Where Do We Go From Here?
by David Waggoner

For everyone out there, I have one question: Where do we go from here?

And, yes, you can interpret that question literally. People are afraid to travel across town, let alone go on holiday—the crisis has impacted every city and country on the globe. How can someone book a trip, when someone doesn’t know the final destination of the various viruses that are disrupting our lives? People are hunkered down, living like there is no tomorrow to look forward to.

But you can also interpret that emotionally. An explosion of COVID cases has led to hospitalizations and medical disruptions—many are now simply stressed from the thought of getting sick, any type of sick. We are mourning the deaths of loved ones from COVID. And we are often separated from getting together to offer support to friends and family members in person. The political situation only adds to our anxiety. Biden is often blocked in his efforts, even by Democrats. Russia wants to invade Ukraine [this editorial was written in January 2021], and diplomacy seems almost dead. Yes, where do we go from here?

We tried to return to some semblance of normalcy and our cultural institutions have encouraged us to go to the movies or attend a play or enjoy a concert. Yet as soon as some venues opened they closed again. Broadway lit up only to shutter some of their shows due to COVID. Some musicians are still playing live, but Adele postponed her Vegas residency because of the virus. From New York City to Los Angeles and communities in between, to cities large and small, art galleries are closing left and right and museums are limiting the number of people allowed in tight spaces. Most art magazines have gone on hiatus. The Grammys are canceled, and the Academy Awards are in question.

Maybe we have to face the fact that we cannot return to normal.

Maybe we have to face the fact that we have to adapt—permanently. And adapt again, if necessary.

That’s what we did from the early days of the AIDS pandemic until now—we adpated. We adapted again. And again.

That responsiveness to changing needs and changing situations is never so evident as it is in Afro-centric responses to the AIDS pandemic here in the U.S. Partly in response to white-biased exclusionary practices and an absence of culturally tailored services, a “for us, by us” approach helped launch organizations like the Black AIDS Institute, Us Helping Us, and the National Black Leadership Commission on AIDS, to name a few. Over the years, we have featured advocates of African descent who have not only bettered the lives of all people living with HIV/AIDS but also made sure that Black lives mattered, too, when it came to outreach, services, and engagement in the care continuum—Sheryl Lee Ralph, Debra Frazer-Howze, Keith Boykin, Ron Simmons, Phill Wilson, Laverne Cox….And now we are pleased to feature a special individual who is making a difference in the lives of those who are made vulnerable by systemic neglect: individuals who are BIPOC, who are transgender/gender non-conforming (TGNC), who have been discriminated against and abused by the justice system: Grace Detrevarah. About her work at the Osborne Association and as an independent advocate, she says: “My speaking up was a process, when it came to me wanting to empower myself and those with histories such as mine, Femme, Trans and definitely [individuals who are] marginalized, homeless, incarcerated and street-wise, especially those who were affected by living while being TGNC, Black and different.” Interviewed by Managing Editor Chael Needle and beautifully photographed by Stephen Churchill Downes, Grace is someone who always steps up to answer the question: Where do we go from here?

So do the other advocates in this issue: Tyler TerMeer, PhD, the new CEO of San Francisco AIDS Foundation; Baltimore-based advocate Melanie Ann Haskin Reese; and North Carolina-based advocate Jeffrey Long. They all have important insights about how to adapt our HIV/AIDS services as the pandemic evolves. They all know that we cannot go back to a time when society’s first response was to blame people who had been Othered: gay men, people of transgender experience, Black people, people who were sex workers, people who used injection drugs—anyone that the mainstream could call “not innocent.” Where do we go from here? Let me hear it loud: Not Back There!

David Waggoner is Editor in Chief and Publisher of A&U: Art & Understanding, the first national HIV/AIDS magazine in the U.S.