Rolling Stops is a one-person, storytelling show that examines living outside the prescribed definitions of blackness and masculinity. Rolling Stops refers to that slow roll of motion, as we sometimes drift into intersections; fully aware of the dangers of not making a complete stop. This has been my life. The show explores the pain, the fear and the joy of my going in search of self, but ultimately discovering I might have had everything I needed all along - a Wizard of Oz tale of sorts.
I have been writing and performing as a storyteller since 2005. I hosted and produced my own show for two years in Los Angeles. When I relocated to Baltimore, I began to perform locally for DMV based storytelling organizations. The Maryland State Arts Council Individual Artist awarded me with a grant for my work in solo performance in the spring of 2019 and I am the reigning 2018 slam champion for The Moth in D.C. In addition to the stage work, I am editing a collection of personal essays; some of which will be at the center of my one-person show. A shortened version of one of those essays was published in the Baltimore Sun this past June, regarding my complex relationship with PRIDE month.
I typically write short pieces and find spaces to workshop and perform, as I develop the voice and tone. In addition, I work as a storytelling show director-for hire, in order to hone my skills of pulling together individual stories from other artists and then curating them in a way that gives a show a narrative arc. My most recent directorial effort was staged in October 2019 at the Hippodrome; a collection of stories that dealt with wellness and success strategies of people living in West Baltimore.
The plan for Rolling Stops is to continue to workshop and perform selected essays, crafting them into a narrative sequence with the help of a show producer. My producer stages shows for The Moth on a monthly basis and has experience in storytelling, event planning and marketing. The goal is to perform the full show at a theater on the campus of Goucher College, where I serve as an Assistant Professor in the Communications and Media Studies Department and at a local Baltimore theater. I am currently negotiating a Resident Artist contract with a well esatblished local company.
The grant would make it possible for me to secure venues, talent and cover other production costs. The intention is to utilize the local relationships I have cultivated, along with my own resources, to keep production costs within the scope of my financial capabilities.
This show is the culmination of years of work in storytelling and performance. It was books like E. Lynn Harris’ Invisible Life, documentaries such as Marlon Riggs’ Tongues Untied and stage performers like Whoopi Goldberg and John Leguizamo, that gave voice to various pieces of my identity. As we shift back into a time where there’s a notion that only some people’s experiences matter, or are valid; it is critical that those of us who create, step out and be heard. Rolling Stops is my personal story, but it is not one person’s story. It’s about slowing down at the intersections and looking out for each other, before we collide.
An excerpt from "Chicago" as published in the anthology For Colored Boys who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is not Enough. It is one of the pieces that has been edited to be performed in the show:
"I saw his personal ad in the back of Frontiers magazine. Frontiers was my gateway to a world I didn't quite have a grip. It was one of those magazines you see in the gay ghettos piled up in front of small boutiques and adult novelty shops; an unholy invitation. Shirtless white boys with perfect abs and perfect teeth mocked you from the cover pages. Still carrying the burden of being black and being “that way,” it took me a while to actually pick one up.
No one knew about me.
I don’t count the men I met at adult theaters or the football player from Grambling I met one random night in college or my adviser who seduced me with the assistance of an International Male catalogue. They didn’t count because no one else knew. I could always walk away.
The night I finally picked up a Frontiers magazine I was bored, unhappy, and horny — a cocktail for disaster. He lived in Norwalk. I didn’t even know where in the hell that was. I’d only been in Los Angeles a couple of months. I hadn't been any further west than the Beverly Center, south of Venice, or east of La Brea.
I’d moved out here to be the next Spike Lee, but somehow I ended up answering phones at Levine/Schneider Public Relations instead.
I was alone and didn’t want to be. I was poor and didn’t want to be that either. I was gay...and didn’t know how to be. On top of all of that, I was going to miss Christmas back home in New Jersey. I think missing Christmas bothered me most of all.
