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

“What I like and appreciate about CNP is that it is specifically about Black gay men. Coalition work is important, but it’s equally important to have a specific focus on our own concerns.”

– Dr. Alvan Quamina, JD, Ph.D., MPH


Introduction

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.


Our 2017 Story (In the Words of Those Present)

When the CNP launched its year at the unsettling start of 2017 in the shadow of the inauguration of President Donald Trump, it did so with a focus on four (4) core objectives to center its organizational energies: 1) raise the visibility of Black gay men, their issues, and concerns in the media; 2) educate both Black gay men and the greater community about the history and significant contributions of Black gay pioneers like Craig Harris and Mario Cooper in HIV movement, LGBTQ movement, Black social justice movement work; 3) bridge intergenerational knowledge gaps of Black gay men past and current contributions to arts, letters, and culture through screenings, forums, and exhibitions of BGM work; and, to increase participation in policy advocacy and public education efforts for changes in HIV criminalization laws that disproportionately affected the everyday lives of Black gay men.

To meet those carefully selected objectives, CNP traveled all across the United States, partnering with leading advocates and key community stakeholders from Manhattan to Jackson to spread the good and bad news of what was happening and had happened among Black gay men, hosting and co-hosting events and webinars all in the effort to move the needle for those for whom silence, neglect, and independent resiliency without the benefit of collective effort had far too often become the norm. Undaunted by the near-daily barrage of the ominous and the ludicrous in the media about our "new" political realities, CNP maintained focus and diligence on its aims and mission, even as the White House stripped all mention of LGBTQ programs and achievements from its official website, created a list to banned words from now skittish federal partners dedicated to stopping the HIV epidemic overwhelmingly impacting Black gay men, and threatened serious budget cuts to the Minority AIDS Initiative (MAI) funding that many CNP agency partners relied on to test, treat, and support BGM. The signs surrounding CNP and the community it serves were daunting at best, terrifying at worst, but throughout CNP has been clear about one indisputable fact: there has never been a time of safety, security, and universal social embrace of BGM. So, as much as the world had changed to bring the white, the straight, and the cisgender American a little closer to the gnawing danger and insecurity BGM had always known and experienced in this country, ironically, much of what was happening was just another day of being Black and gay in America, not unlike all the days and years before.

Not getting distracted by the racism and homophobia experiencing greater public normalization over the last year while maintaining a singular focus on the work CNP achieved could not have been done without the dedicated partners who laid the groundwork right where they were to distribute the flyers, make the calls, disseminate the Facebook evites, and ensure that earnest bodies were eager and present for each educational, political, or cultural engagement. Each CNP event an opportunity to receive the sustenance needed for the work and resistance against such further heinous normalization ahead.

For instance, through a partnership with Washington, DC's Brave Soul Collective, CNP was able to premiere “Exposure,” a theatrical event, in observance of the "I Will Be Heard" National Day of Action, itself a homage to Craig Harris's now famous words as he stormed the stage in 1986 at the American Public Health Association Conference on behalf of BGM dying from AIDS-related illnesses to demand—and get—change.

Monte J. Wolfe, co-founder and Executive Director of Brave Soul, had first learned of Harris and his historic activism for BGM through his group's partnership with CNP to premiere this critical work and facilitate the rich post-production dialogue that work sparked to a packed D.C. house.

"[‘Exposure’ and its message of] "I Will Be Heard" was inspiring because of how affirming the work was, which I feel is imperative for Black gay men and people living with and affected by HIV/AIDS," said Wolfe. "I liked the fact that this day of action also served as an example of what can happen when marginalized people use their voices and their platforms to affect change."

A similar transformative experience was felt by student activist Ramon W. Johnson at Morehouse in Atlanta, GA where CNP partnered with campus organizers to reach its Black male student body in a frank discussion of masculinity, power, and the intersectionality that Black men across the spectrum, but most especially BGM, experience at Morehouse, in the Black community, and society-at-large. This rare, powerful, and youth-led event was timely and necessary in an age where #MeToo and rising concerns of toxic masculinity often include Black gay male bodies that go missing from the national conversation as both perps and survivors.

"My favorite event would have to be the Black Masc(k)ulinity program we organized in November 2017. Both Jamal Lewis's and Charles's ties to the institution with Johnnie's personal experiences helped provide a rich discussion that helped some students express concerns regarding their identity development in order to better navigate their personal lives and journeys through Morehouse," Ramon shared. "If possible, I would love to do this again for the spring 2018 semester."

