Living free of fear has been a struggle, even for someone as positive as Preston, in a world that runs on labels and conformity. With a closet that screams individuality and would be the envy of every stylish bohemian, male or female, he feels a need to resist the unconscious homogeneous norms. “Am I running the show, or is McDonald’s? Why do I eat certain foods? Why am I Christian? And why did I never get on a surfboard when I grew up eight minutes from the ocean?” As an actor and model, Preston has first-hand experience with the “branding” of African-American males and what society thinks they should be. Before he discovered how to be and feel comfortable in what, for him, is a conservative skinny suit from Zara by wearing bright, tie-dyed socks — he would intentionally wear what he thought black people were “supposed” to wear: Baggy jackets and pants five sizes too big. “It’s easier to sell things when people are afraid of something. But when they fill the quota with non-descript, non-aggressive looking black guys, you still have a person of color in there.” And, when he finally discovered surfing at 20 years old, its zen-like challenges opened his entire universe to how connected we all really are. “So, why do only the white kids surf?”
Today, when he isn’t acting, Preston teaches students at his Smiles Surf School how to surf the same way he learned– one hour, one day at a time. Being competitive with himself is second nature. “I started questioning these things, and detaching myself from what society says I’m supposed to be, and feeling this crazy connection to nature and God and seeing that I wasn’t separate from the water. Everything’s touching something. We’re all connected.” He wears his feelings literally on his sleeve, pairing a pink silk kurta from India with a flowing ikat vest from Pakistan, two nations traditionally at odds, so effortlessly it seems they were made for each other.
Preston grew up watching his father treat everyone, whether it was a janitor or his boss, with “the same respect– the same love.” He carries that same love with him every day. His clothing line, Pronounced Love, is all about returning to an inner child not yet programmed by society. The symbol on one of his t-shirts is a triangle that stands for the unity of “body, mind, and spirit.” Preston doesn’t buy anything that doesn’t make him say “Oh my God!” when he sees it, from his perfectly patched jeans to his southwestern blanket blazer to his chunky charmed indigenous necklaces. Everything he wears has a story, whether it is vintage or designed by a friend and he freely passes its legacy forward by giving everything away frequently. Preston’s generosity is probably most startling in its unusual magnanimity when he gave an entire paycheck to a visibly exhausted, working class mother that he happened to pass when she was picking her child up from school.
Of life, Preston says, this is just a shell, “I don’t believe we ever die.” Like his twenty year old collection of pastel Converse sneakers, the spirit of everything lives on. When you direct your thoughts, you change everything. “Most of the time, your greatest direction will come from your greatest rejection… and what you put in,” he says, “is what you get out.” So, by eating lots of compassionate foods, wearing lots of color, and making eye contact – even in the NYC subway – it is clear that Preston has chosen to embrace the envelope that says life is always abundant if you open your eyes.