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Michael Hickerson was born in New Orleans in 1955. His dad was a longshoreman, and his mom ran the cafeteria at New Orleans City Hall.

As a kid, Michael was “the gayest kid in the neighborhood”, which got him bullied plenty. Fortunately, he had a posse of boyfriends to defend him. He also defended himself, with humor and sometimes by fighting. Although he didn’t win many of those fights, the neighborhood kids saw he wasn’t a pushover.

After high school, Michael enrolled at Southern University in New Orleans, but he wasn’t ready for the rigors and discipline of academia. So from age 21 until he was 37, he tended bar at various New Orleans gay bars, which were mostly white at the time. The bar owners used Michael’s blackness, good looks and charm to attract customers, and Michael used these qualities to his advantage as well. Working in the bars also opened up the opportunity for Michael to participate in New Orleans’ famous gay carnival balls – to be in the spotlight – which he loved.

During this time, Michael contracted HIV. Assuming that he would soon get sick, and would no longer be able to work in bars, Michael re-enrolled at Southern, earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in social work, and embarked upon a long career of helping people with HIV/AIDS, and others in need. Ultimately, Michael founded In This Together (ITT), a non-profit community-based organization providing comprehensive supportive services to individuals and families. In addition to still serving at the agency’s executive director today, Michael has served as vice-chair of the Louisiana State Board of Social Workers, as an adjunct professor at Southern University’s School of Social Work, and on the board of the Katrina recovery agency Lower Nine. 

Michael and his partner David, a retired university administrator, have been together for 29 years. Together, they restored a vintage 1912 craftsman college in Slidell, just across Lake Pontchartrain from New Orleans. Michael has also been mentoring a young man named Chad for more than 10 years – and this year, will take Chad to enroll in college.

OUTWORDS interviewed Michael in July 2017 at the offices of ITT in Slidell. Deafening thunder shook the building. Then came pelting rain. Inside, Michael was warm, funny, engaging. At a couple of moments, he was so grief struck, he couldn’t speak. The gayest kid in the neighborhood, and his beloved hometown of New Orleans, have both survived enormous tragedies with their spirits intact. 
Natalie Tsui: [00:00:00] Roll. Speed.
Mason Funk: So do me a favor, start off by stating and spelling your first and last names.
Michael Hickerson: First and last names?
Mason Funk: Well, first name-
Michael Hickerson: And last name.
Mason Funk: ... and last name, that's two names.
Michael Hickerson: My name is Michael Hickerson. It's spelled M-I-C-H-A-E-L, Hickerson, H-I-C-K-E-R-S-O-N.
Mason Funk: Okay. I can tell, already-
Mason Funk: Sorry-
Mason Funk: I got you. If you lean back very much, your chair squeaks.
Michael Hickerson: Okay.
Mason Funk: [00:00:30] So, either we need to find some WD-40, or just try not to ...
Mason Funk: You can swivel ...
Natalie Tsui: Actually, it looks really weird to swivel. I mean ... Yeah, it's best if you just plant both your feet on the ground and try not to rock.
Michael Hickerson: Try not to-
Mason Funk: Or just try-
Natalie Tsui: Because basically, if you're on interview it'll just look like ... [crosstalk].
Michael Hickerson: Look kind of crazy. Okay.
Mason Funk: And then, please tell me your birthdate and where you were born.
Michael Hickerson: [00:01:00] I was born September 28, 1955 in New Orleans, Louisiana.
Mason Funk: So you were in ... You're our first New Orleans native-
Michael Hickerson: Really?
Mason Funk: Interview. Everyone else was either born on the outskirts or came here from somewhere else. Why are you called "Fish?"
Michael Hickerson: Well-
Mason Funk: And this is [crosstalk]. I'm called "Fish."
Michael Hickerson: The first question. The first ... Oh see, I swiveled. The first question. Many, many years ago, I worked for the gay newspaper, Impact Newspaper.
Michael Hickerson: [00:01:30] We had a ... The editor, who's publisher/editor, Roy Leston, who's a very, very funny but very witty, but bright, bright, bright guy. In the African-American community, that word "Fish" referred to women. So, I got all dressed up and all dolled up in drag one day to do a drag show, a benefit drag show, and he saw me in drag, didn't recognize me, and he called me "Fish."
Michael Hickerson: [00:02:00] And it stuck, and it's been with me for the rest of my life. Can't get around it, so I ... It's a term of endearment. It's cool.
Mason Funk: So, I can't resist asking the following question because it's not my culture. In African-American community, when you refer to women as "Fish," how does that work? Is it a little denigrating, or ...?
Michael Hickerson: Yeah, it is, yeah, and I'd rather not talk about that, because it is. But, it stuck, it stuck.
Mason Funk: [00:02:30] So, tell me about ... Just paint me a little picture of your family, your family origin, who you were born to, your mom and your dad, siblings. Just, paint me a picture of your family.
Michael Hickerson: Well, I was born to Sadie and Charlie Hickerson. We lived in an area of New Orleans called Central City. Central City is an African-American community.
Michael Hickerson: [00:03:00] Very, very poor community, but we were all a very loving and very happy community. It was a wonderful place to grow up in. That's where I grew up, until the age of 12. I have one sister and two brothers, by my mom's second marriage. My mom's first marriage produced two more sisters and a brother. So, it's seven of us all together.
Michael Hickerson: [00:03:30] I went to elementary school at a school called McDonald 36. I went there from kindergarten to sixth grade. When I graduated from sixth grade, my parents moved. Took us from the ghetto and moved us uptown. Moved us uptown to a community that we really did not know. The community was totally white. Totally white community.
Michael Hickerson: [00:04:00] So, here we come, we settle into this white community. We lived on a street, Octavia Street. We live 826 Octavia Street. My parents mustered up enough money to purchase a home, and took us uptown. We get uptown and, we were kids, all four of us. We were small kids. These are kids by my mom's second marriage. All four us, we were small kids.
Michael Hickerson: [00:04:30] We moved into this huge house. We moved into an area that we really knew absolutely nothing about. We were displaced from our friends, and stuff like that; but, it was a better place. My mom told us it was a better place for us. So, we moved there, and we settled in, about a week or two, and then the strangest thing happened.
Michael Hickerson: [00:05:00] All of these "For Sale" signs started popping up all around the neighborhood, especially the block in which we lived in, on the street we lived in. All these "For Sale" signs started popping up. Well, we were kids. We knew absolutely nothing about what was going on, and I really did not understand that until much later in my life, that this was a racial thing. That people were moving out, or were trying to sell their homes because we had moved in.
Michael Hickerson: [00:05:30] They had no blacks up there, no blacks in the neighborhood, in the area, and we moved in. So, they started selling their homes. I think they judged us, they pre-judged us. They did not know who we were, and they didn't try to get to know who we were.
Michael Hickerson: [00:06:00] We were kids, we didn't understand it. But my parents, they understood it, and they tried to shield us away from it by not talking about it, by just letting things happen. Tried to do the best they could to handle the situation, which was absolutely nothing. They were powerless. So, that happened. That happened for them, I think, unsuccessfully.
Michael Hickerson: [00:06:30] Who wanted to buy their house? Because we were there. No one else wanted to come in to the neighborhood and buy because we were there. It was just strange. So, they eventually had to stay in these houses. Then they got to know us. They got to know us and things changed in the community. Things changed, I think for the better for them. We were okay, we were okay. We were fine.
Michael Hickerson: [00:07:00] I think, they eventually got ... because they got to know us and know who we were, and respected who my parents were, and respected who the children were, were able to settle down and just live in their houses and live in the community. Eventually over the years, it became one big community, with the black family. It was strange. That was a strange time, but-
Mason Funk: [00:07:30] So, the signs just basically came down again? The signs which you-
Michael Hickerson: The signs all came down. They all came down, and eventually those folk died, living in that community. They understood us, we understood them, the cultures sort of blended. And we just lived happy lives after that. It was strange. It was a strange time.
Mason Funk: [00:08:00] Is it because that was probably the time when there was so-called white flight?
Michael Hickerson: There was, and that's exactly what was happening there, in a white community. In a white community where there was only one African-American family that moved in and they decided that it was time to go. But, as ...
Mason Funk: That's amazing. So, you on one hand, say you don't really remember what was going on, but you ... Do you think it had any impact ... I mean, it must have had an impact on you, moving into an all-white neighborhood. How did you feel about that? Or were you just not ...?
Michael Hickerson: [00:08:30] We were not conscious of it. We knew we weren't living where our friends were. We knew we had to travel to get to ... Well, we weren't conscious of race. We knew ... I mean, our parents never taught us about white people, black people, or anything like that. We always lived in this community, and it was always fine, and then we moved into another community and I'm sure they thought it was fine, and we never sat down and discussed it.
Michael Hickerson: [00:09:00] We were little children. I think kids are impressionable. That's where hatred is learned, at a real early age. So, our parents didn't tell us anything about it. They just let what happened happen. They just let it happen. What's so strange about it ... The same thing happened all over again for me in my adult life.
Mason Funk: [00:09:30] (Sneezes) I'm so sorry. Sorry, the same thing happened.
Michael Hickerson: Strange. I went through the same thing again in my adult life. Let me just digress, go back. I always knew who I was. I always knew I was a gay person.
Michael Hickerson: [00:10:00] The word "Gay" came along much later in my life. I always knew I was a sissy. I always knew ... That was the name that was called to you when you were a kid in African-American communities if you were a sissy. I always knew that. Not just because of the names that were called to me. I mean, I knew I was different and I knew I liked boys, and I knew all those things.
