by Rev. MacArthur H. Flournoy
As I reflect on World AIDS Day, I hear the Voice of Mahalia Jackson singing in that soul- lifting voice the refrain “how I got over, how I got over, my soul looks back and wonder-how I got over.”
For many of us whose lives have been touched by HIV and AIDS, we offer the same refrain as both a question and a reflection. For me, that moment came in 1988 when I was informed that I tested HIV positive, and would live no longer than two years. Apart from my wife, I told no one for three years. Shame, secrecy and fear held me hostage.
These three continue to silence many whose lives are being presently devastated.
As I see it, while we have made substantial progress. Still, many of our churches, denominations and those within our communities continue to spew fear-based rhetoric. Hate-speech born out of ignorance persist as an obstacle to people being tested for HIV, seeking healthcare and adhering to treatment regimens.
I get it – that was my story for many years – even while working in the field of HIV prevention and treatment.
Perhaps an even deeper truth is that some of us, black gay men, included – are complicit in the annihilation of our own lives for fear of having to embrace our authentic selves. For some of us, our fear of disclosing our sexual orientation is greater than our fear of facing the threat of HIV and AIDS.
I offer this not as judgement, nor a sweeping generalization of all black gay/bi/same-gender loving men. It’s only my observation.
Still, on this World AIDS Day, I know for certain we have endured much longer than many of us thought possible. Our faith has sustained us. Our resilience has served us. Our hope has fueled us. Our experience has transformed us.
I hear the voice of Mahalia calling from the other side – encouraging us to “look back and wonder how we got over.” I believe with my whole heart – this is an Ebenezer moment. An Ebenezer is a Old Testament biblical reference when Samuel established an altar, to declare “this far the Lord has helped us” after winning a fierce battle.
It seems to me World AIDS Day is a great moment in time to stop and consider how we got here. This does not suggest that we have arrived by any measure. There is crucial work that remains to be done. The lives of young gay black men, our transgender sisters and many others hang in the balance.
Still, I hope we pause for a moment today – each and everyone of us and ask “how we got over.” I invite you to let your soul look back and wonder how you got over.
I respectfully offer this in honor of all the lives who are been lost across the world to HIV and AIDS related complications. I offer this as a tribute to the sacrifice of millions who have served us in times past – and for those who continue to serve our communities at the expense of great personal sacrifice. Thank you!