At Least We’re Not Dying From AIDS: A Retrospective by Michael Hinson

7 02 2011

Grant, MICHAEL HINSON, Smith, Haskins and Carson

Today marks the 11th annual National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day. Community leader Michael Hinson offers this incredible reflection on how far our communities have come since the first cases of HIV/AIDS were recognized. It includes an original piece by Arnold Jackson (August 25, 1957 — May 3, 1998).

Today, February 7, 2011 is National Black AIDS Awareness Day, a day of reflection about HIV disease in Black communities all around the world. As I have reflected over the past couple days (knowing this day was coming), I m reminded about my own journey from not knowing about the disease to knowing and at times cycling back to not knowing again and then back to knowing.  I am reminded about my cousin’s, two black gay men and two heterosexual black mothers who lost their lives to HIV in the prime of their life. I am reminded that we are not only reflecting on tragedy of too many Black lives lost or on the lives of Black Gay Men hanging in the balance, but we are also reminded about the bravery, the triumphs and successes in our communities that inspire us to be liberated from our own fear, that we might inspire the liberation of others as referenced by Nelson Mandela in his 1994 inauguration speech.

Personally I am reminded about Rashidah Abdul Khabeer, about David Fair, about Tyrone Smith, about Arnold Jackson and so many others who inspired my liberation. I am reminded that without their nurturing, their tough love, their gentle nudging, I too might be the subject of a hushed conversation in my southern hometown, as Arnold’s 1992 piece entitled “At Least we’re Not Dying From AIDS” suggest.

In their unique ways, this Philadelphia based herstorian and historians inspired the greatness that I humbly acknowledge and accept as my own personal destiny for which I am thankful. I am thankful for Rashidah’s gifts of strength, bravery and consciousness. I am thankful for David’s intellectual, strategic and unwavering commitment gifts. I am thankful for Tyrone’s “I’m Black, Gay and Proud” and “Hey, baby it is gonna be okay” gift’s. I am thankful for Arnold’s gifts of wisdom, communication and retrospect.

The theme for this year’s National Black AIDS Awareness Day is one we all know very well—”It Takes A Village to Fight HIV/AIDS!  As the Centers for Disease Control’s press release states “it is a call to action for a collective and integrated approach at the individual, community and national level to prevent the spread of HIV in African American communities”. I am thankful that my “village” understood this notion some twenty years ago and that I understand it today. I am thankful for the opportunity to be a part of the solution.

I am also reminded in my reflection today that African Americans who represent 14 percent of the population, account for 52 percent of the diagnoses in 2008 representing almost half of those living with and dying from HIV. I am reminded that African American men are 9 times more likely to have HIV than white men and I am reminded that African American women are 18 times more likely to have HIV than white women.

Today, as you reflect on what this day and this disease means to you, be encouraged. Many of us are also reflecting. Many have joined the “village” to fight this disease. Many are living with, not dying from this disease.   Many are opening the doors of opportunity and closing the doors of inadequacies in our health care system, the high incarceration rates, low income, low educational attainment, racism, stigma, and homophobia.

As I have been encouraged by my mentors, I encourage you to mentor — to be an encouragement. Tell someone today, they matter.  Tell someone today that HIV is preventable.  Tell someone today that HIV doesn’t have to be a death sentence. Tell someone today that their future holds a greatness that was given first as a gift from God. Tell them that their life never has to be a hushed conversation, emblazoned in the stigma that my friend Arnold wrote about almost ten years ago.

Below is the article my dear friend Arnold wrote in 1992, which reminds us of the HIV stigma still present today in many Black Communities. Thank you Arnold for reminded us to be the solution!

At Least We’re Not Dying From AIDS

by Arnold Jackson (August 25, 1957 — May 3, 1998)

It’s early 1992 and we African-American men and women, children and youth are dying at an alarming rate. This is not news. Everybody knows that, comparatively speaking, we don’t live as long as whites. And we all know why: disproportionate rates of poverty, drug and alcohol addiction, intra-racial violence, homelessness, hunger, lack of access to medical treatment. The list goes on.

But I’m happy to report that one thing we’re not dying from is AIDS.  Excuse me? You don’t believe me?

Then ask Rev. Jones, who funeralized Mrs. Brown’s 35-year-old son Jeffrey last week. Ask the neighbors and relatives who turned out for the service. You can even ask Mrs. Brown herself. They’ll all tell you the same thing. Jeffrey died from cancer.

Then there was Damien. He died four days ago. He was 23. Leukemia, that’s what his sister said. Go ahead, ask her.

Sherman, he passed two weeks ago. A fantastic designer. Everybody in the neighborhood loved him. He made a lot of clothes for a lot of people and all for free! I read his obituary in the paper. He died of a long illness.

Vanessa was 28. She used to shoot up. She got pneumonia.

Mr. Harris still can’t sleep too well these days and it’s been a year and half since his 40-year-old daughter who was married to that addict Maurice died of the same thing that killed Vanessa–complications from respiratory disease. At least that’s what the funeral program said.

I know a lot of other young black people who’ve died recently. Their parents, brothers, sisters and friends miss them a lot. They get depressed but don’t, want to talk about it too much. It’s painful when you lose a loved one.

But at least they didn’t die from AIDS.

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Two Great Local Archival Finds: Mox Nix, and Convo with Original West Setter

3 09 2010

This week, I had the most fortunate opportunity to interact with two men in Philadelphia. Each provided great details about Philadelphia’s early Black LGBT community.

Community members preparing to leave for Mox Nix's annual Halloween Party

Gary Q. Hines, host of The Catacombs online radio show, first told me about the first collector and his collection of five photo albums depicting notable Philadelphia socialites and images from the Mox Nix organization. Mox Nix provided a social outlet geared towards Black men and women of Philadelphia’s LGBT community. There are a lot of people in the photographs who we were unable to identify (sounds like its time to organize an “Archive Viewing Social”).

He tells me that when he was growing up, the original owner of the albums would tell him stories and experiences about the community. After the owner of the albums died, this collector went to his home to collect these important relics from the trash. Without judgment, the family of the owner possibly did not understand the significance.

This collector also has early photographs and books that first depicted black gay-oriented porn in 1970s. He even has an almost complete collection of Black Inches, and other magazines geared to Black LGBT communities throughout the US: Kick, Clique, SBC, as well as others). I actually held a Sierra Domino photo of the 1970s, as well as correspondences from the photographer and this collector. He also collects baseball cards.

The second great find of the week included a telephone conversation with one of two living members of The West Set. While going through the personal collections of Tyrone Smith, I noticed that one of the West Set members served on the Board of Directors of an early HIV/AIDS service organization in Philadelphia. Smith confirmed that this member was still living, and within two hours arranged a phone call. Gerald J. Lewis confirmed important information about the composition of the group, and the origins of the group’s name. He told me that he first got involved at Lincoln University, and that that is where the connections were first made.

In a few weeks, I will post an interview with Lewis, as he’s agreed to sit down and talk and share other items that he has featuring members of the West Set. I hope to also share more of the collection from the first collector. I AM EXCITED.

If you haven’t, please check out the online exhibit of The West Set posted on this blog; and if you’ve viewed if previously, new information and photos have been added.

I believe that history is a connection/collection of stories from those in a network. The more I do this work, I am thrilled to see networks of stories crossing and intersecting. In this way, we are all connected. I thank Gary Q. Hines and Tyrone Smith for adding these important contributions to our history.

The Archivists Society encourages your participation and sharing.