Moonlight Shone Bright
Cascading beams of light illuminated the Black AIDS Institute’s 16th Annual Heroes in the Struggle Awards, a star-studded photographic tribute to Black Americans and their allies who have made heroic contributions to the fight against HIV/AIDS
Text & Photos by Sean Black

Hand to heart as emotion overcame one of our most beloved actresses, Alfre Woodard endeared her audience further at this year’s 2017 Heroes in the Struggle Gala Reception and Awards Presentation benefiting the Black AIDS Institute. Flanked by the crème-de-la-crème of Black Hollywood, Ms. Woodard pressed on while leading men Mike Colter (Marvel’s Luke Cage, which costars Woodard) and Academy Award winner Mahershala Ali (Moonlight) rose to her side, poignantly underscoring the evening’s theme of Black men honoring Black women.
“I am not a bonafide hero in the struggle,” humbly began Ms. Woodard. “I have been in the struggle, but I have been far away from you. Truthfully, I was unable to stand up straight here, to do so was to close a soul-wound that I couldn’t heal.

“In the first wave of our brothers and sisters to go down, I had to let go of my most trusted friend, my more-than-brother, whom I had come of age with and with whom I was to grow old with. It was so early on when he left I think they [scientists] had just come up with a name for what was randomly picking off our family in the most gruesome ways; ‘devastated’ doesn’t describe where I was left, so I couldn’t speak about it.”

Each year The Black AIDS Institute, the only national HIV/AIDS think tank focused exclusively on Black communities, inducts a select group of individuals and organizations that have made commendable heroic contributions to the fight against HIV/AIDS in Black America. Founded in May of 1999, The Institute hosted it’s 16th Annual Heroes in the Struggle Awards Presentation & Reception on September 16, 2017, at the Darryl F. Zanuck Theater at 20th Century Fox Studios in Los Angeles.

This year’s 2017 inductees, besides Woodard, included Taraji P. Henson, Laverne Cox [A&U, June 2014], Vanessa Williams, Gina Brown, and Gina Belafonte and Sankofa. The 2017 Corporate Hero was presented to Novant Health.

“At the age of fifteen, I began working with the Black AIDS Institute and I am proud to be a member of the Board of Directors,” said Jussie Smollett, Black AIDS Institute Board Member who served as this year’s Chair and Host “Although it is not spoken about like it used to, the AIDS epidemic is not over, especially in Black communities. I am humbled to pay tribute to these remarkable women in our community.”

Nearly 100 individuals have been inducted into the Heroes in the Struggle Hall of Fame over the last sixteen years. It is a photographic tribute to HIV/AIDS allies; elected officials and policy makers; artists from television, film, stage and music; civil rights leaders; healthcare providers; advocates and activists; and people living with HIV/AIDS. Since its debut in 2002, the exhibit has traveled the world—raising awareness; challenging Black Americans, key thought leaders and institutions to get involved in their communities; and generating critical conversation about HIV stigma, testing, prevention, treatment, and care.

The Black AIDS Institute vigilantly reminds us that “Black women are the single most important engine in the survival of Black people, including with HIV/AIDS,” said Phill Wilson [A&U, February 2014], President and CEO of the Black AIDS Institute. “Fifty-nine percent of women living with HIV in the United States are Black. Black women account for sixty percent of the new HIV infections among women, and are sixteen times more likely to be diagnosed with HIV than white women. This event not only allows us to acknowledge the invaluable role Black women have played in the AIDS fight, but it helps raise awareness about the devastating impact AIDS continues to have on Black women and the opportunities we have to turn that around if Black men and women work together.”

For more information about the Black AIDS Institute, log on to:

Sean Black is an A&U Senior Editor.