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On Wednesday, March 25, activists from around the U.S. flooded the Twitterverse with the hashtag #FreeBlackGayMen to raise awareness around the case of Michael "Tiger Mandingo" Johnson. Johnson, a black gay man living with HIV, is currently serving time in prison while his case awaits trial. He was arrested in 2014 after reports surfaced that he had consensual sex with more than 30 men in the St. Charles, Missouri, area. Johnson was a student on the school wrestling team at Lindenwood University when he was arrested.
Johnson’s case involves complex social issues, including race and sexuality. The mostly white suburb of St. Charles is not very far from Ferguson, the town where unarmed, 18-year-old Michael Brown was fatally shot by a police officer. While stories such as those of Brown have proliferated in the news, contributing to the growth of the #BlackLivesMatter movement, Johnson’s has not gained much traction outside of a slew of sensationalist headlines.
Charles Stephens, founder of The Counter Narrative Project, wants to change that. The Counter Narrative Project is a black gay men’s advocacy organization whose strategies involve mobilization, messaging and political education. "We hope to elevate and amplify his story, to build national solidarity and inspire cultural change," Stephens said in an exclusive statement to TheBody.com.
Stephens is part of a group of activists and journalists working to reframe the issues surrounding Johnson’s case. In January, Stephens reached out to Steven Thrasher, a freelance journalist who wrote an article about Johnson for BuzzFeed, and brought him into The Counter Narrative Project’s network of advocates, black gay men and allies.
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