I am a black gay man from the South. I came of age in the 90s and early-2000s. Like most of my generation, those of us in the gap between Generation X and Y, I grew up with a vague notion of what it meant to be gay, and none of what it meant to be both black and gay.
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.