A Candid Discussion with Damon Percy, President of the Black Bear Brotherhood

As part of my continuing look at the expanding black bear community, we turn our focus to The Black Bear Brotherhood, an organization founded in Detroit nearly seven years ago.  What started out as a monthly gathering of friends has turned into a movement in the Motor City and beyond.  Their mission is to foster a safe space for the community and be a voice for them.  BBB is shattering stereotypes, misconceptions and has created a welcoming environment for their members. Black Bears exist in many spaces everywhere and are being seen for the intelligent, industrious men they are. As chapters grow across the country, we are in conversation with one of the Detroit Chapter Presidents.

J. Tebias: Good evening, Damon Percy! This has been a long-awaited interview. I’ve heard so much about you. We have so many mutuals in the Bear and Leather community together and I feel like we’ve been friends for a long time. It seems like it was just destined for us to meet.

Damon Percy: Yes, yes, especially on this platform.

Damon Percy, President of Detroit’s Black Bear Brotherhood

J. Tebias: Tell us a little bit about yourself, who are you, what you’re about, what do you do?

Damon Percy: Hello everybody. I am Damon Percy, better known as Magic, I am a Detroit native. I’m 51 years old. I have been working in the community for the last 31 years. I have worked in the entertainment industry. I’ve been a publicist. I’m a writer. Currently, I sit on the boards of several organizations here in Detroit, the Detroit Sound Conservancy, which is a musical historical preservation society. I’m a member of Kappa Psi Kappa Fraternity Incorporated. I’m a member of LGBT Detroit, which is the longest running black lead African American gay organization in the country, celebrating 30 years next year. Currently, I’m the president of Black Bear Brotherhood here in Detroit, which is what we’re here to talk about. And what am I about? I’ve always been about uplifting our people in the community.

J. Tebias: That’s absolutely amazing and I too sit on a few boards, and it is exhausting because you got to give this mental capacity and broadband to this organization then to this one. I guess it sounds like it’s a labor of love and you are passionate not only about moving the LGBTQIA plus community forward but also bear culture too.

Damon Percy: Black Bear Brotherhood started out as a potluck nearly seven years ago. L. Michael Gipson, who is a world-renowned critic and author, created several organizations in the country to foster that type of inclusive culture and just to help people in the community. He is like a mentor. He created the organization. It was his home that we all went to once a month and broke bread and made relationships. After about maybe a year or something, the idea was coming because people were starting to bring more of their friends who were bears and we saw that they were having a good time, they were comfortable, they were safe, they could speak freely about the issues that they have because as people may not know, gay culture is very superficial.

J. Tebias: When you see flyers, do you typically see black bears that are identified in those publications?

Damon Percy: Not at all. I also used to work at several clubs in the 90s, so I know our flyers were of muscular men and all of that brought the boys to the party. But I know for those guys who are bigger, I know they felt left out because I would hear the conversations because I have friends from all parts of the community. In life I think that the marginalization comes from people of color already feeling a certain way. As children, you always pick on the big kids. The fat boy, the fat girl, you always make fun of them. That trauma sticks with them as they get older. Then just say they grow up, grow out of the baby fat, and work out. Now everybody is like “Oh my God you look so good, you lost all this weight.” But for some people, the fat kid is still sitting right there. A lot of that trauma is not dispelled and going into dating or going to the world, when people see you, you know they’ll again overlook you especially in gay culture.

The church really messed us up with that.

J. Tebias: Religion really gave us a standard of what was feminine and accepted and what was masculine and accepted. I think religion really, really changed too, painted black folks in that regard. 

Damon Percy: Being a Butch queen, that’s what I was labeled back in the day, gives you the energy of both. It was like I could be either more feminine or masculine or whatever, but men would see me the same way. If I didn’t look like I was about to steal your car, you’re not going to talk to me. I’m going to pass because he’s gonna hit me in the back of my neck. I have a cousin, a big guy. He was one of the first people that I hung out with when we came out, he and his friends. They were all big guys and they used to get dates left and right. That’s why I never understood how people didn’t like big men like my cousin. We were 18 and 19, but they were always dressed, they were fine. We go out, I’m the smallest one in the car. We go out and people in the Midwest, we eat. A lot of things are thicker here, like bigger in Texas is different than being thicker in Michigan and Illinois.

