By Dee Bailey
We must come together to fight HIV and AIDS and all issues impacting all communities. As we quickly approach World AIDS Day (December 1) 2017 we have yet again found ourselves at a learning moment. A place in time when reflection on how far we’ve come can help us chart a new course of where we want to go. It was 60 years ago when Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and fellow civil rights leader Bayard Rustin came together in pursuit of freedom and civil rights for African Americans across the country.
While we all know the value of partnership in fighting HIV/AIDS, we also know quite well the challenges we often face in collaborating with fellow organizations who have also taken on the tremendous work associated with educating and reducing barriers to services for those infected and affected by this pandemic in our communities. Partnerships are the cornerstone of success! We have seen this before, and we can only eternally thank leaders such as Martin Luther King, Jr. and Bayard Rustin for the freedoms we have today.
During our struggle for civil rights in America two of our greatest leaders also faced difficulty in their attempts to collaborate for the greater good. As is often the case, there were well-intended influencers whispering in Dr. King’s ear in an attempt to disparage Bayard Rustin’s tremendous work to demand civil rights for African Americans.
The problem with naysayers is that they are often short sighted. They only see what is within reaching distance. What were they saying? Individuals who found themselves in the company of Dr. King were telling him that Bayard Rustin’s lifestyle as a gay man was not beneficial to the movement. They cautioned Dr. King that many of Mr. Rustin’s lovers were white men. This coupled with the fact that Mr. Rustin represented a demographic that many believed did not add to, but only subtracted from Dr. King’s work was reason enough that a collaboration was frowned upon and strongly advised against.
Fortunately Dr. King was a man of vision. Dr. King was a man steadfast in fighting for the civil rights of the African American community and saw and understood the value of partnerships. He did not allow minor differences to detract from the ultimate goal of civil rights for all. While he listened to all the noise that was being raised around collaborating with Mr. Rustin, Dr. King also saw what awaited us over the mountain top.
Today, as community leaders, we find ourselves in a similar place. We are often advised by those who do not possess our long-term vision but will give you a myriad of reasons why we should not work together. “They’re too this or they’re too that!” The list of reasons why something can’t or won’t work is endless, but the reasons why we should work are few.
We only need a few good reasons to work together as partners in our civil rights fight against an epidemic that for over 30 years refuses to release its grip on our communities. On the contrary, its grip is getting stronger, and tighter. Why? Because unlike Dr. King and Bayard Rustin, there is still a resistance to long-term partnerships in this line of work. While we may come together from time to time to collaborate on a stand-alone initiative, there still lacks a cohesive and conscious effort to maintain these partnerships.
Collaborations and partnerships are good for our community in the fight against HIV/AIDS. On a short-term basis we see the results of our efforts. Our communities are educated, our leaders are motivated, and we created bridges of comraderies throughout the community. Looking beyond the short-term and a study of history as so eloquently provided by Dr. King and Bayard Rustin we are living the benefits and results of their partnership in the fight for our civil rights. I appreciate this every day and thank them for showing us the way. The mere fact that I can have a drink of water from any public fountain, or the fact that I don’t have to give up my seat or sit in the back of a bus compels me every single day to build partnerships that will fight HIV/AIDS in our community.
Thank you Dr. King! Thank you Bayard Rustin! Thank you for showing us through living proof the importance and value of partnership. I hope that this World AIDS Day will mark the beginning of our partnership example for the next generation of leaders.
Until There’s a Cure…