While processing orders for Pride Socks, I came across Chef Raja’s order and for some reason, it had an impact on me. There was nothing special about his order, just a single pair of low cut socks. After putting it together, I thought to myself, I wonder if this guy will come back to me somehow and after that, I let it go. A few weeks later I get an email from Chef Raja with his picture explaining to me when he wore his socks and why they were so important to him. He said, “I just wore my Pride Socks to a food competition. I like being the guy who others, that might not have the strength, see the rainbow and think they can be whatever they want. They have a supporter in the crowd. There’s someone just like them. Thanks for making them.” So of course I looked him up because I wanted to know more- he already had a strong impact on me. After several email exchanges, I asked him for his story. And his story goes….
My name is Rodger James Shortell Jr. known to most as CHEF RAJA. I was an odd child, to say the least. I was tiny for my age, microscopic even. I grew up in Maui, which was similar to a small town upbringing in that, its religious beliefs, everyone knowing everyone AND if you fart on one side they hear it on the other!
My life was peppered with activities surf, farming, school, etc. Being a minority in school didn’t help the fact that even then, though I didn’t fully understand all it’s implications, I was quite possibly gay. Regardless, I lived in the land of holding hands and rainbows. I felt, even as a child, the odds were stacked against me somehow.
I have to say that through each of our lives, we hopefully create many proud moments that we can reflect on and quite possibly use to overcome future obstacles while sharing with others. Sitting here reflecting, I am happy and proud that there are many. PRIDE is how I feel about myself, never how others perceive me. I remind myself frequently when making decisions that affect others not only because it defines who I am, but it strengthens my relationship with others, myself and a collective consciousness I can’t quite put my finger on, yet.
One of my proudest moments in life has nothing to do with success, friends, family, jobs, wealth or spirituality. My proudest moment in life has to be overcoming the constant drone of civilization/society that, from the moment my green eyes opened, has told me what, where, when and who to be. For me, I choose me. I choose to follow my heart and be Rodger. I don’t ever want to live a lie. I didn’t want to lie to others. I find, that in these short 45 years, that everything starts with being honest to one self, even when being so isn’t the easiest thing to do. Success started with loving myself for all my quirky, dance in the dark, screaming at the stars and painting the blue-sky green oddities. Not that odd to me frankly.
I found that family and friends will do what they will, although incredibly important in my world, I choose to always stay true to myself. Oh, it wasn’t easy at first. Fear, anxiety, sadness and a constant case of the “what if’s’ plagued me.” All I knew was that being happy, healthy and loved was what I wanted most out of life. So I spread my arms open and jumped and on my feet I landed. The skies did not fall. The earth did not swallow me up. The people did not chase me with torches.
Through the years, self-acceptance has translated into my relationships with family, friends and colleagues. I am wealthy beyond measure because I can look myself in the eye and be proud of what, where, when and who I am. Regardless if I were gay, straight, man, woman, child, rich, poor, black or white, success in the great scheme of life starts with the self and we all deserve that small gratuity. A gratuity that allows us to be strong, independent, an advocate, brother, sister, mother, father, friend, leader, an outreached hand, a voice, and an asset to the community to all those who surround us.
I, Rodger James Shortell Jr., am exactly who I want to be because I allow the world to let me. As Buddha once said, “The way is not in the sky. The way is in the heart”.
To find out more about him, go here.