Karamo Brown made history as the first out gay black man on reality TV when he appeared on 2004’s The Real World: Philadelphia. He instantly became a role model, simply for providing visibility to gay and bi black men.
Brown, who was a licensed social worker for nearly a decade after The Real World, has always wanted to help others, “especially men of color who didn’t have anyone.” Now that he’s back on TV (hosting shows like Are You the One: Second Chances), he considers his work as part and parcel of that because of the visibility it brings.
“I hate the term role model,” Brown says, choosing not to use the phrase about himself. But he hopes to be someone that other guys can look to and think, “Oh, if he did it, I can do it too.”
Brown took a more proactive step in 2015 by cofounding the organization 6in10, with HIV-positive minister Donta Morrison, to address the high rates of HIV in the black community. The name reflects the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s prediction that six in 10 gay and bisexual black men will contract HIV before they turn 40.
The non-profit organization partners with the CDC and creates viral campaigns, like its #UNSHADE effort calling on the African-American LGBT community to stop stigmatizing HIV. The clarion call from 6in10: “By eradicating the HIV shaming and shade that occurs within the black LGBT community, we can begin to change the six in 10 statistic.”
Although Brown isn’t poz himself, he says, “The HIV epidemic has always been on my mind, it’s always been something I’ve spoken — and speak — about, because it affects us [so much].”
The group 6in10 was launched in part when Brown’s appearance on a radio show was abruptly canceled.“I was supposed to be talking about HIV/AIDS awareness in the black community,” Brown says, “And I got canceled.” The producer reportedly explained it was “because the host ‘did not care about the topic,’” Brown recalls. “I thought, You don’t care about black people? LGBT people? HIV? Because either way I’m going to be pissed off!”
Brown says it was this anger that “propelled me into making sure… we were telling our own story, sharing our narratives.” In particular, 6in10 focuses on improving the mental health and self-esteem of gay black and bisexual men. “At the core,” the former social worker says, “If you can’t change your mind, you can’t change your heart, you can’t change yourself, you can’t change the way you’re living your life.”