Back in the day, and while working two jobs, Diane Harvey lovingly indoctrinated her offspring with a sense of responsibility and community, a strong work ethic and the capacity to love greatly. She truly had a penchant for instilling the best in her children and it’s something her eldest son RJ Harvey will always remain indebted to her for.
Harvey, a passionate and well-spoken professional reflects upon his contributions to community and recalls his childhood as a young Black gay boy from Jackson, Mississippi with a pronounced speech impediment. “I needed to be able to take care of things while she was away [at work]. I didn’t have time to think about my stuttering then, because you gotta get your shit together and get things done. I had to be able to communicate whatever had to be done to my siblings.” Today, Harvey is a staunch and eloquent communicator driven to empowering others by always “getting it done.”
L’Monique King: What was it like being a little Black gay boy in Jackson, Mississippi?
RJ Harvey: I came out in Jackson Mississippi as a 14-year-old gay male. It’s a much more conservative community. It was hard! It was hard because of the things that I wore, the things that people saw; my skin color, then me being gay, then being poor, then being fat and then my speech impediment, I stuttered. I had a large circle of friends however and by the time I left home in 1994 there were only five of us left. There was no [HIV/AIDS] outreach and only one gay club. People were just dying and there was no conversation about it. If you didn’t do your own research, you just listened to what was said on the news and all you knew was that you were highly susceptible.
LMK: Those were difficult times. But wait, did you say stuttered?
RJH: Yes. They wanted to hold me back in the first grade because I did not speak. Most kids that age are little chatterboxes. But for me, I was either afraid to speak or didn’t because I was concerned that I was not going to be able to finish my thought – stuck because I was stuttering. It caused such humiliation, more than my race or sexuality. In the ninth grade my teacher asked me to read a portion of our lesson for that day. She saw that I was struggling (because I stuttered) but she never stopped to say, I see you’re struggling – let’s stop or move onto another person. I put my head on my desk and just cried. She may have seen it as an opportunity to empower me, an honor student – but I didn’t see it that way.
LMK: How is it that you’re not stuttering through this interview?
RJH: My darling, darling mother, the most gentle woman you’ll ever meet. But like most mothers when you mess with their kids, was an advocate before the word was being used and encouraged my second-grade teacher to get me a speech therapist. That started it, though I was still stuttering by ninth grade. But when I moved to New York years later, I was working for a bank and saw a free newspaper (The Learning Annex). There was a three day class for people with speech impediments. One of the techniques that they used was a metronome (a musical device that sets pace). In that class, they showed us, if you keep the pace of your conversation, you’re less likely to focus on what you can’t say.
LMK: How did you end up in Charlotte?
RJH: When I moved from Jackson at 18, I went into the military for basic training in Great Lakes Illinois. After completing basic I was stationed in Norfolk Virginia. Two years later I was stationed in Earle, New Jersey and left the military August 11, 1997 and moved to New York. I lived there until 2008 when I moved to Charlotte. I had started a consulting business and many of my clients were in Charlotte. Plus, I had worked in the banking industry and thought, if my business fails, I can always go back into banking because outside of New York City, Charlotte is the second largest city in the country with the largest population of banks, financial institutions and private equity firms.
LMK: What was it like being gay and in the Navy?
RJH: Most of us were 17, 18, 19-year-old boys who had never been far from home. So, my sexuality at that point was the low man on the totem pole because basically we were all just scared, having never been this far away from home. I remember a time when I was in my post training, E Lynn Harris’s “Invisible Life” had just come out and I was in my barracks reading, and I didn’t hide it. We were in groups of 80 so I read that book in front of 79 other perfect strangers and it was very affirming. Later I was stationed in Norfolk Virginia and reading James Earl Hardy. Someone asked me what I was reading. I explained it to him and we ended up in a relationship for four years (hearty laughter), He’d never been with a man before and didn’t know it could be like this. He had his own picture of what gay was like [stereotypes of very feminine, delicate or weak], very opposite of the characters in Hardy’s “B-Boy Blues.”
LMK: So, no homophobic military horror stories?
RJH: No. I kinda fall into that other category. I would go down to the weight room and could lift, squat and curl as much as anyone else so they didn’t really mess with me. They pretty much assumed I was straight and not until we were in an environment or in a place where a heterosexual man is supposed to respond in a certain way (like being at a party or a club with girls you’re expected to approach) did they question my orientation. When they did question, I was honest. I’d say, “I appreciate it, but I like boys.”
LMK: What do you do for work?
RJH: I am a partner in a residential and commercial construction firm, Hendricks Builders. That’s my main job, and I also have a side hustle, but it’s really not a side hustle – it’s the most gratifying part of my day.
I’m the director of real estate development and construction for West Side Community Land Trust. It’s a community lead and formed organization that focuses on permanent affordable housing. It’s not work, I just have stuff to do. It’s gratifying, because growing up as a child who lived in public housing and dealt with housing insecurity to now have a job that centers finding housing for people – wow!
LMK: Tell us about your involvement with the City Planning Commission.
RJH: Being a part of it is amazing! I was appointed by council member Victoria Watlington, as a City Planning Commission member. There are 11 members. We were introduced by my work in the community, specifically my work with Clanton Park Neighborhood Association and the West Boulevard Neighborhood Coalition. Most members are in real estate, construction or both. What I find so amazing is being able to bring my experience from both those industries, but I get to equally bring my commitment to community. The planning commission basically oversees all the zoning or rezoning for the city. It’s exciting, the decisions that are made – impact my community.
LMK: What future successes do you look forward to?
RJH: I’m definitely married. I want to have the opportunity to continue to be a willing servant in my community. I see myself continuously being surrounded by a growing family and establishing traditions that impact our future generations.
LMK: Are you currently partnered?
LMK: Would you like to be?
RJH: Yes, very much so.
LMK: Describe your Mr. Right.
RJH: My ideal partner is a beautiful man, both inside and out. He loves his family and his creator. He’s affectionate, responsive, knows how to love me and most importantly, knows how to love himself. He’s smart enough and confident enough to have his individual goals but has the willingness to create joint goals.
LMK: Any learned life lessons you’d like to leave readers with?
RJH: The only limitations are the ones that you place on yourself. If there’s something that you want to do, there’s a path, direct or indirect, you can get there.