Aaron Johnson Levy ’01 is the role model he always looked for on television.
As a kid, Levy never saw any celebrities or media personalities he could relate to, which is why it is so rewarding for him to receive messages from fans of his new Fox Soul talk show, The House, telling him that they appreciate how open he is and ready to discuss anything.
"I was able to get to this point where I could have an impact on the little Aarons of the world, who are being persecuted for their identity and misled to believe there's something wrong with them, when they are absolutely perfect the way they are," Levy says.
"I'm getting good feedback, like a parent who messaged me saying her two little boys saw me wearing fedoras on the show and they wanted to wear them, too. Having these two little boys see me wearing a cool hat and thinking, 'I want to look like that,' is the dream come true," he adds.
Levy didn't start at Pomona with the intention of becoming a Hollywood entertainer — while he did participate in theater productions, he studied psychology. After spending his high school years at a Tennessee boarding school, Levy was looking for a fresh start far away, and found it at Pomona, where he felt "a charm, a warmth, and not just in the weather," he says. "It felt like home, and Pomona continued to feel like home, even after I graduated."
He knew that whatever career path he took, he wanted to make social impact, and in 2010 he earned his master's degree in community leadership and philanthropy studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Upon his return to the U.S., Levy enrolled in a doctoral program with the intent to work in academia, but with just one step left to complete, things took a turn.
"I passed the more difficult part of the comprehensive exam, but did not pass the easier, take-home part," Levy says. “I had a year to retake it, and I did some soul-searching and decided I could prepare for the next year and pass it and switch directions after that if I wanted to, or I could pursue my passion right now and my life could change in the next year."
He chose to chase his dream. Levy moved to Los Angeles in 2017, and during his first year back in California, booked a role in the Amazon Prime movie “Hey, Mr. Postman.” Starring alongside Paula Jai Parker, Omar Gooding and Rodney Perry this was exactly the kind of part that Levy wanted to play.
Everything I do has some sort of a social mission, and my goal was to be the person that I never saw growing up as a queer Black man," Levy says. "I know a lot of gay or queer actors will tone it down and hide part of their identity to get roles and book roles, and I wanted to only audition for queer, Black male roles because I want to play these characters authentically and not as the butt of a joke.
Roles like this are limited in Hollywood, and Levy knew if he wanted to stay in the entertainment business, he would have to write his own parts or create his own show. Thinking about the time he spent around the dinner table with friends, drinking wine and having the most intimate conversations, Levy came up with the concept for an LGBTQ talk show, The House, and began developing the project with fellow executive producers Doug DeLuca and Cheryl Rich and director Kurt T. Jones.
"I learned that instead of being a marathon or race, Hollywood is a puzzle," Levy says. "There are many required pieces and each one is essential to getting the finished product. It wasn't just a great idea that got the show to where it is — it was a great idea that perfectly aligned with the passions and goals of all the other pieces of the puzzle."
The House began filming in the summer of 2020 under strict COVID-19 protocols, and is now streaming on Fox Soul and the Fox website and app. Levy is one of the show's co-hosts, and has interviewed a wide range of guests, from singer, songwriter and transgender rights activist Shea Diamond to former WWE wrestler Fred Rosser.
"We talk about the culture that a lot of us come from, where a lot of things get a pass — the violence, sexual abuse will get a pass, but being effeminate or transgender is literally the worst thing a person can be in my community," Levy says. "It has never made sense to me and I'm so thankful that I didn't conform and give up my identity to please people that didn't make sense to me."
NBC News recently put The House on its list of "most entertaining and binge-worthy queer content," and Levy is hopeful this is only the beginning for the show, which is now being shopped for its second season. There is interest in stories from queer and trans voices, and "the world benefits when we offer our uniqueness to the world instead of hiding it," Levy said.
For anyone interested in breaking into the entertainment industry, Levy's advice is to "be bold, be brave, and forge your path — whatever it looks like." Levy is happy to connect with Sagehens, whether it's for a business collaboration or to offer guidance.
With each opportunity that comes along, Levy thinks about the lessons he learned at Pomona, and often reminisces about the time during his regular phone calls with friend Jimmie Ahimsa Luthuli '02.
"One of my favorite quotes is 'I am part of all that I have met,'" Levy said. "Every person I met at Pomona had a great impact on me. Those were the best years of my life."