Monday, November 12, 2012

0 In Honor of Brandon Lacy Campos

I met Brandon Campos last week.

He was the keynote speaker for Pan-African Alliance's annual Black Solidarity Day having achieved prominence through Queers for Economic Justice, his widely-circulated blog (My Feet Only Walk Forward), and the mentorship of one of my best friends.  I did not know Brandon as well as the hundreds of people who are collectively mourning his death on the internet -- through various forums, photographs, articles, and Facebook posts -- or his friends and family across the United States and other countries.  All things considered, I knew Brandon rather transiently but I feel moved to voice my thoughts on his passing and speak to the impression he left on me.

Brandon's remarks for Black Solidarity Day were a lifting and spirited ten minutes of poetry blended into prose blended with a sort of flair particular to Brandon's rhetorical style.  He called for a "radical redefinition of blackness," a sense of collective purpose and accomplishment through recognition of our unique experiences.  This speech, like many of Brandon's other writings, praised the necessity of self-love, community-love, and the power of mutually-beneficial growth.  He highlighted the importance of black feminism -- of the acceptance of feminism by black men -- and drew attention to the structural disadvantages people of color face but also challenged these communities to advance their own education and growth.

The speech stuck with me and with everyone else who came to Black Solidarity Day.  In 10 minutes Brandon had artfully struck a note with every distinct identity present.  We were all eager to "get to that mountaintop," and thankful that Brandon was present to help lead us there.

Before the evening portion of Black Solidarity Day, I drove with my friend, Lev, to Dorchester to pick-up Brandon from the house of a friend he was staying with.  After picking up Brandon we quickly found ourselves lost in Boston's tapestry of a highway system.  Poor lighting, crooked roads, and a lack of city planning has made Boston my nightmare as a driver; not to mention, the trip that was supposed to be 20 minutes each way was quickly becoming at least an hour on the road -- worse than anything, I knew the oxtails, cornbread, rice, and baked chicken we had ordered was quickly being devoured.

Listening to Brandon call his boyfriend in the backseat of the car as Lev and I tried to right the ship, it would have been impossible not to take note of the energy with which Brandon spoke, the vitality and thoughtfulness he placed in every word.  When he turned his attention to us, the energy did not recede.

Lev and I probed him about his upbringing in Minnesota, about his plans for graduate school.  We talked about Queers for Economic Justice and our own hopes and ambitions -- Lev's to be a writer and my own hope to break in to politics.  He told us that there is only one place to properly get a Juicy Lucy Burger in the Twin Cities and we would do well not to get it twisted.  Brandon listened and Brandon responded and Brandon was funny, really funny.  He joked with us about girls and told us that Suheir Hammad, the Palestinian-American spoken word poet and activist, was "fucking fierce," and that any man would be lucky to have her.  It was as if he knew Lev and I both have a soft spot for the women from that part of the world -- or at least knew that he and I both immediately fell in love with anyone who tanned like caramel, had a pair of well-groomed eyebrows and could be described as "fierce."  Brandon became our bro but not just a bro; Brandon was kind of everything in that car ride.  Imagine if both of the Wonder Twins were smashed into one person and had uncanny abilities to listen, advise, console, joke with, and chill.  Lev and I were so glad he had 14 more years of life under his belt than us but, if anything, would have loved nothing more than to have Brandon enroll at Tufts the next day and make memories with us.

I remember asking him about feminism, about black feminism, about black male feminism -- about black male feminism as a young, straight, black male who is going through a crisis of self trying to figure out how to live as a young, straight, black male who can't remember any examples of grown black men acting as mutually supportive and respectful partners to the women they were "in love with".  I think this was the moment I appreciated the most about the car ride with Brandon. He could have readily dismissed the question, given an uninspired answer, and gone back to the game on his phone.  Instead he listened -- listened as I tried to explain the spot I was in emotionally, intellectually, spiritually, in crafting my own feminism -- the crisis that Kiese Laymon so wonderfully expressed as this: I am a wannabe black male feminist who is really bad at loving women who are really good at loving me.

Brandon's advice was succinct and brief and I can't remember everything he said; I can't remember the majority of what he said, actually.  What I do remember though is that he recognized the difficulties inherent to trying to develop a practical feminism as a member of a community that has experienced the oppression that the black community has but also didn't let me off the hook.  Personal responsibility plays a huge part in that development, as he had explained earlier in the day, but also, Brandon said, you have to allow yourself to fuck up, "because you're going to."

Finally back at Tufts and with all the remainders of the oxtails and rice heaped on our triple-stacked paper plate, Brandon settled in to a seat toward the front of the lecture hall in which the open mic section of the night was hosted.  Sitting with Lev toward the back of the room, Lev and I watched Brandon read a poem from his book: It Ain't Truth if it Doesn't Hurt.  Consistent with his speech from earlier, Brandon's poem was a celebration of self-love, a chance to praise the self and the community that several selves acting in concert create.

So Friday night when I heard that Brandon had passed, I struggled to think of someone who stood as such an antithesis to the stillness of death.  Brandon was so very much that to speak of him in the past tense feels bizarre, unnatural -- and I came to this realization after a short jaunt around Boston.  Brandon was, "a black, white, Ojibwe, Afro-Boricua, HIV positive, queer man," but that was just the beginning; which says something because that is a lot of ways to describe yourself!  Brandon was a boyfriend and a scholar and a mentor and a knock-your-socks-off kind of cook and a role model and a leader and a symbol of how black, white, Ojibwe, Afro-Boricua, HIV positive, queer men (and everyone else for that matter) could live prosperous and healthy lives.  He lived courageously and as a counterpoint, an exception, to the false belief that living as an openly HIV positive individual was to surrender your happiness.  Brandon was self-love; he was self-love, not for his own aggrandizement and promotion but, out of the recognition that creating community and being supportive for others cannot be done to its maximum capability unless we all learn how to love ourselves -- and then turn that love out toward others.

I don't really know how to end this post aside from falling into a bunch of cliches about how the lost will never be forgotten, that they will live on in memory and spirit (and literature in Brandon's case, specifically). I want to stay away from those, though, because I want to leave people with the space to find closure about the loss of this impressive human-being in their own way.  Brandon was, undoubtedly, someone to behold and someone to aspire to.  He has left a legacy and a model and inspired and led.  In just a quick car ride, Brandon gave me a glimpse of the mountaintop he had realized, that we all hope to realize.  My thoughts, prayers, solidarity, and affection to all those affected.

Rest in peace, Brandon Lacy Campos.

More than peace, though, rest in love.

Ain't nobody in this world going to give us our liberation. We need to break those chains ourselves, and we have to start by holding each other close in a way that says clearly that I am you. You are me. And I will do the work to undo the legacy of oppression, racism, sexism, heterosexism, abelism, classism, immigration status, and skin privilege that keeps me from you and you from me and us from the mountaintop because I am climbing y'all, and I mean to take every one of you with me, if you'll just hold my hand. I need you, and we need each other.

Brandon's blog: My Feet Only Walk Forward
Brandon's Remarks at Black Solidarity Day: Here 


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