Michael Hickerson: [00:10:30] And growing up back in the 60s, in my era, those are things that you kept a secret. Those are things that you kept quiet. You didn't talk about it. While they called it to you, you didn't talk about, "Yes, I'm a sissy," or something like that. You tried to act differently. All the while, knowing that you were. You were, yeah. So ...
Mason Funk: And for example, you would talk to your mom about it.
Michael Hickerson: [00:11:00] No, did not talk to my parents about it. But I always think, and I do believe this, your parents, especially your mom, your mom knows before you know. Every mother knows her child, whether she wants to believe it or not, they know. And I always thought my mom knew, so I thought there was no need to discuss this, or anything like that. Because I thought, maybe it would burden her even more, so why do you want to do that? You don't want to do that.
Mason Funk: [00:11:30] So, you knew you were a sissy growing up-
Michael Hickerson: Yes, yes. And then as I grew up, I began to understand the different words that are ... or labels that are me, that's me, that's put upon me. And I understood the word "Gay."
Mason Funk: You started by saying, "The same thing happened to me as an adult."
Michael Hickerson: [00:12:00] Here I go, here I go. Discovering me, discovering "Gay," and looking through magazines and trying to understand the word "Gay." And I ran across a magazine that my neighbor, the white guy that lived next door to me, put in his trash. He put it, all these Paula magazines in his trash, and I'm reading magazines. So, I got the magazines out of his trash and I read them. They were all these magazines, and in all the magazines was this word " Gay."
Michael Hickerson: [00:12:30] All these magazines. Hmmm ... So, I started putting two and two together, and I realized he was gay. I realized that the man next door to me was gay. After reading the magazines and seeing what happens at his house, and who comes and who goes, and all that kind of stuff, and I realized he was.
Michael Hickerson: [00:13:00] But, looking at these magazines from his trash taught me a lot. It taught me that there are places for people like me in the city, in New Orleans. Through those magazines, I found some addresses and I ventured out.
Mason Funk: What age are we talking about now, roughly?
Michael Hickerson: I'm sorry?
Mason Funk: What age?
Michael Hickerson: [00:13:30] We're talking about 22 years old, 21, 22 years old. I found places where gay people hung out at. I found bars and stuff. Bars that some of them still exist now. I found those things, and then I started frequenting them. At first I ... I see it happen now. I see people pass by the bars and look in, and then they pass by and they don't look.
Michael Hickerson: [00:14:00] And then the next thing you know their peep their head in, and before you know it they're sitting on a bar stool having a drink. Well, I did the same thing. I did the exact same thing, so I see it now. I say, "Poor thing, come on in. It's going to be fine." I usually tell people ...
Mason Funk: [crosstalk]
Michael Hickerson: But the same thing happened to me. You eventually get enough courage and you go in. You order a Coke and they look at you strange, "Coke?" You know, you're in a bar. This is not a sweet shop.
Mason Funk: [00:14:30] Let me ask you this. Prior to this ... When you said 21, 22, I thought maybe you were going to say 15 and 16. During those years, were you aware but just not having any experiences?
Michael Hickerson: Yes.
Mason Funk: What were you doing with this feeling during those years?
Michael Hickerson: During those years, I-
Mason Funk: [crosstalk]
Michael Hickerson: [00:15:00] During my 15, 16 years old, I was very much aware of who I was, and I had had experiences with other guys. I mean, I began to have experiences with other guys, I think, at the age about 12, 11 or 12. A feeling and experience that I enjoyed. While I didn't know what I was doing, I enjoyed it. So, that started.
Michael Hickerson: [00:15:30] That part of my life was no problem, because I was able to ... There were boys in my neighborhood who wanted to experience me. I don't know if they wanted ... I don't know what their thoughts were, but whatever it is, it probably felt good to them, because I knew it felt good to me, and we kept doing it. So, that part of the life, that was cool.
Michael Hickerson: [00:16:00] It was the social part. That piece of it ... These were boys that would do things with you sexually, and they wouldn't do anything else with you. These were thing that you didn't tell, you kept secret. Funny, you know, funny. Because-
Mason Funk: And they probably had girlfriends.
Michael Hickerson: They had girlfriends, and stuff like that. And I see these guys now, at 61 years old, and we just say, "How you doing," and keep going.
Michael Hickerson: [00:16:30] I mean, I'm cool with it. I can talk to them about it. It's them. But that's cool, I understand that. But let me go back to when I said I experienced that isolation that we experienced when I was 12 years old, when we moved to the white neighborhood. I experienced it again.
Michael Hickerson: [00:17:00] When I finally got enough nerve to go into that gay bar. I finally got enough nerve to go up, and I discovered it, I found it, I dressed up, I got pretty, and I finally got enough nerve to walk in it. When I walked into it, I began to experience that same thing again. That isolation, those signs coming up, "For Sale."
Michael Hickerson: [00:17:30] The same thing. It was a period of time when blacks ... when the gay bars and the gay community was predominately white. It was predominately white. There were not very many blacks or African-Americans in that communities, and I began to experience the same thing.
Michael Hickerson: [00:18:00] Being last to be served at the bar. When you're sitting up at the bar and all the white guys getting their drinks before you. For me, it translated back to the "For Sale" signs. It translated right back to that. I began to feel that same isolation that I felt when I was 12 years old.
Michael Hickerson: [00:18:30] What was so strange, in those magazines, I saw all of this fun. I saw all of this laughter, I saw all of this excitement, I saw all these people laughing and talking in these magazines; and you're thinking, "I want to be a part of that," never realizing that, "Hmm, there're no black people in these pictures."
Michael Hickerson: [00:19:00] You know, never realizing that, because you're so overwhelmed with the fact that you found a place where you can be you at. You never realize the things that were very obvious in these pictures. You never realize that. So, I went. I went to the bar. It was called ... It's the Bourbon Pub now, but it was called The Caverns back then. It was called The Caverns.
Michael Hickerson: [00:19:30] It didn't last very long before the name changed and turned into Bourbon Pub. The Caverns? The Caverns, yes. It was like a cave in there. It's years ago. But yeah, I felt the same thing that happened in my neighborhood, I felt that there. But ...-
Mason Funk: [00:20:00] How did you combat, or deal with, or not deal with that? Did you stop going?
Michael Hickerson: No.
Mason Funk: What did you do?
Michael Hickerson: I never stopped going. I endured it. I would sit there, by myself. The bartenders were friendly, they would talk. And then, you know, I kept going. Because as hurtful as it was, I still felt comfortable. I still felt a little comfort, and I still felt like ...
Michael Hickerson: [00:20:30] The bartenders were still talking to me. Then I eventually got to meet the bartenders, and they go to know me. I became a regular there.
Mason Funk: [crosstalk]
Michael Hickerson: Then they started introducing me to other clientele that was there. Then, I guess someone invited me to go to another bar, and then I got introduced there, and things started.
Michael Hickerson: [00:21:00] Things started for me. For me. Then I ... I still was puzzled. There were no black people. Where are the black people? There's got to be some black folk. But I would go out at one oclock in the daytime. I mean, I was excited.
Michael Hickerson: [00:21:30] I found this place, I can't wait to get up and get out of here so I can go to this place. There weren't many people in the bars at one oclock in the daytime, and the majority of them, all of them, practically, were white. All of them were white.
Mason Funk: So where were the black folks? Where were they?
Michael Hickerson: Well, it took me a while. It took me a while to figure it out, but I did. They were all at work. They were at work! I was going too early.
Michael Hickerson: [00:22:00] People were working! The later I started coming out, the more African-Americans, black folk, that I began to see. I realized that, in New Orleans, the majority of black folk didn't come out till night. They didn't come out till 8:00, 9:00 at night.
Michael Hickerson: [00:22:30] But I didn't know that. It took me a while to figure it out. It took me a while to figure out that ... Well, I wasn't working. I was staying with my parents. I wasn't working, I was going to school. And having to figure this all out myself, not having anyone to talk to. Not a absolute soul to talk to. Also, understanding, to myself, that this is secret. I can't tell anyone this.
Michael Hickerson: [00:23:00] So, I'm discovering this all on my own, and trying to figure it out, and put it all together, even though I figured out that the next door neighbor was a gay man, I still ... We had no relationship for me to be able to talk to him. He was much older. We had no relationship for me to be able to talk to and to understand all of this, how it works. So you had to figure it out. "
Michael Hickerson: [00:23:30] And I did. I tried my best to figure it out by understanding, "Well, I came out at 5:00, there's 10. Let's try 7:00.
Mason Funk: Well, was there in fact, apart from the time that you went ... because this is one of the things .... You're the first African-American person here we've ... Well, we've only done one day of interviews so far, but I'm trying to understand, because I've read a lot about the bars in New Orleans. I'm trying to understand, were they in fact somewhat segregated? Was there a difference? It was more than just going at the right time?
Michael Hickerson: [00:24:00] Sure. The bars were segregated. I realized ... When I was going to the bars in the daytime, it gave an opportunity, eventually it gave me an opportunity to meet people, and they, the bartenders, knew me.
Michael Hickerson: [00:24:30] Back then, and like I think now, bartenders control the space. They control the space. I used to tend bar. I tend bar for like 16 years, and I controlled my space. I knew who I wanted in there, I knew how I wanted it, and stuff like that. Although I didn't own the bar, I owned that period of time that I worked.
Michael Hickerson: [00:25:00] And those bartenders did also, back then. They controlled the space. You met a whole lot of people, or you were able to meet a whole lot of people, through the bartender because the bartender controlled it. I realized that I met the bartenders. As night fell, bartenders still controlled the space, and they controlled who could come in and who could not come in.
