Mixing Art & Activism, Donja R. Love, Brandon Nick, and J. Bernard Manns of The Each-Other Project Create a Space for Community Empowerment
Text & Photos by Alina Oswald
Most recently we’ve seen art and activism in action at the Oscars. I also got to witness something similar unfold live, in front of me, as I sat at my dining room table, having a conversation about arts, activism and community building with three members of The Each-Other Project: Donja R. Love, Executive Director; Brandon Nick, Technical and Production Director; and also J. Bernard Manns, Executive Producing Director. They explained that the new organization, cofounded by Love and Nick, represents “queer people of diversity and color,” and uses the arts and activism to give voice and bridge the gap between the many diverse communities within the larger LGBTQ community.
Launched in the spring of last year, The Each-Other Project is meant to educate and entertain, and also enlighten and empower individuals through web series like Modern Day Black Gay and Exploring, and also through projects like “Tandem,” a visual poetry experience.
Modern Day Black Gay offers an inside look into what it means to be black and gay in today’s society. As a web series, MDBG can immediately reach the community and make heard those voices, issues and topics that often go unheard.
Exploring is another web series also under the umbrella of The Each-Other Project organization, one that creates a safe space for open and uncensored dialogue about every single topic imaginable—from candid conversations about practicing safer sex to Grindr, from God to #BlackLivesMatter and a modern-day AIDS pandemic, defined, at least in part, by PrEP, PEP, and treatment as prevention, in general.
Listening to Love, Nick and Manns it becomes obvious early on that I’m in on an exciting conversation with three young, creative and determined artists and activists, passionate not only about their brand new organization, but also about the community it represents.
Alina Oswald: So, how did The Each-Other Project start, Donja?
Donja R. Love: Brandon [Nick] and I wanted to create a space where queer men of diversity were able to be seen, and express themselves. Both of us are artists, and both of us are passionate about our community, so we decided to [create The Each-Other Project] through arts and activism.
Can you explain the title, Brandon?
Brandon Nick: It was really interesting, because this was the first time when, as a couple, [Donja and I] also had to come together as business partners. We wanted to create this organization, but we come from different aesthetics. I have a big thing for acronyms, and [Donja] likes simplicity, clean cut. So we spent three or four days coming up with a name, but on the final day we realized that The Each-Other Project was the best fitting, because it really does encompass what we’d like to do, to make [this organization] inclusive, community-based, and ongoing.
Why hyphenate the words “Each” and “Other” in the title, Donja?
Donja: For me, the hyphen represents a bridge between each and other [communities], because this is what The Each-Other Project is all about, bringing these communities together.
How did you, J. Bernard, get involved in The Each-Other Project?
J. Bernard Manns: I was actually dating someone who reintroduced me to Brandon [Nick]. This was when Modern Day Black Gay [MDBG] was in the final stages. And I fell in love with MDBG, and with The Each-Other Project. There’s a passion out there. [This] was something I hadn’t heard existed in our community, because our community, especially the gay community, can be very divisive, and this was the complete opposite. And I was in. Of course, it’s their project and their life passion [pointing to Love and Nick], but it has become a passion for me, too.
And I noticed that you moderate the Exploring series.
J. Bernard: My job is to make sure that I ask every question [that people, at home, would like to have answered]. And we are a team. We argue and debate, but I really do consider [Nick and Love] friends. And at the end of the day, even if [our opinions are] different, in the end, it’s all about the project. And in five years we will be the leading force in activism and support for gay people who don’t feel like they have a place to go to.
I also noticed that no subject is off-limits for The Each-Other Project. Why is it important to touch on all these, sometimes considered taboo, subjects?
Brandon: I think that one thing that puts The Each-Other Project not so much a step above, but really out there, is that we aren’t afraid to talk about what goes on within our culture, because a lot of people would like to dance around certain issues. We’re not trying to be safe. We’re just trying to entertain and educate.
Donja: In my humble opinion, [the #BlackLivesMatter] segment resonated the most. What I appreciated about it was that it wasn’t angry, because, especially when African Americans voice their opinions, [they are perceived as] the angry black guys.
J. Bernard: I really feel that it would have been irresponsible for us not to ask questions about Grindr…and you brought up Black Lives Matter. We have a responsibility, as black men first [and gay men second], to address the fact that our lives matter.
You also touch on issues related to practicing safer sex, and also HIV/AIDS. How does the young black gay community feel about PrEP, PEP and treatment as prevention, in general?
