The first book to which I ever really contributed was One Hand in My Pocket, a 2001 anthology of inspirational short stories by several of my co-workers at BET about people living positively with HIV/AIDS. The book was a part of BET's Rap-It-Up campaign that paired celebrities with activists and health professionals to raise awareness about HIV/AIDS. This topic, seminal to my short story "Decisions, Decisions, Decisions," was a difficult subject for me to tackle - especially as my first published fiction work. Despite the horrible title I chose, my story turned out well and I felt that I was contributing to the understanding of this pervasive illness that was wreaking havoc on many communities, especially those of color.
But there were others who had been on the front lines of the awareness campaign about HIV/AIDS since 1998. One of the most committed was Denise Stokes, the lead spokesperson for Rap-It-Up who'd been infected with HIV at age 13. When I interviewed Stokes for the 2012 BET Awards Viewers Guide (page 34), her passion for raising awareness about HIV/AIDS was moving:
"During one Rap-It-Up forum, a young student stood up in front of her entire school and acknowledged that her mother was living with HIV," said Stokes, who transformed a life of homelessness, and emotional, physical and substance abuse into such activism that she became one of the youngest members of President Clinton's HIV/AIDS advisory council. "She said she was encouraged by my story and the Rap-It-Up message and you could just feel the sincerity in her heart and the relief just to say it. The students embraced her with so much love and understanding and we, the panel members, sat there in tears, so happy for her."
Former CNN anchor TJ Holmes told me that a lot of his focus will be about what it means to be a young Black man in America as she steps into his new multi-platform role at BET. Thanks to the BET Awards Viewers Guide (page 38), I also had the opportunity to sit down with the host of "Don't Sleep!, " a late night show debuting on BET in the fall.
"Unfortunately people have preconceived notions about young black men," said Holmes, who speaks Kikongo, the tribal language of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where his wife was born. "We have absolutely failed in the media to drive this message home. We are losing an entire generation."
I learned a great deal from the interviews I did in preparation for the BET Awards. The glitz and the glam will definitely be on front street Sunday, July 1, when the high profile hit the stage - led by Samuel Jackson, one of the baaaaadest brothers on screen. While I'll certainly be checking out the red carpet, I'll also be reflecting on how refreshing it was to connect with these individuals who showcase how celebrity can play an important role in raising awareness about issues that affect us all.
Keep on Enjoyceinglife!