Stereotypes of black men may have originated during the time of slavery; however, these damaging stereotypes have all but disappeared. It is important that black men continue to rise above such negativity and serve as role models for young black youth. I plan to present local successful, bold brothas on this page, as their efforts are often overlooked and overshadowed in our communities.

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Chaz Barracks

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Chaz Barracks, LBGTQ advocate, founder of IAMMYLIFE.org and close friend of mine, dreamt of becoming a pilot as a child, because he was amazed by the possibilities of flight. Although Chaz didn’t become a pilot, he had managed to fly – by uplifting others through
their experiences, and through his very own.

Barracks considers himself a Glastonbury, Connecticut native, although he had moved around about 6 times during his childhood due to his family struggles. As Barracks reflects on his childhood, he says he began to experience verbal bullying due to his sexuality in high school. “There were the boys in high school, usually black, that just wouldn’t associate with me and would give me stares in the halls but I always had a lot of girlfriends, who constantly tried to smooth things out and tell the boys to knock it off.  My girls had my back, but they knew I was made fun of a lot for being feminine and to be honest, I kind of just normalized it so it wouldn’t hurt so bad. It helped me cope with what made me “different”. However, I don’t think my girlfriends knew that I badly wanted more male friends because I ignored it pretty well and just stayed close with the few I had.” He also remembers his male peers becoming friends with him only when the other boys weren’t around. “Occasionally I was called out of my name — usually fagot — in class and in the hallways, not invited to sleepovers with friends because someone in the bunch had ruled “no gays allowed” and I would randomly get the cold shoulder from male “friends”, when they were around the guy groups.”

Growing up fatherless, a young Barracks initially thought a relationship with his father would change his feelings for men. “During early adolescence, I so wanted my father to be around and I remember always telling myself that if I was close with a male figure with a father role, then I wouldn’t feel “gay” because I just needed that bond fulfilled.” Barracks eventually met his father at age 12, but when he did, he found that nothing changed; he still  had the same feelings toward men. At one point, Barracks even considered forcing himself to become straight. “During high school I used to always say that I was attracted to boys but wanted to marry a woman and have a family,” he shares.

The bullying continued on into his early college years and grew much worse; however, supportive friends and family helped him get through it. During his second half of college life, he found the most acceptance and love. “Anyone who truly cares for me has always known [that I’m gay]. And I believe that from all I’ve been through, I give off enough sincerity in my love to my dear family/friends that they just have no choice but to accept me for Chaz, so we can move on and let our bond grow. I have never had to officially “come out” to any family/friends,” Barracks adds.

Through international service and embracing his story to uplift others dealing with adversity, Barracks was compelled to start his own online organization, IAmMyLife.org. “I don’t know what changed in my life, but one day a light just clicked and I realized that I needed to do something with my story. It was time for me to “come out” with all of that makes me, me.” IAmMyLife.org is a place for people of all backgrounds (not limited to the LBGTQ community) to share their stories of struggle, success, soul-searching, and love within life experiences that promotes inclusion and global-diversity. It’s a safe place that promotes utilizing the creative arts to express yourself, with the goal of learning from and inspiring one another.  Barracks comments,  “IAMMYLIFE is about connecting through our being. I envision working with those who’ve had a hard time seeing past what makes them “different,” and learning ways to instead embrace what makes us all similar. I am a big advocate for the power in telling one’s story,” adds Barracks.

To all those reading this who are in the closet or are dealing with stigma due to sexuality, Barracks suggests that you focus on you and not the people and stigma attempting to pull you down. “It is so important to build a thick skin and truly work every day on loving yourself, setting goals for yourself and finding outlets to self-reflect.” He also advises to push yourself forward and embrace everything about yourself. “People had no choice but to accept me. I stopped hesitating in professional environments when someone would ask, “So Chaz, are you single, do you have a girlfriend?” Instead of cringing and trying to push a lie out, I finally began to say the truth and not care about the reaction. “No, but I have a boyfriend,” or “yeah, I am dating, his name is….” You must show people that there’s truly no difference between you and them.”

We often talk about sisterhood and how women need to do a better job of supporting each other; however, Barracks recognizes that men also have room to be more brotherly – black men in particular. Identifying too much stress on masculinity in the black community, he feels it only adds even more pressure to gay black men and black men in general. “There is just too much of the “down-low” life occurring among black men and I would assume all these guys who remain closeted can get away with it in some cases, because of how over-masculine they tend to be. Maybe they just have not easily found the support from other black men that they may need in order to feel okay to embrace their sexuality or who they are.” Barracks suggests that black men must tear
down the walls they have put up and comfortably and openly make room for their
gay brothers.

Barracks ends with a few words of advice for those of the LBGTQ community and beyond. “You can never expect anyone to accept you if you don’t accept yourself.”

Once you accept yourself, you too, will take flight.

Read more about Chaz Barracks on his site, IAMMYLIFE.org.