Michael Hickerson: [00:25:30] Lots of blacks could not come in. If they were ... And how they stopped it, how they controlled it I should say, is through identifications. Rather than have one identification, Louisiana identification card that said who you are, they had to have four. Three or four cards to say who they are in order to get in the bar.
Michael Hickerson: [00:26:00] That was control. That was controlling the space, and they knew, most African-Americans didn't have it, while our white counterparts didn't need anything to get in. All they needed to do was be white to get in. It happened like that. I saw the injustice. I saw it, because I was able to get in. They knew me. I had made friends with them, I was able to get in.
Michael Hickerson: [00:26:30] And I saw it, so I used that. I used them knowing me to get my friends in. "They're with me, they're with me, they're with me, they're with me, and they're with me." And eventually, they met them and then they were able to start coming in. But during that period of time, we had a little protest. We had a little protest around the bars about these carding African-Americans.
Michael Hickerson: [00:27:00] Having one picture ID is fine. Having three or four picture IDs, no one ... It was insane. No one had those kind of IDs. Where do you get them from?
Mason Funk: So, what form did this protest take? What happened? What did you do?
Michael Hickerson: The bars eventually stopped carding.
Mason Funk: Yeah but, I mean, in order to accomplish that, the protest.
Michael Hickerson: We held signs and we marched around the bars, and stuff like that.
Mason Funk: [00:27:30] What did the signs say?
Michael Hickerson: Oh god. "No three IDs," or something like that. "One ID." "Why me?" Something like that. I don't remember, but I do know some of our white counterparts joined the protests. They joined the protests. And it wasn't that big, but it was effective, it was effective.
Michael Hickerson: [00:28:00] Some of the bars insisted on having it their way, and they didn't budge. I think Lafitte's was one of them, Caf Lafitte's was one of them, one of those bars that insisted on having a bar that was white men. One of the bars. And it's ironic, because I was the first black to actually tend bar there, many years later.
Michael Hickerson: [00:28:30] First black to work for them, in a position other than a janitor.
Mason Funk: Were there black bars? Were there, more or less, blacks only spaces?
Michael Hickerson: There was. There was one black bar during my ... there were two. One closed down right after I came out. It was called Lafitte's in ...? No, not Lafitte's in Exile. I'll think of it.
Michael Hickerson: [00:29:00] But the other bar, gay bar, was called Tuckys Dome. It was on Claiborne Avenue outside of the French Quarter. Maybe about six blocks on the other side of the French Quarter, in the Treme area, what's called a Treme area now. That's where the gay bar was.
Mason Funk: The gay black bar.
Michael Hickerson: [00:29:30] The gay black bar, yeah. But it was originally a straight bar, and the gay folks start frequenting it, and eventually it turned into a gay bar. That was the gay bar that I most frequented during my time. It eventually closed down, so there's a ... a couple gay bars popped up, but that was the gay bar that was owned by African-Americans, but they were heterosexual, they were straight.
Michael Hickerson: [00:30:00] Then, when that closed, a few other bars opened up in the French Quarter that didn't start out African-American, but we start frequenting it and the white folks that were patronizing the bar, they stopped and blacks started. But they were always owned by white bar owners.
Mason Funk: [00:30:30] You know, one thing that someone like me, for example, obviously doesn't understand and won't understand easily, but how would you describe, in general terms, the degree of integration versus the degree of segregation in New Orleans as compared to, say, other big southern cities? How is New Orleans as compared, to say, Atlanta? How is it compared, to say, Houston? In terms of the way the racial-
Natalie Tsui: What's that sound?
Mason Funk: [00:31:00] Which sound?
Michael Hickerson: I hear ...
Natalie Tsui: Is it the AC? Is it [crosstalk]?
Michael Hickerson: I don't hear it now.
Natalie Tsui: It just is like "Tzzzzz."
Michael Hickerson: I heard that, but I don't hear it now.
Natalie Tsui: Its still on. It just started.
Mason Funk: Might be a plane?
Natalie Tsui: No, it's not a plane.
Mason Funk: I'm not hearing what you're hearing. I'm just not in the right frequency. Do you hear it? I mean, she has headphones on, she hears everything.
Michael Hickerson: I heard it.
Mason Funk: You heard it?
Natalie Tsui: It's this water cooler. Can I turn this cooler off?
Mason Funk: [00:31:30] Yeah.
Michael Hickerson: Yes.
Mason Funk: Yeah, everything's magnified here.
Michael Hickerson: God, she's got ears like my cat. The cat hears everything.
Mason Funk: Yeah, of course.
Michael Hickerson: God.
Natalie Tsui: I'm like a cat?
Michael Hickerson: Yes, my cat hears everything.
Natalie Tsui: Well, I have this plugged up really high, so.
Michael Hickerson: Everything!
Mason Funk: So, did you get the gist of my question?
Michael Hickerson: Yes.
Mason Funk: What do you know ... I mean, you haven't lived necessarily, but what do you-?
Michael Hickerson: [00:32:00] Exactly, exactly. I have not necessarily lived in Houston, Atlanta, Chicago, where there's a big black gay population, but I would imagine that, and from talking to people from those areas, who lived in those areas, it's basically the same. It's very difficult, back then, to be an African-American man and live in this gay society, because it's so white.
Michael Hickerson: [00:32:30] We're coming into a society, or a community, however you want to describe it, that's already there. And back then, there was still, and it still exists, just not quite as much as it did back then, but there is a whole lot of prejudice within the gay community.
Michael Hickerson: [00:33:00] And it's not only racial, it's economic, it's all these kind of things, education, all of that plays sexuality within, all of that plays a part in the homosexual community. And I like to say, gay community. We've even ... We had the ... gay and lesbian community. That's what we called it back in the late 70s.
Michael Hickerson: [00:33:30] We called it the gay and lesbian community. Well no, it's LGBTQ community. All these acronyms are starting to evolve. Everyone wants to have an identity within this larger gay community. Politicians just call us gay, and when they say that, they mean all of us.
Michael Hickerson: [00:34:00] Black, white, blue, green, male, female, transgender, all of that stuff. I think when we use these labels, we tend to separate more, and more, and more, and more, and more. Everyone wants their own island, you know?
Mason Funk: It's interesting, because this has been coming up recently in a couple conversations. It seems, for example, I've interviewed a lot of bisexual folk for this project, and they really fought to have that B added, and then of course the transgender folk really fought to have the T added.
Mason Funk: [00:34:30] To them, it's very important, but at the same time, I what you might be saying, is that it also creates kind of a fragmentation.
Michael Hickerson: It does.
Mason Funk: So, tell me about the relative value of adding letters if they also cause fragmentation.
Michael Hickerson: [00:35:00] I personally don't think that the letters add any value, I dont think. I think it sends a signal, or message, that we're separate. That I am different from you. When does it stop? We're all fighting for the same cause, we're all on the same page. Why can't we just be people, gay people?
Michael Hickerson: [00:35:30] Just be gay people. Whether you're an African-American man, African-American woman, Asian, we're all just gay people. I look it as being one big family, but-
Mason Funk: Do you understand why, for say bisexual people or trans people, that might not feel like that fits them?
Michael Hickerson: [00:36:00] Well, I understand what you're saying. Hmmm. If you're going to identify in the gay community, it's all one love. That's how I see it. I can't explain it any further. I just see one thing: gay. That's all I see.
Michael Hickerson: [00:36:30] Gay lesbian, gay man, gay woman, transgender, I just see it all as one. And that's just my view on it. From my era, that's all we were, and I think that's all we are.
Mason Funk: How about the word, just while we're going through the different terms we're using, how about the word "Queer?" How do you feel about that?
Michael Hickerson: I was called that.
Mason Funk: [00:37:00] Do me a favor, include the word "Queer" in your answer.
Michael Hickerson: Yeah, I was called queer. I was called sissy, I was called queer, I was called faggot, I was called all of those things. I know who I am. I'm a gay man, that's all. But, at least they recognized me when they called me that. While it was negative, at least they recognized that I was different from them. Sometimes you can make light of those kind of things. It's like water on a duck's back, it just rolls right off.
Mason Funk: [00:37:30] Right, and [crosstalk] laugh. Okay, we've covered a lot of territory. This is great. Now, let me ask you this. Were you old enough, or aware enough at the time, to know what the Upstairs Lounge Fire was?
Michael Hickerson: You know-
Mason Funk: And mention it in your answer.
Michael Hickerson: You know, the Upstairs Fire was one of those things that ... I was old enough to know, but I wasn't out, out in the community when it happened.
Michael Hickerson: [00:38:00] I was in 12th grade. I think it was in 1973, '74, something like that. I was in 12th grade in 1973. I remember hearing about it on television, and I had to see for myself, and I remember taking the bus and going down, taking the magazine bus and getting off at the end of the line on Canal Street, and having to walk one block across the street.
Michael Hickerson: [00:38:30] And there it was. I remember going to see it, yeah. A tragic thing, but I was 16, 17 years old, so I could not wrap it all around my head, in my mind. I couldn't, but I knew it was a fire and it was gay people.
Michael Hickerson: [00:39:00] As I got into the community, I met some folk who had survived the fire. I met folk who had people, friends, lovers, stuff like that, who died in the fire. I was able to meet some of those folk as I got out into the community.
Mason Funk: [00:39:30] Gotcha. Now, we're going to have to kind of jump forward a little bit, but what I do know of is that by 1983, you were the Chair, or ... Yeah, you were the Chair of Orleans Pride.
Michael Hickerson: Yes, but I tell you, but 1983 I had arrived. All those connections and all those many times sitting in the bar, not being recognized, not being noticed, and stuff like that, eventually paid off.
