The 'First' of our First Black Presidents, Devontae Torriente: 1.23.18

The travels began on January 22nd as we landed in Atlanta from Florida and set off on our first stop on the Sincerely, the Black Kids filming tour/mini tour of the south: the rental car agency. Not that it's even relevant but since I probably won't get the chance to say this in the documentary, Enterprise > Hertz if you ever need a rental. Hertz was trippin'.

We embarked on the nine hour road trip in halves, posting up in a highway hotel overnight through to the 23rd. For our first day out, most of it was a scenic car trip through the confederate flags of Virginia and the Carolinas until we hit the home base of the making America wack again movement, Washington D.C. It took us until midday to arrive, but even with it being 45's backyard D.C. has been one of my favorite cities since my first visit last year, where the project was originally conceived:

In the summer of 2017, the aforementioned NCLC Presidential Leadership conference was where fellow co-president Paul Loriston, Vice President Cheikhou Kane and current New College Student Alliance president Ximena Pedroza (shout-out) first communed with the nation's other university student government presidents and cabinets. I'm not going to act like I remember the finest details of the conference programming: I reserved most of my memory bank for the turn up that followed. That may not be the most professional thing to admit, but I also saw Peppermint from season 9 of Drag Race perform that same night and I have no regrets.

The most substantive part of our trek, in my opinion, was the smaller fellowships that went down in-between the Garden Party-ing. As student governments ran into each other for the first (and for some combinations, last) time, we crossed paths with American University's Devontae Torriente.

Devontae was American's first black, openly queer president of their reformed student government. He was the outgoing president at the time, if at all evidenced by the cool, almost relieved demeanor he seemed to share with us. Interestingly enough, he was accompanied by AU's incoming president at the time, who we recognized from the national headlines of her swearing being met with hung nooses in her hallway, bananas with her name written on it and these same bananas thrown at black women in the halls. I had only briefly remembered these headlines before actually introducing myself to them, and once I realized who they were, I couldn't help but think to myself, "Damn. And I thought our school had us fucked up?"

Nonetheless, it turns out Devontae had a lot more in common with us than we realized. Yes he was similarly his institution's first black student body president and decided not to run again, but he was connected to their campus' chapter of community antidiscrimination activism network Million Hoodies as we were with the West Florida chapter. It was actually through the Million Hoodies founder and executive director Dante Barry and West Florida chapter leader Daje Austrie that I was able to rediscover this connection and lock in Devontae for an interview literally the night before our flight. Y'all won't be able to tell when this drops, but the Million Hoodies gave this film it's first deus ex machina.

Devontae met up with us at American University that evening with a million dollar smile like he was on his glow up. I appreciated his willingness to meet up so last minute because real recognized real and I could tell he was similarly over this shit: in an accomplished and deserved "well done, my good and faithful" type of way. He gave us a scintillating interview about his time as president, telling us about his own struggles with racialized perceptions and how he's moved forward since. As I would come to find with AU, every interview would come with a new incident I've never before heard of; not everything makes the news. No spoilers, but dude was the real deal. American University student leaders are some of the hardest working movers and shakers I've ran into so far.

Though it would be our last time running into him during our trip, he gave us a rubric for where to go and who to talk to for the project that would ultimately reshape the entire structure of what I thought the doc would be. Now, we found ourselves on a short tour of American University, soon to interview students, staff and graduate student alike. For this day, though, we retreated back to the hotel, eager for our next and final day in D.C. 

Not to make this an afternoon special or whatever, but let this go to show that asking for help is one of the best decisions you can make when going about your art professionally. Yeah we all want to be self-made, but no one makes it without their people(s). D.C. was a stop in the trip that wasn't going to happen 24 hours before we got on that plane, but now will open the whole show with a two day splash. Shout out to the Million Hoodies crew for making the magic all happen: Dante, Daje and Devontae. Also shout out to how lit the assonance of your names are. Y'all should make an R&B album together and go by The Accent Marks <3. 

Sincerely, Miles Iton
Yes these are going to be retroactive.