Jovaun P. Hicks was dissatisfied by the lack of representation for LGBTQ men of color and larger size in media, public-health advertisements, and Pride celebrations. Instead of forcing his way into these spaces, Hicks took what he had learned from various “big-boy events” and helped create Heavy Hitters Pride. The unique three-day celebration is gearing up for another life-changing weekend, July 30 through August 1 at Hilton Houston Westchase—and Hicks and his team already have dreams for expansion.
Hicks explains that organizing Heavy Hitters Pride events was not the original mission of the group. “In 2014, Heavy Hitters came about as a discussion group [at] the mSSociety, a drop-in center located in Montrose at Legacy Community Health. We had an area where you could meet, have conversations, and watch TV,” the out gay leader recalls. “I met with one of the directors and told them I had an idea for a group for men of size, allies, and admirers to meet and have conversations about things that plague us. The men-of-size community is overlooked, and I wanted to create a safe space where we could meet and chat.”
After Hicks laid this foundation for the group, they gained the attention of someone who nudged him to take the next step. “My friend Terry and I were traveling to other events that were deemed ‘big boy’ events. A friend approached me and said he had attended the discussion groups, and he asked if we were interested in hosting an event like those we had attended,” Hicks says. “I initially declined because I knew it was a big undertaking, but eventually I agreed to be a part of it. We developed Heavy Hitters Pride, and we had our first event in 2015.
“When we were going to Pride events, there wasn’t a ton of representation for big guys. You’d see the muscle boys and the twinks, and we thought, ‘Where are the big dudes in these advertisements? Where is the representation?’” the public-health professional reflects. Speaking to what makes Heavy Hitters special, Hicks focuses on the inclusive nature of the safe spaces he creates. “Attending anything that is Heavy Hitters-related is an opportunity to have an empowering and allowing experience. We are creating experiences for men of size to be free, inclusive, recognized, empowered, acknowledged. All events are geared toward men of size, but we are open to anyone that wants to party with us.”
As they prepare to celebrate their sixth year, Hicks notes that Heavy Hitters’ unique gatherings can give his community lifelong confidence and, well, pride. “We have empowerment sessions, informative sessions, and a luncheon on Sunday that embraces our guests. We have a brunch that has spoken-word performers and other entertainers. And our pool party is so dope to me! I was never comfortable taking my shirt off, but at my events and other big-boy events, I saw big guys walking around the pool with their shirts off and having a good time. It’s an opportunity to be free,” he says.
“One thing I love about the weekend, even if it’s just three days, is that it’s centered around [letting people experience] a reality of how life should be. You should feel free to be this empowered every day.”
Events like this are especially important for those who are working on self-esteem issues, but Hicks explains that even the most confident person can gain something from a Heavy Hitters event. “It’s an unfortunate reality, but sometimes the first thing a man of size thinks of is, ‘How is my day going to be?’ I have to put this armor up because I’m a little larger than the typical person. Smaller individuals don’t have that barrier. That’s not to say others aren’t struggling, but as a larger guy, I have to second-guess so much just to avoid being stared at, or the butt of someone’s joke. We aim to create an environment where people feel like they don’t have to put on.”
It’s an exciting time for the group as in-person events once again become possible. Hicks explains this year’s theme is a celebration of making it out to the other side of COVID.
“Our standard motto is, ‘Heavy Hitters Pride, where every pound has a story,’” Hicks says proudly. “Every person that participates has a story. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to do a 2020 event, so our 2021 theme of “Through It All, Still Here” [is a reflection on how] 2020 was a hard time for so many people. We’ve endured COVID, the winter storm, got a new political administration, and so on—and we are all still here.”
While Hicks’ 2021 empowerment conference is sure to offer a beacon of hope and safety for attendees, he is looking forward to even better events in the years to come. “In the future, the goal is to be able to have our own physical location. I would love to have an area to host meetings [with enough space] so people can gather to have conversations. I want them to be empowered to [take a good look] at why individuals are who they are.”
For more information, visit heavyhitterspride.com.
This article appears in the July 2021 edition of OutSmart magazine.