In partnership with Philadelphia Black Gay Pride, every day throughout the month of February we will spotlight an influential black mover and shaker in the city.
Today, a true vessel of African American history: Tyrone Smith is a longtime community activist and organizer who’s been working for the betterment of the community since the early-’80s. Today, at 70-plus years old, Smith continues to serve, shedding light on issues like HIV/AIDS, inclusion of LGBT people of color, and the importance of ancestry. Tyrone is the co-founder of UNITY, Inc., a grassroots organization run by black gay men for black gay men. He is also one of the founding members of the Black Gay Men’s Leadership Council in Philadelphia, which has been working to upgrade the lives of black gay men since September 2005.
What’s your Philly connection?
[I was born in] Kingston, N.C. I moved to Philadelphia when I was 6 years old. Philadelphia is pretty much what I call home.
When you were a kid what did you want to be when you grew up?
I wanted to be an adult. I just wanted to grow up.
Who or what is your biggest inspiration?
My faith is my inspiration. I feel within my spirit, from where I sit now. We’ve come far. In 2013, LBGTQ people can get married, African American people are more visible in the White House, and the school system has improved thanks to the work of pioneers like myself putting in that work. That’s never to be forgotten. It inspires me to see the movement of today. Thinking back to the past struggles of African American people shows how far we’ve come. I remember when we couldn’t cross the street to where white people stood and congregated. Now we can exist as a collective community. Now there’s faith in knowing that we, as a community, are making new and better paths for the next generation … That’s inspirational.
Finish this sentence: I feel fiercest when …
… I’m listening to someone and being able to share info and connect people to people. Its one of my gifts — to be able to share with the old and young, and point them in the direction of resources. Just passing information.
What’s your proudest achievement?
To have survived. To be the person I am at 70-plus years old. To have survived racism and homophobia. It’s a blessing.
If you could have a super power what would it be and how would you use it?
To be able to be connected with others. To create institutions of power and responsibility to the community. That is enough. It’s what the community needs to move our brothers and sisters along.
Finish this sentence: In 10 years I …
… will be 80-plus and still grateful for Life.