by David Waggoner
Four men of African descent, college students at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, sat down at a segregated lunch counter at a Woolworth’s in Greensboro, North Carolina, on February 1, 1960. They did not want to be relegated to the standing snack bar designated for patrons who were black. They wanted equality. They wanted dignity. They wanted their rights. Their well-planned protest against Jim Crow laws, which persisted beyond that first day, sparked an already organized network of activists and allies. Civil rights protestors began sit-ins all over the South and, together, they successfully began integrating dining establishments. By July 1960, the Woolworth’s lunch counter targeted by the Greensboro Four—— Ezell Blair, Jr. (later Jibreel Khazan), Franklin McCain, Joseph McNeil, and David Richmond——quietly welcomed all patrons.
I mention this act of resistance for two reasons. In honor of Black History Month, I want to remind how much of a debt AIDS activism owes to the modern civil rights movement. What the Greensboro Four and others proved was that thoughtful collective actions can lead to real, positive change. In our current state, when healthcare access remains a barrier to positive health outcomes, particularly for individuals and communities of color, activists are building upon the past in order to secure our future. In the South and elsewhere, proponents of AIDS advocacy and awareness often deliver their message and testing outreach through ministries that link faith and social justice. Sometimes, critics point out, their efforts are stymied by homophobia, but the capacity to organize around an issue, in this case, HIV/AIDS, remains strong. In this and other ways, the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., lives on.
The second reason I mention the Greensboro Four is that this moment also reminds us that activism can be an everyday gesture——sitting at a segregated lunch counter, as friends or colleagues do. Sometimes I think we forget that activism need not be a big march in D.C. or we need not travel to an overseas conference to make our voices heard. Activism can be as simple as football player Colin Kaepernick and others taking a knee to protest police violence towards communities of color and systemic racism in general.
Activism can be powerful, whether big or small.
That is why I celebrate Ken Jones, our February cover story. As an activist, he has worked with and within large AIDS service organizations and NGOs to help enact change. But he also believes in small-scale efforts, especially when it comes to helping young men of African descent become empowered about their health: “People like us elders have to be willing to bring these young Black men into our lives, support them, and teach them. That’s how we’ll stop the spread of the virus, one kid at a time.”
Interviewed by Senior Editor Hank Trout, and photographed by Michael Kerner, Ken Jones is humble about his numerous accomplishments. I am glad that A&U gets the chance to celebrate Jones and others like him who have made a lasting impact on our lives by bringing everyone together.
In this issue, we also bring together many voices working in HIV/AIDS. In Gallery, Larry Buhl writes about a photography project called Through Positive Eyes, which allows individuals living with HIV/AIDS around the world to represent themselves via the power of the image. Also in this issue, contributing writer John Francis Leonard interviews Linus Ignatius, who has made a new short film that confronts gay male culture, HIV, and body positivity. And A&U Fiction Editor Raymond Luczak interviews Paul Lisicky, who has written a new memoir about living in Provincetown during the AIDS-haunted nineties.
The Greensboro Four and the civil rights movement, as well as AIDS activism today, also resonate with the theme of this year’s National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, “We’re in This Together.” So, if you are feeling isolated, or are cut off from others geographically or in other ways, make an effort to reach out. If you know someone who seems to be going it alone, reach out to them. Maybe go out for lunch. Break bread. Together, we can change the world.
David Waggoner is Editor in Chief and Publisher of A&U, the first national HIV/AIDS magazine in the U.S.