One in a series about the Black AIDS Institute's Greater Than AIDS ambassadors, who are using their VIP status in Black America to increase awareness of HIV/AIDS and HIV testing and treatment.
Orlando Jones has a lot on his plate. Besides voicing multiple characters on Cartoon Network's new animated series, Black Dynamite (Sundays, 11:30 p.m. ET/PT), the actor-writer-comedian is currently producing the live action-comedy film Tainted Love and keeping a rigorous national stand-up-comedy touring schedule. But he still has time for what matters: his 3-year-old daughter and being an outspoken activist for sickle-cell anemia and HIV/AIDS.
Why did you want to become a spokesperson for the Black AIDS Institute?
Because of how devastating HIV and AIDS is in the Black community. For whatever reasons, African Americans tend to be hardheaded and often misinformed about what is true and what isn't, and there are still issues with trying to take AIDS away [in some people's minds] from being "a gay disease." Stigma still affects the Black community, and the fact that AIDS kills so many heterosexuals is something that continues to be swept under the carpet.
Why, even after Magic Johnson's announcement about his HIV status, does there continue to be this idea that HIV/AIDS is only a gay man's issue?
There's no rhyme or reason for the way people justify or ignore the facts. I really think there's just a tremendous amount of homophobia, and it's troubling and unfortunate. But if we can begin to talk about these issues within our own families, then I think we can get a lot further. One of the reasons I wanted to be involved is because it gives me a chance to talk to my family about why I'm involved. I wanted my little cousins and my nephews to go, "Oh yeah, my cousin, my uncle, was doing that thing for the Black AIDS Institute, and this is what he said." I hope more people get involved.
Stand-up has often been a way for comedians to talk openly about tough issues. Being on the road and performing in clubs, can you use humor to make people more aware about HIV/AIDS?
There's a tremendous legacy in the Black community, from Redd Foxx to Richard Pryor, and in the comedic community, from Lenny Bruce to George Carlin to Bill Hicks to Sam Kinison, of people talking about the human condition on stages. There are a tremendous number of things in today's world to talk about because it kind of feels like the world went bat-shit crazy. So I am acutely interested in that.
This campaign talks about being "greater than AIDS." What does that mean to you?
That everything is bigger than the individual. So when we talk about these issues and say it's a discussion about AIDS, no, it's a discussion about humanity. In my humble opinion, being greater than AIDS is about how this disease affects humans and how other humans try and pretend that these people are somehow guilty of something -- which is why they got the disease, and therefore why they are not worthy of affection -- and how other people are more worthy, like cancer's different. You never ask people, "How did you get sickle cell?" "How did you get cancer?" "How did you get Alzheimer's?" You just go, "This is horrible, I see you suffering and I love you, and how can I help?" It's our humanity toward one another that makes us greater than AIDS.
Janice Rhoshalle Littlejohn is a Los Angeles-based freelance journalist; co-author of the critically acclaimed Swirling: How to Date, Mate, and Relate Mixing Race, Culture, and Creed; and director-producer of the forthcoming documentary, But Can She Play? Blowin' the Roof Off Women Horn Players in Jazz.