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Black Brothers Esteem Member Spotlight: Rickey

Rickey shares what led for him to join Black Brothers Esteem years ago, and why he's still involved to this day.

Rickey is a proud and dedicated long-time member of Black Brothers Esteem (BBE) at San Francisco AIDS Foundation. He has spent many years volunteering for the program, doing outreach, peer leadership, and leading the BBE Goodwill Team. He took time with us to speak about his life and his community work over the years, how he found his way to the program, and what inspired him to get involved.

Rickey was born in a small town right outside of Memphis, Tennessee and became really connected with California during his military term here after high school. He decided to return to California after he finished college in Michigan, and soon found his way to BBE. He recalls first discovering BBE through a palm card and thought that one day he’d go and find the group. It wasn’t until he met one of the founding members of the group that he was convinced. This member told him that he was part of a group for Black gay men called BBE. Rickey would reveal that he was gay too and felt that he finally had a place that he could land and connect with other people like him.

He was happy to get involved with BBE right away; at first just coming to groups, then volunteering at booths for the program, tabling at events to help promote the program, and give various resources like condoms, sex-ed pamphlets, and housing resources at different street fairs such as MLK Day Health Fair, San Francisco Pride, and Juneteenth. Eventually when the time came for BBE to vote on a Peer Leader, he decided to “throw [his] name in the hat” and was voted into the role that he continued to hold off and on until this day. He now leads the Goodwill Team, a peer-led group that usually visits BBE members who may be living in long-term care facilities, are hospitalized, or home bound. The Goodwill Team members check in on those folks, and bring them cards, resources, updates from the group, flowers, and other things. Rickey notes that the folks he sees are really glad to have visitors, glad to still feel like a part of the group, and that people’s faces really light up when they have that connection.

In addition to BBE volunteering, Rickey is also involved in Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) programs. He is a sponsor for people and does weekly volunteerism at different hospitals and organizations–meeting and supporting people who can’t make it to in-person services. During the Covid-19 pandemic, AA members now have the ability to attend meetings over Zoom directly, so Rickey volunteers to do errands like grocery runs for other people who have limited mobility. He notes that someday he may find himself in similar circumstances, and that he would hope that others would offer him assistance in his times of need too. And ultimately he wants to pay forward the help, kindness, and wisdom that he received from others when and where he can.

When asked if he had any insights that he’s learned working with BBE and doing community-based work, he said that, “If you’re looking for a safe space, and hope, come to BBE. It’s a place you can go where you can hear other people’s experiences. If you come and be committed, we can do together what we can’t do alone.”

He mentions that there are a lot of different and great personalities, but that the group really focuses on the principles and the process before personalities. No matter what you’re going through, you have a safe space to talk about it at BBE. Other members may have been through the same thing, so people have the opportunity to find that commonality and support, and feel like they don’t have to do things alone.

Rickey said that a moment of reflection for him was the passing of BBE alum, Maurice. Rickey saw how much Maurice loved the group and was moved by his dedication to it, so after his passing, he felt that he could do more as well to honor his legacy.

When asked what he would envision or like to see for the program in the future, Rickey said that he would like to see BBE still in operation, and still serving the community. He hopes that there will still be people working and committed to keeping the program going, so that BBE can continue to be visible, have an impact on more of the community, and reach even more people.

Rickey continues to be a shining example of leadership and compassion in the group. He gives back when he can, and inspires those around him to work towards positive change, and to uplift one another through his words and his actions.