Black Voices

The Power of Influence

DePaul Norwood is passionate about teaching self-esteem and personal growth.

DePaul Norwood (Photo by B2ful Photography)

It was a packed night at Club 2020 in downtown Houston when DePaul Norwood climbed the steps to the stage as a Beyoncé song was blasting on the speakers. It was natural for him to want to dance as he danced for his mother and brother back home, but this was his first time on this stage joining in the excitement of club life.

Now, this wasn’t a performance. There were a couple of Beyhive members that would meet on the stage to do all the choreography they learned from TV. DePaul and three of his newfound friends stunned the crowd as they performed as if they were Beyoncé’s backup dancers.

Soon after, he was invited by Legacy Community Health’s mSociety Program to create a Confidence Class that was named “Be Like Bey.” The class lasted for three years and was a favorite of the organization, allowing DePaul to use his budding platform to benefit the wider community. He was not only able to develop the self-confidence of the hundreds of Black LGBTQ people who came to his classes, but he also presented at state conferences and delivered lectures in the community on the importance of self-esteem and personal growth.

A light bulb went off for DePaul when he recorded his class for social media and it went viral. People were commenting on this new take on a dance class that wasn’t primarily focused on form, but rather on joy and passion. From there, DePaul knew that it would be important to use social media if he wanted to amplify the impact of his work.

First, it was retweeted by major celebs from his content, then evolved into the viral web series Real Gay Wives of Houston, with over a million views

DePaul continues to be a force in the influencer community, but it hasn’t been all beautiful.

“I went through a very dark place in my life in 2022,” says DePaul. “I gained 80 pounds and hurt my leg and was stuck at my brother’s home for over a year. I missed my mom so much, and had it not been for my brother telling me we had to keep her legacy alive, I don’t know where I would be.”

Shirley Norwood, DePaul’s mother—as well as the web series’ co-writer and lead actress—passed away in 2018. She was a huge supporter of Depaul and his brother, Santana, and a mother to many people in the queer community. After her passing, DePaul’s star continued to rise, but he found himself “trying to run a business, but shut down on the inside.”

Once his brother gave him the strength and support to see that continuing the development of his star was an ode to his mother’s legacy, DePaul skyrocketed. He began to create animated characters on his social-media platforms and did voice-overs for them. In April of this year, he was at 13,000 followers on Instagram, and since getting back out there, he has soared above 210,000.

“Always treat people with respect, uplift the things that are important, and
teach love.”   
—DePaul Norwood

This level of influence is new to him, but he is still the same person dedicated to building communities for marginalized people. You will often see him sharing inspirational and authentic messages, and even working with Texas State Representative Jolanda Jones and other local politicians to get important and culturally relevant information to the public.

Though the ride to find his star has been a journey, the truest essence of influence is what you do with the power you have. “I always knew I would become popular through social media because I pay attention to people,” DePaul says. “What is more important is to always treat people with respect, to uplift the things that are important, and to teach love. That’s what my mom always taught us.”

DePaul’s star is bright, but what is even brighter is his heart and his mother’s legacy. Continuing to keep her memory alive, he is now completing the last season of The Real Gay Wives of Houston and, in December, will be releasing Shirley the Queen, a  documentary about the last moments of his mother’s illness and her continued legacy through her sons.

Follow Depaul Norwood on Instagram at @depaul_norwood for info on The Normal Anomaly’s HUSHChat: Influencer Edition, where he will talk pop culture and politics with a cadre of social-media influencers and politicians at KIKI Houston on October 7, 3–6 p.m.

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Ian Haddock

Ian L. Haddock aspires to be a conduit of joy in all things activism and art. He is a published author and writer and leads a team of nontraditional activists at The Normal Anomaly Initiative, Inc.
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