Darnell Livingston, an AIDS activist who was known for his willingness to stand up and speak out, died on Aug. 31.
I met Livingston when he attended Alameda County Planning Council meetings, a group that allocates federal and statewide funds for people living with HIV.
Though he was HIV negative, he was unafraid to publically ask why no one was talking about Black heterosexual men who were transmitting the disease. He could be seen on many days holding his provocative sign, “Your Next Booty Call May Be Your Last.”
Heterosexual HIV positive men are a population within the HIV community with low visibility because of the shame and stigma. Until I met Livingston, I had never seen someone step to the issue so boldly.
His passion was so evident that one would think he himself was affected, though he wasn’t. But he cared about the health of Black men. As he said himself, “I feel it is my duty to enlighten my brothers.”
Alameda County Supervisor Keith Carson was among those who met Livingston in the course of his persistent activism. “I was shocked” to learn of his death, said Carson. “He had a big heart. He challenged government to do more, and he challenged Black men to do more.”
Livingston created a speakers bureau of African American males who speak to youth and others in the community, sharing their personal challenges and how they have overcame overwhelming odds to deal with mental health issues and substance abuse.
Kabir Hypolite, director of the Alameda County’s Office of AIDS, remembers how Livingston made outreach possible at the 50th gathering of the East Bay Dragons motorcycle club to hundreds of bikers who came from up and down the West Coast to join the celebration.
“He introduced me to some of the club’s leaders and gave me a tour of their facility,” said Hypolite. “We were able to distribute condoms, educational materials, T shirts, and have fun doing it.”
Livingston, who owned a Harley Davidson mortorycle, was amazed at how everyone knew him and how everyone greeted him with respect and appreciation. “He was a prince among the bikers, clearly at home, obviously loved,” said Hypolite.
Livingston’s uncle Toby Jean Livingston has been president of the East Bay Dragons since 1957. He said that the family was proud of Darnell. “Bubba was always doing something as he grew up – he loved people, and they took to him,” he said.
Livingston met his partner Pam Shaw in 2006 at a Southern California Bikers Convention. He moved to Carson City to be with her in 2008.
Shaw says Livingston’s death was sudden and shocking to her. “I had just taken my retirement from the Social Security Administration after 33 years, and we had made plans to ride across the country on bikes, ” she said.
“He didn’t get paid for what he did – his assets were his mouth and smile.”