Name: Monte J Wolfe
Hometown: Racine, Wisconsin
Current Residence: Washington, DC
BIO: An artistic "jack of all trades", Monte J. Wolfe is an actor, singer/songwriter, producer, director, playwright, graphic designer, and spoken word artist whose heart is deeply rooted in the arts, especially music which is his first love. He is a graduate of the Howard University Theatre Arts Department where he earned a BFA in Arts Administration in 1999. Bridging the gap between arts and activism, he has performed as a featured artist at various community events such as the National Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Dedication ceremony in 2011. Earlier this year, his spoken word piece, "Paramour" won first place in the RiseUpToHIV/AIDS Poetry Contest. As a writer, he has had articles published by CLIK Magazine, SWERV Magazine, as well as by the Black AIDS Institute. As an actor, he also has various stage, film and television appearances to his credit. In 2006, he founded Brave Soul Collective (BSC), an arts/education and outreach organization which focuses on HIV/AIDS outreach and prevention as well as issues affecting the lives of LGBTQ people, through the performing and healing arts. BSC seeks to educate, entertain and inspire individuals by serving as a platform for open, honest discussion about prevention, stigma, and personal responsibility. BSC is committed to encouraging artistic freedom, expression, equality, and creativity in people from all walks of life which it continues to do not only through theatrical performance events, but also through the popular monthly discussion gathering, "Brave Soul Sunday" and a wealth of literary & artistic offerings shared through the official BSC website. For the last 7 years, through his work with BSC, Monte has conceived, self-produced and performed in critically acclaimed artistic events such as "BALANCING ACTS: Tales of Triumph, Trial & Error" which was presented earlier this year, in observance of National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day 2013 and "Subject To Change", which was presented as part of the 2013 DC Black Theatre Festival. With everything Monte produces through BSC, it is always his intention to push the envelope & to spark necessary dialogue about a host of topics and issues affecting everyone. In addition to being an artist and serving as Artistic & Managing Director of Brave Soul Collective, he also works in marketing and communications.
He IS:An actor, singer/songwriter/musician, director, activist, producer, and MUSIC LOVER. He is also...in touch with his emotions, intense, sensitive, funny, spiritual, creative, his mama's "baby", a brother, godparent, singer, songwriter, actor, writer, activist, businessman, college graduate, box office guru, soulchild, and a work in progress...
Giving thanks to all who inspired the idea and provided motivation for this creation:
My parents Carolyn Price & Nathaniel Wolfe, Iyanla Vanzant , Josette Murray, E. Lynn Harris, Alan Sharpe, Neale Donald Walsch, Brian Thorne, Erik Chambers, Kendal Brown, Jackson Burnett, Gemini, Mary J Blige, my Maryluvs & Lalaholics families, Lalah Hathaway, Donny Hathaway, Minnie Riperton, Stevie Wonder, Chaka Khan, India.Arie, Jill Scott, Erykah Badu, Amel Larrieux, Sade, Anita Baker, Lauryn Hill, Eric Roberson, Rahsaan Patterson, Frank McComb, Common, Ayanna Gregory, Sade, Lisa "Left Eye"Lopes, Valencia Robinson, Tim'm West, Michael Saint-Andress, LaShon Gordon, Stephen Melby, Rashad Moody, Eric B, Jeremy Lloyd, Rahsaan Rogers, KB "Omar" Williams, Phillip Howard, Johan Thomas, Jeffrey Thomas, Rhoemi Smith, Ronald King, Sarah Young, Thakira Manley, Selina Donaldson, Dr. Angelike Liappis, Kai Green, Jennifer Dogan, Stephanie Mayfield, Mark Jolin, Mama Musinah, Mama Janice, Baba Adeyemi, all of First Sunday, my godson Jahi Claudius Murray, and the spirit of the divine being I know to be GOD, in all of its manifestations.
...this is How, this is Why, this is When... THE BRAVE SOUL COLLECTIVE CAME ALONG..."