Michael Hickerson: [00:40:00] I got into ... I was recognized as a pretty cool black boy. You know what I'm saying? Pretty cool. I was recognized, and I begun to join the organizations. I began to understand how the community is working and what it takes on my part, to help it work better. That they needed African- American visibility in the forefront.
Michael Hickerson: [00:40:30] They needed us at the table, and I was willing to be a part of that, to bring whatever I knew about our community to the table and make sure we had a voice there. And in 1983, I was elected Chair of Gay Pride. That's what it was called back then, Gay Pride. It's been called several things since then, in New Orleans, but it was just Gay Pride back then, yes. It was our job to go ... Go ahead.
Mason Funk: [00:41:00] Oh, I'm sorry. I was going to say, when you say you recognize that they needed to bring black folk in. The gay whites seemed ... They needed to bring you in, I think you said just now that they needed to maybe bring you in and have some black folks as part of their community. Is that what you said? And if so, what did you mean when you say, "They needed?"
Michael Hickerson: [00:41:30] I think they understood-
Mason Funk: Tell me who you're talking about.
Michael Hickerson: I think, community folk, people in our community, understood that there was more to the community than just gay white boys and gay women. You know, white boys, and white girls. That there was a black culture, that there was a gay black community within the community. I was there. I was right visible in front of their face.
Michael Hickerson: [00:42:00] And so, I was invited to come to the meeting. As a result, I was able to bring more African-Americans to the meetings, and to participate, be more visible in our community.
Mason Funk: And did it feel like there was resistance?
Natalie Tsui: Can I pause for a second?
Mason Funk: Yeah.
Natalie Tsui: So, I've noticed that you're slowly shifting this way, so could you just shift [crosstalk] back?
Michael Hickerson: Shift that way, alright, okay.
Natalie Tsui: [00:42:30] I was like, you're slowly moving off of the camera.
Mason Funk: You're trying to get back to work.
Michael Hickerson: No! I've got that part taken care of.
Mason Funk: Good, youre alright.
Natalie Tsui: Thank you.
Mason Funk: Do you sense, I mean, was there resistance? Did you encounter people who were like, "No," or, "I'm not sure," or did it feel like it was fairly fluid and seamless? The, kind of, integrating and creating a larger community.
Michael Hickerson: [00:43:00] I did not detect any resistance. I think the community knew who they were bringing to the table. They knew me. They knew who they were bringing to the table. It was sort of like a trust. We trust him, he's a good guy, and stuff like that. And this is what I'm saying, and I was, I was invited to the table. Let me just say, I was invited to the table prior to my being elected Director of Gay Pride.
Michael Hickerson: [00:43:30] I had been to a couple Gay Prides prior to my being elected Director of Gay Pride. So, they kind of knew what they were getting.
Mason Funk: Hold one second. I want to just move that mic a little bit, Natalie. I just want to make sure this is in the right spot as possible. Oh I see, that's right there. Okay. [inaudible]. Because this mic is really, is very narrow in its focus. Excellent.
Michael Hickerson: [00:44:00] So yeah, the community knew what they were getting-
Mason Funk: And what were they? Who were you that made ... What traits and qualities did you bring that, in a sense, you were able to bridge the divide? Who, what-?
Michael Hickerson: So, you're asking me, "Who was Michael then?" Is that what you're asking? Michael was nave, but he was willing.
Michael Hickerson: [00:44:30] He was fun, he was young, he was cute, he was different. He was easy on the eye, he was easy to get along with, he was that kind of person. I mean, he wasn't combative, he wasn't confrontational, then. So, they knew what they were getting. The community, when I say "They," I mean the community.
Michael Hickerson: [00:45:00] The community knew what they were getting, and the community knew that he had a voice that could bring the right people to the table. Because some of the laws that was passed in the community, some of the things that we were fighting, discrimination and stuff, you can't fight discrimination if you don't have a panoramic view of the community, if you don't have everyone there.
Michael Hickerson: [00:45:30] You cannot fight discrimination when you look like you're discriminating. A bunch of white folk can't speak for the total gay community. It needs participation from everyone to speak about issues in the community. So, there I was. May have been a token, I don't know, and that's okay. Thats okay. As long as the results are positive and the results are good for everyone, that's okay.
Mason Funk: [00:46:00] It occurs to me, I was going to ask you, were you aware that you were kind of a good vehicle, you were a good messenger, a good ambassador? You were aware that you were suited for this role, because you weren't combative. Were you aware? For example.
Michael Hickerson: [00:46:30] Sure, sure, I was. But understanding the community and being a part of ... Thinking and believing you're a part of that, it's okay. As long as the results are positive and it ends up ... the objectives and the goals, and all that kind of stuff, are met and you get where you want to get to, that's okay. Someone has to be. Someone has to be. Someone has to help drive and understand this side as well as that side. Yeah, that's okay. I've been that a lot of times in my life, and that's okay
Mason Funk: [00:47:00] That's interesting. A fascinating woman in Chicago, whom you would love, named Mary Morton, who you would love her, she's very involved in the community. She's been the first, she was joking, first black, first lesbian, first woman, of everything! She, like yourself, she was raised Catholic, she was raised with a certain sensibility, strong family values, and that made her a good person to bridge some of those divides.
Michael Hickerson: [00:47:30] Sure, and believe it or not, like Mary, first this, first that, first this, first that. And that's okay, because it opened the doors. Now I'm not just the only. There's many, many more that followed, which is what it should be about. That's what it's all about. It's all about bridging those gaps. Someone's got to walk across the bridge.
Mason Funk: [00:48:00] So, you're maybe the first, but you're not the last.
Michael Hickerson: That's right, yeah.
Mason Funk: Now, I'm going to adjust my chair because I keep hitting the door, which I don't want to do. Because I was making little clack [crosstalk]. Now introduce us, to someone who doesn't know, and pretty much five minutes ago I as one of those people, what are the krewes in New Orleans?
Michael Hickerson: [00:48:30] Oh, Mardi Gras krewes. Interesting. When I was in 12th grade, in 1973, I worked at the Municipal Auditorium. My mom was a cook at City Hall, and she did this fabulous catering and all of this kind of stuff. The people that she work
Michael Hickerson: [00:49:00] The company that she worked for had an extended contract to provide catering at the Municipal Auditorium, as well. So, my mom had this work ethic: if you're old enough, you're going to work. We were old enough, so we worked. We worked concession stands while they had concerts and all this kind of stuff at the Municipal Auditorium. Municipal Auditorium, it's right outside the French Quarter in Treme area.
Michael Hickerson: [00:49:30] It was a venue where all the concerts, all the Mardi Gras Balls, and all of this kind of society stuff was held. That's where it was. So we worked these concession stands when they had events going on there. One event that sort of did it for me was this krewe that I knew absolutely ...
Michael Hickerson: [00:50:00] I saw these men having this, what is now, Mardi Gras Ball, but I didn't know they were men. They were these women in beautiful dresses and feathers, and all of this kind of stuff, having this thing where they promenaded around the floor, and they [inaudible], and they did this, and they did that, and they did that, and it just so elegant.
Michael Hickerson: [00:50:30] I had never seen anything like that in my life. I was just fascinated. So, when I realized what was going on, I kind of skipped out on work. I hid in the auditorium, and I just watched. I was fascinated at this. "What is this? What is this going on?"
Michael Hickerson: [00:51:00] Then I realized that it was men doing this. "Oh my god." I realized, I got the names, I heard the names. It was the Krewe of Apollo. I heard the names. I was 17, 16 to 17 years old, and I thought, "Ooh, I want to do that. I want to do that."
Michael Hickerson: [00:51:30] And then it all went away. It stopped, and then it all went away. I was 17 years old, I had not come out yet to the bars and stuff. It all went away, but it never left my mind. What I'm seeing, I want to be a part of this.
Michael Hickerson: [00:52:00] Well, fast forward, during my times in the bars and coming out, and stuff, the name Apollo popped up again. Then I met some people who were a part of the Krewe of Apollo, and I explained to them, when I was a kid, what I had seen, and they remembered the ball. Then I got invited to some of these balls and stuff. But back then, I did realize that there were no blacks, and I respected it.
Michael Hickerson: [00:52:30] It was what it was. I was a young kid that knew absolutely nothing, and I took it for what it was. Then, I ran into ... I started understanding these krewes, and I started hearing about other krewes. Hearing about other krewes. Then I heard about a krewe called The Krewe of Celestial Nights, and The Krewe of Celestial Nights had two black guys in it, and I thought.
Michael Hickerson: [00:53:00] "Wow. Ah-hah! This is my opportunity! Yes, this is my opportunity." So, I did some talking and researching and talking in the bars, and stuff, and realized that a lot of the members hung out at this bar, and I went to that bar, and I tried to schmooze up to them, and stuff like that.
Michael Hickerson: [00:53:30] And I was successful! Yes! I joined the krewe, yes. I was able to join the organization.
Mason Funk: And what does that mean, to join a krewe?
Michael Hickerson: Oh, to be a part of something. To be a-
Mason Funk: So, [crosstalk] joining a krewe.
Michael Hickerson: It's to be a part of group. To be ... The carnival clubs were very, very prestigious back then.
Michael Hickerson: [00:54:00] To be a part of a group, to be a part of something, when you once was an outsider. When you once were a loner, when you once felt isolated. Now, you're a part of something. As minor as the part was, you're still a part of it. Because there were people who played major roles in these organizations, and as you come in, you work your way up.
Michael Hickerson: [00:54:30] Well, I got into the organization and I thought that, "Hmmm, I want to do more." But, I had not gotten there yet, and I couldn't wait to get there. So, I understood a little of it, and I got out. I got out of the organization, and I tried to start one for blacks.
