Sunday, February 7, 2016 is National HIV/AIDS Awareness Day. The theme of thisYear’s campaign is ‘I am My Brother’s and Sister’s Keeper: Fight HIV/AIDS’. The emphasis of the 2016 campaign is on the role that everyone can play in HIV prevention and television personality and Co-Founder of 6in10.org, Karamo Brown wants that message heard loud and clear!
Brown co-founded 6in10.org with Donta Morrison to eradicate the HIV statistic that says that 6 in 10 African American gay or bi-sexual men will contract HIV by the time they are 40 according to the Centers for Disease Control. Among African Americans, black gay and bisexual men account for the majority of new HIV infections.
The mission of 6in10.org is to provide tailored mental health support through viral campaigns and community engagement. The Los Angeles Sentinel spoke with Brown on his passion to educate and change how the African American community addresses HIV.
LAS: Congratulations on being a force in changing the narrative in terms of how this country sees African American men who happen to be gay and/or HIV positive. What drew you to this cause?
KB: As a gay man, I’ve been around HIV my entire life. I’m negative but I have friends, both gay men and heterosexual women who are HIV positive.
I was writing an article on this issue for the magazine, The Advocate, and National Public Radio contacted me about an interview. But prior to the interview, one of the producers said “I really don’t care about this issue so I’m cancelling the interview. I asked him which part he didn’t care about…Blacks, gay people dying, HIV… and he responded saying, “I really don’t care about any of it.” That answer sent me into a frenzy because in that moment, I realized that we are becoming too complacent about HIV especially African Americans even though we are dying the most.
I have this platform… I’m on a reality show, I have a talk show …let’s get this message out there and wake up Black folks and say, hey, we’re still dying, we still need education, we still need knowledge about HIV.
LAS: You co-founded 6in10.org with Donta Morrison. How did the two of you join forces around this issue?
KB: Donta Morrison has been HIV positive since 1999. I thought it was important that I partner with someone who’s HIV positive. I asked myself how could I launch an organization and talk about HIV stigma and mental health if I don’t have someone who can say from personal experience; this is what happened when I tried to get insurance or when I went to the doctor. Health care and medicines are not as easy to access as one might think and the stigma remains…its still happening and you can understand why people are still dying and not getting tested.
LAS: One of the things that I like about 6in10.org is its focus on viral messaging. Can you talk about the importance of viral messaging especially for this generation?
KB: We are at place now where no one has an attention span. If the message is not 35 seconds, then they are not doing it. It was important for me to use viral messaging not just for this generation but also for people who are 35 years to 50 plus years. A lot of people get their news from their social media feeds and it was important to me to utilize that to get the message out. Otherwise, when you talk about HIV, people really don’t want to hear it.
LAS: Do you believe that making the decision to get tested for HIV remains difficult for most African Americans?
KB: I definitely do. I encouraged the crew and others who are working on my new show, “The Next 15,” to get tested and most of them were afraid. They had a lot of excuses even though the test takes less than five seconds.
LAS: 6in10.org focuses on the faith-based community especially the Black faith- based community that continues to stigmatize Black gay men. How do you hope that your social campaign will help that?
KB: That’s a big part of it for me because I’m a big advocate of the Black church. I was raised in the Black church and the church is a foundation in my house with my children.
As African Americans, we know that before we had rights, we always had the church. I hate the fact that so many young people are loosing their faith in the Black church and it’s because we have had the wrong pastors leading the narrative. They were telling us (gay men) that we were less than, not loved…. and the church that I grew up taught me that Jesus loved the least of us. He (Jesus) was the one, who didn’t care if you were a leper, a deviant, and no matter what, you could come to the church and find love and guidance. It was important for me to make sure the church is there because without that foundation we are lost.
LAS: Would you say that there has been positive movement by the faith-based community towards greater acceptance of the LGBT community?
KB: 100%. On our website each month, we have messages from Pastors who are supportive of the LGBT community and we need that particular community to understand that. This narrative that all Pastors think we are all horrible and going to die is just not true. God is about love and there are Pastors who preach love and that needs to be told.
LAS: Can you give us a sneak peek of what we can expect to see on your new show, “The Next 15” as it relates to HIV/AID?
KB: Yes – I threw a fundraising event for 6in10.org and you could get to see the cast mates talking about their personal stories in terms of how their lives have been impacted by HIV.
You hear Claudia Jordan share how she had to watch a friend whither away because they refused to get treatment and Benzino, a heterosexual African American man admit that he thought that if you’re gay and you have HIV, “ I can’t come near you,” or if you are a woman who’s HIV positive, “you deserved it.” He realized that was an antiquated and wrong way of thinking and he learned so much by attending the event. That’s so powerful because there are straight men in the hip-hop community that will hear him say that and change their viewpoint.
LAS: Sunday, February 7 is National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day. What message would 6in10.org like to tell the African American community?
KB: There are three things: first, we are still dying and we are dying the most. Second, testing can save your life and knowledge will keep you safe and others safe. And finally, what makes us strong is when we come together and support each other no matter what. And we need to stay in that train of thought that says if you are hurting, and dying, then I am hurting and dying and we’re going to stay together so we can get better together.
For more information on National HIV/AIDS Awareness Day and 6in10.org, visit
www.aids.gov and www.6in10.org.