Chazriq Clarke can finally be himself

Chazriq Clarke, a junior at Florida A&M University. Photo courtesy Chazriq Clarke

Dreaming of becoming a high-end fashion designer since childhood, Chazriq Clarke always had a passion for fashion. Despite his childhood ambitions, Clarke grew to love performing arts while attending Florida A&M University. Now, he aspires to be a world-changer through acting to powerfully influence future generations. 

The 20-year-old junior is always seen at the hottest spots on FAMU’s campus, either sporting his alma mater in modern fashion or gleefully smiling and talking to strangers walking by. Along with being a social butterfly, Clarke is involved in multiple campus organizations and holds several leadership positions on campus, such as the current Mister Essential Theatre and an orientation leader.  

However, Clarke is more than just a familiar or well-known face on campus. He is a student activist for Black rights and LGBTQ+ rights, who also is a queer Black man. Following the recent news of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris’ historic win, Clarke feels he can be loud and proud about his authentic self in America. 

 “I have no doubt that Biden and Harris will truly make America ‘Great,’” the double major — business administration and theatre performing arts — said. “With the Biden-Harris administration running things, I can live knowing that the people who run this country represent me, care about me, and make policies that help me. Both of these individuals have shown that they are willing to do what it takes to make strides forward for minorities, especially African-Americans, and the LGBTQ+ community.”

On FAMU’s campus, Clarke voted for the first time in the 2020 presidential election during early voting. The registered independent voter voted for Biden and Harris because he knew it was time for a change in the political system and time for minorities like him across the nation to finally be noticed and heard.

Clarke representing the LGBTQ+ community in the summer 2020 Vogue challenge. Photo courtesy Chazriq Clarke

Growing up as a double minority in a ruthless country and living in a Christian household has been challenging for Clarke. Clarke and his family always knew he was part of the LGBTQ+ community, but his family didn’t want to accept it. Attending Fort Lauderdale High School and College Academy, he began to finally realize he was a Black queer boy, forcing him to acknowledge and face his fears, which resulted in backlash from his peers and even his family. 

“Talk about being bullied every day ever since the time you were born,” Clarke said. “Talk about always being judged twice as hard everywhere you go because your skin and sexuality enter a room before you even do. Or talk about being kicked out and disowned by your family, and the weight of feeling like a disappointment even after your ‘loving’ family has unwillingly decided to take you back.” 

He added: “These are just a few of the hardships I have had to face in my upbringing as a Black queer man with Caribbean and Christian parents. My life has had many challenging moments that tested me in ways that I never thought possible, but I made it through. But unlike me, Black queer boys such as Nigel Shelby and Jamel Myles weren’t as fortunate. So every day, I fight against homophobic people and social injustices for those that can’t so other Black queer boys, like me, can have faith and hope that they can still make it no matter what they have been through.”

With ambitions of becoming a renowned actor, Clarke never did anything relating to performing arts until he came to FAMU because he felt he had to please and fit everyone’s “requirements” instead of owning and living in his truth.

“Anything I did that was even remotely close to ‘performing arts’ was deemed as feminine or ‘for girls’ by my family. I did play piano though, but that was as close as I could get,” said Clarke. “At church was a different story, I would sing and mime/praise dance for my church and no one would say anything. But I still felt that negative feeling from my father, as he deemed even those things as ‘girly,’ even if it was for God. But when I came to FAMU, I really fell in love with the stage, the arts, and my creative side.” 

Chazriq Clarke and Kenya Williams. Photo courtesy Chazriq Clarke

Kenya Williams — a FAMU senior theatre performance student from Tallahassee, Fl, and a “theatre mom” to Clarke — shares Clarke’s endless dedication to his craft and how he brightens up a bad day simply with his smile.

“As a friend, he’s the most selfless, encouraging, and vibrant person I’ve ever met. You could see his smile and hear his voice from miles away,” said Williams. “As a theatre student, I’ve witnessed his growth and dedication to FAMU Essential Theatre’s department. From being a camp counselor for the Irene C. Edmonds Youth Theatre Camp to starring in FAMU Essential Theatre’s production of ‘Hand’s Up,’ he has been a testament to versatility and passion for the arts. Chaz is one of those people that stands out in every room and he makes your heart smile.”

Under Biden’s administration, Clarke finally feels he is heading in the right direction to openly be his true self, along with many others from his community. Even though some don’t believe Biden is for the LGBTQ+ community, Biden will be the first-ever president to enter the White House supporting marriage equality and has included in his first 100 days plans to overturn Trump’s ban on transgender military recruits and enact the Equality Act

Although the Biden-Harris administration has plans to undo the current President’s discriminatory policies against minorities most minorities living in the “divided” states still won’t feel entirely safe living in a country with a system that wasn’t designed for them — it was designed for the majority. 

“I never really have ever felt ‘safe’ here in America, and I don’t think I ever truly will. Every day I live in this country, I walk around feeling like there’s a target on my back, never knowing whether I will come back home, and sensing like I am looked at as a ‘freak’ everywhere I go,” Clarke said. “Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither was the U.S.A. It’s going to take a lot more presidents, policies, protections, and promises to make people like me feel safe here in America.”

Chazriq Clake starring in FAMU Essential Threatre’s production of the New Black Fest’s “Hands up.” Photo courtesy Chazriq Clarke

Clarke isn’t the only one who feels like this. Countless minorities across the nation stated how the fight for equality for all minorities isn’t over simply because Biden is the newly elected president.

“Just because Biden won doesn’t mean the fight is over. Black lives still matter, LGBTQ+ rights need a lot more work, there is so much more we need to fight for… just because Biden won the election doesn’t mean we can suddenly forget about all of this,” tweeted @Kris_Archbold on Twitter

While America has created numerous historical moments during the past week, Clarke continues to advocate for his rights in the face of adversity, not only for himself but for others like him. 

“No matter the hardships, I live in my truth, and I always will because it’s bigger than just me,” Clarke said.