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.
As a black gay man, I’ve always been in search of a historical roadmap of who I am through learning about the lives of those who came before me. Discovering the works of other black gay writers and activists years ago helped me in unimaginable ways.
Earlier this year, I came to learn things about myself which can only be described as transformative. Before June, the name Craig G. Harris had no significance at all but by June 27th, 2017, all of that had changed forever.
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.
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.