Interview: Lawayne Orlando Childrey
Every once and awhile I come across a person that I admire whether it’s their work ethics, talents, or something else. In this case, this person fell into the ‘something else’ category for me. I was honored by merely being given the chance to interview this man. I have gotten to know him and became familiar with his mission. His autobiography spoke to me; his story really hit me hard. I’m sure many are wondering how someone like me could find a connection with someone that seems on the opposite end of the spectrum from me, but the truth is we both believe in one very real thing: No matter what we’ve gone through finding a higher power gave us strength and from our lows our truth comes out. Thank you…simply thank you for doing this interview.
Bachman: Your book, Peeling Back the Layers, has been awarded a great deal of attention. As a result of this have you been given any opportunities that you’d like to share with us?
Childrey: I’m very humbled to say this book has afforded me the opportunity to share a message of hope, gratitude and faith with many different kinds of audiences. While I’m able to speak directly to readers through the book, I’m thankful that I’m now being invited to share my story with a wide variety of national and local conventions, workshops, support groups, media outlets, bloggers like yourself and more.
Early this summer I attended a writer’s workshop at a small community college in Alabama. The speaker was Hollywood Filmmaker and Author of The Chronicles of Ara, Joel Eisenberg. During the break, we met, I handed him my book, he read the jacket and his immediate reaction was “Wow!” That same day he offered to mentor me and asked me to share my story with the audience. Since then he has reviewed the book and calls it the finest non-fiction release of last year and, so far his favorite non-fiction of 2015 as well. In his review, Joel called Peeling Back the Layers, therapy for anybody who needs it, and a re-affirmation for all that hope is never lost. He said after reading Layers, he asked someone close to him to read it, to place her own issues into perspective and she could not put it down.
Oh yeah, I almost forgot….Just when I thought things couldn’t get any better, The Colorado Independent Publishers Association named Peeling Back the Layers as one of the top six Autobiography/Memoirs of 2015. So as you can see, many wonderful things are happening with this incredible story.
Bachman: What were the challenges (research, literary, psychological, and logistical) in bringing it to life?
Childrey: Wow, where do I start? First of all, Peeling Back the Layers is my epic journey of trauma, grace and triumph. The stories that I share in this book are true accounts of events that occurred in my life as I remember them. It also demonstrates how unaddressed childhood trauma plagued me even into adulthood. With that being said, telling the story with honesty and integrity was paramount to me.
To maintain that integrity I made a very conscious effort to change certain names and locations. That was very important to me because not only did I want to protect the guilty, I also wanted to make sure that I protected the innocent.
I must also add that even though this book deals with a number of painful life events including tragic death and loss, childhood sexual abuse, drug addiction, abusive relationships and HIV, I had done the work. I had been through addiction therapy. I had been through emotional counseling; I had surrendered my life over to my higher power which is God. I had done the work and was living my childhood dream as a news reporter. So when I decided to write about my experiences, good or bad, my main concern was whether or not this book would actually help others deal with their own issues. Thankfully, I hear from someone nearly every day, telling me how much this story has given them hope for their own lives and people they love.
Bachman: What was your process on developing such a raw and emotional piece of work?
Childrey: This work comes from a special place deep in my soul. The process included lots of prayer, meditation and thanking God for his guidance. Nearly every day I was getting out of bed just before sunrise, taking long walks to clear my mind so I could focus on what I wanted to say. Although Peeling Back the Layers, deals with a number of tough issues, like I said before, I had done the work. But even with me doing the work it was still a tough story to tell. I remember asking my aunt questions about my first bout with trauma, ( a house fire that I watched her 2 year old son die in when I was just 4) feelings of grief hit me so hard that I began to cry. He and I set the house on fire while playing in a wood burning stove after my granddaddy had fallen asleep. To this day my family has never blamed me for the tragedy and I honestly thought I had dealt with the emotions surrounding it. But when she told me she heard about the events of that horrific day while riding home in the back of a taxi, I lost it. To make things worse, she said the only thing that convinced her that her baby was actually dead was seeing patches of his skin melted onto the bed. Needless to say, I was blown away. However, I was eventually able to pull it together and continue on with the book.
