Pops, Unc and Me: How Three Black Queer Men Decades Apart Bridged The Generation Gap
When Nathan Townsend, 68, extended an invitation to Black gay men in a private Facebook group to attend Disney’s 2019 “The Lion King” live-action remake, he didn’t expect the initial excitement and RSVPs to result in a party of two. Nor did Darriyhan Edmond, 27, when he arrived at the AMC Theater at Camp Creek Marketplace to find himself as one half of an unfamiliar duo with a man old enough to be his grandfather. With a 41-year age difference and vastly different life experiences—Townsend had never seen the original 1994 film—the unlikely movie duo claimed their seats inside of the theater and opened the door to a friendship that neither of them saw coming.
“He was talking louder than the movie was playing. So that in itself was a moment,” said Edmond. “And I was like, even though he's a lot older than I am, he's no different from me.”
“It wasn't intended to be just him and I, but that's how it played out,” said Townsend.
After the film, the two grabbed dinner at a nearby Chili’s restaurant.
“The things we discussed at the table. No topic was off-limits,” said Edmond. “We were both open and honest about certain things. We shared experiences. It was a connection that automatically happened.”
Townsend recalls feeling the same.
“Literally from that moment, we became inseparable,” he said.
Like Townsend—who works as an HIV Prevention Manager and is a Philadelphia transplant—Edmond, a Gary, Indiana native and an HIV Peer Support Specialist at THRIVE SS, relocated to Atlanta in 2015 in search of community, which he found through Undetectables Atlanta (UA); a private Facebook group that provides support and brotherhood for Black queer men living with HIV. It was through the THRIVE SS/UA network that the duo soon became a trio.
Enter Thaddeus Works, 56, a retired law enforcement professional whose routine visits to the THRIVE SS headquarters in Southwest Atlanta where he’d often see Edmond, wave hello, and then continue with his day, all of a sudden became less routine.
“I met Darriyhan three years ago. He was working with THRIVE [SS] and I used to come into the office and throw my hands up [in a gesture to say hello],” Works said. “And then one day I was talking to Larry [Walker, Executive Director of THRIVE SS]. I was trying to give Larry a hug, and I opened my arms and Darriyhan came up and hugged me. So that's how that happened,” he said.
According to Works, Edmond was given a special nickname after other men in their circle began to observe their budding friendship.
“They call him Oba’s baby,” Works said, referring to the Yoruba term Oba, which often precedes his first name and is defined as the ruler or king.
“Now they named him that out of jealousy, but it stuck perfectly,” Works said.
And as far as Edmond was concerned, if he was Oba’s baby, Works was his “Pops.”
“Without him knowing or without it being forced, he had already demonstrated and given me the love and care that a pops would give. So it just happened naturally,” Edmond said.
But where did Edmond’s new friendship with Works leave Townsend?
“There was a moment when I could have easily paused and said, why are you picking him? What am I? Where do I fit in this? But it wasn't how that was planned,” Townsend said. “And so I became his uncle, and Thaddeus became his dad.”
Townsend says that he and Works play an individual and collective role in their friendship with Edmond.
“There are conversations that Thaddeus and I have about him that he doesn’t even know about,” Townsend said. “There's been things that he's going through that we conference about, almost like we are parents in how we show up.”
Although Townsend does not have biological children of his own, he tells The Reckoning that being a parental figure—who also happens to be same gender loving and living with HIV—to Edmond allows him to live out his parental instinct.
“It’s so emotionally fulfilling because it gives me purpose. It also reassures me that I'm pouring into somebody else and that I can see the instant growth,” he said.
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