Known as an athlete, model and alum of Shirts and Skins, Logo TV’s reality show about a gay basketball team, DeMarco Majors now has moved behind the camera to make a difference with a groundbreaking video project.
It began as a way to commemorate World AIDS Day in December 2019. DeMarco, who is HIV-positive, recognized that despite all the medical progress in HIV/AIDS treatment, the virus all too often can still threaten one’s long-term health and sense of dignity because of people’s misperceptions and prejudices.
“Where’s the compassion? I asked myself,” he says. “Where’s the love?”
He created a YouTube channel called “Struggle, Strive, Succeed” to address the challenges of living with HIV, AIDS and AIDS-related complex and to spread the strength and hope that not even widespread fear and ignorance can diminish.
Majors is thrilled that his fledgling channel (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC0MpJWaPX8MJI1Luh8bYlAg) is ready in time for National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day on Feb. 7. But the channel will continue to post content year-round to raise awareness and offer support and insight.
“YouTube as a platform gives us that visual example,” Majors says. “When you can connect with someone as they are speaking, you are more open to interact. Struggle, Strive, Succeed is, above all, a platform for many to have a safe space to be open and to be vulnerable in order to gain knowledge and share wisdom. It’s a place where we visually can tell people how they can both support and learn.”
Some of Majors’ previous ventures have eventually found their way onto the YouTube platform, but he has been surprised and delighted by how far-reaching the service has been regarding this particular endeavor.
“Admittedly, I hadn’t used YouTube in the way that we are learning to now,” he says. “Although several other projects I worked on can be seen there, they had never been nearly as pivotal as this display can – and will be.”
Majors got together a few friends and asked them to record brief, but compelling, videos to keep the conversation about HIV/AIDS going.
The project’s title is based on the different stages of the response to AIDS over the decades.
“Back in the 1980s, we suffered — largely in silence and dread of being found out,” he says, looking back at the days before the development of protease inhibitors and antiretroviral therapy.
When those treatments came along in the mid-1990s, he says, “we began to see glimmers of hope – we strove to get better.”
Now, with 30-plus years of using these treatments and continuing medical breakthroughs, “we as a community are at last succeeding – living with, not necessarily ‘suffering from’ – what has fast become a manageable condition.”
Majors believes the time has come to spread that understanding globally.
An Evansville, Indiana, native, Majors disclosed his own positive HIV status publicly in a 2017 issue of Plus Magazine.
“Several years ago, I was living in the Bay area working on the Logo series,” he says, “and I didn’t know anything about the disease other than seeing scores of these beautiful, sexy men simply wasting away from its terrible effects.”
At that time, a surreal, recurring dream of his had left a disturbing “aftertaste” on his mind and psyche. In it, he found himself walking a street lined with an unsettlingly vague collection of dilapidated old houses, which he understood to be filled with drug addicts and others contributing to their own self-destruction. Eventually, he came to understand that the dream was an allegory for the less than self-nurturing life Majors was leading at the time — and just as important, where it was leading him.
He realized that his subconscious was trying to tell him that he needed to own who he was and everything he had been through once and for all and to actively seek recovery. Just as critically, he needed to accept himself as an HIV-positive individual.
The experience served as a wake-up call to spur him on to help himself and to reach out to others who may be feeling just as trapped and emotionally desolate as he had felt.
He hopes to post one new interview a week on the channel. Early participants have included model/actor Ronnie Kroell (Make Me a Supermodel, Eating Out) and actor/writer Darryl Stephens (Noah’s Arc).
Kroell says he and Majors have known each other for more than 10 years. They first met when working together in New York City. “And we became great friends,” Kroell says. “He even modeled in my Playgirl magazine shoot.”
Referring to his pal as “an old soul with so much to teach and a powerful story (that has already inspired so many people),” Kroell hails DeMarco as a constant source of inspiration for him. “As his friend, I couldn’t be prouder to know him. I truly admire his passion, activism, and commitment to making a difference in the community – rising above fear, stigma and shame.”
Kroell praises the way his friend has “led – and continues to lead – the conversation about HIV and AIDS in such a way that welcomes people from all walks of life to the conversation.”
Stephens, in his recorded segment, talks about the importance of such a conduit in reaching out to those who have been essentially “thrown away” by their families for being gay or are being neglected by the communities they grew up in.
Sharing some thoughts about how to combat stigma, he talks about his time on Noah’s Arc (2005-06), a TV series about a group of gay black and Latino friends: “As time went on, it became my life’s mission to be sort of a light for the people who didn’t get to see themselves anywhere else. By simply being myself, in the open – in public – I have been able to give people permission to be themselves in public, which is then giving other people permission to be themselves. There’s this ripple effect of taking away the shame that others have placed on us.”
In a nutshell, that is the purpose of Struggle, Strive, Succeed.
Majors addresses the irony that even as medical treatments have improved, popular attitudes about HIV/AIDS and those who have it too often have reverted to the fear-based notions of the 1980s.
“That was then; it was a time when anything involving AIDS or HIV frequently meant an automatic death sentence. We got discouraged. We distanced ourselves from courage,” he says, then reminds us: “In every act or instance of ignorance, there is a chance for us to teach and enlighten.”
The over-arching aim is to show that no matter how isolated individuals may believe themselves to be, they are not alone. Majors’ modus operandi remains, as he puts it, to “lead with trust and love” while providing others with the tools to help get their own personal stories of strength and hope out there where others might draw inspiration from them.
“We are the light,” he says. “We have a gift of knowledge that we need to share, especially today. This project is a means to that end!”
Regardless of anyone’s HIV status, he says, “You are so much more than your diagnosis!”
Kroell fully agrees: “I feel the world is definitely a finer place with DeMarco in it. He’s a real thought leader and a role model, and he shows up for me and countless others in a sincere and selfless way.”
Majors has created the hashtag #StruggleStriveSucceed, and the project’s other social media links include www.instagram.com/strugglestrivesucceed2020, www.picuki.com/tag/StruggleStriveSucceed, and https://www.facebook.com/watch/strugglestrivesucceed.
“No matter how much darkness is around, know that you will always be the light,” DeMarco urges.