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Roderick K. Hawkins: Southern Roots and Leadership in LGBTQ+ Advocacy

Roderick K. Hawkins (Credit: Powell Creative Services).

In 2024, many emerging leaders are paving the way for future generations to follow in their footsteps. Their impact is improving the community in even bigger and better ways. Roderick K. Hawkins, a Southern gentleman at heart, has achieved numerous accolades. His family’s support has shaped him into who he is today: a legendary Black man of excellence who stands for equality for everyone, especially for the LGBTQ community.

Southern Roots and Family Values

Born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, on July 30, 1974, Roderick is proudly about to turn 50. He grew up in the South with a loving and supportive mother and father, alongside an older brother. His strict yet encouraging family fostered a strong unit that shaped who Roderick is today. Life wasn’t always smooth, but he is grateful for his Southern upbringing and the support he received.

Roderick faced challenges and moments of isolation while accepting his identity. Although being gay wasn’t openly discussed at home, he appreciated that his family never expressed overtly homophobic views. This supportive environment was crucial in his development. He was born and raised in Baton Rouge, went to school in the South, and studied journalism at LSU, but Chicago is also his home.

“I’m a Southern guy at heart, though I’ve lived in Chicago for 20 years. I spent three years here, then three years in Baton Rouge, and now I’ve been back in Chicago for 17 years. Some words still come out with a Southern drawl because that’s where I’m from. I still hold onto my Southern values, but now they blend with the healthier Midwest environment.

Navigating Challenges and Identity

Hawkins credits his family’s unwavering support and his mentors’ guidance for shaping his personal and professional development. Their encouragement and values instilled in him a strong sense of integrity and dedication to equality, particularly for the LGBTQ+ community. This foundation has driven him to achieve numerous accolades and become a respected leader and advocate.

[perfectpullquote align=”full” bordertop=”false” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]”Growing up as a Black gay man was challenging, filled with self-doubt and fear of rejection. I lived in a culture that was not openly accepting, much like the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” era. I lost friends and loved ones to HIV/AIDS and had to navigate the conservative South, which brought its own set of challenges and targets on my back.”[/perfectpullquote]

The love and support from Roderick’s late mother, along with his family, friends, and connections from college and Chicago, helped him discover and amplify his inner light, providing the confidence and strength to assist others. 

Relocating to Chicago in 2001 marked a significant shift, as he found solace in a robust community of Black gay men and allies. Additionally, joining Trinity United Church of Christ, known for its inclusive stance, including acceptance of LGBTQ+ individuals, further enriched his sense of belonging.

A Passion for the Arts and Advocacy

Roderick’s passions extend to various hobbies and interests. He has a deep passion for theater and opera, expressing immense joy in attending shows in New York City and Chicago. 

His love for the performing arts stems from his background as a former music major who once aspired to become an opera singer. 

Beyond theater, he enjoys gathering with friends, especially during summertime, enjoying the beach and good company. Actively engaged in his community, Roderick serves on the board of the historic Auditorium Theater at Roosevelt University, advocating for diverse programming. 

He also prioritizes supporting organizations serving the LGBTQ+ community, particularly those led by Black individuals, recognizing the importance of representation and support within these spaces.

He proudly supports the Chicago Black Gay Men Caucus, led by Keith R. Green, and the Brave Space Alliance, helmed by his friend Channyn Lynne Parker.

“I’ve had a diverse group of mentors who saw potential in me that I didn’t see in myself and looked out for me throughout my journey. Some individuals showed me what kind of supervisor I didn’t want to be, teaching me valuable lessons. One piece of advice from my mother, whom I miss every day, has always stuck with me: ‘Always be nice to people because you never know when you might need them.’ While it’s not always easy to be nice, her point was that I can’t control how others show up but can control how I do.”

Leadership and Legacy

Roderick K. Hawkins is the Associate Dean of External Affairs and Chief of Staff at Northwestern University’s School of Communication. He collaborates closely with the Dean to implement the school’s strategic vision and oversees teams managing communications, events, high school initiatives, and performing arts venues in Evanston and Chicago.

Before his role at Northwestern, Hawkins served as Communications Director at Advance Illinois and Deputy Chief of Staff for Public Engagement in the office of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel. 

He has also held positions such as Vice President of External Affairs at the Chicago Urban League and Deputy Press Secretary to former Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco. Hawkins has been recognized for his leadership and contributions, receiving honors such as the Chicago Defender Men of Excellence and the Center on Halsted Human First Award. Additionally, he serves on the board of directors for the Illinois Sports Facilities Authority and as vice-chair of the board for the Auditorium Theatre. Hawkins is also an advisory board member for iHeartMedia Chicago and the Black Information Network, and he previously served on the board of Lambda Legal.

Roderick Hawkins considers his 2023 Center on Halsted Human First Award the most significant recognition he has received. This award holds a special place in his heart because it reminds him of his mother.

“I remember vividly the call from Modesto Tico Valle, the then-CEO of the Center on Halsted. He informed me that I was selected for the Halsted Human First Award, one of their highest honors, which left me overwhelmed and in tears, as I immediately thought of my mother. Though I couldn’t call her to share the news, I felt her presence and knew that my accomplishments were a testament to her unwavering support,” he said. 

My sister Carla flew in from Houston the night I received the award, bringing everything full circle. Despite the absence of my parents, I felt their spirit with me, especially as the award celebrated my authenticity and contributions as an openly gay Black man. It was a recognition of my work and my journey and identity, and I know my mother would have been immensely proud.”

Champion for LGBTQ+ Rights

Hawkins emphasizes that fostering greater understanding and acceptance of LGBTQ individuals within the Black community isn’t solely the responsibility of LGBTQ people.

He asserts that LGBTQ individuals have always been present as family members, military personnel, churchgoers, and professionals in every industry. He believes that it is up to those who are not LGBTQ to recognize this presence and humanity.

[perfectpullquote align=”full” bordertop=”false” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]”We’ve always been here. We are your brothers, sisters, aunties, uncles, cousins, mother, and father. We are here, and we’ve been here. We are in the military, we’re in churches, and we are leading in churches. We’re in every industry. It is up to people who are not blessed to be like us (laughs) to understand we are all human,” he said.[/perfectpullquote]

Despite being named a 2024 Chicago Defender Men of Excellence honoree, Hawkins acknowledges that The Chicago Defender is an iconic publication, having played a crucial role in assisting Black individuals during the Great Migration from the South. Roderick K. Hawkins feels deeply honored to be associated with such an influential paper. Its impact is not only historical but also personal for him. Growing up in Baton Rouge, he watched the Bud Billiken Parade on WGN, which stimulated his connection to Chicago.

Now, being part of its legacy and collaborating with the publication is a tremendous gift for him. He is grateful for the opportunity to engage in this meaningful dialogue and be honored as a Men of Excellence. He hopes the Defender continues its vital work for many years to come.

 

During and beyond Pride Month, The Chicago Defender uplifts the voices and stories of our Black LGBTQ+ members.

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