Billy Porter – Black Mona Lisa Tour

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I am so grateful I received an email that Billy Porter was coming to Houston. When I looked at the venue and saw that it was Bayou Music Center, I was a bit confused. In my mind, Billy Porter is a Broadway star who happens to do other things.  Yet, I remembered hearing him speak and he mentioned that he was a full-blown singer in the 90s. I had no idea that Billy won $100,000 from Star Search in 1992.  I was hesitant about the show but my final decision to attend was that we have the same birthday. I know deep in my heart that my birthday twin wouldn’t do anything but excellence, so I requested this as my mother’s day gift and it was granted. Little did I know how many similarities that I have with Billy and why I see Billy as the bolder version of myself.

I recall first hearing of Billy Porter around 2013. We both attended Carnegie Mellon University (different years). I remember seeing Billy’s name in the college newsletters, probably highlighting awards from the Broadway show Kinky Boots.  Later, I would take my youth to see the Broadway revival of Shuffle Along. We met Billy after the show for an autograph and I am deeply sad I have no clue where that picture is.  I loved the show and Billy would joke with me later that we were one of 2 people that saw it. That is heart breaking because it was an important work of art highlighting a show created by black people and is credited with starting the Harlem Renaissance. The revival of that show should have been packed every day, but I digress.

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After tickets were purchased for the show, I had a bright idea to reach out to the CMU to organize a meet and greet. When we have alumni visit Houston performing in a show we often support their productions and meet them after the show. Unbeknownst to me, the alumni meet and greets had occurred at most cities and here I was trying to organize one for Houston in less than 7 days. There were many people not in town because of Mother’s Day so I held it down for the fort.

Meeting Billy Porter confirmed that there is just something about universal alignment with when people were born. I began my conversation letting him know that people born on our birth date are special. He agreed. There are not many of us but trust and believe, everyone will know that we were here. Billy is humble, powerful, talented, unique, and kind. Instantly, I felt like I was with family. I was given a heads-up on the power of the show that I was about to experience but words cannot fully capture how amazing it was.

The audience for the show was mixed and it was beautiful to experience. Of course, the LGBTQIA+ community showed up. There were Broadway fans. What I was most surprised about was how many elders of all races attended. There were young people there too. We had no idea what we were getting into, but we left different than how we arrived.

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Billy used the show to creatively express a live autobiography. We saw film clips of some past creative experiences such as R&B videos, TV shows and an excerpt from Kinky Boots. As a person that does not watch tv often, it was great for me to connect the dots. There was an interview of Billy talking about the tribulations experienced all at the same time (physically and mentally)  and I cried watching it. It had me reminisce about people I lost from AIDS starting at 12 years old, including my uncle who passed away at 27 years old when I was 17. I lived with the impact of the virus and understood Billy’s passion to live life fully, despite circumstance.

I almost fell out my chair when Billy started reading an exact quote that has been in my email reply for years:

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
― Marianne Williamson, A Return to Love: Reflections on the Principles of “A Course in Miracles”

There were so many coincidences of how I have a lot in common with Billy Porter. Between songs, there were some monologues describing his life. I heard phrases that my friends can validate that I say that all the time (like “follow the money”). I felt I should have taken notes during the show, yes, like I was at a sermon. The one note captured was “Our stories will write themselves.” What a powerful statement.

It was apparent that Billy grew up in the church and Billy’s relationship with God is strong. Another thing we have in common. I was heartbroken to hear how church members told him that he would never be anything because he is queer and I just wanted to throw a chair. There are so many church folk condemning people and not enough lifting them up. Thankfully, Billy was able to overcome the negativity (I also experienced the never gone be nothing abuse). Yet, there are many people that don’t overcome the abusers and believe them. No matter who you are, you are a beautiful reflection of God and no one can ever tell you that you don’t deserve that connection. I am happy Billy was able to prove them wrong.

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Lastly, we must pause for the strut section of the show.  Billy chose audience members to take a walk on stage. All I can say is we were generous to everyone. However, I can’t recall the person’s name that was so humble in their introduction but let me tell you, the details and execution had me jumping up and down so much that I broke my shoe. I am going to call the person Sam because I can’t remember their name…but the attention to detail. Unbelievable. Sam had on a tartan kilt and I was thinking, was that a call out to CMU? Clever. Sam appeared to be shy in their introduction.  I thought. “This is going to go flat.”  When Sam walked out with those heels and strutted like we were in a Paris runway, it was my preview of what was to come. The death drop to the ground though. Yeah, the audience went wild and so did I.

We went on a journey that I had no idea was going to happen at this show. I laughed, cried, jumped, screamed, and thought deeply. I would be remissed if I didn’t mention Billy’s immense talent. Despite being an activist, Billy is also deeply talented. There wasn’t a note too high that Billy couldn’t reach. I am forever grateful for Billy for leading the charge to promoting love in the world of hate. Standing up to evil is a hard job to do, but Billy is up for it. Yet, it can’t be done alone. Not only will Billy’s life write itself, but it will also encourage others to live in love and peace and sing and dance while are doing it.

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