When we think of activism, we think of grassroots movements in protests. We imagine Black Lives Matter rallies and the Women’s March as facilitators for social justice. But what other forms of activism and advocacy are out there? Can there be activism in simply existing in spaces that don’t always welcome you?
To answer some of these questions, we turn to speaker, writer, and educator, Dr. Jonathan P. Higgins, aka Dr. Jon Paul.
Identifying as a speaker, writer, and curator, Jon’s heart is in social justice, especially for the justice and spaces of black, queer men. With his work featured in notable publications such as The Root and Blavity, and a recent TEDx talk under his belt, Dr. Jon Paul’s resume speaks for itself when it comes to his passion for his work.
“Everything I do comes from a place of having something to say,” says Jon, who embarked on his social justice path during his time in school.
With a bachelor’s degree in communication studies from California State University, San Bernardino, Jon originally wanted to major in English literature. After being discouraged by his professors and told that his writing wouldn’t be good enough to be published, Jon went on to obtain his master’s in management and his Ph.D. for leadership in justice from the University of Redlands. His work there culminated in his dissertation about the experiences of queer men of color in their first year of higher education.
It was through his dissertation that he found his voice for social justice advocacy. His path took him into student affairs – he recently served two academic years as an assistant director of Multicultural Affairs at California State University, Long Beach and was hired to be the Director of the Queer Resource Center at Claremont College before he was let go for being too vocal on social media about his advocacy.
“Before I left, I told them that they just elevated my voice even louder,” he said, speaking on how he dealt with his termination.
Though a bump in the road, Jon believes this placed him on his path to becoming a point of reference in the dialogue of both queer and black communities. He is tentatively booked through March of 2018 as a speaker at various colleges and universities.
When asked why he focuses his energy on writing and speaking, Jon notes the importance to equip people with the tools and words to understand what is happening to them and why; issues such as systemic racism, oppression, homophobia, and more. He strives to make sure that his work gives people the tools they need to be better equipped to deconstruct the issues that they face.
“It comes down to who are the people’s lives that I’m influencing…How am I helping someone survive in a world that’s not built for them,” says Jon.
Currently, Jon is curating his work as a writer and speaker, both in-person and online through a variety of channels, but he hopes to spread himself into other venues such as hosting and fashion.
He believes that fashion is a form of activism and references figures such as a Kingsley, B. Scott and Big Freedia as leaders in the movement for queer, black men. However, Jon is driven to be a leader for the fat, queer, black man. He notes that whenever he goes to large public spaces, such as airports, he’ll wear statement pieces such as a “Black Lives Matter” t-shirt to initiate conversation and assert his presence as an activist.
“Because we’re so limited in how we can express ourselves through our voice, we’ve started to utilize art and fashion as a means to do that,” says Jon, believing that the black, queer community is often the catalyst to the movement in fashion.
He also cites figures like Frenchie Davis and Titus Burgess as inspirations for plus-size fashion. “They show up for themselves at all times…How can I show up for myself without letting the insecurities of society plague me?”
In addition to his accolades, Dr. Jon Paul is also in the process of writing a book, slated to be titled, “Black Boy Joy.” The book will focus on his relationship with himself as a queer, black man, his relationships with the cis-gendered men in his life and how those relationships affected his happiness.
Speaking on contributions to the black and queer communities, we must acknowledge that the opportunity for these thought-leaders is not always there, as is the same for other people/women of color communities. Speaking specifically for the black community, Jon says, “As black people, we’re not told that we can do what we want to do.”
Yet, Jon is on his path and paving the way for others to follow in his footsteps. His versatility in writing, speaking and now fashion are vehicles to creating more spaces and initiating conversations about the work he does for his communities and the world at-large.
“When you can own your confidence, that’s the biggest form of activism,” he says. “Activism is about existing.”
Learn More about Dr. Jon Paul
You can find Dr. Jon Paul’s published work, YouTube videos or book him to speak, at his website, DoctorJonPaul.com and you find him on social media with the handle @DoctorJonPaul.