#MelanitesMen: Dr. Derek Hall
AS A BOY GROWING UP, WHEN DID YOU FIRST REALIZE THAT YOUR EXPERIENCE WAS GOING TO BE DIFFERENT THAN YOUR PEERS?
I was in middle school when I realized that I was different than most boys. A lot of the students bullied me. My being made to feel different was less about my color and more about my perceived sexual orientation. I wish I had known then that this was only a portion of the prejudices I would face not only as a Black male, but as a Gay Black male. I wish I would have been prepared for those who accepted me and those who did not.
CAN YOU THINK OF AN EXAMPLE FROM YOUR CHILDHOOD WHEN YOU REMEMBER THINKING: IS THIS HOW I’M SUPPOSED TO ACT? THE MESSAGING I AM RECEIVING CONFLICTS WITH ME INTERNALLY?
I can vividly remember often being told to act like a boy. I was not sure what this meant. I enjoyed being around the girls. They were more communicative. Girls also enjoyed reading and writing and dancing, like I did. I was told that these hobbies were girl’s expectations of play, communication and growth, and that my participation in such activities made me less than a boy. Internally and thanks to a loving and nurturing Grandmother I was still made to feel valid and my self-esteem was encouraged and developed. However, when the communication and contact with my Grandmother became limited my motivation, outlook, academic focus, and self-esteem all took a disastrous and downward spiral.
WAS THERE A PARTICULAR CONVERSATION/MESSAGE YOUR PARENTS OR A SIGNIFICANT ADULT GAVE THAT STUCK WITH YOU?
Conversations with my Grandmother often play in my mind. I can remember how much she encouraged me to never be ashamed of who I am. I never recall her specifically have “the talk” with me about racism or prejudice. However, there were many television shows of the time that conveyed the ignorance of racism and those me to understand that the world was not always inviting. However, I truly believe and thank my childhood neighborhood for my understanding and embrace of all cultures, races, and ethnic backgrounds. Just the smells of dinnertime across the neighborhood was enough to make you understand that we were all different but the flavors of each culture were fragrantly effervescent.
DO YOU FEEL LIKE THERE WERE SOME CHALLENGES UNIQUE TO YOU THAT ADDED A COMPLEX EXPERIENCE TO YOUR CHILDHOOD THAT WE AS A SOCIETY DON’T NORMALLY SPEAK ON?
Being a Black gay male in America has been a challenge of self-acceptance. All through school I was trying to fit-in. Fit in with my peers, fit in with friends in the school and the neighborhood, then fit in at college, and in the places where I worked. I hide my sexual orientation from friends, colleagues, and anyone else who I deemed would use who I loved as a barrier to my success.
The strangest thing about the acceptance of family was that the people who I believed would be accepting were the ones who shied away and the ones who I thought would scorn me were the ones who were most accepting. After this, I began my own journey to understand how I might be accepting of myself. Once that came to fruition, I then realized the self-acceptance will convey a message of acceptance of others or an understanding that their acceptance is not required. However, their respect and tolerance are expected. The best statement I heard was “when someone has a problem with you. The main part of that sentence is someone has a problem, and that the “with you”, is a prepositional phrase
What advice would you give your younger self on how to navigate the journey from a boy to a man?
Go for everything that people say you cannot have. Your dreams are bigger than the struggles you will encounter. You will not believe how far God will bring you. You will go through some valleys and they may seem like harsh punishment from an unforgiving God. But know and trust that His plan is greater than your wildest dreams and when you get to where you are supposed to be in life, you will realize all the greatness you have done and you will not have to question why you have lived as long as you did. You will think back to when 38 seemed like a good age to live until and you will be elated transformed, inspired and filled with love at the celebration of 50 years of life. And when you look back at 20 you will wonder how you ever did it and at 50 you will know it was the Lord, and your Guardian Angel Grandmother.
Hometown: Bronx, NY