I am grateful to the Civil War-era orphan Peter Darden, who married Julia Jordan and began the branch of my family tree which would give me my last name. I will probably never know the first four years of his life, who his parents are, or how he came to live in a poor house at such a young age. But I know that his resilience lives in me just as strong as his last name.
I am grateful to Southampton County, Virginia, and Northampton County, North Carolina, for being my families’ ancestral homes. I am grateful to Southampton County, VA, in particular for also being the home of Nat Turner and his slave rebellion. I am convinced that the spirit of this rebellion lives on in me; that the reason that I am never satisfied with the status quo and become incensed at injustice is because of the blood spilled in Southampton County.
I am grateful to my mother for wanting me in spite of being alone, for keeping me despite the stigma of single parenthood, for raising me to be who I am by any means necessary.
I am grateful to my grandparents on my mother’s side for being present in my life for as long as they lived (and still live).
I am grateful to the teachers of the District of Columbia Public Schools who believed in me and saw my talents at a young age. They are many in number, and thankfully the ones who disappointed me were few.
I am thankful for my brothers and sisters who proudly wear the Orange and Gray.
I am grateful to Georgetown for taking a chance on me. Georgetown changed my life forever. There’s no better way to put it.
I am grateful to the people who slowly and subtly introduced me to Alpha Phi Omega just by living it daily: Joe, Nathalie, Belen, and Liz. You didn’t know it then, but you paved the way for limitless leadership opportunities for me. When you “do” APO right, it builds a personal and professional foundation which is unparalleled.
Once upon a time, an 18 year old boy was about to begin college. He waited at the bus stop to take him to school. A purple Rolls Royce pulled up and some familiar and friendly faces offered to take him to fraternity row. The boy said sure. Along the way, the men in the Rolls told him stories of fraternity life and assured him that he’d make a fine fraternity member one day. The boy became excited at the prospect of joining the men. A mile from fraternity row, the men kicked the boy out of the car and tossed him his bag. “You go the rest of the way on your own,” they said. Discouraged, the boy walked up the road and found many houses to choose from. He ultimately chose the house with the black Bentley parked out front. He always kept the purple Rolls in his mind and wondered what his life would have been had he chosen that path. But he was grateful that the men – his friends and mentors- had allowed him to find his own way. Thank you, Omega Psi Phi, Alpha Chapter, Spring 96.
I will always be grateful to Ameriie for supporting my career before I had one.
There are people who I will never be able to say thank you to again, at least not in the flesh. But now that they belong to the universe again, I am sure that they know it. Thank you Jesse, Maya, Jimi, Jabriel, Tre’Nai, and so many more.
I am grateful, ever so grateful, to all of you who have supported my career as a novelist. This is hard work that is so infrequently rewarded; frustrating work that is still stigmatized if you are self-published. Even now I notice those friends in the writing world who interact with me less the more I grind and hustle BECAUSE I HAVE TO and nobody else will hustle for me. So to my readers, my fans, and my stans – I thank you and I have no doubt that this will all pay off some day.
I am grateful for Neil, my constant.
I am grateful for the faces in my life who provided the visual blueprint for Adrian Collins, Savion Cortez, Nina Bradley, and Isaiah Aiken. When I first wrote Lazarus, I knew who these faces were. By the time I finished Epiphany, they had their own wrinkles and scars and complexions – they are new people entirely. But I am still grateful to the blueprints.
I am grateful to my mentor, Dennis Williams, who helped me transform my anger and resentment to an artist who I am certain copied my work, into the rebirth of my career as a whole. This is one time in my life where I truly believe the adage that the best revenge is living well. Dennis has been the closest thing to a father figure that I will ever know.
I am grateful to all of you who can read me. Those of you who know when I am “on” and when I am “off” and when I need propping and when I need prodding. I don’t know how to pick friends who are intuitive, but I am grateful for you.
I am grateful to the men who taught me how to kiss, how to hug, and how to make love. (There weren’t THAT many. I was a quick study.)
I am grateful to the women who respect my masculinity, who have never asked me to be the Will to their Grace, who have never asked who the man is in my relationships (we both are), who understand that they will never be my “fag hag,” who respect my space to be among men, regardless of their orientation, and who, without hesitation, knew I was going to the same heaven they’d be going to.
I am grateful to the men – the straight men – who treat me as their equal regardless of my sexual orientation, who expect (and demand) that I am exactly as I am in their presence; the men who are not uncomfortable by my stories or my jokes; the men who do not look away during Noah’s Arc or the DL Chronicles; and the men who read my novels and enjoy them exactly as they are.
I am grateful to the little brothers in the struggle, those who have come after me and are brave enough to disclose their orientation to me. I never know how much I can help them, but every time a young brother in the struggle discloses his orientation, I feel I have been given a sacred trust to protect, to shield, to guide through the rough times, and to prepare before it’s time to come out and be yourselves. I value that so much.
I am grateful to the people I never had to come out to. It’s quite meaningful to me that hundreds of Coolidge alumni or Tried Stone members can add me as a friend, see one of my statuses, and just roll with it. We’ve come so far.
I am grateful for Ciroc and Absolut. What?
I am grateful for Adobe Acrobat, InDesign, and PhotoShop.
I am grateful for a place to stay that has space for all my belongings and the means to pay for it.
I am grateful for Magianno’s and Diet Ginger Ale and Haribo Peace slices and red velvet anything.
I am grateful for pre-hoarding tendencies. If it’s not in your local library, ask me.
I am grateful for horror movies and Halloween pot lucks and True Blood.
I am grateful for my former students – I had no idea I would ever be a teacher of any kind and I’m glad to have had some small part in their education.
I am grateful to be a man. It is a blessing to recognize one’s own privilege in this world and I don’t take my manhood for granted. I may be a minority in other ways, but I recognize that my manhood gets me places that being a woman will not. I do not abuse this privilege, but I recognize it.
I am thankful for having recognized my calling as a novelist who also happens to be a nonprofit professional. Observe the order: it will never change.
I am grateful that I have the “eye” for photography. I will never be a great technical photographer, but I’m happy that I spent time learning how to compose a picture. Sometimes I forget it’s one of my talents because I don’t have the time to cultivate it like I should.
I am grateful for all of the friends who have been in my life for a reason; the friends in my life who have been there for a season; and the friends who will be there for a lifetime. We don’t always know the reason or how long the season, and we don’t know for how long the lifetime will last. But for all of you who I have considered a friend, I do love you, and chances are I’ve told you.
I am thankful, grateful, and humbled to have been given 33 years on this planet to do good things and to change the lives of others; to live every single moment to the fullest extent possible; to have loved with all of my heart and to have been loved; to be proud in exactly who I am, whether I knew who I was at that moment or not; to have been changed by the many people I have met; and to have written stories with resonance, that made others cry as I’ve cried writing them. I love who I am, where I’ve been, and where I’m going. I am Rashid from Tuckerman Street, from 2nd Street, from 16th and Meridian, from Georgetown, from Riggs Park, from Brightwood Park. I take pictures. I write books. Yet, I wear jeans and t-shirts and would walk around barefoot if I could. I am the King of Dardenland who carries Hattori Hanzo steel. I am the heir of the legacy of Peter Darden. I am the father figure to some, the brother of many, the son of two, and the father of those yet to come.
But above all of those things, I am grateful to be here.