Brandon: I know a few people who swear by PrEP. I had a conversation with a friend, [and he said that] there’s [also] a stigma [attached to someone who is on PrEP, especially when it comes to intimate relationships]. The same friend had a scare. He had intercourse with somebody whom he found out was positive, and he hadn’t used a condom. And he couldn’t remember if he had taken the pill that day, because you have to take it every day. I told him to go to the doctor.
If you’re taking PrEP consistently, you should be fine, but you still have to get tested.
Donja: To a certain degree, I feel like we may live in a bubble in regards to PrEP [awareness]—what PrEP can do, what the side effects are. And I believe that it may be another community outside of ours that may not be too familiar with PrEP. That’s the group of people we’d like to help educate. That’s one of the things on the activism side of The Each-Other Project. [One way to reach those outside the PrEP bubble] is to look at the young culture and see how they communicate, how they learn, [what social networks they use] to get information.
J. Bernard: Having PrEP as another option of prevention is great. Also, I don’t think that people realize that when you are on PrEP, you have to take PrEP every day. It’s like being on HIV medication, and it has side effects. And we don’t know what the long-term side effects are. I think that’s my greatest concern.
Some people say that [taking] PrEP is almost like using a condom. [But sometimes people may forget to use a condom.] And just like not putting on a condom, not taking your medication can get you into some trouble.
What are some other concerns when it comes to using an antiretroviral as prevention?
Brandon: The question is, if you’re a person who’s having sex, and if you don’t put on a condom, are you going to take a pill every day?
Donja: There are so many things that go around [using PrEP and PEP], because we’re not a community that gravitates toward taking medicine. I think it’s [because of] fear. People don’t want their business “out there.” And since we’re on this conversation about HIV and AIDS, there is also this stigma attached to it, [still].
J. Bernard: PrEP is a loaded gun. In my opinion, it’s a reason for people to say, let me have sex with you raw, because I’m on PrEP. I’m not a scientist and don’t claim to be an expert, but I just feel that there hasn’t been enough research and education put in behind it…because you have to educate, too. You can’t just say, here’s a pill, you take this every day and you don’t get HIV. But, especially in our community that has a very high HIV rate, [PrEP] is a reason for DL men to stay DL.
I know that this is going to sound crazy, but I think that we will end AIDS when we can teach people not to be fearful. The moment we can get people to get to that point is the moment we will end it, because then we have the power of saying I can protect myself, [because the greatest issue] is not putting on a condom or taking PrEP, it’s fear.
You want to explore HIV/AIDS in an upcoming Exploring episode. What would you talk about?
Brandon: This type of conversation that we’re having right now. We want to be able to expand on that—Truvada, PrEP, stigma, stereotypes….I know often times people want to put a face to [AIDS]. That’s what we want to talk about, to put faces on these men who live with this, to share the ups, the downs, the struggles and even the joys of living with HIV/AIDS.
Donja: One other thing is understanding that the subject matter is very sensitive, and we need to go there with the most respect, knowing that the individuals on the panel being interviewed need to be able to feel that they matter, and that what they have to say is important.
J. Bernard: I know that it may sound cliché, but if we can have one person sit back and rethink what they originally thought of the topic going in, the first thirty seconds of our show, and get to the last forty-nine minutes, we’ve done our job. And I’m so proud of what we did with the first Exploring. I hope we can do that for exploring HIV/AIDS, too.
So, what are some of the immediate (and not so immediate) future plans for The Each-Other Project?
Brandon: Right now, Modern Day Black Gay has season one already done. Exploring is our current project.
Donja: In the intermediate future, we’re continuing to work on Exploring. We have a new web series in the works that will be coming out before summer’s end. We want to continue to build this community even stronger, and bring more people onboard—artists and activists who want to advance this community, and the larger LGBTQ community as well.
J. Bernard: The Each-Other Project is an organization to watch out for. I think Exploring, along with the second season of MDBG, is going to put this organization on the map. I think that next year hopefully, we’ll be back here [again] having a conversation with you about much bigger things.
Editor’s note: Since this article went to press, J. Bernard Manns has shifted positions. Formerly the executive producing director, he is now the producer of MODERN DAY BLACK GAY season one in addition to being the moderator of the first episode of EXPLORING.
To keep up with the latest Modern Day Black Gay and Exploring web series and with The Each-Other Project other related happenings, feel free to visit on-line at www.theeachotherproject.com.
Alina Oswald is Arts Editor of A&U.