Written by PHILLIP ESTEEM
Cleo Manago, 44, founder of the Black Men’s Xchange (BMX) and AmASSI National Health & Cultural Centers, is one of the high profile people in the not for profit health, wellness and social services sector. He has written over $11 million in successful grant proposals for programs for services that were targeted for diverse ethnic and sexual communities. His published works have appeared in The Los Angeles Times, California Voice, Essence Magazine, SBC, Venus, and several other noted publications. Here he shares with us what’s on his mind.
Please describe your current or most recent project (s). Include a brief overview of your motivation for the project and any notable challenges you encountered.
First, thank you Mr. Esteem, sincerely, for this interview. Though, I am interviewed often, by a number of different sources, I do not take opportunities to engage my community for granted.
My recent projects include writing and developing a film that examines the intersection of Black male American imagery, sexuality; self and societal perceptions, and the impact of these on life in America - historically and currently. My motivation is the same as it has always been, until meaningful change occurs: improving the unity, perception, self-concept, wellness, structural and cultural imbalances Black people face, and making America aware of the importance of advancing this situation. The challenges have been the main ones always faced by non-mainstream film, acquiring the resources to get it made.
Under what circumstances did you get started as a gay activist?
I am not a gay activist. Never have been, and strongly request not to be referred to as such. I am a Black, same-gender-loving “social architect” and visionary, a researcher, doer, cultural expert and behavior change strategist. Organizations and activities I have headed up purposely dismantle or challenge thinking that is not constructive or instructive to our community. We build community, create dialogue and motivate behavior and attitude change.
What got me started was inspired by my being naturally a very sensitive child, and inquisitive thinker from a very young age. I came from a community and family where internalized oppression, religious contradictions and the symptoms of what I learned to be racism and post-slavery trauma syndrome were rampant. I could not accept things as they were, so I fantasized until I was old enough to actualize doing something about what pained or concerned me. Those issues were more relevant to being Black in America than my sexuality. As early as 8 years of age it was quite clear that I would be falling in love with another male. As a matter of fact by age 8, I already had. There’s a popular autobiographic story I wrote called, In Love Too Early, In Love Too Late, that tells that story.