My name is... Christopher Arlen

Lakewood resident and owner of the Soft Skills Company

Joseph Rios
jrios@coloradocommunitymedia.com
Posted 7/8/20

I grew up in Ontario, California with a mother who was a nurse and a father who was an auto-shop teacher. He later became a minister and pastor. I joined the Army when I was 17. I remember I turned …

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My name is... Christopher Arlen

Lakewood resident and owner of the Soft Skills Company

Posted

About me

I grew up in Ontario, California with a mother who was a nurse and a father who was an auto-shop teacher. He later became a minister and pastor.

I joined the Army when I was 17. I remember I turned 17 on a Tuesday, and the next week, I was sworn in. I wanted something different and wanted to get away from what I was.

My time in the military took me to Germany and even got me a brief appearance in “Stripes,” a 1981 film that had Bill Murray in it. They were filming in Fort Knox, Kentucky, and I happened to be there during my time in the military.

I got to be a platoon leader for a brief period of time because I was in marching band in high school, and I knew how to march. I could keep my lungs in shape.

One day, I was riding with the battalion command sergeant major, and he said he could tell I didn’t like the military. He helped me get out with an honorable discharge.

I wasn’t very regulated at that point, and being a Black, gay kid in the Army wasn’t fun for me.

A change in life

I was involved in a church before my father was. He came along a little later in that part of life. I always liked preachers. There is something about the command of the language and to tell stories and make something make sense.

I worked as a youth pastor and as an interim pastor for a year. I was attending California Baptist University, and that is where I met my wife. We got married, but after a while, I realized it wasn’t going to work.

She knew I was gay but thought something would change. It wasn’t going to change.

If something doesn’t fit, it doesn’t fit. I could go on and pretend, but that would require me being dishonest, and that is not the world I want to live in.

I sat my wife down and told her it wasn’t going to work.

A voice during the AIDS epidemic

I left the college and started working at a group home for juvenile sexual offenders. I did that for a few years and got involved in gay civil rights. Then, a friend of mine died from AIDS.

I went to volunteer at the Inland AIDS Project in San Bernardino, California — an organization that provides support services to those who have HIV. They ended up recruiting me to a full-time position, and I worked in community health outreach for a few years.

I loved that job. HIV prevention was new at that time and hadn’t really existed in the country in a meaningful way. My job was to go out and preach the gospel for HIV prevention.

I left that job and worked for a handful of other AIDS prevention organizations throughout California and Arizona before moving to Colorado 14 years ago for a job with the Boulder County AIDS Project — an organization that offers services to people living with or at risk of contracting HIV.

It was difficult and a poor fit. I stayed there for a year, but in 2014, I started the Soft Skills Company.

Through the company, I work with organizations to facilitate positive interpersonal dynamics, and I do that through skills-based programs.

I guide workshops and courses that are meant to strengthen interactive and relational skills.

Protesting in Lakewood

I have participated in Black Lives Matter rallies here in Lakewood. I’m grateful that I live in a community where people are willing to stand up and say black lives matter.

I feel an obligation to go rally every time my neighbors stand up. I have an obligation to be with them while they support me.

I am happy for the conversations that have started because people see us out there making a statement. It’s interesting because I try to make eye contact with people who are driving by while I’m protesting. Sometimes people will blatantly flip you off or yell things. It surprises me people are so comfortable doing that.

What confuses me the most is I don’t know why it’s so hard for people to be neighborly — regardless of what your views are.

If you have a suggestion for someone to interview for My Name Is... contact Joseph Rios at jrios@coloradocommunitymedia.com

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