June 25, 2015


By Zon D’Amour 

LAWT Contributing Writer


“Empire” star Jussie Smollett was recently honored by the Black AIDS Institute during their annual “Heroes In The Struggle”(H.I.T.S) gala and awards presentation. H.I.T.S is a photographic tribute to Black Americans and their Allies who have made heroic contributions to the fight against HIV/AIDS. 


In the past 15 years, nearly 100 celebrities, politicians, corporations, religious leaders as well as people living with HIV/AIDS have been inducted into the exhibit. These honorees include President Bill Clinton, Ervin (Magic) Johnson, Congress­woman Maxine Waters, Bishop T.D. Jakes and many more.


At the youthful age of 32, Smollett has been an activist nearly his entire life. He says he attended his first march at the age of six in honor of Yusef Hawkins, a 16-year-old New York native who was a victim of a hate crime.


Smollett began volunteering with the Black AIDS Institute at the age of 16. He along side his siblings including actress Journee Smollett-Bell organized fundraisers and events for Artists for a New South Africa, a nonprofit organization working to advance human rights, safeguard voting rights, and empower children orphaned by AIDS.


With the overwhelming success of the first season of “Empire” and the cast heavily campaigning for EMMY Nominations, Smollett could soon be in the running for the coveted acting award. However, he shares that his first career honor as one of the “Heroes In The Struggle” is what’s most important to him.


“I got the call from Phil Wilson (President and CEO, Black AIDS Institute) who’s been one of my mentors since I was sixteen. He asked if I would be honored by the organization and I said of course” he exclaimed.


“I love what the Black AIDS Institute has done and all of the lives that they’ve changed. I love Phil and to be honored by him is everything.”


Smollett’s honor was presented to him by his sister Journee as well as fellow actor and personal friend of Jussie’s, Wilson Cruz (“Red Band Society,” “My So-Called Life”). The gala was hosted by actor Brian White (“Scandal”) Presenters included: Shaun Robinson, host of Access Hollywood, Shanola Hampton (“Shameless”) and Elvis Nolasco (“American Crime”). Legendary actor and emeritus board member Danny Glover also gave remarks during the event. GRAMMY nominated artists Angie Fisher and B. Slade were the evening’s musical guests.


On the responsibilities associated with his new honor, Smollett shares, “…the main thing is spreading love and understanding so that people don’t feel alone.”


Smollett’s commitment for making a difference in the community is evident by his thoughts on the recent shooting in Charleston, South Carolina.


“We have to acknowledge that we’re angry and that we have a right to be angry. But we have to channel that anger into a positive light, even though it’s not always an easy thing to do….There’s certain legislation that has to be passed and there’s a system that has to be deconstructed and rebuilt.”


In addition to social activism, Smollett is also passionate about his music. He shares that he’ll be recording his debut album, “sometime within the next year.” However, fans of Jamal Lyon can expect him to debut a plethora of new music throughout the highly anticipated second season of “Empire” with producers Timbaland, Swizz Beats and Ne-Yo.


Smollett joins Vanessa Mills, executive director of Empower U community health Center; Gregorio Millett, Vice-President and Director of public policy for The American Foundation for AIDS Research (amfAr) and Janssen Therapeutics as the 2015 “Heroes In The Struggle” award recipients.


To learn more about the Black AIDS Institute visit: blackaids.org.

Category: Arts & Culture