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Ernesto Sampson

“I was picked on a lot when I was younger. I was raised by mother and we didn’t have much money.  I did go back to school shopping at Family Dollar and had a free lunch ticket. I overcame these problems by focusing on education. Math was easy to me,” says Ernesto Sampson. Little did he know then, his education and interests would lead him to big things in the future – like being nominated to run for the Republican House of Delegates.

Sampson hails from Suffolk, Virginia and attended Nansemond High School. As a child, like many boys, Sampson aspired to join the armed forces. “Growing up I wanted to be a Navy Fighter Pilot or a Navy Lawyer. My favorite toy as a kid was a G.I.Joe F-15 jet my mom bought me one birthday. Then Top Gun came out when I was ten and I just knew that is what I was going to do. I had it all figured out, I would stay in the Navy for 20 years then I would go into politics.”

He was teased as a little boy because of his height and an overbite, but fortunately, he didn’t let the bullying get to him.  Sampson was brought up with his mind set on college. “My mom told me in middle school that when I turned 18, I was either going to college or I was going in the military. So, I really only had two options growing up.” After high school, Sampson attended VMI (Virginia Military Institute). While there, he had a wonderful college experience and formed many meaningful relationships. “I talk to many folks who went to other schools and their relationships with college friends fell off after school. My roommate and best man in my wedding has been deployed several times over the past ten years and we talk all the time.  I work in an office with a classmate, so VMI is always with me,” asserts Sampson. Unfortunately, finances were a strain on him during his college years. “I know most college kids are broke, but I had less money than the broke kids. I guess that is why I am frugal now. I had to learn to do without,” he says. After VMI, he went on to VCU to earn his MBA.

When Sampson ran for the Republican House of Delegates back in 2009, it was a difficult task, as most people couldn’t get past the fact that he was a black Republican. “Although I had great ideas and would have been a great asset to the community; people could not get passed that.” Running for Delegate was a huge commitment and sacrifice for Sampson, whose blood, sweat and tears went into his campaign. “I walked almost all of Southside Richmond and went through two pairs of Nike Air Maxes,” Sampson added. Political campaigns may seem like glitz and glamour to those on the outside; however, there’s much more to it than meets the eye. Sampson had trouble dealing with rejection and reaching out to people who wouldn’t even give him a chance to share his stance or ideas, simply because of his race and party affiliation.

Sampson describes his experience with the Republican Party as a very open one.  “I have never felt that I was being used as a token or a pawn. I have achieved leadership positions at the local level within the party, gone to two National Conventions, and received the Republican Nomination to run for the House of Delegates. I only get flack about being an African-American Republican from African-Americans.” Just as he did as a child, he manages to stay focused and not let negative energy get to him. “It doesn’t bother me that they give me flack. I really just ignore it.”

Currently working as a financial advisor, Sampson notices common mistakes people tend to make in managing money; from what he sees, most people fail to plan. Without planning, it’s virtually impossible to reach any financial goals, according to Sampson. Additionally, he realizes that as a community, African Americans are often left in the dark, when it comes to money matters. “We as African-Americans are not taught how to deal with money from an early age, so we are mostly playing catch-up. I don’t think blacks are anymore irresponsible with finances than any other race. I have clients from many different races, and many have the same challenges. Our biggest challenge in my opinion is the lack of education about financial matters.”

It’s important for us to get up on money matters – teaching our children, our spouses, our friends and ourselves to save, plan and become more fiscally aware. It’s also just as important to embrace acceptance. We may all be black, but that doesn’t mean we are all exactly the same; the sooner we can all truly comprehend this, the better off we all will be. Through it all, Sampson has managed to stay true to himself, a priceless lesson we all need to take heed to.

Sampson recalls his Grandma Bessie reminding him to not let what others think deter him from his goals because people are always going to talk, no matter what he does. Not just Sampson, but we ALL can benefit from Grandma Bessie’s advice.

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Arelius Walker

“Put [your goals] down on paper. My mother had me do this when I was maybe 12 or so. Graduate from College, own a Lexus, run in NCAA championship, and a few other things. All of which I have done,” says Arelius Walker, a Richmond business owner.

A native Texan, Walker always aspired to be a business owner, as he looked up to older businessmen in church as a child. “Arthur Anderson wore the nicest business suits at church and I just knew I wanted to be a business man. I was a simple Texas Boy.” says Walker.

A product of divorce, Walker was fortunate enough to still have his father play an active role in his life. “My parents divorced when I was 9-10 years old. But he was still very much involved in my life. He was a pastor and picked me up every Sunday. So I can understand going from the “Regular Family” to single parent home.” Walker adds.

