Sean A. Watkins: Don’t Forget to Smile

sean-a-watkins-credit-david-tongPhoto Credit: David Tong

Story by: Caitlin Taylor twitter-logo-vector-download

Energy, leadership and drive merely scratch the surface on what made Michigan State University alumnus, Sean A. Watkins (@seanieboyy6), a great candidate for Interview Magazine’s feature, “The New Activists,” in early 2016.

Among artists, educators and writers, Watkins was chosen for both his dedication to climate change prevention and awareness as well as his overall commitment to fighting for social justice.

“I did the photoshoot (for the magazine), which was a dream come true, and I sent in some responses to a pretty in-depth list of interview questions,” said Watkins. “My photo is an entire page’s worth of print! I cried so hard the night it came out – tears of joy and gratitude.”

Watkins’s activism within the global climate movement has been shaped through his position as Social Media Director for OurVoices, a global climate action campaign backed by GreenFaith, an organization that inspires environmental leadership and action within communities of faith1. His drive for social justice, however, holds roots in his time as an undergraduate student at Michigan State.

“I became who I am as a gay, Black male at Michigan State because of student leadership,” he said. “I was able to really start to begin understanding who I was and take advantage of doing the things that I wanted to do.”

Throughout his undergraduate experience, Watkins was a dedicated member of PRISM (People Respecting the Individuality of Students at MSU), the lesbian, bisexual, gay, transgender and ally caucus of South neighborhood. He also spent significant time restoring LIGHT (Living in Great Harmony Together), the Brody neighborhood caucus. In both organizations, he held various executive board positions, from treasurer to interim president.  

Between learning about event planning, reimbursements and even social media, Watkins believes his involvement in student organizations, and other services offered through the MSU LBGT Resource Center, really shaped his time at Michigan State. Not only that, but Watkins believes his involvement prepared him for work in nonprofits.

“It was beneficial having this wealth of student organizations and resources and seeing how these organizations function,” he said. “(and) it was really amazing to see (the center) as a safe space.”

In addition to his engagement with queer-specific organizations, during his senior year, Watkins served as an Intercultural Aide – a student staff member of the Office of Cultural and Academic Transitions (OCAT) who works in residence halls to help students make successful social, cultural and academic transitions.

“I was a student leader first and a student second,” he said. “Student leadership was everything about who I was, and it helped me not only understand my student experience, but my experience in life.”

It was through this leadership position that Watkins really began to recognize and celebrate his intersectional identities.

“Being a gay, Black male, I knew there was intersectionality in my story,” he said. “(But) I didn’t use a lot of the language that I do now.”

Four years post-graduation, he has now learned so much about the intersections of being queer and Black, acknowledging that the needs of queer communities and people of Color – particularly Black trans* women – are not always met. Moving forward, Watkins remains dedicated to representing his intersectional identities, and those of other marginalized groups, in everything that he does.

“I’m very outspoken,” he said, “and because I live in these intersectionalities and marginalized communities, I don’t feel like I need to silence myself.”

Despite the marginalization that he has faced, Watkins continues to believe in creating change in this world. He strives to be a positive light, never forgetting to remind his friends, family and colleagues to smile.

“Live out loud – which is easier to say than to be done,” he said. “Own your stories; own your narrative. Don’t let anyone take that away from you. Own your truth, and be that.”

1. Since September, Sean has been new 100% Community Manager for The Solutions Project (@100isNow)