FreedomTwoLove started in the spring of 2014 as a mere desire of hope and a chance to fulfill an undeniable need. During my senior year at THE Fort Valley State University, I had the opportunity to serve as Vice President of the Student Government Association and what good is any leader if they don’t use their platform to benefit the platform of others?
Historically Black Colleges & Universities (HBCUs) are a necessary staple in the Black community and every campus is a consistent celebration of Black excellence and culture from fashion to music and so much more. However, just like in the general populated Black community, sexuality isn’t something paraded nor a voluntary public discussion most likely to be overheard. When it comes to knowing about the “Who’s Who?” of the LGBTQ+ community, outside of your friends or roommates that get a first look at nearly every visitor that comes to your room, it’s either easily visually identified or signaled through gossip. There’s hardly ever an organization or safe space on a Black campus provided for the community to knowingly rejoice in their being as opposed to that of the predominantly white institutions that are widely known to have organizations such as the Gay-Straight Alliance. Simply put - and generally speaking - black families don’t talk gay and since most of us were raised in Bible-thumping Christian environments that also give an automatic side-eye to the idea of therapy, we’re equipped to think that we can get by “sleeping on it” whenever we’re faced with an obstacle of any sort despite knowing deep down that we need to be celebrated ad surrounded by our own through both trial and triumph. Ultimately, you can correctly assume that these exact learned behaviors are modeled both seamlessly and identically within the family formed within our campuses. We find our little cliques and we just simply get by. Yet, we all know it isn’t enough. So I answered the call for more. My community without our community needed it.
At the time I was only focused on constructing a one-time event that showcased us since I was graduating in a few months and since I was truly infatuated with the work of the #NOH8 campaign, I presented, “#NOH8: Addressing the Misconceptions of the LGBTQ+ community,” in a tri-folded effort to: 1) give the LGBTQ+ students on campus a space that both welcomed and celebrated them, 2) help them visually acknowledge the support they had in their allies, and 3) extend an opportunity to our heterosexual peers to better understand who we are. I was more nervous than you could ever imagine especially knowing this hadn’t ever been done on the campus, but the event ended with a packed house, an overflow of smile and an undeniable aura of change that it provided me with an invitation to return back to my alma mater in 2015 to host another event that I rightfully called, “Part II.” The ongoing success and praises made it imperative that I start something real that stretched out from behind the shadows of the #NOH8 movement. Thus, FreedomTwoLove.
Freedom is defined as the power to act, speak, or think as one wants without hindrance or restraint. Two is used as unique wordplay to be inclusive of both gay and lesbian love. Love is unconditionally self-explanatory as it endures all things.
After the birth of FreedomTwoLove, I hit the ground running with merchandise, events, monthly blog postings and so much more. The feedback continued to be incredible, but I eventually hit a dead end. A creative block and a true lack of motivation brought on by the place I was in my life. After graduating from FVSU, I attended Georgia Tech with my eyes on the prize of obtaining my doctorate in Chemistry, yet, truthfully speaking, my difference from the vast majority made all the difference. That period of misery created a ripple of negative occurrences even after I left Tech and concluded in a vision so fogged that I stopped it all. After almost a year, supporters of the brand began to ask if FreedomTwoLove was still a thing…a question I would usually ignore due to the simple fear of admitting that I wasn’t sure. However, interestingly enough, my saving grace was on the giving end of a cuss out. My fiancé, Kia, stood by my side through it all…the anger, the frustration, the emptiness, and the sporadic tears. More importantly, just like for all of the areas in my life now, she was my backbone then and she had finally reached a point where enough had truly been enough. She wasn’t going to continue to let me rot in that negative space and she was the vessel God used to remind me not only of my worth but my purpose. Sometimes that “get off your ass” type of tough love can come from the people we love the most and, that time, it was like the burning slap to the back of the neck you got from your friends growing up when you did/said something stupid. Yet, this one hit different - just like the idea that followed.
At the time, Kia had owned a business that she named “Lizzie’s Print & Vinyl Designs” after her great grandmother in which she created and produced custom idea including hats, fanny packs, book bags, glasses of all sizes, and t-shirts that celebrated every joyful moment of life that you could possibly think of. She started it because she had her ridiculously huge family would repeatedly spend crazy amounts of money outsourcing shirts for every family function. She knew she was creative and trusted that she could bet it all on herself to get it done, so she did. It quickly became more than just a passion, but an outlet and source of escape as she would spend hours creating designs just to feed her own thought and creativity and within some of those hours she created our now very popular “Love is…Love” designs. I remember her being so proud to show me the design, but what I especially remember is the non-verbally communicated lightbulb idea we shared at that moment knowing that we could truly create something great.
We relaunched FreedomTwoLove in a way that features both our gifts. Our ideas are nourished together, but when you see the blogs, that’s me - Rena, but when you get your shirts, that’s all Kia. I’m more like the sour patch kid that unconsciously messes up any shirt I put my hands on and she’s more of the blunt, non-filtered type of person, so we both stay in our respective lanes. We’re partners that are partners and it’s truly been an incredible ride thus far and we’re excited you are along the journey with us. We will continue to release blogs on the 2nd of every month, we will continue to host events that spill love into our community like our recent #LoveSack event geared toward providing hygiene kits to the less fortunate in the Atlanta area, we will continue to scream that love is love in every corner of the world, we will continue to commit ourselves to the ongoing fight for equality in all its forms…and oh yeah, might I add, we ain’t goin’ nowhere! Pride exists because members of the LGBTQ+ community continue to face obstacles and be greeted with violence just for unapologetically living in our skin. There appears to be an onset of double trials for every triumph we experience, but as long as each of us and our allies continue to have breath in our bodies, the marathon will always continue.