Se-Lah: “Who You are Has Made Me Possible”; An Open Letter To Joseph Beam, Essex Hemphill & Marlon Riggs on World AIDS day

I remember when I first came across “In The Life” and watched “Tongues Untied”. I cried both nights after. I cried because I had lived too long to never know you.
I was 23 then, struggling with my own sexuality and politics, working at AID Atlanta as an organizer, taking Women’s studies & African American studies courses at Georgia State University; unknowingly continuing the work each of you were apart of.
But before then.. ..I didn’t know you existed. and it hurt me…

I went to high school in rural Georgia, my home less than 4 miles from the high school you attended Marlon. When my same sex desires arose within me there were no models around me to know how to navigate the slurs. I didn’t know how to dodge the dangerous desires of homophobes or how to circumvent the chaos of conundrums which would become my identity. I thought I was the only one.

I didn’t know you existed Marlon, and it hurt me….
When I first started sharing poetry that spoke of my experiences and love for men, I was at Valdosta State University.
I went up to podium mics and read poems to silence and cold stares. I read poems about  love and sweat and tears and blackness and wrongness and longing… I challenged professors on race, gender and sexuality, cried out that we as black gay men had a right to exist. I knew I had to do it, but  I thought I  had no models. I attended numerous Black studies classes at Valdosta State, but they never told me your name..
I didn’t know you existed Essex, and it hurt me…

I came across “In The Life” and “Brother to Brother” at Georgia State University…. cried and rocked myself to sleep at the stories of loss, of reclamation,determination and dying. I cried because those books had been written so long ago, and so little had changed.

But I also cried because I never knew you existed Joseph..and it hurt me…
And it was AIDS related complications.. that took each of your physical forms away…

Liz Greene, an astrologer and feminist whose work I admire says “Nothing ever goes away, until it has taught us all that we need to know”.
But then I have to ask, why is HIV & AIDS still here and all of you gone?

I ponder the former often. If nothing ever goes away until it has taught us what we need to know then “What is it that HIV & AIDS has to teach us?”
Not surprisingly, I always come back to the same place. I always come back to spirit and to love.

You see, as you all know, western science has it’s limitations. It cannot heal nor nourish the spiritual aching of a civilization that festers in silence and allows massive inequity to abound and preventable conditions to persist. For if a “cure” or more appropriately, a vaccine, is found for HIV, throwing pills at us collectively will not erase the psycho-spiritual wounds that allowed HIV & AIDS to engulf our lives in the first place. It will not solve the problem. Because the problem is not HIV & AIDS, the problem is us. And the “cure” for AIDS, is as always, in the place where western science, and to a further extent western culture as a whole, would never have us look to-within ourselves.

Perhaps it has not dawned on us, but I know we can create the conditions to have safety for all of us to speak of our status and sexual desires Essex.
We may not have realized it yet, but we can still create food that nurtures and not negates our auras Joseph. We can have communities that affirm our self worth and offer us shelter Marlon. Systems that enrich the individual and lovingly support the collective are not beyond our reach… I know this. I feel this and I like to believe.. that you must have known it too?
In my spiritual understanding, I believe we are here on earth to learn how to become effective creators. I believe that to be a creator is to learn the spiritual laws of action and consequence. It means to understand the intricate play between air (ideas), water (emotions),fire (will) and earth (matter). I believe that If we could remember this, we could see how our attitudes about sex, hierarchy, genetically modified mass production, ego and greed have helped to create the AIDS pandemic. If we could remember this, we could step away from our self-centered destructive patterns and become conscious students of the universe and work collectively to create change.

But there is still so much to be learned… and so many who have so much power within them, yet unawakened.
As always..The human classroom continues…

“Nothing ever goes away until it has taught us all we need to know”

HIV & AIDS is still here. And now I realize in writing this letter , that each of you are still here with us as well. You are not “gone” because your physical form is no longer present. You still “are” and who you are have made me possible… You know what Joseph, I bet it was you that whispered in my ear, all those years ago to enroll in that Black Feminist Thought class wasn’t it? And Essex, was it you that nudged me towards the stage, to read poems about boi sex and spirit? Marlon, was that you swinging side by side with me, cursing and fighting off straight bois and “trade” in Hephzibah Ga? Have you each been conspiring to pull me closer to my comrades and the successors of your black queer/gay/same gender loving feminist political fierceness?

Was it you all that told me to go to New York to meet Kenyon Farrow? Steven Fullwood? Darnell Moore? Nathan, Herukhuti & Pharon? Was it you that sent me to Fire & Ink? That connected me to Ashon & Sendolo? That Planted me in Atlanta with Craig, Tim’m, Kevin Bynes, Shomari, Will, Micheal,Lamont & Charles?

My heart smiles and thinks so… I am so grateful for each of you. And take so seriously your words Essex: “When my brother fell I picked up his weapons.. “. Even though to me, none of you have ever fallen. You are always floating, ouroboros, over all of our shoulders, nourishing us with the light of your presence.

I was wrong earlier when i said “I didn’t know you existed and it hurt me”. I did know you…even as our lives never crossed on this plane, the intangible wires that link us never shed away..and now i know you were always with me pulling me towards myself. We were always with each other.

Thank you so much for being brothers. Who you are has made me possible. Who you are, I believe, will one day, make a world free of HIV & AIDS possible too.
I bet it. On everything I love…

As your mirror, (always)

Yolo Akili

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