J. Tebias: What specific goals as the president of the organization do you envision for the Black Bear Brotherhood for the future?

Damon Percy: I want us to be a movement. I want people to be in any space and see themselves reflected. I want them to know that they’re not alone and never have been. I want the organization to be able to present people past their size. I want people to see men of substance and careers as a fully formed person, not as a fetish. I don’t want to see bears just on the flyer at a sex party being entertained by the “big boy chasers.” We are the party. If you are not coming as a true supporter of our mission and goals, then don’t come to this party. I want people to see these men in all spaces of the world. I want people to look at them differently.

J. Tebias: When you say chasers or people who admire big boys or fat boys, how are they welcomed in those spaces? Are they known by most of the organizations that they are, I want to think of a word that’s better than chaser.

Damon Percy: Yeah, I do too. The thing is I said fetish first. Because that’s better to chaser because that’s the truth of it. The truth of it is, somebody who likes big guys is different. That’s somebody who’s just going to have sex with a big guy and not deal with them anymore. That’s different. That’s like the black man being a fetish. People want us but don’t want us. They seek us out under cover of darkness. Then it continues to whatever both parties agree to, if they agree to anything. If I go to a white club, I’m a piece of gold. But if you see me on the street, you won’t look at me twice. People will have to know the truth. Acknowledge me outside of a space that you want to.

J. Tebias: How does Black Bear Brotherhood address challenges of stereotypes faced by black bears in predominantly white dominated spaces within the LGBTQIA community?

Damon Percy: By creating this organization, we have created our own lane and established our own space in places that we were not welcomed and where you would not expect us to be. In a white space, know when we show up, we’re there. 

You are creating a culture that explicitly left us out. You feel that you invented the wheel. But we’re creating it because ours is really self-love and empowerment. It’s about going into these spaces and not being the dismissive ones. Our aggression is just our presence. When we come into the spaces, we are invited to be here. We bring our own table, you can come over to us and ask us what you want to, but I’m not coming to ask your permission to be anywhere. A lot of times we apologize and shrink ourselves in spaces that are white dominated because of the unknown.

J. Tebias: Have you ever had an opportunity where you were in a white dominated space and you had to make the organization palpable and digestible for people to better understand?

Damon Percy: No, because when we go, we’re us. When you see us, how could we ever be anything other than who we are and what we represent. That’s the beauty of us. We have our shirts, we have banners, we have all that stuff. I do not talk any different to them than I am to you. I’m coming in being respectful of the space. However, we’re not going to be any different because when you see 20 to 25 big chocolate milk brothers showing up, it turns heads.

My generation, we lived through being able to party every day, while the younger people are going to the white spaces to really try to enjoy the fullness of themselves, but they can’t because the music is different, just the way people see them is different. During our time it was black. But the thing I love about this is that we’ll go into a space and turn it black. We want to take it over. We’re taking it over.

J. Tebias: Is it really about that? Or is it about showing up to the space unapologetically?

Damon Percy: Yes, it’s showing up to the space unapologetically. When you do that, it shakes the foundation of where you’re going. They can’t deny that you’re there. When we go to spaces, they can’t deny that we’re there. If it’s a white space and we go, then it’s almost like what are you gonna do? Because we’re here and we’re coming. We’re coming as a professional, legitimate organization. We’re coming as a group of professional men who have an organization, which has members, and we’re here. We’re not being the stereotypes that you want us to be. We’re being ourselves. We’re being our authentic selves. Unapologetically so. When it comes to that, we walk in, we come into that room. And we’re there.

J. Tebias: I just think it’s a beautiful thing. When you talk about membership and I vetted the organization and everything is just beautiful and open and inviting, is it always like that? Because I’m part of the leather community, I’m part of all of it, but is the paper sack test still the thing even within black bear culture?