Planting seeds for future efforts like more partnerships with Morehouse student activists were intrinsic to the work CNP involved itself in throughout 2017. Laying the groundwork for the Revolutionary Health series designed to improve the health and well-being of BGM through the use of educational media, Dr. David Malebranche, MD, an Associate Professor at Morehouse School of Medicine, rolled up his sleeves to assist in the development of urgently needed medical content that helps inform BGM's health decisions and support them living healthier lives. He shared a little about what working with CNP has been like in launching this health revolution.

"I have enjoyed working with Charles and Johnnie of CNP on Revolutionary Health. There is a lot of creative energy when the three of us get together, and the passion we all have for the lives and legacies of Black gay men in this county is palpable when we meet," explained Dr. Malebranche. "I enjoy that it's not only work, but camaraderie, family, and friendship."

Health was at the forefront of an event in California to raise Black gay men's awareness of Truvada as an effective HIV prevention method in a different kind of little blue pill, one that is preventing illness and saving lives from the further spread of HIV. Yet, Black gay men are the least likely to be aware of or have access to this prevention tool known as PrEP, despite bearing the majority of the domestic HIV burden. Partnering with Berkeley, CA public health official Alvan Quamina, JD, PhD, MPH on a June 2017 PrEP educational forum targeting area BGM, CNP's participation and leadership assisted in extending a level of community trust that opened up the room for a conversation fraught with the dark history of medical apartheid and experimentation (e.g., Tuskegee Syphilis Study, etc.) that still informs suspicion of clinical treatments and the medical decision making of Black gay men today. On the unique role of CNP and the vital nature of its community credibility, Dr. Quamina shared his experience.

"What we usually see is white organizations that will occasionally step to the plate on POC issues and not really bring what needs to be brought to the table. Similarly, Black social justice movements only occasionally stick their toe in the LGBTQ waters to highlight or address those concerns," expressed Quamina. "The work that CNP is bringing is [therefore] novel and important."

To capture that work for prosperity, in 2017 CNP also enlisted the skills of former Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture archivist and oral historian, Steven G. Fullwood, the Principal and Founder of coHerence, Inc. to develop an oral history project preserving CNP's work and origin story for future generations. Last year, Fullwood interviewed six primary stakeholders present at the conception and founding of CNP to offer valuable insights that can be shared as both histories and taught as lessons learned in a long, unbroken line of BGM movement history work that spans back decades and forefathers to CNP's founders. The final products are slated to be housed at the Auburn Avenue Research on African American Culture and History at the Atlanta/Fulton Public Library, in addition to related products for more immediate use, such as webinars and media asset development to share with the community.

Speaking on his experience working with CNP on this important project of documenting CNP's work and contextualizing it as a subsequent iteration of local and national Black gay male resistance to social injustice and service to their community, Fullwood speaks of being inspired.

"The evolution of this partnership has encouraged me to do more work as a budding oral historian, as well as seek other opportunities with CNP specifically within the realm of programming. CNP's political voice for Black gay males is necessary and deserves to flourish in the years to come," says Fullwood.

These are but a few of the activities that CNP engaged in throughout 2017 in the words of those who were there as primary actors in the work that educated, inspired, advocated, and encouraged all of those involved throughout a year filled with many more instances of substantive and measurable efforts and change.

What Was Accomplished in 2017

"I think CNP did a good job of raising awareness of stories that might have otherwise remain unknown (e.g., "Gay Teen Murdered in Las Vegas" or "The Death of Devon Wade")." – Mashaun D. Simon, Journalist

With a formal staff of two full-time employees, the CNP Executive Director Charles Stephens and Director of Mobilization Johnnie Kornegay III, supported by a small team of consultants, volunteer advisors, dedicated community and national partners, as well as a national network of nearly 600 advocates and activists, CNP managed to make its presence felt not just in CNP's home base of Atlanta, Georgia, but across key cities through the U.S. Through in-person events and various social media platforms, CNP heightens the visibility and representation of BGM and their concerns at the policy, cultural, and educational bodies who have demonstrated impacts and yield measurable results in the real lives and communities of BGM across America.

