In 1992, ​I met Mrs. Coretta Scott King as a tongue-tied​,​​ ​nervous activist who desperately needed her support. Not only was she my hero and an icon to the world, but she was also critical to our efforts to expand ​​​​​HIV/​AIDS ​from being viewed as a white gay men’s disease ​into ​the ​​​civil rights issue​ it has always been​. ​​​I’m sharing this story on this MLK Day because the struggle in 2024 is real.​​

There was a lot resting on our first meeting with Mrs. King. NMAC ​and our movement needed her voice to ​highlight ​​​​how ​​​​Black gay men and Black women were ​​​hurt by HIV and the related stigma surrounding the virus. Mrs. King was in the unique position to build ​a critical bridge between the Black community and ​​​the AIDS movement. She could reach people who thought HIV was mostly impacting white gay men.​​​

​Thankfully​,​ she was as gracious as you would imagine. Fully briefed on the ​community’s urgent ​need​, ​​​and ​undeterred by the ​challenges of adding her voice to the discussion. She ​​understood that some church leaders would ​be displeased. ​​​​She uniquely understood that our work was about justice and equality; t​hat was something ​she could ​support.

NMAC ​remains​​ fortunate to have ​had ​her speak at two events. The first was the opening reception for the United States Conference on AIDS (USCA) in Atlanta​. She headlined a reception titled “Civil Rights ​Leaders ​Salute the HIV Movement.” The event was at Atlanta’s ​City Hall and included civil rights icon​ and then head of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference​, Dr. Joseph Lowrey​.​​ It was historic to see these legendary civil rights icons in the same room as leaders from the HIV movement.

The second time Mrs. King spoke ​​​was at ​the HIV Prevention Leadership Summit (HPLS)​ sponsored by CDC, AED, NASTAD, and NMAC​​​. ​Walking her back to her car after her speech, ​​I don’t know what came over me, but I reached out to hug her. That is when she whispered into my ear, “​Remember​​​,​​​ you are carrying on Martin’s dream.”

​​Our fight for dignity and equality has never been more important or more at risk. ​I will always remember that moment when Mrs. King held my hand as it shook out of control. I share her words because the ​2024 ​election will be ​​​another defining moment. The outcome of the elections could ​change everything. Let’s channel MLK’s dream and her gracious spirit by ​​​​getting ​​​everyone to vote. ​​​

Yours in the struggle,

Paul Kawata