Damon Percy: We’ve had people show up, of course you have a few bad apples, just kind of popping in and they come with somebody. Because they’re also expecting something different, it’s explained to them what it is. Just like with Onyx, if I tell you we’re going to an Onyx event, you’re thinking you’re gonna be tied to the wall and all that craziness, when it’s just a party. There’s so many plus size men of color in our community, they really help protect that as well. They are choosy about who they bring. We welcome all but want people to know this is a safe space for our bears, but now they have found the tribe, their home, it’s kind of like the hub. We welcome all the bears; we want them to find us. We want them to come and be safe. We want them to know that this is not a stereotype.

J. Tebias: So, what you’re referring to is people who are coming into this space overtly sexualizing larger guys because of their own sexual appetites?

Damon Percy: Yeah, and that is so common. I think we get further and further away from the real purpose of community when we put sex before everything. Though we are sexual beings as well, we can’t use that as the intro because that lessens our ranks. That’s just me.

J. Tebias: What do you think about that?

Damon Percy: I think so as well, because I think people stereotype gay men as soon as they walk in the room, that they want to have sex with each other. And that’s not true. I think a lot of people don’t understand. A lot of people form these bonds, friendships, and kinships and are in these spaces to be free of that a lot of times – their daily lives, our outside lives, whatever they do outside of our events is what they do; everyone is consenting adults. I’m not saying this is Sunday school or anything like that, but it isn’t the main thing if you meet somebody and you connect, then get yo life honey! We have a lot of people that are already coupled up and some people just come because there’s a lot of good-looking men, that’s to be expected.

J. Tebias: Tell me about some of the events and initiatives organized by the Black Bear Brotherhood to support your members and the broader community?

Damon Percy: Initially when we started Black Bear Brotherhood, we were working with Counter Narrative Project (CNP) in Atlanta, founded by Charles Stephens. He was one of our community partners and we were doing a lot of voting drives and political rallies for the community to really educate our bears on why they need to be voting and why it’s important and why in all aspects of their life – black, gay, male that they need to increase their knowledge about what’s going on. We have those things plus community panels with CMP and Onyx; the large presence of us in what would usually be a predominately white space, they weren’t ready for it! The numbers were large, and the energy was larger, because it was packed. You see men in leather, large beautiful brown men, they rolled up for us, for themselves. We’ve done that. We always have our annual anniversary picnic, which is Memorial Day weekend. We’ve been part of events that celebrated our literary and cultural heritage. Celebrating Essex Hemphill, the IN The LIFE anthology, we introduced that to younger generations. We will also have some monthly movie nights, showing cultural classics to a new generation. Being one of the older gentlemen I’ve seen them all, but a lot of them hadn’t heard of it because of VHS days and stuff is not online. We have a program called Care Bears that was created to help support mental health and help our brothers who are in crisis as well as dealing with loss and grief. That is especially important to us, and we’ve had medical professionals come in and speak to us as well as training the members of our board to be certified. That program really took shape during COVID, when people were isolated and sometimes ill. We made sure people had food packages, access to healthcare and whatever they needed. That’s one of our big initiatives, the Care Bears. We always try to do some type of political panel quarterly. That was our base really, just really making people know that it’s not just about a good party, but it’s about serving the community. Don’t think we just sit around and eat and talk all the time. We really try to make a difference. So, to the many gentlemen who are politicians or doing community work, we show up. We’ll host you. During our pride picnics, we cook for everybody. Just show up. If people are doing stuff, we just make sure our presence is felt for our other Black organizations here.

J. Tebias: That’s beautiful. And what message do you hope to convey to those who may struggle with their Black identity within the bear community?

