Brother Boy. Bernard Ferrian. Beverly Leslie. The list of his beloved alter egos is longer than my left arm, but the name that matters most is Leslie Alan Jordan. He’s the actor we all know, love, and adore—and he’s also the one who has brought those characters and so many more to life on the screens in front of us for over thirty years. More recently he moved to a smaller screen of sorts when he shot to megafame on Instagram. His double daily visits during the days when we all found ourselves stuck at home were priceless. His greetings of “Well shit, how y’all doing?” and “Hello fellow hunker downers!” became something we all looked forward to each day. And whether that greeting was followed by him attempting a popular dance, a clip of him singing church hymns with friends, or just a quick moment as he ate a bowl of chicken salad and drank sweet tea while sharing a story about nothing much at all—we all signed up and stuck around for more.
Recently I had that very man in my very own car, and we drove all around his hometown of Chattanooga, Tennessee as he filled my ears with stories to last a lifetime. I’ve read both of his books and have followed his career for years—I even went all by myself to a tiny 100 seat theatre to watch his one man show back in 2008—so it was an absolute dream come true to learn a little bit more about him one on one. I listened a lot more than I talked, and if I were the type of person to keep a journal I would have gone straight home and assigned at least ten whole pages to account for our day. It was magical.
I didn’t really take many notes that day, but one thing he said struck me so deeply I made sure to jot it down. “There’s only one thing fame is good for—it gives you a platform, and then you decide if you’re gonna use it to give or to take.”
Wow. That’s so good. And so true. It’s also something that Mr. Leslie Jordan lives by daily. He told me, “Back in the 80’s we pretty much buried the whole phonebook. The AIDS epidemic was horrible and so many people were all alone.” That’s when he discovered Project Nightlight where he volunteered for years. He was one of many who sat with hospice patients when they had no one else, and it was through that work he says he learned that true happiness can only come from being of loving service to others. To this day he believes that is one of life’s biggest lessons.
Perhaps that’s why he’s so happy to be an ambassador for Cempa Community Care of Chattanooga. CCC works to improve the health and wellbeing of the community by providing access to compassionate and culturally sensitive health care services. “They approached me for a fundraiser several years ago, and I was so moved by their work I’ve continued to support them,” he said. Formerly Chattanooga CARES, CCC was organized in 1986 by citizens who wanted to support and advocate for the residents of the local area who were impacted by HIV and, at that time, often battling AIDS. In 1988, they received 501(c)3 non-profit status and continued to focus on social service advocacy, care, and assistance for those impacted by HIV. In the years since they were founded, they have grown and evolved to fit the needs of the community they serve. Now a full service health center, they are able to help all of their clients fight all sorts of illnesses. They offer treatment, prevention, and support services to those impacted with health disparities with a focus in primary and infectious disease care, and they do all of that regardless of a patient's ability to pay.
A few weeks after our fun day around town, I talked with Mr. Jordan over the phone to finish things up. We talked about helping others and he shared, “There was a family down the street who were poor. They didn’t have a lot and I always had to share with them. Christmas presents, clothes, whatever. And my daddy was such a good man. Talk about a giver… he was always superintendent of the Sunday school classes and was always involved. He never met a stranger, and he was so outgoing.”
Speaking of Sunday school, you may notice that Mr. Jordan refers to his Southern Baptist upbringing fairly often. Shoot—he even has a hit album filled with hymns! I took this opportunity to venture away from the non-profit chat for a moment and asked him about something I quite often ponder. I wanted to know why he thought people in the church, and more often times people in the South, are still sometimes scared and confused about our friends in the gay community. His answer was just as spectacular as he is. “I think there are people who have never put a face on it. Once they’ve met us and they become friends with us and talk to us, I don’t see anybody that could possibly have problems. I never once heard in my church growing up about homosexuality. They just never talked about it. Of course there’s verses in the Bible that people point to but—and I learned this from Dolly Parton—Jesus talked about a million trillion things, and never once did He mention it. God loves me just the way I am, and I believe in a God that doesn’t make mistakes.”
Can I get an Amen?
In the end what I really wanted to know was why he thought he turned out to be such a giver instead of a taker. He told me, “My mother, from day one, taught me to share what I had with others. I just have a giving spirit. You know, that’s the Christian principle.”
Here are a few other non-profits that Mary Alayne and Leslie both agree on:
The Del Shores Foundation: delshoresfoundation.org
McKamey Animal Center: mckameyanimalcenter.org