There’s strength and beauty in creating community. For many queer and trans folks, finding that community is of utmost importance. And for those within the margins of the LGBTQ community, it becomes even more critical. But DaShawn Usher and Julian J. Walker know this and made sure that the Mobilizing Our Brothers Initiative (MOBI) fosters that same sense of community.
MOBI “is a series of curated social connectivity events for gay and queer people of color to see their holistic self while promoting community, wellness, and personal development”. With a dedicated team, a variety of community partners, and engaging programming, MOBI creates a mosaic of events that allows queer people of color to foster a community they can see themselves reflected in.
And the rest of the world is taking notice. In June, Hornitos Tequila and LGBTQ media advocacy company GLAAD announced their official partnership together and presented MOBI, as well as L.A’s [email protected] Coalition, with an inaugural $10,000 grant to support the efforts of their nonprofit. DaShawn, Julian, and the rest of MOBI (Dwyane Williams Jr., Anthony Curry, and LaQuann Dawson) were honored in July at an event in New York City, hosted by Hornitos Tequila and GLAAD.
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While at the event, INTO spoke with DaShawn (Founder/Executive Director) and Julian (Deputy Director/Ambassador) on how MOBI came to be, how they cultivate community through premiere events like MOBItalks and MOBIfest, and what’s next for the LGBTQ-focused nonprofit.
DaShawn, how did MOBI come to be?
D: MOBI came from a grant two years before we started being MOBI formally and it was not funded. So I was like, “All right, I’m just going to put this on the back burner and continue to do some work”. I was volunteering a lot nationally and locally. Nationally, we were volunteering together for this national initiative for young, Black gay men that focused on leadership and development around advocacy.
D: I was working with Impulse Group NYC doing a lot of their activations and advocacy efforts here in New York City. And it just got to a point where I wanted something for us, where we could build our community for Black and Brown queer people who don’t have spaces and opportunities to network together outside of a party.
D: So I was like “What would it look like to do what we do on the national level, which was the personal and professional development aspects, and what would it look like to centers us around wellness, but do it in a way that also brings entertainment, influencers, and talented people who can use their platform for awareness about what’s actually happening in America?”.
Julian, how did you get involved with MOBI?
J: It’s really funny. Like DaShawn mentioned we were part of another initiative and we were on a flight leaving from somewhere. DaShawn said, “So, I think I want to start this organization, and I want to call it MOBI”. And I remember I was like, “MOBI? What are you talking about? What are you doing?”. And then he broke it down and I was like, “Oh my gosh. That’s really cool”.
J: So, I really feel like after that conversation, it was fast forward into creating these beautiful spaces. In 2015, right after I did the film Blackbird, I met DaShawn at this conference and that was my introduction to the world of advocacy. Lately, I’ve been saying how Blackbird kind of catapulted me into this world that I’m still trying to understand today. But when we met, I just didn’t know that those types of spaces existed in that moment. I was like, “I want to do this. I want to be a part of this. I want to create these spaces for the community”.
J: Thankfully, when MOBI was in its early stages, DaShawn wanted me to help out. It began with me being the ambassador of the organization and throughout the last five years it really grew beautifully.
Speaking of creating beautiful experiences, MOBI is cultivating these through events, like MOBIfest and MOBItalks. What was the inspiration behind these?
D: I just got tired of hearing that there is no Black gay community or culture inside of New York that is strong or supportive. Well, that’s not like me, my friends, and the networks that I’m a part of, but you also don’t get to see it if you don’t get to be inside of these space professional or personal relationships. It was really just thinking about how every MOBI event would be an experience and it would be centered around making people feel welcomed as opposed to excluding them. There isn’t a VIP area at MOBIfest or MOBItalks. You all have to be in community.
D: When we look at success across the board, it wasn’t catapulting people that looked a certain way or that only had a certain profession. Our first year, we had Karamo right before he was getting ready to do Queer Eye. But we also had Rico Pruitt, who is known to do adult entertainment and web series. You can’t deny that people have a following and influence. And so what we didn’t want to do is tell people what looks professional. Everybody has a platform. Everyone has a story. But guess what? This is how they tell their story, in case there are other people that want to go into that industry that haven’t seen people that look like them in those certain positions.
J: If I could piggyback a little bit, I think DaShawn perfectly crafted the MOBI team to all have that same alignment with why we are creating this program. Growing up, I’m sure you can relate, there weren’t many spaces or access to television where you can see someone who looks like you. With the current team, we all know that what we are doing is so much bigger than what we have going on.
J :I think it’s so beautiful that this year was our first year back in person, after two years. At the top of 2020, when the world was shutting down, we, too, could have shut down. We could have said, “You know what, we’ll circle back next year”. But we’re still doing this. So that blossomed into the virtual MOBItalks and the digital series, which was already going to happen, but it pushed up the process a little bit more. The heart, the love, and the drive that the team has is just so powerful.
What does your dream collaboration look like for either MOBItalks or MOBIfest?
J: We have been wanting to have Jaboukie Young-White because, in 2019 we incorporated a comedy aspect to MOBIfest. So we had Sampson McCormick who hosted this comedy segment. Alex English, who actually just got nominated for an Emmy, was a part of that also. But we were like, well, DaShawn was definitely like, “Oh my god, Jaboukie. We need to have him”. Since then, I’ve been keeping up with their career. I definitely would love for us to have him.
D: And it’s funny because Julian was the champion of Jaboukie and we were this close, but we didn’t have the funds. We’re still operating as what we are, a nonprofit, but we’re creating free spaces for people. We’re not charging anybody for any of these events and we want to give talent some type of token of appreciation for their time. So, I think that’s important.
D: But someone that we would love to work with, I would say at least for the festival, I would love Kehlani or Victoria Monét. We love to amplify Black women. One of the things that we changed in 2020, was only having queer performers, so we’re championing anybody who identifies within the LGBTQ+ community. For the first two years, we had allies, like Dawn Richard and Sevyn Streeter, and they are amazing, truly. They are actually real champions for us. But it was just one of those things about how many Black queer people don’t get the main stage or get the same resources or get that light for the festival. And so for us, it’s also important to continue with that.
What do you want to see for the future of MOBI?
D: I want to still be innovative, still grow in the ways that we need to grow without forcing it or growing too fast. I think it’s just ensuring that we do have sustainability and be connected to our community and culture. I feel like with the current order of folks and the people that we continue to meet and these different experiences, literally even meeting you, is like another network. And it’s like okay, we could do more. And I love that aspect of “what does expansion and sustainability look like for us?”. So, I just want to sustain and grow [MOBI] to a healthy 18-year-old, and by that time, fully retire. It’s not about me or anybody else that’s part of the team. It’s about the organization, what it has done, and continues to do, that will be culturally relevant in years to come.
J: I completely agree. I want us to continue our mission of our “why”. The “why” is very important when you’re doing the work, if you lose track of that you lose track of the purpose, the mission, and the drive of why you’re doing it. I want us to continue treating every guest that comes to an event like they’re a person. And I think that is so beautiful that during a MOBI experience, whether that’s the MOBIfest or MOBItalk, it’s like you’re family. You’re literally a “MOBImate”, somebody there that helps us and is there for us. Some of the guests of the events have now become volunteers. So they’re constantly helping us out. Which is why I want to say thank you to all the volunteers or anyone who has been supportive of MOBI thus far. It’s just amazing. I just want us to continue that drive and that mission.
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