People Who’ve Changed My Life – Dwayne Smith

I can almost remember the moment I met Dwayne – a Christmas party, 1990, at what is now the Embassy Row Hotel in Dupont Circle, Washington, DC. I was too young to be drinking, and was on my second bourbon and ginger ale when I spotted a dapper gentleman across the room, wearing a tuxedo. Being me (and those of you who know me from those days know exactly what I mean), I made it a point to introduce myself to him. Little did I know I would be meeting a man who helped mold me into the man you see today.

We hit it off immediately, and he became the uncle I never had and always wanted. He taught me SOOO many things – the first was to appreciate Miss Ella Fitzgerald as a musician and not just as the Memorex lady. He also modeled accountability. However, if I were to name THE most important thing he did in my life, it would be to introduce me to the two men who would help me develop my voice: Archbishop George Augustus Stallings and the late Dr. Wesley A. Boyd. Through Dwayne, I was thrown into the deep end of liberation theology and got the quick course on how to use my voice as an instrument as opposed to just singing.

In the years since, Dwayne has been my cheerleader, my conscious, my sounding board, the shoulder to cry on. He was one of the first men to show me that two men really could love each other and walk down the street together, holding hands if they wanted. His exact words: “We are two big black men. If somebody walks up on us, we will beat the hell out of them!”

He came to Chicago on business in the late 1990s, and while his company at the time was paying for him to work, he also came out to check on his nephew, to make sure he was living OK. He knew something was up, and he let me know. When I moved back home a few years later, he was one of the first people to greet me and welcome the prodigal son back into the fold.

I would be doing him a disservice if I didn’t mention that, like most good uncles, he pulled me out of a tight situation on more than one occasion, and made sure that I didn’t get out of hand on few more. I was a wild child, and he knew just how far to let me go before pulling me back. About to date the wrong person? He had to vet them (SO GLAD HE DID!!!)

OH! The most important thing he taught me: don’t drink the juice if you made it. Long story, just know that it involved a couple of half gallons of 80 proof (at a minimum), sliced fruit, a stock pot, and a coffee carafe. Like I said, GOOD UNCLE.

His second act is just as amazing as his first was. Clouds (a subtle nod to Miss Chaka Khan, HIS diva) are now his photography passion, and seeing his work takes my breath away. Now, we don’t always agree, but we have never had a disagreement that we didn’t hash out within 4 minutes. That’s love. I look to him as my senior statesman, and I am still following in his footsteps.

I love you Uncle Dwayne.

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