Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Arts.Advocacy+Wellness: "The 7th Annual Black Gay Men's Network Retreat"

Over forty plus men came together in Miami, Florida at The Eden Roc Renaissance Hotel for the 7th Annual Black Gay Men’s Network Retreat. The retreat attracted close to 85% first-time attendees, including myself. Past participants were prominent Black Gay Men such as Keith Boykin, Patrick Ian Polk, Reginald Van Lee, to name a few.

The Black Gay Men’s Network 7th Annual Retreat – “The Stimulus Package” – a product of The Black AIDS Institute opened with a bold welcome and state of the union address by Phil Wilson, President and CEO of The Black AIDS Institute. Assertively, Phil spoke on the current state of HIV/AIDS in America and its affect on the African-American community. Providing the group of men with accurate statistics and reports on where the Black AIDS Institute stand in eradicating the spread of HIV through prevention and testing campaigns, he urged us to continue to take action in our lives and our communities. The opening address was also an introduction to the Black AIDS Institute’s media partnership with the Kaiser Family Foundation and the new HIV/AIDS prevention campaign WE > AIDS.

WE > AIDS campaign comes with a clear focus and strong message to continue to encourage testing, education, wellness, and rebuilding the African American community. The campaign is slated to tour selected cities, such as New York, Philadelphia, New Orleans, and Detroit, to name a few. Though the conversation felt a bit drawn out and heavy for an early morning start, it was extremely important to address these issues, be reminded of our main agenda, which is to positively combat the plague of HIV/AIDS in the African American race, especially amongst Black Gay Men in America.

The remainder of the weekend consisted of workshops, seminars, and fun activities based in emotional, physical, spiritual, social, and financial wellness and awareness, aiming to “stimulate” our minds so that we’ll return to our perspective communities with deeper relations, positive ideals, and stronger leadership in the community. There were numerous activities that built on the principle of connectedness such as Speed Networking, the dinner Gala that featured American Idol Finalist Anwar Robinson, and the I.Dare.U night where brothers fearlessly and unapologetically shared their hearts, soul, and creativity ‘open mic style’ through song, storytelling, poetry, and memories. E. Patrick Johnson, author of “Sweet Tea” also blessed us with excerpts from his one-man show Pouring Tea. The performances dazzled us and brought many of the men even closer together as the dialoguing continued post activities.

A highlight for me, was meeting a group of Ethiopian guys who just happened to be vacating in Miami during our stay. They were invited to I.Dare.U night. Our Ethiopian Brothers were so moved to tears by the work and community amongst the BGM Network Brothers. While they participated in I.Dare.U sharing their heart and souls and even blessing us with inspirational songs in their native language, they also shared their disbelief and frustration with the current state of Ethiopia – its miseducation and lack of education on HIV/AIDS and its intolerance of homosexuality. “We can’t be this way in Ethiopia…we’ll get killed,” the young Ethiopian brother said.

Following his comment, it dawned on me – this is the revolution! The movement of The Black Gay Men’s Network is the revolution that Marlon Riggs and Joseph Beam proclaimed during their final days as Black Gay Men in America. The work that is being done with The Black Gay Men’s Network is greater than I could have imagined. It goes beyond us. This movement shall help nations all over – just like our Ethiopian Brothers – liberate themselves and their communities. The power of the Network and The Black AIDS Institute is manifesting on a higher level and I humbly confess that I’m proud to be a part of this collective movement.

Here’s to the work ahead and next year’s Black Gay Men’s Network Retreat.

“Black men loving Black men is a call to action, an acknowledgement of responsibility. We take care of our own kind when the night grows cold and silent. These days the nights are cold-blooded and the silence echoes...With complicity."
-Joseph Beam

For more information:
The Black AIDS Institute

The Black Gay Men’s Network


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