Onetime CSUB track star now running urban nonprofit in Washington, D.C.

Abdur-Rahim Briggs wall

Abdur-Rahim Briggs has launched Project Briggs, Inc., in Washington, D.C., which will help a variety of urban nonprofits in Washington, D.C., raise money and public awareness.

BY CHRISTINE BEDELL
Alumni Engagement Specialist
cbedell1@csub.edu

When Abdur-Rahim Briggs learned in the summer of 1997 that his identical twin brother, Mark, was HIV positive, at first he was shocked.

Then he was spurred to act.

Briggs started a fundraiser in his backyard for HIV/AIDS causes called the White Attire Affair, with attendees dressing in white. It attracted some 150 people and raised $500 to $600. 

It was the first foray into philanthropy for Briggs, who was a track star at CSUB, graduated with a sociology degree in 1991, and today is a records management specialist and website content manager for the Public Service Commission of the District of Columbia, which regulates utilities.

He has since started two nonprofit organizations, including a new one called Project Briggs, Inc. that, using his fundraising and social media skills, is designed to help its partners raise money for and spread awareness of a broad range of urban causes in the greater Washington, D.C., area.

“A lot of times people are thrust into things they never thought they’d be thrust into,” Briggs said.

That’s what happened to him.

FROM SOUTH CENTRAL TO D.C.

Briggs grew up with five brothers in South Central Los Angeles. His father, Raymond, owned a printing company and his mother, Hazel, was a receptionist for what is now LAC+USC Medical Center. He says his strong mother and his interest in school kept him out of the trouble many neighborhood kids got into.

“Yes, South Central had its issues, drugs and gangs. But I was so into school I was kind of oblivious to it all,” he said. “I was student body president, I was running track and field, I was in the marching band. I did everything that a lot of kids that don’t get in trouble do.”

Briggs’ mother also stressed the importance of higher education. And so off to CSUB he was after graduating from Centennial Senior High School, thanks to connections his high school track coach had with legendary Roadrunner coach Charles Craig.

While studying sociology, Briggs ran track and worked 20 hours a week for the University Police Department to earn money for housing (he roomed with Mark, his twin) and books. He lettered four consecutive years, becoming an All-American his senior year. He competed in the men’s 400 meters, 800 meters and both 4X100 and 4X400 relay teams.

Briggs earned his All-American title by placing sixth in the 4X400 men’s relay race at nationals in 1990. It featured high drama.

Briggs running track

Marvin L. Briggs (now Abdur-Rahim Briggs) competing in the Men's 400 Meters at a CCAA Track & Field Meeting.

CSUB was in third place during the second leg of the race until runner Devin Beasley dropped the baton while handing it off to Briggs, he said. The crowd gasped as the baton hit the ground, bounced back up, and Briggs caught it and ran.

“I brought us from eighth place to sixth place,” he recalled. “I gave the baton to Rodney Burt and he held onto that sixth-place spot.”

Sixth at nationals was good enough for All-American status, something he shared with his twin, who ran the first leg.

Becoming an All-American was one of two goals Briggs had set for himself when he entered CSUB, the other being earning his college degree. On his phone he keeps a picture of then-CSUB President Tomás Arciniega shaking his hand on the graduation stage.

“When I walked across the stage he said, ‘Congratulations,’” Briggs said. “It was the proudest moment.”

He’s particularly grateful to CSUB for preparing him for college and then making sure he was on track to graduate. He participated in the summer bridge program after high school, took intensive learning courses his first year and had counselors chart his progress toward a degree.

“They were really good counselors and they tracked where you were,” he said. “They would say, ‘Take this course and you can knock out this goal, take this course and you can knock out that goal. They gave really good advice.”

Briggs graduating

Briggs keeps this photo from his CSUB commencement ceremony on his cell phone. He calls it one of his proudest moments.

Three years after graduation, Briggs moved to Washington, D.C., and embarked on his records management career there. It’s also where he started on his philanthropic path.

His first White Attire Affair raised money for Us Helping Us People into Living, which seeks to improve the health and well-being of black gay or bisexual men, including reducing the impact of HIV/AIDS in the black community.

“This was way before I knew how to put together a nonprofit,” he said. “I was doing what I knew at the time, which is raise money.”

In 2002 he created the Ummah Endowment Fund and in 2008 a nonprofit called Al Sura that raised money for HIV/AIDS causes. He estimates the two efforts have produced more than $150,000 in grants, products and services over the last 16 years.

With Project Briggs he wants to address a broader range of issues.

“I didn’t want to be wedded to a specific cause. I want to make sure our mission is very broad and somewhat vague because a lot of times if you just say, ‘I do breast cancer’ or ‘I do this’, you’re wedded to that cause. I want us to work on different projects.”

The group doesn’t provide direct services. Tapping Briggs’ social media, website and fundraising skills, it will help other organizations get their message out and raise money, he said.

For example, it helped with a toiletry drive for an organization called Casa Ruby that assists LGBT/transgender people in the D. C. area and a fundraising ball put on by a nonprofit called The Gentlemen’s Foundation in Atlanta that supports the same community there. Over the holidays Project Briggs put out information on how to recognize signs of depression and suicidal thoughts.

In January Project Briggs launched its first of what’s expected to be an annual fundraising event called POWER—Noir et Blanc Soiree and is trying to reboot the White Attire Affair this summer.

CHALLENGES ALONG THE WAY

Briggs profile shot

“If I were heterosexual, I’d still have hurdles,” Briggs said. “You just have to decide for yourself what you want to do. I choose to be happy. I choose to be successful. That’s my choice.”

Briggs says it wasn’t easy growing up black and gay in South Central Los Angeles, especially as a member of the socially conservative black church. (He later converted to Sunni Islam). He feared discrimination and isolation, keeping him from publicly revealing his orientation until after college.

But he says he was helped by a mother who strongly supported his dreams and only expected her children to be productive citizens and to give back to their community. He had role models and family members, he said, who embraced him for who he was.

Also, Briggs said, he made a conscience decision to be himself and steer his own destiny.

“I’ve never had a ‘woe is me’ moment,” Briggs said. “I always believe I can do whatever I want.  I’ve never made an excuse.

“If I were heterosexual, I’d still have hurdles. You just have to decide for yourself what you want to do. I choose to be happy. I choose to be successful. That’s my choice.”

Washington, D.C., has been a good fit for him, he says, in part because of its large LGBTQ community. He serves on the LGBTQ Advisory Committee of D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, which looks for innovative ways to address issues facing the community. This past week he was set to testify before the D.C. council about a rise in crime against gay and transgender residents and how to combat it.

“I’m really glad that our mayor is such a strong advocate for the LGBTQ community,” he said. “I’m glad to be in an environment where you can be who you are and a productive citizen at the same time.”