Michael Hickerson: [00:55:00] Yes, I tried to start an organization, a carnival organization, for African-Americans. And I-
Mason Funk: Was that the same as a krewe?
Michael Hickerson: Yes. A krewe-
Mason Funk: Can you say "Krewe" instead of "Carnival" [crosstalk]?
Michael Hickerson: Okay, yeah.
Mason Funk: I tried to. So, just start fresh.
Michael Hickerson: [00:55:30] I tried to start a krewe that was for African-Americans. I did. It was called The Krewe of Somnus, the god of sleep. Yeah, it was called The Krewe of Somnus. But it never took off, because the African-American community didn't know about it, so I couldn't sell it to them. I was the only one that knew about it, so I couldn't sell it to them. So, what I had to do, I had to figure out a way to get them invited to these exclusive krewe functions, to their balls, so they can begin to understand what it's about.
Michael Hickerson: [00:56:00] So I did, and a lot of ... It's expensive, to be a part of those organizations, to buy all of those kind of stuff. A lot of the African-American community wasn't impressed with it. It was too expensive for them, their ideas and their thoughts, and stuff, were somewhere else, it wasn't there. So, that didn't take off.
Michael Hickerson: [00:56:30] So, I joined organizations and became a part of those organizations; however, I revisited that thought of starting a carnival club for African-Americans. I revisited later, and it became successful. But it was very difficult back then for African-Americans to get into those organizations. Very difficult.
Michael Hickerson: [00:57:00] I joined an organization called The Krewe of Amon-Ra. I think it was in the early 90s when I joined this organization. This organization was probably 70/75 members strong. It was one of the biggest organizations, of krewes, in New Orleans.
Michael Hickerson: [00:57:30] I came up for membership, and they had never had a black in their organization, and some of the members did not want it. As a result, I think a third of the organization quit. Yeah, quit the organization because I was elected into the organization, I was voted into the organization. And like a third of the organization quit, yeah. And it was-
Mason Funk: [00:58:00] And how was that for you?
Michael Hickerson: You know what was the most hurting part of that? These were people I didn't know, except for one. One of the guys who quit was the gay guy who lived next door to us. Yes, he quit.
Michael Hickerson: [00:58:30] He lived next door to us all those years, and because a black man joined the organization, he quit. So, that just told me a whole lot about him and our relationship living next door to each other. You know, when he'd come out and he'd-
Mason Funk: And this is in the 90s.
Michael Hickerson: Yes, yes.
Mason Funk: This is in a time when you think maybe things have changed.
Michael Hickerson: [00:59:00] And I believe things had changed, but that doesn't mean it changed for everyone. There were some who are ... And today, this is 2017, some of this stuff still havent changed. So, in the 90s, yeah. But I think the most shocking piece was the guy who lived next door to us.
Michael Hickerson: [00:59:30] When he would come out in the morning, and we would talk over the fence, and we'd say hello to each other, and swap stories, and things like that. Him. That was the most, I think, probably the most disappointing piece of that whole experience. Him quitting. But, I mean, that was his choice, and that was their choice. I joined the organization and I stayed into the organization.
Michael Hickerson: [01:00:00] I remember that year, when I joined the organization, I was a hard worker. I enjoyed it, I wanted to be there, I wanted to contribute, I wanted to do my part, and stuff like that. At our ball that year, I played a minor role in the ball. I wore a costume, I played a minor role in it. I received the President's Award, yes. I remember [inaudible] was the president that year, and I remember him giving me the President's Award for being one of the hardest workers in the organization.
Michael Hickerson: [01:00:30] I think that was a huge honor. I was shocked. I didn't even know I was going to get it. I didn't know anything about a President's Award, to be perfectly honest with you. But, I did receive it. I thought it was very, very, very, very nice to have that, and to be honored for the work that I contributed to the organization.
Michael Hickerson: [01:01:00] But I also think that was way of saying, "We're sorry for what happened." I also think that a way of saying that, also. So, I was in the organization, and I stayed in the organization until I became Queen. I was the first black to become Queen. It wasn't that organization, it was another organization, but in, I think it was 1985.
Michael Hickerson: [01:01:30] No, '84, '83, '85, they all run together. I was the first black to be Queen of one of the carnival organizations, krewes. I was the first black, yeah.
Mason Funk: So let me ask you this, for the record, and then we'll take a little break. Again, for people who don't understand how they function internally, when you say, for example you said they were expensive, and you mentioned that you have to become a member. It sounds almost like kind of a fraternity or a sorority.
Michael Hickerson: [01:02:00] It is.
Mason Funk: But if you could just explain, give us a brief overview, it doesn't have to be too detailed, the nuts and bolts of how these organizations function. What is the goal? Why are they expensive? What do they do? And mention krewes.
Michael Hickerson: Well, it's a spoof.
Mason Funk: Say krewe.
Michael Hickerson: [01:02:30] The krewes are a spoof on the straight society. The straight society have these elaborate Mardi Gras balls where these young debutantes become Queens, and it's a whole lot of money stuff, and it's la-la-la, la-la-la, debutantes making a debut and stuff like that. Well, the gay community took it a step further and made it a parody, a spoof, on that. But we're much more elaborate, we're fun.
Michael Hickerson: [01:03:00] It's a group of people with a common goal in mind, and that's to put on that Mardi Gras extravaganza, that Mardi Gras ball that all the krewe members get together and we work towards putting it on. It's expensive to rent halls, to get music, sound set. It's an elaborate production that can last for at least two hours.
Michael Hickerson: [01:03:30] This is a time when the community is invited to come to the ball, and you dress all up in your tuxedos and your gowns, and stuff.
Michael Hickerson: [01:04:00] It is the culmination of all your hard work, fundraising, and sewing up costumes, practicing dance routines, and then you put on this huge production. And at the end of it, you present a King and a Queen. They're usually the people who've done the most work in the krewe, and who's deservant of representing your organization, your krewe, for the year.
Michael Hickerson: [01:04:30] It's a whole lot of fun. And that's what they're all about. And there's comradery in there, there's friendship. You know, you develop friendships, you form bonds, and stuff like that. Now keep in mind, just like every other organization, everyone isn't going to get along. But, you have that. Sometimes it takes all of that to keep the krewe going and on their toes. But that's what the krewes are all about. It's fun.
Mason Funk: Just one second. Is that [inaudible] moving around in the background? I just hear somebody moving-
Natalie Tsui: It's the creak of the chair.
Mason Funk: No, there was something in the deeper background.
Natalie Tsui: I can't hear it.
Mason Funk: Okay, you weren't hearing it then.
Natalie Tsui: I can hear creaking though. I can hear the creaking though.
Michael Hickerson: I'm so sorry about the squeak.
Mason Funk: That's okay.
Michael Hickerson: I just move.
Mason Funk: [01:05:00] The creaking to me, I mean, I know it's there, but it doesn't [crosstalk].
Michael Hickerson: I heard a snap, too.
Mason Funk: Well, I think you gave us ... That's exactly what I wanted to get was just, like I said, for the total layperson who doesn't know what these krewes are.
Michael Hickerson: It's also becoming the krewe.
Mason Funk: [crosstalk]
Michael Hickerson: The krewe also gives you an opportunity to become a princess, to become a prince, to become a frog, to become a flower.
Michael Hickerson: [01:05:30] They're all characters in this one play that is written by the Ball Captain, and the Ball Captain presents ... There's no speaking in it. It's usually dancing and walking, but it's a story. It's a story that's told through costumes. Yes. It's like an opera. An opera is a story set to music. Krewe Mardi Gras balls, Mardi Gras balls, is a story that's told through costumes. For example, the theme could be.
Michael Hickerson: [01:06:00] For example, a tour around the world. And the costumes, they represent different countries, different communities around the world. And it may take you from New York, and bring you back to New York.
Michael Hickerson: [01:06:30] I was honored to be Ball Captain of the Krewe of Amon-Ra, and I took the krewe into outer space. The whole premise behind the ball was this little girl on Earth got abducted by aliens, and then we went into space to try to rescue this little girl.
Michael Hickerson: [01:07:00] So people, aliens, came from different planets to assist in the rescue. That's where the costumes came from, from different planets. At the very end of the ball, the good guys fought the bad guys, and the good guys won.
Michael Hickerson: [01:07:30] And rescued this little girl, who turned out to be the Queen of the ball. From the little girl, she became the Queen of the ball. I was Ball Captain. I came from the ceiling of the ball, this space costume with this Patti LaBelle hair, singing Star Love, "Come with me tonight, all across the universe."
Michael Hickerson: [01:08:00] It was really, really cute. A lot of things, some things didn't go well, but it was just really, really cute, the concept. We started with a stewardess. We started with a stewardess telling you the exits, and all the chairs in the auditorium, we had put seat belts on them. So, everybody had to buckle up their seat belts, and all that kind of stuff. And when the curtains opened, you were in space.
Mason Funk: [01:08:30] Wonderful. That's wonderful.
Michael Hickerson: It was fabulous, yeah.
Mason Funk: Thank you for painting such a beautiful portrait of that event, because that's just ... I feel like I'm there in the [inaudible].
Michael Hickerson: That was when I was Ball Captain.
Mason Funk: Let's take a little break, because we're going to come back.
Okay, so were rolling?
Natalie Tsui: Mm-hmm (affirmative)
Mason Funk: Okay so, I want to talk a little about your work. Because you work as well as have fun, obviously.
Michael Hickerson: [01:09:00] I have a very, very, very interesting job, and I got here by an unconventional way. In 1973, I graduated from high school, and I went directly to college. I stayed there for about a year and a half, three semesters, and the university got tired of me not going to class, and not doing this, and not doing that, so they threw me out.
