The world is still devestated by the news of Jussie Smollett's attack in Chicago by two men wearing "MAGA" hats who reportedly tied a noose around his neck and poured bleach on his skin.
For years, Smollett has been a staunch advocate for HIV causes. Our thoughts and prayers are with him and his family.
In the Smollet family, activism has always been a family affair. As children, Smollett’s mother Janet told him and his five siblings, “There are two things you must do: Love one another and be an activist.”
That advice is something that Smollet and his younger sister, actor Jurnee Smollett-Bell, especially took to heart — they have been HIV activists since they were 15 and 12 years old, respectively. Both have been inducted into The Black AIDS Institute's “Heroes in the Struggle” Hall of Fame for their dedication and numerous contributions. Smollett currently serves on the Institute's board of directors and his sister Jurnee is an HIV/AIDS ambassador.
The actor continues to take his role as an activist very seriously and does so in a very real and hands-on way, beyond simply using his celebrity to bring attention to the issue of HIV and AIDS.
“Jussie talks the talk, walks the walk and puts his money where his mouth and heart are," said Phill Wilson, president and CEO of The Black AIDS Institute, of the actor’s commitment to the cause. “We have many celebrities who support our work, and I am eternally grateful for their voices and time. But money fuels change. It takes dollars to test people for HIV; it takes donations to link people to care… If the President and the Republican-led Congress have their way, we are going to lose any opportunity to end the AIDS epidemic. Jussie understands that.”
A couple years ago, when the Institute recently faced a budget shortfall, Smollet immediately stepped in to help. He made a donation of $20,000 to the Institute, but made it as a “challenge gift,” where a donor makes a contribution contingent upon other donors also contributing.
“So, in the end, we turned Jussie's $20,000 contribution into $40,000. Those donations not only helped close our budget gap. They also helped us launch a testing campaign where we developed a monthly support group for 30 to 40 men,” says Wilson.
Smollett chaired the 2017 Heroes in the Struggle Gala in September of that year. “As a member of the Black AIDS Institute's Board and past Heroes in the Struggle honoree, I'm so excited about this year's event,” he said at the time. “All of the 2017 inductees are going to be women. I know from my personal experience, women have been so important to this fight. While I'm not going to give away all of our secrets, I can tell you one of this year's honorees will be none other than my TV mom, Taraji P. Henson.”
Smollett also teamed up with his Empire co-star Henson in MAC Cosmetic’s “Viva Glam” charity campaign, which benefited the MAC AIDS fund. Every cent of Viva Glam products sold went to the fund, which helped women, men, and children living with and affected by the virus.
Smollet continues to be a champion for hope and change.