By: Denise K. James
Photography by: Erin Turner
A good interview is a rare and memorable thing for any writer, and this was especially true when I sat down to speak with Tim Newborn, philanthropist, artist, war veteran and wellness advocate. Scheduled for early evening, our chatter carried well into the night, as we recounted all of the things we love about Charleston, being creative and working with others.
Newborn, a native of a tiny rural town in Mississippi, knew as a kid that there was a bigger world out there—if he could only find a way to reach it. He decided to join the United States Navy, where he spent the next five years as a photojournalist, garnering accolades such as the Joint Commendation Service Medal and the Navy Achievement Medal by the Chief of Naval Operations. At the end of his Naval career, Newborn further heeded his inclination to be creative and enrolled at the Savannah College of Art & Design, where he studied performance art and advertising.
Today, Newborn works for Blackbaud as their Customer Advocacy and Engagement Manager. He also performs as Oshi Goode, a fun-loving drag queen who fundraises for community awareness on the topic of lung disease, which is near and dear to his heart.
Your background sounds quite creative. How do you obtain creative fulfillment in your current role at Blackbaud?
My role at Blackbaud is to drive customer engagement and advocacy. That said, creativity is necessary to design valuable experiences and meaningful moments that will delight and inspire customers to advocate for our company. It’s very fulfilling, because I’m able to associate with people who are doing incredible things to change the world.
How does your performance as Oshi Goode help perpetuate your beliefs that disease does not discriminate and that it’s important to take a non-biased approach to health (and everything else)?
I ultimately decided to begin fundraising under the stage name Oshi Goode—that’s “Oh, She Good” with a little flair—for a few reasons. It allows me to fundraise while infusing a bit of positive LQBTQIA+ culture within each commitment. It makes people curious about what I do and why I do what I do. And, it’s a conversation starter! I hope that these interactions help bridge our divides and foster appreciation and understanding of all types of people.
Most recently, in September, I performed on behalf of the American Lung Association by participating in the fourth annual Lip Sync For Lungs Competition. I believe extraordinary moments in life should be the only thing that takes our breath away. My personal goal, aside from raising awareness about lung disease and lung cancer, is to highlight diversity. Disease doesn’t discriminate, and neither should we. We all encounter conscious and unconscious bias every day; diseases are no exception.
What are misconceptions that you believe people have about certain diseases or health conditions?
Invisible illness of any kind drives misconceptions, but what I believe to be the most stigmatized or misunderstood is mental illness. It’s hard for me to hear someone joke “I’m so OCD,” or “that just gave me PTSD.” It wasn’t long ago that people were saying, “That’s so gay!” All of these have negative connotations, and for those who identify with what is said, it’s hurtful. It’s a perfect example of how we need to do a better job of spreading awareness about mental illness and the challenges it presents. For the people who struggle with mental illness, their lives are often deeply affected. And because of these misconceptions, they are often ostracized or deprived of what they need most: compassion, patience and friendship.
You are fortunate to be able to work, both in your off-hours as well as your professional hours, on matters that are important to you. But many times, people don’t quite “make it” to living their ultimate dreams. Do you have any advice for those who are questioning their life path?
Everyday life consistently presents us with an opportunity to make someone else’s life better. When you see a chance to spread a little goodness, take it, regardless of where you are or what it is. It doesn’t have to be a grand gesture; you don’t have to take part in a big fundraiser or make significant commitments. All you have to do is take notice of those around you. You may be surprised to find there are more than enough opportunities to step up and do the right thing and the kindhearted thing.
If you want to make a change but don’t want to do it alone, talk with a few friends and set aside some time to do something as a group, or speak with your employer about setting up a group opportunity to volunteer. Whatever you do, don’t wait for permission to live your life. If you do, you’ll be waiting a lifetime.
Do you believe that a positive cultural shift is taking place in the United States, as far as people supporting people who aren’t exactly like them?
I do believe we have advanced toward a more diverse society. I think that we mostly agree on the concept of cultural pluralism, but with the natural ebb and flow of societal growth comes a bit of a pendulum swing. I don’t always appreciate what I see happening around me, but change starts with one who cares enough to take action, and that’s what I’m doing.
What are your most memorable or rewarding moments performing?
The most rewarding part of drag performance is seeing the faces of strangers light up. I think we take ourselves too seriously a lot of the time and to be able to elevate ordinary interactions into extraordinary experiences makes my heart glow. That “wow” moment, which frequently happens with children but can also happen for adults, makes it all worth it. There is also the more thoughtful side that makes it fulfilling. For example, last year, after Charleston Pride, I had a young man pull me aside for a conversation about his concerns with coming out to his family. He asked me to share my experiences and provide a bit of advice.
What are your most memorable or rewarding moments during the workweek?
The most rewarding part of my day is my colleagues. It’s true; people who need people are the luckiest people in the world, and I’m one of them. My coworkers are kind, talented, and, like me, genuinely want to make a difference in the world.
What are your plans for down the road?
I plan to make a more substantial commitment to my local community. One day, I want to establish a nonprofit for young people that funds the experiences of their choosing, which will help them pursue their passions. Everyone has a right to realize their dreams, but not everyone easily gets the opportunity.