The Camp 10 - Brandon Eisman/Deja Brooks
Many months ago, a friend who works at the Lawrence Public Library (LPL) asked whether I knew any drag queens in Lawrence. Unfortunately, I didn’t at the time, but knew some in Kansas City. The library was interested in starting a story time for kids where a drag performer would read to the kids, a format that has become increasingly popular across the country. A year later, the Lawrence library has instated Deja’s Reading Rainbow with Deja Brooks, the drag persona of Brandon Eisman. Deja has hosted two different events, which have been well-received by her young audience. I am excited to introduce Brandon to Camp readers and hear all about Deja’s Reading Rainbow!
When did you first start doing drag?
So, in 2004, Jack Flanigan’s in Lawrence, Kansas, would have what they called “family night” every Wednesday. Once a month, they would host an amateur drag show. This is where Deja made her debut. Thankfully, not a lot of pictures were taken at that time, just some great memories. It was … the help of performers like Flo, Sunny Delight, Paige Knyte and Desiree Luv that would help guide my way in the world of drag. From there, I started performing at Missie B’s and Tootsies, typically at the Flo Shows.
Where did the name Deja Brooks come from?
I wish I had a better answer for the name, but it stems from “déjà vu,” and not to sound cheesy, but from the beautiful brooks we have in Kansas. So, combining them, you get Deja Brooks.
How did you become involved with Deja’s Reading Rainbow at the Lawrence Public Library?
In February of this year, the Lawrence Public Library reached out as they were wanting to have a drag queen story time in June for Pride month to celebrate love, acceptance and diversity in our community. Libraries across the U.S. in major cities, such as New York, Chicago and San Francisco have already been hosting drag queen story time, so with Lawrence being so diverse, it makes sense for the library to host such an event.
What has been the response to the program?
I continue to be amazed by the support the Lawrence community provides. At both our June and October story times, we had over 150 kids, parents, family members and community members in attendance. This month, the Lawrence Journal World posted an article about the Reading Rainbow. It was great as it captured what this story time was about, celebrating families of all kinds, love and friendship, and being proud of being different. Fox 4 News Kansas City came and covered the event as well. They also highlighted that this was about being accepted, celebrating different families, and again, love. What I realize now is everyone has an opinion, whether that’s a positive one or negative one. Both the newspaper and news segment generated hundreds of comments to which I learned so much about myself. [laughs] I learned that anyone can sit behind their computer and express hate and show how close-minded we still are in 2017. These comments just prove that what we are doing at the library, providing a safe place for families to come and feel accepted, promoting diversity and showing love, just means we are doing what’s right!
How do the kids react to Deja?
They absolutely love her, from her colorful dresses to her matching purses to her over-the-top accessories. It’s pretty cool that after we read the books, the kids are able to make a craft. Both have involved rainbows. Who doesn’t love rainbows??? What’s fun, though, is everyone who wants a picture taken with Deja. The line immediately forms, and it’s one kid or family after another waiting patiently to capture the moment.
You are also involved in Transformations Charity Gala. Could you tell me what the Gala is?
Transformations is transforming the lives of our Lawrence community through culture and awareness. Transformations was voted Best Event of Lawrence for 2017. The Gala is billed as a unique talent and entertainment extravaganza that typically features 10 women, and now in 2018, men of the community, competing against each other for the benefit of local charities. The competition includes real pageant components such as evening gown, talent, and on-stage question. This fun-filled event, however, has a twist in that each competitor is paired with a female impersonator. The female impersonator, or “consultant” if you will, assists in “transforming” their assigned competitor. The winning contestant receives a large donation for the charity they selected.
How many years have you been involved with Transformations?
I have been involved with Transformations since the beginning. What started out as what could have been a benefit for Deja to compete at Miss Gay America quickly turned into something that benefited the Lawrence community. Transformations is now in its seventh year under the principal of Deja Brooks Presents.
What other charity events have you worked with?
I have been involved with several charitable organizations, such as Daisy Bucket’s Kansas City AIDS Walk Calendar (2012, 2013 and 2014), the Douglas County AIDS Project, where I served on the board of directors, chaired the 2013 AIDS Walk, and co-chaired the Red Ribbon Art Auction. I now sit on the board of directors for Theater Lawrence, just recently worked with the Lawrence Humane Society for its annual Fur Ball, and have helped with several events for the Willow Domestic Violence Center.
You’re also a dad! What is your favorite thing about being a father?
My favorite thing about being a father is, well the list is kind of long. The fact that I have a pre-teen son who still allows me to tuck him in at night and give him a hug and kiss is something special. I love when he wants to watch reruns of The Golden Girls with me. I love that he is a sweet, well-mannered, young man who has grown up accepting everyone for who they are and having an open mind for all walks of life.
What would be your perfect day with your son?
Sleeping in, lounging around while watching cartoons, going for brunch, maybe catching a movie, walking Massachusetts Street in downtown Lawrence, having dinner out on a patio, and finishing off with some ice cream sounds like the perfect day for us!
If you go!
The next Deja's Reading Rainbow will be Sunday, Dec. 10 and Sunday, March 11, at the Lawrence Public Library, 707 Vermont St., Lawrence, Kansas.