“Our people. Our problem. Our solution.”
This is the motto of the Black AIDS Institute and it rang throughout Los Angeles’ California African American Museum Saturday night as the organization put on its annual Heroes in the Struggle gala on World AIDS Day. Hosted by “Empire’s” Jussie Smollett and attended by the likes of Congresswoman Maxine Waters, “Pose’s” Dyllón Burnside, reality star EJ Johnson and model and influencer Ari Fitz, the event applauded the soldiers and changemakers who’ve championed the task of ending HIV/AIDS in the black community.
Award honorees included singer and actress Ledisi, Dr. David Malebranche, “American Horror Story’s” Gabourey Sidibe, activist Gabriel Malonado and our very own Out 100 Performance of the Year recipient Billy Porter. Also recognized was the founder and longtime president and CEO of the Black AIDS Institute Phill Wilson who is retiring.
Founded almost 20 years ago, the Black AIDS Institute is the only national HIV/AIDS think tank focused exclusively on the black communities. It’s mission is to stop the AIDS pandemic in black communities by engaging and mobilizing black institutions, leaders and individuals in efforts to confront HIV from a unique and unapologetically black point of view.
While the spirit of celebration was in the air — punctuated by a surprising, yet intriguing rendition of Janet Jackson’s “Rhythm Nation” by Burnside and a soul-stirring performance of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” by “Glee” alumna Amber Riley — the mission of the night was clear. As Ledisi said, breaking out into song at the end of her speech, “I feel like going on.”
“The Black AIDS Institute gave me a voice I didn’t know I had,” the advocate said. “Please keep this conversation going. Please keep being vocal about it.”
It was Porter’s speech however, that garnered perhaps the most audience applause as he encouraged attendees to know their history.
“I think we need to redefine what history means to us as a culture... so we can reshape our future in a new image,” he said.
And when he invoked the name of former President George H.W. Bush, who recently died, as “as one of the worst culprits” in the struggle for governmental intervention in the fight against HIV/AIDS, the crowd couldn’t contain itself.
“We went to the streets and fought anyway,” he said.
Wilson, who himself was honored by the staff of the Black AIDS Institute and Congresswoman Waters, ended the night.
“A movement that does not insist on young leadership is destined to fail,” he said. “An organization that does not prepare for succession is a hobby.”
He announced Raniyah Copeland, who was the group’s director of programs, as the new president and CEO.
And in case you thought Congresswoman Waters didn’t have something to say, she left the stage on fire with: “Don’t worry about 45. We got this.”