The 2007 National African American MSM Conference on HIV/AIDS (January 25th -28th) in Charlotte, NC proved to be a success and served not only as a platform to discuss the issues most relevant to us as black gay men, but also as a homecoming of sorts. It felt comfortable to be in the presence of educators, researchers, artists, and activists, all of whom are invested in the lives of Black Gay men. All of the activities I attended felt very relaxed largely because of the nature of the discussions and interactions that took place. Headed by Rudy Carn, (Founder & CEO of the National AIDS Education & Services for Minorities) and its dedicated group of staff & volunteers, NAESM ensured that all participants were fully equipped with information, & materials necessary in order to fully enjoy and experience what the conference had to offer.
The conference kicked off with a Town Hall meeting which took place on Thursday at Charlotte's historical African American Cultural Center. Led by Mr. Carn, along with fellow members of the Executive Committee for the National Black Gay Men's Advocacy Coalition, Inc. (NBGMAC) the meeting proved to be informative and encouraging. Representatives from many of the nation's leading Black Gay, Lesbian, HIV/AIDS, & healthcare organizations were present to engage in several important discussions.
The current state of HIV/AIDS in our communities, the need for youth involvement and mentors in the fight against the epidemic, as well as the significance of black gay research were all priorities during the two-hour meeting. Monetary support of NBGMAC and its efforts to advocate on behalf of black gay men was also a highlight. An impassioned speech and challenge by Roosevelt Mosby of SMAAC Youth Center in Oakland, CA, yielded an amazing response in the form of roughly $500 donated from those present at the meeting that evening.
Immediately following the town hall meeting was the opening reception at the host hotel, the Marriott Charlotte City Center. During the reception, participants had an opportunity to bond, socialize, and network with one another. NAESM named locations for conference events after individuals who are actively engaged in the fight against the spread of HIV/AIDS, such as Phill Wilson, whom the main ballroom was named after.
Friday began with an opening breakfast plenary session during which various speakers such as Dr. Ron Simmons, President of Us Helping Us of Washington, DC delivered messages about the work that has been done, and the work we as a community still have left to do.
Friday also marked the beginning of workshops, exhibits, and poster presentations. Workshops presented as part of the conference were structured in 7(areas of focus): Executive Director & Board, Community Planning, HIV Prevention, Integration, & Linkages, Youth Development, Community Mobilization, and a specialty track (which covered topics like sexual harassment at conferences). The workshops I attended on Friday addressed the impact of stigma in the AA MSM NY Metro Area, as well as Black Gay & Bisexual Men talking about the Body & Sex as it relates to implications for HIV Prevention. Both sessions proved to be informative and interactive, enabling participants to engage in necessary dialogue surrounding how we view ourselves. Friday evening also saw a mini ball, which brought everyone out to witness and participate in the event. The members of the house ball community who were involved with the mini ball joined together to have an entertaining evening that was a definite success.
Workshops continued through Saturday & Sunday. One of the most amazing sessions I attended was a presentation on Black Gay Research. Before attending this conference I knew very little about Black Gay Research. By the end of this session however, not only did I learn about the individuals actively involved in this work, but also about the relevance of data collection in terms of ensuring that we are accurately represented in various cases, studies, and clinical trials. I left that session determined to help bring light to this work which is being done for our collective benefit.
Sunday morning, participants were treated to a closing brunch during which Rudy Carn and fellow NAESM staff spoke about the importance of the work we had ALL done during the weekend. The brunch ended with an electrifying performance from a dear friend of mine, former American Idol contestant, the incomparable FRENCHIE DAVIS, of Broadway's famed musical RENT. She delivered impressive renditions of various divas' songs, such as Chaka, Whitney, Aretha, & Jennifer Holliday.
The theme of this year's conference, "Brothers It's Our Time" was on point. As evidenced by the alliances formed and the accomplishments made that weekend, the TIME for change is no longer on the horizon, IT FINALLY HAS COME.