The Curious Case of Tevin Campbell

Cover Photo: T.E.V.I.N. album cover

Thirty-years ago this year, the world was introduced to the elastic, richly textured instrument of one Mr. Tevin Campbell. Shepherded into the offices of Warner Bros. Records by jazz pioneer Bobbi Humphrey and signed by Warner Bros. renowned Senior Vice President of Black Music, Benny Medina, the then-12-year-old singer would be launched into the public consciousness by no less than the iconic Quincy Jones. If that start wasn’t impressive enough, Campbell’s 1989 debut single with Jones would eventually become a #1 hit on the Billboard R&B charts, “Tomorrow (A Better You, Better Me),” somewhere around the same time Campbell was just turning 14. Partially driven by a single that would, for a time, be a hallmark in the graduation auditoriums of schools, teen talent shows, and youth choirs in churches across America, Back on the Block would go on to win the Grammy for Album of the Year.

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Lori Lightfoot: Meditations on a Hometown “Win” from a Hometown Boy

She’s black. She’s a woman. She’s a lesbian. She has a wife and family. She has the conservative butch natural cut sported by Aunties of a certain age since at least ’72. “But, what does it all mean?” both the media and the people ask. Now that the haze of this historic election win that saw two Black women running neck and neck for the first time as the leads in a mayor’s race of the third largest city in America, the question is left hanging in the air, its residue wet, clear, but still staining as narrow eyes are cast suspiciously at this new thing that was never thought to be a political possibility before has become exactly a new reality for a city whose public image hasn’t known a clean day since the era of Al Capone and whose people could barely be bothered to get out and vote beyond a mere 33 to 35% for said political miracle.

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Beyoncé and Jay-Z Acknowledge Their Black Gay Family & Their Respective Struggles

Black LGBTQIA+ relations to their heterosexual counterparts is seldom part of the public narrative about Black LGBTQIA+ life, though their presence and relationship as bell hooks tells us in 1992’s Black Looks: Race and Representation has always been a seamless part of our collective community. Usually it’s Black women writers highlighting this truth in a way that does not problematize the presence of queer Black people in relationship to their families and communities, from Ann Petry and Gloria Naylor to Alice Walker and Toni Morrison, the Black LGBTQIA+ aunt, uncle, cousin, brother, sister, or mother are essential, even normative threads woven into the fabric of our community, if sometimes rendered a curious one.

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The Magic of Basements and Living Rooms

Overlooking a sparkling spring view of the Atlantic Ocean from a Fort Lauderdale hotel penthouse floor, I sat among an intimate group of activists and community service workers talking about art as activism and what makes that potentially igniting mix possible when it strikes. Several minutes deep into this discussion, we began exploring the idea of something that seems obvious when talking about it now but felt like a profound bit of news to us as we unpacked what the boom-bust history of movements had in common with one another when they each began. For instance, what did the works of Black women writers in the ‘70s that formed a new era in Black women’s fiction have in common with the ‘20s and ‘30s-era Harlem Renaissance workers who peopled Wallace Thurman’s “Niggerati Manor” in New York, many who’d go on to create the iconically single-issued Fire?

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50+ Black Southern Individuals and Organizations “Stand Together in Power” 

February 20, 2019 – Atlanta, GA – Black people represent only 13% of the population but 50% of people living with HIV. The epicenter of that epidemic continues to be the Southern region of the United States and has been for some time. In response to the endurance of the epidemic and the anemic response to that epidemic as it relates to black Americans, particularly in the South, on National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, a group of activists and organizations are demanding change. The Counter Narrative Project, a national black gay men’s advocacy organization located in Atlanta, joined over 50 signees on a five-point statement of principled stances demanding the following: …

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Fulton County Honors a Poet and Activist Who Fought for Atlanta’s Black LGBTQ Lives

February 14, 2019 – Atlanta, GA – The Fulton County Board of Commissioners will deliver a proclamation honoring the legacy of a Black gay poet, HIV activist, and cultural pioneer who made both Black and American history, Atlanta’s own Tony Daniels. The proclamation will be presented during the February 20th Fulton County Board of Commissioner’s Recess Meeting at 10 am, in the Fulton County Government Center Assembly Hall located at 141 Pryor Street SW in Atlanta, GA. The proclamation is expected to officially be delivered by District 4 County Commissioner Natalie Hall of Atlanta.

