The California African American Museum was home to celebrities, AIDs activists, and trailblazers in Los Angeles, on Saturday night, for the “Heroes in the Struggle” Black AIDS Institute Gala. The special evening aims to raise awareness and funds for the epidemic that infects nearly 40,000 people a year despite having the tools to prevent further spreading.
Jussie Smollett of Fox’s Empire, the master of ceremonies and event chair, spoke with HelloBeautiful about the importance of educating our community about our health. “I just feel like Black lives matter and I have to care about black lives in all matters and all forms. I know there are so many things to care about in this world, but we have to multitask.”
Speaking on the gala, Smollett added “We’re just trying to raise a lot of money with all the [government] funding that’s been cut.”
Honoree Billy Porter of FX’s Pose touched on the same topic, demanding “the adults in th[e] room crack open the uncomfortable conversations about our [country’s] history” in an effort to get younger people to change the government officials who are cutting the much needed programs in the Black community – but not before throwing some major shade.
“Yes. We’re living in a slavery like holocaustic genocidial-Jim-Crow-southern-white-supremacist-old-school-separation-of-families-at-the-border-corruption-of-leadership-whatever-white-men-want-to-do-is-right-keep-the-happy-darkies-in-their-place-bullsh-t!” Porter said to the audience.
Honoree Ledisi, who initially joined the fight for AIDs awareness and prevention as part of a theater group, became truly invested when she lost eight friends to the disease within seven years. “Death woke me up,” said the soul singer. “There are people who you can save their life just by being there. The greatest gift we can give to others is to give back to our community in any way possible – even something small,” she finished.
Fellow honoree Gabourey Sidibe echoed a similar sentiment, saying she gives back by using her art. “The rent you pay to live on the planet is our service to others. I want to bring dignity and humanity to every character even if they don’t represent me,” explained the actress. It’s my duty to shine a light and focus on those who aren’t getting it and I plan to do that… as an actress who’s played a character with HIV,” she said of her role in Lee Daniels’ Precious.
The event, which also served as a celebration of longtime CEO Phill Wilson who will be retiring after 20 years of service, was highlighted by performances from Amber Riley who sang a soulful version of “Somewhere Over The Rainbow and Dyllon Burnside’s ballad-like take on Janet Jackson Jackson’s “Rhythm Nation.”
Additional honorees include Dr. David Malebranche, Gabriel Maldonando of TruEvolution, and Essence Magazine. Celebrity guests included EJ Johnson, Elise Neal, and This Is Us Lyric Ross.
The Black AIDs Institute now serves the Los Angeles area with three free clinics offering screenings and other comprehensive medical services.
For more information on the Black AIDS Institute visit blackaids.org.