It was 10 years ago, almost to the day, that André Singleton found out he had cancer.
At the time, he was five weeks into his freshman year at Morehouse College, his tuition made possible by a merit-based scholarship from Oprah Winfrey.
“I busted my chops, I had everything taken away so quickly, and then, I had to fight even harder,” Singleton, who is now in remission, recalls.
Cancer brought Singleton’s life to a standstill, forcing him to take time off school and focus almost exclusively on his health. However, after beating back his illness, Singleton emerged unstoppable—a self-described “Renaissance man.”
“Either that, or I can’t compartmentalize very well,” Singleton jokes.
He embraced and nurtured his multiple identities: dancer, performance artist, Brazilian, gay man, activist, academic; he served as a personal assistant to director Spike Lee, danced in Brazilian carnivals, spent a semester at sea, and traveled to 29 different countries. He channeled his energy and experiences into The Very Black Project, a multi-platform enterprise celebrating Black life.
While Singleton had survived his battle with cancer, it was at Eugene Lang College that he found the “support I needed to thrive.”
“The students I met were so fierce, so aware, so committed, so creative, so dynamic; I loved being around people I identified with,” Singleton recalls. “Their support was super crucial, especially after being ill.”
Unsurprisingly, the Renaissance man got hooked on Lang’s multidisciplinary environment. As a student in Lang’s BA in The Arts, he studied modern dance, culture and media. He was also enamored of the faculty members, “who went beyond the classroom and invested in me as a person.” What’s more, Lang’s focus on social engagement inspired Singleton to do “good works.”
“Being in Greenwich Village, I was inspired to bring my experience outside of classroom, to become a citizen of New York City and the world,” he says.
The most visible manifestation of Singleton’s social awareness is The Very Black Project, a hashtag, T-shirt company, African diasporic archive, and “emerging humanitarian initiative” that promotes empowerment and community building through wearable expression. Proceeds from products such as the Very Black Tee go to local organizations helping severely marginalized and disenfranchised groups.
Singleton’s community involvement extends to performance art. Most recently, he appeared in a performance of niv Acosta’s Discotropica, a production exploring the relationship between science fiction, disco, astrophysics, and the black American experience at The New Museum.
“I’m authentically, unapologetically me,” Singleton says. “I’m committed to living, to engaging others, to thinking, to feeling and to moving. When I was terminally ill, I couldn’t move. Now, I can’t stop.”