Brandon Reid: Turnaround Artist

Photo by Theo Welling

Brandon Reid is a youthful 33, but don’t let the babyface fool you — he’s packed a lot of life into those years. He puts all of it to good use in his personal and professional quests for bettering his fellow humans.

“I was actually incarcerated,” Reid says. “So, eighteen years old, I caught a couple felony charges and ended up going to prison a few times.” His charges were related to drug use.

“Upon my release, I decided to get clean and go into recovery,” he says. “Social work was a natural fit.”

Such a turbulent entry into adulthood left him uniquely qualified to help others turn their lives around, and his intersecting identities as a gay man, sober addict and formerly incarcerated person help him relate to a population in need: lesbian, gay and bisexual people are incarcerated at three times the rate of the general population, according to a 2017 study by UCLA School of Law. And the Center for Disease Control and Prevention says the LGBTQ population has higher rates of drug and alcohol abuse and addiction.

“My passion is ending mass incarceration,” Reid says. He works as a housing intake coordinator at Criminal Justice Ministry, a city nonprofit dedicated to helping people recently released from prison access housing and care. Reid’s life story means he is able to connect with his clients on a visceral level.

“People don’t usually believe me — I look so young. Once I give them a little history, I’m able to come down to where they’re at,” he says. “We’re all the same.”

Reid recounted an appointment with a potential client who was actively on methamphetamines.

“To normal people, it would probably freak you out to be with somebody like that,” he says. But Reid is neither shaken nor sitting in judgement: “We’re all one bad decision away.”

Alongside the community work of his day job, Reid serves as an inspiration and example of sobriety after many years clean and working a twelve-step program. Much of his social network centers around recovery as well and began with the LGBT-focused Steps Alano recovery clubhouse in south city.

“A lot of us were bullied when we were younger,” Reid says. “We were already shifted into this counterculture. When we joined that community, we find there is such a huge prevalence of substance abuse. Gays do drugs differently! It can be very dark, but it can also be very luxurious at the time.”

A queer-focused recovery space, he says, is important for feeling safe and addressing these unique challenges.

Reid is also on the PrideSTL Board of Directors. After starting as a volunteer four or five years ago, he’s now in his third year as secretary.

“One of the primary things as a gay man I want to do is go out and dance!” Reid says. “When I got sober I got kinda taken out of that. I wish there were more sober spaces. With Pride St. Louis, we do that. We have a lot of nondrinking events.”

For his work integrating the most vulnerable members back into society, and for his efforts to keep himself and his community out from under the influence, Brandon Reid is well worthy of the title of Influencer.

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