I love Christmas. My family wasn't especially religious. For us, Christmas was all about the gifts and spending time with family. As kids, my brother and I got everything we wanted. We’d open gifts, then hop into a cab over to my grandmother’s house where we'd open more gifts. It was always a magical time. Well, except for the one Christmas my dad left to get a tree and didn’t come back until after Christmas.
My first Christmas in L.A. was magical too...in a black magic sort of way. I thought I wanted to kill myself, but I took a passive aggressive approach to ending it all. I didn’t have insurance, so there were no prescription pills. I was late with rent and considered jumping from my tenth floor Park La Brea apartment window, but that was too dramatic, even for me. At some point during my downward spiral I realized that I didn't want to kill myself. I really just wanted to punish myself for not having the life I was supposed to have.
I'd imagined I'd be engaged to my high school sweetheart, Dana. We had it all planned out. We were going to have three kids, two girls and a boy – Ebony, Essence, and Elijah. I don't know why we went with names that began with "E." I'm sure there was some reason that seemed profound in our teenage minds. Instead of engagements and kids, however, I found myself trying to face a life that was completely unrecognizable.
That first Christmas in L.A. was unlike anything I'd experienced – no snow, no yule log, no presents. People were wearing shorts for God’s sake. What kind of Christmas is that?
Since I decided against suicide, I went to the movies instead. I remember wearing a turtleneck and brown corduroy pants. I thought maybe it would make me feel like I was home if I dressed in winter clothes, despite the warm temperatures outside.
I ended up seeing Dumb and Dumber. That choice didn’t make things much better. On the way home, feeling completely lost, I picked up Frontiers.
When I got back to my apartment, I locked myself in the bedroom. I didn't want one of my roommates to see what I was reading. I sat on the floor of my bare room and flipped to the back of the magazine. I’ve always gone to the back of the magazine first. It’s a habit I developed reading Jet magazine. Jet printed a list of the top twenty songs and albums in the back of the magazine. I’ve always liked lists. I would read the “Top Twenty” lists first and then work my way back to the beginning.
Frontiers had ads for everything under the sun. I’d seen personal ads in mainstream newspapers before: "man seeks woman for walks on the beach and romantic dinners." Frontiers was no walk on the beach.
"Hot guy in WeHo, with hot mouth looking to take big meat all day and night... anonymous only."
I was disgusted by the vulgar ads and seemingly classless nature of the people who posted them, but I kept reading and then I found "him."
He was tall, swimmers build and liked The Simpsons. He was a “blk,” “btm,” into “ff,” “ws,” and “k.” I didn’t know what any of that meant, but I figured it couldn't be so bad.
I called him.
“Come over,” he said. He lived in Norwalk.
“It’s ten o’clock,” I said.
“I’ll pay for a cab and I won’t try anything; don’t want to be all alone on Christmas.”
I didn't either.
I showered, got dressed, and left a note with his address and phone number on my bed, under my pillow. Even in my reckless abandon of meeting my faceless, nameless Norwalk date, I tried to be responsible. “If I am missing, I am in Norwalk at this address.”
I sprayed on some cologne and went downstairs into the waiting cab. Fearing getting murdered by an anonymous man in a town I was unfamiliar with is how I began my dating life. I knew it was dangerous, but part of me felt like I deserved whatever might happen. This was my lot, for being "this way."
I may have well been driving across the country. I’d never been on any of these freeways – the 5, the 110. It wasn’t until I realized that I’d been riding for about a half hour that I begin to think the driver may have gone too far.
I began making a list in my head. People who will miss me if something happens: Mom, Qadir, Nana, Dina, Shekira, Brian, Rudy, Larryce.
The list went on. It went from a being a list of people who love me to being the list of people who'd come to my funeral. I wondered who would take the trip to New Jersey for the services. I wondered if people would be disappointed by how I had died and if they'd not show up. I started to wonder if my roommates would find the note. What if no one found my body?"