May 15, 2018 – Atlanta, GA – The Counter Narrative Project (CNP) congratulates Gracie Bonds Staples on winning the coveted 2018 GLAAD Media Award for “Outstanding Newspaper Article.” Hosted by the GLAAD in New York City on May 5th, following star-studded ceremonies in Los Angeles in April, the 29th Annual Awards ceremony honored her critically acclaimed coverage of the HIV epidemic’s impact on Black gay men in the South. Published last August in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (AJC), the five-part series, “The Silent Epidemic: Black Gay Men and HIV,” featured Rev. Duncan Teague, Craig Washington, Dr. David Malebranche, Daniel Driffin, as well as CNP Executive Director Charles Stephens.
My body has never been still. It has had its ebbs and flows. My relationship with my body has had similar ups and downs. Some of my deepest moments of self-hatred has happened at my thinnest physical moments. And, moments where I’ve felt the most divine and delicious have also been when I’ve been at my fattest. The relationship with the body, like any relationship, is not static and comfortable.
As I reflect on the content now as a black gay man, no longer a boy, I realize realness was a common thread in all of the creators and content I was consuming. Most of the black gay men who had YouTube channels expressed countless times that their goal was to transform their YouTube popularity into stardom that meant television networks and shows, hosting gigs, and mainstream attention: realness. They were not satisfied with the independent or niche market they were dominating, but instead desired “real” celebrity and power which meant mainstream attention and access.
Upon looking at various statistics on the HIV epidemic, the most striking realization was the percentage of those living with HIV, yet unaware of their status. In 2013, half of all youth and emerging adults aged 13-24 living with HIV, didn’t know they had HIV.
It’s National Youth HIV & AIDS Awareness Day (NYHAAD). A national day devoted to telling you to be safe and how to be safe from HIV. Another day of folks holding you accountable and responsible for your own safety as a young Black gay man. Safety? Days like today must seem cosmically absurd and certainly hypocritical to have older people tell you how to be safe when they fail you on a daily on so very many fronts. When those who deign to scold, rebuke, and judge, if only implicitly through days like today, are consistently unwilling or unable to pass the laws and policies that can save, protect, and enrich your life, you have every right to ask why this protection matters more than other paths of protection.
Partnership has never come naturally to me; the idea or the lifestyle of it. When I feel the most at peace is when I am alone. When life makes the most sense to me is when I can reflect on it in solitude. Billie Holiday sings in her blues song “Solitude”: “In my solitude, you haunt me with memories of days gone by.” This, I suspect, is one of the reasons people can find themselves attempting to escape quietude. In this space, ideas and memories both pleasant and traumatic are able to flood the mind.
My favorite part of preparing Kool-Aid as a child was watching the sugar dissolve. I would fill the pitcher with water, not quite to the rim. I would rip the packet open and pour my preferred flavor into the water. Then, I would add the sugar. The sugar was the most important step to ensure the drink was refreshing and sweet, not strong and bitter. In childhood, I had a few moments where I experienced Kool-Aid with not enough sugar or no sugar at all. The taste was bitter and strong. My young mind would ask when, “Is this what Kool-Aid really is? This bitter and disgusting liquid only made edible by copious amounts of sugar?” Not the most sophisticated thought, but strong enough to haunt my adolescent self. I started to wonder was I finding delight in the actual powder that I was unleashing into the water called Kool-Aid or was I just simply just a slave to sugar?
February 28, 2018 – Atlanta, GA – The Counter Narrative Project (CNP) Atlanta-based Mobilization Director, Johnnie Ray Kornegay, III, has been featured among the South’s top queer artists in the third physical edition of WUSSY Magazine, a Southern LGBTQ multimedia platform. Kornegay and three of his selected photographic works are prominently featured in WUSSY's “Sex Issue” alongside over 30 other queer Southern artists. The edition, available now through WussyMag.com, serves as both Kornegay’s artistic debut in a print publication and the first time his work will have international exposure through the magazine’s global distribution channels.
White supremacist rhetoric, easily accessed via media and literature, told him that none of these realities belong to him, but instead are the fault of marginalized people—and, perhaps, that even if he doesn’t know those challenges well, that he is susceptible to them so long as those marginalized people have any access, power or identity whatsoever. He was told and chose to believe the only way to gain a happy state of being is by accessing power through hatred, although his gender and race grants him immeasurable amounts of power simply by existing. And this was easier than working through life, loving through life, forgiving through life, or being accountable through life.
Oprah was my first taste of possibility. I could not have been older than nine years of age; witnessing her with a microphone and holding the attention of a large audience inspired something in me. The arrogance of youth overcame me, and I thought to myself, that should be me. I had things to say. I deserve eyeballs and ears of the public for forty-five minutes a day with advertisement for toothpaste and cleaning supplies running in between. As my youthful entitlement matured into a more socially accepted adult anxiety, I still look positively at that moment of possibility. I also think critically about what made that moment of possibility possible.
As you move forward, it’s gonna be a challenging walk, filled with bumps, bruises, scars, tears, hiccups, and awakenings. You are magical, powerful, and beautiful...even if you can’t see it right now. You are an alchemist. You are resilient. Fear is just an illusion. It’s gonna seem insurmountable at times, but it’s transient...like most of everything in life, EXCEPT LOVE.
There was a murder in Atascocita, Texas on Sunday night. Devon Wade was killed by his partner Mario Williams. The police reports say there were two arguments. One resulted in Williams asking Wade to leave. Williams obliged. The second, and final argument, also concluded with Wade asking Williams to leave. He did leave through the back door, but not before delivering two bullets to his romantic partner’s head. Wade’s twin brother was found holding him, begging someone to call for help. It was, unfortunately, too late. Devon Wade had died. And in a way, I’m sure Mario Williams is now dead too.
The possibilities that Knight birthed just by being willing to be seen is unable to be articulated or measured because you can't measure the importance of the moment when an artist witnesses something that affirms the possibility of their dream being reality. You can't articulate what it means to be of this transgressive space that is black gay men refusing to be hidden. You can only acknowledge it.
My name is Johnnie Ray Kornegay III, and I am the Network and Mobilization Director for The Counter Narrative Project. I’m happy to be here tonight to celebrate Pride and the local LGBTQ community with the help of American Express. As Pride kicks off, we are honored to be working alongside Amex, a company that has long stood behind the LGBTQ community, to raise awareness and funding for those who need it most.
After years in therapy and unpacking a lot of what’s at the root of my issues around self-worth, I’ve accepted that is that a lot of this stuff will most likely be with me for the rest of my life. So I've committed myself to working as hard as I can on paying attention to what goes on inside my mind as it pertains to my self-worth and how much I weigh on any given day.