One of the clearest connections we see between the movement of people today desiring to be accepted for their age, whatever age that is, and for those same individuals to hold their age with dignity and pride, is the gay rights movement of the 80s, especially during the time of AIDS. When we were creating AGEIST, those charged times echoed strongly in our minds, for what was learned then was to own who you are is to no longer live in fear of being found out. As we often say, just own it. And to own it means you have agency in your life, that you are not a victim. Although we may not have the militancy of ActUp, their chants of “We’re here, we’re queer, get used to it” are not far from what we do around here. Alfreda came out as gay to her family in the early 80s during another plague, at a time when being black and gay was to be an outsider of the highest order. She got through those times, became an ordained minister, and worked within her church for many years. Her vivacious unrelenting spirit is now focused on her painting, something that she until recently had never done. She is a person with whom speaking for a few minutes transmits a power of possibility, the contagious energy of “why not” that leaves us wanting to expand without judgment into the life around us.
In the Amazon introduction to your book you write “I spent a great majority of my time feeling very hopeless and powerless and placing blame on others, I had created my own personal “hell” on earth.” What do you mean by that and how did this change for you?
I believe that we’re so powerful and we have the power to create our own reality by the choices we make and how we show up to life! Life is not personal, you can pray, meditate, and face the East. That doesn’t keep life from showing up at your door. Life is like UPS or FedX Express it will find you. But what’s important and personal is how you show up to it! Once I discovered this I got the chance to accept or reject what’s going on in my life. I realized I don’t have to create my own Hell here on earth. I can surrender or hold on. I can choose what’s for my highest good. As Michelle Obama said, “When they go low, we go high” and I’ve chosen to take the high roads in some of my most difficult situations!
What do you mean that it is our responsibility to create our happiness?
No one has the power to make you HAPPY! Most people can’t make themselves happy so we can’t expect them to give what they have not given to themselves. Happiness is an inside job. It requires that you go within yourself and make peace with who you are and the choices that you’ve made. It requires that you begin the journey of letting yourself and others off the hook by understanding that we didn’t come here with a manual on how to be happy or how to treat others. That we’re all doing the best we can with the insights and knowledge we have. The moment I took responsibility of my choices without judgment, I could forgive myself and others, and that’s where my happiness began. Happiness is not once I get there…there is no there. Happiness lives in the now. Because now is all we really have. I learned to be happy NOW!
Things today are thankfully much more open and accepting than they have been in the past. Tell us about what it was like to come out as gay as a black woman in the 1980s during the AIDS epidemic.
Coming out was very hard for me due to the fact that it was going to affect so many people in my life, especially my children. My fear was being rejected by the ones I was supposed to protect. I knew their lives would change and that this would cause so much pain and confusion in my family. I was married at the time so I was breaking up what we had worked so hard to attain. I felt that coming out in the 1980s you were on your own with nowhere to go. There were no support systems in place that could address your particular situations. People were blaming God for AIDS and the black community was being devastated. Losing friends at an unnatural rate took its toll on me. I was a part of the Death and Dying committee and emotionally I crashed. It was so much loss and pain. I still feel the results of living through that. We never get over it, some things still trigger me. When that happens I become very gentle with myself.
How did your family react?
My mother said that she would never come to my home, my husband wanted to try to take away my children, my children were disappointed in me. My siblings formed their own opinions of me. It was very hard to stand on my truth of who I was. I felt I had to stand alone. But I knew if I had to be anything but who I was, it was not going to work. I had already attempted suicide…and I’m grateful that I lived to share this story! That would have been a relationship built on lies. And it would not stand. I thought death was better than a reaction from the ones I loved. Once I got the strength to be authentically who I am, I give them the courage to be authentically who they were. Today I have a wonderful relationship with my family, not because I accept who I am but because I celebrate who I am! And they celebrate it too!
Then you went to be a reverend in a black, gay church when being gay was not widely accepted in the black community. What was that like and why did you choose to do that?
