Stories

PAINTING A NEW STORY

Robert, 25, on how writing and studying drama helped him embrace his blackness.

Storytelling was my escape, especially growing up in a harsh environment in Houston, Texas. I wasn’t very proud of my circumstances. On a role model level, the men in my life all did things I didn’t stand for or represent. With that, I had always used storytelling as a way to escape to other characters or perspectives. In 6th grade, I realized I wanted to be an actor and from then I saw something that could get me out of my current circumstances. I ran with it through middle school, high school, and college to study drama.

Once I graduated, I realized I was trying too hard to fit into a traditional mold, a cookie-cutter lifestyle that was not designed for me. I needed to go back to the drawing board and figure out how to survive. The only way I thought to thrive and survive, to get through this transition, cope with the 2016 election, and not to conform to the lines of being a starving artist with no back-up plan, was with some spiritual connectedness with my deceased father.

I lost my father when I was 5 years old, but I wasn’t able to properly mourn for him until I was an adult. When I turned 23 and I was reaching 24, it was a scary moment because my father didn’t make it to 24. To give more background, he was a prominent gangster rapper in the Austin, Houston area. I began suddenly inheriting what he left behind for me over the course of the last two and half years. And so when I graduated college, I wrote and performed a one-man autobiographical show called Baba and Me in honor of my father.

I traveled to London, other parts of Europe, Cuba, West Africa, and my hometown with this performance, and spoke to brown and black youth communities similar to what I grew up within. Through this journey, I realized I was no longer ashamed of my background and I could be unapologetically black and authentic. I was finally leading not with my best self, but my whole self.

I’ve always been pro-Black, which means believing in black liberation and going against the stereotypes of the African-American community in the US. Me embracing my full self as well as my other ethnicities has separated me from the construct of Blackness — my mother is French and Native American from her family history, my father African American. For me to address my family history helped me understand myself better and to share the truth of my story.

Even though I’m not an immigrant, I’ve had this mindset of achieving the American Dream since no one was going to hand me an opportunity because of the class and racial gap I grew up in. With me supporting my mother and siblings, trying to pursuing acting was a burden. Thankfully, I’ve been able to use my entrepreneurial and leadership skills to be more confident in journey.

This is the dialogue and narrative I create to many of the youth I mentor and speak to — they need to be proactive in their career journeys because the system is designed to lead them straight into mass incarceration.

In grad school, I decided to research student perspectives on activism, education, and opportunity. I am now applying to residencies to take the project to the next level and reach more students and stakeholders — i.e. principals, parents — to address opportunity gaps in public education. My hope is to create a dialogue and action around this topic.

I’m also working on a recording mixed tape and a performance sponsored by the Houston Arts Alliance to target 15-20 year olds in urban settings to create conversation on gun violence control, specifically in the city of Houston and the state of Texas.

My hope is to to add to the artists from diverse backgrounds who are painting new pictures, and to be a contributor to that table, whether I’m bringing the fried chicken or the silverware to the cookout. I want to play my part in the best way I know how.

If you want to learn more of his work, see Robert’s website!

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