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"JLW", Acrylic on 24" x 24" Gallery Wrapped Canvas

Soul Searching: JLW

"JLW" - The first official painting in the series, inspired by "The Voices In My Head".


JL Washington from Raleigh, NC. Born in Kinston, NC, March 13, 1980.  Today JL is a Bishop at a church and an entrepreneur selling scented candles. 


Soul Searching with JL:

I first met JL when he responded to my post asking for a volunteer to paint during a body painting workshop I was taking. I needed a full torso to paint for the class and JL was the first to answer that call. Prior to the workshop we had a brief meet and greet. He expressed an interest in having the theme of the body painting relate to HIV. I was delighted for the opportunity to paint something that had significant meaning. 


During the workshop we talked a bit more. I learned that JL was HIV positive and he learned of the "Voices" (working title) series I wanted to create. Once again JL volunteered to be part. We scheduled time at a later date for the interview and for me to take some reference photos to use when I painted his portrait. I’ve completed the painting, the first in the newly titled “Soul Searching” series, and now I am sharing his story.


JL Washington bares his soul:

Interview: At the very young age of seven years old, JL’s life took a turn for him when he was molested by his uncle. It was a repetitive offense as his uncle sexually molested him on many occasions. The only reason it stopped was because his uncle took his own life by shooting himself in the head with a shotgun.


Fear began for JL when his uncle threatened his life. He told JL he would kill him if he told anyone and JL believed that. 


At that time, his mother was bipolar and suffering with depression. She was in and out of institutions due to her depression and becoming suicidal. His father worked all the time, JL believed if he told his dad and he then got in trouble by hurting his uncle, they wouldn’t have anyone to take care of them. 


His uncle was not the only one who molested JL, several of his cousins - male and female - molested him too. By his estimates, he was molested more than 30 times as a child. 


Growing up mental illness was very severe on his mother’s side of the family. According to JL, his grandfather, an alcoholic named Loveless, was the “Devil Incarnate” when he got drunk. JL remembers a particularly traumatizing experience of his grandfather chasing him and his brother down a dirt path with an axe used to chop wood with. 


At age 13 JL’s mother told him that she tried to poison him, his brother and herself because of what she was going through. 

Over the yeas his father was abusive when it came to disciplining him. He would whoop him, hit him with his hands, hit his head, hang him upside down by his feet and so on. Because of the experiences he had as a child, at the age of 17 JL ran away from home.


Later in life, JL experienced 2 relationships with domestic violence. He was severely abused and hurt but he wanted love. He was damaged but needed affection so he turned to sex. He became addicted to sex like some people have alcoholism or drug addictions. Sex was his drug. His promiscuity eventually led to him becoming HIV positive. 


He didn’t return home to live after running away at 17. He stayed gone for seven years before reconnecting back to his father, mother, brother and sisters. Throughout that time span he never sought counseling or went to a therapist but at the age of 23, he began to open up. He shared with his family some of the things that happened long ago, and to this day he continues to share things that his family did not know. 


Despite everything that he’s been through he’s still alive, he’s still in his right mind, he’s still present. He credits his higher power and his faith in God for that.


Recently he began to pray to his God and he revealed to him that he is to live his life as he is. He is to live his life true to himself, proud and out loud. His life journey is that of an African American gay male who is a bishop at a church. 


He decided he would use all the painful experiences he suffered to help empower others. That led him to become a community advocate for HIV for the HIV community. He uses his power; he uses his voice to help others. He lets them know that God loves them despite who they are… no matter what, and that they can overcome any obstacle they face. They do not have to be victims any more. His message is “yes, I experienced self-inflicted pain but survived it”. 


Some times one experiences self-inflicted pain because someone has hurt them, because someone has damaged them. They don’t realize that what has been done to them has completely stopped, it’s over. Sometimes behaviors and choices are made based on those things that have happened resulting in more self-inflicted pain. 


He recognizes the need to get to a place where the pain will stop, where healing begins. He understands the need to move life forward, continuing to live. That’s where he is in his journey.


Today the reconnection with his family is better. His dad has accepted who he is to a certain degree. It’s not perfect, but it’s a relationship they continue to work on to this day.


JL is the definition of resilience, he has been thriving with HIV for 16 years, is a Bishop at the Beacon Church and is also an entrepreneur.  He was passionate about his job as a community advocate and case worker for a county public health and his involvement with a support group for individuals with HIV but he had an idea to create and sell scented candles that blossomed into a new career. 

Want to learn more about JL, his candles, or the Beacon Church? 

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