Photo Credits: Franco Washington
The lyrics to a famous Michael Jackson song say something to the effect that if you’re looking to make a change in the world, you should start with the man in the mirror. No one needs to tell that Detroit-born/Austin resident Tarik Daniels. He is the Executive Director and Founder of WhatsintheMirror. The organization is “a healing justice movement providing mental health awareness to communities of color through art.” He’s also the Overall Father of the Kiki House of Lepore and Gulfcoast Overseer of the House of Xclusive Lanvin.
The author, playwright, and activist explain, “the one thing I want people to take away from my work is establishing a critical lens of black queer and trans bodies and our experiences through the art of storytelling. We matter, and our stories matter. After exploring the critical lens, I pray my work evokes a call to action for change for the better.”
The 2022 Esteem Award winner for Future Leaders – National shared his background, and role in the National Ballroom Volunteer Day and talked about the muse for his writings.
PrideIndex (PI): Briefly introduce yourself to the audience include where you are from and give us your life’s journey up until this point.
Tarik Daniels (TD): Hey everyone, my name is Tarik Daniels, and I am originally from Detroit, MI. I grew up in an Islamic faith household but found Christianity in my late teens from my great-grandmother. After getting baptized, I began my journey in church theater by performing and writing plays. These were my years blossoming as a black queer young adult growing up in the inner city. As I got older, I began writing about these experiences and things impacting my community. I’m currently working on a third novel, a new play, and continuing my role as an HIV and mental health activist. My activism work includes my role as Executive Director and Founder of WhatsintheMirror, a healing justice movement providing mental health awareness to communities of color through art. I am also a Texas Certified Mental Health Peer Support Specialist, providing support to persons living with HIV. As a public speaker, I use my story of living with HIV as inspiration, host a black queer podcast called What Works For Us, and serve as Vice-Chair of Austin’s HIV Planning Council.
PI: You’re originally from Detroit, now in Austin; why did you relocate?
TD: After graduating from high school, I went to college at Bowling Green State University in Bowling Green, OH. I double-majored in Political Science with a Nonprofit Management concentration and International Studies with a minor in Theater. After college, I spent almost a decade in Atlanta before moving to Austin to focus on my writing and theater aspirations. I was looking for a new place and scene to call home, and Austin was that weird place that caught my attention.
PI: For those who have no idea what about houses, or voguing give a summary what is a house? What roles do you play in the houses of Lepore and Lanvin?
TD: I began my ballroom journey in 2002 at 16. My gay father introduced me to the culture, and I quickly joined a house and started walking balls. The Ball Culture was formed in Harlem around 1970. Historically, it was a place for queer Black and brown youths to convene after hours in community centers and other spaces to “walk” — to compete by donning the appropriate dress and attitude — in various categories that reflect and comment on popular culture. Many of us kids, left homeless after being kicked out by homophobic or transphobic relatives, formed our own families, known as houses. These houses were named after the head, or “mother” of the house — an elder queer person who was often not much older than their “children.” I am proud to be the Overall Father of the Kiki House of Lepore, and I’m also the Gulfcoast Overseer of the House of Xclusive Lanvin in the mainstream. My kids are my everything, and ballroom always keeps me rooted in innovative art and community.
PI: Who came up with the idea for a National Ballroom Volunteer Day?
TD: One of my roles with the House of Xclusive Lanvin is Executive Director of our XL Cares initiative. XL Cares is a social and community organization movement created by the House of Xclusive Lanvin to provide Community, Advocacy, Resources, Education, and Support. In 2021, we launched the inaugural National Ballroom Volunteer Day during National Volunteer Week. This day is a united ballroom project promoting volunteerism across the nation that encourages all house and ballroom patrons to participate. It will take place on April 23, 2022, this year.
PI: Why is activism important to you?
TD: Nina Simone eloquently stated that “An artist’s duty as far as I am concerned is to reflect the times.” I could not imagine being a black queer artist and my work not being a protest and reflection of my reality and my people’s reality. Following in my ancestor’s footsteps, I have dedicated my life to preserving the black queer and trans experiences through the art of storytelling and narrative shifts. Ending HIV and mental health stigma is vital for our survival and preservation.
PI: Talk about the two books, The Counseling Session and No Bonds So Strong where did you find your muse?
TD: No Bonds So Strong tells the story of my childhood. It tells the story of where I’m from and introduces my people and them while dealing with conflicts and convictions. It’s loosely based on my experiences and the people’s experiences around me. The Counseling Session is a story rooted in the struggles of many young folks who identify as black, queer and/or trans. Detroit is my muse. Both stories are my love letters to my hometown of Detroit.
PI: When and where do you plan on promoting your books?
TD: I recently attended a black business and artist expo event curated by Devin James in Dallas, Texas. The event took place on the release day of The Counseling Session. My next event will be in Chicago during Black Pride Weekend and the Esteem Awards.
PI: Do you have plans to write another book? If so, when?
TD: Yes, I have begun writing on the sequel of No Bonds So Strong. I’m also finishing a new play titled Bedside as well.
PI: What is the one thing you would like people to take away from your work?
TD: The one thing I want people to take away from my work is establishing a critical lens of black queer, and trans bodies and our experiences through the art of storytelling. We matter, and our stories matter. After exploring the critical lens, I pray my work evokes a call to action for change for the better.
PI: What else would you like to share?
TD: Love of Self. Love of People. Love of Community.
For more information visit mistertelltales.com.