Having the support of family, close friends and music therapy also helped keep me calm while writing this book. And when I say music, I mean all types of music, from gospel to jazz to R&B.
Bachman: When you began to write your biography, where there things you felt you had to hold back?
Childrey: While things like names and locations were changed for obvious reasons, this book is based on true events just as I remember them taking place. However, I must say it was important to me for anyone reading the book to feel like they were there in the moment as situations unfolded. But as far as holding back goes… yes!!! It was very difficult to become totally transparent to the world. I don’t know anyone who takes joy in exposing their most difficult challenges for all to see. It may have been a little easier to write about what happened to me as a child. But when it came to writing about the things I did to myself as an adult. Wow!!! I found myself wanting to hold back because I was concerned about what people might think or how I might be judged for the sins of my past. That’s where faith in God, long talks with my spiritual advisor and the support of my partner really came into play. They reminded me that we overcome by the words of our testimony, and that what I had to say would help others put their own issues into perspective. But what actually convinced me that people are hungry for the truth is a song called Dirty Laundry by Kelly Rowland of Destiny’s Child. In this song Kelly shares how even though all seemed fine on the outside, deep within, her life was being torn apart by an abusive relationship. I don’t know if the song is based on a true story or not but something about it gave me the strength to put it all out there. Do I have any regrets? Absolutely not!!! People really are hungry for the truth and no one deserves less than the truth. For the truth shall set us free.
Bachman: Where can fans and intrigued minds be able to see you this year?
Childrey: Since the book’s release last winter, I’ve been making my way around the south. I’m currently in the middle of a fall tour of signing events, trade shows and speaking engagements in Tennessee, Florida, Detroit, Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi. Other states are expected to be added. I really welcome those opportunities because I love meeting new friends and seeing old ones. Anyone interested can find dates, times and locations on my website, www.lawaynechildrey.com and my Facebook page: Lawayne Orlando Childrey or my Facebook author page: Lawayne Childrey, Author
Bachman: What was your most memorable moment from the release of this book for you so far?
Childrey: Of course having someone like Joel Eisenberg take you under his wings and publicly embrace this book is an honor all by itself. But when I get emails, or Facebook messages, or people pulling me aside after I’ve done an engagement just to say thank you for telling my story, my sons, story my friends story…Thank you for giving our family hope….Those memories are priceless and will live forever.
Bachman: From journalist to author, what were some things you had to adjust from one to the other? Anything that helped you write this work that you gained from being a journalist?
Childrey: The switch from journalist to author felt very natural for me. I always knew I had a story to tell and being a journalist taught me how to tell it in a way that was not only informative but also entertaining. I feel very fortunate to have worked for Mississippi Public Broadcasting for nearly a decade because it gave me the opportunity to cover a wide range of topics from education to politics to economics. During my time at MPB I became a solid, intelligent, conscientious and hard working journalist. My editors would always tell me that I had a way of getting people to open up and share their inner most personal feelings. As a radio journalist I learned the importance of capturing the richest sound possible. That sound could be from the coach I was interviewing right outside of the gymnasium where you’d hear balls bouncing, shoes screeching against the wooden floor and kids yelling and screaming for the ball. In other words being a radio reporter was a great training ground for writing a story that draws the listener in and makes them feel like they are right there in the story with you.
Being a journalist also connected me with the right people. Just before I started writing Peeling Back the Layers I was doing a series of interviews about topics that I had dealt with in my personal life, from addiction to HIV, to dropping out of college. The stories weren’t planned like that, they just happened to fall that way. Anyway, one day I was covering a story about domestic violence and somewhere in the interview the conversation shifted to what kind of person generally ends up in violent relationships. The woman I was interviewing went on to say that the majority of people who end up in abusive relationships have generally suffered some type of unaddressed childhood trauma. Of course that got my wheels spinning and I wanted to know more. By the end of the interview I had seen my whole life flash before me, because everything she said could happen to children who experience unaddressed trauma, had happened to me. I mean from the depression and anxiety to the sexual promiscuity and addiction, it was all hitting me in the face. It was during that interview that I had that ah ha moment. It was also the first time that I literally felt compelled to share my personal journey with someone I was interviewing. Just as the interview was wrapping up I told this person that I was seriously considering writing a book to help encourage others who may have gone through similar situations. The woman I was interviewing strongly encouraged me to write it because she said it’s a story that’s seldom told, especially from a male’s perspective.
