BarnhillPost submitted by Christopher Barnhill, Metro Weekly 2012 Next Generation Awardee, HRC contributor

 My most precious and favorite memories as a child would be hearing stories from my maternal grandmother, Janie Boyd on her work during the Civil Rights Era in Washington, D.C.  Her involvement happened very organically. It started with discovering that the cost of cooking oil was priced at a lesser value before the end of the month and at the beginning of the month, the price would be higher in black neighborhoods. This led my grandmother and a group of peers to do a community led investigation.  During their findings they also discovered that food was being shipped from white neighborhoods to black neighborhoods in poor conditions. My grandmother mentioned that produce and meats were stale but sold at the same price as the white neighborhood grocery stores.

I can imagine that this made my grandmother and the community furious. After a scheduled meeting with the Mayor, my grandmother decided to start the Consumer Association of DC. This association’s efforts educated the community on the treatments of black neighborhood stores and lobbied for better and equal conditions of all stores no matter what part of the city it came from. The efforts of grandmother and her team led to a Congressional Hearing on Nutrition and Human Needs in 1972 which resulted in an award hand presented by Former President Lyndon B. Johnson.

An old proverb says, “Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.” (Proverbs 22:6.) Hearing this story and participating with my grandmother in community projects that mobilized the black community has led me to carry on the torch. Through her work, I am inspired to be an effective leader for the community in which I live and serve.

Just like my grandmother, my activism happened organically through finding out my HIV positive status when I was 16. With 26 percent of new HIV infections happening in the 13-24 age group it has prompted me to dedicate my life to advocating for quality reproductive health for DC youth and to remind young people with HIV that you can still live and lead a prosperous life.

The nuggets that I carry with me from the great leaders during all of black history is that it’s about service and giving of yourself no matter if someone is cheering you on or not. It's about restoring voices to the voiceless, being the shoulder when someone needs one to lean on, and no backing down to everyone is treated fairly no matter what opposition that you may receive. There was a time when black LGBT voices were voiceless.  Not anymore. I can and will be heard.  History can be made today and it’s up to this generation to learn from the leaders of the past and present, take good notes, and carry the mantle.  If the modern day leaders of today don’t do it, then who will?

There is a Dr. King, Bayard Rustin, and Janie Boyd (my grandmother) in all of us so I urge you not to let their work remain in the history books.
Let’s keep their spirit alive through our work.


This February we honor those who have paved a way for us all as we continue our work toward justice and equality together. Stay tuned to HRC Blog throughout the month for more from our Black History Month blog series, featuring a cadre of African-American LGBT leaders.

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