Visibility

  • In Feb. 2017, the CNP worked with Atlanta City Council President Ceasar Mitchell to secure a City of Atlanta proclamation to honor the work of Ulester Douglas, a respected Black gay therapist.

  • In June 2017, the CNP Director of Mobilization received the Barbara Vick Impact Award in recognition for his service and activism.

  • In Sept. 2017, the CNP helped shape a GLAAD Media Award-winning, five-part series by Grace Staples on BGM & HIV for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, including feature profiles on Reverend Duncan Teague, Dr. David Malebranche, and CNP Executive Director Charles Stephens, among others.

  • In Oct. 2017, the CNP launched the first four episodes of its #WeAreHere series in recognition of National Gay Men's HIV Awareness Day, featuring the individual stories of BGM, featuring Michael Ward, Alvin Agarrat, Mashaun D. Simon, and Charles Stephens as the debut narratives.  

  • In Nov. 2017, the CNP partnered with Morehouse College Safe Space on their "Masculinity and Intimacy" event at Morehouse College where the CNP Director of Mobilization served as a panelist.

  • In 2017, in partnership with Equality Foundation of Georgia, CNP secured a State of Georgia proclamation to honor the work of Black gay activist and faith leader Rev. Duncan Teague.


Cultural Education

"I think the programming around Marlon Riggs was especially strong, and I loved the "We are Here" series. It was also great to see CNP events in cities other than Atlanta and to see that those events were well attended and received." – Justin C. Smith, HIV Prevention Researcher

  • In Feb. 2017, the CNP hosted a Marlon Riggs film series, screening Riggs' landmark documentaries Ethnic Notions and Tongues Untied.

  • In Apr. 2017, in partnership with Google, Teach for American, and GLSEN New York City, the CNP co-hosted a screening of the BGM film Moonlight at the Google in New York.

  • In Oct. 2017, the CNP partnered with Out on Film to co-host a screening of Marlon Riggs' final, iconic BGM documentary Black Is... Black Ain't.

  • In Nov. 2017, the CNP partnered with Georgia Equality on the "Living with Art Reception & Community Conversation on HIV & Race in Atlanta's Art Community" to highlight the intersections of race, the arts, and public health.

  • In Dec. 2017, the CNP began preparation for a January 2018 staged reading of renowned BGM playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney's BGM coming-of-age tale, Choir Boy, to be directed by Jamil Jude.

Political Education

"CNP did good work in 2017 by raising community awareness and telling our stories." – Dr. Maurice Franklin, Scholar

  • At the March 2017 Funding Forward convening, CNP Exec. Dir. served on the panel: "PrEP as an HIV Prevention Tool in Queer Communities of Color: Barriers & Opportunities."

  • In Jun. 2017, in partnership with the SERO Project, the CNP co-hosted the “Pre-Conference Institute on HIV Criminalization” and the CNP Exec. Dir. presented "Black Gay HIV Movement History" at The Red Door Foundation's Saving Ourselves Symposium in Jackson, MS to help address the health and wellness of the Black LGBTQ community in the South.

  • In Aug. 2017, the CNP moderated an Atlanta Mayoral Candidate Forum to help ensure local BGM issues were part of the candidates' agenda as a considered ATL political constituency.

  • In Sept. 2017, the CNP Exec. Dir. presented as a panelist on HIV Criminalization for the National Black Justice Coalition's led Summit on “Black Lives: Black America's Response to the HIV/AIDS Epidemic” historic strategy meeting in Washington, DC.

  • The CNP was invited to participate in the Ford Foundation, Wellspring Advisors, and Barnard Center for Research on Women's "Challenging Criminalization Through an Intersectional Lens" convening of 100 funders, advocates, agencies, and experts in NYC in March of 2018.

Community Mobilization

"I think CNP did a good job of co-organizing and leading the HIV & Racial Justice convening (and the ongoing activities and subsequent follow-up work) as well as their continued, sustained advocacy for Michael L. Johnson." – Suraj Madoori, Policy Director

  • Through mobilized BGM community outreach and support, CNP raised $25,000 to support the legal defense fund for Black gay college wrestler, Michael Johnson, who lives with HIV and was convicted and sentenced to 30 years under Missouri HIV criminalization law. This sentence has since been reduced to 10 years through a plea deal, following an appellate court dismissal of the original “guilty” verdict.