Specifically, it was Sunday February 5th, 2006. While in the presence of two of my spiritual advisors, I was given a book called, BULLSHIT OR FERTILIZER: Tough Love For Artists On The Fence, written by Pierre Bennu. While thumbing through this book at the service I attend once a month called FIRST SUNDAY, I came across a passage in said book which made the suggestion to...GET UP and START SOMETHING, if you feel there is a void somewhere and/or a need for something. Shortly after coming across that passage, the service started, and numerous pieces were read about that month's focal point, LOVE. Immediately following these readings, there was a meditation process that began. During this meditation, all I could think about was what I'd read in this book earlier that morning. I also kept thinking about an audition I had attended about one week or so earlier, where I was in the presence of about 18-20 other black men. I thought about how that experience had mirrored so many other experiences at auditions, at work, and in numerous other settings. About how I'd always felt as though I didn't quite fit in or belong, despite my ability to blend in just like all the other brothas during these instances. As I continued to pay attention to my breathing during this meditation, I listened to the music which played, meanwhile continuously thinking about how I sought to pass on the energy, the love, I was feeling at that particular time during FIRST SUNDAY, to other brothas like myself. I thought about one of my usernames/handles and the reason why I gave myself that name some time ago. Brave_Soul. Then it all came to me...just as I sat there...Brave Soul Collective.
In the days following this experience I had at First Sunday, I was consumed by thoughts about what had come to me regarding creating this organization. On Monday February 6th, I committed to writing one paragraph each day that week, in order to lay a foundation for everything that was floating around in my head, in terms of ideas. That day, I sat and wrote five pages of text about what I envisioned for The Brave Soul Collective. Slowly I began to share my ideas with one of my closest friends, Erik Chambers. Although everything that I had experienced the day before was crystal clear in my mind, I spoke with a bit of uncertainty regarding everything that was coming up for me. I was somewhat unsure if what I was envisioning was really possible. Despite the questions that came up during that time, I continued writing, and sharing my ideas with a few close friends. Two weeks later I sat down for a meeting with Tim'm West to discuss all that I had come up with. After our discussion, it was clear to me that the idea, which had come through me just two weeks prior, was anything but a fluke. It was in fact, gaining momentum day by day.
As I continued writing, and thinking everyday, I asked myself questions. One of the first questions I asked myself was why. The same day I asked that question, I was in the shower and memories and thoughts from my childhood and adolescence came flooding back to me. Things that I hadn't thought about in years...
From the time I was a child I can remember seeing depictions of men who appeared to want to be women, who emulated the energy of femininity on television and in movies. This was especially apparent with regard to men of darker hues. Flip Wilson, Eddie Murphy, Meschach Taylor, just to name a few. As I got older, and came to realize things about myself that I couldn't quite process, that depiction continued to grow, on into skits on shows like IN LIVING COLOR with Damon Wayans and David Alan Grier and the MEN ON FILM segments. By that time I was in the thick of my teens, (16 specifically), and what I saw, heard, and had been taught about these men were that they all had "a lil sugar in their tank", or were a little sweet, and that they wanted to be like women. Something wasn't quite "right" about them, and we didn't really talk about them unless it was to make a joke and get a good hearted laugh about how silly they seemed. Nobody ever told me as a little boy, or even as a teen that there were black men who loved other men who weren't necessarily and/or exclusively feminine. Because of that, something that I had suppressed for years continued to be buried deeper in my mind and heart while simultaneously emerging in the form of my thoughts, words, dreams, and still some years later in the form of EXPERIENCE.
As a child, I also remember vaguely one cousin , who I recall seeing in pictures. I couldn't quite put my finger on it at the time, but I remember looking at his pictures and seeing that he was "different". I also remember being drawn to him, his pictures and wondering what his story was, because there was something we had in common, other than being members of the same family.
I also remember the level of mystery "and hush" that surrounded my cousin and why he was no longer around.
There wasn't much said about him, but as I got older I learned that he was gay and had died.
This was my first introduction to "our" existence being talked about in whispers, about our "lifestyles" being swept under the rug.
For those reasons along with "millions more", we as gay/same gender loving black people have been slighted, disrespected, dishonored, and shut out. Our contributions, our stories (which are as vast and wide as oceans), and our existence have been denied us, oftentimes by the very people who collectively make up our lineage and claim to love us the most. Black families, the church, society, etc...have all contributed to making us the prodigal black sheep. What I now know is that there is a place at the table for ALL OF HUMANITY--- Same gender loving black and minority men & women included.
That place at the "table" will continue to be empty until we have the courage to SHOW UP and be PRESENT and to express who we are FULLY.
This is what I've chosen to do in the creation of The Brave Soul Collective.
Now another part of this whole thing I thought about when I had this vision was my own admission of TRUTH. That had to be one of the main focal points of starting the organization. That meant acknowledging personally and publicly, my WHOLE TRUTH, which had just become a little bit more "interesting" within the last year and a half...
