In 1989, Malcolm Reid, 63, had gone to so many funerals that he lost count. He remembers being so emotionally exhausted from burying friends he decided during those early days to stop attending funerals altogether. The clock was ticking towards his demise, or so he thought.
“Well, I'm next,” Reid recalls thinking. “And when the next person died, I was like, I'm next. And that never happened. And I remember asking myself, why did they die and I'm still here?”
It would be another eight years, in 1997, before Reid would learn that he acquired HIV. But his story would not mirror those of his friends whom he laid to rest, instead, it would become the impetus he needed to co-create The Silver Lining Project, a group that would impact his life and the lives of Black gay men living with HIV, particularly those over 50 who are often rendered invisible in the broader Black gay community.
Reid, the Director of Programs at Thrive SS, an Atlanta-based non-profit organization dedicated to providing support to Black gay/bisexual men living with HIV, recalls the moment he was called to action by Thrive SS Executive Director, Larry Walker, to create a space that reflected his experience as an older Black gay man living with HIV.
“I said, I don't see anything for guys my age. And Larry was like, well, create it. Was he talking to me? I know nothing about this,” said Reid. “And so I walked out of there and I said, okay, I can do this. And I started a group called Mature Men of Color.”
Reid tells The Reckoning that in the beginning stages of what would ultimately become The Silver Lining Project through a grant awarded by Gilead in 2018, the men initially connected for a photoshoot arranged by Program Coordinator Darryl “DC” Branch, via Facebook Messenger. It was their first step towards increasing the visibility of Black gay men living with HIV over 50 and ensuring they continued to have a sense of community.
And now that there was a space created specifically for them where there wasn’t one before, the Obas, a West African term meaning ruler/kings in the Yoruba and Bini languages, which is what each member of The Silver Lining Project is called, flocked to their monthly Obas Roundtable meetings.
“The last meeting in 2019, we had 30 members. We were pulling seats in from everywhere,” said Reid.
And then, in the first half of 2020, the pandemic struck. The in-person meetings were forced to go virtual during quarantine, and the sense of community the Obas created gave way to isolation, loneliness, and fear, and for one member — halted his ability to travel for work, which he would discover was vital to his mental health.
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