African-American children are more likely to be raised in single parent homes than any other race. In fact, 72% of our children grow up in homes without both parents – and roughly 84% of these children do not have a father present in their lives. “I ended up moving in with [my father] around 16 years old, which I feel really saved my life.  I was getting into that teenage boy mindset and really needed to be with my father to show me what it was like to be a man.” Walker says. (withoutafather.com; newsone.com)

After graduating from Lyndon B. Johnson High School in Austin, Texas, Walker went on to attend Texas A&M  on a track scholarship. Juggling school, practice and a social life was a difficult task. “I really enjoyed running college track, but the downside was how much time it took away from being a regular student.  Weights at 6am, breakfast, class, track practice, study, sleep and do it all over again.” To all the black men currently in college, he suggests maintaining perseverance and looking at the big picture. Walker suggests “Keep pushing forward.  Success is measured one day at a time.”

Walker describes his journey of becoming a business owner “a gift from God.” His cousin, who owns a cleaners in Richmond’s West End, wanted to open another one, but had no one to manage it. Walker was the first person who came to mind. “After 2-3 months of my cousin calling me and telling me I should come up to Richmond and check out the location, I came to see what it was all about.  I was living in Atlanta at the time.” Shortly after, he joined in on the business venture and now owns One Price Cleaners (Hull Street and Midlothian locations). At the time, he was 26 and he’s been in the business now for 9 years. Walker loves owning a business and being a compassionate leader means a lot to him. “I feel like I’m good at showing my employees that I’m willing to do anything I ask them to do.  From the small stuff to the large.  I try and show them an example of dedication and self-motivation,” says Walker. He’s even encouraging one of his employees to open her own baking business. Additionally, Walker believes the presence of black business is vital for our children, as it is important for them to see leaders who look like them.

“Put your goals down on paper,” as Walker says. Name it and claim it – its never too early or too late to do so. And keep the cycle going – let’s show our youth that they too can be doctors, lawyers, teachers, government officials, business owners and other leaders, because our community is only as strong as our people.

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Lowell Thomas

TheBlackertheBerry’s FIRST “Bold Brotha” is a West Virginia native named Lowell Thomas. He grew up in Kimberly, West Virginia, a small town about 30 minutes outside of Charleston. He is an entrepreneur, a mentor and a driving force in Richmond’s at-risk community.

“As a child most people expected me to become a professional football player,” says Thomas, but as a child, he held different aspirations. “I always aspired to own my own business.” Thomas grew up in a middle class household. He was raised by both his mother and his father, who have been married for 44 years. Despite his wholesome upbringing, Thomas was not excluded from childhood bullying. “As any kid growing up, I faced my fair share of teasing an bullying. I learned at an early age not to take it too personally. That the people who teased or bullied were the ones who had the problem, not me. I learned to laugh it off,” says Thomas. There was always a special place in his heart for others who were mistreated, as he felt the need to help them. “As I got older, through sports and social interaction, I learned I had the power to stop bullying amongst my peers by standing up for people who couldn’t stand up for themselves,” Thomas adds.

Thomas attended Marshall University in Huntington, West Virginia and Richmond’s own Virginia Union University, the university from which he graduated.  While at Union, Thomas earned not one, but two degrees– one in computer programming and the second in computer networking.  Although Thomas hit the books hard, he still had time to enjoy his college years. “College turned out to be some of the greatest years of my life! Not only was it the social experience of a lifetime, but it also was the point in my life where things began to click,” Thomas comments. Attending college was no surprise for Thomas; it was part of the plan and very much expected. “As early as I can remember, the expectation of going to college was set in my household. There was never a moment in my life that I didn’t set the expectation for myself of not only going to college but graduating from college,” he says.

Thomas strives to help at-risk youth here in Richmond. In 2001, he began working with Henrico County Mental Health, mentoring young children while he was still a student athlete at Virginia Union. Thomas recently began working for Henrico Police Athletic League (PAL). Drawing from his own experiences, he’s mentored many kids and helped them with their academics, personal issues and college readiness, including financial aid education. “The most negative aspect of college for me was financial aid– my lack of understanding of how financial aid worked and the financial burden I was left with after graduating. I spend a lot of time mentoring young men and women on the pros and cons of financial aid when preparing for college.” In addition to his mentoring, in 2007, Thomas started his own business, a real estate consulting and investment company called Franchise Properties, LLC.

Thomas offers some encouragement to young men struggling in college. He stresses the fact that one must not only be willing to learn in the classroom, but also, he must be ready to learn about himself. “College is too hard to do for anyone else but yourself. Spend some time learning about yourself and exploring your true passion. You’ll find that learning will become second nature when the subject is your passion.” He also urges young men to stop limiting themselves. “In college, I learned there wasn’t anything I wasn’t capable of accomplishing.  That was the most powerful aspect of college,” adds Thomas.

Most often, we hear about people helping others in their communities due to their very own bleak upbringings or unfortunate circumstances. What’s unique about Lowell Thomas is his passion to help others, driven from his middle class childhood, which lacked struggle or hardship. Thank you Mr. Lowell Thomas, for planting the seeds– helping positivity blossom into even more positivity.

To suggest a “Bold Brotha” for theBlackertheBerry.org, please email Kiara Lee.

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