Derek Hawkins, SoCal Club’s Outreach Coordinator, on how his HIV status changed his life for for the better.
BY MARK ARIEL
“The mission and goal of SoCal Club is simple: a safe space for young gay men of color,” states Derek Hawkins, SoCal Club’s Outreach Coordinator, in an interview with THE FIGHT.
Located in South Los Angeles, SoCal Club, part of Men’s Health Foundation, focuses on health and wellness through community, education and empowerment.
“We understand in the black and brown communities appearing one way can lead to ignorance and violence, so we want folks to know that here at SoCal Club we stand against toxic masculinity and the heteronormative standards.”
“Here in LA there are so many venues and avenues for white gay men but in a city where the minority is the majority
there aren’t too many spaces for us to be US” says Hawkins. We have and want to continue to create an environment for gay, bi, queer men of color to be themselves—however that looks like. We understand in the black and brown communities appearing one way can lead to ignorance and violence, so we want folks to know that here at SoCal Club we stand against toxic masculinity and the heteronormative standards. With this being a safe space we also want to empower our members to take charge of their health.”
FLOODED WITH LOVE
Hawkins, born into a military family in Fairbanks, Alaska at Fort Wainwright, says that his life changed for the better after revealing his HIV status. “With great hesitation I took to social media and posted that I was living with HIV and that I was open to talk to anyone that may have been dealing with the same situation. I was flooded with love, questions, and folks wanting to tell their story. In that moment I found my calling in life. I want to open a foundation that gives men of color the space to discuss their status and not be shamed. I also want to incorporate support for men that have suffered any kind of abuse. Being molested at the age of 12 I had no clue what was happening with my body and confused as to why a grown man would look at me or want to touch me the way he did. I had no outlet or even know how to articulate what was happening. Once I found the words that’s when it stopped. Going through those periods of trauma formed me as a man and brought me to my goal or purpose.”
ENGAGING THE COMMUNITY
Working at SoCal Club has changed how he views the community, says Hawkins.
“I wasn’t really raised in the black community, so when I moved to LA I wasn’t prepared to be living in Compton and I wasn’t prepared to be working in South LA. I was very nervous to engage with the community—I’m not going to lie,” reveals Hawkins.
“Most of my team at the time was very encouraging and gave me the confidence to do what I thought I couldn’t do. After a while I felt dumb and kind of out of touch because my upbringing and life experiences were different. I see now that there are some beyond-amazing people in this community. A proud community, they just need to be heard and for their concerns to be dealt with in a timely manner… I feel like you get a real sense of history and love for LA in this community. This community has grown on me and I will always have a special place in my heart for South LA, Crenshaw, Inglewood, Compton, and Watts.”
SoCal Club features a variety of events including fitness activities, support groups, sexual health services including testing and PrEP/PEP access and more. Other ongoing events include movie nights, game nights and vogue classes.