HIV/AIDS Activist Jesse Brooks Inspires Oakland

By Tasion Kwamilele This article is part of an ongoing series to break down stereotypes and views of the HIV/AIDS epidemic and homosexuality in the black community. Jesse Brooks is a testament to those trials and is openly telling his story in hopes of re-educating black youth so they will not fall victim to the HIV/AIDS crisis. Jesse Brooks was born in Los Angeles, and has lived in Oakland all of his life. At an early age he had a love for writing and in 1970, while in the 6th grade, his work was read on The Phil Donahue Show. Brooks is a graduate of Oakland Technical High School and was a member of the National Guard in Fort Dix from 1981 to 1983. Through all of his accomplishments, he struggled with many internal battles including a drug addiction and acceptance of his sexuality. Now after overcoming a drug addition, coming to terms with his sexuality, and accepting that he is HIV positive, Jesse is using his voice to educate Oakland’s urban communities. “For so long, our community has thought of AIDS in connection with white gay men. But as one of the spokesmen for several organizations, my face appears on posters on busses and on BART, helping break the stereotype. It stresses to young black children that it is not just white people who get Aids, but it could be your uncle, your cousin, even your brother…” However, travelling this road was not always so easy for Jesse, especially after his father passed away when he was 18 years of age. He reports that his siblings were gay, but as in most black families it was never spoken of, just swept under the rug. “I carried around internal homophobia and that had a lot to do with the drinking and using. I had imprisoned myself because of other’s thoughts and condemnation. Our community is more focused on being gay instead of focusing on an individual’s character,” said Jesse. Jesse admits that he took HIV/AIDS tests about five times but never went back to get his results, fearful of the outcome. He had already witnessed his partner of four years and his older brother die of AIDS. “I thought of it as, ‘What’s the use of knowing when it only confirms you are going to die?’” said Jesse. However, it was the encouraging words of his mother that motivated him to get clean from drug usage and get his life together. Jesse now works to break the stereotypes by putting his business in the streets. He prays that it will invoke change in the community. Jesse works with ‘HIV STOPS WITH US’. The programs work to demonstrate both sides of the spectrum to help stop the disease in our community. Jesse is also a reporter for the Post Newsgroup, writing weekly columns discussing AIDS in our community. Jesse said, “Writing for The Oakland Post has meant the most to me. Being able to take my gift and use it to educate my community has meant a lot. To be a writer and to be read is the most uplifting thing”. For more information go to HIVSTOPSWITHUS.org
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