Paying homage to the Black queer trailblazers of Harlem Activist Pamela Sneed says this year's walk will honor Black artists' contributions that have been erased from AIDS narratives.

Black artists have always led AIDS activism. This tribute wants to give them credit

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This weekend in New York, an arts organization is once again hosting what is called the Last Address tribute walk. The Last Address - it allows people to pay tribute to artists lost to AIDS by visiting the last places they lived. Allyson McCabe reports.

ALLYSON MCCABE, BYLINE: In past years, Alex Fialho of the arts organization Visual AIDS has hosted Last Address tribute walks in Greenwich Village, Chelsea and Times Square. On Saturday, May 28, Last Address will come to Harlem at the suggestion of poet and activist Pamela Sneed.

PAMELA SNEED: The official face had always been ACT UP. You know what I mean?

MCCABE: Although AIDS disproportionately impacted Black communities and Black artists have always led activism, Sneed says their losses and contributions have often been overlooked in AIDS narratives. At the same time, Harlem's queer legacy has been half hidden in the shadows.

SNEED: You would go to Lenox Lounge, and even though you know it's like a queer spot - you know, it was a Black queer spot - you wouldn't think of it as such.

MCCABE: That dual erasure was the catalyst for a collaboration between Visual AIDS and the Studio Museum in Harlem. Blake Paskal, who is affiliated with both organizations, says over the past year they have collected a trove of oral histories, personal letters and photographs documenting people and places of creativity, community and care.

BLAKE PASKAL: As, like, a Black queer person myself, Harlem is, like, really special and important to me. It is connected to this thing of how queerness is very much a part of the fabric of the community of Harlem, but it always kind of exists below the surface a little bit, and it's not entirely visible.

MCCABE: At this weekend's tribute walk, icons Tracey Africa and David Ultima will speak at the former site of the Elks Lodge, a center of Harlem's 1980s ballroom community, which also provided support for people living with HIV/AIDS. Robert E. Penn will honor their late friend, the writer B. Michael Hunter.

ROBERT E PENN: One of the things that really impressed me about Bert as I grew to know him better during the '90s was a poem that he wrote that was basically talking about intersectionality 20 years before it became a term that lots of people recognize and can discuss.

MCCABE: Penn and Hunter were both members of Other Countries, a collective of Black gay writers founded in 1986. Penn says Hunter's nom de plume, B. Michael, was a reflection of his approach to life.

PENN: That makes sense that B. Michael is being Michael, being Michael to the fullest you can be, be Michael authentically, be Michael without needing to explain yourself.

MCCABE: The walk will stretch for more than a mile, yet it only represents a fraction of the unseen connections that are finally being brought to light, says Daonne Huff, director of public programs at the Studio Museum.

DAONNE HUFF: For a lot of people, when we think of Harlem, we think of art. When we perhaps think of, like, queer art histories, it stops in the Harlem Renaissance. And I think this project was an opportunity to really spotlight the fact that queer creatives never left.

MCCABE: Last Address will be livestreamed on the museum's Instagram, and it's built an online resource page with an expansive interactive map where visitors are invited to share their own stories. Pamela Sneed, who inspired the walk, sees it as a starting point for an inclusive history to be written across New York and around the world.

SNEED: Let's go to Newark. You know, Let's go to Watts. You know what I'm saying? Like, let's go through Soweto.

MCCABE: And it doesn't just stop there.

SNEED: You know, in the AIDS narrative and the official one that's being, you know, sort of promoted, like, women were not in that story, right? Part of my drive, too, was to also say that I'm a woman, you know, I'm a lesbian, and, like, women were impacted by HIV/AIDS, too. And so hopefully this will be the beginning of, like, freeing some narratives as well.

MCCABE: For NPR News, I'm Allyson McCabe.

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