I found the right church that accepted me, encouraged me, and celebrated me for who I was. It was a community that understood me and my journey and let me know that God loves me just for who I am. And it was important to me to be able to share the news. Being Gay is of God. And that God loves you just the way you are. I found a feeling of fellowship with others and a place where I didn’t feel isolation and alienation with fear. This was a place of acceptance and acknowledgment. This became my extended family. I believe blood equals relative and love equals family. I found a Spiritual community where people lived together in the spirit of cooperation dedicated toward a common goal…Peace, love, and harmony! Also, a community that holds you accountable for your choices. That empowers you to create the reality that supports you. A community of love! A community that gives a sense of belonging. That community has helped shape me into the woman I am today. I am so proud of all of me!
How did you use the power of the pulpit?
The pulpit is a very powerful position in the eyes of most people. What’s shared in the pulpit is viewed as the truth and it can help or empower people. I felt early on I would use that position to empower. For the black community, the black church had turned its back on its power to educate people regarding HIV and AIDS. Sometimes we don’t go to the city town hall meeting, we don’t trust the government and so we get our information from the church…and when the church refused to get involved in the saving of lives in the black community we had to try to turn that around. So I became a part of the agency that was created from our church. It was created to reach our people and give insights on how to protect yourself from being infected. We not only educated from the pulpit we created programs that reached beyond the church walls. We went to where the people were. We went to the streets!!! Schools and any other doors that would let us in. The jails nowhere was off limits! Even other churches!
You have said your purpose is to share and inspire. How do you do that today?
Finding my purpose had to be the one thing that gives me total fulfillment. It’s that feeling you get that nothing else gives you. It’s a high and nothing stops you from wanting to share it. I am no longer behind the pulpit, but it’s doesn’t stop me from inspiring others. First by how I move through life, by creating avenues in which I can share a word, a quote through any social media, by the book I wrote, or the agency I created. Or in my ART. I feel we are here to experiment and experience life. Sharing is caring!
“I am excited by life, especially my life”. Is this a new feeling for you, or have you always felt this way?
I’ve has some good times, I’ve had some hills to climb but my greatest insights have come from my greatest pain. What I’ve gotten from those experiences no one can take it away! There was a time I lived in what I call Victimhood! That things were happening to me and I was not ever going to enjoy life. That was just not going to be my experience this lifetime! Once I began to study and be open to looking at life anew I discovered I was the common denominator in all situations and found my power, accepted it, stop being afraid of it. I became excited about life and saw it as an adventure, a journey, and not a destination with every stop along the way. I am excited about ME and I have accepted everything I have experienced this far. I have my moments, but what I know is that everything must change, nothing lasts forever and this to shall pass. But most of all is that I believe in myself. I don’t make all the choices, but I do have all the responsibility for them. That where my strength is, being accountably for them!
What does it feel like to be 65?
A few aches and pain, I don’t walk as fast, I can’t put too much on my plate, I don’t burn the candle on both ends…and I don’t want too! I love the richness of being 65. I love getting to know myself a little better. I love choosing me over trying to please others. I love being able to say no, that doesn’t work for me, I’ll pass! I love creating over and over again and knowing I’m not stuck. I love knowing that your opinion of me is not my reality! I feel a joy and peace at 65 living off of some of the things I’ve gone through and still being open for new challenges, new walks, new hopes, new dreams, new being who I am!
What are the special challenges and advantages that black women at 65 have?
Black women have not been heard. We were taught to be strong black women for our survival. And so how that shows up for us is to keep our pain within, not to speak up for ourselves. We will be misunderstood and taken to be the angry black woman. What we feel and how we’re treated is not that important, even when it comes to our health…we’re number one in so many things. In heart disease, breast cancer, high blood pressure, it seems everything that affects other communities devastates the black woman. It’s been hard try to make us see what are our barriers. And the power to know that we matter. The advantages are being able to speak up for ourselves and see how what we bring to the world is real. We’ve done the work and carried a lot!