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Another Soldier Gone…

I have a funeral Saturday. His name is Nathan D. Strickland, Jr. He was 28-years-old. After a lengthy battle, one I truly believed he’d survive, he “suddenly” succumbed to cancer. His marks the first death I’ve had in 2019 of a Black man, a fellow brother. He will not be my last. Last year, I experienced the deaths of 20 Black men. Last year I experienced the deaths of 20 Black men. Last year I experienced the death of 20 Black men. This stuttered trifecta of trauma was not a typo. It’s a weight that needs to be restated to be felt, to be heard, to be understood.

Listen.

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CNP Statement on the Second Death of a Black Man Found at the Home Of Ed Buck

January 8, 2019 – Atlanta, GA – News outlets are reporting that the body of another black man has been found at the home of Ed Buck on January 7th. His name has not been released. Only a picture of his body on a gurney. In 2017 the body of Gemmel Moore, a young black gay man, had also been found at Buck’s home. Buck was investigated, but the L.A. County District Attorney’s office declined to file charges. In less than two years, two black men are dead, and Buck is free.

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Revolutionary Health Wins A 2018 POZ Award

December 18, 2018 – Atlanta, GA – The Counter Narrative Project (CNP), a national Black gay men’s advocacy organization won the 2018 POZ Award in the Best Video Series category, for Revolutionary Health. “This is such an incredible honor. We are so very grateful for the support of our community,” said CNP Executive Director and co-host of the Revolutionary Health series, Charles Stephens. The Atlanta-based talk show also is co-hosted by the esteemed clinical practitioner and researcher David Malebranche, MD, who only one month before received a proclamation from the city of Atlanta for his local and national work in HIV.

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To Black Fathers, Sons and Kevin Hart

December 11, 2018 – Atlanta, GA – On December 4, 2018, 39-year-old comedian Kevin Hart was announced as the host for the 91st Annual Academy Awards. Over a 48-hour period, America watched as a series of homophobic jokes and comments from 2009 to 2015 resurfaced for a public divide of condemnation and defense, often with Hart’s young son as the subject, and usually at the expense of Black gay men.

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CNP “Revolutionary Health” Co-Host Honored with Historic Atlanta Proclamation

November 13, 2018 – Atlanta, GA – As the co-host of the Counter Narrative Project’s, POZ-award nominated “Revolutionary Health” health education web series, Dr. David Malebranche has tackled such far-ranging topics as addressing chronic depression to engaging in safer practices with sex toys among Black gay men. However, thousands of dedicated viewers of the cutting-edge, live-streamed show may not be aware that Dr. Malebranche is more than a knowledgeable talking head. The first-generation son of a Haitian immigrant physician is also a published author and one of the leading practitioner researchers working in the HIV/AIDS field today.

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CNP Director’s Iconic Images Help Revive National HIV Criminalization Conversation

September 19, 2018 – Atlanta, GA – The iconographic images of long-time Atlanta-based photographer and Counter Narrative Project (CNP) Director of Networking and Community Mobilization, Johnnie Ray Kornegay III, are gracing the September/October pages of Positively Aware Magazine’s landmark HIV Criminalization issue. The editor of the publication’s special edition commissioned Mr. Kornegay as the volume’s cover photographer to visually capture the stories of those impacted by HIV criminalization laws as well as those who have spent the better part of their lives advocating for the modernization, if not the eradication of these draconian laws. The issue features such prominent activists as Georgia HIV Justice Coalition’s Nina Martinez and survivors such as The Sero Project’s Robert Suttle, a Black gay man who was imprisoned under Louisiana law. Symbolically shot at The National Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta, the critical edition extends Mr. Kornegay’s reputation as one who continues to mix his art and activism with a unique and personal flair.

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An Oral History of the Counter Narrative Project

Charles Stephens founded the Counter Narrative Project in April 2014 after several years working in local and national organizations. CNP’s mission is to “build power among black gay men and stand in solidarity with other movements committed to social justice.” Stephens’s vision for CNP is large and engaging offering black gay men a political platform and political home. Part of that clear-headed, unblinking advocacy is effectively connecting Black gay men to their past through the works of Black gay activists and artists of the past. What follows is a look at the roots of CNP from its collaborators and staff, including: Alvin Agarrat, Jeff Graham, Johnnie Ray Kornegay, III, Ayesha McAdams-Mahmoud, Suraj Madoori, and, of course, Stephens himself.

