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HIV/AIDS Resource Center for African Americans
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It Gets Better

March 24, 2017

As I contemplate turning 52 a few weeks ago, I thought of what I would say to my younger self that could sustain me for my life to come. What I found is really simple yet very valuable.

I would hold me with love and a fierceness that would sustain me through the bigotry, hate, violence and fear, and whisper with the voice of love to that naive 13-year-old, "It Gets Better." I would say, this journey of TRUTH you're embarking upon as an openly gay teen in New York and New Jersey in 1979 will not always feel liberating; yet for the many that will walk that journey after you on those jagged cracked sidewalks, it will be a little bit easier. I will say for all the "fag"s, "homo"s and "punk"s I would have heard ... for all the religious hurt and hellfire I endured, not understanding how, if I was made in his image and he made no mistakes, then how can I be an aberration? I hope my conviction to say I have a right to GOD's Love and salvation will give others after me more of a chance to own their salvation on their terms.

I will say It Gets Better -- and all the times you had to fight and the blood you shed just walking in your TRUTH will be less blood others after you will shed.

Though as I reflect upon this awesome, amazing, fearless date with my destiny, part of me wants to do all I can to dissuade my younger self from this agony living in your TRUTH will bring. The loss of friends, family, GOD, and the sense of self and identity, only to be discovered and rediscovered throughout this ride, will be worth it. To know that what I thought it meant to me to be a gay, Black man will evolve and shift throughout, bringing new battles to face, old scars to heal and different battles that will test you beyond any battle you have faced. Yet your strength and courage will endure and you will look back and say "I'm not just still standing; I'm thriving." I'll say on those days when all seems lost and hope seems fleeting, when all you can do is put one foot in front of the other, not knowing your direction but knowing you can't stay still, "It gets better."

I will say that beautiful summer day at the brisk of evening when I met what would be my new extended family, and the freedom I felt in knowing I wasn't alone and my gayness wasn't GOD's curse, would propel me to a new level of joy. I would share how love and the breath of your first male lover on your neck though connected wasn't all that true love held, and you will be blessed to experience its depth, in all its glory and pain yet with all it brings, those tiny moments of peace that felt like its own utopia, will cover you. You will endure. That your love of men and acceptance of it back is a beautiful thing; and your expression of it will knock down doors of intolerance and break walls of hate. I know it won't always be sunshine for you and in those times of pain, use those fragments of joy as your references to keep you grounded and fulfilled.

I will say to my confused, unsure but determined self that this journey is not one for the weary in no sense, and to prepare to lose many battles; but the war can be won. I will say that when that doctor tells you at 24 that you have 3 months to live and to that your story is still yours; and it's not always how you start the race but how you finish. I will say to you when your inadequacies come full circle and the lack of support and care you will get from other gay Black men is not about you but their fear of your TRUTH and how unapologetic you are in your life, which sometimes pulled the covers off their closeted behaviors. I will say your path will only steel you for the trouble ahead and your purpose is so much more than you are to realize. That each day lived, and how you walked, will shatter old thinkings and beliefs and cause others to search themselves for new TRUTHS. That your road wasn't meant to be easy or smooth, that your life won't be no crystal stairs; but your journey will become a diamond forged by life's crush and pressure.

I would kiss my tender face and say "It gets better" and Yes Black Gay Lives Matter, I don't care what they say or believe. Never hold your head down or lose your voice because speaking your TRUTH tells their secrets that can't be held against you anymore. The secrets of not being able to speak in public but to fuck at night. See I lived to learn my value and my self-worth is determined by me!! Never SILENCE your SHINE or dim your glare because it's too much for others. Their comfortability is not yours to give. But what is within your grasp is living your life with zest and fervor. Growing into the man you are destined to become and never compromising your soul. I would share that each time you do give in you lose or give up a part of you and it will never be enough for your distractors.

In closing, as I look at how I would want to share with my younger self, I wouldn't want to shield or take away anything I have gone through. I would only want to give me better tools to experience them. As I know my journey was mine to take, and each breathe I am given allows me the opportunity to change my reality. To alter my course. To see that IT GETS BETTER!!!!!!!

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Lifting My Voice, Building Our Power

Art Jackson

Art Jackson

Art is a respected and innovative community educator of HIV prevention and care services in Fayetteville, North Carolina. Born and raised in Orange, New Jersey, a suburb 20 minutes from New York, Art graduated from Orange High School in 1983 and attended Penn State University. Moving to Harlem, New York, Art witnessed the evolution of HIV/AIDS from its inception to how we are currently living and dealing with this virus today. Since being diagnosed in January 1990, Art has tried to be an avid and dedicated fighter for those living with this disease. Art has always believed in standing up for one's right to not only live but to live proudly, productively and happily for who they are.

Currently employed by Southern Regional-Area Health Education Center as a Retention Care Coordinator and Bridge Counselor, Art also works with Community Health Interventions/Operation Sickle Cell as a Community Prevention Coordinator. Art graduated in January of 2011 from the National African American MSM Leadership/My Brother's Keeper HEALTH (Health Executive Approaches to Leadership and Training in HIV) Seminar Program. Art is also the National Co-Chair for the Mid-Atlantic region for the Campaign 2 End AIDS, Co-Chair of the Cumberland County HIV Task Force and an active voting Board member of the NC Statewide Community Planning Group. Art has also developed a one-day training called P.R.I.D.E. (Positive Reflections of Individuals Developing Excellence) for young men 12-18.

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