Today, we observe National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day (NBHAAD). This day is intended to increase awareness about HIV/AIDS within the Black community. Our community has been disproportionately impacted by the epidemic since it was introduced in the late 1980s.
In spite of the medical, scientific, and social advancements in HIV/AIDS management and mitigation, Black people still account for the highest proportion of Americans living with HIV, receiving new HIV diagnoses and being diagnosed with AIDS each year. In 2018, Black people accounted for 42% of new HIV diagnoses while being less than 13% of the total population in the US and dependent areas, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says. The number of Black cis women living with HIV is the highest among cisgender women of all races/ethnicities.
In spite of the availability of preventative medicines like PrEP and PEP, the fact that viral suppression makes it possible for an HIV-positive partner to not pass the virus to their partner(s) and evidence of people (who remain connected to care) living long and happy lives with HIV, there is still a significant amount of stigma that too often prevents conversations about and actions connected to HIV/AIDS in Black communities specifically.
This year, in recognition of NBHAAD, (National Black Justice Coalition) NBJC encourages members of our beautifully diverse community to have stigma-free conversations about HIV/AIDS and to support Black people living with the virus as well as those working to end the epidemic.
In honor of NBHAAD, NBJC is especially excited about the upcoming live dramatic reading of three chapters of George Johnson’s All Boys Aren’t Blue. The groundbreaking memoir focuses on the early years of Johnson’s life, exploring important topics including: gender identity, toxic masculinity, family, marginalization and Black joy. As a former elementary school teacher, I am especially thankful that school-age children have a reminder that All Boys Aren’t Blue — a tool that provides windows into worlds that deserve exploration and a reminder that all Black people are deserving of love.
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The dramatic reading of All Boys Aren’t Blue will take place on Monday, Feb. 8, featuring actors Dyllon Burnside, Bernard David Jones and Thomas Hobson each portraying Johnson at different stages of development. For those who have been living under a rock and may not yet be aware, Johnson is an author, journalist, and LGBTQ+ and HIV activist, who served as the state spokesperson for the HIV Stops with Me Campaign.
Johnson was diagnosed with HIV ten years ago, and at first struggled with their diagnosis. By 2013, they got educated about HIV and received treatment and in 2015 started to work as a community healthcare worker while also writing about the HIV epidemic from the perspective of a queer Black person. They have encouraged people to get tested and have worked tirelessly to increase competence around sexual health and responsibility.
Johnson said, “as long as I have a voice, I will use it to share my story, help others on their journey, and adamantly fight to end the epidemic,” and continues to do just that.
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Both in giving the world the gift of All Boys Aren’t Blue and in living by example, Johnson illustrates that when we take stigma-free approaches to otherwise tough conversations we can be healthy, happy and whole — both individually and as a community. My hope is the dramatic interpretation of his book serves as a pathway for more members of our community to learn more about the experiences of boys who aren’t blue and also inspires fact-based conversations about the lives of Black people thriving with and otherwise impacted by HIV — that includes all of us.
The National Black Justice Coalition has created several resources, including the Words Matter toolkit, to support fact-based conversations about sexual health and HIV/AIDS. The toolkit also provides a list of creative ways you can help spread awareness about HIV/AIDS in the Black community. NBHAAD is the perfect opportunity to leverage your digital platforms and creative expertise to have conversations about the holistic wellness of Black people, families and communities. You can attend the All the Boys Aren’t Blue reading by registering using this link. We encourage you to also watch the roundtable discussion that will follow and to replace stigma and lack of awareness with an open heart and mind.
Together, we can start talking to stop HIV and together, as a community, we can ensure that Black people living with HIV are able to thrive — in public and in private while also working to end transmission of the virus. Let’s do this together — this is among the critical ways that all Black people get free!
David J. Johns serves is the executive director of the National Black Justice Coalition, the nation’s leading civil rights organization dedicated to the empowerment of Black lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and same-gender loving (LGBTQ/SGL) people, including people living with HIV/AIDS. He is known for his passion, public policy acumen and fierce advocacy for intersectional social justice.