Faith and Identity

Winning Together: Demetrius Brooks and Tanequa Tunstall

First Recorded

June 1, 2019


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Demetrius Brooks and Tanequa Tunstall are queer people of color who have drawn on their Buddhist faith to grapple with personal challenges as they each make a life in the American South. In this conversation, the friends reflect on the transformative power of Buddhist thought and practice in their daily lives.

This story was produced by Alero Oyinlola.

This story is a part of the American Pilgrimage Project, a conversation series that invites Americans of diverse backgrounds to sit together and talk to each other one-to-one about the role their religious beliefs play at crucial moments in their lives. The interview was recorded by StoryCorps, a national nonprofit whose mission is to preserve and share humanity’s stories in order to build connections between people and create a more just and compassionate world.

Demetrius Brooks and Tanequa Tunstall

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Tanequa Tunstall: So what part of our faith was key to really allowing you to make the determination to come?

Demetrius Brooks: Never would have imagined even coming to the South. If you'd asked me few years ago, would you move to the South? I would think someone's put something in your drink. But as you know, as Buddhists, we aren’t in the driver seats of our lives. And despite all the history that comes for people in the Black community here in the South, it's a challenge for us. And it's because of my own faith that whatever I was going to do, I was going to make it something positive, something that's life changing and not just for me, but for other people. Tell me how did you get introduced to Buddhism?

Tanequa Tunstall: And then there was two women there telling people about Nam Myoho Renge Kyo, and they was passing out these cards and they looked over at me, but I was wondering why were they together? Because one was a Asian woman, a Japanese woman, and one was a Black woman. So I wondered why are they together, but I just didn't want to feel like being bothered. But at the same time, I wondered what was the piece that brought them together to have such great joy, such great comradery because I had never seen different cultures together and enjoying friendship in that way. So they taught me how to chant Nam Myoho Renge Kyo. And when I chanted Nam Myoho Renge Kyo. They said, “Make sure you get whatever you want, there's positive energy coming, emerging.”

So I got a job as a janitor, weeks later or so, they asked me to be a counselor. I went from a janitor to being in a school for a counselor. And I thought, wow, you talking to me! I'm just pulling the garbage here. Sorry, wait what, me? I didn't even think I had a personality. I just ended up going to school and through that opportunity, I ended up getting my associate’s in counseling and substance abuse, HIV counseling. Then I got my bachelor’s, and then my master’s and then my doctorate in psychology. So I went from a homeless person to this person who create the greatest value in society. 

So let me ask you what contribution, if you could put a mirror to your life, what contribution do you think that you are leaving or giving to their future generation?

Demetrius Brooks: I would say I want my legacy to be able to really find a way to really instill hope. One person after another really wake up to the fact that, despite what's going on in their environment. And we do have the power to make changes, so we just need to learn to bring the courage and really develop the courage to come out, and I'm doing that myself.

Tanequa Tunstall: Through chanting Nam Myoho Renge Kyo, it brings up that courage in me that I have to fight, that I have to win. Thank you for coming in, being able to fight with me and win together. Let's win together!

Demetrius Brooks: Let's win

Tanequa Tunstall: Nam Myoho Renge Kyo. [crosstalk] Yes. Thank you so much.

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