A public debate erupted earlier this year when graphic Dancehall music lyrics and images were banned from Jamaica's airwaves. The public responses reveal the legacy of two Jamaica's.
Jamaica, to me, is a land of deep contradictions.
On one hand, it's a lovely, lush tropical country, blessed with sandy beaches, fantastic flowering shrubs, ripe mango and coconut trees, and inhabited by a strong, proud people who clearly share a basic sense of personal dignity and a deep-seated hospitality towards strangers. I found this to be true regardless of whom I was speaking with, be they rich or poor, educated or illiterate, straight or gay.
It takes just 15 minutes to set up an underground church.
Two boxes and a white sheet make up the pulpit. The altar is a card table. Folding chairs constitute the pews. Then Rev. Robert Griffin, a solidly built gay American minister in his mid-40s, unpacks a battered cardboard box; inside is a wooden chalice, two candle holders, a communion plate and a dog-eared copy of the King James Bible. Add a pianist warming up on an electric keyboard and suddenly an empty meeting room is transformed into the Kingston branch of the Sunshine Cathedral, Jamaica's only gay church.
We may be accustomed to thinking of AIDS as most rampant in distant parts of the world like Africa, India, and South Asia. But these days the epidemic is flaring up a bit closer to home, in the Caribbean. Indeed, AIDS is now the leading cause of death among adults there, and the Caribbean's rate of new infections is the second highest in the world, following just behind Sub-Saharan Africa.
Stigma and discrimination prevent people around the world from accessing the HIV prevention, care and treatment services they need. This is particularly true in areas of the Caribbean, such as Jamaica, where anti-sodomy laws and concerns about violence put vulnerable populations at extreme risk.
Jamaica's hard-to-reach and embattled gay community has been ignored by the government's public health program for the last 25 years. Last year, a study revealed that nearly one-third of gay men in Jamaica may be infected with the virus that causes AIDS, but the island's public health response remains paralyzed by homophobia as the epidemic continues its uncontrolled spread through Jamaican society.
Poet Kwame Dawes provided the words for HOPE & Wisteria, two back-to-back performance pieces that explore different aspects of the black experience. But his contribution, vital as it is, is only one part of the puzzle. Each production is a multimedia piece using music, images and Dawes' poetry.
The musicians and singers, performing alongside Dawes on stage, contribute immensely to the power of the production, as do the photographers whose work is projected on a large screen behind the performers.
In an interview on The Root, poet Kwame Dawes discusses his role and shares his experience in creating the multimedia project "Hope: Living and Loving with HIV in Jamaica," commissioned by the Pulitzer Center to document the human face of HIV in Jamaica, the country of Kwame's youth.
Learn more about the Emmy-winning LiveHopeLove.com
Although it's called the Black Theatre Festival, this biennial gathering of African-American artists draws creative people from all over the nation working in a variety of mediums. Kwame Dawes, the poet in residence at the University of South Carolina, will present his multimedia productions titled Wisteria and Hope during the festival. [For complete performance listings, see page 20.] Wisteria and Hope are two separate pieces performed back to back.
Tune in to North Carolina Public Radio's "The Story" to hear Kwame Dawes talk about HOPE, his poetry that will be performed at the National Black Theatre Festival in Winston-Salem, NC, on August 6 and 7.
Dr Kwame Dawes will stage LIVE! HOPE! LOVE! at the Phillip Sherlock Centre for the Creative Arts at the University of the West Indies on Sunday at 11 a.m.
Gay pride is celebrated across the U.S. every June. Could there be similar celebrations of gay pride in Jamaica?
"Positive Outlook," a Pulitzer Center-commissioned video that follows one HIV+ campaign speaker as she tries to stamp out the stigma of the disease, aired on DePauw University's The World is Talking television program. The program aired on April 14, 2008.
Another Pulitzer Center-commissioned video, "Talking HIV in Jamaica," will air on the next The World is Talking program.
John Lundberg, the poetry columnist for the Huffington Post, featured a terrific review of Kwame's poetry and the interactive site created for Hope: Living and Loving with HIV in Jamaica.
LiveHopeLove.com poet Kwame Dawes was recently awarded the National AIDS Committee Jamaica Leadership Award for his work with LiveHopeLove.com. The award, presented by the National AIDS Committee Jamaica commemorates leadership, excellence, and dedication to the field of HIV and AIDS in Jamaica. The award will be presented on World AIDS Day, December 1, 2009.
The Pulitzer Center's interactive website LiveHopeLove.com was chosen as Adobe's Site of the Day for April 5, 2008. The site, designed by bluecadet Interactive, is part of the Pulitzer Center's multimedia reporting project "Hope: Living and Loving with HIV in Jamaica."