Michael Hickerson: [01:09:30] And they told me, and said, "Listen, you're young, you're adventurous, go do what you need to do and come back later. You're not ready yet." And they did, and I wasn't. I come from a family where no one in my family had a formal education. None of that stuff.
Michael Hickerson: [01:10:00] So, as the first to go to college, I knew absolutely nothing about being a college student. I had no one to tell me about being a college student, or anything like that. So, the university said, "Go do you, and come back later." And I did. It gave me an opportunity to really learn myself, to learn about the community and stuff.
Michael Hickerson: [01:10:30] And that's that time that I talked about where I was going to the bars in the daytime, because I wasn't in school or anything like that. But I told you about that, so let me fast forward to talk about me. So, I became, I don't know how, but someone offered me a job in the community. It was Caf Lafitte's.
Michael Hickerson: [01:11:00] They offered me a job, they opened up a record store and I got the job managing their record store for them. Well, the record store sold lots of gay music, lots of music that was played in the gay bars, and it was a very, very popular record store. We did well, but it gave me an opportunity to meet a lot of the gay community in that record store.
Michael Hickerson: [01:11:30] I was this black guy who knew lots of people in the community, and I got offered a bartending job at a bar called The Loading Zone. It was called The Loading Zone. And my popularity soared. I mean, this black guy, you know, "We gotta go see him. This is different, this is unique." You know, "All the other bars got all white people working in it. There's a black clientele, because of him."
Michael Hickerson: [01:12:00] It worked. It worked to my advantage, and it worked to the bar's advantage. It was a win-win situation for both of us. And then along came opportunities to join different organizations, to become Director of Gay Pride, and all of that kind of stuff.
Michael Hickerson: [01:12:30] As a result, I tended bar for like 16 years. I became Southern Decadence Grand Marshall in 1985. I was Grand Marshall of Southern Decadence, I was the third African-American to be Grand Marshall of Southern Decadence. Southern Decadence, I was number 13, I think they're on probably number 48, or something like that now. It's long time ago.
Michael Hickerson: [01:13:00] And then HIV hit. HIV hit our community. It's something that all of us did not understand. We saw people ... We saw this happening, and then that happened, and then a person died. We did not understand any of this stuff.
Michael Hickerson: [01:13:30] But because I was well known in the community, I was invited to sit on the Board of Directors of an organization that was ... a startup organization that was providing housing for persons with HIV, called Belle Reve. I sat on their Board of Directors, their initial Board of Directors there. And I realized what they were doing, and how they were trying to impact the health and the lives of people in our community who was being infected with HIV.
Michael Hickerson: [01:14:00] So, I got an opportunity after I sat on the Board, I got an opportunity to work at the organization. Here again, because of my popularity in the community, I can bring things to the organization.
Michael Hickerson: [01:14:30] So, I got the job as the Volunteer Coordinator, and I was able to go out in the community and recruit volunteers, because volunteers were very important at that time. Money was not ... They didn't have lots of money to hire people to do this kind of work, so we depended upon volunteers from the community to help with what we were doing, help our mission for providing housing and support for people with HIV.
Michael Hickerson: [01:15:00] And then, I worked that job for about a year, but I began to realize that there were things that was happening at Belle Reve that I wanted to do, but I didn't have the skills to do them. I wanted to do the social work piece of it, but I realized I didn't have the skills to do it.
Michael Hickerson: [01:15:30] So I was, I think I was 35 years old. Yeah, about 35 years old. And in order for me to do that ... I was working downstairs, I wanted to work upstairs, and that's where the social workers were. That's where all the happenings and stuff like that for services was, upstairs. I wanted to work upstairs. So, I talked to my partner, and we decided that I should go back to school.
Michael Hickerson: [01:16:00] Yes. So, I did. I went back to school. I'd had some college experience from 1973, '74, and I'd had a few hours of credits. Fortunately, I went to a school that accepted the C's and the one B that I had, and they got rid of all the F's, and I enrolled. I enrolled in school. I enrolled as a nontraditional student, and I enrolled nighttime part-time, night school part-time, in pursuit of becoming a social worker.
Michael Hickerson: [01:16:30] Well, I went through one year at night, and I thought, "My god, by the time I finish this thing, I'll be 100. I'll be too old to practice." So, the very next year I started going to school in the daytime, and I took a full load, and I got through it pretty quickly.
Michael Hickerson: [01:17:00] Through a Bachelor's degree. And I got hungry, so I continued, and I received a Master's degree. And then, I was ready. I thought I was ready to move upstairs, and I did. I moved upstairs, but it wasn't with that same agency. It was with another agency, and I did social work. I did case management for a few years with that agency.
Michael Hickerson: [01:17:30] Then, you learn things, and you learn disparities. You learn that ... Well, you believe that services aren't being provided equally. And I saw that some was getting this, some parts of our community was getting this, and others weren't.
Michael Hickerson: [01:18:00] So, I started an organization, a non-profit organization, that provided HIV services, and that would focus on the African-American community receiving those services. And I did, very successfully. The community helped. I had fundraisers and stuff like that to go through the 501(c) process.
Michael Hickerson: [01:18:30] I got it, and my partner and I worked very diligently, very hard on it, and we got it. We got some grant money, community folk bought chairs and took chairs out of their house and desk, and we opened.
Mason Funk: Is that ... I'm going to try to fast forward here a little bit. Is that the organization you run today?
Michael Hickerson: That's the organization that I-
Mason Funk: So, tell about this organization.
Michael Hickerson: That's the Organization that I run now. While we do not focus-
Mason Funk: Tell me what it's called.
Michael Hickerson: [01:19:00] The organization, and we believe this, the name of the organization is In This Together. And we believe, or I believe, that in order to be successful with providing services and making it work for people, you have to be in it with them. It has to be a partnership. You have to be in it together, you know, in it to win it. And I thought the name was just great, so that's what we called it, and that's the name of the organization. That's what the 501(c)(3) is, In This Together.
Michael Hickerson: [01:19:30] While we don't provide HIV services any longer, we provide behavioral health services to our community. We work with youth, children, and adults with mental and behavioral health issues. We're a small organization, we have like 19 employees that work out in the community, all these services are provided in the community. And it's pretty successful, and when I say "Successful," that's because of the feedback that you hear from the people that you serve.
Michael Hickerson: [01:20:00] So, as long as the feedback is positive, we're going to continue going the way we are.
Mason Funk: Fantastic.
Michael Hickerson: I absolutely love being a social worker. I'm an adjunct instructor at the university where I received my degrees from.
Mason Funk: You haven't mentioned it yet, but just start over ... Just say, "I'm an adjunct professor at ..."
Michael Hickerson: Southern University School of Social Work. Southern University at New Orleans.
Mason Funk: [01:20:30] So, back up and start fresh, "I'm an adjunct professor ..."
Michael Hickerson: So, I now teach at the university where I received my degrees from. That's Southern University at New Orleans, and I work in School of Social Work. I do believe, and I tell all of my students, especially the nontraditional students, the ones who are going back to school for the first time and they're in their 30s or 40s, and something like that, "You can make it happen for you."
Michael Hickerson: [01:21:00] If you believe in it, then do it, because it is possible, and I'm one of those people that can say it is possible. I'm the first in my family to graduate with not only one degree, two degrees, and now I teach. I also run this organization.
Michael Hickerson: [01:21:30] I love who I am. I absolutely love who I am. I never thought I'd live to be ... I'll be 62 in September. I never thought I'd live to be 62, because I was there, I was there. All of those things that happened back then, I was there. The sex and all that kind of stuff, I was there.
Mason Funk: [01:22:00] You're referring specifically to-
Michael Hickerson: I have so many friends, so many friends who I have lost to HIV. So many. So many. Yes, so many ...
Michael Hickerson: [01:22:30] So, what do you do? You try to live, and you try to help people live a better quality of life. You try to help them understand that you can live, and there are ways to do it.
Michael Hickerson: [01:23:00] That was difficult, that was hard. So, I'm good.
Mason Funk: How do you make sense of the fact that you're still here when so many aren't?
Michael Hickerson: [01:23:30] I don't know. You make yourself believe that there's a purpose, there's a reason, and you just go with it. There's a purpose, there's a reason that you're here, and you try to understand it and continue doing what you do. Just continue.
Michael Hickerson: [01:24:00] I don't know. I don't try to question it. I just try and do what I do. I try not to change anything, I just do me. I want to say I'm kind, I want to say I'm generous. I have my faults, just like everyone else, but I try to deal with me every day.
Mason Funk: [01:24:30] Well, you've got a good skillset, I'm sure, from all your training and ...
Michael Hickerson: Yeah, that helps.
Mason Funk: Talk to us about Katrina and the disproportionate effect on HIV-positive people, and just all the-
Michael Hickerson: I think-
Mason Funk: ... Having to go underground, because otherwise you were afraid you won't get services you need, and just everything. I mean, that's such a huge topic, but talk to us about that a little bit.
Michael Hickerson: [01:25:00] Katrina is like no other experience. It's just unique in itself. As a kid, living in New Orleans and growing up in New Orleans, we'd been through storms and hurricanes, and all of those kind of things; and Katrina, on Saturday, was just another hurricane that will hit New Orleans.
Michael Hickerson: [01:25:30] We will leave, and we will go to higher ground. We'll take shelter, refuge somewhere else, and then we may be displaced for a couple days, and we'll come back. Typical, that happens when the storm reaches a certain category, you run from it, and then you come back.