  • In 2017, CNP hosted a "Voting Rights and HIV Justice" strategy meeting with 23 activists and senior administrators at a range of minority-serving CBS to respond to voter disenfranchisement efforts in Georgia.

  • In July 2017, CNP hosted a webinar to educate and mobilize allies on the proposed federal Minority AIDS Initiative (MAI) elimination, which several BGM HIV programs and services financially rely upon to deliver life-saving and sustaining services to underserved BGM.

  • Throughout 2017, CNP hosted the Southern HIV Decriminalization Network meetings and participated in the Georgia Coalition to End HIV Criminalization meetings and activities to modernize and/or eliminate HIV criminalization laws in GA and throughout the South.

What We’ll Strengthen

"I'm aware of what CNP is doing. But, I'm not aware enough. That may not be CNP's fault, it may be a matter of my capacity. But, the work is fantastic and should be more widely recognized, which could lead to more support." – Bryan Glover, Creative Director

As part of a feedback process to ensure CNP operates in ways reflective and respectful of the needs and desires of the communities we serve, CNP surveyed and interviewed several key stakeholders to get a sense of what thought leaders and community representatives believed CNP did well, needs to improve upon, and what they hope to see CNP further accomplish. The experienced revealed some recurring themes that informed us on the areas our supporters would like to see us seed and grow over time to improve our operations and better serve BGM.

The overall feedback to CNP was encouraging of its 2017 accomplishments and hopeful for the future of the national organization. There were also plenty of unlisted, but distinctive ideas and concerns shared with CNP for us to engage. The following are the four major themes CNP received most frequently and plans to programmatically and operationally address over time:

  • Engage in stronger publicity and promotional efforts made to better share both CNP's organizational story and the many stories and profiles of those unsung within the Black gay community.

  • Conduct more community exchanges, coordinated national dialogues, and educational opportunities for members of the BGM community to participate in and politically learn and expand from.

  • Increase the direct production of original BGM arts and cultural products, programs, and grant maker opportunities for BGM artists and their audiences alike.

  • Deepen BGM’s role in electoral politics and direct social justice movement activism, particularly in the HIV and Black social justice arenas.

What’s Next

With the generous support of individual donors and philanthropic foundations, CNP completes the fiscal year 2017 financially sound and enters 2018 with its projected budget of nearly $300,000 fully raised to continue delivering such CNP programming as #WeAreHere (BGM and HIV narratives), I Will Be Heard (increased BGM visibility and media representation), anti-voter suppression actions, and HIV anti-criminalization work. Funding from foundations and corporations, including Levi-Strauss, MailChimp, the Tides Foundation, The Ford Foundation, and the AIDS United Southern Reach HIV Impact Fund, as well as ongoing fiscal sponsorship by the Equality Foundation of Georgia, makes the following programmatic plans for 2018 possible:

  • Fierce Love – a multimedia HIV anti-stigma education campaign launching to address and reduce HIV stigma related to BGM in rural and urban settings throughout the country.

  • Revolutionary Health – a new web initiative launching to educate BGM about their specific health and wellness concerns.

  • Black Gay Vote – a new voter registration drive targeting BGM #BlackGayVote.

  • ATL Boards Initiative – a recruitment and training effort to ensure greater involvement and representation of Atlanta's Black LGBTQ community members on local boards, commissions and committees that impact Black LGBTQ lives in Georgia.

  • CNP Day of Action – the organization's four (4) nationally coordinated community mobilization events strategically scheduled throughout the year.

  • Blueprint – working with national partners to raise political and community raise awareness around how crystal meth continues to impact the lives of BGM.

Conclusion

Those are just some of the highlights of what CNP has in store over the next year and beyond. In 2018, in addition to our secured foundation and corporate support, CNP will also need your individual investment both financially and in your sharing CNP events, products, and services delivered to raise awareness of our community's issues and concerns, resources we create and curate with you in mind. To ensure the ongoing communal strength and resiliency we all need to thrive in the age of 45, as we enter a highly critical, mid-term election year, it will take all of us together, working toward common goals, financially, emotionally, and spiritually supporting one another—being the best of what we know our community to be—to collectively rise to meet the challenges ahead. As students of our history, we know it's nothing less than what has always been called upon us to do and get done. CNP looks forward to getting it done with you.