Damon Percy: I would like for our black bears here and whoever finds us to know they are loved, to know they are important and vital to the community. It’s not about what society says. It’s about when you look in the mirror every day, what do you see? It’s about when you lay your head down, what do you see? Your success is in loving who you are. And when you find us, we amplify that by you seeing yourself in another brother who has gone through the same traumas, joys and struggles as you as a plus size man. I’m not saying everybody does, but society would have you believe that every large person is a sad person when those people are pulling more dates than they ever would. Back to my message for people to know that we see you, we’re here and your voice is important. You need to tell your story and connect and really let people know hey, I’m a bigger guy, this is how I live, this is how I exist. Black Bear Brotherhood is a brotherhood. We’re a collective of people from all across the country. It’s revolutionary. We’re loving, we’re fraternal, we’re spiritual, emotional. We go through all those things with compassion. Compassion is at the core of who we are, that really kind of fuels the passion of the people who work behind the scenes and the people who show up for us because people don’t have to come. We do it as a labor of love because we believe the more that we’re heard the more people will come.

J. Tebias: OK, well, well, two last questions. This is two-part. How can individuals get involved with supporting the black Bear brotherhood and what do you envision for the future of the Brotherhood?

Damon Percy: How you can support us? You can follow us on Facebook and Instagram @BlackBearBrotherhood and our website is You can go on any of those sites and you can donate to us and tell us things that you all want us to do because that would just help. Anything would help. We want to have bigger events and more visibility. We want to have black tie affairs, to really get the boys cleaned up and dressed up. I envision that by us creating this and really sticking with it, eventually there will be chapters all over, a black bear brotherhood that people in other cities will create a leg of what we’re doing here so everybody can get a turn and get a voice. We’re not holding it to us, it’s giving back to our community. As we grow larger, we want people to also be branches of this tree that we’re growing. Just within that, just for people to see the dynamic gentlemen across the US and eventually the world as we grow.

J. Tebias: This is not the last – I definitely want to have an intimate conversation with you, because I think that you are not only just a wealth of knowledge for black men, but I think that you are the revolution that is coming or that’s already here. Do you have any closing thoughts or any closing words that you would like to part with Bear World Magazine?

Damon Percy: First, of course, thank you for this opportunity. I want to say that I am glad that I’m having a chance to tell this story because I feel for black people, especially black people identified in the LGBTQ plus community, that they don’t want your stories to be told or your voices to be heard. My message is to always make sure that you speak up for yourself and find your home. Find your tribe so you can have a voice. Find where you should be. Always remember to love yourself – remember to look at yourself in the mirror every day and love yourself. Whatever size you are, walk in the room and own it. Own whatever space you step into. That’s what we do.

 J. Tebias: Well, thank you so much, Damon Percy. You are just magnificent. I can sit right here and talk to you all night. The first time we talked, y’all we stayed on the phone for one hour and 17 minutes. And I believe in the power of numbers. My birthday is January 17th, so I believe in divine intervention. Energy, positive energy, exchange of energy. All of that. So, I see a bright future of us sharing stories about black bears and people who identify as black bears on this platform.

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J. Tebias Perry

Master J. Tebias Perry, native of Atlanta, GA, has been immersed in the world of leather since the early 2000s. An avid traveler with a passion for immersing himself in diverse cultures, he is an enthusiastic explorer of international cuisines and delights in sampling new flavors. Renowned for his brand-themed event "Bulge," Master J.Tebias Perry is celebrated for curating the annual "Tacos and Tequila" fundraiser in Atlanta, a charitable endeavor that directs 100% of its proceeds to registered 501c3 organizations. A former member of ONYX, the esteemed national leather and kink fraternity for gay and bisexual men of color, he is an accomplished educator, mentor, activist, and a dynamic freelance journalist contributing to local gay publications. His accomplishments also extend to his role as a distinguished judge for the IML45 class of International Mr. Leather in Chicago, a testament to his respected position within the leather community. In a significant stride, he was appointed to the Governance Committee at the Leather Archives and Museum in March 2023, underscoring his commitment to preserving and championing the legacy of leather culture. Marking a pinnacle moment in his journey, he recently authored his inaugural book, "Leather Mentorship," which had its World Premiere in Sydney, Australia in August 2023. A constant advocate for community service, he remains devoted to serving the community to the fullest.

One thought on “A Candid Discussion with Damon Percy, President of the Black Bear Brotherhood

  • Didn’t know this movement was so big and really vibrant

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