Michael Hickerson: [01:26:00] Katrina was different in the sense that it broke levees, and it absolutely devastated the city. It flooded the city. I mean, anyone who's looking at this interview, I'm sure you know what Katrina did, so I won't get into all of that; but it just decimated the city of New Orleans.
Michael Hickerson: [01:26:30] Especially the poorer areas in the city of New Orleans. The poor areas in city was just devastated. People who had never ever left New Orleans found themselves up in Idaho, being shipped to ... or being brought to Idaho, someplace where the culture is totally, totally, totally different from them.
Michael Hickerson: [01:27:00] Anyway, it-
Mason Funk: But for [crosstalk]-
Michael Hickerson: ... It was horrible. And it just destroyed the HIV community, services for the HIV community. These were people who are used to getting services at a certain place, who had already established how they were going to get services, where they would get them from, and who they would get them from. And it was all just set up.
Michael Hickerson: [01:27:30] And to be displaced and moved to some place where you have no idea where you are and how to start. Some of these people couldn't read, and didn't understand any of these things. Services in New Orleans, I believe, are passionate. We provide these services with passion. I mean, these are our family. At least that's the way we were providing those services, as they were our family.
Michael Hickerson: [01:28:00] Never giving them enough independence to be able to go to another city and be able to do that kind of work, to get those services that they need. But it really, really destroyed the services, and the community-
Mason Funk: What are some of the stories, I mean, you've probably heard just specific anecdotes, or-
Michael Hickerson: [01:28:30] The stories were horrible. We, our agency, because here we were located, our agency didn't sustain any damage. A lot of the other agencies did, ours didn't, which meant a lot of people who weren't clients of ours were now coming to our agency. So, we got some more money to provide some services. We were able to hire some more people so we could deal with the overload in clients that we would normally have had.
Michael Hickerson: [01:29:00] We had a housing program, and this housing program was not only for people with HIV, this housing program was for everyone. So, we were not only getting people who are HIV-positive, we were getting just regular people who were HIV-negative to provide services to.
Michael Hickerson: [01:29:30] We would get African-American women in with children, and they sit down and they would tell their stories, their struggles, and how they had to wade through water with their children to get out of harm's way. It was ... it was bad. These stories were just ... You know, you're there, and you're the person who they're asking for help from, and you find yourself having to excuse yourself so you can compose yourself and go back in there and begin to deal with ...
Michael Hickerson: [01:30:00] help them deal with their issues, and stuff. It was horrid. It was just horrid. And then I was dealing ... My partner and I, we were dealing with our own issues, because our house had flooded. We had six feet of water in our downstairs, so we couldn't live in our house for like six months.
Michael Hickerson: [01:30:30] So, you're dealing with that, and you're dealing with clients' issues, and one thing in our profession, you learn how to not bring your work home with you. You cannot. You cannot not bring it home with you, you cannot. It was just awful. It was, it was bad. It was bad.
Michael Hickerson: [01:31:00] And it looked like no one understood the devastation and the gravity of this. No one understood. It was, it was bad. And that's how it appeared, and people did understand, they just didn't know how to help, I'm sure. But, it was bad.
Michael Hickerson: [01:31:30] You felt alone, you felt isolated. You felt like, why? Why? And then you start blaming, because you're confused, you don't understand. Yeah, Katrina was bad.
Mason Funk: I would stay there longer, but we're kind of trying to work through time, so.
Michael Hickerson: [01:32:00] Good.
Mason Funk: But, I want to ask to ask you a question. This will be my last question, then Natalie will a chance, and then I'll have a couple of quick questions. But this is a big one, and we'll just try to keep it as concise as possible. I read about a panel you were on with two other folks, and the thesis of the panel was the two isms and the two phobias that keep HIV and AIDS rates higher among people of color. I think the isms would be racism and sexism, and the phobias would be homophobia and-
Michael Hickerson: [01:32:30] Stigmatism.
Mason Funk: ... So basically, what is it that keeps HIV and AIDS rates going up among black people, among people of color?
Michael Hickerson: [01:33:00] We talk about phobias and isms. How about the lack of education? The lack of the real knowledge that people need to understand that it's not about who you have sex with, it's about how you have sex with them. It's about protection from all kind of diseases, protection from everything. It's like an umbrella. It's not about how you walk in the rain, it's that you have protection from the rain. That's called an umbrella. You have protection from the rain to keep you dry.
Michael Hickerson: [01:33:30] I mean, you could walk for days in the rain as long as you have protection, an umbrella, and where you walk at and who you walk with doesn't matter. It's about the protection. But people, I think a lot of African-Americans ... Well, they're not understanding that protection keeps you negative.
Michael Hickerson: [01:34:00] Because who they have sex with ... Let me see how you say this. Because who they have sex with doesn't matter, it's how they have it. It's the protection that matters. Some people contract HIV however, through needles, through risky sex, and believe that because they are ...
Michael Hickerson: [01:34:30] People think they're gay, and that's the worst thing that you can be as a man in the African-American community, because of what we're taught in the church, in the Bible and stuff like that. And that's a whole 'nother subject. That's a whole 'nother thing, I don't want to get in to that. It stigmatizes people.
Michael Hickerson: [01:35:00] And they don't understand that piece of it. If we can just get away from the ... desensitize people to the stigma, I think the rate of HIV infections in African-American community will go down. I do, I think they'll go down. It just can't get past that stigma.
Michael Hickerson: [01:35:30] We had, our organization, our agency partnered with an organization, a group of African-American women called The Links, the Crescent City Links, to do an HIV awareness event around HIV in the African-American community. Just to raise awareness and do education around HIV. HIV is a very difficult subject to talk about in the African-American community. It's very difficult.
Michael Hickerson: [01:36:00] I mean, you could have all the forums you could possibly want to have, it's getting them to come out because of the stigma. "I'm not gay. It's a gay disease. I'm not gay, I don't need to go." But we noticed that the rate of HIV infection is continuing to rise, and not only among gay men, it's in the community at large.
Michael Hickerson: [01:36:30] So, we decided to come up with an HIV awareness campaign around National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day. The first year we did it, we decided to get some information and just go and stand on corners that are frequently passed by, or African-Americans frequently pass, and just give out the information, just give it out.
Michael Hickerson: [01:37:00] Not in your face, or anything like that, just give it out, and hopefully they'll get home and read it. And we were giving out condoms, also. Well, in these communities that we targeted, the people were very, very thankful, they were very appreciative, they were very happy. There were mothers that stopped by and said, "Oh, please give me some, I have three sons,"
Michael Hickerson: [01:37:30] "Oh, give me some of that information. Now Junior, you need to ..." One of those kind of things. So, that inspired us, and so we begin to think, "How can we bring more people to understand HIV?" So, in the African-American community, we have a tradition called Second Line. Second Line is a celebration of life, and it's done through song and dance in the streets.
Mason Funk: [01:38:00] Sorry, your phone's vibrating. So, just start over. In the African-American community, you have this tradition called Second Line.
Michael Hickerson: Yes, in the African community, we have this tradition called Second Line, and it's a celebration of life. It usually happens after death. We celebrate someone's life with a Second Line.
Michael Hickerson: [01:38:30] The Second Line, it's led by a traditional brass band, and there're umbrellas and handkerchiefs, and music and dancing in the streets, celebrating the passing of someone. And while it's a sad occasion, it's joyous. The African-American community respects their tradition, and you can get some people out for that.
Michael Hickerson: [01:39:00] So, we decided that we would have a Second Line, but we would use it to raise awareness around HIV. So, we hired a brass band, one of the best brass bands in the city. Then we got two of the Second Line organizations to participate with us. We did a whole media campaign, and we got about ...
Michael Hickerson: [01:39:30] The first time doing the Second Line, we got about 400 people to participate, and they were all African-American folk. We did this parade, we had a targeted area that we did it, because we knew that there was a high concentration of HIV in that area. So, we did a Second Line in that area, and we targeted that area, and we just hand out pamphlets and information on "If you know somebody, or you need to be tested, call this number." Very gently.
Michael Hickerson: [01:40:00] And it was a huge success. So we did it for about five years. We believed we raised awareness and we raised consciousness. I mean, we did not check numbers or anything like that. We just did it.
Michael Hickerson: [01:40:30] We believe it would have been very difficult to get about four or five hundred folk in a community setting to talk about HIV. We did it the way we believed our community would digest it, and we did it that way. We did it for about five years, and then the same people start coming, so it started like you're preaching to the choir now. You've accomplished something.
Mason Funk: [01:41:00] Cool, okay. And-
Michael Hickerson: It brought community folk together. They owned it. It was paid for by the community. It wasn't paid for through a grant, or anything like that, it was paid for by the community. We got out, and we solicited donations and all the money paid for to have this done. Politicians joined in, church folk joined in, community folk joined in, neighbors, and family people joined in. It was very positive.
Mason Funk: [01:41:30] Cool. Okay, Natalie, it's your turn.
Natalie Tsui: This is kind of loosely formed, also [crosstalk]-
Michael Hickerson: That's okay. I talk loosely, so ...
Natalie Tsui: So-
Mason Funk: And you'll answer me, not her.
Natalie Tsui: [01:42:00] I feel like hearing about your experiences and your life, there's definitely a connection to that in your choice in profession, so I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about that. About how your identity has informed what you do, or what you're doing for the community, or what you do for your community, and how you're driven ... What's your mission statement, basically?
Michael Hickerson: You know, and it's a good question, but through my work in the community, it's taught me a whole lot about who I am. It's gotten me to the point where I know who I am, and I'm no longer afraid to be who I am.