Bachman: Is there anything more you would like to do within the LGBT community that you haven’t had a chance to do yet?
Childrey: I wholeheartedly embrace every opportunity to be a beacon of hope for anyone who may still be struggling, trying to find their way in life. Every time I’ve shared my story at workshops or conferences someone always thanks me for telling their story and giving them hope.
Bachman: You’re definitely an encouraging voice for the masses that do not have one, is there any messages you would like to send out to youths struggling?
Childrey: You know, I think my story demonstrates for teens or anyone else, that regardless of how hopeless things may seem, if you believe in your inner strength and power you can still achieve your dreams. By the same token, I would warn teens about the dangers of drinking, drugging and smoking. I’d also remind them that nothing is free. Everything comes with a price including sex. That price could include a sexually transmitted disease like syphilis, gonorrhea or HIV. In addition that price could also include teenage pregnancy which could come with a lifetime of regret. I’d also tell them not to let anything stop them from getting a good education, because the only way to succeed in this world is to have a marketable skill. Man oh man, there are many, many things I would tell them like choose their friends wisely, listen to good music, read good books and respect everybody including themselves.
Bachman: You’re definitely leaving an impression with this work; do you plan on doing anything else similar like this? Any ghost writing?
Childrey: Yes, I’m currently working on two follow-ups to Layers. They won’t be autobiographical but they will focus on life lessons that I’ve learned along the way. My whole purpose for writing is to offer people hope. Towards the middle of Layers, I wrote about a young woman that I was riding the bus with that did and said something so funny that it made the whole bus laugh.
A book reviewer from the UK recently picked up on that line and wrote about it in her review.
“What I do know is that she stirred a desire in me to someday say something that would touch the hearts and souls of people, touch them in a positive way they would never forget.”
The reviewer went on to say she believes that has truly been accomplished and that her own life has been deeply touched by the book. She also added that she would recommend it to anyone going through a hard time or has a family member going through an issue.
That let me know that my work has purpose and that is the best feeling in the world. It’s interesting that you would ask about ghost writing because I have been approached by some famous and not so famous people about the possibility of collaborating on a project.
Bachman: For those that haven’t gotten a chance to read this book yet, is there anything you’d like to say to them?
Childrey: Sure, I know because I’m gay, many people think this is a so called gay book. A lot of people think because I have HIV this book is all about that or even the addiction. But this book is so much bigger than any of those things. Yes, this book is a real demonstration of the human condition. However, it also demonstrates how when we totally and completely submit our lives over to a higher spiritual power we can overcome any obstacle that may be holding us back from living up to our full potential. I highly recommend this book for anyone facing tough decisions in life.
Shortly after the books release a colleague called me and said she had no idea that I had been through all of the things I’d been through. But she said what impressed her most is that I was 40 years old when I went back to college. She said my story has given her the courage to go back to school at 38.
Another person read the book and said it should be taught in every classroom in America. That’s how readers are reacting to this book.
Bachman: Many writers and authors are avid readers, does this apply to you? If so, who are some of your favorite authors to read?
Childrey: I’ve been a news junkie since I was a kid running home to watch Walter Cronkite do the CBS Evening News. Now I wake up every morning reading all of the local online news papers from the states I’ve lived in like The Tennessean, The Clarion Ledger in Mississippi and The Birmingham News. Of course I read the big ones too like the Times and the Post. But when it comes to reading for pleasure some of my favorites are James Baldwin, E. Lynn Harris and Maya Angelou. Ms. Angelou’s poem, On The Pulse of Morning, literally helped to change my life’s trajectory.
When she wrote, “The horizon leans forward offering you space to place new steps of change, here on the pulse of this fine day,” she was speaking directly to me. Now that’s making a difference