This year, I will begin my fifth year as Production Director of The Ask Rayceen Show, a free monthly event, March through November, in Washington, DC. The show’s host is Rayceen Pendarvis; by virtue of that alone, we can claim to be the most unapologetically Black and Queer event in the city. This year will be our second season at the best venue we have ever had and the seventh season overall.
The Ask Rayceen Show has great potential, primarily because there are so many talented Black LGBTQ people in the DC area who can use it as a platform for showcasing their abilities or promoting their businesses and organizations. Every show literally includes a segment called “Shameless Plugs”! We strive to be the hub for the Black LGBTQ community. I thought that if we built it, they would come. But to be honest, I wasn't ready for the challenges of building a platform when I first began helping Rayceen.
While I think I’ve helped to raise the show’s profile, I have done only a fraction of what I set out to do. Every month, we barely avert disaster. For me, every show is the death of a dream. It is demoralizing. I take every disappointment as a personal failure. I do the work of ten people; I am perpetually overwhelmed. Sometimes, I wonder why it is that it seems we can’t have nice things. If you ask anyone who's done this community-building work, they'll tell you this is normal.
There is a common misconception that the show is well-funded, or even profitable. However, all of the people who bring this show to life are volunteers. This includes the DJs, performers, and even me. We are all donating our time and talents. We are constantly asked for money. Maybe I do what I do too well and people don’t realize that there is no money. Maybe they don’t realize that Rayceen isn’t paid. In my role as Production Director, I’ve implemented small changes to reduce out-of-pocket expenses for Rayceen, such as finding a sponsor for the show’s printed fliers. Prize money awarded on the show -- which came out of Rayceen's personal funds until recently -- is paid for by donations from sponsors and the public, but leaves us with a zero balance at the end of each season.
While some local and DC-based national organizations – LGBTQ and otherwise – have not been open to collaborating in the past, we are ready to make new connections and find people interested in building something together. We know they are out there. The show offers people an opportunity to be seen and heard, so we want to involve as many people as we can.
Doing this important work is difficult, especially with limited staff and resources. If more people were willing to be part of our team, they could individually take on small tasks that would collectively make a big difference. It's not a demand, but an ask: Can folks show up for Team Rayceen in the same ways we show up for others? This is where community effort would go a long way to supporting a space dedicated to sustaining and uplifting QTPOC in the city. Reciprocity matters.
We know there are problems within the LGBTQ community (racism, transphobia, toxic masculinity among them). We've found many things lacking but still search for unity, cooperation, and cohesion. Some people want credit, recognition, accolades, and the spotlight for themselves. But community is less about any of that than about getting the work done and making great things happen.
In building this community space, I keep pushing and try to focus on the positive. We are able to book some very talented people. There are terrific DJs who make the show possible. Various local businesses contribute prizes and giveaways; a few sponsors help with expenses; and some social media outlets promote what we do. There are people out there who value community. I’m grateful for all of it.
What I lack in resources, I try to make up for in determination. Despite the frustrating and challenging circumstances I deal with in preparation for each event, I keep searching for people to create graphics and help us set up. I continue to send information to media outlets, invite organizations to participate, and pass out fliers every chance I get. I keep pushing.
Going into season seven, I think we have an opportunity for things to be different. Community building takes work. Building a platform takes work. We keep reaching out, connecting, building relationships, and continuing on despite the challenges and challengers we meet along the way. That's the kind of work you need, so one day we can show everyone that we can have nice things.
You've been part of the work so far, and you can be part of so much more in the coming year. So, let's build.