' ... Since the late 80's, I have been both ambushed and abused by HIV prevention advertisements—in magazines, on billboards, at bus stops, on flyers plastered on walls and stapled to telephone posts. Ambushed because I always felt I was caught. The message I got was that gay = AIDS, which I thought would eventually = me. Riddled with insecurity and anxiety, I stopped looking at them.' An excerpt from Use A Condom and Live By Steven G. Fullwood, from the new book THINK AGAIN.
We are still in the dawn of the 21st century. More than 20 years have passed since the world was informed about HIV/AIDS and the threat that it posed to humankind. There have been great advances within the last two decades of the 20th century. We have developed ways to test for HIV and learned how the virus was transmitted. Many people have committed themselves to the efforts of finding ways to educate people about HIV transmission and prevention. Some are involved in researching strategies to prolong the lives of those of us who are living with the virus and hopefully eradicating it within our lifetime.
With nearly 40,000 new infections a year the past few years, not many people can say that they have not met or known someone that is infected or has been affected by HIV/AIDS. By the close of 2003, reports from the Centers for Disease Control stated that over 100,000 new HIV cases were reported and that African Americans continue to comprise the largest percentage of cases at 55%. People of African decent are now at greatest risk globally for HIV/AIDS and we have already lost more than was lost in the Middle Passage or what some call the Black Holocaust.
Over the years, a number of strategies and methodologies have been put in place to help curb the spread of HIV, yet numbers continue to grow celestially especially within the African American community. In the fall of 2003, a unique bicoastal collaboration announced the publication of 'THINK AGAIN,' a collection of essays, poetry, and narratives about HIV risk and prevention by and for Black men who practice same-sex desire.
Conceived by New York State Black Gay Network Executive Director Colin Robinson, THINK AGAIN was created in collaboration with AIDS Project Los Angeles and its Director of Education George Ayala. The book's cover and center page features the work of renowned photographer Lyle Ashton Harris. 'We see THINK AGAIN as a vital tool to engage the creative community in restoring some autonomy, creativity and innovation in our community responses to HIV risk,' said editor Robinson and co-editor Steven G. Fullwood, Project Director of the Black Gay and Lesbian Archive.
In the opening of the book, Robinson and Ayala express, in 'Thinking Again,' '…THINK AGAIN is a collection of critical works, daring visions, and ideas not typically reflected in mainstream public health-influenced approaches to HIV/AIDS prevention. We want to ask Black men to 'think again' fearlessly, unapologetically, and fiercely about our strategies, our sero-status, our sex, our gender, our families, our brothers, our lovers, ourselves.'
While reading THINK AGAIN, I must admit that the book truly lives up to the intentions of its collaborators and editors. There are 11 contributors, both new and seasoned writers, whose writings shine a spotlight and reveal Black life from a variety of perspectives. Each piece lays a bare glimpse into each author's struggles with HIV/AIDS risk as academicians, activist, artists, outreach workers, and yes, men who intimately and sexually desire other men.
Tim'm West (author, of Red Dirt Revival: A Poetic Memoir in 6 Breaths) serves a buffet of reflections and revelations with Peep Game. Following is an excerpt:
'…I played the games
sweaty b-boy bumps
from the basketball courts
to the front porch
I wore a mask
Concealing my authenticity
In cities that showed no pity.'
In Loving on a Minefield, activist Charles Stephens writes about his experiences as a young man attending HIV Workshops. He compels the reader to rethink the fear-based messages. ' ... I mostly did not like HIV Workshops because, more often than not, I left not wanting to fuck anymore. It was the fear that got to me. The expectation that I would consider everyone I fuck a predator, a walking disease. One would think we were at war with each other. But then again they have always been more comfortable with us being at war with each other than with them. The war on AIDS is fought on my body.'
In the essay Sissies at the Picnic, Roderick A. Ferguson (author of, Aberrations in Black Toward a Queer Color Critique) takes you on a reflective journey back in time through class systems and culture to a small town called Manchester, Georgia, in the late 1970s. G. Winston James, (author of, Lyric: Poems Along a Broken Road) shares the poignant and haunting coming-of-age short story, John. Vincent Woodard's (performance artist and poet) A Soul Retrieval takes you on an incredible journey through spirituality, family, sexual identities and self-acceptance.
Poet Kevin Trimmell Jones, NYU student Khary O. Polk, Kevin Quashie (author Black Women, Identity, and Culture Theory: (un) becoming the Subject), and PhD student and founder of Black Funk, Herukhuti, all share works that move the reader to think again and in some cases rethink life. The book concludes with Moving On, an essay by Marvin K. White (author of, Last Rights).
If you think you've heard it all before, you need to read THINK AGAIN. To receive a FREE copy of THINK AGAIN, please contact The New York State Black Gay Network at (212) 367-1565, via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, or AIDS Project Los Angels at (213) 201-1388.
You can also download copies of the publication at nysbgn.org or apla.org .