Michael Hickerson: [01:42:30] I'll be 62, I said that, I'll be 62 in September, and it's taken a long time for me to get to be who I am today. I went through the hurt that I called racism, I went through the rejections, I went through all of those things. I went through not being to go up those stairs to do the work I wanted to do. I went through all of that.
Michael Hickerson: [01:43:00] I went through being a bartender, I went through crying with people, I went through helping people, I went through people helping me to get to where I am now. And I don't mean to sound arrogant, but I am Michael. What you see is what you get. It's like, you either take or leave it.
Michael Hickerson: [01:43:30] Because I'm at that point. I'm at that point where I know who I am. I now know I can walk in to a room and not have to hide my sexuality or anything, not have to hide my blackness, not have to act this way, not have to act that way. I can be me, yes. It's taken a while to get there. I'm here, and this is what you get. And I'm happy, I'm free. I do me.
Natalie Tsui: [01:44:00] Okay, I think that's ... Yeah, that's it.
Michael Hickerson: Does that answer?
Natalie Tsui: Yeah.
Mason Funk: Now, and literally to stay ... We are on schedule, amazingly enough, but I have four short final questions, and literally give me a sentence or two.
Michael Hickerson: Oh lord.
Mason Funk: Yeah, I know, I know, This is the hardest assignment yet, right? Give me an hour on each, and okay, I'm good.
Mason Funk: [01:44:30] If someone comes to you today and says, "I'm thinking about coming out." Whatever that coming out means to that person, what little dollop, spoonful of just personal wisdom and guidance do you give that person from your own life? And again, short.
Michael Hickerson: I would say, "Don't be afraid. Walk forward. Never look back. Be comfortable with who you are, and take it forward.
Mason Funk: [01:45:00] Great. What is your hope for the future?
Michael Hickerson: I've lived long enough where I see change happening. I see young gay folk, 18, 19, 20 years old, in love with each other and stuff, and walking the streets holding hands, and just being who they are.
Michael Hickerson: [01:45:30] I absolutely love it. I would love to be able to live in a society where it's just the norm. That it's just normal, it's no big deal. Yes, I'd love to be able to do that. I don't think I'd live long enough, but we still have some time to go, but we're getting there. And I'm speaking from a perspective where I literally had to hide. You know, you had to act this way to get to where you wanted to get to, to be able to act like you.
Mason Funk: [01:46:00] I can't resist asking, even though this isnt on menu for the final four questions, is the black community getting there as well?
Michael Hickerson: Yes, yes. The black community is getting there, but they're getting there in their own way. The black community still isn't quite as open as-
Mason Funk: [01:46:30] I'm sorry, I don't mean in regard to LGBTQ stuff, I mean just ... Our nation's been going through a lot of turmoil, Black Lives Matter, the shootings we see, the cops [crosstalk]. It's just a big question, but we seem to be at a point where we're really grappling, again-
Michael Hickerson: It's very difficult for the ... I believe it's very difficult for the black community to get there, to keep in step. Especially when you're seeing injustice happen all around. How do you get there? How do you get there when you take one step forward and The Man, whoever that is, pushes you two steps backwards?
Michael Hickerson: [01:47:00] Look at our presidential election. I mean, our president, the first African-American president, who did a phenomenal job as a president, and now you got an administration that's trying to erase everything that he's done, everything. How do you get there? How do you get there when people are trying to act like you don't exist, when in fact, you do? Yes, how do you get there?
Mason Funk: [01:47:30] So, what's your hope for the government? What's your hope there? What's your hope ... I mean, do you have hope?
Michael Hickerson: You know, that's a difficult question to answer. That's a difficult question to answer. You know, I ... I hope some white folk would stop ignoring our existence, because that's all it is. And when you say white folk, you're talking about old white men.
Michael Hickerson: [01:48:00] That's who you're talking about. But they're ... Unfortunately, they control the country. They control it. Old white men. And until they die off ... Things are going to change, but they're going to change very, very slowly. Very slow. It'd be very slow change. And that's just the way it is, and there's no getting around it. I can't make it sound any nicer, or anything like that. That's what it is. And that's my belief.
Mason Funk: [01:48:30] Why is it important to you, back to the short questions, why is it important to you to tell your story?
Michael Hickerson: I think people can learn from it. I think people will be able to understand the origin of the black ...
Michael Hickerson: [01:49:00] From a black gay perspective, and not ... These are stories, you know black people very seldom get an opportunity to tell their stories. You always hear the white side of it. You know, I read an article just recently about Stonewall, and it was fascinating. I always ... I understand Stonewall, and I understand what it is.
Michael Hickerson: [01:49:30] I never knew a black lesbian woman started it. I never knew that. I just learned that. So, isn't that interesting? What happened to her in all these stories? What happened to ... I never, ever, ever heard it. I thought it was a bunch of white guys. I never knew it was an African-American lesbian. Isn't that funny?
Michael Hickerson: [01:50:00] So, that's why this interview is important. It's important that you hear a lot of this stuff from a black perspective. That you understand that we, in our small little ways, contributed to where we are today. We helped to get us to where we are today.
Michael Hickerson: [01:50:30] It's an experience, it's an adventure, it's a journey. Sometimes crippling, but you get up, you dust yourself off, and you fight on. Then you get to where you're comfortable at. And that's been my experience, and I'm happy. I don't regret any of those things. I don't regret that, because I think it ... I don't regret being called ugly names, and all of that kind of stuff.
Michael Hickerson: [01:51:00] Because it took that to get us to where we are today.
Mason Funk: That's interesting.
Natalie Tsui: There's a weird generator thing that just popped up in the back.
Mason Funk: It's outside, but it's gone down a little bit.
Natalie Tsui: I think it's gone down.
Mason Funk: Last question. Last of all, this project is called OUTWORDS, and it's really an attempt to collect stories like yours from people all over the country; in small towns, big cities, different economic and racial backgrounds. It's like the umbrella. What, and ... Go ahead.
Michael Hickerson: [01:51:30] You know, yeah, my-
Mason Funk: Oops.
Natalie Tsui: That's bad.
Michael Hickerson: There ain't nothing I can do about that.
Mason Funk: It's probably outside. Let's just-
Natalie Tsui: [crosstalk]
Michael Hickerson: Oh, it's off now. And throughout all of that, I just want to mention that it has not gone unrecognized.
Michael Hickerson: [01:52:00] You don't do all of this stuff because of recognition, or at least I didn't start out doing it because of recognition. People see what you do, and they recognize it. As a result, in the African-American community at large, I've received numerous awards for the work that I have done in the community, and I've received numerous awards for the work I've done in the gay community.
Michael Hickerson: [01:52:30] It's people seeing what you do and understanding that, I guess, you're doing it all for the right reasons. And it's never been selfish. I thought it was something that needed to be done, I thought it was something that needed to be said, even if it hurt. People needed to hear it. And I'm very proud of those things too, but-
Mason Funk: [01:53:00] [inaudible]
Michael Hickerson: ... Yeah, those are just things.
Mason Funk: Okay. So, OUTWORDS, what is the importance of a project like OUTWORDS? And mention OUTWORDS, if you would.
Michael Hickerson: I think the importance of a project like OUTWORD, to me is just like-
Mason Funk: Sorry, OUTWORDS, plural.
Michael Hickerson: Oh, OUTWORDS?
Mason Funk: Yeah.
Michael Hickerson: [01:53:30] ... to me is just that.
Mason Funk: But start over again.
Michael Hickerson: Oh, okay. So, you're going to cut all this out. I think the importance of a project like OUTWORDS is to do exactly, I think, what the name implies. You know, OUT WORDS. Words that are put out there. My words are now out there.
Michael Hickerson: [01:54:00] People understand my struggle, understand my life in the community, understand how it evolves, and in order for it to ... in order for that to happen, it's got to get out there, and projects like OUTWORDS are projects that help the community understand and see things from different perspectives.
Mason Funk: Great!
Natalie Tsui: Well, actually, I have one question.
Mason Funk: It's up to [crosstalk]
Michael Hickerson: [01:54:30] That's okay, that's okay.
Natalie Tsui: It's up to you.
Mason Funk: Sure, sure.
Natalie Tsui: Okay, so it's just kind of piggy-backing off of that, do you have any words of encouragement ... You face a fair amount of adversity growing up black, and also gay, in a society that wasnt really accepting of you. Do you have any words of encouragement for the youth of today in this hostile environment?
Mason Funk: Which youth are you referring to, particularly?
Natalie Tsui: Any ... For people of color ...
Michael Hickerson: [01:55:00] So, I say to the African-American community, especially to the young gay folk that are coming up, I say, "We have laid the foundation on which you all can build on. Just take it and keep moving forward. Keep going. Don't let this or that discourage you.
Michael Hickerson: [01:55:30] There is a rainbow at the end of that tunnel, there is, and you're going to realize the joy. While sometimes you can suffer, you're going to realize the joy once you get there. And you can get there. Just keep moving forward." Is that okay?
Mason Funk: That was great.
Natalie Tsui: Yeah, that was perfect, yeah. Thanks, alright.
Mason Funk: I feel like I was at church there, for a minute.
Michael Hickerson: [01:56:00] Oh! I don't want you to feel like that!
Mason Funk: No, in a good, in a good way, in a good way! I know.
Michael Hickerson: Church baby! Ugh.
Mason Funk: Okay, so we're going to do what's call room tone, which is 30 seconds of us just sitting here quietly. [inaudible]
Michael Hickerson: Oh yeah, right.
Natalie Tsui: Okay, okay, room tone.
Natalie Tsui: [01:57:00] Okay, that's good. Thank you.

Interviewed by: Mason Funk
Camera: Natalie Tsui
Date: July 13, 2017
Location: Office of Michael Hickerson, Slidell, GA