by David Shuler
In the spring of 1996, Brothers United and Nashville CARES, Tennessee ‘s oldest and largest AIDS service organization, came together to design and implement programs that address HIV/AIDS prevention needs in middle Tennessee . After successfully obtaining funding, a Program Coordinator was hired on World AIDS Day, Dec. 1, 1996 . Dwayne Jenkins has been the program coordinator for Brother’s United at Nashville CARES since 1996; he is also the Director of Brothers United statewide.
“Brother’s United started as a social group where African-American gay men could come together and discuss social issues that concerned them and friends and family they cared about,” Jenkins said.
On a weekend camping trip in 1997, members of Brothers United met with some men from Chattanooga . After hearing what Brothers United was all about, the men from Chattanooga decided to get involved. That weekend was the beginning of the Chattanooga chapter of Brothers United. The men in Chattanooga saw the same needs in their area as the Nashville-based Brothers United had recognized in their community. A few months later, Knoxville and Memphis were starting Brothers United chapters.
Keith Chandler was the Program Coordinator for Knoxville’ s first HIV/AIDS service and support non-profit, the now-defunct AIDS Response Knoxville (ARK) met with Dwayne Jenkins, Program Coordinator for Brother’s United of Nashville at a gathering for those concerned with HIV prevention. From their meeting, planning ensued for a retreat to facilitate communication between the two agencies. It was at that retreat that the Knoxville Chapter of Brothers United was born.
The mission of Brothers United is to provide leadership skills, health referrals and services to gay men of color, their partners and friends in Tennessee . Brothers United also supplies a structure for empowerment leading to personal growth, community building and positive self-actualization.
“Brother’s United is the only grant-funded education program of its kind,” Jenkins added.
Brothers United offers free HIV/AIDS presentation workshops and other outreach activities, educational materials and confidential HIV testing. Brothers United produces a quarterly newsletter, “The Source,” for volunteers of the Brothers United network.
An annual Winter Retreat is hosted by Brothers United Nashville.
There are monthly events for members as well. Brothers United of Nashville owns the rights to Nashville Black Pride, which is licensed through the International Federation of Black Prides Organization.
Brothers United Knoxville has an annual weekend event. This year it was held in March, with the theme “I like the way you move.” Brothers United Chattanooga’s annual event is on Martin Luther King holiday weekend, with a party, usually held at Chuck’s.
In 2002 Brother’s United began Young Brothers United, a similar group for youth 25 years old and younger. Young Brothers United is a way to uplift young African-American males who are homosexual.
“Young Brother’s United provides HIV/AIDS prevention outreach, education and awareness to youth between the ages of 13 to 24,” Jenkins explained.
Brother’s United has been going strong for nine years. They continue to educate, uplift, and maintain a healthy and productive vision for African American men who are homosexual and sexually active in Tennessee.