The Mis Education of Lawrence Watson : Encountering Todrick Hall
In all my years of teaching and surveying artists, I have not encountered someone as profoundly talented and creatively manipulative as Todrick Hall. His contribution to this generation and the revitalization of a CIvil and Human Rights Movement in America is happening right before our eyes. He has mastered the exploitation of the hip-hop genre diligently consumed through ancestral memory and growing up as a curious and observant child all the cultural nuisances found in African Centered musical and oratory expression. He is a brilliant attractive young Black Gay man bold enough to stand naked in front of the world and expose his contradictions and confusion of what it means to be an African American male surviving in America. On top of that feat to be so brilliant and creative must be very painful and lonely for him.
I have had some powerful moments in my life. People rich with intellect and talent are circumscribed with a trail of authority, majesty and humanness that either draws you to them or prompts you to run for your life. Their mere presence leave you standing there feeling overwhelmed and respectful of their presence power to move millions. I felt this when I was 18 and I met my then congresswoman Shirley Chisholm. She was bigger than life and yet she was a vulnerable West Indian woman on a campaign to be seen, heard and taken seriously. God would see it fit that I would encounter her twice in life.
Then there was dinner with the writer and intellectual James Baldwin. I knew he was openly gay but in those days, it was not acknowledged. It was an accepted fact and he had the gravitas and wisdom as a Black elder to part the waters and no one would dare cite his preoccupation and fetish for White men. You knew you were in the presence of greatness and you were just humbled and happy to be in the number.
President Nelson Mandela and I walked together in Cape Town our small talk was not accidental. I was suppose to have this private moment with him and breath in the aura that disseminated from his body. I knew for that moment I was special and I would never be the same again.
President Barack Obama was different. He avoided me and I feared I would not have the opportunity to have a private moment. Then all of a sudden he said "Larry thank you for the music" and I used the time to tell him what he meant to my aunt who was a Southern Black girl caring for a son with brain cancer on the verge of dying as we spoke. He embraced me and there again was that recognizable energy I had experienced on other occasions. I kept my composure and relished this moment of understanding our collective embrace and the august responsibility of being on the main stage of history in the making. Our embrace made me know that he understood what he meant to so many with nothing but faith and hope.
Artist like Mr. Berry Gordy founder of Motown Records, Diana Ross and the late Dorothy Donegan were also put in my life to reconcile our rich historical path with the daunting future that lay ahead. Each of these people were special and chosen despite their personal challenges and shortcomings. When in their presence you knew the power of one individual to make the world stop and take notice.
That same aura and energy emanated from the stage last night when I witnessed Todrick Hall. In the last few weeks, by chance I was exposed to his artistry and I was a little taken aback with his artistic maturity, clear voice, command of artistic expression and his ability to be one of the people despite his bigger than life spirit. Tonight he showed me his use of Hip Hop is galvanizing a world of lost human beings seeking answers and guidance as they try to be better than what is projected throughout the print and electronic media. His maturity, massive vocal talent, songwriting genius, and preservation of a positive image as an African American man will propel him to be a major force in the future politics and social activist activities in America and around the world.
Despite my previous personal phobias and cautions when it comes to praising men, Todrick Hall has publicly embraced every aspect of his humanity and proudly speaks to being a Black openly gay occasional cross dresser in America. How can I possibly mention him in the same breath as some of these other iconic Black trailblazers that have moved me? I can because he has pick up the baton Bayard Rustin was unable to carry to the finish line because he had to hide the fact that he was Gay and allow others to take credit for his logistically organizing the historic Civil Rights March of Washington. I realized that James Baldwin one of America's most preeminent writers was also gay never found a forum to reconcile that fact and his long standing relationships with White Lovers.
But here was a young Black Artist displaying the wisdom and charisma of a young Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, James Baldwin, Barack Obama and in addition, embracing every aspect of his humanity. This includes acknowledging his White male partners. His art says this is who I am deal with it. Unlike James Baldwin he discuss his homosexuality in a context other than the Black local Minister raping him, or in the instance of Malcolm X never addressing the allegations by reputable Black historians that he once had a relationship with a Black Transvestite. And then there was the alleged vicious smear campaign promulgated by the Adam Clayton Powell camp that Dr King was having an ongoing sexual relationship with Bayard Rustin.
Todrin Hall is free of all of that. President Barack Obama signed the bill that sanctioned Gay marriages and now Todrin Hall can lead all the people and not be marginalized by the homophobic smear campaigns so pervasive in the Black community. This yong brotha has galvanized all the ancestral spirits and has the potential to unite disparate groups of folks who never understood that effective coalitions could extrapolate the best of the works of King, Malcolm, Baldwin, and Chisolm and regalvanize a human-civil rights movement we thought was on its last breath.
It is noteworthy that the principal founder of the "Me Too" movement is a Black woman and the founding members of the "Black Lives Matters" movement are composed of Black gay men and Lesbian women. These courageous leaders in our community are stepping forward to save our communities and children. Each of us can do something to pay homage and respect to these leaders for demonstrating courage and vision.
The great Marian Wright Edleman, Founder of the Legal Educational Defense Fund once told a group of Black student activist that we did not need them to die as Martin Luther King did, we just needed them to vote. I think this sentiment applies to our Black Churches and old guard Black political leaders. It is not necessary for you to "out" yourself,members of your family or Church . But it is time for you to embrace all members of your churches and our communities that are hurting. Todrin Hall's artistic expression is having the effect of helping people cope with the current terrorism being directed towards all black people regardless of their sexual orientation. We need a new breed of leadership that uses the cultural arts, politics, economic literacy and spirituality to galvanize this generation of young people for the benefit of all of us.
Todrick Hall is one of those emerging talents and leaders. His music speaks to all of the social, cultural political and economic challenges Blacks, The Underclass, Gays and Women are confronted with on a daily basis in a forever changing fascist America. He is a formidable artist, savvy businessman and a proud Black man we can all site as an effective positive new age leader. I am transformed and more optimistic than I was yesterday about the future. I also realize that if he were not openly gay he would have been awarded the Pulitzer Prize. No one on the present scene comes close to his musical genius, analysis and cultural competence.
I am a new fan.