“Celebrate yourself and you will set the tone for others”. How does the work?
People follow your lead, not just what you say! If I set boundaries for myself of what I will accept and what I will not accept. If I take care of myself mentally, physically, and spiritually. If I do the things that bring me peace. If I continue to healing from the trauma and drama I’ve experienced. If I have the courage to choose me. You will follow my lead. People cannot treat you better than you treat yourself. I must first love and accept all of who I am and you will have no other choice but to join the party or leave!
How does one live in the unknown, and not get caught up in the outcome?
When you know, that you don’t know!!! We were not created to know everything…I’m so glad. That takes a heavy weight off my shoulders. I’ve learned to trust the process of life wholly and completely and to not need to know what is unfolding, but to simply be here present to experience it!
When I allow life to reveal itself to me, I can live in the present moment. I can enjoy the journey and feel the magic in it. When I trust the process, I accept the unknown. I can live outside of my comfort zone and allow life to guide me on my journey. I am able to let go of fear and stop trying to control life! I’m no longer an overthinker, overachiever, a worrier. I stay present to the moment I am living in and let life do its thing, because I trust that everything is working for my highest good. It allows me to enjoy where I am. The moment I put my expectation on you or the situation I set myself up for disappointment. No one can live up to our expectation, Hell we can’t even live up to our own. And that brings judgment and pain. Let life do life!
So many people get stuck doing the same thing over and over again. Why do you think that is?
Fear keeps us stuck, fear of failure, fear of what others will think. Benjamin Franklin says “I haven’t failed. I’ve had 10,000 ideas that didn’t work.” Our Ego, that fear also. The need to be right about everything.
What was it like when you started painting?
It was a beautiful discovery. My daughter said Mom, I never saw you pick up a paintbrush to paint a wall, and now you’re painting up a storm. This is an extension on who I am. My paints represent all of what I’ve experience, my good, my not so good, my light and darkness come through this beautiful expression of life. Expression of God from my point of view! I am content when I’m painting, in the vein of life. I feel this energy of healing and hope. My painting completes me like nothing else. I love being and living in that world where is consumes me to the edge of time.
Charles Bukowski says, “My dear, find what you love and let it kill you. Let it drain you of your all.” I have found my passion and the dying is worth every second of it! I am in love!
What is your ambition for the work?
I love the idea of leaving something behind for others to enjoy a piece of who I am. I would love to have a small storefront where people could stop by and received whatever’s needed to uplift, inspire and enjoy life. I would love for them to see the beauty in themselves through my Art! One day I would love to have an exhibit and just share it with the world! I want them to experience the love I give.
I love the pillows you make. How are they made and why did you choose pillows?
I love a small touch of love laying around the house and so a pillow brings in color…if you haven’t seem any of my work, when you do you will see I love color! I am a color girl!!! Color makes the world go around. So my pillows bring in the color in your living space that can be held.
What are the internal obstacles that you would like to improve upon?
My mindset is always up for improvement! Not wanting to be a prisoner of my mind. You’ve got to have a vision and sometimes my vision is cloudy and slow! I am challenged with my health, by bad eating habits. But I am glad to report I am doing so much better in that department. I want to enjoy my life so that means I have to eat better.
Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
In ten years I see myself setting on the front porch painting! I see the enjoyment of my labor! My children and grandchildren. I see my relationship with the woman I love being stronger and the connection safe! I see going places and meeting people from different walks of life. I see the world in a better place of acceptance and loving who we are. I see hope and peace! I see myself going where the action is!
Favorite streaming shows or movies of the past year?
I haven’t been really watching too many movies. My favorite shows all of time are not a show but a channel…HGTV! I just love decorating! I am a bootlegged Decorator! Oh I got a eye!!!! Oh, and I do like the show called, In Treatment on HBO!
What are you reading?
Change Your Thoughts-Change your Life, by Dr. Wayne W Dyer
I’m always trying to feed my mind.
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