When I think back on the day I found out I tested positive for HIV, I think of how I couldn't see past that minute, that moment, that day. I think about how all at once I felt like everything I had accomplished personally and professionally had been snatched away from me. It felt dark, heavy, and full of despair. Although I had experienced my share of each of those feelings in years prior, at that point it felt like the absolute worst thing I had ever imagined had "gotten me". The analogy I have often used to describe how I felt was that it was as if I had spent years slowly, carefully crafting a drawing on an etch-a-sketch. Then, just when I felt I had made it perfect, someone came along and snatched it from me, shook it up violently, causing my work of art to vanish in an instant. It felt as if they then placed it back into my two hands and said, "here you go, START ALL OVER." The work of art that I figuratively speak of, refers to my having come to terms with my sexuality, having survived years of endless bouts with low self esteem, suicide attempts (which were failed-THANK GOD), numerous other challenges, and hard earned life lessons. Long story short, all of that felt like it had no validity or purpose because of what I then imagined I'd never make it through. What I now realize, which I couldn't really see at that point, is that all of the "stuff" I'd been through is what would assist me in dealing with, accepting, and ultimately LIVING with HIV. About four months after being diagnosed, it began to dawn on me that my life would indeed go on, albeit with some minor changes and adjustments. I did not have to begin any treatment for my HIV infection, since it had been detected early and I was primarily in good health at the time of my diagnosis. I am blessed and extremely grateful to say that I still am in very good health to this day, and am not in need of any treatment. By October of 2005, I went home to do something I feared more than anything else. I told my mother that I was HIV positive. Because my mother and I are so very close, she was the first person that came to mind when I received the positive test result. I feared that she would be disappointed in me, that she would no longer love me, and that there would be some kind of indirect "I told you so" that would arise. Although it was difficult saying the words to her initially, something I feared for about 10 months had finally come and gone and was replaced by a newfound understanding and connection between my mother and I. She reminded me that I was "HER CHILD", that she loved me, and that she didn't ever want me to keep something like this from her ever again. At that point, I felt like a weight had finally been lifted off of me. Armed with the love of my mama, I said a kind of "F--- the world, if they have a problem with my status". I continued with my life, and found that things were a lot easier than I could ever have imagined back on that that day in late November, 2004 when I tested positive.
The main point is that after some time had passed, I felt a sense of hope surrounding this entire issue.
I now know that over the course of the last year and four months, I made a crucial decision. There was no way I would allow my HIV status to cripple me, or to diminish my self worth. There was no way I was going to live this out with as much angst or difficulty as I had done with my sexuality over a decade ago. I had neither the desire nor the energy to go through that again. What you are witnessing, in the creation of the Brave Soul Collective, is my open admission and acknowledgement, another alternative, a monumental change in the way I CHOOSE TO LIVE MY LIFE.
...How, Why, When I live MY TRUTH...
Miraculous things tend to happen when I get myself out of the way, when I surrender, when I trust what's inside of me, and allow it to manifest as it needs to.
The final element in the creation of this organization is the one thing that has sustained me for the past 31 years of my life: My Artistry. From the time I was a child, I've connected with the pulse, the rhythm, & the tempo, of music. My parents raised me on a rich combination of soul, and jazz music. This love for music has followed me everywhere I've gone in my travels since 1974 when I was first introduced to it all.
It has shaped me, sustained me, and assisted me in facing and becoming who I AM. A love of music gave way to a love of theatre and acting, which gave way to a love of writing and poetry. Since my childhood I have found that all these aspects of the arts define how and why I exist. There is a huge difference between childhood dreams about stardom and living your life as an actual full time working artist. There are challenges, hills, valleys, roadblocks, and of course there is always RENT to pay. Since graduation from college in 1999, I've done it numerous ways. I've held full time jobs, part time jobs, and I've also done my share of freelance work as an artist. Regardless of what I've done for work, my artistry has always been there, beckoning me to embrace and utilize it. Therefore, Brave Soul Collective is also a network, a haven, an environment for artists of all kinds to explore, embrace, express their artistry. Making a living as an artist is an "art" in and of it self, which takes determination, faith, courage, & skill beyond imagination. It seems damn near impossible sometimes, but it can be done. It is my personal hope that the existence of Brave Soul Collective will make it somewhat easier for artists to flourish -and assist ALL of us in healing.