At the time of writing this, it has been 7 days since I met author and activist James Baldwin, albeit posthumously via a screening of the Raoul Peck-directed documentary I Am Not Your Negro. The film is based on an unfinished manuscript Baldwin penned discussing his thoughts on and relationships with three Civil Rights icons: Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Medgar Evers. Groundbreaking playwright Lorraine Hansberry is also referenced in the film, through Baldwin’s own words, of course. As narrator, Samuel L. Jackson wields his commanding voice to reanimate Baldwin’s.
In the mid-1980s Duncan Teague and other Atlanta black LGBT folks called a meeting in his living room to respond to the HIV epidemic and to increase the Atlanta organizing in the black LGBT communities. At the time the effect of HIV on the black community did not receive the needed public attention. In our communities, in our night clubs, and in our organizations, we knew and cared for the people being impacted. Teague understood intimately how this was changing black LGBT life, and he stepped up as a leader. That meeting contributed to the birthing of the African American Gay and Lesbian Alliance (AALGA). This meeting also helped set the stage for a lifetime of service and advocacy for our communities.
In December, 2016, I visited Jackson, Mississippi for the first time. In 2014, the Human Rights Campaign reported that Jackson had the fourth highest rate of HIV infections in the country. I wanted to learn more about the city and HIV activism there. I also wanted to learn ways we could assist and possibly participate in activities. I had several meetings while visiting including an inspired conversation about what a National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day (NBHAAD) weekend of events could look like with My Brother’s Keeper, Inc. (MBK). I was grateful to get the call for Counter Narrative Project to thought partner and come in to participate in a weekend of events for NBHAAD.
How do we manufacture joy? This became the question as I boarded the plane.
The news of Michael Johnson’s conviction reversal gives a glimpse of hope that lawmakers and those who preside over these cases understand the need to review antiquated HIV criminalization laws, which disproportionately affect Black people. I hope Michael feels the community rallying behind him to assist in making his release from prison is permanent.
Unless you have been living under a rock for the past year, you will likely already know that Tuesday, November 8th is Election Day across the United States. To say that this election cycle has been been hard to watch would be an understatement. The news cycle has been primarily focused on the general public’s disdain towards the candidates and the nasty attacks and harmful rhetoric that has been on display for the world to see (and hear). While having to select the next leader of the free world in these conditions may seem to be disheartening for some, we still need to participate in the political process because too much is at stake.
The landscape ahead for our movement can be reduced to a single key moment in 2016: the Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections (CROI). There, the Director of CDC's Division of HIV/AIDS Prevention (DHAP) Eugene McCray took to the mic at the plenary to present new analyses on the lifetime risk of acquiring HIV:
Half of black gay men are projected to be diagnosed within their lifetime... if current HIV diagnoses rates persist, about 1-in-2 black men who have sex with men (MSM) in the United States will be diagnosed with HIV during their lifetime...
Art is truth. Art is questioning. Art is uncomfortable. Art is confrontational. Art is engaging by nature, because art is a dance. Sometimes that dance is one that is best done with self, as a means of exploration, understanding and acceptance. When taken to an even higher-level by being shared and offered up to others, it then can become an agent of change, healing and empowerment for large communities of people.
I was 16 the first time I got an HIV test. I was a junior in high school and had by this point been dating men for about a year. Like many of the other milestones in my life, I pursued my emerging sexual identity, passionately but strategically.
In 1997 I began the very personal journey of fully accepting my sexuality. In my case, at that time, bisexuality was transitional. I knew it, but I couldn't say "gay" yet to anyone. We were in the car. I had finally gotten up the nerve to tell him. Holding a big revelation like that in was beginning to take a mental toll on me. I'm strong, but something had to give, and soon. In that car, at that moment I said it - "Dad, I'm bisexual." That was a lie.
When a brown woman Aquarius spirit joined forces with a brown man Gemini spirit in early 1974, what would follow was a little brown Scorpio baby boy named Monte Jermaine Wolfe who made his entrance into the physical realm nine months later in Kenosha, Wisconsin. From that day on, he would be reared and raised on a rich, eclectic mix of soul/R&B, and jazz music. The tiny little brown Scorpio baby, who chose two flawed, but loving, beautiful creatures to be his parents had to have known...He must have made an agreement with the God of his understanding before entering this world that the primary means of navigating his way through the world that he was about to enter on the 4th day of November, 1974 would be through the sacred, beautiful, vehicle of music.
As a black male growing up in the South, I was always thought that black manhood was a lifestyle itself. I have to act a current way, dress a current way, put on a facade if you will. I went several years of fighting my sexuality because where I came from, it was demonized and cursed. So I went a good 14 years of putting on this façade, because of the fate of homosexuals I was taught as a child. It wasn't until I was challenged by an acting teacher to play a homosexual character in scene where I had a moment of enlightenment… That I saw how very blinded I was.
To be a Black gay male, born and raised here in the South, words cannot explain the journey it took for me to get to place of self-love and self-acceptance. I began my journey at age 19, and now, at age 29, I’m now able to fully walk in my truth unapologetically.
Essex Hemphill was a critically acclaimed gay African-American poet. Through his writing, initiated necessary narratives about sexuality, race, and brotherly love that needed to be discussed during a critical period of time for African-Americans. Cited as an inspiration for many Black gay artists and activists, his work continues to be influential to this day.