Remarkable People 2022: Rocky Butler, 9 Colors Initiative Founder

I have been an activist, educator and advocate for the intersectional LGBTQ+ community for over a decade. I came to Florida from New York for a fresh start, but one thing I could never leave behind was my work.

I met Rocky when I was asked to attend a conversation about uplifting diversity in Tampa Bay’s Pride community. I listened to his story about working tirelessly to break into the existing Pride network to be able to make it to a table and create real change.

It’s a hell of a mountain to climb. It’s frustrating and exhausting to know you have insights and connections to communities that are underrepresented and misunderstood but that your influence is downplayed and your suggestions are ignored. When you are young and Black, it happens all the time.

Rocky and I talked for a long time about the tremendous things he’d already accomplished. He talked about the diversity and equity work that 9 Colors Initiative does and about the connections and collaborations he was building.

I had done some DEI work around Pride and was able to make some introductions. He took off and did the rest of the work himself.

Those are the type of people you want to push doors open for, because you know they will make every bit of it count and achieve more than you could imagine. In the short time since, Rocky has continued to uplift and provide a stage for the Ballroom scene in Tampa Bay, which is iconic in Black Queer culture. 9 Colors continues to grow and not just as an avenue of entertainment or education but in outreach and community care.

My organization was able to stand by his while they were feeding folks who were down on their luck or affected by Hurricane Ian, thanks to his amazing collaboration with Sysco food. Rocky formed a diversity advisory council to hold St Pete Pride accountable for centering inclusion in their festivities and we worked with the board to hold their second annual Juneteenth celebration during Pride this year.

Whether we are meeting to plan, vent or collaborate, it is always something I am so grateful for. There is just nothing like building with folks who understand your passion and the very different way of life you have when your work centers community.

Meanwhile, Rocky knows absolutely everyone and has a plug for everything, so I’ve also benefited in so many ways from the introductions he has made for me in my work. I’ve called him the hardest working man in show business. Most days this work feels like anything but show business, but his work ethic toward it is absolutely undefeated.

It has been a pleasure to get to know him and learn how his mind works. I get pure joy watching him tilt his head slightly to the side right before he is about to go in and tell someone exactly what he thinks, in a way only he can.

That may be my favorite and the most remarkable thing about him: his innate ability to be his most authentic self at all times.

To view the full list of Watermark’s Remarkable People of 2022, click here.

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