Good Bell Tones, Talking with Uriah Bell

Photo Credit: Nathan Youngerberg

Uriah Bell is an activist, author, and poet originally from Detroit, MI currently residing in Boston. Bell is very active in LGBT causes; he’s the Chairman of the Board of the Hispanic Black Gay Coalition (HBGC), a 2011 Fellow in the Black AIDS Institute’s AAHU Community Mobilization College and sits on Shade of Pride /Triangle Black Gay Pride in Raleigh, NC. Bell has participated in many panel discussions on AIDS/HIV and its effects on the Black gay community. Although he started writing at the age of twelve his formal writing career began in 2008 with the release of MOOD SWINGS, a collection of very personal intimate thoughts. In 2009 he founded Rising Voices Press, to promote and provide a voice for works written by Black LGBT writers. In 2010 Bell release EPIPHANY: POEMS IN THE KEY OF LOVE, and then in 2011 he released, MOOD SWINGS: POEMS AND OTHER RANTS, this summer, Rising Voices Press will launch TRUTH Magazine, a bi-monthly publication for LGBT people of color. It will focus on everything from art, activism and fashion to health and wellness, spirituality and politics. PrideIndex talked with Bell about his background and ventures.

PRIDEINDEX (PI): Talk us about your life and background story.

URIAH BELL (UB): I was born and raised in Detroit. My mother chose a life of substance abuse when I was younger, so I was raised by my grandmother, whom I adore. Looking at how my mother was living her life, I knew at an early age that I wanted more from life, so I kept my head in books, focused on my education and carefully chose the people I kept around me. I never made excuses; instead I stayed focused despite adversity. When I was 17 years old, I came out to my mother and the rest of my family and friends. I was fortunate enough to have gay, lesbian and transgender individuals around me that refused to allow me to get caught up in the “life.” And, although I took a few years off from school because I needed to find my independence, I went back to college and earned my degrees in Finance and International Marketing.

PI: How come you choose to go into social services rather than business?

UB: I actually don’t work in social services or non-profit per se. I work in corporate America for a multi-billion dollar organization by day, and although I’m very successful in my day job, my passion has slowly evolved to non-profit work. I do so, because I’m not one to complain about what’s not being done until I’ve gotten my hands dirty doing the work. The Black community and the gay and lesbian community are very important to me, and I feel as if I’m in a position of influence to sit at the tables and work out in the field to create a change.

PI: Why did you become involved with so many LGBT related causes?

UB: Well, identifying as a gay man, I’d be dissing a part of which I am if I weren’t involved. I’m truly introverted by nature until I’m very passionate about something, at which point I become very outspoken. That, coupled with really not liking the direction that some organizations were going has caused the fight to choose me instead of me choosing the fight. Mainstream LGBT organizations are better equipped with individual support, financial backing and federal funding to fight, however, the inclusion of people of color in that fight is usually only sparked by a need for funding around people of color, not because of a genuine concern. I choose to work in and for the community of which I’m a part.

PI: When did you first start writing?

UB: I’ve always written. I was an only child until I was twelve, and feeling like I was in the middle of my mother’s addiction, and my grandmother, who was clearly disappointed in and afraid for her daughter, I wrote my feelings down. Sometimes I shared, most times I didn’t.

PI: Where did you find the inspiration for “Epiphany: Poems in The Key of Love?”

UB: Epiphany was inspired by a series of failed relationships, both sexual and platonic. I found myself in a really bad and unhealthy place around self-esteem and overall behavior. And being the analyzer that I am, I had to ask myself, what’s wrong with these folks? Then I realized I was the common denominator in each of those relationships. Epiphany is broken into 3 keys – intimate love, communal love, and self-love. Each key opens with a journal entry, and the book evolves to show the importance of self-love. Realizing that I was the common denominator, I had to do some soul searching and get my shit together. I wasn’t fully present in myself or the love of myself, so I wasn’t fully present in any relationship I was involved in.

PI: Why did you start Rising Voices Press?

UB: I started Rising Voices Press for two reasons: I didn’t want to hear that my writing was too “urban” or too “gay” or too “sexual”, and I also didn’t want to pay a publisher the industry standard of 45-60% of my hard work and deprive me of input as to what my books would look like in terms of binding, cover options and paper stock. I guess I’m a bit of a control freak, but that’s the Capricorn in me.

PI: Is this a private venture which will publish your own work or do you plan to publish works by other authors?

UB: I fully intend to publish others as long as what they’re writing is in line with Rising Voices Press mission and vision. What I publish needs to be something I’m interested in reading. However, with the release of TRUTH Magazine, my energies and resources will be placed on the magazine.

PI: Talk a little bit about TRUTH Magazine. Have you considered making it a print publication?

UB: TRUTH will start in print and incorporate digital media later in 2012 or early 2013. TRUTH is a bi-monthly publication for, by and about LGBTQ people of color, with a specific interest in the Black LGBTQ community. We will focus on positively exposing LGBTQ individuals and not  (s)exploiting them.  Our primary areas of focus will be on arts and entertainment, health and wellness, culture, travel, spirituality, politics and social activism. We’re going to bring a fresh and much needed perspective to our people.

PI: 2011 Esteem Award finalist Amir Dixon is also a board member of HBGC. How did you become acquainted with Amir?

UB: I know “Amir” from seeing him in the community, and yes we both serve on the board of directors of HBGC.

PI: Do you plan on coming to the Midwest any time soon?

UB: Absolutely. I’m a mid-western boy and my heart is here; although, I usually don’t get love from the Midwest in terms of what I’m doing with the arts and activism.

PI: What is your ultimate goal?

UB: My goal is to leave a legacy where Black folks and Black LGBTQ folks aren’t marginalized, at least not self-marginalized. I want us to fully know our worth and what we contribute to society at large and be unapologetic for it.

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