The Banyan Tree Project will honor those who have died of AIDS during National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day on Wednesday, Feb. 7, with a candlelight vigil at the James B. Sanderlin Center from 6 to 8 p.m. and a community conversation on Feb. 8 at the Enoch Davis Center from 6 to 8 p.m. to discuss HIV/AIDS in the Black community.
BY J.A. JONES | Staff Writer
ST PETERSBURG – Recently, organizers, community leaders and organizations gave public recognition that at the forefront of the national and local Same Gender Loving (SGL) movement towards freedom, self-agency and the drive to eradicate BIPOC deaths to the scourge of AIDS is St. Pete’s J. Carl DeVine.
A tireless activist, advocate, nonprofit leader, “voice of the people,” mentor, brother, caretaker and father figure for many, DeVine’s 80th birthday was met with awards and recognition in Tampa Bay and Nashville.
Mayor Ken Welch ordered a proclamation of Oct. 19 as J. Carl DeVine Day in the City of St. Petersburg; Councilman John Muhammad presented the proclamation at a surprise birthday party held for DeVine at Metro Inclusive Health. In December, he received a Hillsborough County Planning Committee Lifetime Achievement.
Last November, he was presented with the DeVine Leadership Award at the Center for Black Equity’s Black Pride Leadership Summit in Memphis. DeVine himself gracefully accepted the recognitions and admitted the surprise birthday celebration most floored him.
“The children I have mentored over the years wanted to do something for me for my 80th birthday. I’ve never experienced that before. I’ve not had that type of attention before,” he acknowledged. “It was awesome; I had people come from all around the country. People drove down here from New Jersey, Mississippi, and South Carolina.”
Darius Lightsey, former regional director of prevention and education at the Florida Department of Health, is one of the many young local leaders DeVine has positively impacted over the years.
“J. Carl has given so much of himself to other people in this community,” said Lightsey. “He personally has been a mentor of mine since I came to the area; he has supported me as he has so many others.”
Lightsey noted that DeVine had helped him in his personal and professional maturation and was speaking for many as he shared: “He has been a mentor to me, a father figure. He is somebody who, when I needed somebody to put me in line, he was the one that would do it. I have so much respect and admiration for him for being that for me.”
DeVine’s 2024 work is already underway. His nonprofit, The Banyan Tree Project, will honor those who have died of AIDS during National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day on Wednesday, Feb. 7, with a candlelight vigil at the James B. Sanderlin Center, 2335 22nd Ave. S, St. Petersburg, from 6 to 8 p.m.
The vigil will allow the community to come together and remember family, friends and co-workers who have succumbed to AIDS.
The next evening, Thursday, Feb. 8, Banyan Tree will host “We The People Town Hall Community Conversation” at the Enoch Davis Center from 6 to 8 p.m. to discuss issues surrounding the ongoing ravaging caused by HIV/AIDS in the Black community.
The long-time leader in the fight for a healthier Black community asserted that even though the battle against HIV/AIDS has been going on for close to four decades, many young Black people who are still contracting the disease don’t seem to know or understand, the conditions that are allowing the disease to still heavily impact BIPOC communities, while it has abated in the white communities.
“I think it’s a tragedy that we don’t teach our history. I really do. And a lot of times, we don’t really seem to care about anything other than ‘right now.’ And a lot of young people don’t realize that that stuff happened before they came on the scene.”
While DeVine relayed that “after 30 years, I don’t see why they’re still getting HIV when you have all of the tools to prevent yourself from getting HIV.” He is aware that his mission necessitates engaging in ongoing education around the illness, including conversations in the form of programs like the upcoming town hall.
Much of his work is helping young people understand what it truly means to love themselves.
“They don’t love themselves; they think they do when they put on certain clothes [for example]. They’re judging their love for themselves by material things and stuff outside of themselves, rather than what’s going on inside.”
But this is the behavior that DeVine said indicates the lack of truly valuing one’s life. “Why would you have sex with someone when you know that there’s a possibility you can either get syphilis or get HIV or get both? And you put them at risk. Because if you really cared about yourself, you would protect yourself and your partner. That’s when you know you love yourself.”
Among other issues, DeVine also wants communities to understand the damage being done in the houses of worship in Black communities. He noted that not only is it wrong to throw one’s child out of the house because they’ve come out as SGL, but the hypocrisy starts when church leaders are involved with same-sex relationships behind closed doors but judge SGL relationships and those in them harshly in public.
He noted that the church’s actions endanger the younger generations, confused by the behaviors and hypocrisy of church leaders and church families. “They need attention; some of these kids are not getting the love and the attention they need.”
Another event coming up in February that Banyan Tree is sponsoring is the Afro Opera production “A Message From The Root,” happening on Saturday, Feb. 24, at Cathedral Church of Saint Peter, 140 4th St. N, St. Petersburg. The Black History Month showcase consists of musical selections from all African-American composers.
Click here for more information on Afro Opera.