Engagement Is The Cure For Isolation
Brothers of the Desert vice president Eric Davis talks about how the nonprofit is working to remedy disconnection and inequalities for gay black men in the Coachella valley
Words by Trey Burnette • Photo by Aaron Jay Young
There was a growing consciousness that gay Black men in the Coachella Valley felt isolated and disconnected from the community. The issue became the topic of conversation at a 2017 New Year’s Eve dinner party. “No one in the valley was doing anything to address the problem,” says Eric Davis. “So instead of complaining about it, why not create a solution?” The men did do something. They formed Brothers of the Desert (BOD), a nonprofit organization that provides a growing, local support network for gay Black men and their allies living here.
Davis is BOD’s vice president. The group started with meetings on the second Saturday of every month at the LGBTQ Community Center of the Desert in Palm Springs, where the men had a forum to discuss their lives and challenges. The African American population in the valley is less than 5%; gay Black men are only a fraction of that. Those gatherings continue today.
In 2019, BOD held its first Wellness Summit. “It was a vision of President Tim Vincent,” says Davis, “and we have been able to implement that vision into reality for the last four years.”
DAP Health became a sponsor the third year, and its partnership and sponsorship continued to grow. Another partnership the two organizations started three years ago involved DAP Health’s Desert AIDS Walk. BOD was able to walk as a group and raise money for the event. The organization also gained visibility with a speaking engagement and an event booth where they spoke with community members and provided educational and outreach information.
Davis also happens to be the sales director and event planner for the local magazine GED (Gay Entertainment Directory.) His experience gives him wisdom and know-how when he asks himself, “How do we engage with the community to facilitate our ideas?” And they do engage. Besides the annual Wellness Summit held in November and participation in the AIDS Walk, BOD hosts the annual New Year’s Eve Legacy Gala, which serves as its largest annual fundraiser, celebrates Legacy honorees, and brings the community together to ring in the new year.
That is the mission of BOD — to connect and engage gay Black men to the community. “If we don’t feel isolated and we feel like we can grow and strengthen,” says Davis, “we can move forward.”
DAP Health, invested in BOD’s growth, has been an active partner from a financial, physical, and encouragement standpoint, and has had opportunities to partner in BOD’s speaker series. When DAP Health needed messaging help with the LBGTQ+ community of color during the mpox outbreak in 2022, its leaders called on BOD. An mpox vaccine clinic was set up at the Wellness Summit in November 2022 at Margaritaville in Palm Springs.
BOD’s primary concern is its community members’ mental health, which was most severely impacted by the isolation the men were experiencing. Beyond engagement in the Wellness Summit, the Legacy Gala, the speaker series, and monthly meetings, a partnership with DAP Health was formed at Greater Palm Springs Pride to create content that did not center around alcohol, was Black-centric, and appealed to allies.
In the spirit of holistic wellness and philanthropy (part of its mission statement), BOD has been able to support the education of LGBTQ+ and Black students in the Coachella Valley with more than $10,000 in scholarships. Donations have also allowed the organization to establish an emergency fund for members needing critical financial help with rent, food, or even new tires for a vehicle. Underneath each act of giving, recipients understand, whatever the situation, that they are not alone — that there is a community available to them. Some recipients have been able to repay the fund once they’re back on their feet.
As BOD continues to grow and act on its purpose — to change the dynamics that produce isolation, disconnection, and inequities among gay Black men — the organization hopes to strengthen its partnerships with DAP Health and have a more significant presence in the Coachella Valley. It currently has approximately 125 members in the Palm Springs area, across the country, and in Canada, but it continues to do membership drives. A monthly newsletter, “Brother’s Drumbeat,” keeps the community abreast of current events and engages community leaders in conversation.