Have you ever looked around and felt that you were underrepresented within the LGBTQ community? Have you been looking for like-minded people with shared struggles that are passionate about creating change? There is a fast-emerging organization within the LGBTQ community that may be exactly what you have been looking for. The Brown Boi Project (BBP), founded by B. Cole in 2010, is by definition, “a community of masculine of center womyn, men, two-spirited people, transmen and allies committed to transforming privilege of masculinity, gender and race into tools for achieving racial and gender justice”.
Beyond that definition, it is a community for masculine of center, people of color that provides participants with an expansive curriculum, workshops, one-on-one life coaching, and unlimited resources of like-minded people, over 150 Brown Bois and growing, from all over the nation. The BBP also provides participants with the tools to take their drive and knowledge back into their own communities to help both current and future generations achieve balance both racially and within genders. To get started, most participants apply online for the semi-annual, all-expense paid, retreat where they learn about themselves, their communities and meet Brown Bois from all over the United States.
“I’ve participated, both personally and professionally, in a variety of leadership development retreats, seminars and workshops but this was the first one that was led by people of color, who are women, who are masculine of center,” says Jessica Rucker, a D.C. resident and participant in BBP. “It’s so important to share space with people who exist at those intersections. One, because they have a particular lived experience. But also, because I love having a community of people I can go to and ask about ways that they’ve approached situations and processed things in their lives. Being black, being a woman, being a lesbian, there are still stigmas associated with each of those identities, so having the space where you can ‘let your hair down’ so to speak, but still be held accountable is important.”
Rucker has been a part of the Brown Boi community since being chosen for the retreat in October 2012. Through their curriculum and resources, she has not only learned more about her personal identity and how to balance her mental and physical wellness, she has also learned to accept and understand her masculine privilege and how to hold herself and others around her accountable for how they exist within the community. She has also benefited from lessons like their financial wellness training where she has not only learned how to openly talk about finances, but also increased her credit score by 200 points since her coaching. Currently working with the See Forever Foundation in Maya Angelou Charter Schools, Rucker is working to bring the Brown Boi message to the youth in her community.
“Growing up in D.C. public schools, I wish that the Brown Boi Project would have been in my school because it would have confirmed my worth and dignity that there are people that look like you, who love the people that you love and it’s absolutely okay,” says Rucker. “First, you are human and it’s okay to be absolutely who you are. Second, I think it would have helped adults challenge and arrest their gender and racial ideas of not just themselves but also of the world.”
During her own high school experience, Rucker felt people didn’t invest much time in her interests or education because “[they] were taught we’re not going to go very far and so they don’t have to invest a whole lot.”
“They would say ‘you’re a difficult person to work wit’ instead of saying, ‘no, the circumstances that you’ve emerged from are what is difficult,” says Rucker. “You coming to school hungry, that’s difficult. You being tired in class because you work a full-time job to support yourself and your family, that’s difficult. It’s not you as a human that’s difficult. And regrettably, I think that’s some of the messaging that’s still being shared.”
Carla Zamarripa is also a Brown Boi looking to better her community for future generations. Zamarripa, the Development Communications Manager for The Brown Boi Project, is a self-described “queer paisa” that worked in factories for 10 years before she went to school and discovered the organization through her curriculum. Zamarripa began to find her true identity through Brown Boi and ultimately the retreat.
“There are no words to explain the retreat. It’s just such an amazing experience. In my personal life, prior to going, I always felt like something was missing in me, I struggled with my identity and being okay with myself. I felt lonely,” says Zamarripa. “But after the retreat I just felt centered, grounded, and beautiful. It completely changed my life. I learned to see myself as a leader not just in my community but more importantly, to myself in my own life.”
The Brown Boi Project also mentors children through their after school program where they teach young bois in their communities a variety of lessons they may not normally be exposed to but Zamarripa says they are more than ready for.
“We cover academics and do youth activities. We do gardening. We have discussions about racial, social and gender justice. We have also been doing a series of discussions about race and nationality,” says Zamarripa. “For so many years we’ve been divided by all these lies and things we see in the media but how do we get together and try to work as one, as people of color, to finally change something?”
To further the discussion, the organization is sending out the Brown Boi bus this summer which will travel all over California speaking to communities, organizing workshops and raising awareness of masculine privilege, as well as, gender and racial issues and justice.
You can learn more about the Brown Boi Project and donate to the cause through their website, www.brownboiproject.org. In the coming months, you will also be able to purchase a membership that will make you part of the community and keep you up-to-date with all the news happening with the Brown Boi Project.