DARIAN AARON’S STORY
So, tell me, who is Darian?
That is a loaded question. What a way to begin. Often when folks are asked that question, they immediately go to what they do professionally. And so much of my public-facing work is in alignment with who I am as an individual. I’m a son of the South. I am a journalist, activist, and writer. So, at my core, I’m a storyteller. I’ve been telling stories in various ways throughout my life.
Before I went into journalism, I danced professionally, and I think very few people know that about me now because it was a previous life. I was telling stories through theatre and dance. That was my first foray, if you will, into presenting myself publicly to people. But right now, I’m all those things, and I’m still figuring it out as I go. I think that’s one of the things that’s exciting. I’m not the same person that I was last year or last week. I’m continuing to evolve and I’m continuing to learn new and exciting things about myself. I just remain open to what life has to teach me.
Interesting! I like that mindset. You are evolving. I mean, we need to be innovative, not just in what we do, but in our individualism as well. Tell us about the Counter Narrative Project.
Sure. That’s the organization that I work for. The Counter Narrative Project is a Black queer organization that’s been around for about eight years based here in Atlanta. I’m the communications director of CNP and the editor-at-large of our digital publication, The Reckoning. We believe that great storytelling can influence public policy and change lives. So, a lot of the work that I do at the Counter Narrative Project is around shifting the narratives about Black gay men and the Black LGBTQ+ community at large in terms of how the rest of the world views us.
One of the ways that we do that narrative-shifting work is by providing a platform for Black LGBTQ+ people to tell their stories. And we do that on “The Reckoning,” which is one of our most popular platforms where we create original content. So, we’re creating a space for folks to be able to tell their stories and for CNP to tell those stories with the care, sensitivity, and respect that they deserve, which they don’t often get in mainstream media. I’m proud of the work that we’ve been doing on The Reckoning.
Do you think the Black LGBTQ+ community is well represented in the media?
No. The Black LGBTQ+ community is not well represented in the media. And that’s one of the reasons why a platform like The Reckoning is so important. And it’s one of the reasons why I spend so much of my time advocating for more diverse representation in media because we all want to look at works of art and media projects that reflect our lived experiences. It’s so important in terms of teaching the broader Black community, for example, that we are your brothers, your sisters, your aunts, your uncles, your fathers. We work alongside you; we go to church with you. We’re not some strange anomaly. We are a part of your family. We are part of the community.
And Black queer people have played a significant role in Black culture. There are so many people that I can point to over the years. For example, Bayard Rustin was an architect of the March on Washington. So many people within the Black community and the Black gay community to some extent are unaware of people like Bayard Rustin and James Baldwin. All these Black queer people played important roles in Black culture. So, it’s important that Black queer people can see themselves in media because it reflects art imitating life. And it’s so important that LGBTQ+ representation is not one thing, that it is Black and it’s queer, and it’s non-binary and it’s transgender as well because that’s all a part of the Black experience.
What inspires you to do what you do every day?
That’s a good question. I love that question because if I’m being honest, it gets tough sometimes. There are days when I wonder if the work is making a difference in people’s lives, and then I’ll get a Facebook message or a tweet of affirmation from someone. I recently got a direct message on Instagram from someone living in Africa. I cannot remember which country, but he said; You know, I am very envious of my brothers over in America because you guys can live so freely. And he said, just know that the images that you are putting out into the world, and the stories that you are telling, matter because I’m able to live vicariously through your storytelling.
I’m able to see an example of a life that I hope to live one day if I’m ever able to get to the US or another country where it’s acceptable for queer folks to live openly. And so that was a reminder that, yes, I work in a silo (writing alone) a lot, but when those stories are published and people can see a reflection of the life that they’re living or want to live, it’s powerful. And that’s what great storytelling can do. It can put you in a place emotionally or mentally. Even if you’re not able to be there physically. You can still live the life that you want to live in your mind with the hopes that one day the body will follow, and you’ll be able to live that full experience.
So, that inspires me to answer your question more directly. Knowing that my work is having an impact on people who are not represented in media consistently, brings me joy. It’s special because you’re not going to find too many platforms that are telling stories about Black queer people at the level that we do and that’s something that allows us to stand alone which I am proud of.
Wow! Thank you so much for your time today, Darian. It was wonderful having you.