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I walked out of my retail job and into a new life as a Black, queer artist. Here’s how.

Justice Dwight murals in Havana Cuba
Courtesy Author

Justice Dwight describes a journey from a mundane job in retail to finding opportunities as a Black queer artist.

On September 12, 2023, a divine force – whether divine spirit or the essence of Beyoncé – compelled me to storm out of the doors of my retail job. In that moment, a reassuring voice echoed in my head, saying, "I got you.” Uncertain of its origin, I embraced the unknown, breaking free from the monotonous routine of an uninspiring job.

Working long hours and selling products for the sake of profit no longer aligned with my aspirations. As the retail doors closed behind me for the last time, I was propelled into the vast expanse of uncertainty, grateful for the freedom ahead.

Justice Dwight murals Havana CubaCourtesy Artist

The very next day, I embarked on a journey to Los Angeles for GLAAD's Black Queer Creative Summit. Selected among 150 creatives from a pool of 500 applicants, I found solace in not having my future entirely figured out. The summit, a realm of royalty and care, reaffirmed my purpose as an artist. Connecting with like-minded creatives, especially meeting Sunshine, a Black trans woman, proved pivotal. She breathed life into me, emphasizing the importance of necessary conversations in accurately representing our community.

Returning home, recharged and reinvigorated, I embraced my true self. The summit had reminded me that Black queer joy knows no bounds. Whether dedicating 40 hours a week to my craft or navigating a 9-to-5 job, I believed in the journey. An unexpected call from an old boss led me to a job leading a mural project for the Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) Youth Center, a challenge I embraced with enthusiasm.

As I designed the mural, unexpected opportunities continued to unfold. A message from a past client, a U.S. diplomat, presented the chance to paint a mural in Cuba. Despite self-doubt creeping in, I embraced the unknown.

Justice Dwight murals Havana CubaCourtesy Artist

The journey to Cuba, filled with missed flights and unexpected detours, culminated in a 20-ft tall mural celebrating Black queerness. Designed to portray the internal conflict of being queer, the mural showcased various aspects of love and the vibrant beauty of Black trans women, epitomized by my friend Sunshine. The experience in Cuba, surrounded by love and acceptance, changed my life in ways I'm still processing.

Catch our exclusive interview with Justice Dwight on The Advocates!

In December 2023, I stood before the completed mural in Cuba, a symbol of the unforeseen blessings that awaited me after leaving my retail job. My story is a testament to self-celebration through any medium. Whether commissioning a portrait or donning a special outfit for an imaginary occasion, it's valid to find ways to praise oneself.

Thanks to the voices that guided me, especially Beyoncé, I rediscovered self-love, quit my job, and embarked on a new path, embracing everything I love.

Justice Dwight is a self-taught mixed-media artist and muralist based in Richmond, Virginia. His work can be found at www.justicedwight.com. Follow them on Instagram at @justicedwight.

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