BE Modern Man is an integrative program that honors the essence, image, and accomplishments of today’s man of color. With features of today’s leaders, executives, creatives, students, politicians, entrepreneurs, professionals, and agents of change—these men share the common thread of creating a new normal while setting the bar in tech, art, philanthropy, business, and beyond. The BE Modern Man is making a positive impact, his way, and has a story to tell.
BE MODERN MAN RONALD A. DRAPER
Name: Ronald A. Draper
Profession: Visual Artist | Owner of the RD Showroom | Director of Contemporary Arts & Culture, Harlem Hospital
One word that describes me: Relentless
What does being one of the BEMM 100 Men of Distinction mean to you?
Being one of the BEMM 100 Men of Distinction is an absolute honor and a testament to the fact that you can have a great impact on the world around you while working in a non-traditional space. We usually hear that we should be: Doctors, Lawyers, or Policemen. I feel like this honor justifies the work that I do, not for me, but for the young person reading this who wants to do something in the creative field, but the world tells him that it doesn’t make sense or that it isn’t a real job. This is a win for the misfits, deviants, and those who just dare to dream different. Creatives change the world with their innovation, truth-telling, and problem-solving, so the fewer barriers that we have into creative fields, the better the world ends up.
What are some examples of how you turned struggle into success?
My father died when I was 25. I’ve never lost anyone that personal to me, ever. It was hard to fathom him being gone, but also harder to deal with the guilt from our strained relationship caused my toxic masculinity. My male ego allowed me to feel as if my father wasn’t a “man” because of the fact that he wasn’t the man that I wanted him to be. But I never acknowledged the fact that I wouldn’t be the man I am without the support and love from him. Having to reconcile these emotions and ideas after he was gone pushed me to search for quotes, stories, notes, really anything to bring clarity. I came across this quote from Albert Einstein: “If you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.“ Reading that helped me to understand where my fault was and even though my father had forgiven me before he passed away, that quote helped me forgive myself. Realizing the power that words have, I began to create art based in text. If it could help me, I knew words would help others too, if delivered the right way.
What is an important quality you look for in your relationships with others?
When it comes to those around me, I absolutely look for someone deviant in their thinking. As an artist, my job is to disturb the comfortable and if I have those who only embrace the comfortable around me, nobody grows. When it comes to pushing the envelope, innovation is created by those who refuse to listen.
What are some immediate projects you are working on?
I’m currently showing and building programming for a series of artwork that I created based on my experience as a man of color being affected by the War on Drugs in America. The six-part narrative titled
NOTxNORMAL, is focused on the ripple effect caused by a failed drug war and how it impacts the lives of millions of people of color on a day-to-day basis because we have found a way to normalize this not-so-normal trauma. From the anti-drug propaganda in the ’90s, to how the foster care system was put in a bind, to even how we treat our own, each piece sparks the conversation that we all need to have…I’ve just volunteered my own story hoping that others share in my vulnerability.
What is the best advice you ever received?
“The stars don’t align for those who just dabble, you have to go all in.”
This is a quote that a good friend of mine found and sent my way a little more than five years ago, just before I left my 9-to-5 on Wall Street. Too many entrepreneurs are on the quest to make their side hustles their main gigs. What they don’t know is the fact that you won’t get a 40-hour-a-week payout with 15-hours-a-week input. Everyone that the stars “align” for made a habit of forcing the issue, they went all in when others just got their toes wet. So this wasn’t necessarily advice that someone “gave” to me, but they sent it at the right moment and it was exactly what I needed.
What is some advice you have for other men who want to make a difference?
Be who you needed when you were growing up. There are too many people holding on to the “secret” of their success because that’s what they were told to do. As people of color, we’re already at a disadvantage in the workforce, let’s not be an obstacle for those who come after us. We all stand here on the shoulders of those before us, so let someone stand on yours and see higher and farther than we ever could. Share what you do, share your story. Let your hindsight be someone else’s foresight. Teach the young people! Let then observe and live what you do! Plant your roots and let the young people grow to be extensions of you. The branch always reaches farther than the trunk…
How do you prep for an important business meeting and/or event?
When it comes to events at my showroom, I’m all about the experience. The surrounding experience sets the tone for how the art is perceived. Anything from the lighting, to the furniture, to even the drinks available play a part. The space that the art hangs in has to compliment the art itself, and also compliment the person who created it all. For my current
NOTxNORMAL exhibition, I threw everything out and started over because the art felt too far ahead of the space. The sleek nature of the work had to be surrounded with new neon designs, new chairs, and new spotlighting. Just because something has always been one way doesn’t mean that it has to stay that way.
As a busy Modern Man, how do you unwind on vacation? Share a story about your best vacation.
I actually didn’t care to take vacations until I met my wife. I’ve always been one to be attached to the work that I do, so doing work that I absolutely love made it super difficult to step away from it. Luckily, my wife has been able to get me away and I haven’t been the same ever since. Our trip to Paris, France, in 2015 has to be my favorite vacation to date. Being able to live and learn in another culture allowed me to come back to my work new and refreshed. I’’e never cared to lay on a beach, so my vacations have to be active, culture-learning experiences. Being away from NYC allows you to see how small NYC really is in terms of both space and ideas, and see how something so regular to someone else is absolutely foreign to you. Being able to live and share ideas across the world is an artist’s dream. We spent hours in galleries and museums and I was floored by the size and detail of the work that I had only seen in movies and on TV. That was the most carefree I have been in a while. I was afraid to be away from my work and it ended up giving me more life to put into it.
If you could travel and stay anywhere in the world, where would it be and why?
If I was able to travel anywhere in the world, I’d love to make my way to different communities of color around the world and have conversations of how their lives have been impacted by the local foster systems. In America, “Foster Care” and “Adoption” are dirty words and I can’t help but to wonder if it’s this way around the globe. Being a child of the NYC Foster Care System, I believe that there is power in sharing stories and creating new pathways to healing that many of us need to address.
What is your “Extraordinary Impact”? (Describe how you are making a major difference for others, in a way that distinguishes you as extraordinary in your profession and/or day-to-day life).
My impact will be felt in those who come after me. I am an artist first, but I pride myself as an arts educator that specializes in teaching young men of color how to express themselves and identify their individual truths. My artwork will last longer than I will, but it will be a finite number of RD art in the world. My students, interns, apprentices, and mentees will carry the responsibility of continuing to speak their truth and providing light where there is none. They will continue to teach and develop others, such as I did for them. They always ask me how to repay me, and I tell them that the best way to do so is to pay it forward…with interest.
Anything else you’d like to say?
I’d also like to take the time to thank my mother, Beverly Draper, and my wife Lakeisha Draper, who have shown me both the tools of love and how to put those tools to amazing use. Every artist has their own fire, my wife is the lighter that keeps mine ablaze. Shout out to #BlackGirlMagic keeping #BlackBoyJoy alive!