Welcome to the Evolving Man Project’s “Evolved Man of the Week” profile. Each week we will highlight an individual that embodies what it means to be an evolved person, famous and non-famous individual alike. The world needs to know their stories and deeds. This week’s honor goes to the human rights activist and program manager at the Ruth Ellis Center, Dwayne Cole Jr,
Growing up, Dwayne Cole Jr. watched his family face financial instability, eviction, and mental illness. For Cole, that hardship was homelessness. And, by the time he moved in with his grandmother at 16, he had to deal with another issue: she wasn’t fully accepting of his sexuality.
When Dwayne was younger, fear took over his life. He wondered would he be accepted? Would his family still like him? What if people found out what he was going through at home? His parents supported him when he came out as gay; Dwayne says that kept him going. The thought of having people that accepted him made a huge impact on him as a black gay man and made the other hardships in his life seem non-existent.
Soon after coming out to his grandmother, when Cole was around 17 years old, his friend suggested that he explore some of the services offered at the Ruth Ellis Center. REC is an organization whose goal is to provide short- and long-term residential safe spaces and support services for homeless, runaway, and at-risk LGBTQ youths. It wasn’t long before things clicked for Cole at the Center.
Cole would became a peer staff; in a few short years at the age of 21, Cole now finds himself a program manager. His responsibilities include aiding with Center fundraising, sharing the organization’s goal, aiding with its graphic design needs, and monitoring communications, among other duties. Beyond those earned career skills, Cole said that REC helped him become a better communicator, too. Cole was able to reconcile with his grandmother. He understood her prescriptive but showed her that gay men were far more complex than negative stereotypes surrounding the LGBTQ community would suggest. He credits the REC for helping foster his communication skills which led to him being a better communicator.
Here is Dwayne Cole Jr. in his own words about supporting LGBTQ youth.
“I’m an advocate for individuality, and I encourage my community to trust in themselves and truly be themselves. Being comfortable with yourself and proud of your experiences, both good and bad, is one of the best ways to become mentally and emotionally healthy. I don’t believe in taking losses; I believe in learning lessons. But what you choose to do with the lessons is the real testament of your character.”
We at the Evolving Man Project wish Dwayne Cole Jr. continued success at the Ruth Ellis Center. We hope his story of overcoming self-doubt, mental illness, homelessness, and finding self-love can inspire the next generation. Today we honor Dwayne Cole Jr. as our Evolved Man of the Week.