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The Counter Narrative Project Looking Back & Aiming Forward (2017-2018)

The fourth year of the Counter Narrative Project (CNP) found our committed organization going from strength to strength in 2017, deepening our commitments in critical areas while learning more about where we excel and where we could use a bit more work. The year offered unexpected triumphs and harrowing tales for the Black gay men (BGM) we serve, from successfully raising five-figures to support the legal defense of Michael Johnson to highlighting the many deaths to intimate partner violence (IPV) that made headlines throughout the year. Throughout it all, CNP was there to elevate the voices, experiences, and expectations of BGM who continue to demand to be heard across various media and policy platforms and who will no longer be denied a table of their own, rather than merely the token seats at someone else's.

We are here.

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Reflections of a Body Outsider (Part 2)

Just as it took a process of time, reading, living, and loving to come to a state of radically loving my Blackness and my gay identity, so is it to accept this body and all that comes with it. It has been a process assisted by the words of folks like Gay and Renee, Black feminists who know something about what it means for the world to tell you that you’re undesirable. I desperately needed their help, having not always been a size 46 in the waist. It has taken more than a decade to relax into this identity of “bear” and have it become a comfy fit (and, yes, I’ve heard the concerned Black gay nationalist arguments of adopting yet more white gay cultural language by using terms like “bear,” but I can’t really embrace the term “boy” at a smooth and grown 43-years-old in any context, even one intended to be culturally affirming).

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Reflections of a Body Outsider (Part 1)

I lacked the bravery and carefreeness displayed by hundreds of cubs, bears, chubs, superchubs, otters, and chaser brethren who confidently splashed, played, and luxuriated in the Orlando heat over the four official days of the Eighth Annual Big Boy Pride at the Parliament House pool. The privilege of standing bare-chested in the sun, in the sparkling chlorine water, or just outside in a public space before the caressing or judging eyes of others is something Black men of size seldom can take for granted, particularly not gay men of size, trained to be particularly attuned to the harsh judgement of the male gaze.

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“One Situation Involved a Young Man”: How Lauryn Hill’s Classic Album Told This Black Gay Man’s Stories, Too

The first time Lauryn canceled on me, she had a legitimate excuse. I was in the middle of my junior year of Montclair High. The African American Awareness Club’s faculty advisor had a connection to Lauryn’s family, and had arranged for her to attend a meeting one afternoon. While Lauryn was certainly a known hip-hop artist, The Fugees hadn’t released The Score, which would catapult her to global superstardom. She probably still had time in her schedule to deign to visit with a random group of high schoolers. Unfortunately, Lauryn’s visit never came to pass, as a nor’easter dropped about 4 feet of snow on the Mid-Atlantic the week of our scheduled meeting. A few weeks later, The Score dropped, dashing our hopes of a visit with a fellow Jersey girl. You see, Lauryn was raised in the neighboring towns of Newark and South Orange, where she attended Columbia High, a rival to my alma mater. (In fact, Ras Baraka, Newark’s current mayor and son of famed poet Amiri Baraka, can be heard on the interludes of the magum opus I honor with this column, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill.)

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Black Radical Drag

It was in hot and sweaty venues with music and strobe lights that I discovered identity was negotiable. Before I turned the legal age of 18 in my hometown of Atlanta, I saw identity as something fixed. In gay clubs, I quickly learned that identity was liquid, able to flow and transform based off of the container and environmental circumstance.

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The Werewolf

I was 18 when I met him. He hissed. I pretended to not hear him as I walked in front of the corner store collecting snacks to keep my body the fat spectacle it was. I was beginning to shed the childhood insecurities and began walking into the flaws-and-all confidence I wouldn’t fully know until adulthood. Comfort in authenticity was a new adventure when I was 18. He hissed again. I walked a bit faster, terrified by the persistence and complimented by the interest.

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Cosmetic Power: Another Look at Cosmetic Surgery

It took a long time for me to enjoy myself. It started with 30-second gazes into the mirror and grew into a lunch date with myself and now I’m a writer, which means a lifetime marriage with myself. There is a societal pressure to love yourself that says this self-love will unlock all the things you desire that are probably the reasons you hate yourself to begin with. There is also this unspoken push for the natural. To preserve, physically, who you were born as and to not fall victim to this societal pressure to change yourself. There are countless self-help and diet industries designed around these ethos.

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