Q&A: Desmond and Justin Bertrand-Pitts—Houston activists, husbands, and dads
The recently married Houston couple has dedicated their lives to helping in-need young men—and they’ve added a special little girl to the mix, too.
When they met in an online chat room more than a decade ago while living a thousand miles apart, Desmond Bertrand and Justin Pitts would never have guessed they’d someday tie the knot, establish one of the state’s most inspiring social services nonprofits, and foster-parent a 2-year-old daughter. Justin left his native Savannah to be with Desmond in early 2008, and by 2011 they’d founded M.E.N. Incorporated, a program dedicated to mentoring, educating, and nurturing young Houston-area male youth ages 8 to 25. The organization assists participants through seminars, workshops, and conferences, and it awards a number of much-needed scholarships.
Justin is also a psycho-social rehab clinician for the Harris Center for Mental Health and IDD (intellectual and developmental disabilities), and Desmond is the executive director of the Buffalo Soldiers National Museum, founded in 2000 by his grandfather, Captain Paul J. Matthews, to honor the long legacy of our nation’s African-American soldiers. The 32-year-old men got married on November 4, 2016—the ninth anniversary of their first becoming a couple. They now share a home in Houston’s Sunnyside neighborhood, where in May 2017 they welcomed foster daughter Gia into their busy but bountiful lives.
LWT: When did you decide to get married?
DBP: We’d actually been engaged for about six years. But, of course, marriage wasn’t legal then in Texas, and it was important for us to not just go off somewhere and get married where we could legally. So we made the decision to wait until we could at home.
LWT Who proposed, and how?
JBP: Me, with a cheap ring from Walmart. Those were what we consider our
“struggle days.” We were in a one-bedroom apartment on the west side of Houston, sleeping on an air mattress, and we really didn’t have a lot going on at that time. So I went and got this ring that didn’t even have a speck of cubic zirconia in it. I came in one day as Desmond was taking a nap, and I just started rambling and talking—and finally I asked him to marry me. I promised him, “I don’t have a lot right now, but my goal is that you’re taken care of, and this is going to change eventually.” And he said yes—and he stuck with me.
LWT: Where was your wedding?
LWT: Desmond, how did your grandfather come to found the Buffalo Soldiers Museum?
DBP: He took an interest in the Buffalo Soldiers after reading about them while he studied at PV [Prairie View A&M University], and just from that it spiraled into collecting books and artifacts and memorabilia. Then after 35 years, my grandmother was like, “It’s time to get that stuff out of my house.” So he came up with the idea to put his private collection on display, and that’s how the museum was born. We had no idea how much it would grow and to what capacity, but here we are 17 years later, in a big new facility that we moved into about five years ago.
LWT: M.E.N. Incorporated sounds like a fantastic organization. What among its accomplishments are you two the most proud of?
JBP: Wow, all of it really. The fact that we’re able to give away at least $1,500 each year to students. It may not seem like a lot, but for a student who needs a particular book or may need food, it is. Really, the biggest accomplishment for us is being able to be there for a boy or a young man who may not have another person to mentor him.
LWT: What are some ways the community Can get involved?
JBP: Each year we do a huge crawfish boil, which is our biggest fundraiser. This year it’s April 22. And then June 23 we hold our scholarship gala, where we put all of our efforts on display and give out our scholarships.
LWT: What led the two of you to become foster parents?
DBP: Justin comes from a large family, and I come from a close-knit one, so we always talked about having a kid or adopting, or even potentially having our own through a surrogacy. But we have friends who’ve adopted through the foster system, and they had told us that it was a rewarding experience. And since we dedicate our lives to helping and servicing others, we figured why not add this component, too?
For more interviews with noted LGBTQ figures, visit Personal Stories at LoveWinsUSA.com.