George M. Johnson Shares a Moving Speech at World AIDS Day

Award-winning activist and author George M. Johnson joined over 100 people gathered in honor of the 35th World AIDS Day at The Cadre Building

World AIDS Day. Inside, and footage from the balloon ceremony, courtesy Focus Magazine.

Friday, December 1st over 100 advocates and locals dressed in red, white and black gathered at the Cadre Building in Memphis for World AIDS Day. It’s a day in honor and support of all those impacted by HIV/AIDS. The south has been disproportionately affected by this epidemic since its onset in the early 1980s. 

The night featured several sexual health and HIV/AIDS vendors, an award ceremony for local HIV/AIDS advocates, a beautiful balloon presentation In Memoriam of those lost, and a moving speech from Keynote Speaker, award-winning activist and author George M. Johnson. 

Two of the vendors tabled at the 35th World AIDS Day. Mental Health Cooperative Memphis and The Haven/Friends for All (left to right) courtesy Focus Magazine.

Krista Wright Thayer, Director of Outreach and Prevention for Friends for All (FFA), introduced George M. Johnson after sharing a major win for HIV/AIDS advocates in the state of Tennessee. 

After state lawmakers blocked $8.3 million in annual federal funds for HIV prevention, Tennessee HIV/AIDS advocates helped reach a total of $13 million in HIV prevention, surveillance and treatment in federal funds from the CDC.

This news shows that local and southern HIV/AIDS advocates’ tireless work continues to make substantial progress for those most affected by the epidemic. Still though, as several advocates at The Cadre expressed, much more progress has to be made on a larger scale. 

George M. Johnson, whose best-selling memoir All Boys Aren’t Blue sparked controversy on the 2022 most banned book list, shared their journey of being diagnosed with HIV at age 25, 13 years ago.

“I assumed it was a death sentence. I was living in the south. It was something we didn’t discuss,” said Johnson.

The advocate and journalist expressed that it took them a while to accept their status and learn to care for themselves, “It shifted the way I had to move through life,” said Johnson.

Soon after, though, George decided to step away from corporate work into the nonprofit sector to help educate and assist people who shared their experience. They worked closely with recently diagnosed people by crafting stories that helped explain what life with HIV might look like depending on each individual’s experiences. 

In 2017, Johnson moved away from nonprofit work into journalism, as one of the few public figures to publicly share their HIV status as well as speak out against under-publicized HIV/AIDS news like the U = U campaign

“My goal is to make sure that the next generation doesn’t have to go through what I went through,” said Johnson. 

George urged supporters in the room to help push the U.S. government to stand by their promise of HIV/AIDS prevention by 2030 with “more radical action.”

Finally, Johnson asked that everyone in the room leave with a new approach to interacting with those impacted by HIV, “Instead of asking if someone is “in care”, ask them if they have eaten today, if they have housing, if they have a job. Because no one is truly in care without their basic needs.”

Honorees at World AIDS Day

The 2023 Light of Hope Award Recipients

Regional One Health Peer Coordinator Mr. Larry Dean
Sacred Heart Southern Mission

Edward L. Gardner Service Award

Carl Mannery 

Mildred Richard Face of Change Award

Brennan Villines

Dr. Marye Bernard Ally Award

Elder Gwen Clemmons