezy Point was, with much effort and a boatload of time, reparable, even with the immense sadness that came with the disaster, this far exceeded anything my realm of consciousness was prepared for.
This wasn’t just a hurricane, which oftentimes does leave bodies in its wake. This was another human being, taking the lives of innocent people, many of whom were just like me. Men, non-heterosexual, non-cisgender Men of Latinx/Hispanic/Black/Indigenous origins, were cut down like beasts during a hunt, mowed down and left to die by someone who viewed them as deviant, inferior, subhuman.
For all the talk I’ve spouted about violence - prejudicial, discriminatory violence in particular - and our society’s addiction to it, and the toll it takes on everyone who experiences it somewhat directly, this brought everything I said home with a cold, unrelenting reality. And it was, for all intents and purposes, too much.
I cried. Wept, actually. I wept for my brethren. As I made my way to Manhattan, I all but held it together as I passed from one borough to the next, wiping my tears and forcing a polite smile to MTA workers as I paid my tolls and kept moving. Time moved in slow motion. I wondered if people passing me in their cars could see my grief, or even registered that my facial expressions were that of someone in the midst of processing this news. I wondered if they knew that a small part of my heart had been irreparably broken. I wondered if I knew this is what was happening, that in my mourning the loss of people I never knew, I was losing some part of myself.
The afternoon passed without incident, and in the midst it all, I managed to have a good time. I realized later that a place like Loft 142, where other GBT Latinx/Black/Indigenous Men were patrons, was exactly where I needed to be. I needed to be among friends, colleagues, brothers in spirit who I knew were going through the exact same emotional trauma as I. And so we smiled, drank, laughed, and conversed together as much as we were able, and for the moment, it was good.
I contacted everyone I knew who was a Non-Cishet PoC friend, and told them outright that I loved them, and thanked them for being in my life. My mother, my sister, and several of my closest friends messaged me with words of love and encouragement. I thanked my Creator for the continued blessing of people who cared about me, and for people to care about. It was unbelievably necessary, and I am unbelievably grateful.
When I got home from brunch, having stayed as long as my constitution would allow, my creative spirit was already speaking to me. I had to do, sing, say something. My mind already knew what cover I would record; I played it on the way uptown. It was a song penned and performed originally by Tom Waits, but made more famous by one of my music idols, Bette Midler. The song is entitled “Shiver Me Timbers,” and whereas its original intent mean to draw on the emotions of a wandering soul abandoning his normal life in favor of a life on the sea, I redid some lyrics and pared down the arrangement so as to make it a fitting tribute to the men & women who lost their lives that morning.
It took roughly two days to complete, but I’m glad I did it, and the response has been unbelievable. Again, gratitude.
I originally thought I wouldn’t have much to say, but, like it seems to always do, my heart had other plans. That said, I won’t keep you, dear reader, too much longer. Over the next several days, I did my best to go about my regular routing, but I found it to be more difficult than even I anticipated. Of course, I vented my sociopolitical frustrations about the shooting on social media, lashing out at anyone or anything I saw to be counterproductive to honoring the dead or working to prevent future violence. The most recent idiocy came from the Center-Right Old Guard, with Senator John McCain alluding to the idea that President Obama’s inaction regarding the Middle East was a prime catalyst for actions carried out by mass murderer Omar Mateen. I won’t bog anyone down with my innate rage concerning White American elected leaders and their continued insistence at turning tragedy involving socially/racially marginalized groups into a political opportunity, but if you could see my face while I write this…well, you get the picture.
I realize that it is far more important to focus on the victims of this heinous crime against humanity, and no matter what happens in the future, they are whom deserve our attention. Their families and loved ones are whom deserve our caring and support. And their Communities - my Communities - are the ones whose voices must be lifted up, whose stories must be told, and whose issues must be resolved if we are to stop this from happening. I cannot tell you how much love I felt when getting those responses back from my friends, and almost all of them responded. That love, that solidarity, is so much more crucial than any legislation passed on the heels of this tragedy, and it is that love that I wish to impart on all of you.
As with so many who have spoken out about the Orlando shooting, I want the world to know, especially those connected to the victims, that I bleed, cry, grieve, and mourn with you. I have shed tears for these beautiful souls, as I know you have. I am working through my pain, as I know you are. And I am confident, as I pray you will be, that someday, whenever that day is, we will find a way to work through this. That we will be stronger and more united in our struggles to fight for a world released from its cycles of systemic oppression, unfounded hatred, and indoctrinated violence. If the love I’ve received this past week is any indication, then I am willing to believe that such a day is still possible. I am willing to believe that a shift in paradigm, a collective change of heart, is still something for which we should all retain hope.
There isn’t much else I can think of to say, so I’ll leave it here. As always, thanks to every one of you for your continued support, particularly at this time. Below this text is the YouTube cover I spoke of earlier in this post. I hope you will take a listen; the names of the known victims are listed at the end of the song. Learn those names. Go and find out about who they were. Say a prayer for them and their loved ones, if you pray. If not, send light and energy to them; you have my promise it’s appreciated. I’ll leave you with one of the best text messages I got this week, from my good friend, Timmy O’Brien. I think it expresses with distinct clarity, everything so many of us have tried to say, and I hope you’ll take it to heart:
“You’re loved, don’t be afraid, remain strong.”