Inspired by Black History Month and the award-winning and critically-acclaimed FX series Pose, the University of Missouri-St. Louis (UMSL) conceived the Inaugural Black Ballroom Expo: Then and Now to celebrate members of the Black queer community and National HIV & AIDS Awareness Week.
Several Black queer youth and an UMSL recruiter established “SERVE,” a collaborative queer community planning group, to direct and coordinate the event. The honorees of the event were Steven J. Fields, PLPC, NCC of Project STOP/Writers, Planners, Trainers, Inc.; Lawrence Hudson-Lewis, LCSW of The SPOT/Washington University; Randy L. Rafter of the Community Wellness Project; legendary commentator and current UMSL student “Meko Ebony,” and Caelyn “Spirit” Carter, an award-winning Statement and Vogue Femme competitor.
“It was really fun. I feel that in ballroom if you really put your time and thought into it you will find a safe way to express yourself and what you feel inside” says new performer David Cooksey.
The performance highlights of the night included “OTA (Open To All) Performance,” “OTA Realness,” and an exciting “storming” performance during “LSS” (Legends, Stars, and Statements), where three other Vogue Femme competitors joined Spirit on stage (WATCH), bringing the crowd to uproar and sparking a night to remember.
“I really enjoyed myself Friday” begins participant Devonta Thomas. “Getting to express LGBTQ reality with the panel and receiving great feedback. Attending the ball really warmed my heart, seeing my community having fun. My favorite moment was when my sibling and I stormed Spirit Ebony during her LSS. The crowd was shocked and they was able to see what ballroom life is really like.”
Introducing the Author: Hezekiah Williams describes himself as “an African-American, gay, and HIV-positive man who is passionate about the mental and sexual wellness of queer people.” Williams has been both a peer and educator in the Saint Louis community since 2015, providing housing, coordinating care/support, and organizing group-testing trips for young gay black men and trans women.