Dairrick Khalil Hodges: Performing Artist, Vocalist, Musician, Activist, Survivor
By Terrill A. Herris, General Council Member
Helping to facilitate a conversation around mental health, including promoting the benefits of creating affinity space for healing has long been a goal for our coalition. Terrill recently connected with native San Diegan Dairrick Khalil Hodges, who provides culturally sensitive mental health resources with an overall goal to improve Black mental health and wellness and seeks to create an inclusive San Diego community.
Let’s spotlight the important work he is doing and learn why this work is so vital to our community.
Trigger Warning: Mentions of death and self-harm
A third generation San Diegan, Hodges calls his roots Southeast, having also spent some time living and hanging out in North Park and City Heights. “It’s home, I love it and am over it all at once… it’s a mixed bag,” he says referring to the pros and cons of Black life in San Diego.
Also known by his performance name, Khalil Bleux or simply Bleux, a label he adopted about 6 years ago when he dyed his hair blue and friends began to call him that. According to Hodges,“It’s a San Diego thing that really got solidified in Washington D.C. when I performed there, after that I officially added it to my stage name."
Growing up here has provided an interesting perspective for Hodges. A childhood he describes as shielded.
“Southeast is kind of tucked off into a little corner of San Diego and if you are not from there or familiar with it you have no idea what area I’m talking about; that was kind of my experience being a little Black boy in that neighborhood,” he recalls.
Coming into adulthood he describes his experiences now as filled with friction. Growing up surrounded by Black people, it's challenging for him to hear transplants complain about the lack of brown faces. It wasn’t until he arrived at high school that he gained a different perspective of San Diego.
“It wasn't until I started getting bussed out and left my community that I even knew how big San Diego was in general,” referring to places like La Jolla, La Mesa, and Escondido that make up San Diego’s north county, largely unfamiliar to him up to this point. “That was an eye opener for me. The further you pan out you realize how small your community is.”
He also realized how racist or deficient of anti-racism San Diego really was and continues to be today.
“There aren’t a lot of spaces that are as safe and welcoming for people who identify on the spectrum; and for Blackness it’s the same thing. There are areas where people are comfortable with people of color and there are other places where if people see us in their neighborhood, they assume we are in the wrong place.” This is the sentiment he felt for the first time he ventured into some of those north county communities aforementioned, and since then it has been his mission to claim space in San Diego for the Black community, particularly youth that identify along the queer spectrum. “We’ve been on a mission to claim space in San Diego for a very long time.”
Since he was 15 years old Hodges has served youth of color, providing a platform to connect their experiences with mental health and provide support. These services he says were hard to find as he struggled through his adolescent years having been raised in foster care and having been homeless himself.
“I was treated in this community like I was the problem and that I was the source of my own problem when that wasn’t actually true,” as he recalls how teachers and counselors made him feel. He vowed to make sure that those young people following in his footsteps would have the resources that he didn’t have by working in social services. He was one of the first young people he know to leave foster care and immediately start working as a youth support partner within the system.
Striving to bring the best parts of himself and his work together, he uses his lens of lived experience to serve his community from a perspective of what he calls real investment and equal stake in the outcome. That lived experience he speaks of also includes losing his grandmother to suicide when he was 9 years old and an attempt at suicide himself. In 2015, he also lost his mother and felt compelled to focus on the things that were important to him, so he founded SOULcial Workers, a creative development collective focused on suicide prevention and other social education services.
“We use entertainment as a tool for education in helping people have important conversations around trauma and healing and mental health and we have a focus on suicide prevention,” he says, emphasizing that this work to build space for people to have safe conversations for healing and understanding of their lived experiences teaches them how to be present in the world, or in some cases healthily absent.
Remarkably, Hodges doesn’t stop there. He also teaches theatre art camps for teen suicide prevention, facilitates a leadership development group for young people to engage their peers in conversations about working with civic leaders on how to invite youth to the table to speak for themselves, and consults with politicians and civic leaders on how to have more ant-racist space to partner further with young people and those of color in the community.
In response to the killing of George Floyd, he co-founded Sit-In San Diego, a space for Black people to have direct and honest conversations about what their experiences are, as well as some collective healing work. “And that’s our form of protest too, because we believe that Black people making the choice to sit together and heal out-loud is a form of protest,” highlighting the notion that so much of what happens to Black people is silenced. “So much of the pain that we feel, so much of the challenges that we come up against in our lived experiences, we have to paint strength and resilience over it.”
He names that in the Black community, we often don’t deal with the things that hurt us.
By ending that culture of silence and working through the lens of anti-racism and inclusivity, these voices are being heard. “And I think we see evidence of that every day especially what’s going on now, people are so polarized by these conversations… shell-shocked because they really lived under a lens of protection thinking that these issues didn’t live here with them, that it wasn’t in our community, that it didn’t live in their own mindsets or their own behaviors,” he says.
San Diego and our nation are being called to be introspective in ways that they never have before.
“So it’s a lot of inviting people to stand in the mirror right now!” he emphasized. The work that Hodges is doing is important and hopefully pivotal to not only growing a more inclusive community but also creating space that values the community that already exists.
"I still standby that we do have a strong Black community present in San Diego. There are lot of powerful, really talented, really smart, really successful Black people that live here but we don’t exist in community,” he summarizes.
And Hodges is just the kind of leader we need to make San Diego a place we can all be proud to call our home.